Thirsty Front Range Colorado cities continue to drive the market for South Platte River farm water, with Aurora announcing two major deals to acquire farms and their associated water rights for $43.7 million.
One deal involves the $16.7 million purchase of a small ditch company near Merino, as well as 1,200 acres of land. The second purchase, for $27 million, involves water rights near Evans formerly owned by the Broe Companies, according to Aurora Water spokesman Greg Baker.
“The South Platte is where the water rights are right now,” Baker said. “As farmers are looking at their future, as they get out of farming, if their kids don’t want it or another farmer doesn’t want it, this is their asset to sell.”
Together, Aurora estimates the deals will provide about 2,652 acre-feet of water to the city, water equal to the amount needed to serve some 5,300 homes.
Earlier this year in another major deal, Parker, along with the Sterling-based Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District, announced it would claim a major new water right in the South Platte near the Nebraska border.
The Aurora purchases, first reported by the Sterling Journal Advocate, are raising concern among Northern Colorado water suppliers and agriculture interests, who fear the sales will limit the region’s own ability to grow and could perpetuate a practice known as “buy and dry,” where farm land is purchased and its water diverted for other uses.
Such water transfers off of farms have harmed other rural farm communities in Colorado that rely on agriculture for jobs and tax revenue.
Aurora’s water purchases “do cause me concern,” said Brad Wind, general manager of Berthoud-based Northern Water, which serves such communities as Greeley, Fort Collins and Broomfield, as well as hundreds of farmers. Like the West Slope, Northern Colorado communities want the water to stay local, although legally it can be bought, sold and moved.
Aurora officials said they haven’t decided what shape the water projects ultimately will take. But they hope to avoid buy-and-dry scenarios, relying instead on long-term leases and water sharing agreements with growers in the area.
“Buying water rights in the South Platte does not mean that we’re going for a buy and dry,” said Dawn Jewell, a water resource planner for Aurora. “We need additional supplies for our build out.”
Aurora uses about 50,000 acre feet of water annually now, and could need more than twice that much to handle its growth through 2070.
“There are many unknowns right now but this gives us a prime opportunity to look at other options, such as ATMs,” Jewell said.
ATMs, or alternative transfer methods, typically involve water sharing and leasing between cities and farms and are being studied across the state as a potential tool for minimizing buy-and-dry water deals.
The South Platte River Basin, which spans from west of South Park north and east through Denver to the state line, is home to Colorado’s largest irrigated agriculture economy with roughly 1.3 million acres of irrigated farm lands.
It is also home to the state’s largest cities, whose populations are set to swell by 2050.
As a result of that growth the state estimates the South Platte’s irrigated farm lands could shrink dramatically as fast-growing, water-short cities such as Aurora, continue to search for new supplies.
The Colorado Water Plan estimates that the South Platte Basin will lose more than 100,000 acres of irrigated land due to urban growth in the next 30 years.
Urban water providers in the region will need to find at least 183,000 acre-feet of water in the next 30 years to ensure shortages don’t develop even after significant conservation occurs, according to state forecasts. That is equal to the amount of water needed to serve more than 360,000 new homes.
Some small communities along the Front Range already know exactly how much they can grow with their existing water supplies. Barbara Biggs, chair of the Metro Basin Roundtable and general manager of the Roxborough Water and Sanitation District, said her district has enough water to supply its service area, but has already told landowners on the town’s borders that it has enough water to supply only another 124 homes.
“Once those are built, we’re done,” Biggs said. Her district’s water comes from a long-term water lease with Aurora that dates back to the 1970s. Biggs said that while her district eventually will use all of its water, stopping growth, such restrictions are much harder for big cities to adopt, in part because they cause housing prices to rise.
The recent South Platte water purchases come as a major collaborative water project in the basin was gaining momentum.
Now that project, known as the South Platte Regional Opportunities Water Group, or SPROWG, is in pause mode, according to several participants. It was conceived to help numerous cities reuse water and to move water back and forth more easily between farms on the Eastern Plains and the urban areas farther south and west.
As competition for water in the South Platte heats up, talks are underway to see if smaller versions of SPROWG that could be brought on line more quickly are feasible and could provide opportunities for Front Range cities to collaborate, according to Joe Frank, manager of the Sterling-based Lower South Platte district.
“We are definitely concerned about [the Aurora purchases],” said Frank, whose district is collaborating with the Parker Water and Sanitation District on a major South Platte River project whose participants have said won’t involve buy and dry, but will rely instead on using alternative transfer methods.
“We’re not putting fault on anyone,” Frank said. “You can’t fault the farmers. Their water has value, and I’m not pointing fingers at Aurora. Their hands are tied. The problem is that there are not very many other options on the table.”
Jerd Smith is editor of Fresh Water News. She can be reached at 720-398-6474, via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or @jerd_smith.
Like many inventions, the discovery of Teflon happened by accident. In 1938, chemists from Dupont (now Chemours) were studying refrigerant gases when, much to their surprise, one concoction solidified. Upon investigation, they found it was not only the slipperiest substance they’d ever seen – it was also noncorrosive and extremely stable and had a high melting point.
In 1954 the revolutionary “nonstick” Teflon pan was introduced. Since then, an entire class of human-made chemicals has evolved: per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, better known as PFAS. There are upward of 6,000 of these chemicals. Many are used for stain-, grease- and waterproofing. PFAS are found in clothing, plastic, food packaging, electronics, personal care products, firefighting foams, medical devices and numerous other products.
But over time, evidence has slowly built that some commonly used PFAS are toxic and may cause cancer. It took 50 years to understand that the happy accident of Teflon’s discovery was, in fact, a train wreck.
Typically, when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency assesses chemicals for potential harm, it examines one substance at a time. That approach isn’t working for PFAS, given the sheer number of them and the fact that manufacturers commonly replace toxic substances with “regrettable substitutes” – similar, lesser-known chemicals that also threaten human health and the environment.
A class-action lawsuit brought this issue to national attention in 2005. Workers at a Parkersburg, West Virginia, DuPont plant joined with local residents to sue the company for releasing millions of pounds of one of these chemicals, known as PFOA, into the air and the Ohio River. Lawyers discovered that the company had known as far back as 1961 that PFOA could harm the liver.
The suit was ultimately settled in 2017 for US$670 million, after an eight-year study of tens of thousands of people who had been exposed. Based on multiple scientific studies, this review concluded that there was a probable link between exposure to PFOA and six categories of diseases: diagnosed high cholesterol, ulcerative colitis, thyroid disease, testicular cancer, kidney cancer and pregnancy-induced hypertension.
PFAS are often called “forever chemicals” because they don’t fully degrade. They move easily through air and water, can quickly travel long distances and accumulate in sediment, soil and plants. They have also been found in dustand food, including eggs, meat, milk, fish, fruits and vegetables.
Children are even more vulnerable than adults because they can ingest more PFAS relative to their body weight from food and water and through the air. Children also put their hands in their mouths more often, and their metabolic and immune systems are less developed. Studies show that these chemicals harm children by causing kidney dysfunction, delayed puberty, asthma and altered immune function.
PFAS have become so ubiquitous in the environment that health experts say it is probably impossible to completely prevent exposure. These substances are released throughout their life cycles, from chemical production to product use and disposal. Up to 80% of environmental pollution from common PFAS, such as PFOA, comes from production of fluoropolymers that use toxic PFAS as processing aids to make products like Teflon.
In 2009 the EPA established a health advisory level for PFOA in drinking water of 400 parts per trillion. Health advisories are not binding regulations – they are technical guidelines for state, local and tribal governments, which are primarily responsible for regulating public water systems.
I am part of a group of scientists from universities, nonprofit organizations and government agencies in the U.S. and Europe that has argued for managing the entire class of PFAS chemicals as a group, instead of one by one. We also support an “essential uses” approach that would restrict their production and use only to products that are critical for health and proper functioning of society, such as medical devices and safety equipment. And we have recommended developing safer non-PFAS alternatives.
As the EPA acknowledges, there is an urgent need for innovative solutions to PFAS pollution. Guided by good science, I believe we can effectively manage PFAS to reduce further harm, while researchers find ways to clean up what has already been released.
FromThe Associated Press (Mark Stephenson) via The North State Journal:
Mexico announced Thursday it has reached a deal with the United States to pay the shortfall in its annual contribution of water from border-area rivers by giving the U.S. Mexico’s rights to water held in border dams that normally supply cities and towns downstream.
The agreement announced Thursday allows Mexico to meet the Oct. 24 deadline which, if missed, could have endangered a cross-border water sharing treaty that greatly benefits Mexico. Mexican officials has also worried the water debt could have become an issue in the upcoming U.S. elections.
The deal transfers Mexico’s share of water held in the Amistad and Falcon dams to U.S. ownership. The amount of water transferred is enormous: [105,000 acre-feet].
Mexico said it still had enough water in other dams near the border to satisfy drinking water requirements for 13 border cities including Nuevo Laredo, Reynosa and Matamoros. The United States also agreed to help Mexico if it faces a municipal water shortage.
Mexico says the agreement will leave it with some water in the border dams it can draw on — about a three-month supply — and more water in near-border dams to supply cities and towns, mainly in the state of Tamaulipas.
Under the 1944 treaty, the quantity of water Mexico ships north from the central section of the border is only a fourth of what it receives from the U.S. along the Colorado River to the west, and it has been worried about the possibility of losing that.
Mexico was embarrassed when, over the summer, angry farmers in the border state of Chihuahua has seized a key dam there and refused to allow any more water transfers to the United States, claiming they needed the water for their own crops…
The agreement “also establishes work groups to analyze and develop water management tools to provide for increased reliability and predictability in Rio Grande water deliveries to users in the United States and Mexico,” according to the International Boundary and Water Commission, which oversees the implementation of the treaty.
The problem arose in part because of a lack of rainfall, but also because Mexico has long pursued a strategy of falling behind in water payments, hoping for a last-minute storm or hurricane that would fill border dams and streams and allow it to recoup shortfalls.
From email from the Colorado Water Conservation Board (Rob Viehl):
The Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) has drafted proposed revisions to the Rules Concerning Colorado’s Instream Flow and Natural Lake Level Program (ISF Rules). The revisions to the ISF Rules will: (1) address the rulemaking requirements of HB20-1157; (2) update a reference to the CWCB’s website; and (3) update references to Colorado Parks and Wildlife. Staff held two informal stakeholder meetings on August 3 and August 18, 2020 to discuss the draft ISF Rules revisions. Staff also has drafted a Statement of Basis and Purpose for the revised ISF Rules.
On September 16, 2020, the CWCB authorized staff to initiate the formal rulemaking process. On October 14, CWCB staff filed a Notice of Public Rulemaking Hearing and proposed revisions to the ISF Rules the Colorado Secretary of State, which will be published in the Colorado Register on October 25, 2020. The rulemaking hearing will be held on January 26, 2021. Applications for party status should be submitted to the CWCB’s Hearing Officer, Amy Beatie, by email to email@example.com and will be accepted through November 13, 2020. For more details on applying for party status, see the Notice of Public Rulemaking Hearing. For more information on this rulemaking process, contact Linda Bassi at firstname.lastname@example.org or (303) 866-3441, ext. 3204.
Community members can now share comments about Denver Water’s Gross Reservoir expansion project proposal, which is being reviewed by Boulder County.
Although a postcard sent to property owners near Gross Reservoir said public comment about the proposed expansion project should be in by Oct. 14, county staff clarified that community members can comment at any point until the Boulder County Board of Commissioners makes a final decision.
The current Oct. 14 deadline is for referral agencies and even that may be pushed if enough agencies request an extension. If an extension is granted, a new postcard will be sent to property owners, according to Boulder County.
While Boulder County spokesman Richard Hackett said it’s helpful to have community comments in early, he stressed there is no official deadline or cutoff. Some adjacent property owners, such as Timberline Fire Protection District, also are referral agencies on the project, which Hackett said is part of the explanation for the postcard’s wording.
No public meetings or hearings have been scheduled yet, but the county will announce them to its Gross Reservoir Expansion Project news list. People who want to receive emailed or text messaged notifications can sign up at here.
Meanwhile, community members can submit questions or written comments to email@example.com.
FromThe Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):
The Colorado Department of Natural Resources on Wednesday held the first meeting of the Anti-Speculation Law Work Group. The task force was established as a result of passage of a bill this year to consider ways to strengthen the current anti-speculation law and recommend any changes to a legislative committee by Aug. 15 .
The bill was sponsored by state Reps. Dylan Roberts, D-Avon and Marc Catlin, R-Montrose, and Sens. Kerry Donovan, D-Vail, and Don Coram, R-Montrose. It was inspired by a growing number purchases of agricultural land and associated water rights by investment firms, including wide-scale purchases in the Grand Valley by Water Asset Management, which is based in New York.
Current state law prohibits water speculation by requiring water to be used for a beneficial purpose. An 18-member work group made up of state agency staff, water lawyers and others will be considering how the law might be tightened.
None of the bill sponsors participated in Wednesday’s meeting. But Scott Steinbrecher, an assistant deputy attorney general co-chairing the task force, said a clear purpose of the bill is to examine how the law should be strengthened to prevent situations where water rights are bought and leased back to farmers though the intent is to use the water like an investment.
Alex Funk, a task force member who is an agricultural water resource specialist with the Colorado Water Conservation Board, a state agency, voiced concern about approaches that might limit the value of assets to agricultural producers.
“There is certainly a tension here where land and water assets are extremely valuable to producers. In some cases these are sort of their only asset,” he said…Task force member Peter Fleming, general counsel for the Colorado River District, which has been watching some of the area water-related acquisitions by investment firms with concern, said agricultural producers looking to sell their assets are entitled to do that.
“I assume we don’t want to prevent that from happening,” he said.
He said what’s important under even the current law is the intent of the buyer of water rights. He said they can profit from the water’s use but their end goal in buying rights can’t be the pure value of the water, and he’s interested in looking at ways to determine intent.
Daris Jutten, a rancher in the Uncompahgre Valley, said his interest in serving on the task force is considering impacts on property rights.
“I want to keep the land value prices where they are but I also don’t want to see buy and dry,” he said.
He was referring to situations in which transactions result in water no longer being used to irrigate agricultural land and instead going for other uses such as by municipal utilities.
Task force member Joe Frank, general manager of the Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District, said the district sees entities buying up water there with the intent to dry up land in the future.
“In addition to that we do have those who want to sell, so water is a property right. … It’s a dilemma, but we don’t want to impact people’s property rights,” he said.
A water court case is headed toward trial because the state of Colorado and a water conservancy district still cannot agree on whether the district actually needs the amount of water it claims it does for a large dam and reservoir project in the northwest corner of the state.
Expert reports from an engineering firm, an aquatic ecologist and an economics firm outline how they say the Rio Blanco Water Conservancy District can and will put its water storage rights to beneficial use. But even after Rio Blanco reduced the amount of water it’s asking for by more than 23,000 acre-feet, a report from Colorado’s top water engineers indicates the district still largely has a project in search of a need.
In their expert report submitted Aug. 31, Deputy State Engineer Tracy Kosloff and Division 6 Engineer Erin Light outline 11 instances where they say Rio Blanco has not met the requirements of state law by showing it has a specific plan and intent for the water it says it needs.
According to the report, Rio Blanco has not shown a need for water above its current supply in the categories of irrigation, municipal use, recreation, maintenance and recovery of endangered species or a back-up water supply to protect against a compact call. State engineers are asking that part or all of the water claimed for these uses be removed from the court’s final decree and deducted from the total water rights claim.
A pre-trial readiness conference is scheduled for Nov. 13. The case is scheduled to go to a 10-day trial starting Jan. 4 in Routt County District Court in Steamboat Springs, but the parties could still reach a settlement before then.
In 2014 Rio Blanco applied for a 90,000 acre-foot conditional water-storage right on the White River and proposed a dam and reservoir between Rangely and Meeker, known as the White River storage project or the Wolf Creek project. The district has now reduced that claim to either 66,720 acre-feet for an off-channel reservoir or 72,720 acre-feet for an on-channel reservoir.
There are two proposed versions of the project: one that would construct a dam and reservoir on the White River (the scale of this project is now rare in Colorado) or an off-channel reservoir at the bottom of Wolf Creek gulch, in the arid sagebrush hills just north of the river.
The conservancy district would prefer to build the off-channel option: a 66,720-acre-foot reservoir, with a dam that is 110 feet tall and 3,800 feet long. An off-channel reservoir would involve pumping water uphill from the river into the reservoir.
Rio Blanco is a taxpayer-supported special district that was formed in 1992 to operate and maintain Taylor Draw Dam, which creates Kenney Reservoir, just east of Rangely. The district extends roughly from the Yellow Creek confluence with the White River to the Utah state line.
Disputed amounts and uses
Rio Blanco says the project should store 7,000 acre-feet annually for irrigation. But Light and Kosloff’s report says according to the 2019 Technical Update to the Colorado Water Plan, the irrigated acres in the White River Basin are projected to decrease in the future, and that this storage project, because it is situated low in the basin, cannot serve the majority of the irrigated lands anyway, which are concentrated upstream along the mainstem of the White River near Meeker and along tributaries like Piceance Creek.
“Per the proposed decree, the applicant is once again requesting the court award irrigation use,” the engineer’s expert report reads. “The engineers continue to contend there is no evidence to suggest that there is a future water need for this purpose.”
Rio Blanco says some of the water would also be used in a future augmentation plan to replace depletions within the district that are out of priority due to a Colorado River Compact curtailment.
Rio Blanco is proposing that 11,887 acre-feet per year be stored as “augmentation,” or insurance in case of a compact call. According to the 1922 Colorado River Compact, the upper basin states (Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and Wyoming) must deliver 7.5 million acre-feet a year to Lake Powell for use by the lower basin states (Arizona, California and Nevada). If the upper basin doesn’t make this delivery, the lower basin can “call” for its water, triggering involuntary cutbacks in water use for the upper basin.
By releasing this replacement water stored in the proposed reservoir to meet these compact obligations, it would allow other water uses in the district to continue and avoid the mandatory cutbacks in the event of a compact call.
But state engineers say compact compliance is a problem to be tackled by the state and not individual water users. And since no one knows exactly how compact compliance would unfold (that’s still to be decided by the Upper Colorado River Commission and the state engineer) it’s not possible for Rio Blanco to have a plan in place for this augmentation water.
Light and Kosloff’s report says there is no recognized beneficial use that allows a water right “to provide water to users outside of Colorado for the purpose of allowing ongoing diversions of water rights within Colorado.”
Rio Blanco claims it needs three years-worth of drought contingency storage for uses within the basin. But state engineers say that there has never been a call on the White River below the town of Meeker, even in the driest years, and the likelihood of the reservoir being able to fill during the runoff season every year is extremely high. Light and Kosloff point out that not even Denver Water or Aurora Water have three times their annual demand in reserve.
The state also says Rio Blanco has overestimated the amount of water the town of Rangely will need, and that the need for the full amount claimed for recreation water is unsubstantiated, as is the need for water for the recovery of endangered fish species.
No comment from engineers, district officials
State engineers declined to talk to Aspen Journalism about their expert report.
Rio Blanco District Manager Alden Vanden Brink also declined to comment on the state’s opposition, citing concerns about litigation. Vanden Brink also is chair of the Yampa/White/Green River Basin Roundtable and sits on the board of the Colorado River Water Conservation District.
But another roundtable member says the project doesn’t hold water. Deirdre Macnab owns 4M Ranch, which is adjacent to the proposed project site, and was until recently the sole remaining opposer in the case. She recently pulled out of the formal water court process, citing mounting legal costs, but still opposes the project.
“Families living in western Rio Blanco County should be aware that a project that the professionals say doesn’t show any justification would put them in debt for years, and not just paying for the hundreds of millions in construction costs, but also almost a million dollars every year in electricity costs to pump the water up and over the dam,” Macnab said in a written statement. “Do Rio Blanco citizens really think this is in our economic best interests?”
Despite the state opposing the current project proposal, since 2013 it has also given roughly $850,000 to Rio Blanco in the form of Colorado Water Conservation Board grants to study the project. The Colorado River Water Conservation District has also given Rio Blanco $50,000 to investigate the feasibility of the project.
River District General Manager Andy Mueller said the multi-purpose water uses outlined in the project is the way water projects should be put together.
“Identifying the right-size project for the White River is still very important,” he said. “The specifics about the White River storage project as it’s currently proposed I think are things that still need to be worked out.”
Aspen Journalism is a local, nonprofit, investigative news organization covering water and rivers in collaboration with The Steamboat Pilot & Today and other Swift Communications newspapers. This story ran in the Oct. 6 edition of The Steamboat Pilot & Today.
