Waldo Canyon burn scar: Colorado Springs Utilities repurposes two drinking water reservoirs to flood mitigationMay 12, 2013
From KRDO.com (Rachael Plath)
The burnt ground left in the wake of the Waldo Canyon Fire has increased the likelihood of flash flooding and mudslides. This threat directly impacted two Colorado Springs reservoirs: the Nichols and the Northfield reservoirs.
“When we have rainstorms, it really churns everything up; brings out that vegetation and debris down into the streams and tributaries. It just makes it a little more challenging to treat,” said Andy Funchess, field operations manager for water systems with Colorado Springs Utilities.
According to Funchess, the area surrounding the two reservoirs was badly burned. The runoff and erosion around the reservoirs was affecting the water’s quality.
Funchess said CSU has the ability to treat the water, but the cost would outweigh the benefit. For this reason, CSU drained the two reservoirs. The empty basins will now help with flood mitigation, as in their empty state, the reservoirs will catch debris and water before it rushes down the mountainside.
From the Colorado Springs Independent (J. Adrian Stanley):
For months now, local leaders have breathlessly awaited [Dave] Rosgen’s Watershed Assessment of River Stability and Sediment Supply (WARSSS) study, a detailed explanation of how water will move off the Waldo Canyon burn scar and, more importantly, what we can do to stop it.
But as the study’s finally presented, it becomes clear that Rosgen can’t save us from the powers of nature.
His plan — thousands of pages long — represents a to-do list that likely will cost tens of millions. It’s currently largely unfunded, and will take years to complete regardless. And then there’s the biggest dose of reality: Even if the region does everything recommended, a five- or 10-year storm will still cause mass destruction and may claim many lives. “The increase in flow is going to be with us,” Rosgen tells the crowd. “It’s not going to change a lot. Flood peaks are a reality for the future.”
What the WARSSS can do is ease our suffering. The restoration work it recommends can hold back well over a million tons of mud in a normal monsoon season, ensuring that a two-year rain event doesn’t take out a neighborhood. Plus, it will help the burn scar heal more quickly.
More Colorado Spring Utilities coverage here.
Colorado Springs Utilities plans to spend $6 million on efforts to mitigate the Waldo Canyon burn scarApril 10, 2013
From the USDA Blog (Mike Stearly):
The U.S. Forest Service and Colorado Springs (Colo.) Utilities recently announced a new 5-year partnership to help restore the areas burned by the devastating Waldo Canyon Fire that tore through part of the west side of the city in 2012.
Through the partnership, Colorado Springs Utilities will invest approximately $6 million in support of the watershed health goals and activities over the next five to 10 years. The Forest Service will complete on-the-ground project planning and treatment in areas that complement Colorado Springs Utilities investments.
During an event at the Flying W Ranch – a 60-year-old tourist attraction destroyed in the fire – Harris Sherman, USDA Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment, met with Congressman Doug Lamborn, U.S. Senators Mark Udall and Michael Bennett, and representatives from the Coalition for the Upper South Platte, El Paso County Commissioners and the city of Colorado Springs.
“This partnership will ensure improved water quality for the residents of Colorado Springs,” Sherman said. “Collaborating on watershed restoration will have a long-term positive impact on forest and watershed health and allows us to accomplish more on-the-ground projects.”
The innovative partnership between Colorado Springs Utilities and the Forest Service is preserving and protecting crucial watersheds that provide water to Colorado’s second largest city. The signing of the agreement establishes work to reduce wildfire risk, restore burned areas, minimize erosion impacts and coordinates pre-suppression wildland fire efforts.
“This agreement … solidifies a critical partnership with the Forest Service, a partnership that has benefited our water supply and community for decades,” said Gary Bostrom, chief water services officer for Colorado Springs Utilities. “Our ongoing relationship with the Forest Service will help us channel customer rate dollars in the most efficient way possible to protect our most vital resource and the forest that surrounds it.”
