Projects underway to bridge #Colorado’s water supply gap

From Water Deeply (Matt Weiser):

At least seven major new reservoirs and water diversion projects are being planned in Colorado, which had a population of 5.6 million in 2017. Many would continue the controversial practice of diverting water across the Rocky Mountains from the state’s Western Slope, where the majority of Colorado’s precipitation falls, to its more arid Front Range, where people are flocking to Denver, Boulder, Fort Collins, Longmont and increasingly sprawling suburbs.

The water projects have been inspired partly by the Colorado Water Plan, an effort by Governor John Hickenlooper to solve a projected water deficit of 560,000 acre-feet by 2050, or enough to serve more than 1 million households. The plan calls for 400,000 acre-feet of new water storage and an equal amount of water conservation.

The plan is only two years old. But critics say it has prioritized gray infrastructure – new dams, pipelines and pumps – over green projects like water conservation and sustainable land use…

The state water plan does not recommend any specific water development projects. But Hickenlooper has personally endorsed several of them. He also appointed all the voting members of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, the entity that oversees the Water Plan and awards grants for water projects.

Greg Johnson, chief of water supply planning at the Water Conservation Board, said the state’s plan emphasizes conservation just as much as new water supply projects. But he said the latter may be more more pressing in some cases.

“Some of the bigger projects that are in permitting right now are helping meet really critical supply needs that a lot of those faster-growing northern Front Range suburbs have, where they’ve got new developments going up all over the place,” Johnson said. “They have maybe a 10- or 15-year horizon to get some of those things done.”

One of the water developments endorsed by the governor won a $90 million loan in 2017 from the Water Conservation Board – the largest loan in the board’s history. Known as the Windy Gap Firming Project, it proposes a new reservoir called the Chimney Hollow Reservoir near Longmont to store Colorado River water diverted through an existing tunnel under the Continental Divide.

The loan covers nearly one-fourth of total costs for the project, which is proposed by the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District.

As its name implies, the project is intended to “firm up” existing Colorado River water rights held by a dozen Front Range cities. The cities already draw on these water rights, but can’t fully tap them in some years because of storage limitations. The new 90,000 acre-foot reservoir will solve this problem and allow them to divert the river almost every year.

The project would result in diverting 30,000 acre-feet more water out of the Colorado River every year than is currently diverted…

Other major projects in the works include the Moffat Collection System, a plan by Denver Water to expand Gross Reservoir to hold 77,000 acre-feet of additional diversions from Colorado River headwaters streams; and the White River Storage Project, a proposal for a new reservoir of up to 90,000 acre-feet in the northwest corner of the state, near the town of Rangely…

Greg Silkensen, a spokesman for the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, said the Windy Gap project is vital to many fast-growing Front Range communities that have lower-priority water rights.

“The Colorado economy is just crazy. Everybody and their brother is moving here,” Silkensen said. “There is a great deal of environmental mitigation that will go forward if the project is built. There’s going to be a lot of benefit to the Upper Colorado River if it does go through.”

Those projects include stream habitat restoration in the Colorado River and water quality improvements in Grand Lake, part of the existing Western Slope diversion system.

White River algae mitigation update

Bloom on the White River.
Photo courtesy of Colorado Parks and Wildlife via the Rio Blanco Herald Times.

From the White River Conservation District (Callie Hendrickson) via The Rio Blanco Times:

Thank you to all the interested public and stakeholders for your commitment to finding the drivers of the algae in the White River. We also want to thank you all for your patience with our Technical Committee (TC) as they have put a great amount of time, effort, and energy into identifying the most critical elements to the Scope of Work (SOW) that will help identify the causes of the algae. This is a very complex problem that has evolved over time and it will require some time to identify the cause. It is anticipated that there is no one single cause or source of this problem. There are multiple rivers across the western United States that are experiencing the excess algae issue, much like the White River.

A quick review of what the Technical Committee has done reminds us that USGS had originally recommended we do a one-year study primarily up-river from Meeker. The TC asked USGS to provide a proposal that would also include studying the river all the way down to Rangely and to make it a multi-year study over concerns that one year’s worth of data would not be statistically significant. USGS came back to the group with that proposal which gave many of the committee members “sticker shock.”