The Boulder County Community Planning and Permitting Department’s review of a planned expansion of Gross Reservoir in western Boulder County is underway, officials announced Thursday.
This is the latest in a years-long dispute between Boulder County and Denver Water, who owns and operates the reservoir and dam. A Boulder District Court judge in December 2019 affirmed the county’s right to require that Denver Water go through its 1041 land use review process in order to expand the reservoir…
“Denver Water put in a request to determine if the expansion project would be exempt from our land use code,” Boulder County spokesperson Richard Hackett said.
However, the water utility company in July dismissed that appeal soon after the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission granted approval for Denver Water to continue with design and construction after the county told the company it would not conduct the review while the litigation was ongoing. The regulatory commission’s approval stipulates that project construction begin within two years. The project in 2017 received the other permit it needed from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers…
No public meetings or hearings have been scheduled yet, but the county will announce them to its Gross Reservoir Expansion Project news list. People who want to receive emailed or text messaged notifications can sign up at here. Hackett said the agencies reviewing the application have until Oct. 14 to return initial comments, although the county has the right to extend that deadline due to extenuating circumstances caused by the coronavirus.
In the meantime, community members can submit questions or written comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. There is no deadline for doing so. Comments will be accepted until the Boulder County Board of Commissioners makes a decision.
Here’s a deep-dive into the proposed Whitney Reservoir Project from David O. Williams that’s running in The Rocky Mountain Post. Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:
With Wednesday’s move by the Trump administration to weaken one of the nation’s bedrock conservation laws – the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) – all eyes will increasingly be on local opposition and regulation when it comes to major infrastructure on federal lands.
That’s pretty much what Eagle County Commissioner Kathy Chandler-Henry told me when I asked about the proposed Whitney Reservoir project currently being scoped out by the U.S. Forest Service along Homestake Creek in southeastern Eagle County. The reservoir is being proposed by Colorado Springs and Aurora to pump Western Slope water to the Front Range.
All that’s currently being considered by the Forest Service is a test-drilling project to detect fatal flaws and see if one of four possible dam configurations is feasible, at which point an actual proposal for Whitney Reservoir would be submitted and considered by the feds, including a possible request to shrink the Holy Cross Wilderness by up to 500 acres to realign the road.
The Forest Service was flooded with more than 500 online comments opposing the drilling and the reservoir, demanding higher levels of environmental scrutiny for a special use permit for the drilling project that could be issued under what’s known as a “categorical exclusion.” Opponents are demanding an Environmental Assessment (EA) or Environmental Impact Statement (EIS)…
What didn’t make it into my Vail Daily story due to space constraints was the Eagle County angle. It’s important because way back in the 1990s, when I first moved to the Vail area, there was a huge battle going on over what was then called Homestake II – a reservoir proposed for the same area by the same cities, which still hold 20,000 acre-feet of water rights here.
Eagle County used its 1041 permitting powers, which give counties some degree of local control over infrastructure projects with regional or statewide impacts, to deny Homestake II – a move that wound up in court and went all the way to the Colorado Supreme Court before Eagle County ultimately won. Those 1041 regulatory powers were granted by a state law in the 1970s.
All of that led to the Eagle River Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that outlines how all the various stakeholders in the Eagle River Basin would work together going forward to resolve their issues. But one important thing remains true: Eagle County, not a signatory to the MOU, still has 1041 permitting authority.
So Chandler-Henry, the water leader on the board, had some important things to say last spring. First, on any proposal that would require redrawing the boundaries of the Holy Cross Wilderness Area: “I can tell you that’s not anything that we would ever be supportive of is moving wilderness boundaries.” Then, on the importance of local permitting power:
Chandler-Henry points out that federal protections have been stripped away by the current administration, with fens and ephemeral streams recently being removed from the definition of Waters of the United States by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Those changes, she said, are making it much easier for water providers to get their federal permits in place.
“Which means 1041 is all the more important for local considerations,” Chandler-Henry said, adding she believes her constituents oppose a dam. “I think that that is going to be a huge public sentiment, that we don’t want anything there.”
That being said, the county has to be somewhat diplomatic on both the test drilling and a possible future reservoir. Eagle County officials said they are working with the Forest Service on the test drilling proposal and may comment later…
“Eagle County cannot take a position regarding, and will not be commenting on, any future reservoir project because of its permitting authority powers,” county officials said in an email. “Eagle County must avoid prejudging a file based upon this authority.
“Eagle County plans to meet with the USDA USFS to discuss procedural questions regarding the proposed Whitney Creek Geotechnical Investigation project. Depending upon the outcome of that conversation, Eagle County may or may not choose to provide comment [to the Forest Service],” officials added.
Chandler-Henry, who talked to me well before the formal test drilling application and the recent Trump move to gut NEPA, said the county is keeping an open mind on 1041 permitting for whatever proposal eventually comes before the board. However, she reiterated that shrinking the Holy Cross boundary – something Congress would have to approve – is a non-starter.
“Sen. [Michael] Bennett’s office says that whenever they’re approached by Aurora Water about moving those boundaries in Holy Cross, they say, ‘You need to go see what Eagle County thinks.’” Chandler-Henry added. “To date they have not done that because I think they know what we think about that.”
An official with Bennet’s office confirmed they are aware of the wilderness adjustment plan but are not supportive of pulling back boundaries to make room for a proposed reservoir because there is not broad local backing. Bennet has been a strong advocate of wilderness expansion, not shrinkage…
Conservation groups see this as a key issue, linking the test drilling to an eventual dam proposal that could lead to less wilderness. The original Homestake II proposal would have been in the Holy Cross Wilderness Area…
Chandler-Henry said Eagle County is firm on the wilderness issue but staying openminded on 1041 so any proposal can be weighed fairly on its merits.
“One of the things that we’re doing, which is going to be really useful, is trying to tie our 1041 permitting in with the community water plan that [Eagle River Watershed Council] is working on … because a 1041 allows us to look at environmental impact, economic impact, infrastructure,” Chandler-Henry said, adding the utility has been modeling for future growth.
“Those are always our concerns with any sort of 1041 permit,” Chandler-Henry added. “What happens if water is dammed up in a reservoir? Then what happens to the Eagle River, to the environment, to the subdivisions that are relying on that water, to the recreation economy?”
Chandler-Henry said Aurora Water has been a part of that planning process…
The U.S. Forest Service has been inundated with more than 500 online comments in opposition to a geotechnical and drilling study by the cities of Aurora and Colorado Springs to determine the feasibility of a second reservoir in the Homestake Creek drainage six miles southwest of Red Cliff, including objections from nearby towns and a local state senator…
Operating together as Homestake Partners, Aurora and Colorado Springs own water rights dating back to the 1950s that, under the 1998 Eagle River Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), ensure them 20,000 more acre-feet of average annual water yield. They’ve been studying four potential dam sites in the Homestake Valley several miles below the cities’ existing Homestake Reservoir, which holds 43,600 acre-feet…
Western Slope signatories of the Eagle River MOU were tight-lipped on the geophysical study and drilling. Jim Pokrandt, director of community affairs for the Colorado River District, declined to comment on the investigatory test work, saying only, “Yes, we have signed the MOU. That said … we are not participating in the Whitney Creek effort.”
Diane Johnson,communications and public affairs manager for the Eagle River Water & Sanitation District, said: “The short answer is we – [ERWSD] and Upper Eagle Regional Water Authority — support [Homestake Partners’] right to pursue an application for their yield. We trust the permitting process to bring all impacts and benefits to light for the community to consider and weigh in total.” Neither organization submitted a comment to the Forest Service…
Two prominent local conservation groups – the Eagle Valley Land Trust and the Eagle River Watershed Council – both submitted comments to the Forest Service expressing serious reservations about both the drilling and the possibility of a dam…
The Eagle River MOU was drawn up after a lengthy court battle that ended in the 1990s when Eagle County rejected the cities’ Homestake II reservoir proposal using its 1041 powers under a state law passed in the 1970s that gives counties permit authority over certain outside infrastructure projects that could impact the local economy and environment.
Besides Homestake Partners (the two cities), the MOU was signed by the Colorado River District, Climax Molybdenum Company, and the Vail Consortium consisting of the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District, Upper Eagle Regional Water Authority and Vail Associates (now Vail Resorts).
The two private companies signed onto the MOU – Vail Resorts and Freeport-McMoRan (Climax) – declined to comment on either the drilling study or Whitney Reservoir.
Any proposed water storage project by any of the signatories has to meet the objectives of the MOU, which are, “Develop a joint use water project in Upper Eagle River basin that minimizes environmental impacts, is cost-effective, technically feasible, can be permitted by local, state and federal agencies, and provides sufficient yield to meet the water requirements of project participants as hereinafter defined.”
ERWSD’s Johnson said the water provider can’t comment on Whitney Reservoir because its environmental impacts have yet to be defined, but she did have overall praise for the MOU.
“To date, water users in the Eagle River basin have received great benefits from the MOU,” Johnson said. “It has been the basis to develop key elements of the local municipal and snowmaking water supplies that have been essential to the economic vitality of our community.”
The MOU provides 20,000 acre-feet for the cities, 10,000 acre-feet of firm water yield for the Vail Consortium (meaning if there’s a shortage, those needs are met first), and 3,000 acre-feet of water storage for Climax. About 2,000 acre-feet were already developed with Eagle Park Reservoir, but that leaves 28,000 acre-feet of yield and 3,000 of storage undeveloped.
With another drought year draining the Colorado River system, a new economic study suggests that a wide-scale water conservation program in Colorado to reduce stress on the river could cost more than $120 million, depending on the amount of water saved for use in the program.
The study examined how much money it would take to adequately compensate ranchers and farmers who agree to temporarily remove water from Colorado’s West Slope hay meadows and corn fields using a practice known as fallowing. It also looked at how such a conservation program would affect the farm economy and the communities and workers who rely on it for jobs.
“Potentially the program could be beneficial to the participants,” said BBC Managing Director Douglas Jeavens, a principal with BBC Consulting, which conducted the work. “The payments have to be large enough to offset any losses,” he said.
The water saved would go into a special drought pool in Lake Powell. The pool is envisioned as a way for Colorado and other states in the Colorado River Basin’s Upper Basin—Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico—to further protect their ability to use the river’s water even as Lake Powell continues to shrink.
Kathleen Curry, a former lawmaker and rancher in the Gunnison River Basin, said the analysis covered all the variables at play.
“I thought they did a good job,” she said. “The numbers they came up with are reasonable.”
The study looked at two different scenarios. Under a moderate scenario it examined the impact of fallowing 25,000 acres of West Slope land annually over five years, and an aggressive scenario under which 100,000 acres of land would be fallowed for the same period of time.
The study, released Sept. 25, was sponsored by the Glenwood Springs-based Colorado River District, the Durango-based Southwestern Water Conservation District, and Tri-State Generation and Transmission. It adds important new detail to a statewide discussion about whether Colorado should participate in the drought pool.
Since the state began studying the pool’s feasibility in 2019, West Slope ranchers have said repeatedly that they can’t make a decision about whether to participate if they don’t know how much money they would be paid and how such a program would affect the local economy.
The study provides some preliminary answers.
Across the Yampa, Colorado, Gunnison and Dolores river basins, under the moderate scenario, ranchers would see a net benefit of nearly $9 million, while under the aggressive scenario, the net benefit would rise to $36 million over a five-year period. The water in the study was priced in a range starting at $194 an acre-foot and rising to $263 an acre-foot.
Individual ranchers who agree to fallow 100 acres of land could see an annual benefit, after expenses, of more than $50,000 under at least two scenarios, according to BBC’s analysis.
In modeling changes to the economy, the study found that 55 jobs would be lost under the moderate scenario, while 236 jobs would be lost under the aggressive scenario.
It also found that hay prices would rise 6 percent as supplies tighten and livestock populations would shrink by 2 percent.
Another key concern for ranchers and others is whether taking water off the fields could harm other water users on the river farther downstream.
“This is a critical issue,” said Jeavens. “But we think looking ahead we could design a program that either reduces or eliminates that risk.”
The pool would be filled with 500,000 acre-feet of water, roughly half of which would likely come from Colorado, should it, along with Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico, agree that filling the drought pool is doable.
Under a broader statewide study also underway, ranchers and cities would be asked to voluntarily set aside water for the drought pool and would be paid for whatever water they contributed to the program.
The Colorado Water Conservation Board, which is conducting the statewide feasibility analysis, declined to comment on the West Slope economic study.
Whether Colorado’s Front Range will embark on a similar study focusing on its contributions to the conservation program isn’t clear yet.
Previously Front Range cities have said they would be willing to contribute whatever water and/or cash is necessary to fill the drought pool in a way that is fair to cities and agricultural producers, as well as to different regions of the state.
The Colorado River, which starts high in Rocky Mountain National Park, supplies roughly half of the drinking water on the Front Range and is also used to irrigate millions of acres of hay meadows, corn fields and other crops on both the West Slope and Eastern Plains.
But if the drought-stressed river continues its decline, it could feasibly trigger involuntary cutbacks under the Colorado River Compact for the Upper Basin states, affecting both Colorado’s West Slope and Front Range.
Though such a scenario is still considered unlikely, policy makers and others want to see Colorado develop some kind of insurance against such a catastrophic event.
Who would pay for the conservation program remains to be decided. Some have suggested that thirsty state’s in the Colorado River’s Lower Basin—California, Nevada and Arizona—ante up any needed cash. Others believe that a new set of fees or taxes could fund the ambitious effort.
Don Schwindt, a rancher who sits on the board of the Southwestern Water Conservation District, said the study is a good step forward, but he wants more detailed analyses.
“These numbers are as good as any that have been generated. But the simple answer right now is that this is not enough money to generate the water. For my operation, I have to have a higher dollar than those averages or I am going to go broke.
“We’ve moved forward,” he said, “but we don’t have anything we can take to the bank yet.”
Jerd Smith is editor of Fresh Water News. She can be reached at 720-398-6474, via email at email@example.com or @jerd_smith.
FromThe Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):
The secondary economic impacts of paying western Colorado farmers to temporarily fallow fields in times of drought could be similar to the secondary benefits resulting from the spending of those payments, a new study has found.
But BBC Research and Consulting says the dollars from payment spending would flow to different businesses, potentially shifting from smaller, agriculturally focused communities to larger towns and cities.
In addition, the payments would only benefit the regional economy if they come from outside western Colorado, because payments originating on the Western Slope would only result in shifting money around within the region as opposed to creating a new economic benefit, the study says.
The research was commissioned by the Colorado River Water Bank Workgroup, which consists of the Colorado River District, the Southwestern Water Conservation District, The Nature Conservancy, the Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, the Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association, the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District and the Grand Valley Water Users Association.
It’s intended to help gauge the impact on local agricultural economies should Western Slope farmers participate in voluntary, temporary, compensated fallowing as part of a demand management program involving Upper Colorado River Basin states including Colorado.
Such a program is being considered as a means for the states to be able to store extra water in Lake Powell so they can continue meeting their water delivery obligations to downstream states in times of drought, and head off potential mandatory curtailment of water uses under an interstate compact…
The study looks at fallowing grass hay, alfalfa and corn. It estimates that regionally it would cost an average of $236 per acre-foot of water involved, or about $470 per fallowed acre, to get farmers to participate. It says producers also may require payments covering direct fallowing costs, such as weed and pest control, and payments also may have to be made to irrigation companies for lost revenues and added management costs.
The study evaluates a moderate, 12,700-acre hypothetical fallowing program involving 25,000 acre-feet of water a year for five years across western Colorado, and a more aggressive, 52,100-acre program that would involve 25,000 acre-feet a year for five years within each of four major Western Slope river basins.
The study finds that the moderate approach would result in a minimum of a $5.7 million annual reduction in crop production, and the aggressive approach, at least a $23.2 million reduction.
Those reductions would result in an estimated loss of at least 64 or 260 on-farm jobs, respectively, although most of those would involve the farmers themselves who are being compensated.
The study estimates that when comparing that compensation to their lost farm income, farmers collectively would come out at least $2.2 million ahead each year in the moderate scenario and $8.6 million ahead in the aggressive approach.
The bigger focus of the study is what secondary effects would result from the fallowing due to impacts on businesses such as farm and ranch suppliers, and businesses providing household goods and services to affected workers.
In the moderate scenario, the study estimates at least 55 secondary jobs would be lost to reduced crop production, while there would be an increase of at least 27 jobs resulting from spending of fallowing payments.
Under the aggressive scenario, at least 236 secondary jobs could be lost from reduced production, compared to at least 109 new jobs being supported related to payment spending.
But the study says there could be a net annual gain of $546,000 in secondary income from the fallowing under the moderate scenario, and $2.4 million under the aggressive one.
Doug Jeavons, managing director at BBC Research and Consulting, said that despite the net job loss, the new jobs that would be created could tend to be in banking and finance, and those could pay more than the lost farm-related jobs.
The fallowing would mean fewer sales of seed, fertilizer, hauling services and labor, but could boost spending in areas such as purchase of vehicles and farm machinery, with some of the fallowing payments also being used for household consumption and reducing debt…
The study also says annual net secondary income also could fall with fallowing, by as much as $393,000 under the moderate scenario and as much as about $1.46 million under the aggressive one.
This could happen if farmers spend less of their fallowing money locally. It also accounts for the possibility that reduced forage production from fallowing could affect the livestock industry, driving up hay prices and causing ranchers to reduce herd sizes.
It says that based on what has been historically seen when it comes to hay production declines in the region, the moderate fallowing approach could result in just over a 0.5% drop in livestock production and a $3 million drop in annual livestock sales, and the aggressive approach, a possible 2.2% production drop and $13.4 million annual revenue loss.
The Colorado River District said in its news release that its board hasn’t weighed whether a fallowing program is good for the Western Slope, but is gathering data through efforts such as the study to determine if it would have negative impacts, and if so, at what scale.
It also said if a demand management program is created in Colorado, Western Slope agriculture would only be part of the solution and Colorado River users in all parts of the state must contribute water to the program. This would include Front Range cities that divert that water across the Continental Divide…
Speaking on a river district webinar Thursday on the study, Sonja Chavez, general manager of the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District, said any Western Slope fallowing program won’t be one-size-fits-all, and would have to be structured to address local concerns such as soil impacts…
One concern in her district is that parts of it may have such shallow soils that they could take three to five years to recover from fallowing.
Another consideration is that some western Colorado basins export substantial amounts of hay to other states, and even other countries.
If fallowing primarily reduced exports, effects on local livestock production might be minimal.
But BBC Research and Consulting’s report notes that hay exporters may be resistant to jeopardize customer relationships by fallowing fields…
BBC Research and Consulting says measures such as split-season versus full-season fallowing could reduce economic impacts from fallowing, and ensuring that participation is spread widely across and within various river basins could spread out the impacts.
Chavez likes the general idea of widely distributing fallowing, but says that could increase costs for monitoring such a program, evaluating results and ensuring that conserved water makes it downstream to be stored rather than being used elsewhere.
From email from the Colorado River District (Alesha Frederick):
Study found demand management could result in fewer agricultural support jobs and reduce livestock production on the West Slope
The Colorado River Basin is in the 21st year of drought, and major reservoirs on the river are sitting at less than half full. There is growing concern that agricultural economies on the West Slope might be harmed if Colorado and other Upper Basin states (Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico) are unable to meet their obligations under the Colorado River Compact. With these concerns in mind, the state of Colorado is looking at ways to prevent such a crisis from occurring. One of the ideas Upper Basin states are discussing is paying water users to consume less water. The water saved would then be banked in Lake Powell. The states are calling it demand management.
The question is, if farmers and ranchers are paid to voluntarily fallow their fields, how would it change West Slope communities where agricultural businesses employ people, pay taxes and buy equipment? The recently released Upper Basin Demand Management Economic Study in Western Colorado sought to determine the secondary economic impacts that might occur if West Slope agricultural producers participate in a demand management program.
Consistent with its charge to represent and protect the Western Slope’s water interests, the Colorado River District has been actively engaged in statewide conversations about a potential Demand Management program. Through its participation in the Water Bank Workgroup, the District led the call for additional economic analysis that would help to inform the state’s decision whether or not to move forward with such a program.
“Our job is to protect West Slope water users. Studying the potential negative impacts of a new program such as demand management is vital to this work,” said Colorado River District General Manager Andy Mueller. “This secondary economic impact study ensures that agricultural producers on the West Slope have the information they need to make decisions about their farms and ranches. It’s part of the River District’s ongoing efforts to ensure water security for our farms, ranches, and rural communities.”
The Colorado River District’s Board of Directors has not weighed in on whether such a program is good for the West Slope. However, the Board is gathering data from efforts like this study to determine if such a program will have negative impacts, and if so, what the scale of those impacts is likely to be.