The human-caused Waldo Canyon fire started June 23, 2012, and left a scar of more than 18,000 acres, cost millions of dollars to fight, caused the evacuation of 32,000 people, destroyed 346 homes and killed two people. The fire has since been labeled the largest, most expensive and destructive fire in Colorado’s history.
From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Barbara Cotter):
Wayne Vanderschuere, general manager of water services, said conditions are bad enough to restrict turf watering to one day a week. But Utilities officials hope that a two-day schedule, coupled with an intensive consumer education program and tariffs for high water usage, will accomplish the goal of maintaining a one-year reserve of water and saving 5.8 billion gallons during the April 1-Nov. 1 irrigation season.
The final decision rests with City Council, which will take up the proposal at its formal meeting Tuesday.
There are indications that the council won’t rubber-stamp Utilities’ recommendations, however. In previous discussions, council member Angela Dougan asked about what could be accomplished with a three-day-a-week schedule, and a landscaping contractor — at the invitation of councilman Tim Leigh — argued at a recent meeting that limiting people to two days of watering will be “devastating” to their yards.
But Utilities officials continued to paint a dire water picture at a meeting Wednesday of the Utilities Board, made up of City Council members. Utilities CEO Jerry Forte told the board that recent data on snowpack, reservoir levels, drought forecasts and other factors reinforced the decision to recommend the two-day-a-week watering schedule.
“We’re predicting yields to be estimated at about 51 percent of normal,” said Abigail Ortega, a Utilities planning supervisor. “This would be, if it does continue, our lowest yield on record, and the second year in a row.”
One group of residents might escape the watering restrictions, at least temporarily. Vanderschuere said Utilities will present a resolution to Council on Tuesday that would allow people whose landscape was damaged by the Waldo Canyon Fire to temporarily escape the watering restrictions and tariffs. Under the proposal, they could get up to two 28-day permits to help re-establish their landscaping. Permits would cost $50.
— Snow.com (@snowdotcom) March 22, 2013
From the Colorado Springs Independent (J. Adrian Stanley):
After the election, Council did away with the Stormwater Enterprise and its hated “fees,” but quickly found a loophole that allowed Utilities to continue paying the city about $31 million a year.
Now, Mayor Steve Bach is seeking an even bigger loophole in Issue 300 — one that would allow Utilities to foot the bill for $687 million in needed city stormwater projects. That funding is especially crucial after the Waldo Canyon Fire, because flooding off the burn scar this spring is expected to be catastrophic.
In a recent interview with the Independent, City Attorney Chris Melcher said he had brainstormed several ways to get the money on Bach’s behalf, including: charging Utilities for the use of city land and water rights; reducing Utilities’ overhead costs and passing the savings on to the city; and creating an entirely new utilities service with its own charges (much like water or electric).
Echoing Bach, Melcher said he believes Utilities can fork over the money without increasing rates.
Yet Utilities spokespeople and City Council President Scott Hente — both of whom are also supposed to be represented by the city attorney — say it’s virtually impossible.
“[Bach and Melcher] think there’s this pot at the end of the rainbow laden with money, and it’s there for the taking,” Hente says. “It shows their complete lack of experience in dealing with large organizations that have large business and large obligations.”
During his campaign for mayor in 2011, Bach pledged not to raise taxes while in office. But the right thing to do for stormwater, Hente argues, is to ask for an increase…
Of all Melcher’s ideas for making Utilities pay, the most intriguing involves water and property ownership.
“Remember, the city owns the water,” Melcher says. “The city provides — all the water rights of the entire city are held in the name of the city, so the city provides the water to the utility company. The city also provides free access to all the right-of-ways in the city to the utility.
“For example, if you have a private utility, they pay taxes, [a] right-of-way fee, [a] franchise fee. So there’s a number of different things that need to be examined and researched to see if there are funds or monies that could be available for other purposes, such as stormwater.”
