Colorado Water Plan Hearing – Thursday Aug. 21,5:00 pm in the Glenwood Springs Library. The Colorado Legislature's Water Resource Review…
— RoaringFkConservancy (@rfconservancy) August 19, 2014
More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.
Click here to read the current update from the Colorado Water Conservation Board. Here’s an excerpt:
Mild temperatures and above average precipitation across much of the state has brought continued drought relief to the eastern plains. The four corners region is experiencing less precipitation and deteriorating conditions. Monsoon rains could potentially help alleviate the drying. Water providers indicated that storage levels remain strong, with many reservoirs near or at capacity and demands slightly below normal.
Currently, 40% of the state is in some level of drought classification according to the US drought monitor. 13% is characterized as “abnormally dry” or D0, while an additional 11% is experiencing D1, moderate drought conditions. 13% is classified as severe, 3% as extreme and for the first time in 110 weeks none of the state is in exceptional drought (D4). Year-to-date precipitation at mountain SNOTEL sites is 103% of average, this is in part due to strong July precipitation of 122% of average. August to-date is already 90% of average. Eads, which has been in drought for nearly 4 years, received seven inches of rain in just a few hours and for the first time in 110 weeks the southeastern portion of the state is out of exceptional drought conditions, although extreme and severe conditions persist. Reservoir Storage statewide is at 97% of average at the end of July 2014, 26% ahead of where we were for storage this time last year. The lowest reservoir storage statewide is in the Upper Rio Grande, with 62% of average storage. The South Platte has the highest storage level at 125% of average. The Surface Water Supply Index (SWSI) for the state is near normal across much of the state, with an “abundant” index in a few northern basins of the South Platte, Yampa/White, and Colorado. The lowest values in the state are in the Southwest and reflect very low reservoir and streamflow levels. This area of the state has not received the same moisture as the rest of the state. The chance of El Niño has decreased to about 65% during the Northern Hemisphere fall and early winter, but it is still expected that El Niño will emerge in the next several months and persist through Northern Hemisphere winter; a weak event is most likely.
The soothing sound of the Colorado River as it meanders its way across Colorado’s Western Slope is the sound of a thriving economy, a fragile environment and also an impending crisis.
The state of water supplies in the arid West is volatile and forecasts are grim. Lake Powell and Lake Mead are at alarmingly low levels, while populations across the West are swelling past the capacities of current water supplies.
The Colorado River Basin is facing a battle of sorts as Colorado creates a statewide water plan. It’s a battle against time and against competing water needs, both here in Colorado and in lower basin states like Nevada and California.
Regionally, some view it as an Eastern Slope vs. Western Slope battle, although water officials are carefully shaping the public relations message as one of unity and collaboration. There’s a very real fear that exists west of the Continental Divide, though, that Colorado’s growing Front Range population is going to suck the Colorado River Basin dry. Some even say that has already happened…
“Population is still growing and there’s a need to find more water for municipal uses,” said Jim Pokrandt, chair of the Colorado Basin Roundtable and spokesman for the Colorado River Water Conservation District. “We don’t want to demonize the Front Range.”[...]
…the state’s water planning has really been going on for over a decade, said Brad Udall, a research faculty member at the University of Colorado’s Getches-Wilkinson Center for Natural Resources, Energy and Environment and former director of the Western Water Assessment.
Udall has written extensively about climate change issues as they relate to water resources but his passion for Western water began outside of books and classrooms. His mother took him down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon in the early 1970s, paving the way for Udall’s future in guiding Grand Canyon river trips. After getting into environmental engineering at Stanford University and developing a passion for water issues, he also began working on climate change issues. That’s when he realized that climate change means water change. They’re one in the same, he said…
…none of the states want to go back and draft new laws based on the realistic flows, except for maybe California, [Glenn Porzak] said.
“If you go back and say, ‘We made a mistake when we negotiated, we thought there was 17 million acre feet.’ If you renegotiate, (Colorado’s) going to lose,” he said. “All water is political.”[...]
The major concern at Lake Powell is that it’s getting down to such a level that it will no longer be able to generate power, said Glenn Porzak, a water attorney based in Boulder who represents water entities and municipalities in both Summit and Eagle counties, as well as Vail Resorts.
“The cost of power is going to quadruple,” Porzak said of Lake Powell, should it drop below power generating levels. “Almost all of the Western Slope’s power comes from the power grid that’s generated off Colorado River storage projects. That hits the ski industry and every other industry if the cost of power goes up four times.”
It also hits the average citizen, who has been enjoying relatively cheap water at home, Udall said.
“You hear we’re running out of water and we gotta get more, but we’re running out of cheap water,” he said. “Water that people are putting on lawns, that shouldn’t just be free, it should come with significant costs. … One of the lessons here is that water is going to get more expensive in the municipal sector, and a little bit more in the (agriculture) sector.”
When prices are low, people over-use water, but when they’re high, conservation becomes a lot easier and more attractive. And conservation is a big theme in the first draft of the Colorado Basin Implementation Plan, which came out last month and will undergo several more revisions before it’s sent to the state later this year for incorporation into the state water plan.
From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Lauren Glendenning):
Nathan Fey’s passion for kayaking led him to a career in river conservation and water quality issues. As the Colorado stewardship director for the nonprofit American Whitewater, he’s watching carefully as the state progresses through its water planning process.
The state must address some major conflicts as it creates the Colorado Water Plan, he said.
“Sure, our population is focused on the Front Range, but the reason we all live here is because recreation is a way of life for us,” Fey said. “I think there’s a big disconnect for people in our urban areas about where their water comes from. They don’t understand that if they grow green grass, there’s less water in the river when they’re fishing.”[...]
Recreation along the Colorado River and its tributaries is a $9.6 billion industry, and that’s just within the state of Colorado. According to a 2012 study for Protect The Flows, done by the consulting firm Southwick Associates, which specializes in recreation economics, the Colorado River would rank as the 19th-largest employer on the 2011 Fortune 500 list based on the jobs it generates.
“People moved here for the environment — it underpins the economy,” said Jim Pokrandt, chair of the Colorado Basin Roundtable and the communications and education director for the Colorado River Water Conservation District. “Water in the streams is an economic driver in and of itself.”
The recreation-based economies in mountain resort towns depend on healthy streams for more than just the water-based activities. Indirectly, hikers, campers and mountain bikers, to name a few, also depend on healthy streams.
“That’s the value we’re hoping Colorado embraces, so the desire to push for another transmountain diversion is deferred for a long time, if not forever, in favor of using the water we already have to its highest and most efficient use,” Pokrandt said…
Pokrandt likens the process to economizing, just like any business would do during tough times. You look at internal expenses, in this case water uses, and you cut back…
With the Colorado Water Plan’s deadline more than a year away, the Colorado Basin Roundtable is polishing its plan to make sure it gets the point across that more transmountain diversions would be detrimental to tourism economies, the environment and agriculture…
In the mountains, many of the major water providers such as the town of Breckenridge, the Upper Eagle Regional Water Authority and the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District, have senior, or pre-compact, water rights. The same goes for the Grand Valley and Grand Junction areas, said water attorney Glenn Porzak, who represents those entities as well as Vail Resorts and other local municipalities.
“The water rights really affected the most (under a compact curtailment) are all of the transmountain diversions,” Porzak said. “Fifty percent of Denver’s supply comes from the Dillon and Moffat systems and are post-compact. All of the Northern Colorado Conservancy District comes from the Thompson project, also junior. All of Colorado Springs and Aurora diversions are junior to the compact.”