While the study examined the impacts of fallowing West Slope agriculture if a demand management program is created in Colorado, Western Colorado agriculture will only be one piece of the solution. If such a program is implemented, all types of Colorado River water users in all regions of the state must contribute water to the program. This study is not an endorsement of demand management but a study of its potential impacts.
The study examined two scenarios, a moderate and aggressive demand management program. The moderate demand management scenario considered a 25,000 acre-feet per year reduction in consumptive use by Western Colorado agricultural users for five years, while the aggressive scenario considered 25,000 acre-feet per year within each Western Slope river basin over a 5-year timeframe.
These are some of the key findings of the study:
* To pay producers at a level that they would incentivize participation in such a program, annual payments to irrigators are projected to range from an average of $194 per acre-foot under the moderate scenario to $263 per acre-foot under the aggressive scenario.
* For compensation payments and spending of those payments to benefit the regional economy, funding for those payments must come from outside of Western Colorado. If all that money was raised in Western Colorado, the payments would shift money around within the region, but it would not create a new economic benefit to offset the impacts.
* Growers producing forage crops including grass hay, alfalfa and corn are most likely to take part in such a program compared to fruit growers and small grain producers.
* Reduced production of forage crops, mostly hay, would require fewer purchases of items such as seed, fertilizer, labor, hauling and other services. This in turn could lead to a loss of an estimated 55 agricultural support jobs under a moderate scenario and 236 jobs under the aggressive scenario. Jobs supported by demand management payments could look very different from the jobs currently supported by hay production.
* Under an aggressive demand management scenario, a demand management program could increase local hay prices by about 6% and decrease the regional livestock inventory by about 2%. The potential price and livestock impact under the moderate demand management scenario would be much smaller.
The study was completed by BBC Research and Consulting and commissioned by the Colorado River Water Bank Workgroup made up of the Colorado River District, Southwestern Water Conservation District, The Nature Conservancy, Tri-State Generation and Transmission, the Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association, Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District and the Grand Valley Water Users Association.
Since the 2016 revelation that groundwater in Fountain Valley, which provided drinking water for Security-Widefield and Fountain, was contaminated with toxic per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), which include a number of individual chemicals such as PFOS, PFOA, PFHxS and PFHpA, government agencies, residents and community activists have been struggling to come to terms with what is arguably one of the largest ecological contaminations in Colorado’s history.
On Aug. 4, Chris Reh, associate director of the U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), led a virtual information session for residents of Security-Widefield and Fountain regarding its ongoing PFAS exposure assessment. The assessment will randomly select participants and test blood, urine and tap water for levels of PFAS chemicals. According to Reh, the assessment will identify how people might be exposed to chemicals, calculate the extent of exposure and determine if there is a threat to health.
ATSDR’s exposure assessment is the first part of a process that will continue in 2021 with the Pease Study, a national multi-site study conducted locally by the Colorado School of Public Health that will look at the human health effects of PFAS exposure through drinking contaminated water. While the sites chosen for this study are near Air Force operations, PFAS exposure extends far beyond Air Force bases. Much of the focus in El Paso County is on Fountain Valley, but the Air Force Academy on the city’s Northside also released PFAS chemicals, and residents of Woodmen Valley report health concerns as well, though they are not included in the ATSDR exposure assessment.
El Paso County is one of eight sites nationwide identified by ATSDR for exposure assessments related to PFAS chemicals. The sites, located in Alaska, Colorado, Delaware, Massachusetts, New York, Texas, Washington and West Virginia, are co-located with Air Force bases that used aqueous film forming foam (AFFF), a type of chemical used to extinguish fuel fires and that contains PFAS chemicals…
Since 2016, community activists have been working to raise awareness of this environmental threat, and Colorado legislators have recently passed laws to address PFAS contamination. While much of the blame, and legal consequences, for this massive and widespread contamination have been aimed at companies that produce PFAS chemicals, such as DuPont and 3M, the military has known of the potential dangers of these chemicals since at least 1989.
The Air Force Occupational and Environmental Health Laboratory published a study titled “Biological Analysis of Three Ponds at Peterson AFB [Air Force Base], Colorado Springs CO” in November 1989 that raised concerns about contamination coming from the installation. “A series of three man-made ponds on the golf course at Peterson AFB, Colorado Springs CO were analyzed to determine their current ecological status and future potential for recreational fishing,” notes the report, which goes on to identify that “Pond 3 cannot be recommended for stocking with fish in its current condition. Low species diversity suggests that this pond is being stressed by an unknown pollutant.” The report identifies a nearby storm drain as a “chronic source of pollutants for this pond.” While the Air Force analyzed a number of factors, such as pH and the levels of phytoplankton and zooplankton, it was quick to identify AFFF as a possible problem, noting that it “was accidentally spilled into pond 3 shortly before the first fish kill. A subsequent restocking resulted in a second fish kill.”
Stephen Brady of the Peterson-Schriever Garrison Public Affairs office commented, “When there is a potential our missions are having, or may have had, an adverse impact on communities, we take appropriate measures to protect it. When PFOS was discovered in the aquifer south of base in 2016, we immediately stopped using the legacy foam during fire response and training. We replaced the legacy foam in our fire response vehicles in November 2016 and in the hangar fire suppression systems in 2018 with a more environmentally responsible foam. Our first responders will only use the new environmentally responsible firefighting foam for emergency life-saving response, and do not discharge it during training. The Air Force takes environmental stewardship seriously, and continuously strives to meet or exceed environmental standards.”
By the early 2000s DuPont and 3M were facing lawsuits from residents near their plants and increased scrutiny from the Environmental Protection Agency, but it wasn’t until 2016 that the EPA formally issued a health advisory regarding PFAS chemicals and set advisory levels of contamination at 70 parts per trillion (ppt)…
While Rosenbaum was organizing FVCWC, the Colorado School of Public Health began to study exposure and health effects from PFAS chemicals. The study was named “PFAS Aware.” In 2018 the PFAS Aware team began sampling water in Fountain Valley. Initial results published in December 2018 showed that “total PFASs in untreated well water ranged from 18 – 2300 ppt” and that “PFASs detected are typical of fire-fighting foam-impacted groundwater.”
On Sept. 18, 2019, the Air Force Academy sent a notice to Woodmen Valley residents, signed by Col. Brian Hartless, the installation commander, warning them that “firefighting foam containing PFOS and PFOA was used for firefighter training at the Academy from the 1970s until 1990, when we began to consolidate all of our training at Peterson Air Force Base. After that time, the equipment used to dispense the foam was periodically tested until approximately 2005.” Hartless did note that “this firefighting foam has never been used to extinguish a petroleum-based aircraft fire at the Academy” and that “the foam now in use at the Academy is a more environmentally friendly formula that we began using in approximately 2017.” Hartless went on to inform residents that the Air Force would begin sampling wells within the Woodmen Valley Fire Protection District.
According to Hartless, Air Force Civil Engineer Center representatives “identified 37 private wells used for drinking water at homes closest in proximity to the southern base boundary for sampling. To date, 35 of the 37 wells have been sampled.”
Bill Beaudin, a Woodmen Valley resident since 1978, questions the Air Force’s testing process. “The north border of our property is the south border of the Academy,” he says. “We live on six acres. For many years until 1995 we all used well water. We were offered to go on city water at that time and most of us took that option. About 38 families chose not to go on city water for whatever reason.”
Longtime residents like Beaudin were concerned about the fact that the Air Force only tested the wells still in use. “The rest of us all drank that water and so did our children for all of those years in the ’70s, ’80s and early ’90s until we went on city water,” says Beaudin, “and yet the Air Force Academy chose to just do this select group.”
On March 24, the Air Force announced in a news release, “recent well water monitoring tests on the southeast perimeter of the U.S. Air Force Academy show Perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) below the Environmental Protection Agency’s Lifetime Health Advisory level of 70 ppt.”
While the Air Force reported PFOS and PFOA levels below the EPA advisory limits, Rosenbaum says that doesn’t tell the whole story. ”There’s 4,700 different types [of PFAS],” she says, “PFHxS is toxic firefighting foam, which may or may not have PFOA, which is Teflon, or PFAS, which is Scotchgard water-repellent. So when the Air Force Academy said ‘we’re below levels of PFOA and PFAS,’ all of us activists who have been doing this for four years were like, ‘duh.’ You don’t have a Teflon pan company. You don’t have a Scotchgard water-proofing company. You have toxic firefighting foam, so here, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility [PEER] did a FOIA [Freedom of Information Act request] to try to get the PFHxS levels, and they are really high.”
On March 12, 12 days before the Air Force’s statement, PEER reported that “The Air Force Academy test data of neighboring drinking water wells found levels of two individual PFAS chemicals, PFHxS and PFHpA, at more than 200 ppt in two locations” and “combined PFAS levels at a single well of 503.9 ppt and 537.8 ppt across two separate tests.”
The consternation over the levels of PFAS chemicals in the water stems from concerns over the health effects of exposure to these chemicals. Heightened levels of PFAS chemicals have been linked to health problems such as increased cholesterol levels, changes in liver enzymes, decreased vaccine response in children and increased risk of kidney or testicular cancer, according to Rachel Rogers, an environmental health scientist with ATSDR.
“A neighbor that was four houses away, her husband died of testicular cancer,” says Beaudin. “A neighbor who has since passed away died from both kidney and bladder cancer. They were longtime neighbors of ours.”
Rosenbaum notes, “The main health issues here are kidney cancers, prostate cancer and a lot of autoimmune diseases.” Autoimmune disease are often difficult to diagnose because symptoms can come from other common conditions…
Lawmakers in Colorado addressed problems with PFAS contamination during the 2019 legislative session. Tony Exum, D-House District 18; Lois Landgraf, R-House District 21; Pete Lee, D-Senate District 11; and Dennis Hisey, R-Senate District 2, sponsored House Bill 1279, which bans the use of AFFFs that use PFAS chemicals for testing or training purposes. In 2020 the same group of legislators sponsored House Bill 1119, which further regulates the use of PFAS chemicals.
On July 10, The city of Colorado Springs and Colorado Springs Utilities, along with the cities of Aurora, Greeley, Fountain and a number of water districts filed a motion to vacate an administrative action hearing by the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission (WQCC) in regards to a proposed new policy to address PFAS contamination, referred to as policy 20-1. The motion states, “The Joint Parties recognize the importance of assuring that drinking water supplies are not contaminated by PFAS, and that water supplies contaminated by PFAS are cleaned up. Vacating the administrative action hearing will not preclude the cleanup of PFAS; it will require that regulatory measures imposed by the Water Quality Control Division are properly authorized through a rulemaking hearing.”
Rosenbaum was confused by the motion. “At first the injunction was pretty difficult to understand,” she says. “Here we are Saturday morning and it came across that they wanted all the PFAS discussions taken out of the meeting. This is our fifth contamination to our water district here. We have to do something completely different and drastic and start writing new policy. The state health department wasn’t making a new law, they were adding language to the policy they already had in place.
According to Jennifer Kemp, a public affairs specialist with Colorado Springs Utilities, “The reason for our joining several other Front Range entities on the motion to vacate is because we did not agree with the WQCC’s approach to regulating PFAS. Under Colorado’s State Administrative Procedure Act, a policy is a general statement of interpretation that is not meant to be a binding rule. Therefore, we joined other stakeholders in asserting that the regulation of PFAS is so important that it should have been accomplished with a thorough rulemaking process to establish a statewide PFAS standard.”
On July 14 the WQCC adopted policy 20-1. “What this policy does,” explains Rosenbaum, “is it forces wastewater to test for PFAS. Your drinking water is fine, it’s not contaminated yet, but do you have an industry that’s dumping everything into the wastewater? We have the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, so they’re not dumping in rivers anymore but they’re dumping into wastewater.
Now we’re making that accountable in our state. Now we’re explicitly stating in writing CDPHE [Colorado Department of Health and Environment] will receive extra funding to help that water district do an investigation of the industries that are connected to the wastewater system to see if they have PFAS. If they do, now they have to filter it at their site. If you own a restaurant, you have a grease trap. You can’t just dump in the wastewater. If you have a dental office, it’s explicitly written that they have to filter mercury. We’re not doing anything different, we’re just directly applying it where they’ve gotten away with no rules because they’ve been allowed to self-regulate.”
While ATSDR completes their current study, Rosenbaum is planning her next steps. “We need to set maximum contaminant levels in this state,” she says. “What we can do is stop the industry from adding more [PFAS contamination] in. New Hampshire set it at 18 ppt, where the state health department wanted to set it at 700 ppt for PFHxS, which is stupid. The EPA isn’t monitoring PFHxS, they’re just doing PFOA and PFAS, so we brought in evidence from other states saying PFHxs is actually the more harmful one because it’s more prevalent.”
The U.S. Supreme Court kicks off its new term next month with a unique “original jurisdiction” water dispute—the likes of which could become more common as the climate changes.
The justices are set to hear Texas v. New Mexico, virtually, on their first day of oral arguments Oct. 5. Original jurisdiction cases go straight to the high court, rather than working their way through lower benches first…
“The tradition has been the justices are not enthusiastic about hearing these cases because they involve such highly technical issues,” said University of Maryland law professor Robert Percival, who tracks environmental issues at the high court…
What’s on deck in Texas v. New Mexico?
Set for argument next month, Texas v. New Mexico involves the 1949 Pecos River Compact, which governs how the two states share water from the Pecos River, which runs more than 900 miles from northern New Mexico to western Texas.
The Supreme Court must decide whether a “river master” in charge of annual calculations gave New Mexico too much credit for water deliveries to Texas during a period of heavy rains and flooding from a major storm in 2014—when New Mexico stored water for its neighbor but ultimately lost some of it to evaporation.
The United States will argue as a friend-of-the-court supporting New Mexico in the case. The Bureau of Reclamation runs the New Mexico reservoir that held the water.
Does the case have broader impacts?
The dispute is an example of increasingly familiar situations in which decades-old water compacts don’t adequately account for population growth, economic shifts, and decreased rainfall and water storage capabilities, K&L Gates attorneys said in a recent analysis.
“As a result, these interstate compacts appear to be sometimes causing more disagreement than resolution,” attorneys Molly K. Barker, Natalie J. Reid, and Alyssa A. Moir wrote.
The Pecos River case will test the justices’ willingness to read water compacts strictly or flexibly, and to account for extreme weather and other changing circumstances, Craig said.
“It’s going to be interesting for seeing how the court tries to interpret these very old compacts in these situations that weren’t part of the bargain that states were initially striking,” she said…
What about future water disputes at the Supreme Court?
Two other interstate water cases are brewing before special masters, and could land on the Supreme Court’s calendar in a future term.
Texas is going up against both New Mexico and Colorado in a dispute over the Rio Grande Compact and how it treats groundwater that’s connected to the river. Mississippi and Tennessee are also fighting about groundwater in a closely watched case involving the states’ rights to a shared aquifer.
The cases are of particular interest as climate change affects water availability, University of Maryland’s Percival said.
“As climate change increases droughts and makes surface water increasingly scarce,” he said, “groundwater is where cities and states are increasingly turning for their water resources.”
Many communities in the West are growing, and in some places that’s putting pressure on already scarce water supplies.
That’s the case in northern Colorado, where a proposed set of reservoirs promises to allow small suburbs to keep getting bigger. The project, called the Northern Integrated Supply Project (NISP), has stirred up a familiar debate over how the West grows, and whether water should be a limiting factor.
NISP — with its two new reservoirs, and network of pipelines across a broad sweep of Northern Colorado — is close to being fully permitted, which would pave the way to begin construction of the infrastructure project to satisfy the needs of 15 fast-growing Front Range municipalities and water providers. The project promises to give those communities water to build new homes and businesses — without buying it from farmers.
Glade Reservoir is the proposed body of water that would fill a bathtub-shaped valley north of Fort Collins that currently acts as a straight stretch of Highway 287…
Glade would be one of the Western U.S.’s biggest new reservoirs to come online in the past couple decades. With a more than $1 billion price tag, a project of this size and scale has those who live near the new reservoir and along pipeline routes concerned…
Northern Water, the quasi-governmental agency that moves water through tunnels, canals and reservoirs across a broad swath of Northern Colorado, is pushing for NISP’s construction on behalf of 15 other water providers, mostly small suburbs that have ambitions to grow. The communities of Dacono, Firestone, Eaton, Lafayette, Windsor and Severance are all participants in the project, among others…
NISP is getting close to the end of a federal, state and local permitting process. Since first formally submitting for permits in 2004, the project has jumped through regulatory hurdles like a federal environmental impact statement, a water quality certification from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, and a 1041 permit from Larimer County. The 1041 permit gives local governments in Colorado some oversight authority on large infrastructure projects within their boundaries…
[The Larimer County] voted to recommend the 1041 permit to the board of county commissioners, which then approved on a 2-1 vote the permit for the project…
The town of Erie, a rapidly growing community in Boulder County about a half hour from Boulder and north Denver, would be the largest recipient of NISP water…
After more than 15 years of permitting, countless hours of negotiation over the project’s mitigation plans, and millions of dollars spent on studies, surveys and outreach, the agency pushing for NISP, Northern Water, says it has made significant changes to the planned project in order to help the already overtaxed Poudre River. Opponents say the project will only hurt, not help.
The Cache la Poudre River, where NISP would draw water for its largest reservoir, is often referred to as a “working river.” It provides drinking water for cities and irrigation water for farms. During the summer months it’s popular with kayakers, tubers and anglers. It’s also home to fish, birds and other wildlife…
The project still needs one more federal approval from the Army Corps of Engineers before it’s considered to be fully permitted, and ready to head into design and construction phases.
From the Water Education Foundation (Gary Pitzer):
Western water in-depth: Major science report that highlights scientific shortcomings and opportunities in the basin could aid water managers as they rewrite river’s operating rules
Practically every drop of water that flows through the meadows, canyons and plains of the Colorado River Basin has reams of science attached to it. Snowpack, streamflow and tree ring data all influence the crucial decisions that guide water management of the iconic Western river every day.
Dizzying in its scope, detail and complexity, the scientific information on the Basin’s climate and hydrology has been largely scattered in hundreds of studies and reports. Some studies may conflict with others, or at least appear to. That’s problematic for a river that’s a lifeline for 40 million people and more than 4 million acres of irrigated farmland.
From the Upper Basin states of Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico and Utah to the urban centers of Arizona, Nevada and California in the Lower Basin, water managers depend on that science to guide their decisions. More than ever, as those managers grapple with a hotter, drier Colorado River Basin and growing demand for a shrinking resource, they need an accessible scientific handbook as they get ready to draft a new set of rules for managing the river.
A new report synthesizes that science and puts it into context. Titled Colorado River Basin Climate and Hydrology: State of the Science, the report released earlier this year draws from about 800 peer-reviewed studies and agency reports on crucial topics – weather, streamflow, historical hydrology and climate change – to help navigate the future of river management. It doesn’t provide answers but offers a technical manual of sorts for a river system so vital to the Southwestern United States and Mexico.
“It’s attempting to create that two-way dialogue, but to do so in a way that water managers aren’t having to go and read 20 different reports,” said Colby Pellegrino, deputy general manager of resources with the Southern Nevada Water Authority, which helped fund the report. “It’s a fabulous tool in that [it] is one guiding document to look at if you want to increase your understanding.”
Written by a veteran cadre of more than a dozen scientists and engineers, it pulls no punches in describing a river system in peril.
“The average conditions, over time and across the basin, suggest a (barely) sufficient supply and, by smoothing out the variability, mask existing and prospective shortages,” says the report, produced through the Western Water Assessment, an interdisciplinary research program based at the University of Colorado, Boulder.
The report notes that the ultimate aim of integrating new research into practice is to produce more accurate short- and mid-term forecasts of runoff and more meaningful long-term projections of expected water supply.
“The future is and always has been uncertain,” said Jeff Lukas, research integration specialist with the Western Water Assessment and co-lead author of the report. “Now, at a time in which the Basin’s water supply and depletions are in delicate balance at best, system storage is half-full, and climate change is increasingly impacting hydrology, these forecasts and projections have become even more critical.”
Improving Forecasting Tools
Funded by the Bureau of Reclamation and its partners in the seven Western states that depend on the river, the report emphasizes the need to improve hydrologic forecasts, projections and predictive tools in the Colorado River Basin, all the while acknowledging the need for resilience.
“There is not now, and likely never will be, perfect weather and climate data,” the report says. “Producers of climate information need to communicate, and users should be cognizant of, the strengths and weaknesses of the data they choose and how climate data choices influence their conclusions.”
Terry Fulp, regional director of Reclamation’s Lower Colorado Region, said the report emphasizes that Colorado River Basin hydrology is increasingly volatile and must be planned for accordingly.