Of course, Utilities already pays the aforementioned $31 million to the city annually to cover some of these costs; Melcher just believes more may be justified.
But asking a municipally owned utility to pay for the use of city water rights appears to be unusual. The Independent contacted four Colorado water attorneys on the issue to see if such a scenario was legal, or had been used before. Two said they didn’t know the answer and wouldn’t comment anyway, because their work was connected to Utilities. The other two did not call back. Utilities’ own lawyers could not comment objectively on the issue because Melcher is their boss.
The Independent also called water service offices in Pueblo, Aurora and Denver. Each utility owns its own water rights.
The Colorado Municipal League says it doesn’t know enough about its member cities to comment on such an issue. The American Water Works Association did not return phone calls.
Only Aurora Water offers any guidance. Spokesperson Greg Baker says that leaders in his organization aren’t sure about the legality of charging for water rights, but they think such a scenario could run into problems with the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights and the state constitution, given language about the separation of municipalities and their enterprises…
Utilities spokespeople roundly object to the notion that the business is a cash cow ripe for the slaughter.
Nor do they buy into the notion that they haven’t done enough for their hometown. Spokesperson Steve Berry notes that Utilities already performs city stormwater projects, because they often protect pipes from damage. Those projects also incidentally benefit bridges, roads and neighborhoods. This year alone, Utilities will spend $12.8 million on such projects.
As for extra money, Utilities is about $30 million short in funding for its own capital projects this year, due to a sagging economy. That means fewer upgrades and less maintenance to the system, and a greater risk of costly failures.
If Utilities were suddenly saddled with paying for all the city’s stormwater issues, Berry says, rates would have to increase to cover those bills. And Utilities could be hit in another way, too, through higher interest rates on its billions in debt.
“The more you start bringing in another function, what then does that do to your ability to borrow at a low interest rate?” Berry asks. “Because that’s considered increased risk.”
More stormwater coverage here.
Drought continues. Community’s water use is currently higher than expected. Mandatory restrictions possible in 2013. #ubmtg—
Co.Springs Utilities (@CSUtilities) October 17, 2012
From KRDO (Joe Dominguez):
The continuing drought is one concern but now utilities leaders are warning the Utilities Board and customers water use habits could also force the company to enforce restrictions for the first time since 2005. “The community’s water use is currently higher than expected,” someone tweeted from the Colorado Springs Utilities Twitter account during the regular board meeting Wednesday. “Mandatory restrictions possible in 2013.”
Yearly water usage was last measured by CSU in July. It found that 2,733.2 million gallons of water had been used by customers. In 2011 at the same time of year, water consumption was 2,509.1 million gallons.
(@90by20) October 17, 2012
Greeley Water Dept. (@greeleywater) October 17, 2012
From the Montrose Daily Press (Elaine Hale Jones):
As promised, irrigation water was shut off through the Gunnison Tunnel two weeks early on Monday by the Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association, which manages the water. Early shut-off dates have not been uncommon throughout the long history of the irrigation project, according to association officials. “In 2002, water was shut down early due to drought conditions. It’s the same this year,” UVWUA manager Steve Fletcher said…
“Our main purpose in shutting the water off early is to conserve our stored water in Taylor Reservoir,” he said.
Located nearly 100 miles from Montrose in the northeastern end of Gunnison County, Taylor Reservoir was built to store spring run-off from the upper Gunnison River to be released and diverted through the Gunnison Tunnel late in the season when needed for maturing crops. Completed in 1937, the reservoir was a cooperative agreement between the Bureau of Reclamation and the Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association as the second major phase of the Uncompahgre Project, first implemented with the completion of the Gunnison Tunnel in 1909. The project is unique among similar projects in that 100 percent of the first fill is for irrigation purposes only, and the first fill rights are strictly for Uncompahgre Valley irrigation. Taylor Reservoir holds 21.2 million acre-feet of water.