When 75 percent of the Front Range supply comes from junior diversions, Porzak said it’s clear what municipalities will do: They’ll buy up more senior agriculture rights for the Western Slope.
More Front Range municipalities buying Western Slope agriculture water rights depletes rivers. When the water is diverted over the Continental Divide, it never returns to the basin. That affects flows, which affect water quality, stream health and the economic powerhouse that is recreation-based tourism…
The ski industry is the pulse of Summit, Eagle and Pitkin counties during winter months. Water is the source of winter-based recreation, but the fact that it doesn’t always fall from the sky at the right times or in the right quantities means water must be taken from elsewhere.
Aspen Skiing Co. and Vail Resorts have bought and maintained important water rights since the beginning of each company’s existence…
Predictability like a start date for the season — something the company typically announces during the previous ski season — is crucial to lock in season pass sales. Without important water rights and water supplies, Hensler said opening for Thanksgiving might be impossible, and Christmas would even be a challenge…
Hensler points out that snowmaking is only about 20 percent consumptive.
“About 80 percent of the water we put on the mountain as snow melts and flows back into the streams — it’s a very sustainable use,” Hensler said.
More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.
From the Vail Daily:
The Eagle River Watershed Council is celebrating the 20th year of the Eagle River Cleanup. In 1994, before the formation of the Watershed Council, the local Trout Unlimited chapter organized the inaugural Eagle River Cleanup. There were two tents and 24 volunteers, half of which were Vail Resorts ski patrollers equipped with radios and trucks. There was a silent auction, which included a Vail season pass and raised a total of $400.
In the past 20 years, the Eagle River Cleanup has grown tremendously and become a fall tradition for many environmentally and community-minded families, groups and companies. This year, nearly 350 volunteers are expected to help care for our local waterways in the 20th annual Eagle River Cleanup on Sept. 13. This popular, countywide event is organized by the Eagle River Watershed Council, presented by Vail Resorts Echo, sponsored by many businesses and supported by volunteers from Red Cliff to Dotsero to East Vail.
Massive Community Effort
From 9 a.m. to noon, teams of volunteers will be cleaning up the banks of Gore Creek and the Eagle and Upper Colorado rivers. All told, this massive community effort will clean nearly 70 miles of river throughout Eagle County.
Following the cleanup, volunteers and their families are invited to the Broken Arrow at Arrowhead from noon to 2 p.m. for a free thank you barbecue provided by the Arrowhead Alpine Club. The party features music from local Minturn favorites, the Turntable Revue, beer from Crazy Mountain Brewing and a raffle for the entire family.
More volunteers are always needed. Call the ERWC office at 970-827-5406 or email us at email@example.com to confirm your usual segment, sign up for a new one or join an existing team. Volunteers meet on the river at assigned locations on the day of the event, so you must pre-register in order to know where you’re needed most.
The Eagle River Watershed Council has a mission to advocate for the health and conservation of the Upper Colorado and Eagle River basins through research, education and projects.
More Eagle River watershed coverage here.
Click here to go to the National Climactic Climate Center website. Here’s an excerpt:
The combined average temperature over global land and ocean surfaces for July 2014 was the fourth highest on record for July, at 0.64°C (1.15°F) above the 20th century average of 15.8°C (60.4°F). The global land surface temperature was 0.74°C (1.33°F) above the 20th century average of 14.3°C (57.8°F), marking the 10th warmest July on record. For the ocean, the July global sea surface temperature was 0.59°C (1.06°F) above the 20th century average of 16.4°C (61.5°F), tying with 2009 as the warmest July on record. The combined global land and ocean average surface temperature for the January–July period (year-to-date) was 0.66°C (1.19°F) above the 20th century average of 13.8°C (56.9°F), tying with 2002 as the third warmest such period on record.
From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Laura Glendenning):
Gary Bumgarner doesn’t like to hear statistics that say irrigated agriculture makes up 85 percent of Colorado’s consumptive water use. It’s misleading, he says, and as a fourth-generation Grand County rancher with senior and junior water rights, he knows a thing or two about water.
Agriculture uses the same water more than once, he says, referring to return flows and downstream water uses. Transmountain diversions use water up and never return it. It’s known as consumptive use in the water world, meaning the use permanently removes the water from its natural stream system. Bumgarner and plenty of other ranchers and farmers argue that the agriculture industry’s share of the total consumptive use in Colorado is much less than 85 percent.
More than half the water in Grand County heads east to the Front Range through transmountain diversions, which has Bumgarner concerned about the current statewide water planning process, sure, but he’s more concerned about what has already happened to water in the Colorado River Basin.
Bumgarner, who is also a Grand County commissioner, remembers when his mother used to have to cross high water in a rowboat on her way up to Kremmling, he said.
“In my teens and 20s, there was so much water,” he said. “Now, it’s a pretty stark contrast.”
When a river is over-developed — meaning too much water is taken from it — danger lurks. The effects range from water quality issues to riparian habitat depletions to economic and recreational devastation.
The agriculture industry in Colorado has a bull’s-eye on it as the state creates its Water Plan. Municipalities want to buy up senior agriculture water rights to secure supplies that can meet the demands of population growth — it’s known as “buy and dry” — and being that the agriculture industry uses more water than any other, it has found itself at the center of the discussion.
At a recent Colorado River Basin Roundtable meeting, Bumgarner and others brought up the consumptive use point time and time again. The agriculture representatives at the roundtable want to be sure there’s more clarification in the Colorado Basin Implementation Plan before it’s sent off to the state.
Six themes have emerged from the first draft of the basin’s plan, one of which is to “sustain agriculture.”
That’s the million dollar question. Senior agriculture water rights are private property rights, meaning the owners can do whatever they want with their property — including buy, sell and transfer their water rights. If a Front Range municipality wants to come in a buy the rights, and the farmer or rancher wants to sell, there’s not much anyone can do to stop it.
“If you’re making money, it’s sustainable. If you’re not making money, it’s not sustainable,” Bumgarner said. “Do I want my neighbor to sell out? No. Do I want the ability to sell out? Yes.”
Bumgarner said the agriculture industry has to be nimble in order to sustain itself. His family has changed its operations around three times from a dairy farm to a sheep operation to its present day business of cattle and calves.
“(Agriculture) has to learn to adapt,” he said. “Just because I do it, doesn’t mean my kids or grandkids should be doing it. It’s no different than any job. What you’re doing today doesn’t mean you should be doing it in 120 years.”
Reducing the stress on the basin
The Colorado Basin Implementation Plan does include projects and policies that “provide incentives and protections necessary to support agriculture.”
It also calls for improved water laws that would allow the agriculture community the flexibility to implement efficient irrigation without the loss of water rights.
“An additional (transmountain diversion) that supports more bluegrass lawns on the Front Range while decreasing Colorado Basin irrigated agricultural lands and associated food supply is poor planning and not sustainable,” the draft reads.
But the level of conservation that irrigation efficiencies could create is debatable. Much of the water lost through irrigation inefficiencies returns to the river or groundwater system for use by downstream water diverters, according to a 2008 Colorado Agricultural Water Alliance study, “Meeting Colorado’s Future Water Supply Needs.”
“Increased agricultural water conservation could potentially result in a voluntary reduction in the diversion of water to the farm, creating benefits such as improved water quality, allowing more water to remain in the streams, reduced waterlogging of soils, and reducing energy costs for pumping, but may not result in water that can be legally transferred to other uses,” according to the study. “If the use of water conservation measures can improve water supply availability without causing injury to downstream users or the environment, then the result may be improved water supplies for agriculture and other uses.”