Realizing that it would be a huge challenge to get down to the detail necessary, a five-member workgroup was appointed in January to work out those details and bring a recommendation back to the TC. The final recommendation from the workgroup is the culmination of many hours (days), conversations, meetings, emails, etc. I’m confident that the workgroup has done exactly what the TC asked.

In reviewing the USGS draft SOW, the workgroup literally dissected it into a chart where they evaluated it line by line based on prioritized questions. Then they developed and analyzed a more elaborate spreadsheet for more discussion so that they could sort based on priorities and the “core” tasks required to ensure scientific analysis and credibility to the study. There were a number of tasks that each individual would like to include but the group finalized the SOW based on the highest priorities ensuring scientific integrity in determining the cause of excess algae. The workgroup’s final step in the two-month processes is to present the final SOW to the technical committee on March 21.

The workgroup recognizes that there is a sense of urgency in finding the cause of the algae and has balanced that sense of urgency with a solid scientific-based study that will give us the best of both worlds. To identify different sources of nutrients in the White River as quickly as possible, the proposed SOW will analyze isotopic-signatures of oxygen and nitrogen from nitrate in various source materials and in the river during 2018. Please remember, there is no guarantee that the “signatures” will be different enough to help determine the potential source. While analyzing samples for isotopic signatures, the proposed SOW will simultaneously include efforts to help develop a better understanding of the physical and chemical properties controlling the algal growth.

The draft proposal includes annual progress reports from USGS to evaluate the next year’s proposed work based on findings of the current year. We will be using adaptive project management based on annual findings.

While the anticipated cost is more than any of us would like to see, the workgroup has done a great deal of individual research and determined that we do need all the components of this SOW. Discussion was had about the USGS preliminary costs being a little higher than potentially other researchers. The consensus of the workgroup was that with USGS providing 35 percent of the funding and their reputation of being nonbiased, they are the best entity to have do this research and analysis.

So, how are we going to pay for the study? We currently have commitments for a total of $60,000 for 2018. That leaves us approximately $30,000 to raise for 2018 work. The conservation district and others will be meeting with individuals and agencies during the remainder of March to solicit this $30,000 because it is too short of a time frame to get grant funding and it seems like it is a “doable” amount to raise for such an important issue to the community.

In ensuing years, we will be seeking support again from the stakeholders and applying for grants through the Basin Roundtable, the Colorado Water Conservation Board and others to be determined.

The White River Conservation District anticipates that we will have annual agreements with USGS for the study dependent upon funding availability and on adaptive research based on each year’s outcome.

The technical committee meeting will be March 21 at the Fairfield Center beginning at 11 a.m. At that time the workgroup will give a brief overview of their recommendations followed by a more detailed presentation of the SOW by USGS. We will break for lunch and reconvene at 1:30 p.m. for further discussion and public comment specifically on the proposal in anticipation of finalizing the SOW by end of the day.

Landowners and interested parties are welcome to attend the technical committee meeting and will have an opportunity to provide comment and input on the proposal during the public comment period. We strongly encourage that anyone interested in providing comment in the afternoon attend the morning session, where they receive a copy of the proposal and hear the presentations.

Visit the White River and Douglas Creek Conservation Districts’ website (www.whiterivercd.com) to find copies of the workgroup’s recommendations, previous meetings’ minutes, research and meeting information. Contact the conservation district office at 878-9838 with any questions.

White River Conservation District annual dinner recap

Algae bloom on the White River.
Photo courtesy of Colorado Parks and Wildlife via the Rio Blanco Herald Times.

From The Rio Blanco Herald-Times (Reed Kelley):

District Executive Director Callie Hendrickson, of Grand Junction, reviewed subjects including rangeland health and monitoring; excess horses on public range; range improvement programs and opportunities; greater sage grouse management; and water issues. The latter includes facilitation, on behalf of the county, of the deliberations and research of the county’s White River Algae Task Force. The mission of the task force, Hendrickson stated, is “to ascertain what is driving the algae growth in the White River (in order) to improve the overall health of the watershed.”

