In a building dedicated to all things water is a first-of-its-kind lab dedicated to developing innovative ways to clean and reuse humanity’s most precious resource.
The Water Technology Acceleration Platform (Water TAP) lab is housed in the newly opened Hydro building on the CSU Spur campus. Here, a team of researchers led by CSU Civil and Environmental Engineering Professor Sybil Sharvelle will test a variety of water treatment technologies on six different sources.
It’s part of a variety of programming inside Hydro by the One Water Solutions Institute.
The lab’s indoor and outdoor spaces won’t be fully operational until later this spring, but Sharvelle sat down with SOURCE to offer a glimpse of what will happen at Water TAP in the coming months.
SOURCE: What are the six types of water sources that will be used at the lab?
Sharvelle: Those sources are stormwater, graywater, roof runoff, wastewater, river water and water that is actually trucked in from a variety of different sources, which could encompass everything from hydrofracking waste to agricultural runoff to various industrial sources.
Hydro is the only building nationally – and maybe internationally – that has access to this many types of water. This is truly a unique facility, and something that we’ve envisioned for a decade.
The space has been designed to accommodate systems that process nearly 1,000 gallons per day of each source of water.
What happens after all this water gets to the lab?
We have tanks where the water is stored, and can pump it through a variety of different treatment systems. Those systems could include physical and chemical-based systems (e.g., membrane filtrations or ultraviolet treatment) as well as nature-based solutions. We can even test constructed wetlands that actually have plants incorporated in a growth media.
What’s a constructed wetland?
These are a lot like actual wetlands, where we’ll dig out a space for the water in the form of ponds where we grow plants that can be very effective for treatment.
For example, storm runoff from from Hydro’s roof could be collected and diverted into these ponds, and later used for irrigation.
The backyard of the Hydro facility will actually have multiple flexible plots where we can test nature-based solutions.
It’s also unique in that the facility is on the edge of the South Platte River, and we have the ability to test and treat water directly from this source.
Let’s take a bigger picture look at the research that is happening at Water TAP. What types of problems is this trying to solve?
We are trying to make use of local water sources so we can reduce the demand on imported and freshwater sources, like the Colorado River.
We’re figuring out ways to leave water in the environment and instead make use of water sources like stormwater, graywater and roof runoff – all of which are readily available in urban areas.
Of course, different water has different applications, and water used for flushing toilets doesn’t need to undergo the same treatment as water that’s used for drinking.
The whole purpose of the lab is to enable the testing of technology to move technology development and policy forward.
Click the link to read the article on the Department of Interior website:
Assistant Secretary for Water and Science Tanya Trujillo wrapped up a multi-day visit to Colorado today, where she highlighted investments from President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and Inflation Reduction Act in drought resilience.
The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law allocates $8.3 billion for Bureau of Reclamation water infrastructure projects over the next five years to advance drought resilience and expand access to clean water for families, farmers, and wildlife. The investment will repair aging water delivery systems, secure dams, complete rural water projects, protect aquatic ecosystems and fulfill Indian Water Rights Settlements. The Inflation Reduction Act is investing another $4 billion to address the worsening crisis. Combined these two initiatives represent the largest investments in climate resilience in the nation’s history and provide a once-in-a-generation opportunity for the work of the Interior Department.
Today [January 13, 2023] , she joined Congressman Jason Crow, Colorado Department of Agriculture Commissioner Kate Greenberg, and Aurora Mayor Mike Coffman to tour the Binney Water Treatment facility in Aurora to celebrate a recent $5 million investment from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law that will allow the city to expand the Prairie Waters Project (PWP), securing more clean, reliable water. The funding is part of $84 million announced last month from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to advance innovative drought resilience efforts.
The City of Aurora constructed the PWP after the severe drought in 2002 to improve drought resiliency. The project is an innovative potable reuse system, which captures and treats river water to provide up to 10 million gallons of clean water to Aurora residents per day. With Bipartisan Infrastructure Law funding, the City will expand the PWP by constructing a second radial well and pump station and increasing the overall water recovery capacity by 4,500 acre-feet annually.
On Thursday, Assistant Secretary Trujillo spoke at the Four States Irrigation Council Annual Meeting to highlight how investments from both laws will support western communities. While in Colorado, Assistant Secretary Trujillo also visited with staff at the U.S. Geological Survey’s (USGS) Fort Collins Science Center and at the Denver Federal Center in Lakewood, Colorado. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law provides $510.7 million over the next five year to advance scientific innovation through integrated mapping of critical minerals that power many household appliances and clean energy technologies and through a $167 million investment for the USGS Energy and Minerals Research Facility in Golden, Colorado.
Click the link to read the post on the Denver Water website (Cathy Proctor):
Colorado State University’s marching band, university mascot CAM the Ram and the enthusiastic clamor of cowbells joined with dignitaries from the city, state and nation on Friday to celebrate the opening of the new Hydro building at the CSU Spur campus in north Denver.
The Hydro building will be the home of Denver Water’s new, state-of-the-art water quality laboratory, replacing a small and outdated facility in southwest Denver that Denver Water had outgrown.
It’s the third of a three-building research innovation and education complex called CSU Spur built at the heart of the National Western Center, the historic site of the old stock show complex now undergoing a massive redevelopment effort.
See inside the Hydro building, which opened on Friday, Jan. 6:
Prior to cutting the ribbon to open the new building, Denver Water CEO/Manager Jim Lochhead noted that the building offers far more than laboratory space, which is expected to be fully operational later this spring.
“Here at CSU’s Spur campus, Denver Water will be the heart of a new research environment where we can work closely with academics and scientists in planning for water demands and challenges of tomorrow,” Lochhead said.
“Climate change and emerging water quality issues require innovation. Spur provides a collaborative opportunity with all water interests to help Denver Water provide leading solutions to water challenges for our customers, the state and the West in a public and engaging way,” he said.
The utility’s water quality team conducts nearly 200,000 tests every year to ensure the water delivered to 1.5 million people every day is clean, safe and meets all state and federal water quality standards. The new facility provides room for Denver Water scientists to test three times that amount in the future.
Denver Water’s Youth Education team also will use the site to teach students about their water — where it comes from, how it’s cleaned and how its delivered to their homes.
“This space also provides us with new ways to connect with the next generation of water leaders and highlight career paths that many students may not have been aware of before. It’s a win for all of us,” Lochhead said.
Hydro, which is Greek for water, joins two completed buildings at the CSU Spur campus.
The first building, Vida, which means “life” in Spanish, opened in January 2022. It’s home to a community veterinary hospital for the Dumb Friends League; Temple Grandin Equine Center, which offers equine assisted services; and a 9-foot model of a kitten named Esperanza, quite possibly the largest cat in the West.
The second building, Terra, which means “earth” or “land” in Latin, opened in the summer of 2022. It features rooftop greenhouses and a teaching kitchen, along with food innovation labs for new product creation, agricultural diagnostic labs and exhibits focused on food and agricultural systems.
The intersection of those three areas — water, land and life — represent the global challenges facing our world.
“I don’t think we can imagine what will be accomplished in the next 20, 40, 50 years at this campus. But I believe when we think about the human potential that will be unlocked here, the creativity that will be unleashed to make progress around these great global challenges, CSU Spur is something we’ll be incredibly proud to be a part of,” said Tony Frank, the chancellor of the Colorado State University System, at the opening ceremony.
The connections the three buildings will foster — between people dedicated to public health and animal care, the land and the food it provides, and the life-giving water that circulates throughout — was noted by several speakers during the ceremony.
Denver Mayor Michael Hancock said Denver Water’s presence at the building, with its water quality experts, will feature the mission of Hydro — to bring research and innovation to the questions of water resilience and sustainability.
Tom Vilsack, the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, has been involved in the planning for the CSU Spur campus for years. The end of construction means the start of opportunity and change on a local and international level, he told the crowd.
“These buildings are not just buildings. They’re not just incredible educational opportunities. They’re not just a place to celebrate the science and arts. They’re not just a place to connect rural and urban,” Vilsack said.
“This is the center of transformation. This is a center for a brighter and better future, not just for Colorado agriculture, not just for United States agriculture, but for global agriculture. It’s that important what you all are doing here.
“I hope as you go through here, you understand and appreciate how proud you should be to be connected to a university, to a city, and to a state that is so committed to this endeavor,” he said.
Colorado Gov. Jared Polis said he viewed the campus and the connections it will foster as a place that will drive the state’s economy and sustainability efforts.
“Water is life in our state, and the challenges that Colorado and the West face around water are really reaching a critical point in less water, more demand, our straining of our streams and our waterways, making the work here, inventing innovative, a future that works for the West, that works for Colorado is more important than ever before,” Polis said.
“This is a place where we can continue our leadership on water, fostering conversations that lead to local, regional, statewide solutions.”
After the ribbon was cut, all three buildings were open to the public.
Children, parents and adults walked through Hydro, learning about the importance of water from Denver Water employees who staffed the “Water and Land” hands-on exhibit demonstrating how moving water, such as a river, shapes the land around it.
On the third floor of the building, they peered through the glass at the new laboratory space that will be set up and operational in coming months. And they gathered around a column of water, watching bubbles rise through the water and using an information table to explore different indicators that scientists look for to determine water quality.
At the Terra building, students explored food options, while at Vida they learned about veterinary care – even trying on lab coats while bandaging a stuffed dog.
Before the celebration, John Gritts, a member of the Cherokee Nation, blessed the building:
“Creator, as we gather here today to open and celebrate Hydro, the last building in this educational complex, we ask for your blessings upon this sacred ground,” Gritts said.
“We ask for your blessings for this place where people can learn the importance of the relationship between animals, plants — and how sacred water is to us as human beings. May we recognize and honor those relationships.
“Thank you for this day that we can celebrate.”
Click the link to read the release on the EPA website:
Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced the automatic addition of nine per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) to the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) list.
TRI data are reported to EPA annually by facilities in certain industry sectors and federal facilities that manufacture, process, or otherwise use TRI-listed chemicals above certain quantities. The data include quantities of such chemicals that were released into the environment or otherwise managed as waste. Information collected through TRI allows communities to learn how facilities in their area are managing listed chemicals. The data collected also helps to support informed decision-making by companies, government agencies, non-governmental organizations, and the public.
The addition of these PFAS supports the Biden-Harris Administration’s commitment to address the impacts of these forever chemicals, and advances EPA’s PFAS Strategic Roadmap to confront the human health and environmental risks of PFAS.
“Communities have a right to know how and where PFAS are being managed, released, or recycled,” said Assistant Administrator for the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention Michal Freedhoff. “EPA continues to work to fill critical data gaps for these chemicals and ensure this data is publicly available.”
These nine PFAS were added to the TRI list pursuant to the Fiscal Year 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which provides the framework for the automatic addition of PFAS to TRI each year in response to certain EPA activities involving such PFAS. For TRI Reporting Year 2023 (reporting forms due by July 1, 2024), reporting is required for nine additional PFAS, bringing the total PFAS subject to TRI reporting to 189.
Addition of four PFAS no longer claimed as confidential business information
Under NDAA section 7321(e), EPA must review confidential business information (CBI) claims before adding a PFAS to the TRI list if the chemical identity is subject to a claim of protection from disclosure under 5 U.S.C. 552(a). EPA previously identified four PFAS for addition to the TRI list based on the NDAA’s provision to include certain PFAS upon the NDAA’s enactment. However, due to CBI claims related to their identities, these PFAS were not added to the TRI list at that time. The identities of these PFAS were subsequently declassified in an update to the TSCA Inventory in February 2022 because at least one manufacturer did not claim them as confidential during prior CDR reporting. Because they were no longer confidential, pursuant to the NDAA, the four chemicals were added to the TRI list:
- Alcohols, C8-16, γ-ω-perfluoro, reaction products with 1,6-diisocyanatohexane, glycidol and stearyl alc. (2728655-42-1)
- Acetamide, N-[3-(dimethylamino)propyl]-, 2-[(γ-ω-perfluoro-C4-20-alkyl)thio] derivs. (2738952-61-7)
- Acetic acid, 2-[(γ-ω-perfluoro-C4-20-alkyl)thio] derivs., 2-hydroxypropyl esters (2744262-09-5)
- Acetamide, N-(2-aminoethyl)-, 2-[(γ-ω-perfluoro-C4-20-alkyl)thio] derivs., polymers with N1,N1-dimethyl-1,3-propanediamine, epichlorohydrin and ethylenediamine, oxidized (2742694-36-4)
Addition of five PFAS with final toxicity values
The 2020 NDAA includes a provision that automatically adds PFAS to the TRI list upon the Agency’s finalization of a toxicity value. In December 2022, EPA finalized a toxicity value for Perfluorobutanoic acid (PFBA), its anion, and its related salts. Pursuant to the NDAA, the following five chemicals have been added to the TRI:
- PFBA (375-22-4)
- Perfluorobutanoate (45048-62-2)
- Ammonium perfluorobutanoate (10495-86-0)
- Potassium perfluorobutanoate (2966-54-3)
- Sodium perfluorobutanoate (2218-54-4)
As of January 1, 2023, facilities which are subject to reporting requirements for these chemicals should start tracking their activities involving these PFAS as required by Section 313 of the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act.
As part of EPA’s PFAS Strategic Roadmap, the Agency also proposed a rule in December 2022 to enhance PFAS reporting to TRI by eliminating an exemption that allows facilities to avoid reporting information on PFAS when those chemicals are used in small, or de minimis, concentrations. Because PFAS are used at low concentrations in many products, this rule would ensure that covered industry sectors and federal facilities that make or use TRI-listed PFAS will no longer be able to rely on the de minimis exemption to avoid disclosing their PFAS releases and other waste management quantities for these chemicals.
Click the link to read the article on The Denver Post website (Conrad Swanson). Here’s an excerpt:
Even when water is scarce, “people still flush their toilets,” former U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Dan Beard said.
This story is one part of a broader series about ways to save water from the drying Colorado River. See the full project here.
We all use the bathroom, clean our clothes, wash our dishes, take showers or baths, why not collect that water and reuse it? It’s already happening around the world and it’s a technology that’s proven to work.
Water providers can collect what’s called grey water from sinks, bathtubs, showers and laundry machines or even sewage, called blackwater, and treat it for reuse. Fort Collins began allowing grey water systems to be installed in the new buildings this summer and that water can be used to flush toilets or for below-ground irrigation. Mayor Jeni Arndt said using that water twice, whenever possible, is the responsible thing to do. She acknowledged that the approach might only save a few gallons per home each day but everything counts, plus the approach is a good way to encourage residents to think more sustainably about their water use…In some cases, the water can be treated and transformed back into drinking water. But it’s even easier to use the water again for non-potable purposes like irrigating crops, watering lawns, recharging groundwater sources and industrial uses, depending on how thoroughly it’s treated. Unlike desalination plants, Beard said water treatment plants could be built for much less money and within the span of a year or two. So they’re relatively quick and effective and a wise way to care for the water that’s already in use…
Plus, Jay Famiglietti, director of the Global Institute for Water Security at the University of Saskatchewan, said there’s only ever going to be so much water available for reuse.
“It’s driven by your supply of human waste,” he said. “That’s as much as you’re going to get.”
Click the link to read the article on the Fort Collins Coloradoan website (Erin Odell). Here’s an excerpt:
Editor’s note: Rice Elementary School became the second Wellington school to find elevated copper levels in some of its drinking water sources over PSD’s winter break, according to a district email sent to the school’s staff and families Wednesday. The Coloradoan will continue its reporting on this development.