Irrigation for agriculture isn’t the only water use under conservation scrutiny. Homeowners with non-native landscaping such as Kentucky bluegrass lawns could also start to face regulations and consequences, or at the very least some dirty looks from the neighbors.
Talk to Western Slope water officials and conservationists, and you’ll hear a lot of criticism over bluegrass lawns along the Front Range, as well as in the High Country — and especially in resort towns where $20 million homes spare no expense for opulence.
Martha Cochran, executive director of the Aspen Valley Land Trust, thinks Coloradoans have to start thinking differently about water resources and personal responsibility. She thinks a new standard could emerge for home landscaping that shuns those with bluegrass lawns, but that day will never come if citizens don’t become more educated about water resources. It also might not happen without government regulation.
“I think we can do huge amounts to reduce what’s creating the stress on the basin,” she said. “There was a time when (bluegrass lawns and swimming pools) were kind of a symbol of prosperity. I think that some day it’s going to be looked upon as just tacky.”
Municipalities are teaching and encouraging xeriscaping, a practice in which native plants and grasses, mulch and other low-water landscaping replaces landscaping that wastes water such as bluegrass.
An informed citizenry is the best protection for Western Slope water, said Jim Pokrandt, chair of the Colorado Basin Roundtable and spokesman for the Colorado River Water Conservation District.
“If you turn on your faucet and water didn’t come out, you’d be interested real fast,” he said.
Values differ across the state
With more than a decade of persistent drought conditions, there’s a focus on conservation. The U.S. Department of the Interior and municipal water suppliers in Arizona, Colorado, California and Nevada signed a landmark water conservation agreement last month called the Colorado River System Conservation Program. The suppliers — which include Denver Water in Colorado — are contributing $11 million to fund pilot conservation projects on the Colorado River.
And municipalities across the Western Slope like Aspen, Winter Park and Snowmass are looking at both conservation efforts and also land use codes that limit growth based on water supplies.
The City of Aspen has also incorporated a Center for Resource Conservation Slow the Flow Sprinkler Inspection program for the past two years, and the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District offers a similar program through certified irrigation professionals.
These are all steps applauded by conservation groups like Western Resource Advocates. Water Program Director Bart Miller said if Colorado and the Colorado River Basin as a whole can do the right amount of urban conservation, water recycling, irrigation and energy efficiencies, the vast majority of future water needs should be met.
“I think the state Water Plan provides a really unique opportunity, the first ever opportunity for the state to embed, articulate and follow through on the broad range of values that folks across the state have,” he said.
While great opportunities exist, it’s also a safe bet to assume the state water plan won’t please all stakeholders — there will likely be some grumbling from each of the basins, but the hope is the plan can strike the right balance so it’s not about Eastern Slope versus Western Slope, said James Eklund, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board and the state water plan’s development director.
“Doing that is going to require some work,” he said. “(Colorado’s Water Plan) won’t read exactly the way every stakeholder wants it to.”
Western Slope stakeholders like Bumgarner fear the worst for the Western Slope: More transmountain diversions.
“I don’t think there’s any doubt that they’re going to come get more water, and (agriculture) will be the loser — and the tourism industry,” he said. “You’re not going rafting on rocks if there’s no water. I’m very much anti-government getting into things, but at some point the state has to figure out how many people the state can contain. We’re not going to get more water, and we’re going to double the population, so they have to take it from existing users.”
Part three in this series will explore the relationships between water and Western Slope economies. It will appear in Tuesday’s PI.
Read Part one at http://bit.ly/1t9ueP2
More conservation coverage here.
Click here for all the inside skinny on the events.
Mark your calendars for a Drinking Water Well hands-on workshop on September 3rd from 5:30 to 7:00 PM hosted by the Middle Colorado Watershed Council. This evening event is designed to assist private land owners in insuring their wells are operable and clean. The workshop will cover:
Where does your water come from? Basic well construction and components Land use impacts on domestic well water quality and quantity Naturally occurring contaminants Treatment issues related to domestic wells and water quality Well head protection and well-owner operation and maintenance tips How to sample your well water, what to sample for, and where to find a laboratory.
More groundwater coverage here.
From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):
Anyone up to applying a mathematical model to the butterfly effect?
The Arkansas Basin Roundtable is trying to develop a model that shows how changes in water use in one area affect flows elsewhere.
Called SWAM (simplified water allocation model), the latest addition to a growing base of knowledge is a $100,000 grant request from the Colorado Water Conservation Board to refine hydrologic models of the Arkansas River basin and analyze shortages that could occur — for both farms and cities — by the year 2050.
“This would be a scaled-down model that would give you an idea of the impact,” said Terry Scanga, general manager of the Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District.
“Other basins have decision support systems,” said Alan Hamel, who represents the basin on the Colorado Water Conservation Board. “We’re years out from the development of a full basin model.”
The decision support system for the Arkansas River was delayed by the CWCB because of the federal Kansas Colorado lawsuit over the Arkansas River Compact. But major changes in hydrology occurred during the course of the 24-year lawsuit, including farm dry-ups, increased storage and pipeline construction.
Questions of harm to water rights were decided by lawyers and engineers, rather than a common scientific model. As it stands, the use of a model raises as many questions as it answers.
Roundtable members asked whether this particular model could solve the questions of water rights vs. flood control on Fountain Creek, change the amount of water owed to Kansas or reveal which water rights are harmed by a decision.
“This is a broader scope,” Scanga said.
The study would probably build on existing water balance studies for portions of the river. Some of the existing models were developed for a specific purpose, and don’t reflect overall impacts.
The new project will attempt to look at how municipal, industrial, agricultural, environmental and recreation uses of water would be affected by projects in wet, normal or dry years. It will also evaluate likely future conditions under various rates of growth.
The study won’t change water laws within the state, alter the allocation of water under the compact or prevent a drought, but it might help parts of the basin prepare for changes.
“We’re hoping that we get this right,” said Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District.
More Arkansas River Basin coverage here.
Years in the making, rules to govern wells in the San Luis Valley are likely one meeting away. In Alamosa yesterday Colorado Division of Water Resources State Engineer Dick Wolfe told the advisory group assisting his office in developing the rules that he expects next month’s meeting to be the last one before he submits groundwater rules to the water court.
“We have been working at this a long time now,” Wolfe said. “We would like to get this through.”
One of the goals of the rules is to reach sustainability in the confined (deep) and unconfined (shallow) aquifers in the Rio Grande Basin, which encompasses the San Luis Valley. The state legislature has set that sustainability benchmark as the time period between 1978 and 2000, and the rules specify how that goal will be determined and reached.
Wolfe said the peer review team, which has overseen the technical aspects associated with the rules, will be meeting again on Monday to finalize changes to the g r o u n d w a t e r m o d e l t h a t will be used to implement the rules. They will finalize response functions within the next few weeks, Wolfe added, and the final draft of the rules should be ready about this time next month.
Wolfe said anyone with further comments at this point should submit them to Deputy State Engineer Mike Sullivan.
“I envision about a month from now will be the last meeting and would envision very shortly thereafter being in a position to submit these to the water court for their consideration,” Wolfe said.
After Wolfe submits the groundwater rules to the court, objectors and supporters will have 60 days to file responses. If there are objections to the proposed rules, the judge will have to set a trial date to deal with objections that have not yet been resolved by that date. Wolfe said in Division 2, there were 21-22 objections filed , but the state was able to resolve all of the issues raised in the objections short of a trial.