“This made it very clear that we can’t rely on the 100-year record,” he said. “You can’t just look at the past and assume it’s replicated in the future. We all knew that, but it is good to have the body of science conclude that, too.”
Brad Udall, a senior climate and water research scientist at Colorado State University who was a technical reviewer for the report, said that while it covers an amazing breadth of material, it has key advice for water managers.
“At the broadest level, the take-home message is, a tremendous amount of science has been done in the Basin,” he said, “and while it may not give us the answers that tell us what to do, it strongly suggests we need to be prepared for a very different kind of future that’s hotter and drier.”
The past 40 years have seen a substantial warming trend, the report says, noting that the period since 2000 has been about 2 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than the 20th-century average and likely warmer than at any time in the past 2,000 years.
Authors of the State of the Science report note they did not evaluate current Basin water management, address ecosystem needs or provide recommendations. Instead, they concentrated on assessing the chain of data and models that provide an understanding of the Basin’s hydrology, while recognizing how the rapid expansion of scientific knowledge and its increasing complexity parallel the growing uncertainties about how future climate will affect hydrology. Absent a dramatic increase in rain and snow, the Basin’s runoff and water supply are increasingly being affected by warmth.
With temperature, there is “a very clear signal and that trend … is significant enough that people have a fair amount of confidence it is impacting the hydrology in the Basin,” said lead co-author Liz Payton, Western Water Assessment’s Colorado River Basin assessment specialist.
Those effects were evident this year as a warm spring quickly erased what had been a robust snowpack leading up to April 1.
“I’m still stunned by the 100 percent snowpack and the 52 percent runoff,” Udall said. “That’s just mind-boggling.”
Adding the Climate Change Factor
The State of the Science report comes at an important time. Fresh from completing unprecedented Drought Contingency Plans in 2019, key players in managing the river will next turn their attention to updating and renegotiating the river’s 2007 Interim Operating Guidelines, which expire in 2026. Crafted in the early stages of a two-decade drought, the 2007 guidelines along with the subsequent Drought Contingency Plans are a testament to managing the Basin’s extreme volatility.
Coming to terms on a new set of guidelines, including their length, will differ from 2007 because the last set of guidelines was based on limited modeling data that didn’t fully incorporate climate change projections, said Bill Hasencamp, manager of Colorado River resources with the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.
While it is hard to predict specifically how the science report will inform the renegotiations, its recurring themes of increased temperatures, reduced streamflow and variable precipitation “will almost certainly arise in the context of the modeling efforts undertaken in the renegotiation,” said Amy Haas, executive director of the Upper Colorado River Commission.
New revelations about Colorado River Basin science appear with increasing frequency. In a lengthy July thread on Twitter, Udall noted the growing footprint of climate change in the Basin and how the expected pace of warming, which some models project could be as much as 5 degrees Fahrenheit by 2050, would greatly amplify the impacts seen in 2020. Scientists with the U.S. Geological Survey this year said warmer temperatures by 2050 could reduce the amount of water flowing in the river by as much as 30 percent.
“All of this has a name: aridification,” Udall wrote on Twitter. “Get used to it.”
The State of the Science report helps water managers understand key subjects, such as what climate monitoring is revealing and where uncertainty and errors exist.
Report contributor Carly Jerla, who manages Reclamation’s Modeling & Research Group, called it a “no-nonsense” scientific platform with a clear message. “We know we can’t just let history repeat itself,” she said. “This report clearly lays out that something else has to be done.”
Pellegrino, with Southern Nevada Water Authority, said the report provides a “one-stop shop” for busy river managers.
“Of all the many hats water managers wear, we are not researchers and we are not innovators,” she said. “It’s difficult to have an eye on all of the things we are doing related to species and policy and water supply planning and also be able to comb through the various sources of new hydrologic or climate change data.”
Like many, Pellegrino would prefer a consistent pattern of climate and water supply projections from which to base management decisions.
“It’s really hard for somebody who wants predictability to acknowledge there is going to be wide range of variability that’s going to persist for a very long time,” she said. “But that’s where we are.”
The State of the Science report stems from the 2017 Colorado River Hydrology Research Symposium aimed at giving water resource managers a better understanding of new hydrologic research initiatives, and giving researchers a better understanding of the Basin water system and the tools used by managers. Together, they explored how research could help improve those tools. That was crucial because research not fully grounded in the particulars of the managed system can produce alarming results. Hasencamp recalled one study that gave Lake Mead an even chance of going dry by 2021, a finding that dumbfounded water managers.
“We all looked at it and said, ‘What assumptions are they making?’” he said. “This is not very good science because they didn’t talk to the people who are actually running the system and managing it.”
Reaching Consensus on Science
The historical record illustrates the dramatic swerves in Colorado River Basin hydrology. Some years the snow never stops. Other times, unseasonable warmth and dryness dominates as officials nervously watch lake levels plummet in the river’s two major reservoirs, Lake Powell and Lake Mead.
Scientists devote their careers to figuring how forecasts and projections can improve. On the ground, life can be more stressful for water resource practitioners charged with providing a reliable water supply. Report authors acknowledge the conundrum.
“Given the stakes involved, it is reasonable that Colorado River Basin planners and managers desire greater certainty in water supply forecasts and long-term projections,” the report’s authors wrote. “They need some sense of the likelihood of hydrologic shifts, especially shifts to the dry side.”
One area of possible improvement is the 24-month water supply forecasting system that is partly based on assumptions of average monthly inflows to the Colorado River between Lake Powell and Lake Mead, said Payton.
“That’s a significant reach because if there is a lot or not as much inflow as the monthly average, you could shift Lake Mead above or below one of the important thresholds” that determine how much water agencies can draw from the river, she said. “If Mead is right at a shortage threshold and you have underestimated the inflow, you may end up declaring a shortage when you didn’t have to.”
Improvements in forecasting are needed from months to years to even decades out, said Pellegrino, with Southern Nevada Water Authority.
“Obviously, the long-term time scale is probably the most relevant for policy decisions, but the short and mid-terms are just as important,” she said. “The question is, if we knew next year was going to repeat the hydrology we saw in 2002, the driest year on record, would we make different water management decisions? I think the answer to that is yes at all time scales.”
Faced with uncertainty, Pellegrino believes the prudent approach is to be “eyes wide open” to the implications of the wide range of variability.
“Instead of identifying the hydrology that’s problematic or exact streamflow record that’s correct, spend your efforts coming up with the benchmarks for your water management community or basin that really mean something,” she said.
Making Better Decisions
For an area such as Las Vegas, that means preparing for more heat and dryness. Pellegrino said her agency has calculated that the creeping temperature rise could increase per capita water use by nine gallons a day by 2035.
Outcomes like that mean agencies should prepare for as many scenarios as possible, aiming for maximum flexibility, “like a dimmer switch,” said Taylor Hawes, Colorado River program director with The Nature Conservancy. Waiting too long to act could be costly.
“We should consider this time before a full-blown crisis as a gift,” she said. “We are on ‘water time,’ and developing new water management tools takes years. We should not squander this time now, because we will never have a perfect picture of what the next year or two holds. Trying to develop these kinds of tools in the middle of the crisis will create chaos, social and economic impacts and unintended consequences. It is much more effective to have the tools ready to deploy before they are needed.”
Fulp, Reclamation’s regional director, said the report helps reframe the basis for near-term planning and gives a glimpse of what to expect further out, uncertainty and all.
“You’re talking about looking at hundreds, if not thousands of different futures and seeing what the statistics tell us,” he said. “Is one decision better under a lot of scenarios or is it only better under a few scenarios?”
The flow of scientific data about the Colorado River Basin will continue. Some reports will generate more response than others. Amid that, the depth and breadth of the Colorado River Basin Climate and Hydrology: State of the Science stands out.
“We hear about so many studies with dire predictions for the Colorado River but I think the bigger meta message is we have this great collaboration among water agencies to gather more information about the past, present and future of climate hydrology to make better decisions and planning,” said Lukas, with Western Water Assessment. “That’s the story I like to emphasize.”
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In a joint letter Tuesday, water officials from Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Wyoming asked Interior Secretary David Bernhardt to “refrain from issuing a Final Environmental Impact Statement of Record of Decision regarding the Lake Powell Pipeline until such time as the Seven Basin States and the Department of the Interior are able to reach consensus regarding outstanding legal and operational concerns raised by the proposed Lake Powell Pipeline project.”
If the approval process for the Lake Powell Pipeline is not halted so concerns can be addressed, the letter states it may result in “multi-year litigation” that could also complicate future interstate cooperation concerning use of the Colorado River…
Despite a potential threat of litigation if their concerns are not resolved, Brock Belnap, an assistant general manager at the Washington County Water Conservancy District, said Thursday the water district hopes issues can be resolved without too much disturbance to the pipeline’s timetable.
“We appreciate that they express they want to resolve the issues they may have and we are pledging likewise to work with them to address the issue they may have in regard to the Law of the River in the Colorado River,” Belnap said…
An example of the issues some of the other states have is that Washington County is geographically located in the Lower Colorado River Basin, Belnap said, and the compacts state that water rights cannot be transferred from the one basin to the other. However, Utah is counted among the Upper Colorado River Basin States, and the compacts also say each state has a right to develop its allocated portion of the Colorado River within its boundaries, he said…
The government received more than 10,000 public comments on an environmental impact report for the proposed pipeline before Tuesday’s deadline, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation spokesman Marlon Duke said. The Interior Department, which oversees the bureau, is expected to issue a final report, which could bring the project a step closer to approval.
Although the proposal isolates Utah from the other states that rely on the river, it’s committed to bringing water it’s entitled to tap to those who need it, said Todd Adams, director of the Utah Division of Water Resources.
He said the project has been under review for about 20 years, and many other projects have gone through federal review while states worked through unresolved issues…
Zachary Frankel, executive director of the Utah Rivers Council, attended the meeting and asked if the committee planned to halt the project due to the concerns expressed by the other states in Tuesday’s letter.
Utah’s largest new water diversion in Colorado River Basin ignites a modern water war, results in veiled threat of litigation by other states.
In a stunning letter to the Secretary of Interior, a coalition of state water agencies, large water suppliers, and Governors’ representatives of Nevada, Arizona, California, Colorado, Wyoming and New Mexico are asking that Utah’s controversial Lake Powell Pipeline be placed on hold.
The shocking move demonstrates how out of touch the Utah Division of Water Resources and its lobbying partners have been in understanding the impacts of climate change on the Colorado River and of the Pipeline’s impact to the water supplies of seven states. The letter notes:
“As Governors’ representatives of the Colorado River Basin States of Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, and Wyoming, we write to respectfully request that your office refrain from issuing a Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) or Record of Decision (ROD) regarding the Lake Powell Pipeline until such time as the seven Basin States and the Department of the Interior (Interior) are able to reach consensus regarding outstanding legal and operational concerns raised by the proposed Lake Powell Pipeline project.”
The strong letter of opposition was signed by representatives of the Colorado River Board of California, the Arizona Department of Water Resources, the Colorado Water Conservation Board, the New Mexico Office of the State Engineer, the Southern Nevada Water Authority, the Colorado River Commission of Nevada and the State of Wyoming.
They joined scores of groups and many hundreds of people across seven states submitting comments of opposition to the Lake Powell Pipeline to the Provo Office of the Bureau of Reclamation for the DEIS. The project drew criticism across the American West because the Colorado River has dropped dramatically with reservoir levels at 50% of capacity in an era of water cuts and climate change.
This is a historic first for 6 of the 7 Colorado River Basin States to reprimand another state on what they see as:
“Serious legal concerns relating to the 1922 and 1948 Compacts, including the accounting of the Lake Powell Pipeline diversion and other operational issues under the Law of the River.”
Utah ignited the water war with other Colorado River Basin states by pushing the Lake Powell Pipeline even without a demonstrable need for the water. Utah water officials justified the Pipeline with a high municipal water use of over 300 gallons per person per day, while other cities like Las Vegas, Denver, Los Angeles and Phoenix have water use between 120 and 150 gpcd, or less.
In a separate letter, the Southern Nevada Water Authority noted:
“What the Utah Board of Water Resources characterizes as extreme conservation efforts and impractical conservation, are actually commonly applied in an efficient and effective manner in many other communities.”
“This project is water hoarding at its finest. Utah wants to cash in on its ‘water entitlement’ under the Colorado River Compact so badly that it is willing to upset the fragile balance of a basin that supports 40 million people, recreational and agricultural economies, tribal lands and cultures, and irreplaceable landscapes and ecosystems.” — said Jen Pelz, the Wild Rivers Program Director at WildEarth Guardians
“Secretary Bernhardt should listen to the six Colorado River states that just asked him to delay any decision regarding the Utah’s unnecessary and harmful proposed Lake Powell Pipeline. All six states, especially Arizona, would be hurt by Utah’s attempted water grab from the drought- stricken Colorado River.” — said Douglas Wolf, Senior Attorney, Center for Biological Diversity
“It is not often where grassroots groups and government water buffaloes are aligned on bad water projects, but the Lake Powell Pipeline is such a boondoggle that opposition is now widespread. We hope St. George finally begins to follow the lead of communities like Las Vegas, Denver, Albuquerque, Phoenix and others that have implemented world-class conservation programs.” — said Kyle Roerink, Executive Director of the Great Basin Water Network
A coalition of groups also submitted extensive comments opposing the embattled Lake Powell Pipeline. The coalition has requested the Bureau of Reclamation explore other less expensive and environmentally destructive means for meeting the water needs of residents of Washington County in southwest Utah. This is also an Alternative identified as missing from the DEIS in the letter sent to the Secretary of the Interior by the 6 State Coalition. The 224 page letter can be found HERE.
The letter was submitted by Utah Rivers Council, Save the Colorado, WildEarth Guardians, Great Basin Water Network, Living Rivers, Glen Canyon Institute, Utah Audubon Council, SUWA, Conserve Southwest Utah, Citizen’s Water Advocacy Group of Arizona, Sunrise Movement of Las Vegas, Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada, San Diego Coast Keeper and Grand Staircase Escalante Partners. It details flaws in Reclamation’s environmental review including challenging the basis and need for the project itself, the lack of examining more cost-effective and less destructive alternatives, and its failure to analyze and mitigate the environmental harms that would arise if the project goes forward.
The Lake Powell Pipeline is one of the projects identified by the Trump Administration–in its June 4, 2020, Executive Order No. 13927–to be fast tracked through the environmental review process.
From email from the Colorado Water Conservation Board (Rob Viehl):
Proposed Acquisition of Contractual Interest in Ruedi Reservoir Water for ISF Use on the Fryingpan River and the 15-Mile Reach of the Colorado River
The Colorado Water Conservation Board will be considering an offer from the Colorado River Water Conservation District, acting through its Colorado River Water Projects Enterprise (“District”) of a short-term lease of 3,500 acre-feet of water that the District holds in Ruedi Reservoir for instream flow (“ISF”) use. The proposal is to use the released water to supplement winter flows in the Fryingpan River below Ruedi Reservoir from January 1, 2021 – March 31, 2021; and from April 1 – December 31, 2021, to help meet or reduce shortfalls to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s flow recommendations for the endangered fish critical habitat in the 15-Mile Reach of the Colorado River. The Board will consider this proposal at its September 16-17, 2020 virtual meeting. The agenda for this Board meeting can be found at:
Consideration of this proposal initiates the 120-day period for Board review pursuant to Rule 6b. of the Board’s Rules Concerning the Colorado Instream Flow and Natural Lake Level Program (“ISF Rules”), which became effective on March 2, 2009. No formal Board action will be taken at this time.
Information concerning the ISF Rules and water acquisitions can be found here.
The following information concerning the proposed lease of water is provided pursuant to ISF
Decree: 81CW0034 (Second Filling)
Appropriation Date: 1/22/1981
Adjudication Date: 12/31/1981
Decreed Amount: 101,280 acre-feet
Bureau of Reclamation Contract: 139D6C0101
Contract Use: Municipal use in Colorado River Basin; includes “use of water by . . . piscatorial users, including delivery of water to supplement streamflow. . . .”
Contract Amount: 4,683.5 acre-feet
Amount Offered for Consideration: Up to 3,500 acre-feet.
Proposed Reach of Stream:
Fryingpan River: From the confluence with Rocky Ford Creek, adjacent to the outlet of Ruedi Reservoir, downstream to its confluence with the Roaring Fork River, a distance of approximately 14.4 miles.
15-Mile Reach of the Colorado River: From the confluence with the headgate of the Grand Valley Irrigation Company (lat 39 06 06N long 108 20 48W) downstream to its confluence with the Gunnison River.
Purpose of the Acquisition and Proposed Season of Use:
The leased water would be used to supplement the existing 39 cfs ISF water right in the Fryingpan River to preserve the natural environment, and used at rates up to 70 cfs to meet the Roaring Fork Conservancy and Colorado Parks and Wildlife flow recommendations to improve the natural environment to a reasonable degree. The leased water would be used to also supplement the existing ISF water rights in the 15-Mile Reach to preserve the natural environment from July 1 – September 30, 2019, and to provide water at rates above the existing decreed ISF rates to help meet or reduce shortfalls to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (“USFWS”) flow recommendations for the endangered fish critical habitat in that reach to improve the natural environment to a reasonable degree from April 1 –December 31, 2019.
Water stored in Ruedi Reservoir will be released to the Fryingpan River during the winter time period. The existing instream flow water right is decreed for 39 cfs from November 1 – April 30. The objective of the lease would be to maintain Fryingpan River flows at a rate of 70 cfs to prevent the formation of anchor ice at times when temperatures and low flows could otherwise combine to create anchor ice, which adversely impacts aquatic macroinvertebrates and trout fry.
The 15-Mile Reach of the Colorado River provides critical habitat for two species of endangered fish: the Colorado pikeminnow and the razorback sucker. This reach is sensitive to water depletions because of its location downstream of several large diversions. It provides spawning habitat for these endangered fish species as well as high-quality habitat for adult fish. Due to development on the Colorado River, this reach has experienced declining flows and significant dewatering during the late summer months, and at times, there are shortages in the springtime. As a result, the USFWS has issued flow recommendations for the 15-Mile Reach since 1989 to protect instream habitat for the endangered fish.
Available information concerning the purpose of the acquisition and the degree of preservation and improvement of the natural environment, and available scientific data is available at:
Here’s the release from the Colorado Department of Natural Resources:
The Department of Natural Resources released the names of a 18-member Anti-Speculation Law Work Group (Work Group) whose objective is to explore ways to strengthen current Colorado water anti-speculation law. The Work Group arose out of passage of Senate Bill 20-048 sponsored by Senators Donovan and Coram and Representatives Roberts and Catlin and signed by Governor Polis on March 11, 2021.
“I’m encouraged by the participation in the Work Group, which represents diverse stakeholders from all across the state,” said Dan Gibbs, Executive Director, Colorado Department of Natural Resources, who appointed the Work Group members. “Our goal is to have a transparent and thoughtful process over the next year.”
Senate Bill 20-048 requires the Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources to convene a work group to explore ways to strengthen current anti-speculation law and to report to the water resources review committee by August 15, 2021, regarding any recommended changes. Colorado water law prohibits speculation by requiring water to be used for a beneficial purpose.
The Work Group will be co-chaired by Kevin Rein, State Engineer, and Scott Steinbrecher, Assistant Deputy Attorney General. Meetings will be noticed to the public via the Colorado Water Conservation Board website and will be open to the public. Meeting summaries will be posted publicly, and opportunities will be available for the public to review and comment on the recommendations of the Work Group before the written report is finalized.
The Work Group membership consists of:
Kevin Rein (Co-Chair), State Engineer, Division of Water Resources
Scott Steinbrecher (Co-Chair), Assistant Deputy Attorney General, Attorney General’s Office
Tracy Kosloff, Deputy State Engineer, Division of Water Resources
Erin Light, Division 6 Engineer, Division of Water Resources
Lauren Ris, Deputy Director, Colorado Water Conservation Board
Amy Ostdiek, Deputy Section Chief, Colorado Water Conservation Board
Alex Funk, Agricultural Water Resource Specialist, Colorado Water Conservation Board
Justice Gregory Hobbs Jr., Colorado Supreme Court Justice (ret.)
Joe Bernal, Bernal Farms
Daris Jutten, Lazy K Bar Land and Cattle Co.
Joe Frank, General Manager, Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District
Larry Clever, General Manager, Ute Water Conservancy District
Alex Davis, Water Resources Division Manager, Aurora Water
Peggy Montaño, Trout Raley
Peter Fleming, General Counsel to the Colorado River District
Adam Reeves, Maynes, Bradford, Shipps and Sheftel LLP
Drew Peternell, Colorado Director, Trout Unlimited
Kate Ryan, Senior Attorney, Colorado Water Trust
The first meeting of the Work Group will be held virtually this fall.