Poudre School District is investigating the cause of issues with Wellington Middle-High School’s drinking water after two science classes at the school found high levels of copper in it late last year. Following the class tests — which showed levels more than double the Environmental Protection Agency’s action level for copper in drinking water at two water bottle filling stations — PSD took its own water samples from around the school Dec. 22, later confirming through a third-party lab that copper levels in several fixtures and bottle filling stations exceeded the EPA’s threshold, according to a district email to the school’s staff and parents Tuesday [January 3, 2023]…
The Town of Wellington also took samples of its own around the same time, ultimately ruling out the town’s water distribution lines as the cause for the elevated copper levels, the town and PSD both said. While PSD hasn’t yet confirmed what’s causing the elevated copper levels, the general contractor who built Wellington Middle-High School believes the issue could be tied to the newly constructed building’s water softener equipment, according to the district.
Click the link to read the article on the Pagosa Springs Sun website (Josh Pike). Here’s an excerpt:
At its Dec. 15 meeting, the Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District (PAWSD) Board of Directors approved its 2023 budget and a loan agreement for $38,444,000 for the expansion of the Snowball water treatment plant. The board also discussed rate increases and potential additional fees to fund the plant’s construction…
The group then circled back to discuss the rate increases further, with [Justin] Ramsey indicating that the staff recommendation is to implement the 6 percent water rate increase in 2023, as recommended by the 2018 study, move up the 2.5 percent wastewater rate increase in the 2018 study up a year to 2023 and hold off on any other rate increases for the Snowball plant until the new rate study is finalized.
Click the link to read the article on the Reclamation website (Peter Soeth):
The Bureau of Reclamation is providing $1.69 million to nine projects that offer innovative and novel water treatment technologies that may make previously unusable water available. The funding is being provided for the recipients to conduct pilot testing on their proposed technology.
“Reclamation has been supporting utilizing new and novel technologies for water resource development for 120 years,” said Chief Engineer David Raff. “Water treatment technology is evolving rapidly, and these projects can improve and expand the accessibility to previously unusable water, especially for communities with some of the most urgent water needs.”
The projects were selected through a unique, two-stage process. For the first stage, a project description was submitted summarizing a research idea. Reviewers evaluated these ideas against the provided criteria. Those projects selected from the first stage then pitched their idea to a panel of experts through a live presentation and answered the same experts’ questions.
The selected projects are:
Carollo Engineers, Inc.: Pilot Testing of a Novel Energy Efficient Configuration for Carbon Diversion and CEC Removal, $200,000
Carollo Engineers, Inc.: An Innovative Ion Exchange-Based Advanced Treatment (XBAT) Approach for Direct and Indirect Potable Reuse, $199,989
Enspired Solutions LLC: Reductive Defluorination PFAS Destruction Field-scale Pilot Test, $200,000
Hazen and Sawyer: Improving RO Recovery through Optimization of Flux and Pump Usage with Real-Time Sensor Connectivity, Data-driven Modeling, and Automation, $197,294
Hazen and Sawyer: Pilot Scale PFAS Destruction in Membrane Concentrate via Electrochemical Oxidation, $196,916
Orange County Water District: In-Situ Gravity Driven Removal of PFAS During Groundwater Recharge to Protect Drinking Water, $199,430
South Platte Renew: Retrofitting Existing Infrastructure for Sidestream Biological Phosphorus Treatment to Reduce Coagulant Costs and Discharged Salts Associated with Chemical Phosphorus Removal, $100,000
Southern Nevada Water Authority: Assessment of Innovative Dissolved Air Flotation Approaches for Conventional Water Treatment, $200,000
The Research Foundation for The State University of New York – Stony Brook University: Enhancing the Removal of Hydrophilic Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFASs) by Granular Activated Carbon using Hydrophobic Ion-pairing as Pre-treatment, $199,601
Learn more about Reclamation’s Desalination and Water Purification Research Program and how it expands access to water by visiting www.usbr.gov/research/dwpr.
Click the link to read the article on The Montrose Press website. Here’s an excerpt:
Project 7 Water Authority scored another grant to help it add critical infrastructure. The Colorado River District’s Accelerator Grant program awarded Project 7 $46,600, to be used in developing a competitive federal funding application.
Project 7 provides drinking water for about 60,000 people in the Uncompahgre River Valley and is in the process of developing a backup treatment facility to deliver treated water from Ridgway Reservoir. Currently, Montrose, Delta and Ouray counties’ drinking water comes from a single treatment plant, using water from Blue Mesa Reservoir that is delivered via the Gunnison Tunnel.
The Colorado River District funding will help pay for a feasibility study and a grant application to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation for funding to treat hard water with high levels of minerals in Ridgway Reservoir. This study and application will include the results of a pilot project that tested out different means of softening and filtration so that when the backup plant is built, the water it treats will be of the same quality as the current treatment plant. Once the study is accepted by BuRec, Project 7’s Regional Water Supply & Resiliency Program is eligible to apply for federal funding through the bureau’s Title XVI Water Reclamation and Reuse grant opportunity. Earlier this year, Project 7 secured $612,059 from BuRec’s Desalination and Water Purification Research Program, which paid for the pilot project (with a funding match from Project 7).
The push for a second treatment facility is on, because the current, single source puts the region’s drinking water supply at greater risks from wildfire, drought and infrastructure failure. Having a second treatment plant will provide another source of drinking water (from Ridgway Reservoir) and provide a backup option in the event of infrastructure failure at the current plant.
Click the link to go to the H2ORadio website. Here’s an excerpt:
Railroad workers in the U.S. are set to go on strike on December 9, if an agreement is not reached with their employers. If they strike, it could have impacts on water treatment plants across the country. Drinking water and wastewater systems depend on trains to deliver critical chemicals, including chlorine.
Unions have been struggling to get workers paid sick leave, but a tentative deal that was reached in September did not include sick pay and was rejected by four labor organizations. Workers have also been complaining about staffing shortages and scheduling rules that keep many on call seven days a week. CNN reports that record profits have been reported by many railroads last year and are likely this year.
Rail workers are critical to all sectors of the economy. A strike would paralyze nearly one third of U.S. freight shipments, and Reuters reports it could cost as much as $2 billion a day. Earlier this month water organizations wrote to President Biden saying the stoppage of rail service would be catastrophic for utilities’ ability to operate and would pose a significant threat to human health.
E&E News reports that, in anticipation of a strike, it’s likely shipments of the critical chemicals will be halted, because they cannot be left stranded in unsecured locations. In September, deliveries were curtailed before a strike was averted at the last minute.
While only four of 12 unions may go on strike in December, it’s likely the others will honor picket lines. Railroad companies could also lock out workers if no contract is reached. There have been renewed calls for President Biden and Congress to intervene. On Thanksgiving Day, Biden said his administration was involved in talks to avoid a strike. The Railway Labor Act passed in 1926 gives Congress the power to block a strike, unlike labor laws for union members in most other businesses.
Click the link to read the article on the Fresh Water News website (Jerd Smith):
In the halls of the Colorado State Capitol drinking fountains are in easy reach, and grabbing a quick drink of cool, clear, odorless water is an automatic act.
But just minutes away, in dozens of industrialized neighborhoods in North Denver, Commerce City and unincorporated Adams County, many homeowners and apartment dwellers never drink their tap water.
Tens of thousands of people in this area have been exposed to contaminated water over the years. Convincing them finally that their water is now safe to drink is a tough sell.
In a Commerce City bungalow on Kearney Drive, Armando Guardiola and his family are sitting in a small kitchen, eating posole from brightly colored bowls. The water served for this meal did not come from their tap. Instead, it came from a large, pale blue five-gallon jug perched on the edge of the sink.
It has been this way since Guardiola, a retired railway worker, and his parents moved into this bungalow in 1982.
Their tap water, he says, as his brother and sister interpret, is full of minerals that leave a residue everywhere. Sometimes it has an odor or a strange taste. The family’s water comes from the South Adams Water and Sanitation District and meets all the state standards for water quality and safety. But this is no comfort to the people who live here.
“They used to say, don’t drink the water,” Guardiola said. “Then, they came out about 15 years ago and said it was better. But we don’t trust this. A lot of people here have skin rashes. They have lost their hair. It has been a continuous problem.”
Two water bills
Parts of north Denver, south Adams County, and Commerce City have a legacy of water contamination that dates back more than half a century and is tied to aging lead service lines, in Denver, and various industrial activities farther north.
Wave after wave of pollutants have been discovered in this area, from contaminants that leaked from the Rocky Mountain Arsenal in the 1980s, to contamination from the local oil refinery whose lights dot the skyline at dawn and dusk.
Now, so-called forever chemicals, also known as PFAS, short for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, have been discovered in the groundwater in Commerce City and have been linked to firefighting foam used up until 2018 at the nearby Denver Fire Training Academy, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
The City of Denver disputes that finding. It declined an interview request, citing potential litigation.
The South Adams Water and Sanitation District (SAWSD) says it must spend $45 million to $70 million to build a new treatment plant to remove this PFAS from its raw water.
Will it ever end, residents ask. They can’t answer that question.
Instead, many opt to pay two water bills: one at the local water filling station, where they often spend $10 to $50 a week to buy water for drinking and cooking, for watering plants and caring for their pets. This is in addition to their monthly water and sewer bills from the local utility, in this case the South Adams Water and Sanitation District. Utility costs vary depending on location and water use.
Armando’s brother Beto says there is little hope in the community that their tap water will ever be drinkable.
“To go back to the tap water we think is risky,” Beto said. “We’ve been told it’s good. We’ve been told it’s bad. We hope what happened in Jackson, Mississippi, doesn’t happen here,” referring to the decades-long problems with Jackson’s water system that finally collapsed earlier this year after it was inundated by flood waters.
Patricia Ferrero heads Protégete, an environmental justice initiative housed within Conservation Colorado.
“Honestly it all comes down to trust” Ferrero said. “I don’t know if there is one thing that would re-establish trust with these communities. Industry is so close to home. There is too much evidence that it is a sacrifice zone.”
Cultivando, another environmental justice group which is focused on Commerce City, recently launched a tap water testing program funded by the University of Denver. It has signed up 30 homeowners in the area, who have agreed to allow specially trained community members to come into their homes and gather water samples to have them privately tested. These residents get their water from various sources, including some from privately owned wells.
Once results are in, the activists will consider what next steps need to be taken. This could mean pushing for better water treatment or new indoor piping, or, if results confirm that the water is, in fact, safe to drink, looking at how they can work alongside the state health department and water providers to reassure residents on this point. In this way, the community organizers hope to begin rebuilding trust in the local water along with the government agencies and water utilities charged with protecting their water and their health.
Mike Wireman, a former national groundwater specialist at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, is running the Commerce City testing program for Cultivando.
“We have heard for some time, from residents who live in parts of Commerce City, that their water tastes bad, smells bad, feels bad. Bacteria can cause that. We know they have a problem, but I don’t believe that it is related to the water that leaves the Commerce City treatment plant. It gets back in somewhere between the water treatment plant and the homes,” Wireman said.
The problem may be inside these older homes. “The houses that were built were not constructed with the best materials. They were not $500,000 homes. They were built to accommodate industrial workers,” he said.
In addition to neighborhood activists, lawmakers have also taken note. In 2021, at lawmakers’ request, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment created an environmental justice action task force in an effort to forge better relationships with communities whose water quality has been harmed by industrial contamination.
“We take these issues very seriously,” said Nicole Rowan, head of CDPHE’s Water Quality Division.
The state has also begun working with the City of Denver to oversee the removal of PFAS from soils around the Denver Fire Training Academy in Adams County. How long the cleanup might take isn’t clear. But Rowan said some mitigation work at the site has begun.
Generations of distrust
For the South Adams Water and Sanitation District, the legacy of contamination is a powerful, cultural constant. The district has built two treatment plants and is planning a third to deal with the issues, which stem both from industrial activities and naturally occurring minerals present in groundwater.
The discovery of PFAS in its groundwater wells in 2018 added another major item to its long list of industrial woes. The district immediately shut down wells that were too contaminated to salvage at the time, and began aggressively treating its other wells, as well as blending with clean water purchased from Denver, to meet federal PFAS safety standards. According to its 2022 Consumer Confidence Report, the district has been successful in meeting all federal and state water quality standards.
The district has spent millions of dollars and has some of the most sophisticated on-site testing equipment in the state, if not the country, according to Kipp Scott, SAWSD’s manager. Its high-tech labs allow the utility to test its raw water and treated water almost continuously to ensure it is safe. But new PFAS standards that are close to being finalized by the federal government will mean more has to be done.
Scott remains deeply worried that the plume of contamination moving from the fire academy toward his district’s wells won’t be stopped before it gets any closer. In the interim, the district is spending some $8 million a year to buy clean surface water supplies from Denver Water to mix with its own, to ensure it can continue to deliver clean water until the contamination is removed.
Equally distressing is the community’s skepticism about the district’s efforts to deliver clean water to them, Scott said.
“It’s been a public relations nightmare,” he said.
The district is also plagued with naturally occurring hard water, which damages plumbing and can cause skin rashes and hair loss in some. Last year, the district built a $60 million water-softening plant that now delivers water that is much softer to residents.
Many of its customers still don’t know the water has been improved or do not believe it.
Theresa Friess, SAWSD’s public affairs coordinator, was hired to help educate and engage customers.
“It’s been a hard conversation, in part because it’s hard to hear that our customers feel this way,” said Friess. “But we have tried to increase our outreach and we are having more conservations with non-English speaking residents as well.”
The district has hosted tours and open houses, and has had various government officials meet with residents and publicly drink the water that flows from the taps in an effort to prove it is safe.
To date, there is little if any belief among nearly two dozen residents across north Denver, Commerce City and unincorporated Adams County interviewed by Fresh Water News that the water won’t make them sick.
“We have been drinking this water for years,” said one woman at a meeting convened by Cultivando in Commerce City last month on the private tap water testing program. Speaking through an interpreter, she said, “They think they can come in here and take one drink of water to convince us it is safe? What does that prove?”
Are your pipes okay?
In Denver’s Elyria, Swansea and Globeville neighborhoods, Denver Water has been working since 2019 to replace tens of thousands of lead service lines to protect its customers from lead contamination. Testing had shown that lead was leaching from the pipes into the water that reached the tap. The work is going on across the city, including such neighborhoods as Hilltop and Washington Park. Lead service lines are more likely to be an issue for homes built before 1951.
The agency replaced the old lead service lines in front of Tony Garcia’s Elyria house two years ago.
Garcia, a well-known historian and executive director of Su Teatro, and others in the neighborhood are happy about the remediation project. Some even drink the water now. But the utility is still almost 10 years away from having all the city’s lead service lines replaced, even with a new federal infrastructure grant to speed the process.
Garcia still uses filters provided by Denver Water, and the utility still tests his water periodically. Denver Water spokesman Todd Hartman said the ongoing testing is part of its lead monitoring program. For many of these older homes, the water may still contain lead, leaching not from the main delivery lines, which are lead-free, or from the customer-owned service lines Denver Water is replacing, but from the aging plumbing systems within the homes themselves. No amount of lead is safe to drink.