“I hope we get to do that on these. We would like to get these implemented and operational,” he said.
The rules will become effective 60 days after publication or after all protests have been resolved, in the event there are protests.
Trying to minimize the objections that might arise over proposed groundwater rules, Wolfe set up an advisory group at the onset of the rulemaking process. In January 2009 he signed an order establishing the advisory committee, which includes representatives from senior and well user associations, residents from the basin’s various geographical areas, canal and irrigation companies , municipality and county designees, federal and state agencies, engineers and water attorneys. The initial group, comprised of 56 members , met for the first time in March of 2009. At that time Wolfe told the group he hoped to submit well regulations to the water court by the end of that year.
The process took longer than initially expected, in part due to the laborious development and revision of the groundwater model, the Rio Grande Decision Support System.
The arduous process may soon be over, however. Advisory group member LeRoy Salazar told Wolfe yesterday he hoped the rules would be ready by October so the farmers and ranchers could have time to review them in the winter months when they are not as busy.
“I think we are almost there,” Salazar said. “We appreciate all the work so many of you have done getting these rules.”
Wolfe explained as he went through changes in the proposed rules yesterday that most of the modifications now are for the purpose of clarity, consistency and flexibility within the document.
One new definition introduced into the document during yesterday’s meeting was composite water head, the metric by which sustainable water supplies will be evaluated and regulated. The composite water head represents water levels or artesian pressures of an aquifer system within specified areas. It is derived from the annual measurements collected outside of the irrigation season of multiple monitoring wells, water level or artesian pressure and applies weighting within the specified areas. The metric will refer to the change in the composite water head from a baseline rather than an aquifer’s absolute elevation.
Water Division 3 Assistant Division Engineer James Heath explained that this is not based on individual wells but composite water head representative of different areas throughout the Valley that have been divided into four response areas: Conejos Response Area; Alamosa La Jara Response Area; Saguache Response Area; and San Luis Creek Response Area.
“Each well would have its own percentage based on the area it represents,” he said. Wolfe said the water division has been working with the Rio Grande Water Conservation District to add new monitoring wells in areas where there might not be sufficient existing wells to provide representative data.
Those are scheduled to be in place by March 2015, which will serve as a baseline for the groundwater rules. Wolfe said the model would utilize the data that has been gathered over time as well as the new data, which will fill in some gaps that have existed in data collection. He added within 10 years after the effective date of the rules his office, using the model and all of the collected well monitoring data, should be able to establish with a fair amount of confidence the historical average composite water head for each response area for 1978-2000 , the sustainability target set by the state legislature.
“That’s what we are building back to,” Wolfe said. Heath said the new data would be calibrated into the model, which can go back in time to extrapolate the 1978-2000 ranges not available in existing data.
“This 10-year time frame gives us time to add in additional information ” that will better give us confidence when estimating the water levels in these locations going forward.”
The rules require that after five years the composite water head in each response area must be above the minimum level it was in 2015, the starting point.
“If not, there’s a provision they’ve got to reduce their pumping levels back to what they were in the 1978-2000 period,” Wolfe explained. The next benchmark is at 10 years and the next at 20 years, Wolfe added. Between the 11th and 20th years, composite water levels must be maintained above the 1978-2000 range for at least three out of 10 years, Wolfe explained.
“Once we reach the 20th year, they’ve got to meet absolutely that sustainability requirement from that point forward ” This is just the first step in that process getting there.”
Salazar said the 1978-2000 target set by the legislature may have been based on faulty assumptions and may need to be modified.
“I guess in the end we may need to go back to the legislature and say it didn’t make sense to do what you did,” Salazar said. “We didn’t have the database we needed.”
Wolfe said the data collected from this point on may confirm the need to go back to the legislature, but “what this does is gets us started on the path so we can collect data we need.”
He added, “We may have to come back and amend the rules at some point.”
He said the primary purposes of this plan are to protect senior water rights and reach sustainability, and if the plan needs to be modified in the future, the state can go back to the court to do that.
Pat McDermott from the water division office said the state is recognizing this basin has finite water supplies.
“We have to learn to live within our means,” he said. “That’s what this is all about.”
More San Luis Valley groundwater coverage here.
The city received its first FEMA reimbursements for flood losses this week — four checks totaling $1.66 million.
The checks came through the Colorado Office of Emergency Management, the state agency that is funneling Federal Emergency Management Agency payments to local governments.
Loveland suffered almost $24 million in infrastructure losses during the Sept. 12-13 flooding, and city finance director Brent Worthington said he expects FEMA to cover about $9 million of that.
Normally, FEMA pays 75 percent of eligible expenses, and local governments cover the rest. Last fall, Gov. John Hickenlooper pledged that the state would split that 25 percent remainder with city and county governments.
Worthington said the state’s share will be about $1.5 million, but Colorado won’t pay until each project is completed and the state does a complete review of the work.
“They’re doing advances of 50 percent of the FEMA share,” Worthington said. “They will hold back the remainder.”
The first checks from FEMA went to cover mostly water and sewer line repairs and replacements — $792,458 for emergency protective measures to save a 48-inch waterline in the first days of the flood, and $777,865 for water and sewer line repairs including replacement of the city’s “Meadow Pipeline,” according to a press release.
Click through to listen to the radio show. From KRCC (Sam Fuqua):
“Civilization in this part of the world,” Preston says, “is really based on capturing the runoff that comes out of the snowpack, storing it, and being able to deliver it when it’s needed. Without that, this reverts to desert.”
Preston also coordinates the Southwest Basin Roundtable, a regular gathering of agricultural, municipal, environmental, and recreational water users…
In the Southwest Basin, Preston says some of the roundtable’s conversations have centered around balancing agriculture and the environment.
“A lot of the challenge—and I think the roundtable’s done a very good job of it, because everybody gets along and tries to understand each other’s perspectives,” Preston says, “is how you reconcile or integrate the need for agricultural deliveries with the environmental values and keeping kind of adequate water in the streams.”
Trying to support healthy ecosystems and a healthy farm and ranching economy with limited water is a big challenge, but add to that the state’s projected population growth of 5.5 million now to over 10 million by 2050.
Then, says James Eklund, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, there’s drought.
“We’ve had it over our history,” says Eklund. “What makes it unique now, or different now, is that we are seeing patterns of extreme drought in more sustained periods than we’ve ever seen them in our history. The Colorado River basin has been in a 14-year period of drought that has not been equaled in human recorded history.”[...]
There’s broad agreement that one of the biggest issues for the Colorado Water Plan—both now and in the foreseeable future—is the question of transbasin diversions. That’s the technical term behind moving water from the Western Slope to growing cities on the Front Range. It’s always been a sensitive topic, and the Delores Water Conservancy District’s Mike Preston says his basin roundtable favors tougher limits on household water use, especially on lawns.
“People aren’t really interested in bringing the Colorado River across the Continental Divide and diminishing agricultural potential in order to grow bluegrass in front of suburban households.”
Colorado Water Conservation Board director James Eklund says he’s seeing more cooperation from Front Range cities looking for more West Slope water.
“They’re saying that kind of for the first time,” Eklund says. “Saying, ‘We understand that even though we have a legal right to go take that water because we secured those rights a long time ago, we’re not just going to go do it because it’s something that we can do and we’ll see you in water court.’”
Eklund says the state water plan will not supersede prior appropriation– Colorado’s seniority-based system of water laws. But, he says, prior appropriation may need to bend to reflect the changing times, just as it’s done for over a century.