From the Mancos Times:
The Mancos Board of Trustees has established an exterior watering ban until further notice. There is not enough water flowing in the West Mancos River to legally get water through the head gate from the river to the water filtration facility. The town has #3 priority water right, which means river water cannot currently be diverted to the filtration facility.
This means that the town has to use its backup supply that is stored in Jackson Reservoir. Currently the reservoir is only at 14 percent of its capacity and there is no water coming into the reservoir from the river. Therefore, we must conserve water because we don’t know exactly when the reservoir will begin to get water from the river again. The watering ban will be lifted when this situation changes.
From Steamboat Today (Tom Ross):
The unofficial winner of the Routt County rain derby Tuesday night was the rain gauge located about eight miles west of Steamboat Springs, where a participant of Colorado State University’s volunteer weather-monitoring program recorded 0.34 inches of precipitation. Closer to Steamboat Springs, three other participants in CSU’s Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network posted measurements of 0.23, 0.26 and 0.19 inches. A rain gauge in Clark collected 0.15 inches of precipitation, and another just outside Oak Creek totaled 0.23 inches.
Colorado Springs: Stormwater proposal = $12.8 million to protect Colorado Springs Utilities’ infrastructureOctober 17, 2012
From The Chaffee County Times:
Celebrating the demise of a plan to dam the Arkansas River near Granite, approximately 100 people gathered Thursday at Salida SteamPlant Event Center.
Colorado Springs Utilities filed a motion 2 weeks ago to withdraw its application for water storage and diversion rights for the proposed Elephant Rock Reservoir, said Brett Gracely, Colorado Springs Utilities water resources manager.
More Arkansas River Basin coverage here and
Fountain Creek: Colorado Springs Utilities $2 million 2013 budget for stormwater ‘woefully inadequate’ — Jeff ChostnerOctober 8, 2012
From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):
Pueblo County commissioners are concerned that Colorado Springs is not spending enough money on stormwater
issues, as it promised to do when obtaining county permits for the Southern Delivery System. “I was given information at the Fountain Creek district meeting Friday that Colorado Springs is looking at only $2 million in its budget next year,” said Commissioner Jeff Chostner. “That’s woefully inadequate.”
Chostner said part of the reason for that may be because restoration for the Waldo Canyon Fire in June and July is estimated to be $10 million-$15 million. “That money will have some impact on stormwater, but we need solutions for the long-term welfare of the watershed,” he said. The concern is that flows on Fountain Creek will increase when SDS goes online.
Commissioner Anthony Nunez, who also sits on the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District board, agreed with Chostner that Colorado Springs needs to be spending more on stormwater mitigation. “We have not seen the Colorado Springs budget, but we’ve got to force it to where they’re going to do something,” Nunez said.
The Lower Ark board has sent two letters to the Bureau of Reclamation requesting a supplemental environmental impact study to look at stormwater.
“We’re telling Colorado Springs that until you have stormwater, you The Colorado Springs City Council eliminated its stormwater enterprise in 2009, following voter approval of a Doug Bruce measure protesting a “rain tax.” City Attorney Chris Melcher told council earlier this year that the city is obligated by SDS requirements to spend $13 million-$15 million annually toward its $500 million backlog in stormwater projects.
Here’s the release from the EPA (Molly Hooven/Patrice Lehermeier):
Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) honored Colorado Springs Utilities as a 2012 WaterSense Partner of the Year. The water provider, which serves more than 210,000 people, earned EPA’s recognition for its exemplary commitment to encouraging water efficiency in the Colorado Springs area. Thanks to their efforts, along with over 2,600 other WaterSense partners nationwide, WaterSense-labeled products have helped Americans save 287 billion gallons of water and $4.7 billion in water and energy bills.
“WaterSense is proud to partner with these champions of water efficiency who share our mission to protect the future of our nation’s water supply,” said Nancy Stoner, EPA’s acting Assistant Administrator for Water. “The 2012 WaterSense Partners of the Year were exceptional in their efforts to support innovative approaches to help people and companies save water and money on utility bills nationwide.”