Bottled water company Nestlé is seeking permission to extend its operations in Colorado’s Chaffee County, a move that is generating significant community opposition.
Nestlé Waters North America first won permission to export spring water from Chaffee County in 2009, building a pipeline and trucking the water to Denver where it is packaged.
The company hopes to renew its original 10-year permit to tap Ruby Mountain Springs near Buena Vista, which expired last fall. The water is sold under the Arrowhead brand.
Chaffee County Commissioners are expected to take up the matter at an Oct. 20 hearing.
Nestlé Natural Resources Manager Larry Lawrence declined an interview request, but in an email said the company strives to maintain environmentally sensitive operations and that extending the permit would create no new stress on the springs.
Separately company officials have said repeatedly that preserving water resources is key to their ability to continue selling water. The beverage maker has 25 plants in the United States, including the one in Colorado.
In the meantime, local activists have collected more than 1,200 signatures on Change.org opposing the permit extension.
Unbottle and Protect Chaffee County Water, with 300-plus members, said the permit renewal poses an ongoing threat to local water supplies due to chronic drought and climate change. Activists also say that Nestlé donations of bottled water to local nonprofits increases the county’s recycling costs, and that Nestlé has not followed through on some of the commitments it made to the county, including taking steps to preserve important property along the Arkansas River near the springs.
“We believe we are an environmentally sensitive county,” said Francie Bomer, one of the activists leading the effort to cancel the permit.
“We don’t like plastic and we don’t believe the benefit to the county is equal to the value of the water Nestlé is taking out,” Bomer said.
The conflict comes as bottled water manufacturers across the U.S and Canada face mounting criticism over their use of groundwater. Five states, Maine, Michigan, Montana, Oregon, and Washington, are moving to ban or sharply limit the industry.
Earlier this year Nestlé opted to sell its Canadian operations, exiting a country in which local opposition had grown strong, according to published reports.
Under its Chaffee County permit, Nestlé is required to monitor water levels in the Ruby Mountain Springs and to replace any water it takes under a replacement plan overseen by the Salida-based Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District.
Such plans are often required under state law, and are designed to ensure water users downstream of diversion sites with more senior water rights aren’t harmed by upstream diversions.
Manager of the Upper Arkansas Water District, Terry Scanga, said the replacement plan relies on water from Turquoise Lake in Leadville, which fully covers any water removed from Chaffee County by Nestlé. Scanga said the district has no plans to contest the permit renewal.
Nestlé is required to monitor water levels and habitat conditions as part of its agreement with the county. In its 2019 annual report, the company said it extracted 89 acre-feet of spring water, 5.6 percent of the 1,573 acre-feet of overall flow measured. An acre-foot is equal to nearly 326,000 gallons.
If its permit is renewed, the company estimates annual production would grow at 2 percent annually, but would still be well below the amount to which it is legally entitled.
In addition, ongoing monitoring by the company shows that the spring recovers quickly as water is extracted and that no harm to habitat has been noted since 2010.
“To date, spring water production has been well below the permit limitations and at no time over the last decade of monitoring has stress to the spring system resulted in conditions where pumping was required to be reduced, either to meet criteria under the permit or due to observations that indicated operations were negatively impacting upstream or downstream users or the ecological and biological systems,” the report states.
Bomer is skeptical of those reports because they have not been independently verified by outside experts.
Earlier this year, in advance of the permit renewal effort, the county hired experts to evaluate Nestlé monitoring data, according to Chaffee County Attorney Jennifer Davis.
Whether Chaffee County will become another bottled water hot spot in the international battle isn’t clear yet.
“We are a tiny county. Are we part of that bigger effort? No. We’re just trying to protect our resources so they will be here when we need them,” Bomer said. “But if we contribute to to that effort, that would be okay.”
Jerd Smith is editor of Fresh Water News. She can be reached at 720-398-6474, via email at email@example.com or @jerd_smith.
The second-ever call on the Yampa River was lifted [August 3, 2020] morning after a trio of water providers announced the release of up to 1,500 acre-feet of water from Elkhead Reservoir to support irrigators in the Yampa River Valley and endangered fish.
The latest call was placed on the Yampa River on Aug. 25. The first call was in the late summer of 2018, also after an uncommonly hot, dry summer. The release of the water has ended the immediate need for water administration, allowing irrigators who had been legally prevented from taking water to resume diversions.
Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association has begun releasing 500 acre-feet of its water, and the Colorado River District is releasing another 750 acre-feet of water that it controls from the reservoir near Hayden.
A third organization, the nonprofit Colorado Water Trust, will use money from the Colorado Water Conservation Board to support the upper Colorado Endangered Fish Recovery Program’s contract for additional water in Elkhead in 2020. The Colorado Water Trust also has raised private funds to support a potential release of 250 acre-feet of water to provide in-channel flows for endangered fish species in the Yampa.
Water will continue to be released from Elkhead Reservoir, as necessary, through September. Rain, snow and cloud cover could suppress demand.
Irrigators, fish feeling the heat
A statement from the River District and Tri-State emphasized the intention of helping irrigators.
“Agriculture producers in the western U.S. currently are being hit with the triple threat of drought, low prices and pandemic restrictions, so anything we can do to ease the burden of farmers and ranchers in the Yampa Valley is something we are willing and honored to do,” said Duane Highley, CEO at Tri-State, the operator of coal-fired power plants near Craig.
Andy Mueller, the general manager of the River District, echoed that theme.
“We hope these actions help alleviate the depth and severity of ranchers being curtailed and allow some of them to turn their pumps back on to grow more forage before winter,” he said.
“It was a crazy hot and dry summer,” said Andy Schultheiss, the executive director of the Colorado Water Trust. “There was just nothing left in the river — or, at least, very, very little.”
Schultheiss said the trust was interested in preserving habitat for fish and other species in the river, including fish in the lower reaches of the Yampa that are on the endangered species list. In August, the organization also contracted to release 500 acre-feet of water from the Stagecoach Reservoir, near Oak Creek, to ensure flows through Steamboat Springs.
Impact of the releases was reflected Thursday afternoon at stream gauges maintained by the U.S. Geological Survey. The river above the confluence of Elkhead Creek was running 102 cubic feet per second. Bolstered by the reservoir releases, however, it was running 125 cfs downstream at Maybell. It was 95 cfs at Deer Lodge, located 115 river miles downstream from Elkhead Reservoir at the entrance to Dinosaur National Monument, below several agricultural diversions.
A warming climate of recent decades and the weather of the past year probably both played a role in 2020’s second-ever Yampa call.
“August likely will end in the top 10 hottest and driest on record in the Yampa basin,” state climatologist Russ Schumacher said during an Aug. 25 webinar. “You see warmer-than-average temperatures everywhere except a couple of pockets in North Park.”
Many areas were 4 to 6 degrees above average, and some pockets were even hotter. Fall and winter temperatures are more variable, which summer’s are much less so, said Schumacher. “Having 5 or 6 to 8 degrees above average in summer is quite remarkable,” he said.
The River District’s Mueller nodded to this broader context.
“As drought and low flows promise to persist, today’s cooperative actions could help us learn and plan for an uncertain water future,” he said.
Regulation is new reality
What sets the Yampa River apart from other rivers in Colorado is its storied tradition: a river without administration. The contrast may be most stark with the South Platte, which drains the heavily populated towns and cities and still abundant farms on the northern Front Range. There, it’s barely an exaggeration to say that every drop is measured, ensuring that diverters are taking only as much water as to which they have rights.
The Yampa has typically met the needs of all diverters, including those of irrigators, who are responsible for nearly all the water consumed in the Yampa River basin on an annual basis. Diverters were on an honor system to take no more than their allocated share of water.
Putting a call on a river requires the sorting out of water rights under Colorado’s first-in-time, first-in-right hierarchy. Those with mostly older — and, therefore, senior rights — have first dibs but only to the amount they are allocated.
The call placed on the river Aug. 25 was triggered by agriculture users lower on the river, at Lilly Park near Dinosaur National Monument. They were failing to get the river’s native flows to which they were entitled within their priority of 1963.
To honor the seniority of those water rights, Erin Light, the division engineer, initiated a call on the river to ensure that the more senior right would get delivery of the water.
Those affected were all water users upstream, even to the headwaters, with junior or more recent allocations. Junior water users are cut off to the amount necessary to satisfy the call, which could be partially or completely, as per the needs of the downstream user with the senior but unsatisfied allocation.
Light last year announced that all water diverters must install headgates and measuring devices, to allow withdrawals to be controlled and measured. Some have done so, others have been given extensions and some others have failed to comply, she said. Those without headgates and measuring devices — even if they have a more senior water right — risk being cut off entirely when a call occurs.
This push to measure diversions began at least a decade ago, after Light arrived in the Yampa Valley. One of those she persuaded was Jay Fetcher, who ranches along the Elk River, northwest of Steamboat Springs. He remembers some grumbling. The informal method had always worked. Now he’s glad he can prove he’s taking his allocated water — and no more.
“Once we changed, we realized that it was a real plus,” Fetcher said. “We knew what we were doing with our water, and we could justify (our diversions), not only to ourselves, but to Erin and the state.”
Jim Pokrandt, the director of community affairs for the River District, echoed that sentiment.
“It’s in everybody’s best interest,” Pokrandt said, “to foster a solution that recognizes the reality, that doesn’t put agriculture out of business, while we are on the pathway to better water administration.”
Aspen Journalism is a local, nonprofit, investigative news organization covering water and rivers in collaboration with Steamboat Pilot & Today and other Swift Communications newspapers. This story ran in the Sept. 7 edition of Steamboat Pilot & Today.
Here’s an in-depth report from (Bruce Finley) writing in The Denver Post. Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:
A hundred miles from Colorado’s Front Range house-building boom, field scientist Delia Malone dug her fingers into spongy high-mountain wetlands at the edge of the Holy Cross Wilderness.
She found, about 15 inches underground, partially decayed roots, twigs and the cold moisture of a fen. These structures form over thousands of years and store water that seeps down from melting snow.
Malone has been digging about 20 holes a day, surveying fens for the U.S. Forest Service, to better understand nature’s water-storage systems — which sustain vegetation and stream flows that 40 million people across the Colorado River Basin rely on in the face of increasing aridity.
Aurora and Colorado Springs are planning to flood these wetland fens and replace natural storage with a man-made system: a $500 million dam and a reservoir that may require changing wilderness boundaries.
The cities each own rights to 10,000 acre-feet a year of the water that flows out of the wilderness and would pump what the reservoir traps, minus evaporation, through tunnels under mountains to other reservoirs and, finally, to pipes that deliver steady flows from urban faucets, toilets, showers and sprinkler systems…
Fens play a key role ensuring that streams and rivers still flow after winter snow melts. And as climate warming leads to earlier melting and depletes surface water in the Colorado River, natural wetlands increasingly are seen as essential to help life hang on. The benefits stood out this summer as the West endured record heat, wildfires and drought…
Yet Front Range developers’ desire for more water is intensifying. Across the mountains at construction sites on high dusty plains, roads and power lines have been installed, heavy dirt-movers beep and carpenters thwack atop roofs.
Local governments already have approved permits allowing house-building at a pace that in some areas is projected to nearly double water consumption.
Colorado Springs officials issued 3,982 permits for new single family homes last year, 18% higher than the average over the previous five years, according to data provided to The Denver Post. They estimated the current population around 476,000 will reach 723,000 “at build-out” around 2070. This requires 136,000 to 159,000 acre-feet of water a year, city projections show, up from 70,766 acre-feet in 2019.
Aurora officials estimated their population of 380,000 will reach 573,986 by 2050. They’ve approved entire new communities, such as the 620-acre Painted Prairie with more than 3,100 housing units in the “aerotropolis” that Denver leaders have promoted near Denver International Airport, and projected current water consumption of 49,811 acre-feet a year will increase to 85,000 acre-feet and even as much as 130,158 acre-feet in a high-growth, rapid-warming scenario…
To make a new dam and reservoir more palatable, the cities are exploring unprecedented “mitigation” of digging up and physically removing the underground fens, then hauling them and transplanting them elsewhere to restore damaged wetlands. An experiment on a ranch south of Leadville, officials said, is proving that this could help offset losses of Homestake Creek wetlands.
This would challenge a federal policy laid out in 1999 at Interior Department regional headquarters in Denver that classifies fens as “irreplaceable.” The policy says “onsite or in-kind replacement of peat wetlands is not thought possible” and that “concentrated efforts will be made to encourage relocation of proposed reservoirs… that might impact fens, when practicable.”
Covered by grasses and shrubs, water-laden fens blanket the Homestake Valley — wetlands filled with porous peat soils that receive minerals and nutrients in groundwater. Moving such wetlands, if attempted, would require massive hauling of soil blocks combined with the delicate precision of an organ transplant to retain ecological functioning…
Some environmental groups are preparing for legal combat should the cities seek required state, county and federal permits. Others haven’t weighed in. Conservation Colorado leaders declined to comment on this water push.
Transplanting fens as mitigation to try to restore wetlands elsewhere “for our convenience” is impossible, WildEarth Guardians attorney Jen Pelz said. “Fens and other sensitive high-elevation wetlands are quite beautiful and mysterious, more art than science, not something we can re-engineer.”
Dams and diversions proposed in recent years around the West “are just as destructive as those built a century ago, and building dams today is actually more irresponsible because we know that dams disconnect aquatic and riparian habitat, cause species extinction, disrupt ecosystem function, dry rivers and harm native cultures and communities,” she said.
“We need to start removing dams, not building more. This project is one of many where water managers are looking to cash in on their undeveloped rights or entitlements at the expense of people and the environment. … It’s time to draw a line in the sand.”
These wetlands, located on a 150-acre parcel in the Homestake Creek valley that Homestake Partners bought in 2018, would be inundated if Whitney Reservoir is constructed. The Forest Service received more than 500 comments, the majority in opposition to, test drilling associated with the project and the reservoir project itself. Photo credit: Heather Sackett/Aspen Journalism
These wetlands in the Homestake Creek valley are near the site of the proposed Whitney Reservoir. The Forest Service is considering whether to issue a permit for drilling and a geotechnical study to test whether the site would support a dam. Photo credit: Heather Sackett/Aspen Journalism
A wetland area along Homestake Creek in an area that would be flooded by a potential Whitney Reservoir. The cities of Aurora and Colorado Springs are looking to develop additional water in Eagle County and divert it to the Front Range. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism
A map prepared by Aurora Water that shows a potential 500-acre adjustment to the Holy Cross Wilderness boundary near the potential Whitney Reservoir on lower Homestake Creek. The map as current as of July 16, 2019.
A view, from the Alternative A dam site, of the Homestake Creek valley. The triangle shape in the distance is the dam that forms Homestake Reservoir. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism
One of four potential dam sites on lower Homestake Creek, about four miles above U.S. 24, between Minturn and Leadville. From this location, the dam that forms Homestake Reservoir higher up the creek can be seen. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism
A map from Colorado Springs Utilities that shows how tunnels could bring water to Whitney Reservoir from Fall and Peterson creeks, and from the Eagle River. The map also shows the route of a pipeline to pump water from Whitney Reservoir to Homestake Reservoir.
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 six Colorado River Basin states that do not have the letters “U-T-A-H” in their names just sent a remarkable letter to Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt with a plea – don’t let the rush toward federal approval of Utah’s proposed Lake Powell Pipeline blow up the Colorado River Basin’s framework of collaborative rather than confrontational problem solving:
The six-state letter, the product of intense discussions in recent weeks among the states (including the one with “U-T-A-H” in its name) takes great pains to point to an important historical norm in Colorado Basin governance – states don’t mess in other states’ internal water use decisions. But in asking to move Upper Basin water to a Lower Basin community, Utah has crossed a line that the other states simply couldn’t let pass.
The Energy Policy Act of 1992, passed by a Democratic Congress and signed by Republican President George H.W. Bush, set the maximum flow rate for showers at 2.5 gallons per minute. President Trump is proposing to increase the rate, which he calls inadequate to wash his “beautiful hair.”
On Aug. 13, the Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to amend the existing standard for showerheads. The documentation prints out at 25 pages of mind-numbing rationalization. Its definition of showerheads exemplifies the byzantine logic behind this policy shift.
For example, the proposed rule provides three images of fixtures with between three and eight heads attached to a single pipe coming out of the wall. So long as none of the individual heads has a flow greater than 2.5 gallons per minute, the measure asserts that each fixture satisfies Congress’s quest for water and energy conservation.
How can the Energy Department allow shower fixtures with as many as eight heads, each emitting 2.5 gallons per minute? For context, Webster’s dictionary defines a showerhead as a “fixture for directing the spray of water in a bathroom shower.”
But the proposed rule interprets “showerhead” to mean “an accessory to a supply fitting for spraying water onto a bather.” With this sleight of hand, a congressional rule limiting showerhead flows can be deftly avoided by installing a hydra-headed fixture with multiple “showerheads,” each flowing at 2.5 gallons per minute.
The agency also released a fourth image of a wall fixture with seven nozzles, which the rule would not subject to the 2.5 gallons per minute maximum. The Energy Department deems these fixtures a “body spray” rather than a showerhead because they are “usually located” below the bather’s head. (Of course, the person showering may be short, or the plumber may install the fixture high on the shower wall.) Body sprays may have six or eight nozzles with no flow limits.
The sad part of this foolishness is that the Environmental Protection Agency’s WaterSense program, which identifies water-efficient projects and promotes water conservation, has been spectacularly successful, at virtually no cost to consumers or the regulated community. Showers constitute 17% of residential water use. That’s 40 gallons per day for the average family, or 1.2 trillion gallons annually in the United States.
COVID-19 has helped to make the affordability of water a national issue. Some rural areas, such as the Navajo Nation, where many people need to haul water to their homes and villages, have higher rates of coronavirus infection. People who have lost their jobs find themselves unable to pay their water bills, which in turn compromises the financial stability of water providers.
Allowing showers to use more water would have several unfortunate consequences for cities across the country. It would increase the amount of water cities must treat; raise the chances of raw sewage overflows at water treatment plants – especially in cities such as Washington, D.C. that combine storm and sewer water; and increase the amount of energy used to pump and treat water.
Disrupting low-flow fixture rules would create special hardships for western cities, such as Los Angeles and Las Vegas, that have struggled with water shortages for decades. Both cities remarkably reduced their total water use between the 1980s and 2020, despite rapid population growth, partly by converting residences to low water-use fixtures.
Water is not just another natural resource. Without it our bodies cease to function, our crops dry up, and our economy grinds to a halt. We can’t make any more water, so it makes sense to use the water we have wisely.
The Northern Integrated Supply Project achieved another important milestone on Wednesday, with the Larimer County Board of County Commissioners approving the 1041 Land Use Permit application on a 2-1 vote.
The permit will allow the construction of Glade Reservoir, its recreation components and the pipelines to convey water from the reservoir to participants throughout Northern Colorado.
Central to the permit is the framework for the development of Glade Reservoir as a future recreation area to be managed by Larimer County. Glade Reservoir, just north of Ted’s Place on U.S. Highway 287, will join Horsetooth Reservoir, Carter Lake, Flatiron Reservoir, Pinewood Reservoir and the future Chimney Hollow Reservoir as a site for water recreation, fishing, hiking and more.
The participants of NISP have agreed to spend more than $16 million to develop the recreation site, and they have purchased the former KOA campground nearby to create camping opportunities.
Another part of the permit dictates the route and procedures for the placement of pipelines to deliver high-quality drinking water to communities in Northern Colorado. It reiterates the commitment of NISP to convey roughly one-third of its water deliveries via the Poudre River through downtown Fort Collins, increasing the overall number of days available for recreation at the new Fort Collins Whitewater Park.
NISP has now received its permit from Larimer County for land use and from the State of Colorado for Water Quality and for Fish and Wildlife Mitigation and Enhancement. This fall, NISP anticipates receiving a Record of Decision from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Next year, NISP anticipates working with the City of Fort Collins to coordinate on a route for a pipeline to pick up the Glade Reservoir water that has been conveyed through Fort Collins via the Poudre River.
NISP is being built to address future water needs for 15 municipalities and water districts, including the Fort Collins-Loveland Water District, the Town of Windsor and others throughout the region. Northern Water is coordinating the effort through the NISP Water Activity Enterprise.
The vote came after lengthy hearings before the county board and the county’s planning commission. The majority of speakers at those meetings spoke about concerns over the project’s effects on the Poudre River, its main water source. The project would divert water from the river during its peak flows due to its relatively junior water rights.