“Prior appropriation has had to either adjust or flex in each one of those times,” Eklund says, referencing the growth of cities and the agriculture economy across the state, as well as environmental needs, and even the connection between surface and ground water.
From Steamboat Today (Ren Martyn/Marsha Daughenbaugh):
The Yampa-White-Green Rivers Basin Roundtable gave preliminary approval to the first draft of their Basin Implementation Plan on July 23. The plan now will be submitted to the Colorado Water Conservation Board, which will consolidate plans from the nine Colorado water basins and develop a State Water Plan to be delivered to the governor by December 2015.
The BIP addresses our basins’ responsibilities to balance current and future needs of our water resources. Development of this document has been a labor of love and concern by countless volunteers and a culmination of years of professional studies commissioned by the roundtable.
Our roundtable identified eight primary basin goals for Northwest Colorado:
• Protect existing decreed and anticipated future water uses in the Yampa-White-Green basins.
• Protect and encourage agricultural uses of water in the basins within the context of private property rights.
• Improve agricultural water supplies to increase irrigation 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.
• Restore, maintain and modernize water storage and distribution infrastructure.
• Develop an integrated system of water use, storage, administration and delivery to reduce water shortages and meet environmental and recreational need.
The roundtable acknowledges long-standing discussions of trans-mountain diversions of West Slope water to the East Slope and are taking a position that prior to any development of a new trans-mountain diversion, the Front Range first must integrate all other water supply solutions including conservation and reuse plus maximize use of its own native water resources and existing trans-mountain supplies.
The BIP also states: “Before it could be considered by the Yampa-White-Green Basin Roundtable, any proposed trans-mountain diversion out of the Colorado River Basin must undergo a full operational analysis to determine its impact on the entire river system. The analysis must recognize that, within the Colorado River system, the diversion of any ‘extra’ water available during wet years may occur under certain ‘trigger’ conditions of a full (or nearly full) supply in reservoirs designed to carry the Colorado River Basin through a drought. This analysis must be sufficient to determine that the risks of operating project(s) in a junior manner to identified Colorado River Basin needs are understood by all. Such a project should not be funded by the state of Colorado, but by interests, public and/or private, willing to accept such operational and financial risk.”
Future projects and agreements cannot impact existing legal compact obligations to provide water to downstream users…
The current BIP, as presented to Colorado Water Conservation Board, is a working document. The roundtable continually will update and refine it in response to the needs and demands of our region. It is available for public review on the Colorado Water Conservation Board website at http://www.colorado.gov/pacific/cowaterplan/yampa-white-green-river-basin.
More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.
From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):
A project to restore a small portion of Fountain Creek could have benefits for longer reaches.
“There are 51 miles of bank on each side of the creek from Colorado Springs to Pueblo,” said Larry Small, executive director of the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District. “Now we know a method to use to control erosion.”
Small was giving a report to the Arkansas Basin Roundtable, which gave the green light to a $146,000 state grant toward the $189,000 project last year to undertake the project on Frost Ranch, located in El Paso County about 25 miles north of Pueblo.
The project restored the channel and fortified the bank along 480 feet of the Frost Ranch. Past floods had eaten away about 70 feet of the bank, including vegetation. Three tiers of dirt secured by netting rising about 4 feet were chosen as the way to restore this particular area. About 7,500 willow plants, along with grasses and other vegetation to hold the shore.
Work began in April and was completed in mid-May.
The first test of the work came on May 23, when the creek swelled to 3,000 cubic feet per second, rising nearly to the top of the newly constructed embankment, Small said. The work held, and the moisture spurred plant growth. About 75 percent of the plants survived.
A larger wave of water, 5,000 cfs, came on July 23. While some of the water overtopped the bank and deposited sand along the top, the bank stayed in place.
The roundtable applauded the district’s efforts.
“Frost Ranch has been an excellent neighbor to the creek,” said SeEtta Moss of Canon City, who was appointed to the roundtable to represent environmental interests. “I’m delighted to see what’s been done.”
More Fountain Creek coverage here.
From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (John Stroud:
A second round of baseline water quality testing within the Thompson Divide region south of Glenwood Springs where natural gas development is proposed finds that two of the major drainages where samples were taken are presently “uncontaminated by any human activities.”
The study, released Thursday by the Thompson Divide Coalition, analyzed both surface and ground water within the Four Mile and Thompson Creek watersheds.
It is in follow-up to the first phase of the study in 2009-10, which produced similar results. Both studies were commissioned by the coalition, which is working to protect the Thompson Divide region from drilling, and were conducted by researchers from the Roaring Fork Conservancy.
Robert Moran, a water quality, hydrogeologic and geochemical specialist with Michael-Moran Associates, worked with the conservancy to analyze the data and is the main author of both reports.
Together, the baseline data contained in the studies should provide a yardstick against any changes in water quality within the two drainages, whether it’s from oil and gas development or other activities, Moran said during a telephone press conference Thursday arranged by Thompson Divide Coalition Executive Director Zane Kessler.
Moran also reiterated one conclusion in his analysis, which is that “some degradation of water quality is inevitable if oil and gas exploration and development becomes a reality within the Four Mile Creek and Thompson Creek watersheds.”
“This should serve as an important reminder that our fisheries and watersheds in the Thompson Divide are at risk,” Kessler said. “These watersheds are the lifeblood of our communities and they deserve to be protected for posterity.”
More Roaring Fork River watershed coverage here.
Click through for the graphics. From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith):
American Whitewater and Western Resource Advocates have joined a long list of other parties in state water court now scrutinizing an application from Glenwood Springs to create water rights for three new whitewater parks on the Colorado River.
The two conservation groups were allowed on June 6 by water court judge James Boyd to intervene in the case, even though they had missed the original deadline to do so.
Glenwood Springs applied for a new water right on Dec. 31, 2013. The 60-day deadline to file a “statement of opposition” in the case was Feb. 28.
The court received 13 such statements, which despite their name, also can be a way for other parties to conveniently monitor a case or actually be in support of an application.
Both American Whitewater and Western Resource Advocates support Glenwood’s application, which would secure a right to a “recreational in-channel diversion,” or RICD, in which river water is diverted through concrete structures embedded in a river channel, but otherwise not diverted or consumed.
The conservation groups said they should be allowed to join the case because they were concerned, in part, about Glenwood’s resolve in water court “to pursue a full suite of flows” after seeing statements of opposition come in from Aurora, Colorado Springs and other powerful water interests.
“We were a little surprised by how much opposition there was, especially from some of the heavy hitters on the Front Range,” said Rob Harris, a staff attorney with Colorado Resource Advocates who was the lead attorney for both his organization and American Whitewater. “We just wanted to make sure that the city had some allies and that voices in support of recreation were heard.”
Three parks, six waves
Each of the three whitewater parks Glenwood Springs is proposing to build on the Colorado River would have two concrete control structures embedded into the river to create ridable waves — as well as clear passage — for everything from commercial rafts to pool toys.
The uppermost park on the river would be at the No Name rest stop on I-70, at exit 121. The rest stop area includes both CDOT property and private land along the river.
The next spot downstream is at Horseshoe Bend, where I-70 goes into a short tunnel. The location can be accessed off of exit 118 at No Name, or from the bike path that runs along the river.
“The city of Glenwood Springs owns the land along both banks of, and under, the river where the RICD control structures would be constructed,” says a report by S2o Design & Engineering about the Horseshoe Bend site. “Immediately upstream, the Bureau of Land Management manages the property and has developed a covered picnic area and boulder weir to produce a large river eddy.”