The 2018 Plan of Work presented covers the development and implementation of the rangeland monitoring and weed control project with the federal Bureau of Land Management on the Piceance-East Douglas (Wild Horse) Herd Management Area; ongoing facilitation of the White River Algae Task Force; continuing utilization of the Land and Natural Resource Plan and Policies developed by the districts and approved by the board of county commissioners as a guide to public lands use; continuing equipment rental, tire tank and polyacrylamide (PAM) sales for sites where quick fixes are needed on dam areas where there are known leaks and for setting up the surface for new ponds as well as flooded field irrigation and ditch projects; continuing excess wild horse education; continuing work with partners to support the wise use of natural resources; and working to secure long-term sustainable funding to replace losses in mill levy funding.

Enterprise Products, Williams gas company, and XTO Energy were the primary sponsors of the district dinner this year. Steve Cochran, Enterprise manager, and Darren Baker, representing Williams, were presented “thank you” awards for the sponsorships. Past district manager Chris Colflesh and his bride, Kim O’Donnell, both now of Silt, were also honored.

The Natural Resources Conservation Service district conservationist, Kendall Smith from Craig, whose jurisdiction covers Moffat and Rio Blanco Counties; Kent Walter, field manager for the White River Field Office of BLM; and U.S. Forest Service Rio Blanco District Ranger, Curtis Keetch, each gave updates on the activities of their agencies.

The evening’s program closed out with presentations by Colorado Parks and Wildlife water quality guru Mindi May, Denver, and Elk Creek Ranch fishing manager Colton Brown sharing their perspectives on the White River algae situation.

Meeker Sanitation District board meeting recap

From The Rio Blanco Herald-Times (Niki Turner):

Replacing aging and failing infrastructure was the primary topic of discussion for Meeker Sanitation District board members at its Dec. 6 meeting. Cooper Best and Josh McGibbon, from JVA Consulting Engineers, presented their assessment of the town’s sewer system.

JVA had Action Services “clean and jet” the lines and record their findings, resulting in 180 hours of sewer line video…

JVA uncovered three instances of fiber optic cable punched through sewer lines. The county is paying for and finishing repairs for those now.

One of the main problems in the system involve “service laterals.” While the district is responsible for the main system, homeowners are responsible for the connection between their homes and the district line…

The assessment identified “quite a few areas” where the service laterals have become separated from the main line, allowing water and roots to get into the system.

The district is facing about $10 million worth of repairs and replacements during the next nine years, starting with the highest priority projects. Some areas will require “full line replacements.”

Funding options include capital reserves, increasing tap and user fees, but none of those options are enough to cover the costs…

McGibbon and Best outlined necessary steps for the district to qualify as a “disadvantaged community” for grant purposes.

The “disadvantaged” label is limited to the Colorado State Revolving Fund and only applies to water and sewer projects…

The board, with JVA’s help, will begin pursuing grant monies to fund the suggested repairs and replacements…

The board also approved the 2018 budget, which includes a “tax holiday” for taxpayers, temporarily reducing the mill levy from 9.47 mills to 6.47 mills. The district anticipates $769,281 in revenue in 2018. According to the budget, “For the operation of the district, the estimated expenditures for 2018 have increased by $17,379.57 from the 2017 appropriated expenditures. The district has seen an increase in the property and liability insurance, employee health insurance program, an increase in the water sampling program, an increase in sewer main maintenance, and the employees will realize a 3 percent wage increase based on the average of salaries.” The district employs five people, two in the office and three at the wastewater treatment plant.

Trustees reject consultant recommendation about Meeker Water Supply Improvements Project

Yampa/White/Green/North Platte river basins via the Colorado Geological Survey

From The Rio Blanco Herald-Times (Niki Turner):

In an unprecedented move, the board voted against the bid award recommendations for the Meeker Water Supply Improvements Project from contracted civil engineer Olsson Associates. Olsson recommended awarding RNA Enterprises of Glenwood Springs for $340,948 and Ridge Electric of Grand Junction for $150,603 as the lowest bidders. Several trustees expressed concerns over the recommendation, as there was more than $100,000 difference between the low bid and the next highest bid, and the bid was not itemized.

Wyatt Popp of Olsson cautioned the board that the Department of Local Affairs (DOLA) grant funding received from the town would be at risk if the board chose to go with a higher bid. State statutes for DOLA funds require awarding the lowest bid as long as the bidders are responsive and qualified.