Nearby residents in the Bonner Peak and Eagle Lake neighborhoods also voiced concerns about pipeline routes disrupting quiet, rural neighborhoods, and diminishing property values. Northern Water, the agency pushing for NISP’s construction, hasn’t ruled out using eminent domain to build those pipelines, if necessary…
In comments explaining his vote against the permit, Kefalas noted scientific papers show a warming trend across much of Colorado, with consequences for rivers fed by snowmelt, like the Poudre.
“Based on the modeling that has been done with the Upper Colorado River basin, I think there are serious implications to the Poudre River flow and how that affects the Glade Reservoir,” Kefalas said.
Kefalas said he was also uncomfortable with the project’s tradeoff in advocating for flatwater recreation on a reservoir a 20-minute drive outside of Fort Collins, instead of seeing high spring flows through the city as a recreational amenity…
In voting to approve, commissioner Johnson said a rejection of the permit would be an example of parochial self-interest. While much of NISP’s water would be used in communities outside of Larimer County, Johnson said Colorado is full of examples of projects where water is stored and transported from one region to another…
Commissioner Donnelly hewed closely to the county’s 1041 evaluation criteria, which assess projects based on how they fit into the county’s master plan and affect its residents. NISP’s proponents were able to satisfy all of the county’s criteria, Donnelly said…
The project is still awaiting a record of decision from the Army Corps of Engineers before it can move forward into construction.
From The Rio Grande Water Conservation District (Lisa Cyriacks) via The Crestone Eagle:
In the San Luis Valley: water is and will always be a critical issue. While demands on our scarce water supply grow, there are many community-based efforts working to restore a better water balance and plan for our future.
In the case of groundwater, the amount of water withdrawn by legally permitted wells exceeds the amount of water refilling the aquifers.
At a recent symposium hosted by Adams State University’s Salazar Center, local water leaders presented information on key aspects of current water conditions and challenges.
Salazar Center Director, Rio de la Vista, “With this year’s water shortage, the time is now to raise our level of knowledge on the critical water issues here. We aim to engage more people in community-based efforts for a sustainable water future and we need everyone’s help to make that possible!”
Local water users and State officials recognized something needed to be done in response to a severe drought that started about 20 years ago and reached its peak in 2002. They banded together to form local groundwater sub-districts to balance water use and supply. Their goal is to make groundwater use sustainable and protect senior surface water right holders from water shortages due to groundwater pumping.
Despite efforts to meet a court-mandated goal to replenish the shallow aquifer to pre-2000 levels by 2030, significant progress was curtailed by another serious drought beginning in 2018.
Agriculture is the economic engine in the San Luis Valley. None of the region’s current crops could be grown if growers depended only on the 7.5 inches of annual precipitation that hits the valley floor. The valley is one of the world’s largest high-altitude deserts. Water users draw from the valley rivers and streams to irrigate their crops but the peak flows that are common in May and June dry up by July and August. Given the lack of water storage in the region, growers rely on groundwater to finish watering their crops.
The latest attempt to export water from the valley to the Front Range is led by Renewable Water Resources (RWR), based in the city of Centennial near Denver. This scheme is undermining local farmers’ efforts to address water shortages and could set a dangerous precedent of water export.
There is zero unappropriated water in the Rio Grande Basin. This means all surface water and groundwater is currently used by existing water users, leaving no water available for transport outside the valley.
RWR aims to pump 22,000 acre-feet of water and pipe it over Poncha Pass to the Front Range. Local water leaders believe that if the pipeline is built, the RWR project will be just the start and lead to further attempts to export water.
The proposal is opposed by the Rio Grande Water Conservation District, San Luis Valley Water Conservancy District, Conejos Water Conservancy District, the Rio Grande Basin Roundtable as well as the City of Alamosa, Town of Del Norte, City of Monte Vista, Town of Saguache; joined by environmental groups, local businesses, and many farmers and ranchers.
There is widespread opposition in the valley to the RWR export scheme. Locals are concerned that RWR’s plan could turn Saguache County into another Crowley County, an area east of Pueblo that has been devastated economically by the sale of its water. See https://bit.ly/2CORMbB.
The San Luis Valley is a beloved place for many Colorado residents and travelers from across the country and around the world. With the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, three extraordinary National Wildlife Refuges, the Rio Grande Natural Area, the Rio Grande National Forest and many other public lands, the valley’s water sustains wildlife for viewing, hunting and fishing, and many forms of recreation. Sandhill crane migration attracts many visitors to the valley. Water export threatens the valley’s economy, which is dependent on agriculture.
Valley water leaders urge residents to take action by seeking out the facts about valley water resources and advocating for the truth about RWR’s export plans and the valley’s water supplies and hydrology.
Please see http://www.rgwcd.org for information about current aquifer levels and the subdistricts’ efforts to manage our groundwater.
Ecuador’s Los Cedros Reserve, one of Earth’s most biodiverse habitats, could be wiped out by mining. A court case could save it — and set a precedent for the planet.
Should nature have rights? That question is being put to the test right now in Ecuador.
In 2008 the South American country made history when its new constitution declared that nature had “the right to integral respect for its existence and for the maintenance and regeneration of its life cycles, structure, functions and evolutionary processes.” It was an unprecedented commitment, the first of its kind, to preserving biodiversity for future generations of Ecuadorians.
The constitutional change did not automatically protect nature, but it gave citizens what the Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature describes as “the legal authority to enforce these rights on behalf of ecosystems. The ecosystem itself can be named as the defendant.”
The country could soon make history again when its Constitutional Court hears a case that seeks to apply these rights of nature to a protected forest, known as Bosque Protector Reserva Los Cedros, against large-scale copper and gold mining.
The threat stems from a 2017 change in government policy that allowed mining concessions on 6 million acres of lands, including at least 68% of Los Cedros — part of a hasty attempt to boost the mining sector and compensate for declining oil revenues. Experts say that policy appears to be unconstitutional, which has led to the present showdown.
“Mining in protected forests is a violation of Articles 57, 71 and 398 of the constitution: the collective rights of Indigenous peoples, the Rights of Nature, and the right of communities to prior consultation before environmental changes, respectively,” says ecologist Bitty Roy of the University of Oregon, who has conducted research at Los Cedros since 2008.
A Vital Reserve
Los Cedros is a remote, pristine, 17,000-acre cloud forest in northwest Ecuador and one of the most biodiverse places on the planet.
Conservation biologist Mika Peck, of the University of Sussex, describes Los Cedros as “a biodiversity hotspot within a hotspot — and of global importance in terms of conserving our natural history.”
He adds, “the reserve and all it maintains is priceless.”
The reserve has been protected since 1988 due primarily to the work of manager Josef DeCoux and Australia’s Rainforest Information Center.
DeCoux tells me he was one of the “hippies” who moved from the United States to Ecuador in the 1980s to help “save the rainforest.”
He chose well. Not only does Los Cedros protect at least 250 species from extinction, it safeguards four watersheds. That means the court case is not just about preserving a biodiversity jewel; it’s about guaranteeing a livable environment to local people as well as protecting the forest’s own right to remain undisturbed.
A recent letter from 23 international scientists, including Roy and Peck, argued that “the value of this intact watershed is far greater than that of any possible mineral wealth that lies beneath it.”
The remoteness of the reserve was one of the things that pulled me to it a few years ago.
Inaccessible by road, the final ascent up to Los Cedros is a nerve-wracking, two-hour mule ride on a muddy track with sheer drop-offs and awe-inspiring views. Once there you’re immersed in a biological paradise. You can walk among the shaggy, epiphyte-laden trees dripping from the frequent rain showers brought by the low-creeping clouds; listen to the cacophony of some of the 358 bird species that greet the dawn; seek out the six species of cats, including pumas and endangered jaguars; get to know some of the 970 species of moths; or look for 186 species of orchids, one-third of which are endangered. They include several species of Dracula orchids, named for their blood-red petals and haunting faces.
Each day I explored the reserve’s trails — kept short to minimize disturbance to the ecosystem — its uniqueness became more evident. Nearly two dozen species of frogs, almost all endangered — including a species of rainfrog able to change its skin texture and a glass frog known for its transparent abdomen — occupy streams so clean you can drink directly from them. During my visit DeCoux told me he was particularly proud of that pristine resource.
The reserve is also home to the endangered spectacled Andean bear and three species of monkeys, also endangered.
On a morning hike with one of the guides employed by the reserve, I saw a troop of one of those species, the critically endangered brown-headed spider monkey, one of the rarest primates in the world, with a population of about 250 individuals. As most of the troop moved on, one monkey hung back to grab and eat some fruit. Although we watched from 30 yards away, it soon started hooting at us and shaking a branch to scare us off.
A clear message that we’d encroached on its personal space.
The Mining Threat Looms
Yet in an encroachment of national and potentially devastating proportions, in 2017 the government put more than two-thirds of Los Cedros under a mining concession to the Canadian mining company Cornerstone Capital Resources, in conjunction with ENAMI, the state’s mining company.
More than seven million acres across Ecuador are now under concessions. Additional concessions cover major portions of Indigenous territory, which threatens not only the people’s livelihoods but their lives. The permits, the majority of which are in the highly biodiverse Andean cloud forests, were issued without consulting the affected communities.
A year ago DeCoux’s legal team succeeded in getting a provincial court to revoke Cornerstone’s mining permit because of the lack of consultation. But that hasn’t stopped the company from continuing to operate, according to Elisa Levy of the mining oversight collective OMASNE (Observatorio Minero, Ambiental y Social del Norte del Ecuador).
“They have built roads to the edge of the reserve,” she says, “and broken new trails in Los Cedros” — actions that compromise the integrity of the presently intact ecosystem.
ENAMI appealed the provincial court’s decision, and in May the Constitutional Court decided to hear the case under rights of nature, probably by the end of the year.
The latest development was “very good news indeed,” DeCoux wrote in a blog post. Without rights people perceive forests, rivers and oceans as objects to be used; but with rights they become subjects to be valued on their own terms.
The case matters not just for Los Cedros — it could set precedent for the entire country.
Two of the Constitutional Court judges, Ramiro Avila and Daniela Salazar Marin, issued a written statement on May 18 that acknowledges the biodiversity of Los Cedros and explicitly mentions that it is the home of the critically endangered brown-headed spider monkey and the endangered spectacled Andean bear. They further argue that the case will allow the court to rule on the “content” of the rights of nature, and to “develop parameters to set the limits of protected forests and the scope of responsibility for the state to monitor and follow up on mining concessions.” (Translated from Spanish.)
The Call to Protect
Habitat loss, now exacerbated by climate change, is the leading cause of extinction around the world. With the high number of endemic species in Los Cedros, and their small range, allowing mining exploration to continue will undoubtedly result in extinctions. In a research paper published in 2018 in the journal Tropical Conservation Science, Roy and others argue that permanently protecting Los Cedros, the last uncut forest in western Ecuador, is necessary to ensure lower-altitude flora and fauna can migrate freely to the higher altitudes found to the north, where Los Cedros borders the enormous 450,000-acre Cotacachi-Cayapas Ecological Reserve.
Peck echoes that conclusion. “The move to rule in favor of Bosques Protectores such as Los Cedros is vital to ensure protection of vital natural habitats, and the species they maintain, in a world that is going to undergo major climatic shifts,” he says. “Natural habitat is key to maintaining ecosystem services that buffer these changes and allow species to migrate and survive.”
Those species remain ever-present in my mind.
The sound I most remember from Los Cedros is the eerie call of the pastures frog: a high, slow electronic bleating that reverberated back and forth over the ridge — as if to warn that all this could be lost. Reserves like Los Cedros make up one-third of the protected lands in Ecuador, so a ruling in favor of rights of nature here would be a bold move that would protect other forests from mining and ultimately allow the establishment of new conservation corridors.
If ever there was a time for bold moves that will surely make history, it is now.
Peck calls a ruling in favor of the Bosques Protectores “the only rational response in the face of climate change and biodiversity loss.”
Levy is encouraged that the case will be heard under rights of nature, but remains cautious. “We don’t want to be too optimistic,” she says. “We know what’s at stake.”
For more on Los Cedros and the threat of mining in Ecuador, watch this video from the Rainforest Action Group:
Diane Mitsch Bush, the Democratic candidate for Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District, pledged cooperation and Lauren Boebert, her Republican challenger, promised to fight — the Front Range, neighboring states and the federal government — to protect Western Slope water.
The two candidates on Thursday tackled water-related questions at this year’s Colorado Water Congress. Typically among the largest annual gatherings of water managers, policymakers and scientists, the 2020 series of panels and workshops has gone online due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Mitsch Bush answered questions live via Zoom, while Boebert sent in a prerecorded video. She was attending President Donald Trump’s Republican National Convention speech at the White House on Thursday night.
Mitsch Bush touted her experience as a former Routt County commissioner and three-term state representative, and framed herself as a pragmatic problem-solver who uses science, not ideology, as the basis for decisionmaking. From her history of working with the basin roundtables, she said the best ideas come from listening to one another.
“I’ll work diligently with our delegation and the other Western states to ensure our Western voices are heard and our needs as a headwaters state get met,” she said. “To do that, I will work with colleagues across all the divides: the aisle, basins and states to rebuild our infrastructure so our communities can flourish now and in the future.”
Boebert, the owner of Shooters Grill in Rifle, made headlines earlier this summer when she beat Rep. Scott Tipton, an incumbent endorsed by Trump, in the District 3 Republican primary. The upset has thrust the conservative gun-rights activist and mother of four into the national spotlight.
Moderator Joey Bunch, of Colorado Politics, posed the question of how the burden of drought and a potential Colorado River Compact call could be shared equally by the Front Range’s populous urban center and the rural, agriculture-dependent Western Slope.
Western water managers desperately want to avoid a compact call, which could occur if the upper basin states (Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico and Utah) can’t deliver on the amount of water they owe the lower basin states (Arizona, Nevada and California). A compact call could trigger involuntary cutbacks in water use for Colorado, known as “curtailment.”
This scenario reveals an interesting intrastate dynamic: Many of the oldest and most valuable water rights are on the Western Slope, meaning the cutbacks wouldn’t affect them because they predate the 1922 Colorado River Compact.
But the state’s population center and deep-pocketed municipal water providers are on the growing Front Range. Some worry that Front Range interests will try to secure these senior Western Slope agricultural water rights so they can avoid cutbacks. Cities’ purchasing of agricultural water rights is sometimes derided as “buy and dry.”
Mitsch Bush said, “My top principle is: We cannot let curtailment lead to buy and dry of agriculture.”
Boebert agreed and played up the urban/rural divide, saying she is against more transmountain diversions to the Front Range and is primed to fight for Western Slope water. The burden for compact curtailment cannot fall solely on District 3, she said.
“I’m 100% committed to fighting this out with Denver and Boulder and making sure they don’t push all the work and all the costs onto us,” Boebert said. “Rural Colorado must have a voice, and we must have someone willing to fight for us in D.C.”
Both candidates agreed on the expansion of existing reservoirs to increase water storage as an alternative to building new reservoirs.
“The enlargement of existing reservoirs is the quickest, least expensive and most environmentally sensitive manner to secure more water storage,” Boebert said. “Increasing water storage capacity is key for Colorado’s future.”
Mitsch Bush agreed.
“Enlarging existing reservoirs is much more cost-effective for the taxpayer and for water users and much less environmentally challenging than building new reservoirs,” she said. “The best sites are already occupied by dams and reservoirs, so increasing the reservoirs’ capacity makes sense.”
After the candidates spoke, political commentator and former Colorado GOP state chair Dick Wadhams gave his analysis on where water issues fit into the campaign.
“Water is one of the most important issues we have in Colorado going back since statehood, and yet it’s the most obscure and least understood and least prioritized oftentimes by voters,” he said. “I do think with our dramatic increase in population that we are headed to a calamity at some point if we have a horrible drought.”
Aspen Journalism is a local, nonprofit, investigative journalism organization covering water and rivers in collaboration with Swift Communications newspapers. This story appeared in the Aug. 28 edition of The Aspen Times, and Steamboat Pilot & Today.
FromThe Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Charles Ashby):
Historically, water has never been a political issue, but a geographical one, and that axiom was borne out Thursday between Democrat Diane Mitsch Bush and Republican Lauren Boebert in comments at the Colorado Water Congress’ 2020 Summer Conference.
The two candidates agreed on several matters asked during a virtual panel discussion about how each would approach water issues while serving in Congress. Both had advanced knowledge of the questions asked, giving each time to research their answers.
Mitsch Bush said people back East don’t understand how water law works in the West. There, she said, they go by a system known as riparian water rights, which allocates water among those who possess land along its path…
“It’s really, really critical for us, as Coloradans, that we have a representative that understands Colorado water law, that understands the issues of drought and scarcity, and understands what we need in terms of federal funding to deal with them,” she said.
Unlike Mitsch Bush, Boebert has no background in working on water issues. Still, the Silt resident said she’s brought in experts to teach her, and ended up agreeing with much of what Mitsch Bush said.
Both, for example, said it is unlikely the state will be able to get the funding and permits needed to build new water storage projects, such as dams and reservoirs. Instead, it should concentrate on expanding existing reservoirs to increase their storage capacity…
Both also agreed that, should there be a squeeze on Colorado’s water allotment either by the federal government or downstream states, that Colorado should decide for itself where its water allotment goes.
The two also agreed how the state allots any funding for water projects should be dictated by the Colorado Water Plan, and said they would work with anyone in any state regardless of political affiliation who wants to help boost and protect Colorado’s and the West’s existing water supply.
Larimer County’s first public comment session for the Northern Integrated Supply Project’s 1041 permit application showcased heavy opposition to a reservoir plan that critics say would cause devastating impacts to the Poudre River.
About 100 people gave about 6 hours’ worth of testimony at the Monday hearing, which was the first of two hearings devoted solely to public comment on NISP’s 1041 proposal. Over 90% of the comments were in opposition to the permit.
Larimer County commissioners will accept more public comment Aug. 31, and NISP proponent Northern Water will have the chance to provide rebuttal to the comments at an upcoming meeting. Commissioners are expected to vote on the permit Sept. 2, but that could be pushed back.
The 1041 permit covers only a part of the NISP project: the siting of Glade Reservoir, NISP’s main water storage component, and four water pipelines throughout the county…
NISP opponents, however, say they doubt the project will be able to deliver all that water. They also say the project’s heavy spring and summer diversions will constitute a death blow to an already strained river that loses over half of its water before it reaches Fort Collins. The project could divert between 25% and 71% of the Poudre’s stream flows, depending on the month and time of year, with most of the diversions taking place in the higher-flow months of April to August…
[David] Jones was one of many local scientists who spoke in opposition of NISP and offered pointed criticism of its wildlife mitigation and enhancement plan. The plan includes a “conveyance refinement” proposal that would run some of the diverted water through a portion of the river in Fort Collins with the goal of addressing dry-up points and improving streamflows…
[Barry Noon] also criticized the mitigation plan for not sufficiently accounting for climate change, which climatologists project will deteriorate Colorado river flows, shrink mountain snowpack and exacerbate droughts like the one currently gripping the state. The Poudre relies solely on mountain snowpack, and the Grey Mountain water right that accounts for about half of NISP’s water is a relatively junior water right that is less likely to be satisfied in drier years…
Noon and others emphasized that Northern Water won’t have to meet its river flow requirements through Fort Collins until “full buildout conditions when NISP participants are consistently taking their full NISP yield,” according to the mitigation plan. The plan does commit to conveying at least 36% of total NISP deliveries through Fort Collins before buildout…
If it does happen, CSU biology professor and ecologist LeRoy Poff fears the river will buckle under the impact of degraded springtime flows that he predicts will fossilize the river channel, dry out wetlands and degrade riparian habitat. He said he found in research conducted for the city of Fort Collins that even the flows promised after buildout wouldn’t be enough to sustain the river and would result in damaged natural areas…
Fort Collins resident Joe Rowan said there’s “ample evidence” that Northern Water’s permit application meets or exceeds the standards laid out in Larimer County’s 1041 permitting process. He added that NISP “has been subjected to the most arduous, comprehensive and objective analysis any of us have ever witnessed” over the past few decades…
Residents near proposed pipelines speak up
Also present at Monday’s hearing were over 20 county residents whose property would be impacted by the four pipelines involved in the permit. Lisa Pewe, who recently moved to a Larimer County Road 56 property with plans to open an equine-assisted therapy nonprofit there, said the Northern Tier pipeline would be “devastating to my business, my dream and my property’s value.”