Garcia doesn’t drink the tap water and has no plans to do so. If his home’s pipes need to be replaced, he said, it will have to be done by the next homeowner or someone else.
CDPHE’s Rowan said her agency is researching whether some of its grant money could be accessed by homeowners to be used for in-home pipe replacement, but isn’t clear yet whether that is possible.
What the neighborhood has endured, not just with lead contamination but also with air and groundwater pollution, “would not be tolerated in other communities,” Garcia said.
In addition to the ongoing risk to public health, cost is a major concern, for residents and the water districts and state agencies charged with keeping the water safe.
On a recent Friday morning, student chef Paul Tyrell is filling up several of the ever-present five-gallon pale blue jugs at a private water station in Commerce City. His pregnant partner sits in the front seat as he hauls the empty jugs out of the back seat, fills them at the water station, and lugs them to the car.
Here five gallons of water costs $1.50, or 30 cents a gallon. Tyrell will fill up all his containers once a week, at a cost of $7 to $10. If he could use his apartment’s tap water from SACWD, it would cost less than 5 cents a gallon. The district charges $5.24 for the first 12,000 gallons used.
“I wish we would have better water,” Tyrell said. “We don’t use the water in our apartment because it makes us feel sick.”
Denver Water has raised residential water rates to help pay for its lead remediation work, in addition to issuing bonds and using cash on hand to cover for the $168 million overall project cost. It has also been approved for a $76 million federal infrastructure grant to help accelerate the work.
In South Adams County, the federal government paid for the district’s primary water treatment plant, completed in 1989, as part of the Superfund cleanup at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal.
But since 2018, the district has been forced to uses its own money, and some state grants, to fund the $3 million price tag on new water treatment processes along with testing equipment related to the PFAS contamination.
Residents are paying just over $4.50 a month additionally to cover the cost of the new water softening plant, but Scott says the district doesn’t believe they should have to pay to cover the cost of the new $45 million to $70 PFAS treatment plant. The district plans to apply for federal infrastructure improvement funds to get that done.
“Our residents should not have to bear this cost for the additional treatment we are going to have to put in place. But the new plant is going to be less expensive than purchasing Denver water over the long haul.”
It’s not just water bills that are expensive. Residents are often approached by sales people suggesting the water is so unsafe that they need to buy expensive in-home treatment systems and filters.
South Adams Water Quality Supervisor Kevin Pustulka said he recently went out to a home where a woman was preparing to buy a $20,000 in-home softening system that she didn’t need. “Please don’t,” he told her.
His message to everyone else: “The next time someone offers to sell you an in-home water device, call me.”
Olga Gonzalez hopes they do. She is executive director of Cultivando and has watched people in these North Metro communities struggle for years. That things may be changing is possible, she said, but her level of skepticism remains high.
“We are seeing them [the CDPHE and South Adams] ask what our communities need and be transparent and explain things in a way residents can understand. I feel hopeful that finally community members will be heard. We have been very clear that we don’t want these agencies to just check boxes and say they have been in touch with the community.”
For the environmental justice activists on the ground, after years of battling industrial pollution and institutional indifference, they are convinced the way to deliver safe tap water and to convince residents that it won’t make them ill, lies in rebuilding trust between residents and the government.
“In the end, we don’t want to be residents’ go-to,” Gonzalez said. “We want them to go to the people who are paid to protect them, and take care of their health.”
This project was made possible, in part, by funding from the Colorado Media Project.
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.
Click the link to read the article on the American Rivers website (Hannah Holm):
As western mountain snowpacks diminish and wildfires race across parched landscapes, appreciation has grown for the moist mountain meadows and wetlands that hold water up high, feeding streams throughout the summer and providing fire-resistant refuges for wildlife. Before beavers and their dams were largely eliminated by the fur trade, these natural water storage features and refuges were common across western states’ mountain landscapes.
The removal of beavers and other land disturbances have led many creeks to cut deeper into their valleys and detach from their floodplains, dropping the water table and drying out the landscape. A growing field of stream restoration, known as low-tech process-based restoration (LTPBR), seeks to reverse these changes through methods that mimic beaver activity in hopes of enticing them to return.
Projects across the west have demonstrated the benefits of LTPBR on the landscape. Projects have improved water quality, provided important habitat, trapped sediment, increased riparian vegetation and forage, and bolstered resilience against drought, fire, and floods. These benefits are achieved by installing low-tech, hand-built structures, creating “speedbumbs” that enable water from snowmelt and storms to spread across the riparian area, slowing peak flows and recharging groundwater. The rewetted soil “sponge” supports healthy riparian vegetation and reduces wildfire risks.
As LTPBR projects have proliferated across western states, both excitement about their benefits and questions about potential impacts have grown. A new report from American Rivers reviews the published science and case study information on LTPBR to better understand the full range of benefits these projects can provide, and provides scientific evidence to address potential concerns. The report finds ample evidence for LTPBR benefiting habitat and buffering the impacts of droughts, floods, and wildfires, but concludes that more research is needed to better understand the full suite of ecosystem service benefits. It also provides insights on how to address human and social factors related to LTPBR projects, such as mitigating beaver dam impacts to infrastructure.
Click the link to read the article on the Sky-Hi Daily News website (Kyle McCabe). Here’s an excerpt:
The water rates for Granby’s North Service Area will increase, effective Jan. 1, 2023, after the board of trustees voted to approve new rates at their meeting Wednesday, Nov. 9. The increase in rates are intended to help fund the design and construction of a new water treatment plant for the service area. The rates for water usage in town and out of town, raw water usage in town, the facility charge, construction water usage and the sewer fee will all increase. The largest increases come from the construction water rate, which increased by 242%, and the facility charge, which increased by 225%. The plant investment fees, which is what is charged for the creation of a new water line, differ in price based on size but all increased 110%. For in-town users, the 2023 rate will increase from $6.62 per 1,000 gallons to $8.16 per 1,000 gallons, out-of-town users the rate per 1,000 gallons will raise from $13.24 to $16.32. In-town raw water usage rates are going from $3.52 to $4.08 per 1,000 gallons…
The town also emphasized the not-quite dire status of the water plant. Bellatty said that new regulations added to water safety standards over the plant’s 40-year lifetime have contributed to its water production capacity decreasing. While he is not concerned about the plant failing in the near future, Bellatty mentioned the possibility of it failing as a reason the town needs to replace it as soon as possible.
Click the link to read the article on the Pagosa Springs Sun website (Josh Pike). Here’s an excerpt:
At its Oct. 20 meeting, the Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District (PAWSD) Board of Directors held a public hearing of the district’s proposed 2023 budget and dis- cussed potential accelerated rate increases. PAWSD Director of Business Services Aaron Burns opened the hearing by explaining that he would begin by discussing the summary sheet for the budget distributed to the board before discussing the details of the budget…
Burns explained that the changes in spending in the water and wastewater funds are partially driven by the work on the state- mandated expansion of the Snowball water treatment plant and state-mandated engineering for the potential Vista wastewater treatment plant upgrade, as well as a variety of other larger maintenance item expenditures. He highlighted that the 2023 budget meets debt services requirements and reflects the rate increases prescribed by a 2018 rate study, as well as accelerated rate increases that he and District Manager Justin Ramsey had agreed are necessary due to the additional costs of expanding the Snowball plant. Burns explained that, as part of the financing process for the Snowball plant, the state recommended an additional $8 per equivalent unit, also commonly referred to as EUs, charge for water rates on top of the 6 percent increase recom- mended by the rate study. He added that the rate study had recommended a 2.5 percent in- crease in wastewater rates in 2024, which Burns and Ramsey had decided to move forward to 2023.
He commented that the PAWSD 2021 audit indicated that the district’s rates are low and these changes would address this, as well as preparing PAWSD for the increasing costs of its upcoming projects.
Click the link to read the article on The Arvada Press website (Rylee Dunn). Here’s an excerpt:
After multiple water treatment plant mishaps over the past year, Arvada’s City Council unanimously approved a 12.3% water rate increase to fund improvements for the city’s aging infrastructure on Oct. 17. The rate hike will increase single-family water bills by roughly $19 per bi-monthly billing cycle on average for single-family homes. The increase will see water and wastewater usage rates increase by an average of $13 per bi-monthly billing cycle for single-family homes. It also includes a $4 bi-monthly water service fee increase and a $2 bi-monthly wastewater service fee increase. Primary cost drivers of the rate hike are a 15% price hike for raw water from Denver Water, the recommended issuance of a $50 million bond later this year that will fund infrastructure upgrades and an expected overall operation cost increase of $4.2 million in 2023. Over the past five years, the average in-city water rate has increased by about 3.55% annually, Gillis said. The bi-monthly service fee was last adjusted in 2022 for the first time since 2009.
At the heart of Arvada’s decision to invest in aging infrastructure are two water treatment plants: the Ralston Water Treatment Plant, built in the 1960s; and the Arvada Water Treatment Plant, built in the 1980s. The RWTP is rated at 36 million gallons per day, while the AWTP is rated at 16 million gallons per day. 75% of Arvada’s raw water comes from Denver Water, while the remainder is provided by Clear Creek. Two recent water line breaks and leaks through an exterior wall at the RWTP over the summer have threatened the city’s water supply, as Arvada Director of Utilities Sharon Israel recounted during a tour of the RWTP with the Arvada Press…
At the Oct. 17 city council meeting, Arvada Mayor Marc Williams summed up the position of many council members, all of whom voted for the rate increase.
“We had two major water line breaks in the last two weeks that cost us well over a million gallons of water, I believe,” Williams said. “We’ve got to take lasting care of our community and this is an appropriate step that we’re taking…That passes 7-0; reluctantly, but necessarily.”
Ensuring a system that is providing clean, safe water to 25% of the state’s population will continue delivering requires taking the long view when it comes to maintenance and upgrades.
At Denver Water, projects from replacing water mains to building a new treatment plant are carefully vetted to ensure they will bolster the system as it exists today and for the decades ahead.
“Our mission is to deliver a clean, safe, reliable water supply to 1.5 million people, and also to sustain our vibrant communities for years to come,” said Jim Lochhead, the CEO/Manager of Denver Water.
To do that, the utility expects to invest about $2.3 billion into the system during the next 10 years, from large projects to regular inspection and maintenance programs designed to ensure the system is flexible, resilient and efficient.
Denver Water’s approach has been recognized repeatedly by its peers in the water industry and others.
The American Water Works Association, the largest organization of water supply professionals in the world, named Denver Water the recipient of its 2022 AWWA Innovation Award for the Northwater Treatment Plant, which is under construction north of Golden.
The awards committee specifically called out the utility’s sustainable, scalable and streamlined design approach to the project, which leaves room at the site for future expansions as needed.
The redevelopment of its Operations Complex near downtown has won several awards since its completion a few years ago, including a LEED Platinum certification for the utility’s Administration Building, just one of many the project received for its sustainable aspects. The building includes solar power panels on its roof and parking structures, a highly efficient radiant heating and cooling system and an on-site wastewater recycling system that treats water for reuse flushing toilets and irrigation.
Here’s an overview of some of Denver Water’s work:
Work on the Gross Reservoir Expansion Project, the subject of more than 20 years of planning, got underway in April. Expected to be complete in 2027, the project will raise the height of the existing dam by 131 feet.
The higher dam will nearly triple the amount of water that can be stored in Gross Reservoir, providing Denver Water with more flexibility to manage its water supply in the face of increasingly variable weather and snowpack patterns.
The additional storage capacity also will provide a greater balance between Denver Water’s separate north and south water collection areas.
Much of the work done on the expansion during 2022 and 2023 will be site preparation for the on-site quarry and concrete production plant and removing rock from the sides and bottom of the existing dam to make room for the new concrete. Workers also have been hydroblasting the face of the dam, removing a few inches of concrete, to leave a rougher surface for the new concrete to adhere to.
At the height of construction, there will be as many as 400 workers on-site and when complete, the dam will be the tallest in Colorado.
Get more details about the history behind the Gross Reservoir Expansion Project.
Lead Reduction Program
A major part of Denver Water’s investment forecast is the Lead Reduction Program, which launched in January 2020.
The water Denver Water delivers to customers is lead-free, but lead can get into drinking water as the water passes through old lead service lines that carry water from the water main in the street into the home.
The program reduces the risk of lead getting into drinking water by replacing the estimated 64,000 to 84,000 old, customer-owned lead service lines at no direct cost to the customer. Households enrolled in the program are provided with water pitchers and filters certified to remove lead to use for cooking, drinking and preparing infant formula until six months after their lead service line is replaced.
It’s the biggest public health campaign in the utility’s history and through the end of September, more than 14,000 lead service lines have been replaced.
Learn more about how a higher pH level protects customers from lead getting into drinking water.
The program aims to replace about 4,500 lead service lines every year, and the utility is working through final approvals to accept federal funding. The money will allow the utility to replace an additional number of lead service lines (at no direct cost to the customer) above the 4,500 currently slated for replacement in 2023. This additional funding will help speed up the replacement program while keeping rates as low as possible for customers.
In March 2020, Denver Water also raised the pH of the water it delivers to customers to help reduce the risk of lead getting into water as it passes through customers’ internal plumbing that may contain lead.
Northwater Treatment Plant
Work on Denver Water’s new, state-of-the-art Northwater Treatment Plant next to Ralston Reservoir north of Golden this year passed a milestone, with 2.5 million hours of work poured into its design and construction since 2016.
The treatment plant, scheduled for completion in 2024, will include 14 buildings and be able to clean 75 million gallons of water per day. Its design left room for the plant to be expanded to clean up to 150 million gallons of water per day in the future as needed.
During this last year, roofs have been placed on buildings, allowing workers to start installing electrical lines and HVAC equipment.
Construction also has continued on the two giant water storage tanks, which will be mostly buried underground when complete. Each tank is capable of holding 10 million gallons of clean, safe drinking water.
A new water quality laboratory
In early January 2023, the Hydro building on Colorado State University’s Spur campus at the National Western Center north of downtown will open.
It will house Denver Water’s new water quality laboratory, expected to become fully operational during 2023, and replaces a facility that has been tucked into the Marston Treatment Plant south of U.S. Highway 285 and South Wadsworth Boulevard, on the south side of Denver Water’s service area.
Locating Denver Water’s water quality laboratory in the midst of CSU’s new Spur campus ensures the utility’s water experts will be working near researchers, scientists and others tackling issues surrounding water, agriculture and public health that are important to the metro area, state and region.
Two other buildings are at the CSU Spur campus, Vida, which opened in January 2022 and focuses on life and public health, and Terra, which opened earlier this year and focuses on land and food.
With the completion of the Hydro building, the campus will house experts dedicated to exploring how the three disciplines intersect — and interact — with each other.
As the metro area grows and changes, its often an opportunity for Denver Water to upgrade older elements of its system — before new development takes place.
That was exactly the situation at Loretto Heights in the southwest part of Denver.
The site is best known for the historic tower built in the 1890s as part of a boarding school and college. But buried under that same hill is a 575-foot-long concrete tunnel, 7 feet in diameter, used to deliver water from the Marston Treatment Plant in southwest Denver to the downtown area.
Before construction on a new residential development at Loretto Heights began, Denver Water worked with the developer to do needed upgrades and repairs at the site before homes were built — and to avoid disrupting the new neighborhood later.
Earlier this year, crews dug down to uncover pipes and valves installed a century ago, removed the four original valves, placed new pipes, installed a single new valve and repaired cracks inside the tunnel.