“Deviating from the process at this point in time is not recommended,” Popp said. Refusing to accept the recommendation risks losing approximately $300,000 in DOLA grant funds…

Town Attorney Melody Massih asked if there is a way to re-bid the project. Popp said that would require additional discussion with DOLA.

Meeker: White River algae blooms topic of meeting

Bloom on the White River.
Photo courtesy of Colorado Parks and Wildlife via the Rio Blanco Herald Times.

From The Rio Blanco Herald-Times (Reed Kelley):

More than three dozen people gathered at the sheriff’s office conference room in Meeker last Friday morning to continue addressing why we’re experiencing such bothersome summer algae blooms in the ecological heart of our community—the White River. Led by Rio Blanco Commissioner Si Woodruff, with Commissioner Jeff Rector at his side, the past meetings were acknowledged and the county laid out their proposal for moving forward. The proposal was that an action oriented advisory group, smaller than the whole group gathered Friday, be established which could better focus on needed actions.

In addition, the county proposed that the White River and Douglas Creek Conservation Districts (CDs) take the lead in coordinating and facilitating meetings and electronic communications and serve as the fiscal agent to pursue and manage finances including grant applications and management for addressing the algae and overall health of the river.

Callie Hendrickson, executive director of the CDs, explained the discussions the CDs had held with the county and presented a possible scope of work to be carried out…

The advisory group proposed by the county initially includes representatives from the U.S. Geological Service (USGS), the county, the Colorado River Water Conservation District, the Towns of Meeker and Rangely, Meeker Sanitation District, Rio Blanco Water Conservancy District, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, and the CDs. Interested vested stakeholders, non-governmental organizations and members of the general public are expected to be included at some point as well.

The assembled group Friday accepted the county proposal without objection. The advisory group itself met Friday afternoon.

The county’s concept was also to turn to the USGS to do much of the needed further research. USGS scientist Ken Leib of Grand Junction, who has been attending the county river algae meetings, gave a presentation to the whole group on what such a research effort should look like. Leib reviewed much of the information on the river conditions that have already been collected, and the further research and data gaps USGS would try to complete.

Hendrickson facilitated a round-robin collection of important pieces individuals at the meeting would like to see included in further study and action. Several group members urged that the advisory group not delay pursuing actual remedial actions regarding the algae that make sense in the short term while conducting longer term research.

Yampa-White-Green Rivers Basin Round Table seeks to fill 10 vacancies on board in November

Basin roundtable boundaries

From The Rio Blanco Times (Jennifer Hill):

The Yampa-White-Green Rivers Basin Round Table is a group of 32 stakeholders from Routt, Moffat and Rio Blanco counties who work on local water issues. Established in 2005 when the Colorado General Assembly passed the Colorado Water Act for the 21st Century and officially beginning 2010 by order of the governor, the Round Table often uses studies, system modeling and projects with the goal of preserving the quantity and quality of water. Their goals include protecting the Y-W-G Basin from the Colorado River Compact curtailment of existing decreed water uses and some increment of future uses, protect and encourage agricultural uses of water in the Y-W-G Basin within the context of private property rights, improve agricultural water supplies to increase irrigated land and reduce shortages, identify and address municipal and industrial water shortages, quantify and protect non-consumptive water uses, maintain and consider the existing natural range of water quality that is necessary for current and anticipated water uses. They also seek to restore, maintain, and modernize water storage and distribution infrastructure while developing an integrated system of water use, storage, administration and delivery to reduce water shortages and meet environmental and recreational needs.

In November the Round Table will need to fill 10 vacancies on their board. Areas that will be open for re-election or new appointments include representatives for recreation, domestic water provider and industrial water user, as well as four at-large representatives plus three individuals or entities who reside outside the basin but own water rights within the basin. Eligibility requirements vary between the positions. Those interested in serving or seeking more information should contact April McIntyre, Round Table Administrative Assistant at 970-985-9924 or mcintyreapril6@gmail.com.

Those who are interested in protecting and directing the future of the Yampa, White and Green River Basins are encouraged to get involved. Changing population distributions and water demands across the west will only serve to raise the level of importance these rivers play making groups like the Round Table ever more vital.