A 60-foot easement would run across the western and southern borders of her property, negatively affecting about 40% of her 5-acre property, she said. She asked commissioners to reject that portion of the pipeline or require Northern Water to use existing rights-of-way and easements in the area…
Loss was a key theme among the speakers. So was a reverential, almost familial connection to the Poudre. Will Walters said the Poudre River valley is home to four generations of his family since his granddaughter, Georgie, was born last winter. He described the way her birth renewed in the family “a sense of awe and wonder in our natural world” — and underlined a desire to protect it.
There’s no more water to wring from the river, Walters said, because what remains after generations of diversions does “crucial ecological work.”
From email from the Colorado Division of Water Resources (Erin Light via Scott Hummer):
Right in step with the unprecedented year of 2020, the Yampa River is going on call for the second time in three years. And once again, the structures located at the bottom of the system do not have enough natural flow to meet their diversion demands.
We, the Division of Water Resources, are currently protecting reservoir water released from Elkhead Creek Reservoir for the protection of the endangered fish species. The amount of reservoir water currently being released for the Endangered Fish Recovery Program is 75 cfs. This in turn requires that there is 61 cfs at the Yampa River at Deerlodge Park gage station. The flow this morning is hovering around 50 cfs which means reservoir water is being diverted by water users upstream.
The entire Yampa River system is under administration for several reasons, the most obvious of which is that if the reservoir water was not in the system the structures at the bottom of the system would have no water and we would be instituting what one might consider a standard or more typical call that would encompass the entire Yampa River and its tributaries. Additionally, the water users on the mainstem of the Yampa River between Elkhead Creek and its confluence with the Green River should not have to bear the brunt of the entire Yampa River being short of water simply because their structure is located within the Critical Habitat Reach (the protected reach for the Endangered Fish).
Actions have already been put in place to institute the call and as of 12:00 PM today, the Yampa River and all of its tributaries are considered under administration. The Calling Priority right (or most junior water right that may divert at this time) is located at the Craig Station Power Plant with an administration number of 37149.00000 (this water right has an adjudication date 9/1/1960 and an appropriation date of 9/17/1951). This Calling Priority may change as the call progresses. In order to follow the call you may visit the following website: https://dwr.state.co.us/Tools/AdministrativeCalls/Active?submitButton=Submit&SelectedWaterDivisionId=6
If you have a water right junior to the above listed priority and you are diverting water, please cease your diversions unless your diversion can operate under a decreed augmentation plan or substitute water supply plan approved by the State Engineer. Also, if you are the owner of a pond, you are required to bypass all out of priority inflows.
If you have any questions or concerns please feel free to contact me or your water commissioner.
Erin Light, P.E.
Division Engineer, Water Division 6
Larimer County residents weighed in on the proposed Northern Integrated Supply Project on Monday, with the majority of dozens of speakers asking the county commissioners not to grant a 1041 permit for the $1.1 billion effort…
Members of the public mostly focused on the environmental impacts of the project, which would build two reservoirs capable of holding close to 216,000 acre feet of water on the dime of the 15 area water providers that could benefit, including the Fort Collins-Loveland Water District.
John Shenot of the Fort Collins Audubon Society brought up the group’s work to have the local stretch of the Poudre recognized as an Important Bird Area by the National Audubon Society, meaning it includes areas such as nesting grounds, migratory stopovers or other essential habitats for at least one species of bird.
He called Glade Reservoir, which would tap into the Poudre River near the mouth of Poudre Canyon, an “existential threat” to bird habitats…
Another speaker, Larimer County alfalfa farmer Ken McCullough, said his opinion on the project turned when he learned that some of the water to be stored in Glade would be purchased from farms.
He questioned whether the project would take needed irrigation water from area farmers…
While the project has purchased Poudre River water from farms, that water has been exchanged for South Platte water, so it is not “buy-and-dry.”
Although the majority of speakers opposed the project, at least one man, Joe Rowan, who described himself as a longtime Fort Collins resident spoke in favor, describing the opposition as “sanctimonious rancor” and “ill-advised hyperbole.”
He located NISP in more than a century of water transfer and storage projects on the Cache la Poudre watershed.
“There would be no discussion of preserving habitat and sensitive ecological systems were water storage projects not pursued by prior generations,” Rowan said.
He also pointed out that county staff have recommended approval of the permit, and said commissioners deciding based on the input of some rather than the requirements of the permitting process would be the same as intimidation.
“We simply can’t be expected to self-govern if the loudest and most vitriolic of our fellow residents are allowed to cower elected representatives into submission,” Rowan said.
Others said the project would benefit communities outside of Larimer County, while county residents would bear the majority of the adverse impacts, particularly from the construction of Glade Reservoir west of Fort Collins.
David Jones, a vegetation ecologist at Colorado State University who stated he has been following the NISP project for more than a decade, said the project was “not in the interest of the vast majority of Larimer County residents.”
The next public comment session is scheduled for Aug. 31, and the commissioners are expected to make a decision on Sept. 2.
FromThe White Mountain Independent (Peter Aleshire):
Welcome to Monsoon 2020.
Despite a near-normal winter, a hot, dry spring and a fizzled monsoon has cast Arizona back into drought and water shortages.
Although the Rocky Mountains got 105% of a normal winter snowfall, runoff into Lake Powell remains just 52% of normal…
Combined with declining reservoir levels and plunging water tables statewide, the return to a water crisis in the state underscores the enviable position of Payson with its supplemental C.C. Cragin water supply and White Mountain communities like Show Low, Pinetop and others with ample groundwater.
The bizarre lurch from a normal winter to a reservoir-draining drought has also validated climate model predictions suggesting the gradual warming of the planet will create a fitful, ongoing water crisis in the Southwest. Studies show it’s not enough to have a good winter if a hot, dry spring melts the snow quickly and increases evapotranspiration, sapping the spring runoff.
So far, this year ranks as the third-driest on record statewide. Most of the state so far ranks as “much below average” with some areas in the south setting records. Most of California is now in record-breaking territory as the drought returns with a vengeance. Wildfires are burning out of control, with thousands of homes threatened.
The Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District has started releasing water from Stagecoach Reservoir to boost flows into the city of Steamboat Springs’ waste water treatment plant.
The release of 350 acre-feet of water also has the aim of keeping water temperatures cooler to protect the health of the ecosystem and to meet local supply needs, according to a news release from the district. This comes as rivers across Colorado are experiencing varying degrees of drought…
The district also initiated its annual drawdown of Stagecoach Reservoir, during which managers will gradually release an additional 1,000 acre-feet of water through Sept. 30.
All of this means higher flows on the local river. As of Tuesday, the Yampa River was flowing at about 160 cubic feet per second at the U.S. Geological Survey’s stream gauge at the Fifth Street Bridge, up from 90 cfs on Aug. 11…
Thanks to a grant from the Yampa River Fund, the Colorado Water Trust will lease an additional 500 acre-feet of water from the Conservation District, which is intended to improve river health and enhance flows during the hot, dry weeks ahead, according to the news release. The Water Trust can purchase additional water if necessary, up to 4,000 acre-feet for the rest of the year…
This marks the seventh year in the past decade that the Water Trust leased water from Stagecoach River to maintain healthy flows and water temperatures. The organization uses forecast models and historical data to gauge how much water to release during any given year.
State regulators in the Yampa River basin say most water users are now willingly complying with an order to measure how much water they are taking — an order once greeted with suspicion and reluctance. But challenges to compliance remain, including the cost of installing equipment.
Last fall, the Colorado Division of Water Resources ordered nearly 500 water users in the Yampa River basin to install measuring devices to record their water use. Nearly a year later, most of those water users are embracing the requirement, according to water commissioner Scott Hummer.
“I am fully confident that over 90% of the people who have orders pending have either complied, are in the process of complying or have asked for an extension,” Hummer said. “So we are getting the cooperation and buy-in that we are requesting from our water users. They are understanding why we are doing it, at least in my area.”
Hummer is the water commissioner for Water District 58, which spans 400 square miles and includes all the water rights above Stagecoach Reservoir. He oversees between 350 and 400 diversion structures.
Measuring water use is the norm in other river basins, especially where demand outpaces supply. But the tightening of regulations is new to the Yampa River basin, and the order was initially met with resistance from some ranchers.
John Raftopoulos, whose family ranches along the Little Snake River, a tributary of the Yampa in Moffat County, said he thinks most irrigators are complying. His cattle ranch has about 15 measuring devices, and he has to install a few more to be completely compliant.
“I know (the state) has to use them. There’s no other way they can control the water; they’ve got to have the measuring device,” Raftopoulos said. “You just got to bite the bullet and install them.”
State law requires water users to maintain measuring devices on their canals and ditches, but this rule was not enforced in Division 6 — consisting of the Yampa, White, Green and North Platte river basins — because historically there was plenty of water to go around in the sparsely populated northwest corner of the state. Long seen as the last frontier of the free river, there has been little regulatory oversight from the state when it came to irrigators using as much water as they needed. But that changed in 2018 with the first-ever call on the river.
A call is prompted when streamflows are low and a senior water rights holder isn’t receiving their full amount. They ask the state to place a call, which means upstream junior water rights holders must stop or reduce diversions to ensure that the senior water right gets its full amount.
Although the order for a measuring device comes with a deadline and the threat of fines, Division 6 engineer Erin Light has been lenient with water users and willing to give them extra time to get into compliance. The process to request an extension is simple: A water user can simply email Light.
“If a water user is working with our office, we are not going to go shut their headgate off,” she said. “We are going to work with them.”
Light doesn’t have an exact count on how many water users have complied so far — water commissioners are working in the field this summer and haven’t had time to enter the most current information into the division’s database yet — but as of January, the Yampa had 49% compliance.
“I am not hearing anything (from water commissioners) about concerns of noncompliance. If there were problems, they would let me know,” Light said. “I have a fair amount of confidence that things are going well in all my areas as to compliance.”
Still, some worry that the cost of installing the devices — which in most cases are Parshall flumes — is too big a financial burden for some water users. The devices, which channel diverted water and measure the flow below the headgate, can cost thousands of dollars, which adds up for water users who need to install multiple devices.
The Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District and the Yampa-White-Green Basin Roundtable have teamed up in recent months to create a $200,000 grant program to help water users with infrastructure-improvement expenses. According to Holly Kirkpatrick, the communications manager for the conservancy district, water users so far have completed about $3,500 worth of work. That money will be reimbursed through the grant program.
“We expect to see a huge influx of applications as the season comes to an end,” she said.
In March, Light issued notices to water users in the other Division 6 river basins — White and Green — but decided to delay sending orders after talking with some who had concerns over the economic crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a June letter to Light, signed by four water conservancy districts — White River, Rio Blanco, Yellow Jacket and Douglas Creek — representatives said they would be interested in seeking opportunities for financial assistance for their water users. Under the best-case scenario, it would take until spring to secure grant money and begin installing devices, the letter said.
“This year is a tough year to try and ask people to do anything above and beyond what they already have to do,” said Callie Hendrickson, executive director of the White River and Douglas Creek Conservation Districts. “I know (Light is) willing to give extensions, but right now, our folks don’t need that additional financial or emotional stress.”
Colorado River Compact influence
Some water users have questioned why, after years of not enforcing requirements for measuring devices in Division 6, the state is now doing so. One answer is that more and better data about water use is becoming increasingly necessary as drought and climate change reduce streamflows, create water shortages and threaten Colorado’s ability to meet its Colorado River Compact obligations.
Division 6 has traditionally enjoyed abundant water and few demands, but as state regulators saw with the 2018 call, that dynamic is no longer guaranteed every year. As the threat of a compact call and the possibility of a state demand-management program grow, state officials say the need to measure water use grows, too.
A major unknown is what would happen in the event of a compact call. A compact call could occur if the upper-basin states — Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and New Mexico — were not able to deliver the 75 million acre-feet of water over 10 years to the lower basin states — California, Arizona and Nevada — as required by the 1922 compact. Colorado water managers desperately want to avoid this scenario, in part because it could trigger mandatory cutbacks for water users.
State engineer Kevin Rein said that without knowing how much water is being used, it’s a blind guess as to which junior water users would have to cut back.
“We could see the (cubic feet per second) amount that the water right is decreed for, but we don’t know how much is really being diverted and we don’t know how much is really being consumed, so we don’t know what effect it’s going to have on meeting our compact obligations,” Rein told Aspen Journalism last week.
It’s a similar scenario with a potential demand-management program. At the heart of such a program is a reduction in water use in an attempt to send as much as 500,000 additional acre-feet of water downstream to Lake Powell to help the upper basin meet its compact obligations. Agricultural water users could get paid to take part in the temporary, voluntary program to fallow fields and leave more water in the river.
But before they could participate in a demand-management program, the state needs to know how much water that an irrigator has been using.
“The first thing we need is diversion records,” Rein said. “If there’s no measuring device, no record of diversions and somebody wants to participate, they are simply not going to have the data to demonstrate their consumptive use.”
Since nearly everyone is making progress, Hummer said he doubts that enforcement will reach a point where he has to fine someone for not measuring their water use. Still, the transition is a tough one for an area not accustomed to state government oversight of their ditches.
“We are just dealing with difficult circumstances within the whole Colorado River basin system that dictates change, and folks don’t like change, especially in rural areas,” Hummer said. “But it’s here and it’s not going away. The demand for measurement will become more stringent in the future, not less.”
Aspen Journalism is a local, nonprofit, investigative news organization covering water and rivers in collaboration with The Aspen Times, along with other Swift Communications newspapers. This story ran in the Aug. 15 edition of the Steamboat Pilot & Today and the Aug. 17 edition of The Aspen Times.
All three Larimer County commissioners began listening to an application for the Northern Integrated Supply Project on Monday, with Steve Johnson and Tom Donnelly declining to step away from the upcoming decision.
“I have no doubts I can consider that application on its merits and weigh it against the land use code,” said Johnson at the start of the public hearing Monday night.
Three organized groups opposed to the project and its associated Glade Reservoir — Save the Poudre, No Pipe Dream and Save Rural NoCO — had asked Johnson and Donnelly, the two Republicans on the board, to step back from the decision.
They claimed that the two commissioners, both in their 12th year of service, have shown “decade-long support and endorsement of the project” and have had outside contact with Northern Water, which has applied for a 1041 permit for its reservoir project on behalf of 15 water providers.
Johnson and Donnelly both stressed they would make an impartial decision on the application during this public hearing, which is scheduled to run across four days, and denied any bias…
Right now, the county is considering its 1041 permit, which allows the county to have input and impose conditions on the reservoir construction and pipeline facilities. County planning staff members recommended approval as did the Planning Commission, by a split vote, and the county commissioners have the final say…
The three-member elected board heard from the planning staff and Northern Water on Monday night during a 3½-hour hearing. Next, they will hold both afternoon and evening sessions to take public comment on Aug. 24 and Aug. 31 before deliberating and making a decision Sept. 2.
To approve the permit, the commissioners must believe that the project meets 12 criteria that are listed in the land use code, including whether:
It would negatively impact health and safety.
It mitigates construction impacts.
It doesn’t adversely affect the environment and natural and cultural resources without adequate mitigations.
Alternatives were considered.
In evaluating the 1,600-page application, the county staff looked at issues ranging from traffic associated with construction and future recreation to water-quality and air-quality impacts to a plan for recreation on the land surrounding Glade. They dug into everything from truck traffic trips to dust levels to the costs of recreation, as well as the acres of habitat and wetland mitigations compared with the amount lost.
The staff recommended approval with requirements that include noise, water- and air-quality monitoring and mitigation during construction.
The three commissioners listened to staff members and representatives of Northern Water during the first segment of the hearing, asking about negotiating easements on private property, associated road work, flow levels in the Poudre River and more.
All three said they will carefully consider all the input from both Northern Water and residents, who will be allowed to speak at hearings on the next two Mondays. Residents who want to speak during the upcoming sessions must sign up by 10 a.m. Aug. 24 at larimer.org/planning/NISP-1041.
FromThe High Country News (Andrew Curley) [August 11, 2020]:
Colonial laws and federal neglect created a worse-case scenario during a global pandemic.
The Navajo Nation is at the center of the worst global pandemic in recent memory. Although the total number of COVID-19 cases is small compared to national hotspots, the rate of infection is among the nation’s highest.
Today, national media is focused on Navajo water insecurity — a clear threat to Diné people during the pandemic. About 30% to 40% of reservation residents do not have regular running water. But behind this statistic lies a history of racism and underdevelopment. Even as white communities benefited from decades of expensive water infrastructure, Diné communities were denied the rights and resources necessary to access the same water.
Water settlements between tribes and states are a source of much of this continued underdevelopment. For Indigenous people, these settlements also represent colonial dispossession, because they often suspend allocation of water rights and funding for water infrastructure until tribal leaders give in to the state’s demands. In 2005, for example, then-Arizona Republican Sen. [Jon Kyl] denied the Navajo Nation 6,411 acre-feet of water until it resolved its claims to the Colorado River with the state of Arizona.
While the U.S. was violently annexing the Western United States and vigilante militias murdered and displaced Diné and Apache people, settlers moved into Indigenous lands and dammed and diverted rivers. The settlers created a system that enabled them to monopolize the region’s limited water supply. A new legal and political concept became part of Western water law — a concept that favored the expansion of mining companies, farms and a booming livestock industry over the Indigenous communities already using the water.
The Colorado Compact of 1922 brought the entire Colorado River and its tributaries into this water regime. It divided the river into 15 million quantifiable units…that enabled the U.S. and Western states to more easily divert and distribute water, subject to the laws of the states involved. At the same time, under Winters’ (1908), Indigenous water claims were limited to the date when reservations were established, ignoring centuries of tribal use and governance.
During the New Deal, rural electrification bypassed reservations while the Army Corps of Engineers and Bureau of Reclamation competed to dam and divert rivers in the Western U.S. Dams flooded Indigenous lands, killing ecosystems while providing power to settler communities. Water security was soon taken for granted in Western cities, while Indigenous nations found their water supply becoming increasingly precarious.
In the 1960s, cities like Phoenix and Las Vegas expanded. The federal government favored development policies that opened reservations for mining and energy. Coal was extracted from the Navajo Nation, converted into energy, and used to power huge generators near the Parker Dam along the Colorado River. Today, these generators move Colorado River water over the Buckskin Mountains and toward Phoenix and Tucson. It is an unnatural process only made possible by Diné coal. The water provided critical infrastructure for Arizona and allowed Phoenix to grow from a small Western town to a sprawling metropolis.
Starting in the 1970s, state officials proposed settling Indigenous water claims, seeking to resolve lawsuits between tribes and states in favor of limited water rights for tribes. Today, these settlements often contain money for smaller water infrastructure projects.
But these agreements come at a cost. State officials use them as bargaining chips during negotiations, creating an adversarial relationship between tribes and states. In two recent instances, Sen. Kyl deprived the Navajo Nation of federal funding for water infrastructure in order to pressure Navajo officials to settle water claims with the state.
In the San Juan River settlement of 2005, Kyl denied Diné communities in the Window Rock area water from the Gallup Supply Project until the Navajo Nation settled all of its existing water claims with Arizona. And in 2010, in yet another proposed settlement, Kyl refused to bring forward legislation that would free the 6,411 acre-feet of water from the San Juan River settlement and also included $800 million in proposed water infrastructure for the western portion of the Navajo reservation. Kyl claimed the infrastructure was too expensive. But today, these are the very communities that are suffering from high COVID-19 infection rates.
There are many factors that create a crisis like this. Water settlements are not the only one, but they are a critical reason why the Navajo Nation lacks water infrastructure today. When we see statistics stating that 30% to 40% of Diné communities lack running water during a global pandemic, they are not statistics without history. The entire situation is an artifact of colonialism. It is the result of decades of indifference, neglect and deliberate underdevelopment.
Today, however, there is hope: The Navajo Nation Council has allocated $651,000 of CARES act funding for water projects within the Navajo Nation. But a lasting solution will require greater investment in physical infrastructure on the reservation. The Navajo people should not have to wait for water-rights litigation or legal settlements before they get the water, infrastructure and power settler communities take for granted. That is why Congress should fund the Western Navajo Pipeline. This project, which has been on the shelf for at least 10 years, was part of a 2010 water settlement that Sen. Kyl rejected. Had it been funded in 2010, it might have reduced the impacts of COVID in the Navajo Nation. The communities the pipeline would have served are among those that have been hit hardest by the pandemic. A tremendous amount of pain and hardship could have been avoided if the state had simply funded the pipeline a decade ago.
Andrew Curley is a member of the Navajo Nation and assistant professor in the School of Geography, Development, & Environment at the University of Arizona. Email High Country News at firstname.lastname@example.org
Here’s the release from the Central Arizona Project:
The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation has issued its August 24-Month Study. The purpose of this study is to project the year-end elevation of Lake Mead, which in turn determines the 2021 Lower Basin water supply conditions for CAP. BOR projects the Lake Mead elevation will be 1085.3’ on Jan. 1, 2021, which signals the Tier Zero supply of Colorado River water will continue for 2021.