Watch a video of the Loretto Heights project.
Denver Water also is continuing its investment in replacing its water mains under streets and installing new ones where needed. The utility has more than 3,000 miles of pipe in its system, enough to stretch from Seattle to Orlando.
The utility is working toward a goal of replacing 1% of its installed water mains every year, or more than 145,000 feet of pipe.
And in recognition that the drought in the Colorado River Basin affects us all, Denver Water and several large water providers from across the basin have committed to substantially expanding existing efforts to conserve water.
Among the goals is replacing 30% of the nonfunctional grass in our communities — like that found in traffic medians —with trees and landscapes that have more benefits for our climate, wildlife and the environment.
Denver Water is working with partners — including local governments, fellow water providers, and experts in water use and landscapes — to develop programs that will help transform our landscapes and expand our indoor and outdoor conservation efforts.
Being financially responsible
Denver Water has a long been proactive with maintaining and improving its vast network of dams, pipes, canals and treatment plants — and planning ahead for the future.
And that work extends to the financial side of the utility.
Denver Water doesn’t receive tax dollars or make a profit. Its infrastructure projects, day-to-day operations and emergency expenses, like water main breaks, are funded by a mixture of water rates, bond sales, cash reserves, hydropower sales and fees for new service (called System Development Charges).
And in this area too, Denver Water has received high marks.
For a recent bond sale, which brought in about $200 million to invest into the system, rating agencies extended Denver Water’s existing triple-A credit rating, the highest available. The agencies cited multiple factors, including the utility’s strong financial management for the rating.
The rating was just another example of how at Denver Water, sustainability isn’t just a word, it’s embedded throughout the organization, from its long-range planning for a warmer future to the training it provides to inspire its employees to go the extra mile for customers.
Click the link to read the strategy on the Department of State website:
The global water crisis threatens U.S. national security and prosperity. Water insecurity endangers public health, undermines economic growth, deepens inequalities, and increases the likelihood of conflict and state failure. Strong water, sanitation, and hygiene services, finance, governance, and institutions are critical to increasing resilience in the face of global shocks and stressors, such as the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change.
The 2014 Water for the World Act requires that USAID and the Department of State deliver a whole-of-government Global Water Strategy to Congress, beginning in 2017 and refreshing it every five years until 2032 (see the 2017 Global Water Strategy). The 2022 strategy will operationalize the first-ever White House Action Plan on Global Water Security that Vice President Kamala Harris launched in June 2022.
Under this strategy, the U.S. government will work through four interconnected and mutually reinforcing strategic objectives:
– Strengthen sector governance, financing, institutions, and markets;
– Increase equitable access to safe, sustainable, and climate-resilient water and sanitation services, and the adoption of key hygiene behaviors;
– Improve climate-resilient conservation and management of freshwater resources and associated ecosystems; and
– Anticipate and reduce conflict and fragility related to water.
This strategy advances new priorities, such as:
– Going beyond community-managed services for a comprehensive, professionalized, and scalable approach;
– Prioritizing local leadership of water and sanitation systems and services;
– Integrating climate resilience to respond to the growing threat that climate change poses to water security; and
– Increasing coherent implementation across humanitarian, development, and peacebuilding contexts.
The 1960s and 1970s were a golden age of infrastructure development in the U.S., with the expansion of the interstate system and widespread construction of new water treatment, wastewater and flood control systems reflecting national priorities in public health and national defense. But infrastructure requires maintenance, and, eventually, it has to be replaced.
That hasn’t been happening in many parts of the country. Increasingly, extreme heat and storms are putting roads, bridges, water systems and other infrastructure under stress.
Two recent examples – an intense heat wave that pushed California’s power grid to its limits in September 2022, and the failure of the water system in Jackson, Mississippi, amid flooding in August – show how a growing maintenance backlog and increasing climate change are turning the 2020s and 2030s into a golden age of infrastructure failure.
I am a civil engineer whose work focuses on the impacts of climate change on infrastructure. Often, low-income communities and communities of color like Jackson see the least investment in infrastructure replacements and repairs.
Crumbling bridge and water systems
The United States is consistently falling short on funding infrastructure maintenance. A report by former Federal Reserve Board Chairman Paul Volcker’s Volcker Alliance in 2019 estimated the U.S. has a US$1 trillion backlog of needed repairs.
Over 220,000 bridges across the country – about 33% of the total – require rehabilitation or replacement.
A water main break now occurs somewhere in the U.S. every two minutes, and an estimated 6 million gallons of treated water are lost each day. This is happening at the same time the western United States is implementing water restrictions amid the driest 20-year span in 1,200 years. Similarly, drinking water distribution in the United States relies on over 2 million miles of pipes that have limited life spans.
The underlying issue for infrastructure failure is age, resulting in the failure of critical parts such as pumps and motors.
Aging systems have been blamed for failures of the water system in Jackson, wastewater treatment plants in Baltimore that leaked dangerous amounts of sewage into the Chesapeake Bay and dam failures in Michigan that have resulted in widespread damage and evacuations.
Inequality in investment
Compounding the problem of age is the lack of funds to modernize critical systems and perform essential maintenance. Fixing that will require systemic change.
Infrastructure is primarily a city and county responsibility financed through local taxes. However, these entities are also dependent on state and federal funds. As populations increase and development expands, local governments have cumulatively had to double their infrastructure spending since the 1950s, while federal sources remained mostly flat.
Inequity often underlies the growing need for investment in low-income U.S. communities.
Over 2 million people in the United States lack access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation. The greatest predictor of those who lack this access is race: 5.8% of Native American households lack access, while only 0.3% of white households lack access. In terms of sanitation, studies in predominantly African American counties have found disproportionate impacts from nonworking sewage systems.
Jackson, a majority-Black state capital, has dealt with water system breakdowns for years and has repeatedly requested infrastructure funding from the state to upgrade its struggling water treatment plants.
Climate change exacerbates the risk
The consequences of inadequate maintenance are compounded by climate change, which is accelerating infrastructure failure with increased flooding, extreme heat and growing storm intensity.
Much of the world’s infrastructure was designed for an environment that no longer exists. The historic precipitation levels, temperature profiles, extreme weather events and storm surge levels those systems were designed and built to handle are now exceeded on a regular basis.
Unprecedented rainfall in the California desert in 2015 tore apart a bridge over Interstate 10, one of the state’s most important east-west routes. Temperatures near 120 degrees Fahrenheit (49 C) forced the Phoenix airport to cancel flights in 2017 out of concern the planes might not be able to safely take off.
A heat wave in the Pacific Northwest in 2020 buckled roads and melted streetcar cables in Portland. Amtrak slowed its train speeds in the Northeast in July 2022 out of concern that a heat wave would cause the overhead wires to expand and sag and rails to potentially buckle.
Power outages during California’s September 2022 heat wave are another potentially life-threatening infrastructure problem.
The rising costs of delayed repairs
My research with colleagues shows that the vulnerability of the national transportation system, energy distribution system, water treatment facilities and coastal infrastructure will significantly increase over the next decade due to climate change.
We estimate that rail infrastructure faces additional repair costs of $5 billion to $10 billion annually by 2050, while road repairs due to temperature increases could reach a cumulative $200 billion to $300 billion by the end of the century. Similarly, water utilities are facing the possibility of a trillion-dollar price tag by 2050.
After studying the issue of climate change impacts on infrastructure for two decades, with climate projections getting worse, not better, I believe addressing the multiple challenges to the nation’s infrastructure requires systemic change.
Two items are at the top of the list: national prioritization and funding.
Prioritizing the infrastructure challenge is essential to bring government responsibilities into the national conversation. Most local jurisdictions simply can’t afford to absorb the cost of needed infrastructure. The recent infrastructure bill and the Inflation Reduction Act are starting points, but they still fall short of fixing the long-term issue.
Without systemic change, Jackson, Mississippi, will be just the start of an escalating trend.
Click the link to read the article on the Ark Valley Voice website (Jan Wondra). Here’s an excerpt:
On Tuesday, August 30, Judge Armando Bonilla of the U.S. Court of Federal Claims issued a decision from the bench in favor of New Civil Liberties Alliance’s (NCLA) client and denying a motion to dismiss in Todd Hennis v. The United States of America.
“Today, the Court of Federal Claims recognized what we have long known. EPA must answer for the bad decisions it has made and the unlawful actions it has taken since 2015, said New Civil Liberties Alliance (NCLA) Litigation Counsel Kara Rollins. “We are pleased that Mr. Hennis’s case is moving ahead, and we look forward to presenting the facts about what the EPA did to him—and took from him.”
Hennis filed a lawsuit against the United States for the physical taking of his property without just compensation in violation of the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution. He took this step after years of waiting for action. On August 5, 2015, EPA destroyed the portal to the Gold King Mine, located in Silverton, Colorado. Upon doing so, the agency released a toxic sludge of over 3,000,000 gallons of acid mine drainage and 880,000 pounds of heavy metals into the Animas River watershed. According to Hennis, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) caused an environmental catastrophe that preceded and culminated in the invasion, occupation, taking, and confiscation of Hennis’s downstream property. Ever since, he has been trying to recover damages. This ruling means the U.S. Court of Federal Claims is allowing Mr. Hennis’s lawsuit to go forward to discovery, and ultimately to trial…
[The EPA] eventually mobilized supplies and equipment onto Hennis’s downstream property to address the immediate after-effects of its actions, but it apparently ignored Hennis’s explicit instructions on how to protect the land and the scope of the access that he granted. Instead, the EPA constructed a multimillion-dollar water treatment facility on his land, without permission, compensation, or even following a procedure to appropriate his property for public use. After seven years, Hennis says the U.S. Government has been “squatted on his lands”, and he wants financial compensation. Hennis says he didn’t voluntarily give EPA permission to construct and operate a water treatment facility on his property. It was built without his knowledge or consent, and it later coerced him into allowing access to his lands by threatening him with exorbitant fines (over $59,000 per day) should he exercise his property rights. When Hennis refused to sign an access document, the EPA preceded to occupy his property by operation of the agency’s own administrative order—and threatening him with fines if he challenges it.
Click the link to read the article on the Denver Water website (Cathy Proctor and Jay Adams):
Protecting people from hazards that can lurk in their drinking water is the day-in, day-out job for water industry engineers, utilities and regulators.
And at Denver Water, efforts to protect people from the health risks posed by lead from old, lead service lines getting into drinking water, has been part of the job for decades.
There is no lead in the water Denver Water delivers to customers, but the utility regularly tests for lead in the drinking water of homes that are known to have lead water service lines, the primary source of lead in drinking water.
In the first half of the 20th century, lead was a common, cheap and easy-to-work-with material to use when forming small pipelines that carry drinking water from utility pipelines in the street into customers’ homes. But these old lead service lines, which in Denver Water’s experience are more often found in homes built before 1951, pose a threat in the community, particularly to children, infants and pregnant women.
Denver Water has tested for lead in customers’ drinking water for decades under the Environmental Protection Agency’s Lead and Copper Rule. In 2012, the routine monitoring indicated the utility needed to investigate whether it could adjust the chemistry of the water it delivered to customers to better protect them from the risk of lead getting into drinking water.
Read this 2019 story to learn about Denver Water’s efforts over the years to combat lead in drinking water, which culminated in the 2020 launch of its groundbreaking Lead Reduction Program.
In short, the results of tests on customers’ drinking water launched Denver Water into years of study centered on one question: What more could it do to better protect at-risk customers?
The first step was more testing.
“For a utility of our size and the number of lead service lines we have, you can’t just test something by putting it into the distribution system that’s delivering water to 1.5 million people every day. That’s not acceptable to us,” said Ryan Walsh, manager of the water treatment engineering section at Denver Water.
“We had to test things at a pilot scale, by doing the pipe loop study, before we could move forward.”
Walsh’s team was in charge of testing various treatment options via the pipe loop study and later planned, designed and executed the treatment plant systems involved in increasing the pH level.
To build the pipe loop study, Denver Water used old lead service lines its crews removed from customers’ homes (replacing them with lead-free lines) as the crews found the old lines during their regular work on water mains across the utility’s service area.
Denver Water plumbers connected the decades-old pipes together on racks and its treatment engineers ran water through them for hours, days and years. They tested different treatment methods to find out which worked best to reduce the risk of lead from the old pipes getting into the water passing through them.
Watch this video to see Denver Water’s pipe loop study, which is still underway today.
“That testing was so critical because we used the water that had been treated by our treatment plants, Moffat and Marston, the water that was going into our system to customers. The pipe loop study allowed us to test the adjustments we might do to the water to keep people safe,” said Patty Brubaker, a water treatment plant manager.
“We tried different pH levels, we tried different phosphate levels, and we tried all of them on the actual lead pipes that had been taken from our system,” Brubaker said.
“There were so many people involved in putting this together. We had the crews who went out and pulled those lines, the plumbers that put them together on the racks, the people who made the adjustments and tested the water as it ran through the pipes.
All of us were studying the impacts to figure out which would be the best method to use to protect our customers from those old lead pipes.”
In March 2018, based on Denver Water’s studies, state health officials told Denver Water it had two years — until March 2020 — to get ready to start using a food additive called orthophosphate to tamp down the potential for lead to get into customers’ drinking water.
The decision worried many people inside and outside of Denver Water.
The concern wasn’t whether orthophosphate would reduce the potential for lead to get into drinking water. They knew it would.
Denver Water’s years of tests on the old pipes had shown orthophosphate would work, and other water utilities use orthophosphate to reduce the risk of lead getting into their drinking water.
But Denver Water, environmental groups and other water and wastewater utilities downstream of Colorado’s capital city worried about the widespread, long term — and expensive — consequences of adding orthophosphate to such a large system, including the increased potential for environmental impacts in and downstream of the Denver metro area.
Nicole Poncelet-Johnson, director of Denver Water’s water quality and treatment section, had been hired at the utility few months before the state’s 2018 decision on orthophosphate. From previous jobs involving water and wastewater treatment plants, she’d seen what orthophosphate could do at the plants and in the environment.
“I’d seen the algae, which can grow faster when there are higher levels of phosphate in the water. I’d seen it coating the valves coming into the treatment plant so we couldn’t bring water in. I’ve seen how the taste and odor problems with the water were so bad that people bought and used bottled water instead of tap water,” Poncelet-Johnson said.
“And in Colorado’s dry, arid environment, with our long, sunny days and the UV light, adding orthophosphate to our system would have created a primordial soup. Plus, after the expense of adding it to the water at the drinking water treatment plant, it’s hard, expensively hard, to get phosphorous out of the water when it arrives at the downstream wastewater plants,” she said.
On top of the expensive work that would be required at wastewater treatment plants, there simply was no way to recapture all the orthophosphate that would be added to Denver’s drinking water due to the way water is used in the metro area, she said.
About half of Denver Water’s residential water use is outdoor water use, tied to the irrigation of lawns and gardens. That means some of the orthophosphate-treated drinking water was bound to run off of lawns, down the gutter and end up in the metro area’s urban creeks, streams and rivers.
The groups worried that under the right conditions, that additional phosphate could accelerate the growth of algae not only downstream of the city, but also in the metro area’s urban creeks, streams and reservoirs.
There had to be another way, they said.
“We went back to the data from the years of tests we’d run. We saw that if we raised the pH level of the water, instead of adding orthophosphate, we could protect people from the lead service lines,” Poncelet-Johnson said.