Expressions of concern
The concerns of the parties in the case that had filed statements of opposition were shared in a case management conference in late April. The water court referee, Holly Kirsner Strablizky, filed minutes from the conference call with the court on April 24.
The attorney for the Homestake Steering Committee, which is an entity jointly controlled by the Front Range cities of Aurora and Colorado Springs, “stated that it is an upstream water rights owner,” according to Strablizky’s minutes. “It is [involved in case] to ensure that there are appropriate terms and conditions to address impacts on compact and compact carve-outs.”
Such “carve-outs” allow for flexibility in the face of a “compact call” or a demand from downriver states for more water, while another type of “carve-out” allows for some future level of new water development by upstream parties outside of any new restrictions created by a proposed RICD. Such carve-outs were agreed to in the decrees for recently completed RICDs in Basalt, Carbondale and Grand County.
“It was an approach to settle those cases short of litigation,” said Chris Thorne, an attorney with Holland and Hart, which is representing Glenwood Springs in the water court application and also represented Carbondale in its RICD case. “The carve-outs preserve the ability for some reasonable additional water development upstream of the proposed boating parks. And to address concerns of upstream municipal water suppliers about protection of future water supply.”
Thorne added that he wasn’t suggesting that such a carve-out would be necessary or appropriate in the case of the Glenwood RICD.
On April 30, American Whitewater and Western Resource advocates filed a joint statement of opposition and a motion to intervene.
The two nonprofits, referring to themselves as “the conservation groups,” told the court they “should be afforded the opportunity to defend this important proposed RICD.”
Under state law, only certain governmental entities, such as cities and counties, can apply for a RICD, which means that conservation groups cannot do so on their own.
The two groups told the court they “cannot rely on the city of Glenwood Springs to adequately represent their interests in this litigation” and that it “is feasible that changes in policy or administration may cause the city of Glenwood Springs to shift away from a zealous defense of the full suite of flows.”
Harris, the attorney for the conservation groups, said it was important in the motion to draw a distinction between the interests of the city and the conservation groups, but that he currently doesn’t doubt Glenwood’s resolve in the case.
All the other parties in the case consented to the effort by American Whitewater and Western Resource Advocates to join the case. However, in consenting, Aurora and Colorado Springs also went on record stating legal reasons why the motion to intervene should be denied.
The two Front Range cities said the conservation groups role in the case should be “limited accordingly” and that they would “monitor the participation” of the conservation groups to make sure they didn’t “take over” the case.
Over 1,250 cfs
Denver Water, another powerful Front Range water entity, also consented to the groups joining the case, but it did so without formal comment.
At the April 24 case management conference, an attorney for Denver Water “stated that it is OK with 1,250 cubic feet per second (cfs) and it is not sure about the larger flow claims,” the referee wrote in her minutes.
The reference to 1,250 cfs is a reference to the proposed base flow of the three whitewater parks, and, not coincidentally, also to the 1,250 cfs water right that has been exercised by the Shoshone hydropower plant, six miles up river of the proposed parks, since 1907.
A base-level instream flow right of 1,250 cfs is proposed for all three of the whitewater parks, and that flow would be in effect from April 1 to Sept. 30.
A secondary flow right of 2,500 cfs would be in place for 46 days, between April 30 and July 23. And a flow of 4,000 cfs would be in place for five days between May 11 and July 6.
“Based upon interviews with the boating community, the response was a desire to maintain a flow of 2,500 cfs as long as possible and to have a late season event around the Fourth of July when other whitewater parks do not have reliable flows,” says a report from Wright Water Engineers.
The proposed 183-day water-right season includes 46 days at levels above the base flow of 1,250 cfs, and it’s not clear if that will be acceptable to Denver Water, which agreed to the 1,250 cfs level for a new Glenwood RICD in the recently signed Colorado River Cooperative Agreement, but not to new water rights above that level.
No threat to water developers
The report also concluded that “there are numerous existing transmountain diversion projects upstream of the Glenwood Spring’s RICD that are senior to 2013. Ongoing efforts to firm up the yield of these projects would not be adversely affected by the city’s RCID claims.”
And it concluded that the RICD “has no effect on the ability to develop additional water supplies on the lower Colorado River, including the Roaring Fork River, the White River, the Yampa River, or the Gunnison River.”
In the April 24 case management conference, an attorney for CDOT said “it needs to ensure that proper channels are pursued in obtaining right to access,” according to the water referee.
An updated report on the design and engineering of the parks, submitted to the court by S2o Design & Engineering on May 30, noted that “a collaborative process with CDOT has been initiated to identify cooperative management opportunities at the rest area to provide for parking, access and site facilities use.”
There is another agency that is concerned about the Horseshoe Bend proposal.
An attorney representing the Bureau of Land Management said “it is [involved in] the case to ensure that the applicant obtains access properly,” according to the water referee.
The location of the third whitewater park is at the upper end of Two Rivers Park, just above the confluence with the Roaring Fork River, which flows into the Colorado a few blocks west of downtown Glenwood.
In all, the three parks are located across 3.25 miles of the Colorado River. The “Glenwood wave,” an existing whitewater park in West Glenwood, is downstream of the three proposed parks.
The parties in the water court case now have until Sept. 12 to provide comments to Glenwood Springs on the new reports about the proposed parks. The Colorado Water Conservation Board has been granted until Feb. 2015 to submit its required findings on the city’s application.
And, perhaps optimistically, the water referee’s April 24 minutes state that “all parties believe the case can remain in front of the referee” and not require the involvement of James Boyd, the water court judge in Division 5.
“We’re optimistic that when folks sit down at the table, they can see that they can protect their own interests with little impact on the application,” said Harris of Western Resource Advocates. “And we’re certainly open to hearing any good faith concerns the opposers might have.”
More whitewater coverage here.
We're partnering with Roaring Fork Outdoor Volunteers for a wetland planting project in Aspen on Sat. Aug. 23rd. We hope you'll join us!…
— RoaringFkConservancy (@rfconservancy) August 12, 2014
Click here to go to the US Drought Monitor website. Here’s an excerpt:
The Far West
It was seasonably dry along the West Coast, with measurable precipitation limited to parts of the Sierra Nevada and northeastern California. To wit, areas of dryness and drought remained unchanged. The major reservoirs in California are in aggregate at 59% of the historical average, still above the 41% of average recorded during the 1976-77 drought. But some reservoirs are below 1977 levels, especially in west-central parts of the state, and water restrictions have been imposed statewide…
The Rockies and Intermountain West
Generally moderate to heavy rains of 0.5 to locally over 3.0 inches fell from central Idaho and northwestern Wyoming southward through northeastern Nevada and adjacent Utah. Farther north, little or no rain fell, and across the southern half of the Rockies and Intermountain West, only scattered totals of over 0.5 inch and isolated reports topping one inch were noted.
Monsoonal rainfall was relatively light in most locations, and with little or no rain affecting the southern deserts of Arizona, D3 conditions were expanded throughout that region. Farther north, increasing deficits led to deterioration in several areas of Utah, and dryness and drought expanded in central and western Montana, where streamflows and vegetative health were declining. Across Utah, most of Arizona, and adjacent sections of New Mexico and southwestern Colorado, only one-half to two-thirds of normal precipitation has fallen during the last 6 to 9 months.