Under Tier Zero, CAP’s water supply will be reduced by 192,000 acre-feet. This represents about a 12% reduction to CAP supplies. The Tier Zero reduction impacts CAP supplies previously available for underground storage, banking and replenishment. In addition, the reductions will likely reduce CAP agricultural uses by about 15%. While the word “reduction” is never popular, the fact that in 2021 Lake Mead will again operate in Tier Zero status shows that DCP is working to stabilize the reservoir from experiencing deeper shortages.
The August 24-Month Study also shows, in the most likely projection, continued Tier Zero conditions in 2022. However, due to hot and dry conditions across the Colorado River basin, the risk of a deeper reduction under Tier One shortage has increased for 2022. The reductions under Tier One are almost three times larger than Tier Zero. But thanks to the continued hard work across the Arizona water community, including the mitigation programs implemented through the Arizona DCP framework, we are prepared to manage Tier One reductions if they occur.
Here’s the release from the Arizona Department of Water Resources:
The United States Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation) has released its August 24 Month Study, which projects Colorado River operations for the next two years. The study projects the operating conditions of the Colorado River system, as well as runoff and reservoir conditions. The Upper Basin experienced around average snowpack (107%) this year, and the April-July inflow into Lake Powell came in at 52% of average. The below-average projection was due to extremely hot and dry conditions in the Upper Basin during the spring and summer of 2020. Consistent with the 2007 Interim Guidelines, Lake Powell will operate under an annual release of 8.23 million acre-feet in water year 2021 with a potential of an April adjustment up to 9.0 million acre-feet.
The August 24 Month Study projects Lake Mead’s January 1, 2021 elevation to be 1085.28 feet, putting Lake Mead in a Tier Zero condition for 2021. The Study also projects a Tier Zero condition for Lake Mead in 2022 with the projected January 1, 2022 elevation of 1086.90 feet. Tier Zero conditions require a 192,000 acre-foot reduction in Arizona’s 2.8 million acre-foot allocation. The Lower Colorado River Basin is in Tier Zero for 2020. The August 24 month study projects that the Lower Colorado River Basin will remain in the Tier Zero condition in 2021.
“This is more evidence that the Drought Contingency Plan that was approved by the Arizona Legislature and signed by Governor Ducey in early 2019 was a success,” said Tom Buschatzke, Director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources.
“Its implementation offsets potentially deeper cuts in Arizona’s Colorado River allocation beyond the 192,000 acre-feet that the State annually has stored in Lake Mead for several years.”
These reductions will fall entirely on Central Arizona Project (CAP) supplies, impacting CAP supplies for water banking, replenishment and agricultural users. The Tier Zero reductions will not impact tribal or municipal CAP water users.
While the Tier Zero reductions are significant, they are part of broader efforts being implemented to reduce the near-term risks of deeper reductions to Arizona’s Colorado River supplies. In addition to the Tier Zero reductions to CAP supplies, other programs to conserve and store water are being implemented in Arizona.
These include programs with the Colorado River Indian Tribes, Gila River Indian Community, the Arizona Department of Water Resources (ADWR), and the Central Arizona Water Conservation District (CAWCD), as well as Reclamation. Including the 192,000 acre-foot allocation reduction, Arizona entities conserved a total of 385,000 acre-feet in Lake Mead in 2020.
The August 24 Month Study shows that in the near term, the programs being implemented in Arizona and across the Colorado River system, along with favorable hydrology, have helped avoid a near-term crisis in the Colorado River system. However, we continue to face significant near-term and long-term risks to Arizona’s Colorado River supplies. We have much more work to do to address our shared risks. ADWR and CAWCD have jointly convened Arizona water stakeholders to address these risks and to prepare for new negotiations regarding the long-term operating rules on the Colorado River.
The white rings that wrap around two massive lakes in the U.S. West are a stark reminder of how water levels are dropping and a warning that the 40 million people who rely on the Colorado River face a much drier future.
Amid prolonged drought and climate change in a region that’s only getting thirstier, when that reckoning will arrive — and how much time remains to prepare for it — is still a guess.
The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation released projections Friday that suggest Lake Powell and Lake Mead will dip 16 feet (5 meters) and 5 feet (1.5 meters), respectively, in January from levels recorded a year earlier. Despite the dip, Lake Mead would stay above the threshold that triggers severe water cuts to cities and farms, giving officials throughout the Southwest more time to prepare for the future when the flow will slow.
“It’s at least a couple of decades until we’re saying, ‘We don’t have one more drop for the next person that comes here,’” said Ted Cooke, general manager of Central Arizona Project, the canal system that delivers river water. “But people certainly ought to be aware that water — the importation of a scarce commodity into a desert environment — is expensive and, with climate change, going to get even more expensive.”
Last year, with increasingly less water flowing to Lake Mead and Lake Powell — the two largest man-made reservoirs in the United States — Arizona, California and Nevada agreed to a drought contingency plan that built in voluntary cuts to prevent the reservoirs from dropping to dangerous levels. The other states historically haven’t used their full allocation of water and focus on keeping Lake Powell full enough to generate hydropower.
Nevada and Arizona will make those voluntary cuts under the new projections, which they also made last year for the first time. But because neither state is using its full share of water, the impact has been minimal and hasn’t trickled down to homes. Mexico also is facing another round of cuts.
Lake Mead’s expected level of 1,089 feet (332 meters) is almost identical to last year’s projections because conservation efforts and a snowy winter prevented an expected drop, said Michael Bernardo, Bureau of Reclamation river operations manager. The wet weather didn’t last, prompting engineers to forecast the lakes will keep receding.
When projections drop below 1,075 feet (328 meters), Nevada and Arizona will face deeper cuts mandated by agreements between the seven states and Mexico.
Lake Powell, behind Glen Canyon Dam, shows the effects of persistent drought in the Colorado River Basin. (Source: U.S. Bureau of Reclamation)
Lake Mead in 2001 vs. 2015 via the Department of Interior.
Here’s the release from the Bureau of Reclamation (Patti Aaron):
The Bureau of Reclamation today released the Colorado River Basin August 2020 24-Month Study, which sets annual operations for Lake Mead and Lake Powell in 2021. Based on projections in the Study, Lake Mead will operate in the Normal Condition in Calendar Year 2021 and Lake Powell will operate in the Upper Elevation Balancing Tier in Water Year 2021 (October 1, 2020 through September 30, 2021).
The August 2020 24-Month Study projects:
– Lake Mead’s Jan. 1, 2021, elevation to be 1,085.28 feet, about 10 feet above the Lower Basin shortage determination trigger of 1,075 feet.
– Lake Powell’s Jan. 1, 2021, elevation to be 3,591.60 feet — 109 feet below full and 101 feet above minimum power pool.
Because Lake Mead is projected to begin the year below the Drought Contingency Plan elevation threshold of 1,090 feet, Arizona, Nevada and Mexico will make water savings contributions to Lake Mead in calendar year 2021. Those Drought Contingency Plans, adopted by the seven Basin States, the U.S. federal government and Mexico in 2019, continue to proactively reduce risk in the basin.
“After a promising start to the snow season last winter, spring and summer turned very dry,” said Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman. “Thankfully, our reservoirs continue to do what they were built to do and are providing reliable water by holding it over from wetter years.”
The Upper Basin experienced a dry spring in 2020, with April to July runoff into Lake Powell totaling just 52% of average. The projected water year 2020 unregulated inflow into Lake Powell—the amount that would flow to Lake Mead without the benefit of storage behind Glen Canyon Dam—is only 58% of average. Total Colorado River system storage today is 51% of capacity, down from 55% at this time last year. Drought contingency plans are proactively addressing risks to the system from the ongoing 21-year drought.
A key component of Reclamation’s Colorado River Basin activities is the integration of sophisticated modeling tools and scientific research to inform water management decisions. Through a decades-long partnership with the Center for Advanced Decision Support for Water and Environmental Systems at the University of Colorado in Boulder, Reclamation hydrologic engineers and hydrologists are actively collaborating with climate, hydrology and decision support scientists to provide advanced modeling tools.
“This scientific expertise is key,” Commissioner Burman continued. “It helps us understand what’s happening in the basin now and how changes to climate and demand are likely to impact the river in the future so we can best operate our reservoirs to protect water reliability for generations to come.”
Their work is helping Reclamation link advances in science to water resource management decisions in the face of greater uncertainty and increased hydrologic and operational risks. Reclamation’s modeling and operations teams further refine these tools, such as the 24-Month Study, to make annual operational determinations for Lake Powell and Lake Mead through close coordination with water and power customers throughout the basin.
Here’s the release from Reclamation (Mary Carlson):
POJOAQUE, N.M. – The Bureau of Reclamation began construction on August 10, 2020 on a water system that will bring clean drinking water to approximately 10,000 people and ensure a reliable water supply for residents of the Pueblos of Pojoaque, Nambé, San Ildefonso and Tesuque, as well as some residents of Santa Fe County.
“This is an exciting day for Reclamation and all Aamodt Indian Water Rights Settlement parties,” said Commissioner Brenda Burman. “Countless hours of hard work and coordination between the many partners led to this moment, and we can now begin building this water system.”
Construction officially began this week at the water intake features on San Ildefonso Pueblo. Phase one of the project includes water intake structures, a control building, 20 miles of water conveyance pipeline, three water storage tanks and a water treatment plant on San Ildefonso, Pojoaque and Nambe Pueblos.
“The start of the construction of the Pojoaque Basin Regional Water System is a milestone that we at the Pueblo de San Ildefonso have heard and talked about for many years and it is hard to believe that it is finally happening. This is because the Pueblo has been involved in the Aamodt water rights litigation for decades and the regional water system is a core part of that settlement that previous San Ildefonso Governors and Tribal Council members have long discussed, debated, negotiated and fought for because the regional water system will insure clean drinking water for our Pueblo community and others in the Pojoaque Basin,” said Pueblo de San Ildefonso Governor Perry Martinez. “The Pueblo de San Ildefonso, along with leaders from my sister Pueblos of Nambe, Pojoaque and Tesuque, and our partners at the County of Santa Fe, the City of Santa Fe and the State of New Mexico have worked diligently for many years and overcame many hurdles to get to this point and I applaud everyone’s efforts today.”
The water system will divert water from the Rio Grande in northern New Mexico. The system will include water treatment facilities, along with storage tanks and transmission and distribution pipelines with the capability to supply up to 4,000 acre-feet per year (about 3.57 million gallons per day) of drinking water.
The Pojoaque Basin Regional Water System is part of the Aamodt Settlement Agreement and was authorized by Congress under the Aamodt Litigation Settlement Act of 2010 to settle Indian water rights disputes in the Pojoaque Basin.
“The Pueblo of Nambé is pleased that the construction of the Pojoaque Basin Regional Water System is beginning, marking a significant step toward implementation of the Aamodt water rights settlement. Construction of the Regional Water System represents the cooperative resolution of over more than four decades of litigation,” said Nambe Pueblo Governor Phillip A. Perez. “The Pueblo, together with the Pueblos of Pojoaque, San Ildefonso and Tesuque, and their partners the County of Santa Fe, the City of Santa Fe and the State of New Mexico are finally starting construction of a water system that will provide reliable, clean water to the four Pueblos and the residents of the Pojoaque Basin. On behalf of the Pueblo of Nambé, please join me in celebrating this important occasion.”
“We are excited to finally begin constructing this vitally important project that will soon deliver a firm, reliable, and safe water supply to all the Aamodt settlement parties in the Pojoaque Valley,” said New Mexico State Engineer John D’Antonio.
“Santa Fe County applauds this significant step forward toward completion of the Pojoaque Basin Regional Water System, the signature feature of the Aamodt Settlement which will bring a new source of safe and reliable drinking water to the Pojoaque Basin. We look forward to working with all of our partners and the Bureau of Reclamation to ensure sufficient federal funds are authorized to complete the project beyond this stage of limited construction,” said Santa Fe County Manager Katherine Miller.
The Catamount gauge on the Colorado River is a result of a big collaboration, and for now, it has gone a long way in quelling the concern of conservationists in the Upper Colorado River Wild and Scenic Stakeholder Group.
Couple that with a few good-faith efforts from Front Range diverters to get more water into the river, and most everyone seems to be convinced that collaboration has been a lot better than the courtroom in this case.
The stakeholder group was formed in 2008, and its mission was overt — convince the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service not to write a report stating that the Upper Colorado River is suitable for a Wild and Scenic Designation from the federal government…
But while it takes an act of Congress to welcome a new river into the Wild and Scenic Rivers System, a report from the Bureau of Land Management or U.S. Forest Service saying a river is suitable for wild and scenic designation can trigger a change in management for the river…
[Rob] Buirgy said the Colorado Water Conservation Board supported the stakeholder group using the state’s Wild and Scenic Rivers Fund for scientific studies, recreational surveys, and stakeholder group coordination and facilitation. The stakeholder group also recommended that the board appropriate three in-stream flow water rights to preserve the natural environment on the river from the confluence with the Blue River to the area just above the confluence with the Eagle River. The Colorado Water Conservation Board appropriated and the water court decreed those water rights in 2013.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife is expected to help install biological metric tracking tools along the river in the coming months, and a few years ago a new USGS temperature and flow monitoring gauge was installed at the Catamount Boat Launch, near Bombardier’s house, which will measure temperature and serve as a resource guide.
While resource guides do not mandate management action based on their readings, good-faith management efforts have been undertaken based on the Catamount gauge’s readings during the collaborative process. Bombardier says the readings have been crucial for that stretch of the river, which is prone to warm temperatures…
[Ken] Neubecker said after spending more than a decade working toward Wild and Scenic designation on the Upper Colorado River, he feels the collaborative group’s plan represents the best effort conservationists could have expended toward maintaining the Upper Colorado River’s “outstandingly remarkable values,” or ORVs.
“It got all of the people who would have been opposed to actual designation to sit down at the table and work out a plan that — if everybody plays along — will have the best shot we’ve got at protecting those ORVs,” Neubecker said.
The agreement was formerly accepted by the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service in July. Participating groups include: American Rivers, American Whitewater, Aurora Water, Blue Valley Ranch, Colorado River Outfitters Association, Colorado River Water Conservation District, Colorado Springs Utilities, Colorado Whitewater, Confluence Casting, Conservation Colorado, Denver Water, Eagle County, Eagle Park Reservoir Company, Eagle River Watershed Council, Eagle River Water and Sanitation District, Grand County, Middle Park Water Conservancy District, Municipal Subdistrict of the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, Northwest Colorado Council of Governments, Summit County, Upper Colorado Commercial Boaters Association, Upper Colorado River Private Boaters Association, Upper Eagle Regional Water Authority, Vail Associates, Inc., and Yust Ranch.
Fort Collins City Council voted [August 4, 2020] to oppose the Northern Integrated Supply Project, a departure from the city’s previous neutral stance on the controversial plan to siphon Poudre River water into two new reservoirs.
Council members also endorsed city staff comments expressing reservations with Northern Water’s proposed Poudre intake pipeline upstream of the Mulberry Water Reclamation Facility. They adopted their position in a 5-1 vote on Tuesday, with council member Ken Summers voting “no” and Mayor pro-tem Kristin Stephens absent.
The vote was the current council’s first opportunity to take a position on NISP. The city’s position on the project has vacillated over the years, wavering between opposition and a more neutral “can’t support” position. Council included in its opposition statement a note directing staff to continue working with Northern Water to address the city’s concerns about NISP and develop “a sustainable, long-term approach” to avoid, manage and mitigate the project’s impacts.
Council’s job on Tuesday was to decide whether to endorse staff’s comments on the pipeline, which were submitted to Larimer County, and choose between four stances on NISP ranging from the most neutral “can’t support this variant of NISP” to the most outspoken “oppose (this version of NISP) and oppose the use of city natural areas.” They chose the latter.
At issue Tuesday was whether the city could take that stance on the project while maintaining a foothold in negotiations with Northern Water, the organizer of the plan to supply water to 15 small-but-growing Colorado municipalities and water districts. While the city itself isn’t among the participants, which include Fort Collins-Loveland Water District (covering the city’s southern reaches) and Windsor, the project would degrade springtime river flows through Fort Collins and the Poudre intake pipeline would affect several city natural areas…
The intake pipeline is part of a concession Northern Water made to lessen NISP’s impacts on the Poudre through Fort Collins: Rather than drawing all the water off the river upstream of Fort Collins, Northern Water plans to run some of it through a 12-mile stretch of the river roughly between the Poudre Canyon mouth and Mulberry Street from fall to early spring.
The “conveyance refinement” plan would run 18-25 cubic feet per second’s worth of water through the river, increasing the volume of water to eliminate some dry spots, lower the river’s temperature and reduce harm to fish [living] in the river. The intake pipeline near the reclamation plant is where Northern Water plans to take the water back out of the river…
The influx of water will make “a very significant difference for fish” and offers clear environmental benefits for the river’s base flows, city watershed planner Jennifer Shanahan told council. But the structures involved with the intake pipeline will have temporary and permanent impacts to the Homestead, Kingfisher Point, Riverbend Ponds and Williams natural areas. Construction will have temporary impacts on traffic and visitors to those areas, including trail and parking lot closures, and more lasting impacts, including possible damage to sensitive wetlands, soil, wildlife and native vegetation and the sale of some land at Kingfisher Point Natural Area.
The city submitted its comments on the pipeline to Larimer County as part of the 1041 permitting process. Staff recommended that Northern Water work with the city to refine the pipeline plan in several ways, such as shrinking the pump station and settling ponds proposed at Kingfisher Point, moving the pipeline further from the river at Kingfisher Point and creating a more ecologically sound river diversion at Homestead Natural Area…
Council members agreed with the staff comments, but several of them offered broader criticism of NISP. Northern Water has been working for years on a broad plan to mitigate NISP’s impacts to the river, wildlife and riparian habitat, but environmental advocates say no mitigation plan can undo the irreparable damage of diverting so much water from a river that is already stretched thin. Fort Collins gets about half of its own water supply from the Poudre…
Mayor Wade Troxell, who has the longest tenure on City Council, said he’s watched the city make progress in negotiations with Northern Water over the last 13 years. He discouraged his fellow council members from making “sweeping opposition statements that don’t get us where we need to go.”
NISP is approaching a county decision on the 1041 permit that would allow construction of Glade Reservoir and four pipelines associated with the project. The Army Corps of Engineers is expected to issue its record of decision on the project as a whole this year, and if the project is approved, construction could begin as soon as 2023.
Releases from the Aspinall Unit will be increased from 1550 cfs to 1600 cfs on Friday, August 7th. Releases are being adjusted to raise flows back to the baseflow target in the lower Gunnison River. The actual April-July runoff volume for Blue Mesa Reservoir came in at 57% of average.
There is a drought rule in the Aspinall Unit Operations EIS which has changed the baseflow target at the Whitewater gage. The rule states that during Dry or Moderately Dry years, when the content of Blue Mesa Reservoir drops below 600,000 AF the baseflow target is reduced from 1050 cfs to 900 cfs. Therefore, the baseflow target for July and August will now be 900 cfs.
Flows in the lower Gunnison River are currently below the baseflow target of 900 cfs. River flows are expected to trend up toward the baseflow target after the release increase has arrived at the Whitewater gage.
Currently, Gunnison Tunnel diversions are 1050 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon are around 550 cfs. After this release change Gunnison Tunnel diversions will still be around 1050 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon will be around 600 cfs. Current flow information is obtained from provisional data that may undergo revision subsequent to review.
The race against time continues for farmers in southern Colorado’s San Luis Valley, with the state’s top water regulator warning that a decision on whether hundreds of farm wells will be shut off to help save the Rio Grande River could come much sooner than expected.
July 28, at a virtual symposium on the Rio Grande River, the state warned growers that they were running out of time to correct the situation.
“We’ll see in the next couple of years if we can turn around this trick,” said State Engineer Kevin Rein. “If we’re not turning it around, we need to start having that more difficult conversation.”
The valley is home to the nation’s second-largest potato economy and growers there have been working voluntarily for more than a decade to wean themselves from unsustainable groundwater use and restore flows in the Rio Grande. Thousands of acres of land have been dried up with farmers paying a fee for the water they pump in order to compensate producers who agree to fallow land.
The San Luis Valley, which receives less precipitation than nearly any other region in Colorado, is supplied by the Rio Grande, but under the river lies a vast aquifer system that is linked to the river. It once had so much water that artesian springs flowed freely on the valley floor.
As modern-day farmers began putting powerful deep wells into the aquifer, aquifer levels declined, and flows in the river declined too as a result, hurting the state’s ability to deliver