“And if we combined a higher pH with replacing those lead service lines with new, lead-free copper lines, then the lead levels would drop to the point where the tests couldn’t detect anything.”
In 2019, Denver Water formally proposed an alternative approach to state and federal regulators.
Denver Water’s proposal, at its core, called for raising the pH of the water delivered to customers from 7.8 to 8.8 on the pH scale, and keeping it there with relatively little variance as it flowed from the treatment plant to the customers’ homes and businesses.
The higher pH level would strengthen an existing protective coating inside the lead service lines, reducing the risk of lead getting into the drinking water as it passed through the lead pipes.
And that — combined with significantly accelerating the replacement of the old lead services lines — would 1) lower the risk faster than relying on orthophosphate alone, and 2) do so without the cost and environmental concerns posed by adding the phosphate.
“It was a better solution, a permanent solution to the problem of old lead service lines, which are the primary source of lead in drinking water,” Poncelet-Johnson said.
“Because instead of a Band-Aid approach, instead of just adding chemicals to the system and then dealing with the widespread economic and environmental consequences of that decision for decades, we went the other way and proposed permanently removing the problem by raising the pH of the water and replacing the lead service lines,” she said.
Listen to Nicole Poncelet-Johnson, director of Denver Water’s water quality and treatment section, discuss Denver Water’s Lead Reduction Program:
Denver Water’s alternative proposal focused on five areas:
Raising the pH of the water it delivers to 1.5 million people to 8.8, and keep it fairly constant, with very little variance, as the water flowed from treatment plant, through the distribution system, to customers’ homes and businesses.
Mapping the location of the customer-owned lead service lines in its service area and sharing that map with customers. Replacing the estimated 64,000 to 84,000 customer-owned lead service lines in its service area with new lead-free copper lines at no direct cost to the customer. Providing customers enrolled in the program with water pitchers and filters certified to remove lead to use until six months after their lead line was replaced. Launching the largest public health communication effort Denver Water had ever done to educate its customers about the risks of lead, the importance of using filtered water until the old lead service lines could be replaced, and the process for replacing those lead pipes.
Watch this video to learn more about lead service lines.
Breaking new ground
The proposal broke new ground in the water industry in two main ways.
It attacked the legacy issue posed old lead service lines from all sides — by raising the pH level, replacing customers’ old lead service lines, providing water filters to customers enrolled in the program to use until six months after their line was replaced, and educating those customers about the program.
And Denver Water said it would tackle all those steps on a scale and at a speed never before seen in the water industry.
Other cities had aimed to replace a few thousand lead service lines.
But Denver Water proposed replacing up to 84,000 customer-owned lead service lines estimated to be in Denver Water’s service area, doing it at no direct cost to the customer, and doing it in 15 years.
And, the utility proposed sending water pitchers and filters to more than 100,000 households enrolled in the program to use for cooking, drinking and preparing infant formula until six months after their lead line was replaced.
In December 2019, health officials at the EPA and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment agreed to Denver Water’s alternative proposal.
Weeks later, in January 2020, Denver Water launched its Lead Reduction Program — and immediately faced a crucial deadline.
The utility’s engineers, treatment plant operators and monitoring teams now had to implement the systems and processes that would raise the pH level of the water and maintain that level as the water flowed across more than 3,000 miles of pipe to 1.5 million people. And they had less than 90 days to do it.
Click the link to read the article on the Steamboat Pilot & Today website (Ray Erku). Here’s an excerpt:
Turbidity in the Colorado River is dropping to levels previous to major wildfires and mudslides that roiled Glenwood Canyon in 2020 and 2021, Silt Public Works Director Trey Fonner said…Whenever loose rock and dirt unearthed from heavy rainstorms barrel into the Colorado River — the main source of drinking and agricultural use for Silt, Rifle and Parachute — sediment increases. The measurement is called turbidity…Turbidity levels rose after the Grizzly Creek wildfire consumed more than 32,631 acres within Glenwood Canyon in 2020 and after a rare, 500-year rain event in summer 2021 caused massive debris flows in the same area…
Middle Colorado Watershed Council Executive Director Paula Stepp said one of the ways to mitigate turbidity relies on new measurement devices installed up and down the Colorado River. With water quality monitoring stations established by the USGS in Garfield County, data collected from these sites are used to warn downstream users. Though Glenwood Springs’ primary water source isn’t the Colorado River, the city has water monitoring stations at Veltus Park on the Roaring Fork River and at the confluence of the Colorado and Roaring Fork Rivers near Two Rivers Park. Three other stations are located in South Canyon, Silt and Rulison…
Recently, Silt used $200,000 in American Rescue Plan Act funds to pursue an engineering study on how it can better its methods of pulling water from the Colorado River. That study concluded the city needed at least $30 million to not only combat turbidity levels but better serve its growing population. One way to pay for water and wastewater treatment improvements falls on the $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill passed by Congress in November 2021.
Click the link to read the article on the Durango Telegraph website (Jonathan Romeo). Here’s an excerpt:
With the recent news that the Environmental Protection Agency agreed to pay New Mexico and the Navajo Nation more than $63 million for damages related to the Gold King Mine spill, some Coloradoans are asking: What about us?
“I just always question, should we have been louder, because holy smokes, that’s a lot of money,” La Plata County Commissioner Matt Salka said. “And it is concerning when $60 million-plus goes to communities at the end of the river, yet (Durango and Silverton) were the most heavily impacted.”
After the plume passed by, the communities closest to the headwaters – Silverton and Durango – decided not to pursue litigation against the EPA. Instead, they chose to push for the cleanup of mines that pock the mountains around Silverton and have degraded water quality in the Animas River since the heydey of mining in the late 1800s, early 1900s. And indeed, in fall 2016, a collection of historic mines in the area, including the Gold King, received a Superfund designation with widespread local support…
Downstream communities in New Mexico and on the Navajo Nation, however, went a different route. New Mexico sued the EPA in May 2016, with the Navajo Nation following suit a few months later. The $63 million settlement, announced in June, is now under question by upriver elected officials.
“Those are funds I would have liked to see go to the actual source of the issue,” Salka said. “We should be addressing the Superfund site, making sure water quality is good and preventing another mine blowout.”
While the sheer sight of the spill alarmed even the most involved members of groups such as the Animas River Stakeholders Group (a now-defunct organization of volunteers dedicated to protecting the health of the river), the fact that a mine blew out near Silverton wasn’t a shock. It has happened many times over the years. Looking at the long view: roughly 5.4 million gallons of acid mine drainage leaches into the Animas each day, compared to 3 million in the one-time Gold King blowout. The spill, however, was the catalyst that finally secured a Superfund designation for the mines draining around Silverton. In the past, some community members objected that a Superfund declaration carried a stigma that would imperil the town’s tourism economy and destroy any possibility of reviving the local mining industry. But after the Gold King blowout drew national attention, there was no stopping the momentum, and the Bonita Peak Superfund site was established. It’s composed of 48 historic mining sites around Silverton that are the biggest culprits of metal loading…
It should be noted New Mexico also reached an $11 million settlement with Sunnyside Gold, the last operating mining company in Silverton, and is still pursuing a lawsuit against the EPA’s contractor…
On the Navajo Nation, a different case was made about the Gold King Mine spill. From a Native American cultural perspective, waters are sacred, and the disturbing sight of a bright orange San Juan River had a traumatic impact on tribal members (not to mention the history of environmental injustice on tribes throughout North America). According to media reports, some farmers on the Navajo Nation refused to use San Juan River water for years after the spill…
That’s not to say Silverton and Durango were shorted. Both governments received some reimbursement for dealing with the spill itself. The EPA built a $1 million water treatment plant that continues to operate at a cost to the EPA of $2.5 million a year. And, the agency has spent about $100 million to date on the Superfund site and expects to spend significantly more in the coming years…
Since the Gold King Mine spill happened, a lot of money has been exchanged (and not exchanged: the EPA, for instance, denied liability for $1.2 billion in private damages, such as rafting companies that took a hit during the river closure, lost wages for the tourism sector and alleged damage to crops and livestock). EPA’s Basile added a separate lawsuit settlement will have Sunnyside Gold pay $41 million to the federal government and $4 million to Colorado, all to be used on top of the federal government’s $45 million for the Bonita Peak site…At the end of the day, however, local officials say the best payout of all would be improved water quality in the Animas River watershed. Yet, Brookie said it does sting to see the dollar amount going to a New Mexico community that may not necessarily have a case for claiming they were impacted by the Gold King Mine spill.
Click the link to read the article on the Pagosa Springs Sun website. (Josh Pike). Here’s an excerpt:
Click the link to read the article on the AZCentral.com website (Brandon Loomis). Here’s an excerpt:
The Colorado River’s precipitous decline pushed Arizona lawmakers to deliver Gov. Doug Ducey’s $1 billion water augmentation fund — and then some — late Friday, their final night in session.
Before the votes, the growing urgency for addressing the state’s oncoming water shortage and the long timeline for approving and building new water projects nearly sank the legislation. Just over a week after the federal government warned that the seven states that use the Colorado must make major new cutbacks by next year, Democrats held out until they got an additional $200 million commitment for water conservation, which they argued could help Arizonans much faster than the costlier seawater desalination plan that the governor has touted. Some of the water importation schemes that had been discussed would require multiple billions of dollars and interstate or international partnerships, making this three-year investment effectively a fund for down payments for big-ticket pipes or treatment plants. The water conservation measures, such as grants to help cities reduce turf grass, could be cheaper…
One after another, a bipartisan stream of legislators picked up a microphone in a two-day blitz for the package to say that spending to plug the emerging holes in Arizona’s water supply was critical to the state’s future. They eventually passed it as Senate Bill 1740 with just one dissenter in each chamber.
Click the link to read the article on the Westminster Window website (Luke Zarzecki). Here’s an excerpt:
The biggest risk to Westminster’s drinking water is wildfires and algae blooms, according to Tom Scribner, water treatment superintendent with Westminster. The water flows from Loveland pass to Clear Creek to Farmers Highline canal and into the lake.
Borgers said wildfire risk is high.
“Unfortunately, Clear Creek is at a very high risk for having a catastrophic wildfire,” she said.
It is something the city is very aware of and Westminster is heavily involved with mitigating wildfire in the watershed, she said.
“If it were to get into Stanley Lake, Semper probably would have a hard time treating it. But we have the ability to divert water around Standley so that Semper is not having to treat that poor quality water,” Borgers said.
The Semper Water Treatment Plant was built in the 1960s and does not have the technology to treat wildfire contaminated water to make it drinkable, according to Scribner.
Standley Lake has about a year of water storage the city would use, she said. The city would be able to find a new, reliable source for drinking water in that year, she said. Standley Lake supplies water for Northglenn and Thornton as well as Westminster.
Metropolitan Water District’s wastewater recycling project draws support from Arizona and Nevada, which hope to gain a share of metropolitan’s river supply
Momentum is building for a unique interstate deal that aims to transform wastewater from Southern California homes and business into relief for the stressed Colorado River. The collaborative effort to add resiliency to a river suffering from overuse, drought and climate change is being shaped across state lines by some of the West’s largest water agencies.
Southern California’s giant wholesaler, Metropolitan Water District, claims a multi-billion-dollar water recycling proposal will not only create a new local source for its 19 million customers, but allow it to share part of its Colorado River supply with other parched river partners already facing their own cutbacks. To advance what would become the nation’s largest wastewater recycling facility, Metropolitan is securing financial aid from other major Colorado River users in Nevada and Arizona in return for giving them portions of its river supply. Amid critically low reservoir levels and the first-ever shortage declaration on the Colorado River, water managers and experts are touting the interstate deal as a prime example of the team effort required to safeguard the future of this iconic Southwestern river and the people who rely on it.
“It’s a really interesting and innovative approach around partnerships,” said Heather Cooley, research director with the Pacific Institute, an Oakland-based water policy center. “Something we haven’t yet seen.”
Thus far the project appears long on support, but there are some potential impediments, such as whether the next set of river operating guidelines due in place by 2026 will allow the partners’ proposed long-term interstate water exchanges. Additionally, California regulators must clear the way for Metropolitan and others in the state to put the recycled supply directly into the drinking water system.
Aid for the Struggling Colorado
Metropolitan pitched the ambitious wastewater recycling proposal more than a decade ago, but the project gained steam recently amid increasingly dry conditions across two of its key water sources in California’s Sierra Nevada and Colorado River Basin. Water interests along the lower Colorado River Basin have for several years discussed how they might augment the river’s shrinking flows. As it turned out, the Lower Basin’s next potential augmentation project is being hatched more than 200 miles away near the coast of California.
Southern Nevada Water Authority, the Central Arizona Project and the Arizona Department of Water Resources have agreed to spend up to a combined $12 million to assist Metropolitan with environmental review, almost half of the total planning cost. If the project isn’t built, or if operating agreements aren’t finalized, Metropolitan would refund the agencies’ contributions. However, if the Nevada and Arizona agencies stay on to help build the final project, they will gain to-be-determined slices of Metropolitan’s annual share of Colorado River water.
The partnering agencies are currently grappling with major cuts to their own Colorado River supply, and more are on the horizon.
Last summer, the Bureau of Reclamation declared a first-ever shortage in the Lower Colorado Basin, requiring Arizona to slash its annual take of the river by 18 percent and Nevada by 7 percent in 2022. But the mandated cuts have done little to protect water levels at the river’s two main reservoirs, Lake Mead and Lake Powell, and now federal officials are on the verge of implementing a fresh round of unprecedented reductions that stand to affect supply for the Lower Basin states.
Metropolitan’s assistant general manager calls the deal a win-win for Southern California and the Southwest.
“The idea of the program is that in return for their co-investment to make this facility a reality, we would back off some of our Colorado supply,” Deven Upadhyay said. “It becomes one component of potential augmentation on the river to help others out.”
Boosting Water Security
At full capacity, Metropolitan’s wastewater recycling plant could produce up to 168,000 acre-feet a year. However, Upadhyay said Metropolitan doesn’t plan to make a corresponding amount of its river share available to the out-of-state investors.
But gaining even a sliver of Metropolitan’s Colorado River supply could boost water security for arid Arizona and Nevada.
“We’re at a point in this Basin where we can’t afford to not look at reasonable ideas,” said Colby Pellegrino, deputy general manager of resources for the Southern Nevada Water Authority.
Contract details haven’t been finalized but Pellegrino estimates SNWA could secure between 25,000-35,000 additional acre-feet annually, or around 10 percent of its yearly river apportionment. In Las Vegas, one acre-foot of water is enough to serve two households for more than a year, though officials are continually striving to reduce per capita water use.
Meanwhile SNWA, which relies heavily on Lake Mead to serve its more than 2 million customers in the fast-growing Las Vegas area, appears wholly interested in seeing the project through. It has already earmarked up to $750 million for Metropolitan’s proposal or other recycling projects. Such a major investment would require a long-term operating contract potentially in the 20- to 30-year range, Pellegrino said.
The partnership also figures to afford some long-term water security for Arizona, which takes the biggest hit of any state when shortages are declared on the Colorado River. Currently Arizona is grappling with how to cut 512,000 acre-feet and it faces further reductions if Lake Mead’s elevation drops below 1,045 feet and a Tier 2 shortage is triggered, a scenario the Bureau of Reclamation projects could happen by May 2023.