The elevation of the Lake Mead water level has dropped to 1080 ft. (54% of the historical average), the lowest since the lake was being filled in the 1930’s. This is closest Lake Mead has come to dropping to its “ration level one” of 1075 ft. It has been below its “drought” level of 1l25 ft. for 28 of the past 33 months.
Lake Powell is low, but faring better. After reaching a level of 3574 ft. in mid-April (just over the 3rd percentile since 1964, and 64% of the historical average), the lake rebounded to 3608 ft. at the end of July (20th percentile)…
The Western Great Lakes and the Plains States
Moderate to very heavy rain, 4 to 8 inches in some areas, fell on many locations from the northeastern half of Oklahoma, Kansas, and southern Missouri northward through southern South Dakota, southwestern Minnesota, and the southwestern half of Iowa. Moderate rain was more scattered through the rest of this large region, with 0.5 inch or less falling on most of the upper Midwest, the central High Plains, southwestern Oklahoma, and central through northeastern Texas.
As a result, areas of dryness and drought improved significantly across south-central South Dakota, central Nebraska, central Missouri, southeastern Kansas, central through eastern Oklahoma, and parts of central and northern Texas, plus a few smaller, isolated locations. The small area of exceptional drought was removed in eastern Colorado, and extreme dryness was eliminated in southern New Mexico, with additional improvements in other central and eastern parts of the state. However, in areas that missed the heavier precipitation, some areas of abnormal dryness were introduced, specifically in western Nebraska, western South Dakota, southwestern Wisconsin, north-central Iowa and adjacent Minnesota, and north-central Missouri. These areas generally received well under half of normal rainfall since mid-July, and 60-day shortages of 2 to almost 4 inches affect north-central Missouri, north-central Iowa and adjacent Minnesota, and southwestern Wisconsin…
August 14 – 18, 2014 is expected to bring a swath of moderate to locally heavy rain (0.5 to 2.5 inches) from the northernmost reaches of the Cascades, Intermountain West, and Rockies southeastward through most of the Dakotas, the upper Mississippi Valley, the southern Great Lakes Region, and the Ohio Valley. Light rainfall is expected for most other regions of dryness and drought, with scattered moderate rains dampening the Rockies. Little if any precipitation is expected in much of Georgia and South Carolina, central and southern Texas, the Great Basin, and the Far West south of the Cascades.
The ensuing 5 days (August 19 – 23) favor above-median rainfall from the northern Rockies eastward through the northern Plains, the middle and upper Mississippi Valley, the Great Lakes, the Ohio Valley, the upper South, and the Northeast outside of New England. Below-median precipitation is anticipated for Oregon, Nevada, Utah, the Four Corners States, Texas, and adjacent parts of neighboring states. Elsewhere, neither unusually dry nor wet weather is favored.
From Climate.gov (NOAA):
Our planet probably experienced its hottest temperatures in its earliest days, when it was still colliding with other rocky debris (planetesimals) careening around the solar system. The heat of these collisions would have kept Earth molten, with top-of-the-atmosphere temperatures upward of 3,600° Fahrenheit.
Even after those first scorching millennia, however, the planet has sometimes been much warmer than it is now. One of the warmest times was during the geologic period known as the Neoproterozoic, between 600 and 800 million years ago. Another “warm age” is a period geologists call the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum, which occurred about 56 million years ago…
History of hot
Temperature records from thermometers and weather stations exist only for a tiny portion of our planet’s 4.54-billion-year-long life. By studying indirect clues—the chemical and structural signatures of rocks, fossils, and crystals, ocean sediments, fossilized reefs, tree rings, and ice cores—however, scientists can infer past temperatures.
None of that helps with the very early Earth, however. During the time known as the Hadean (yes, because it was like Hades), Earth’s collisions with other large planetesimals in our young solar system—including a Mars-sized one whose impact with Earth is thought to have created the Moon—would have melted and vaporized most rock at the surface. Because no rocks on Earth have survived from so long ago, scientists have estimated early Earth conditions based on observations of the Moon and on astronomical models. Following the collision that spawned the Moon, the planet was estimated to have been around 2,300 Kelvin (3,680°F).
Even after collisions stopped, and the planet had tens of millions of years to cool, surface temperatures were likely more than 400° Fahrenheit. Zircon crystals from Australia, only about 150 million years younger than the Earth itself, hint that our planet may have cooled faster than scientists previously thought. Still, in its infancy, Earth would have experienced temperatures far higher than we humans could possibly survive.
But suppose we exclude the violent and scorching years when Earth first formed. When else has Earth’s surface sweltered?
Thawing the freezer
Between 600 and 800 million years ago—a period of time geologists call the Neoproterozoic—evidence suggests the Earth underwent an ice age so cold that ice sheets not only capped the polar latitudes, but may have extended all the way to sea level near the equator. Reflecting ever more sunlight back into space as they expanded, the ice sheets cooled the climate and reinforced their own growth. Obviously, the Earth didn’t remain stuck in the freezer, so how did the planet thaw?
Even while ice sheets covered more and more of Earth’s surface, tectonic plates continued to drift and collide, so volcanic activity also continued. Volcanoes emit the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide. In our current, ice-age-free world, the natural weathering of silicate rock by rainfall consumes carbon dioxide over geologic time scales. During the frigid conditions of the Neoproterozoic, rainfall became rare. With volcanoes churning out carbon dioxide and little or no rainfall to weather rocks and consume the greenhouse gas, temperatures climbed.
What evidence do scientists have that all this actually happened some 700 million years ago? Some of the best evidence is “cap carbonates” lying directly over Neoproterozoic-age glacial deposits. Cap carbonates—layers of calcium-rich rock such as limestone—only form in warm water.
The fact that these thick, calcium-rich rock layers sat directly on top of rock deposits left behind by retreating glaciers indicate that temperatures rose significantly near the end of the Neoproterozoic, perhaps reaching a global average higher than 90° Fahrenheit. (Today’s global average is lower than 60°F.)
The tropical Arctic
Another stretch of Earth history that scientists count among the planet’s warmest occurred about 55-56 million years ago. The episode is known as the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM).
Stretching from about 66-34 million years ago, the Paleocene and Eocene were the first geologic epochs following the end of the Mesozoic Era. (The Mesozoic—the age of dinosaurs—was itself an era punctuated by “hothouse” conditions.) Geologists and paleontologists think that during much of the Paleocene and early Eocene, the poles were free of ice caps, and palm trees and crocodiles lived above the Arctic Circle. The transition between the two epochs around 56 million years ago was marked by a rapid spike in global temperature.
During the PETM, the global mean temperature appears to have risen by as much as 5-8°C (9-14°F) to an average temperature as high as 73°F. (Again, today’s global average is shy of 60°F.) At roughly the same time, paleoclimate data like fossilized phytoplankton and ocean sediments record a massive release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, at least doubling or possibly even quadrupling the background concentrations.
It is still uncertain where all the carbon dioxide came from and what the exact sequence of events was. Scientists have considered the drying up of large inland seas, volcanic activity, thawing permafrost, release of methane from warming ocean sediments, huge wildfires, and even—briefly—a comet.
Like nothing we’ve ever seen
Earth’s hottest periods—the Hadean, the late Neoproterozoic, the PETM—occurred before humans existed. Those ancient climates would have been like nothing our species has ever seen.
Modern human civilization, with its permanent agriculture and settlements, has developed over just the past 10,000 years or so. The period has generally been one of low temperatures and relative global (if not regional) climate stability. In our next Q&A, then, we’ll tackle this same question on a more Homo sapien-scale time frame: What’s the hottest Earth has been “lately”?