In 2011, Colorado Springs Utilities engaged consumers and local businesses in the water efficiency movement by offering them personalized ways to get involved. The organization’s YOUtilities YouTube video contest inspired customers to document the ways in which they save water and energy at home. The contest, which aimed to create consumer advocates for water-efficient products and practices, produced a number of informing and entertaining videos for the community to enjoy.
In 2011, a team effort led by Colorado Springs Utilities, along with local builder Wayne Intermill, EnergyLogic, Inc., and 2008 WaterSense Retailer Partner of the Year Ferguson Enterprises, resulted in the first WaterSense-labeled home in Colorado located in the Gold Hill Mesa neighborhood. During the three-week 2011 Parade of Homes, 5,000 visitors explored the WaterSense-labeled home, which also became the first home in Colorado to receive LEED® for Homes certification, ENERGY STAR® qualification, and the WaterSense label. Also last year, Colorado Springs Utilities issued more than 4,500 water-efficiency rebates to customers, resulting in a savings of 23,078,060 gallons of water.
The utility also helped hundreds of commercial kitchens save water by offering them free, water-efficient pre-rinse spray valve nozzles for cleaning dishes. The commercial retrofit program helped facilities save more than 20 million gallons of water in 2011, or one-third of utility’s annual water savings goal.
More conservation coverage here.
Councillor questions asking Colorado Springs Utilities rate payers to foot $25,0000 bill for water facilities tour costSeptember 7, 2012
The invitation-only water tour from Colorado Springs to Leadville, which included an overnight stay Thursday in Salida, needs to be reevaluated along with every other expense at Utilities and the city government, City Councilwoman Angela Dougan said.
“This is just some more of the examples of expenditures that keep eking out and leaking out that we need as the Utilities Board to truly say, ‘Is this something that is a benefit to our ratepayers or is it not?’” Dougan said. “Could we put the information out on a DVD and hand it out to these 74 people instead?”
The tour is designed to inform “key stakeholders” about the city’s large and complex water system, Utilities spokesman Eric Isaacson said in an email.
“It would be difficult to give these stakeholders this level of information and insight in another forum,” he said.
Isaacson also said “most of the other major water providers in the state” host annual water tours, too.
From Fox21News.com (Abbie Burke):
The Stanley Canyon Tunnel, which is the primary delivery system of water from Rampart Reservoir to the Pine Valley and McCullough treatment plants, was not damaged, but the Pine Valley Pipeline, which serves as the Stanley Canyon Tunnel’s backup option, was impacted.
Two creek crossings were destroyed, which compromised structures, and parts of the access road were washed away. As a result, some parts of the pipeline are now exposed and undermined.
“Just recently we went over the (Pine Valley) pipeline, rebuilt major portions of the Pine Valley Pipeline to put that back in service to really use it as a reliable source, a secondary source supply, in the event that something happened to the Stanley Canyon Tunnel,” [Andy Funchess, CSU Field Operations Manager for Water System Operations] said.
The Stanley Canyon Tunnel, which now has no healthy backup pipeline, serves 75-80 percent of the city’s water supply.
“The Stanley Canyon Tunnel, which is the primary source which is under the ground, is in fine shape, fine condition. Our water system is still strong, we just want to put those secondary sources back together so that we have a back up plan,” Funchess said…
“It’s going to be months if not years before we actually get this pipeline in working condition again,” Funchess said. Repairs are expected to cost more than $1 million.
More infrastructure coverage here.
From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):
While maintaining water service is the immediate concern, [Colorado Springs Utilities] will face some issues with its long-term water supply. “The fire has burned up against Rampart Reservoir,” Bostrom said. “We will have to do some post-fire mitigation. We’re still assessing what needs to be done.”
Rampart Reservoir, located northwest of the city, is the terminal storage for the Homestake Pipeline, which supplies more than half of Colorado Springs’ water.