Gaining reliable access to Metropolitan’s river allotment could help Arizona address growing demand from municipal and industrial users, said Sarah Porter, director of the Kyl Center for Water Policy at Arizona State University. Porter applauded the multi-state collaboration, saying the recycling project and other augmentation ideas, like a proposed binational desalination plant along the Sea of Cortez in Mexico, could add flexibility to a system that serves 40 million people from Denver to San Diego and irrigates more than 4 million acres of farmland.
“It’s a huge amount of water,” Porter said of the potential yield of Metropolitan’s project for urban Southern California. “That’s one more community that relies on the Colorado River that has another degree of resilience.”
A Promising Leap in Reuse
California already has a rich legacy of turning wastewater into high-quality water suitable for a variety of uses including agricultural, groundwater recharge and outdoor irrigation. In 2020 the state used more than 700,000 acre-feet in recycled water, much of it going to golf courses, farms and some indirect potable uses. But experts say California can greatly expand the output through a recycling technology Metropolitan is currently ginning up support for.
Direct potable reuse, however, is not currently permitted in California, but the State Water Resources Control Board is expected to finalize regulations by December 2023. To prove to regulators and the public that the process is safe and viable, Metropolitan has been compiling water quality data from a demonstration facility in Carson since 2019.
The technology is a great match with a county like Los Angeles where most of the treated wastewater currently goes into the ocean, said Cooley, with the Pacific Institute. With imported water becoming increasingly unreliable, she said it was critical for Southern California to pursue new recycling projects, noting the region currently reuses only 29 percent of its effluent.
“There are lots of opportunities if we start thinking outside the box more and really look beyond individual agency service areas,” Cooley said. “We’re going to have to do more of that to address the challenges that we now face.”
Once California gives the green light, Metropolitan says it will build a facility near the demonstration facility in Carson that could produce up to 150 million gallons a day of potable water or enough to serve more than 500,000 households, using wastewater from a nearby plant operated by the Los Angeles County Sanitation Districts. Purified water from the new recycling plant would be delivered to four of the region’s groundwater basins for later use and two of Metropolitan’s existing treatment plants via approximately 60 miles of new pipelines for further distribution in its service area.
Overcoming Sticker Shock
Neither construction nor the new water will be cheap.
In 2018 Metropolitan pegged construction costs at $3.4 billion, but inflation could spike the final price tag to $4 billion by the 2032 projected completion date. As for water prices, Metropolitan currently charges its member agencies around $1,100 per acre-foot of treated water; the new supply will likely run more than $1,800 per acre-foot.
Upadhyay, the Metropolitan official, downplayed the difference by saying cost concerns are relatively minor compared to the damaging effects climate change is having on the Colorado River and Sierra Nevada watersheds it relies on for imported water. He added the agency is hoping to reduce the impact on member agencies with contributions from the out-of-state partners. In addition, it has asked the California Legislature to contribute $500 million. Metropolitan also is exploring the possibility of similar partnerships with users of California’s State Water Project, but no contracts have been signed, Upadhyay said.
“It’s not like we can go out and acquire more imported supply,” Upadhyay said. “Going forward, we really need to be looking here at home.”
That sentiment is shared among some agricultural interests in the basin, including Bart Fisher, vice president of the Palo Verde Irrigation District Board of Trustees. Fisher, who farms on the west side of the Colorado River near Blythe, Calif., called urban water recycling efforts the “wave of the future” and noted Palo Verde farmers have been utilizing water reuse techniques for decades.
“These urban projects have major implications for the Lower Basin,” he said. “It will alleviate some of the pressure we are feeling.”
Finding Ways to Work Together
It’s unclear whether current operating guidelines for the river allow the sort of interstate exchange being proposed. But the partners say the concept shares ties with the intent of previously enacted conservation programs like the 2007 Intentionally Created Surplus, a water banking program intended to boost storage in Lake Mead. They hope guidance for interstate exchanges will be explicitly included in the next set of river operating guidelines that have to be finalized by 2026.
“It would behoove all of us to have a candid conversation in the renegotiations about that, make sure we have the rules spelled out,” said Pellegrino, SNWA deputy general manager.
The 20-plus year megadrought is forcing all users in the Lower Basin to get creative in developing ways to stretch their shares of the Colorado River. And the clock is ticking.
Last month water levels at Lake Powell fell to a historic low and are still hovering near the minimum elevation level at which Glen Canyon Dam can generate electricity for more than 5 million homes and businesses across the West. The Bureau of Reclamation expects the combined storage at Lake Powell and Lake Mead to drop below 30 percent by late 2022 due to declining inflows of runoff.
Metropolitan’s wastewater recycling plant won’t cure all the Lower Basin’s myriad water troubles. But Colorado River veterans say the proposal is a welcome sign of progress, nonetheless.
“It’s good to see this multi-state collaboration and that’s what we do need,” said Porter, with Arizona State’s Kyl Center. “It’s better for everyone if we can find these ways to work together.”
Reach Writer Nick Cahill at email@example.com, and Editor Doug Beeman at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Click the link to read the release on the Sand County Foundation website:
The Pankey family’s resilience was put to a test when a wildfire burned nearly half of their ranch in 2018. Among the devastating impacts of the fire was livestock and wildlife could no longer drink from ponds because they were covered in ashes.
Keith and Shelley Pankey raise beef cattle with their sons, Kevin and Justin and their families, in Moffat and Routt counties. They have a history of doing right by their land. Following the fire, they cleaned the ponds and aerially reseeded native grasses on 900 acres in the fire’s path. It’s not the first time investing in conservation practices has paid off for this family and the landscape they share with livestock and wildlife.
Keith’s great grandfather homesteaded an area of high desert known as Great Divide. The Pankeys are still able to graze cattle in the drought-prone region from spring through fall thanks to improved water distribution and rotational grazing systems.
They replaced windmill-powered wells with solar pumps. New water storage tanks and nearly three miles of natural flow pipelines were also added. By expanding the number of watering stations (from six to 12) the Pankeys increased their ability to properly graze cattle while creating wildlife habitat across the ranch.
Precipitation, range conditions, and animal performance all impact how the Pankeys plan pasture rotations and stocking rates. They analyze pasture rotations to determine which areas benefit from early, middle or late season grazing. They’ve also found that some areas benefit from longer or shorter periods of grazing, while others benefit from being grazed twice in the same season.
When cattle widely disburse themselves, the Pankeys find that grass recovers at a faster rate, and taller grass is left behind when the cattle are rotated to another pasture. The ranch’s wildlife populations have greatly increased thanks to rotational grazing and the improved water system. By working with neighbors to control noxious weeds, desirable grasses have become dominant across the ranch.
Pankey Ranch borders Colorado’s largest Greater sage-grouse lek, a breeding ground for this declining species. The Pankeys hosted Colorado State University students to study grasses, insects, and Greater sage-grouse habitat in the Great Divide range. Their study was helpful in determining which conservation practices to adopt. The Pankeys fenced off a large area around a natural spring to provide cover. They also equipped water storage tanks with overflows that provide water and prolonged green vegetation to encourage production of insects that grouse chicks consume.
The Pankeys are involved with a large-scale conservation effort led by Trout Unlimited to stabilize Elk Head Creek’s riparian corridor. They have installed rock toe and erosion control mats, and reseeded stream banks to prevent erosion. Hundreds of willow trees have been planted in corridors to preserve wetlands and fish habitat. Less erosion in the creek means cleaner water downstream in the Elk Head Reservoir and Yampa River. This family’s leadership in raising awareness of the creek’s impaired health, and commitment to on-the-ground conservation practices, is inspiring other landowners to follow suit.
The Pankeys also provide public hunting opportunities on their land. In 2011, they obtained a conservation easement on their Routt County property through the Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust to ensure future agricultural uses on the land. As a longtime volunteer with the Moffat County Fair, Keith shares his land ethic and conservation practices with youth, neighbors and the general public.
Click the link to read “Pankey Ranch’s conservation efforts earn attention from Colorado Cattlemen’s Association” on the Craig Press website (Amber Delay). Here’s an excerpt:
According to the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association, the Leopold Award was created in honor of renowned conservationist Aldo Leopold to recognize farmers, ranchers and forestland owners who inspire others with their voluntary conservation efforts on private, working lands…
The Pankeys will be presented with the award June 13 at the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association Convention in Colorado Springs…
To mention a few who have contributed in addition to Trout Unlimited were: The National Resources Conservation Services, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the City of Craig, The Yampa-White-Green-Basin Roundtable and The Lower Colorado River Habitat Partnership Program.
Click the link to read the announcement on the Getches-Wilkinson Center website:
Too Late: Hard Conversations About Really Complex Issues
Thursday, June 16 and Friday, June 17, 2022
Wolf Law Building, Wittemyer Courtroom
More information and registration coming soon!
Only painful decisions going forward on the river.
Click the link to read the article on The Durango Herald website (Christian Burney). Here’s an excerpt:
Durango faces a different scenario than many other municipalities that rely on large water reservoirs for their supplies, he said. When a municipality saves a gallon of water, for example, that water stays right there in its reservoir until it is needed. But Durango “lives on the flow” of the Animas and Florida rivers, Biggs said. On one hand, the city isn’t reliant on reservoirs that may be in short supply of water. But on the other, if the rivers are short on supply because there isn’t enough runoff, the city’s only choice is to clamp down on restrictions and wait out the shortage, he said…
The city is looking into installing a pipeline that would connect Lake Nighthorse to the College Mesa water-treatment facility, Mayor Kim Baxter said, which would allow Durango to take a more proactive approach to drought management and mitigation.
The full drought management plan can be viewed at https://www.durangogov.org/DocumentCenter/View/16674/City-of-Durango-Drought-Plan-Feb-2020?bidId=.
Click the link to read the article on the PBS website (Matthew Brown). Here’s an excerpt:
Every day many millions of gallons of water loaded with arsenic, lead and other toxic metals flow from some of the most contaminated mining sites in the U.S. and into surrounding streams and ponds without being treated, The Associated Press has found. That torrent is poisoning aquatic life and tainting drinking water sources in Montana, California, Colorado, Oklahoma and at least five other states.
The pollution is a legacy of how the mining industry was allowed to operate in the U.S. for more than a century. Companies that built mines for silver, lead, gold and other “hardrock” minerals could move on once they were no longer profitable, leaving behind tainted water that still leaks out of the mines or is cleaned up at taxpayer expense.
Using data from public records requests and independent researchers, the AP examined 43 mining sites under federal oversight, some containing dozens or even hundreds of individual mines. The records show that at average flows, more than 50 million gallons of contaminated wastewater streams daily from the sites. In many cases, it runs untreated into nearby groundwater, rivers and ponds — a roughly 20-million-gallon daily dose of pollution that could fill more than 2,000 tanker trucks. The remainder of the waste is captured or treated in a costly effort that will need to carry on indefinitely, for perhaps thousands of years, often with little hope for reimbursement…
Problems at some sites are intractable.
In eastern Oklahoma’s Tar Creek mining district, waterways are devoid of life and elevated lead levels persist in the blood of children despite a two-decade effort to clean up lead and zinc mines. More than $300 million has been committed since 1983, but only a small fraction of the impacted land has been reclaimed and contaminated water continues to flow. At northern California’s Iron Mountain Mine, cleanup teams battle to contain highly acidic water that percolates through a former copper and zinc mine and drains into a Sacramento River tributary. The mine discharged six tons of toxic sludge daily before an EPA cleanup. Authorities now spend $5 million a year to remove poisonous sludge that had caused massive fish kills, and they expect to keep at it forever. In Colorado’s San Juan Mountains, site of the Gold King blowout, some 400 abandoned or inactive mine sites contribute an estimated 15 million gallons (57 million liters) of acid mine drainage per day.
This landscape of polluted sites occurred under mining industry rules largely unchanged since the 1872 Mining Act.
Click the link to read the article on The Durango Herald website (Aedan Hannon). Here’s an excerpt:
Bulkheads remain relatively obscure except to those involved in mine remediation, but their purpose is to plug mines and limit the release of mine waste while reversing the chemical processes that contribute to acid mine drainage. They can be simple fixes for extraordinarily complex mining systems and produce unintended consequences. But they are also a critical tool for the EPA and those working to improve water quality and reduce the lingering effects of more than a century of mining in the Bonita Peak Mining District…
The role of bulkheads in the Gold King Mine Spill
In its October 2015 technical assessment of the incident, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation argued that bulkheads were at least partially responsible for the Gold King Mine spill. The Gold King Mine is a maze of tunnels, faults and fissures located at different elevations inside Bonita Peak and the surrounding mountains in Gladstone. The mine opening that drained when the EPA crews struck a plug holding back water was actually what’s known as the “Upper Gold King Mine,” or Gold King Mine Level 7. A short distance away lies the “Gold King Mine,” which refers to a mine adit called American Tunnel…
With oversight from the Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety, Sunnyside Gold Corp. first installed a bulkhead in American Tunnel in 1995 to stop mine drainage from entering Cement Creek. The company closed the valve on the first bulkhead in October 1996 and would go on to install two other bulkheads in American Tunnel. With the installation of the bulkheads, the flow of toxic mine waste into Cement Creek decreased from 1,700 gallons per minute to about 100 gallons per minute. But as the impounded water rose behind the bulkheads, the water rose elsewhere, including in Gold King Mine Level 7, which sits about 750 feet above American Tunnel, according to the Bureau of Reclamation’s assessment…The EPA has yet to determine if it was faults and fractures in the rock or other internal mine workings that carried water from American Tunnel to Gold King Mine Level 7, but the EPA and the Bureau of Reclamation have both said the spill was in part the result of this buildup from the bulkheads in American Tunnel. Bulkheads have been used in mine remediation efforts in Colorado for more than three decades, and there are about 40 installed across the state, said Jeff Graves, director of Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety’s Inactive Mine Reclamation Program…Bulkheads back up water and fill mine tunnels. When they do so, they limit the air rocks can come into contact with, preventing the chemical reaction that creates acid mine drainage…
Acid mine drainage can also still make its way into river systems. Water naturally moves through rock and can turn into acid mine drainage when exposed to oxygen, though in smaller volumes.
Click the link to read the article on the Canyon Courier website (Corinne Westeman). Here’s an excerpt:
Empire has confirmed there’s a leaking water pipe on private property, and there’s another suspect area underneath U.S. Highway 40.
Police Chief John Stein stated on April 1 that, while the leak on private property was confirmed to be drinking water, it was relatively small compared to the town’s overall system. So, it cannot be the sole cause of Empire’s loss in water last month, he described.
The suspect area underneath U.S. 40, which Stein said could be a valve that isn’t shutting completely or a cracked pipe, requires further research. If it’s a valve that’s not closing completely, water might not be leaving the system in that location, he explained.
Stein said he couldn’t guarantee it, but Empire’s water woes could be from these two problems plus residents’ relatively high water use during last month’s cold spell.
It’s still possible, he continued, there is a larger issue with the water infrastructure that the town and its partners haven’t identified yet.
Click the link to read the article on the Aqua Talk website (Amy Schultz and Jorge Delgado):
The Brighton Village mobile home community (Park) is a 28-home community in Adams County that serves around 80 people and is a disproportionately impacted community, defined in HB21-1266 Environmental Justice Disproportionate Impacted Community. The department initially issued an Enforcement Order in 2003 due to high nitrate values and the Park’s failure to comply with the nitrate maximum contaminant levels. Infants below the age of six months who drink water containing nitrate above the MCL could become seriously ill and, if untreated, may die. Symptoms include shortness of breath and blue baby syndrome.
The 2003 enforcement order was closed in 2010. However, the department again issued an Enforcement Order in 2012 for nitrate violations and did so again in 2018. The Park had installed treatment but did not have the capabilities or the resources to operate the treatment appropriately to reliably achieve compliance. The long-term exposure to an acute contaminant created environmental injustices for this community.
From the EPA, environmental justice is “the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income, with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.” The Colorado Environmental Justice Act recognizes that all people have a right to drink clean water and live free of dangerous levels of toxic pollution, experience equal protection of environmental policies, and share the benefits of a prosperous and vibrant pollution-free economy.
The department facilitated meetings with the Park and the City of Brighton. The City of Brighton and the Park decided that the best way to serve safe drinking water to the public was to connect the park to the City’s municipal water supply. However, the Park was required to upgrade its water distribution system before the connections could be made. The department provided the Park with $16,000 in grants that allowed the Park to connect to the municipal water supply.
The Safe Drinking Water Program worked in partnership with both the Park and City of Brighton to ensure this disproportionately impacted community is being provided with access to a consistent and reliable source of safe drinking water. This is an Environmental Justice win for the residents of this community, the department, and Colorado.
A long-planned project to restore healthy ecosystems along the South Platte River and two other waterways in central Denver got a major boost from the federal government this week, in the form of $350 million in funding from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
The funding for the South Platte River Project, spearheaded by Denver and Adams counties, will cover nearly two-thirds of the $550 million that civic leaders plan to spend restoring wetland habitats, improving recreation and mitigating flood risk along a 6.5-mile stretch of the river, along with Weir Gulch and Harvard Gulch.
The funds awarded Tuesday by the Biden administration are part of the $17 billion appropriated by a new federal infrastructure law to the Army Corps of Engineers to support flood mitigation projects across the country.
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“I’m delighted to welcome funding from the bipartisan infrastructure bill for the South Platte River and surrounding communities after years of urging Washington to support this project,” Sen. Michael Bennet said in a statement. “For decades, the neighborhoods bordering the South Platte River have experienced environmental hardship. This project is an important part of Denver’s efforts to protect communities and businesses from flooding, build resilient infrastructure, and help ensure that anyone who wants to live and work in Denver is able to.”
The Army Corps of Engineers finalized a feasibility and impact study on the project in 2019, concluding more than a decade of planning and environmental reviews. In addition to restoring aquatic, wetland and riparian wildlife habitats along the South Platte, supporters say the plan will create more than 7,000 jobs and protect hundreds of homes and other structures from flood risk.
In December, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock convened a coalition of two dozen interest groups that signed a memorandum of understanding on the project in order to secure federal funding. Signatories included the Colorado Water Conservation Board, Denver Water and multiple environmental and conservation organizations — as well as business and real-estate groups like the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce and Revesco Properties.
Revesco is the developer behind the massive, multi-billion-dollar River Mile project, which aims to redevelop 62 acres along the Platte south of Confluence Park over the next 25 years, adding homes for new 15,000 residents and ultimately displacing the Elitch Gardens amusement park. The river restoration project, too, is likely to take decades to complete, with city officials estimating in 2018 that the project could be finished in 10 to 20 years.
“The restoration and conservation of the South Platte River ecosystem is a phenomenal opportunity,” Hancock said in a statement. “Infrastructure investments like this do more than just improve our waterways, they build lives, they build communities and they build futures.”
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Click the link to read the announcement from El Paso County on the Colorado Springs Business Journal website:
El Paso County is accepting applications for its American Rescue Plan Act Water and Wastewater Infrastructure Grant funding opportunity. According to a news release, “[t]he county has allocated $20 million in ARPA funding for necessary investments in water and wastewater infrastructure, to include improvements to drinking water infrastructure, upgrading facilities, managing sewage and other eligible uses.”
“The community has expressed great interest in this particular grant, and it truly is going to be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for many communities and projects,” Commissioner Holly Williams said in the release. “This grant will have a monumental impact for decades to come, as it increases peoples’ access to clean drinking water, and replaces many aging infrastructures.”
According to the release, “[a]ll levels of infrastructure have seen increased demands during the pandemic, and our water and wastewater infrastructures are no exception. This $20 million allocation will help El Paso County preserve and be better stewards of our most precious and scarce resource, and is an investment directly allowed under ARPA guidance.”
The application opens Monday, March 28, 2022, and will remain open through 5 p.m. Friday, April 22.
All projects must meet federal eligibility requirements, which include 17 project categories under guidelines published through the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Water State Revolving Fund and the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund. Projects must be located in El Paso County.
The entire allocation for this funding is $20 million and the county expects to fund several projects, the release said, adding a portion of the funding will be reserved specifically for smaller communities and projects.
El Paso County will be hosting a pre-application webinar at 11:30 a.m. on April 4 to answer specific application related questions. To participate in the webinar, join using this link. Participants are encouraged to send questions ahead of time to ARPArequests@elpasoco.com. If you require accommodations or need a translator, send an email to JyotsnaKhattri@elpasoco.com by March 30.
The application is a fillable PDF available here and on El Paso County’s ARPA page. All completed applications and supporting documentation must be submitted electronically to ARPArequests@elpasoco.com. For more information, visit http://admin.elpasoco.com/arpa.
Click the link to read the article on the Water Education Colorado website (Jerd Smith):
Thousands of people in the Lower Arkansas Valley who’ve struggled to deal with contaminated water for more than 20 years will have access to clean water by 2024 under a new agreement signed by the federal government and two Colorado water agencies last week.
The Arkansas Valley Conduit (AVC), as the clean water delivery project is known, will bring water from Pueblo Reservoir through the city of Pueblo and out to communities on the Eastern Plains, such as Avondale and Boone, by 2024, and other communities, such as La Junta, as soon as 2027.
Water officials said the entire pipeline should be completed by 2035 if not sooner. The project will ultimately serve 50,000 people, officials said.
Under the agreements, signed by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the Pueblo Water Board, and the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District March 18, some $40 million in federal and local funding will be available to launch construction, with subsequent funding for the $600 million project anticipated to come from Congress and local water agencies.
In addition, the agreement allows Reclamation and Southeastern to pipe the water through the city of Pueblo’s water system, rather than building a separate system to move the water out to the Eastern Plains. Officials said this new agreement will shave costs and several years off the project.
“This contract signing marks one of the most significant milestones to date towards making the AVC a reality and bringing clean water to communities that desperately need it. It advances the project over 14 miles east from Pueblo Reservoir which puts us much closer to our first participants in Avondale and Boone,” said Brent Esplin, regional director of the Missouri Basin and Arkansas-Rio Grande-Texas Gulf regions for Reclamation, in a statement.
Naturally occurring selenium and lead, as well as radionuclides, have dogged the region’s water systems since the 1960s. Many of the communities face enforcement actions from the state health department because they don’t have the financial resources to treat the water for drinking and then to treat it again for discharge into the wastewater systems that discharge to the Lower Arkansas River and its tributaries, according to Chris Woodka, senior policy manager with the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District. Southeastern operates the federal Fryingpan-Arkansas Project’s Pueblo Reservoir.
“This project will relieve some of the pressures that they face. They will get better quality drinking water and they will see improvements to their discharged water,” Woodka said.
The idea is to deliver clean water from Pueblo Reservoir directly to the communities via the 34-mile pipeline, reducing and sometimes eliminating the contaminants that the water now picks up when it travels through streams and irrigation ditches.
The conduit has been on planning boards for more than 50 years but it wasn’t until a new federal law was approved in 2009 stipulating that the federal government would pick up 65% of the costs that the plan began to advance, Woodka said.
Since then the region has wrestled with getting federal cash to start work and convincing local water agencies and the communities who need the water to cooperate on design issues and costs, Woodka said.
“People are convinced it will get built,” Woodka said. “Now the questions are about affordability.”
And for small towns, those are big questions.
Tom Seaba is La Junta’s director of utilities. His city has comparatively clean water, with no radionuclides and a selenium issue that it is treating via reverse osmosis.
“It could be the silver bullet that everyone would like to take care of the contaminants that are in the water. The flip side is the cost,” Seaba said.
La Junta charges customer $2.50 per thousand gallons for water now, which includes treatment costs. The new water will cost $2.19 per thousand gallons, untreated, and La Junta will still have to find a way to recoup the cost to disinfect and treat the water.
“Now that we’re getting down to brass tacks, we need to see if the underlying reality will do for us what everyone hopes it will. If we can connect and that takes care of the problems we have, sign us up. But if it doesn’t, we will have to do something else,” Seaba said.
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.
Click the link to read the article on the News on Tap website (Steve Snyder):
The construction of Denver Water’s new Northwater Treatment Plant is on budget and on track to open in 2024, having overcome challenges during 2021 stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic that affected everything from staffing to the supply chain.
The Northwater plant, on Highway 93 north of Golden, will be the fourth drinking water treatment plant in Denver Water’s system.
When finished, the new plant will be capable of producing up to 75 million gallons of clean drinking water per day using state-of-the-art technology. The new plant, part of Denver Water’s North System Renewal work, supplements the utility’s aging Moffat Treatment Plant on West 20th Avenue in Lakewood, which was built in the 1930s.
The new plant is being built on 100 acres of Denver Water land next to the utility’s Ralston Reservoir. The site will include seven primary buildings and multiple auxiliary facilities including tanks, clearwells, pump stations and vaults.
Here are some of the highlights from the work done during 2021:
Passed 50% construction completion. Passed 1 million hours worked. Completed all the remaining excavation needed to build the structures that will be part of the plant. Placed concrete base slabs for the two underground storage tanks. Called “clearwells,” these 10-million-gallon storage tanks will hold clean, treated drinking water from the plant until it is released into Denver Water’s distribution system. Dried in” the first building on-site, meaning the work was done to make the exterior surfaces of the Clearwell Influent Valve Vault building impermeable to rain and weather. Installed the roof and windows and applied a stone veneer on the plant’s Operations Building and started installation of mechanical, electrical and plumbing works. Completed most of the necessary connections with the Moffat Treatment Plant to enable Moffat to eventually store treated water piped from the Northwater Treatment Plant once the new facility is operational. Earned the Envision Gold Award from the Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure. Envision Awards recognize leadership in building sustainable infrastructure around the world and encourage those involved to consider sustainable choices throughout the life of the project.
Here’s the release from Southeastern Water (Chris Woodka), USBR (Elizabeth Smith), and Pueblo Water (Joe Cervi):
A three-party contract allowing for the Arkansas Valley Conduit to deliver clean drinking water to 50,000 people in 39 communities east of Pueblo was signed by the Bureau of Reclamation on March 18, 2022, following approval by the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District Board and the Pueblo Board of Water Works (Pueblo Water). The contract was drafted after negotiations that began in November 2021.
“This contract signing marks one of the most significant milestones to date towards making the AVC a reality and bringing clean water to communities that desperately need it. It advances the project over 14 miles east from Pueblo Reservoir which puts us much closer to our first participants in Avondale and Boone,” said Brent Esplin, Regional Director of the Missouri-Basin and Arkansas-Rio Grande-Texas Gulf regions for Reclamation. “It is also the culmination of years of collaboration between Reclamation, Southeastern, and Pueblo Water to deliver a more cost-effective project to people of the lower Arkansas Valley.”
The contract will allow the Southeastern District to use capacity in Pueblo Water’s system to treat and deliver AVC water to a pipeline being constructed by Reclamation. The connection point for AVC is at the east end of Pueblo Water’s system, at 36th Lane and U.S. Highway 50.
The water will be either Fryingpan-Arkansas Project water or from participants’ water portfolios, not from Pueblo Water’s resources. The route of the AVC follows the Arkansas River corridor from Pueblo to Lamar, with spurs to Eads and Crowley County. Reclamation is building the trunk line, while the Southeastern District will build the spur and delivery lines. Estimated total cost is about $600 million.
The Southeastern and Pueblo Water boards both unanimously approved the contract on March 15 and 17, 2022, respectively.
“This project is vitally important to the people of the Lower Arkansas Valley,” said Bill Long, President of the Southeastern District board. “It would not be viable, and certainly not affordable without the partnership with Pueblo Water, and I would like to express my appreciation to the board.”
“This is a truly monumental achievement and marks the culmination of decades of hard work, dedication, and collaboration by those who have devoted their lives to the business of water,” said Seth Clayton, executive director of Pueblo Water. “Pueblo Water is proud to be an integral participant in this important time in history.”
Many of the Lower Arkansas Valley water systems face water-quality enforcement actions for radionuclides or surface contaminants in groundwater sources. They face ever increasing costs to cope with these problems. The AVC will eliminate or reduce the effects of those contaminants by delivering filtered water from Pueblo Reservoir.
To deliver the full volume of water through the system, Pueblo Water must make some upgrades, and will receive a $20 million construction recovery fee. In addition, Pueblo Water will receive a $2 million investment payment. As the needs of AVC grow, Pueblo will receive funding for necessary improvements.
This is seen as a win-win opportunity by both Pueblo Water and the Southeastern District because it reduces the cost of an earlier plan to build a new pipeline south of Pueblo.
“Not only does the agreement save the AVC project hundreds of millions of dollars and years of construction time, but it also benefits Pueblo Water customers by providing an opportunity to use the excess capacity we have in our system and deliver water to our neighbors in the Lower Arkansas Valley,” Clayton said.
Pueblo Water will charge an initial rate of $2.19 per 1,000 gallons delivered, which reflects the operation and maintenance costs of those parts of the system needed by AVC. The rate will increase annually at the same rate as Pueblo Water’s other customers.
Pueblo Water will also renew its contract to store excess capacity water in Pueblo Reservoir for a 50- year period under the contract.
Finally, the contract spells out environmental commitments and operating conditions related to AVC.
“The significance of this action is that everybody will have the opportunity to have a clean source of drinking water after more than 20 years of work,” said Jim Broderick, executive director of the Southeastern District.
Alan Hamel, a Southeastern Board member, and former Pueblo Water executive director, said the idea for the AVC actually goes back 60 years, to the 1962 signing of the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project into law.
In 1968, there was a plan to jointly build a federal treatment plant for Pueblo Water and the water line for AVC.
The AVC was put on hold because of the inability of communities to pay for it. The AVC concept was revived in 2000, and a 2009 federal law provided for 65 percent federal funding, to be matched by 35 percent in other funding.
Reclamation issued a Record of Decision in 2014 which endorsed construction of the AVC to proceed via the “Comanche North” alignment. The alignment was modified in 2019 through a collaborative effort between Reclamation, Southeastern, and Pueblo Water which replaced the pipeline around Pueblo with this contract.
Federal funding so far has totaled $40 million, while $100 million in loans or grants is available to AVC through the Colorado Water Conservation Board. The District has contributed $4.8 million through its Enterprise, while participants have paid $1.5 million since 2011.
Pueblo County recently contributed $1.2 million to build delivery lines to Boone and Avondale through local American Rescue Plan Act funds, and other counties or cities in the Arkansas Valley are expected to contribute as well.
Click the link to read the article on the 9News.com website (Wilson Beese). Here’s an excerpt:
The town said its water treatment facilities have been restored, and the system has been flushed through the distribution network after suffering damage during the wildfire…
Reservoir ash removal
The fire deposited ash on the town’s raw water storage at Terminal Reservoir. A firm has been contracted to remove ash from the banks of the reservoir, which will prevent deposited ash from going into the reservoir. The process should be completed in early April.
Superior installed chlorine dioxide within water treatment plant operations to assist with the oxidation and breakdown of compounds causing the taste and odor issues. Complaints from residents continued after the system was installed, and its use was discontinued.
Granular Activated Carbon (GAC)
The town ordered a GAC system to remove compounds causing the taste and odor issues. It will take four to six weeks for delivery and an additional two weeks for installation.
“This is a significant process revision and will require extensive modifications to the plant,” the town said in a release. “Our team is diligently working, including collaborating with other utilities, on procuring all the equipment required to bring this system online as fast as possible.”
Superior will soon begin releasing water from the reservoir into the parks irrigation system, which might help replenish the reservoir with water free of compounds causing the taste and odor issues.
Home filtration systems
The town said that home water filtration systems, especially those that use activated carbon, “may effectively remove” the compounds responsible for the taste and odor issues.
Click the link to go to the CDPHE website to register:
We’re partnering with GreenLatinos to spread the word about water reuse in Colorado, and how you can get involved in a proposed regulation. As the population in the state of Colorado increases, so do the demands on water resources. A variety of strategies are being implemented across the state to address projected gaps in water supply, and direct potable reuse (DPR) is one of those strategies. Join GreenLatinos and CDPHE to learn more about the technology and safe practice of DPR, and find out how you can get involved.
Click the link to read the article on The North Forty News (Annie Lindgren):
Wellington residents and business owners will not be seeing an increase in water rates at this time. The Town has decided to maintain the current rates and tiers established in October of 2020 and January of 2021. They accomplished this through a General Fund transfer of $653,000 to the Water fund, through 2021 Water fund operational savings of $400,000, and through continuing to identify operational efficiencies and cost-saving opportunities. They also decided to use the available $2.6 million American Rescue Fund Act (ARPA) Tranche II funds towards the water fund…
Sewer base rates and usage rates have remained the same since 2016. That is $20.63 for up to 3,000 gallons and an additional $6.50 per thousand gallons over that. Starting in April of 2022, that base rate will go up to $31, with the additional usage rate of $10 per thousand gallons over 3,000 gallons. An example bill for an average resident using 4,000 gallons of water shows a change from $122.70 a month to $136.57 a month, including water, sewer, and storm fees.
The plan is for a stepped base and usage rate increase with a 5% annual increase to base and tier rates for the subsequent three years. In 2023 folks can expect another increase to $44 for the base rate and $13 for the amount per thousand gallons over 3,000. However, a utility rate study will happen before this Year 2 projection is finalized. This plan included a $390,000 General Fund transfer to the Sewer Fund, and there will be a shortfall in the Town fund balance reserve that will remedy with time and should be back above the red line in 2026.
Construction on the Wastewater plant will begin mid-2022. The goals for this project are that the capacity for the Wastewater treatment plant expansion must align with the Water Treatment Plant expansion, and the new Wastewater plant will meet the more stringent compliance standards. The project is set for completion in mid-2024 when the new plant should be ready for processing our sewage.
The next steps are for the Town is to engage in a comprehensive rate study happening in 2022. Water and Sewer usage rates, impact fees, and indirect costs will be evaluated. The goal is to ensure an equitable impact on residential and non-residential customers and plan annual reviews and updates into the future. In addition, the Town is continuing to support and promote the Hardship Utility Grant (HUG) and the Water Efficiency Program and is looking into other financial solutions…
The Rate study will look at regional trends and provide a holistic review of the water and wastewater rate needs and implications. It will answer the equity question of how to handle commercial vs. residential rates and share options on how best to proceed with future rate changes. It seems that the affordability of water and utilities is affecting Colorado in general, and it is a hot topic currently with the Colorado Municipal League. This discussion topic is far from over, so stay tuned for further details on the progression.
Click the link to read the article on The Greeley Tribune (Ken Amundson). Here’s the excerpt:
Beginning in April, Firestone will begin to produce treated water from its new water-treatment facility, dubbed the St. Vrain Water Treatment Plant.
The plant is one part of a multi-million dollar investment into diversifying the town’s water supply that includes the water plant, surface reservoirs, subsurface water in alluvial wells, conversion of irrigation water to municipal use and reuse of some water resources…
Firestone, like several growing communities along the northern Front Range, was largely dependent upon water from the Colorado-Big Thompson water project, which draws water from the Colorado River on the Western Slope and transports it to reservoirs and a network of supply lines in Northern Colorado…
All of Firestone’s water, prior to the opening of the new treatment plant, is treated at the Carter Lake Filter Plant, which is jointly operated by regional water districts. In Firestone’s case, the Central Weld County Water District is under contract to treat and deliver C-BT water for Firestone…
The investment has not been cheap. The town has spent $76 million so far.
It issued bonds to build the treatment plant and build a storage system. Those bonds will be repaid by tap fees, a storage and infrastructure fee, and the usual monthly water bill payments from residents…
Developers who own irrigation water now can dedicate it to the town in satisfaction of the town’s water requirements for new development. The treatment plant will process that native water and reduce the town’s reliance on C-BT, he said.
Insteading of drawing the water from the creek, the town will draw water from alluvial wells — wells that are replenished from surface water — and also inject water when available back into the wells for storage, Teneyck said. The alluvial wells are relatively shallow at about 35 feet and are located north of the historic coal mines in the Carbon Valley.
The town also is a partner in the Windy Gap Firming Project and the Northern Integrated Supply Project — NISP. A reservoir to hold Windy Gap water is under construction near Carter Lake. The NISP project will include two large reservoirs when it is built…
The treatment plant, which will be operated by the St. Vrain Water Authority, an entity jointly controlled by Firestone and the Little Thompson Water District, will initially treat 1.5 million gallons of water a day. Two expansions are planned, the first of which will expand capacity to 2.25 million gallons per day, and the second expansion will bring it to 5 million gallons per day by 2050. Firestone uses 2.23 million gallons of treated water per day today…
All of this is being paid for with fee schedules meant to recover the costs of growth. Developers will pay storage and infrastructure fees while homebuilders and commercial building contractors will pay tap fees that currently sit at $13,000 each for a residential tap.
From News on Tap (Steve Snyder):
Denver Water’s new, state-of-the-art drinking water facility is rapidly taking shape on a 183-acre site next to Ralston Reservoir north of Golden in Jefferson County.
Watch this video to catch up on the progress of one of Denver Water’s largest construction projects.
When complete and operational in 2024, the new Northwater Treatment Plant will be capable of cleaning up to 75 million gallons of water a day. Construction of the plant remains on time and on budget.
The new plant is part of Denver Water’s North System Renewal effort, which includes the construction of a new pipeline (completed in September 2021) to carry water from the new plant and upgrades at the old Moffat Treatment Plant built in Lakewood in the 1930s.
Learn about new case studies in water utility greenhouse gas mitigation from the Water Utility Climate Alliance, including Denver Water’s sustainable Northwater Treatment Plant. Decreasing greenhouse gas emissions is a priority for Denver Water, and projects like these help get us to our goal of reducing emissions 50% from a 2015 baseline by 2025.
The North System Renewal work brings critical updates to an aging 80-year-old system that was reaching the end of its lifespan.
The advanced new technology that is part of new Northwater Treatment Plant will provide:
Sustainability: Hydropower generation equipment at site of the Northwater plant will produce enough energy to operate the treatment plant, significantly reducing carbon dioxide emissions.
Reliability: Advanced treatment processes will improve resiliency in times of potentially challenging treatment issues, such as those created by drought or wildfires.
Flexibility: The Northwater plant was designed to be expanded if needed to meet future water demands and changing regulatory standards.
When Denver Water is finished building the new water treatment plant, redeveloping the Moffat Treatment Plant, and installing a new pipeline, the utility’s northern system will be more resilient and adaptable to changing demands for water now and into the future.
From Yale Climate Connections:
Increasingly extreme wildfires are raging across the West – leaving behind barren, charred areas and threatening drinking water.
Jill Oropeza is director of sciences for water quality services for Fort Collins Utilities in Colorado.
She says in a healthy forest, trees and shrubs buffer the impact of rain on the ground. Pine needles and detritus on the forest floor help retain water.
“That is the sponge that soaks up and holds a lot of that moisture and allows the precipitation to percolate downwards,” she says.
If this vegetation burns up, melting snow and rain run across the land instead of seeping into the soil. And as the water flows, it picks up ash, sediment, and other debris.
“And those substances in the soil itself and the ash are dissolved and carried in the river and into reservoirs,” Oropeza says.
She says Fort Collins was forced to adjust its water treatment system to cope with influxes of contaminated water. And it’s using helicopters to spread mulch in burned areas to help plants start growing again.
Doing so is expensive but critical to providing people with clean water as the climate warms.
From The Pagosa Springs Sun (Clayton Chaney):
The Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District (PAWSD) Board of Directors recently approved increases in the district’s monthly service and volume charges. The board voted unanimously to approve the increases at its regular meeting held last week on Thursday, Jan. 13.
The board initially discussed the increases at its regular meeting held on Dec. 9, 2021.
District Manager Justin Ramsey explained during that meeting that the increases approved were the result of a water rate study that was performed in 2018. That study suggested a 6 percent increase in rates annually through 2022…
According to documentation attached in the meeting’s agenda, the approved increases included an increase in the monthly service charge from $27.98 to $29.66. Also approved were increases in the volume charges for 2,001 to 8,000 gallons used from $5.02 to $5.32, 8,001 to 20,000 gallons used from $10.05 to $10.65, and over 20,001 gallons used from $12.61 to $13.37. Additionally, the water fill station charge per 1,000 gallons increased from $10.84 to $11.49. Also noted in the agenda documentation is that the wastewater service charge will increase at an annual rate of 2.5 percent beginning in 2024 and ending in 2027…
Treasurer Glenn Walsh men- tioned the board may consider ad- ditional changes in the water and wastewater fees for next year…
Accessory dwelling unit fee discussion
During the same meeting, the board held a discussion on the topic of accessory dwelling units (ADU) and if the district should be charging additional monthly service fees for properties with an ADU that uses the district’s infrastructure. Walsh indicated that the board has held previous discussion on the topic and the consensus was that it would not impose any additional fees.
From Water Education Colorado (Jerd Smith):
Hundreds of Denver property owners have failed to respond to requests or have directly refused to allow Denver Water to replace lead service lines leading to homes and businesses, a situation that jeopardizes the city’s efforts to keep lead out of drinking water.
The pipe replacement program, one of the largest in the country, is being done to help the agency comply with the federal Safe Drinking Water Act, which sharply limits lead in drinking water.
Since the program’s approval by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment in 2020, Denver Water has replaced some 10,000 service lines out of 68,000 targeted in the program.
But the agency has yet to decide how to bring reluctant property owners into the fold, according to Alexis Woodrow, Denver Water’s lead reduction program manager.
“Of course we would like to get 100% consent or compliance and we’re continuing to come up with communications to make sure homeowners understand the why behind this work,” Woodrow said.
According to data obtained by Fresh Water News through an Open Records Act request, 534 property owners, roughly 5% of those targeted by the program to date, have either failed to respond to the agency’s request to replace the service lines or have specifically refused to allow the work to be done.
Top reasons for refusing, according to Woodrow, are that homeowners don’t want their landscapes disturbed or they believe their lead service lines have already been replaced.
Denver, which is Colorado’s largest municipal water utility, has known lead was present at the tap in some of its customers’ homes since it appeared in routine sampling in 2013. The levels exceeded the benchmarks set under the Safe Drinking Water Act.
For several years, the utility ran pilot tests and negotiated with CDPHE and EPA over how best to eradicate the harmful metal. Though the amounts of lead found in Denver’s tap water samples varied, no amount of lead is considered safe to ingest, especially for young children.
Though lead isn’t present in the city’s treated water, it shows up at customers’ taps if it is delivered through aging lead service lines, where corrosion allows it to seep into the supply.
Cities across the country, including Pittsburgh, Penn., Newark, N.J., and Washington, D.C., have been dogged by an increase in lead contamination as service lines age and corrode, allowing the lead to comingle with water supplies, eventually reaching taps.
The CDPHE issued an order in 2018 requiring Denver to begin adding phosphorous to its water, one of the most effective ways to reduce corrosion in pipes. But phosphorous is also a pollutant and causes problematic algae blooms in lakes and rivers. Adding it to the municipal drinking water supply would also make it harder for wastewater treatment operators to meet their own obligations to keep phosphorous out of rivers and streams.
Due to those concerns, Aurora, Metro Water Recovery, The Greenway Foundation, and eventually Denver, sued the CDPHE in 2018 to stop the order from taking effect.
The dispute was settled after Denver was able to obtain a rare variance under the Safe Drinking Water Act in exchange for agreeing to invest some $68 million over 15 years to replace lead service lines, offer free water filters to residents as they wait for the new lines to be installed, conduct community education programs, and increase the pH of the water supply to also help reduce corrosion in pipes.
In earlier negotiations the utility had proposed replacing the lines at a much slower rate that would have taken decades to complete.
MaryAnn Nason, CDPHE spokesperson, said the agency is happy that Denver Water has been able to replace so many lines so quickly.
“While we are pleased, our goal is to have everyone participate or use a filter to keep themselves safe,” Nason said via email.
“When Denver Water’s program was approved, a strong outreach component was included. We wanted Denver Water to reach out to the community and provide educational materials about why this is important to do and how it protects public health. We understand the disruption to their lives is significant, but the outreach program is intended to help customers understand the safety and health benefits of replacing their service line,” she said.
Citing state privacy laws, Denver Water declined to identify addresses of properties that had not complied with the replacement requests. But an analysis of the zip codes where the agency has been shut out shows that the largest number, 124, are in 80205, which encompasses an area north and west of City Park and which includes Five Points and the Whittier neighborhoods.
The zip code with the second largest number of non-compliant property owners, 72, is 80220, an area that includes South Park Hill, Montclair and Hilltop.
Though no large apartment complexes have refused to replace lead lines, according to Denver Water, dozens of small multi-family units have yet to agree to have the work done, according to Fresh Water News’ analysis.
Tom Romero, an associate professor of law at the University of Denver and an expert on water equity issues, said the replacement program is critical to providing safe drinking water to everyone in the city.
“I definitely am concerned for all of those residents where you have recalcitrant property owners that are refusing to have these lead pipes replaced,” Romero said.
“This is definitely a public health issue,” he said. “It’s pretty remarkable that they have been able to get a 95% response, but any lead level is putting people at risk. It goes to the duty of Denver Water to provide safe drinking water to us all.”
This year is the third year of program, and is a critical benchmark with the EPA, which will decide later this year whether to allow Denver to continue the work, or use a different strategy.
Denver Water’s Woodrow said the agency is still trying to decide how aggressive to be with reluctant property owners because legally it could access the properties without the owner’s consent.
“We have discussed internally if we could compel the customer,” she said. “But we haven’t gotten there yet in terms of making a decision.”
But that may change.
“When you’re looking at the long-term strategy, we’re going to have to come up with additional tactics to get these lines replaced,” she said.
Jerd Smith is editor of Fresh Water News. She can be reached at 720-398-6474, via email at email@example.com or @jerd_smith.