From the Leadville Herald (Marcia Martinek):
Many locals were among the 500 guests who toured the new $200 million Climax Molybdenum Water Treatment Plant during its grand opening on Thursday, Aug. 7. The new plant is located in Summit County and is visible from Colorado 91 on the left heading toward Copper Mountain from Leadville.
Prior to the tours, a number of local and state officials made comments, beginning with Fred Menzer, vice president of Colorado Operations for Climax Molybdenum, who called the water treatment plant another milestone for the company. He outlined how the Climax Mine had gone from 30 people up to the 360 employed today with a target number of 4000.
Since January 2012, Freeport-McMoRan has spent $550 million on the mine, and $300 million of this was spent in Colorado, he said. He also noted Climax has paid $145.5 million in taxes in both Lake and Summit counties.
Dave Thornton, president of Climax, added that since 2008, $1 billion has been spent at the Climax Mine site and more than $75 million has been spent in reclamation at both the Henderson and Climax sites.
U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton noted that the mine was both providing jobs and taking care of the environment.
“We all are environmentalists in Colorado,” Tipton said.
State Rep. Millie Hamner echoed those thoughts saying Climax is a model on how to do things right. She read a tribute to the mining company from the Colorado General Assembly.
Other speakers included Lake County Commissioner Bruce Hix who read a letter from U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet. His also expressed regret that the water treatment plant was not built in Lake County.
The Climax Mine started producing molybdenum in 2012, but the feasibility design for the water treatment plant began in March 2011. Climax has treated water since 1983, initially using the Tenmile and Mayflower ponds with lime addition, according to information distributed at the grand opening. The system received an upgrade in 1998; at that time the pH was increased in the Tenmile Pond, which began Stage 1 metals removal (removing iron, aluminum and copper). Stage 2 metals removal took place at the Mayflower Pond (removing manganese with traces of zinc and lead). An additional treatment plant was added in 2007.
Now the new treatment plant replaces the Mayflower pond as Stage 2 metals removal. Treated water is discharged into Tenmile Creek. The treatment plant has an Events Pond on-site to capture overflows and prevent unwanted discharges into Tenmile Creek.
More water treatment coverage here.
From Inkstain (John Fleck):
The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s key August forecast, out today (pdf),projects that there will be enough water in the Colorado River system next year to release a bonus pulse of 770,000 acre feet of water from Lake Powell down to lake Mead above and beyond the legal requirements of the Colorado River Compact. But even with that extra water, Lake Mead is projected to fall another five feet during 2015, flirting with levels that could trigger the Lower Colorado River Basin’s first formal shortage declaration in 2016.
How could this be? The Lower Basin is getting extra water above and beyond its minimum legal entitlement, yet Lake Mead keeps dropping?
It’s simple, really. The U.S. Supreme Court’s 1963 Arizona v. California decision effectively allocates more paper water than there is wet water in the system, (click here for the wonky explanation of the mistake, and the fact that folks kinda knew at the time it was a mistake but ignored it) and as long as each of the Lower Basin states keeps using its full entitlement, Mead will keep dropping unless a giant climatic wet spell delivers magic extra water.
Meanwhile, here’s a photo gallery of the California drought from the Huffington Post. From the article:
With major wildfires burning six at a time, more than half of California now experiencing the most severe category of dryness and experts warning that even an El Niño year won’t be enough to redeem the west in 2015, residents of California and beyond must face the terrifying reality that the drought probably isn’t done breaking records — and it’s not something just farmers and firefighters have to face.
The Huffington Post asked readers to share photos through the hashtag #OurDroughtIsReal to show how the drought is affecting them in their own backyards, literally. Here are some of the heartbreaking photos and stories you shared. Tweet @HuffPostGreen or use the hashtag if you have your own photo to share.
More Colorado River Basin coverage here.
From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Mike Wiggins):
Efforts to forge a state water plan to bridge the anticipated gap between supply and demand should focus on enhanced conservation efforts on the Front Range and shun any new transmountain diversions, according to a group of primarily Western Slope residents.
In a meeting this week with The Daily Sentinel editorial board, Adventure Bound River Expeditions owner Tom Kleinschnitz, Silt Town Trustee Aron Diaz, Western Resource Advocates Program Director Bart Miller, Bruce Talbott of Talbott Farms, Mesa Park Vineyards co-owner Brooke Webb and Mesa County Commissioner Steve Acquafresca said they want to see river basins in other areas of the state call more for reducing water usage. Some of them also pitched the ideas of investing in improving existing infrastructure and building smaller storage projects at higher elevations.
“Conservation and cooperation is the new paradigm,” Acquafresca said.
Colorado’s population is expected to double by 2050, one of the reasons why Gov. John Hickenlooper issued an executive order calling for the development of a statewide water plan by 2015. The state’s eight largest river basins will present draft plans to the Colorado Water Conservation Board.
Western Slope water stakeholders say arguments that the majority of Colorado’s water should be used on the Front Range because the vast majority of the population resides there ignore usage of the river by the entire basin. The Colorado River Compact requires the Upper Basin states to deliver no less than 7.5 million acre-feet of water to the Lower Basin states during any 10-year period.
“My biggest fear is we will get a call (on the river) from the Lower Basin,” Talbott said.
Members of the group applauded Clark County, Nevada, and its county seat, Las Vegas, and organizations like Denver Water for their conservation efforts. Las Vegas has redesigned its golf courses to be more water-efficient and pays residents to rip out their lawns, while Denver Water has dramatically reduced municipal water usage over the last several years. As a result, Western Slope water users say they enjoy a good relationship with Denver Water. That relationship, though, doesn’t yet exist with entities like the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, Aurora Water and Colorado Springs Utilities, group members said.
More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.
From The Greeley Tribune (Eric Brown):
Colorado dry bean farmers are on pace to make up for last year’s historically “horrible” crop — and then some. Not only is this year’s abundant moisture expected to give the crop a boost, but the number of acres devoted to the crop this year has skyrocketed. According to recent crop reports, farmers planted about 60,000 acres of the crop this year in Colorado, ranking seventh nationally, and also marking a 54 percent increase over last year — far outpacing the nationwide 29 percent uptick in dry bean acres.
Larry Lande, who operates Northern Feed and Bean in Lucerne and serves on the Colorado Dry Bean Administrative Committee, said the uptick in acres across the board has much to do with dry bean prices holding strong while grain prices, particularly corn, have dropped.
More specific to Colorado, Lynn Fagerberg — who grows onions, corn, wheat and dry beans near Eaton — added that the improved water situation, with this year’s abundant snowpack, led him to replace many of his wheat acres with dry beans this year.
“And so far, it’s a good-looking crop,” Fagerberg said.
Last year, when water was in much shorter supply, Fargerberg upped his wheat acres because it’s a less water-dependent crop than others, like corn and dry beans. So, with more water now and corn prices low, increasing his dry bean acres made plenty of sense, he said.
The sharp uptick in dry bean acres comes less than a year after Colorado farmers saw one of their worst crops in memory.
Significant amounts of moisture in September — harvest time for dry beans — can cause discoloration and sprouting for mature beans still out in the fields, negatively impacting the appearance, which is important for a crop that’s sold on grocery store shelves.
And there was no shortage of rain last September.
In addition to destructive flooding that caused hundreds of millions of dollars in damage across northeast Colorado, the local dry bean crop, too, fell victim.
Weld County farmers were delivering to the local elevators the worst quality beans they’d harvest in years, or ever in many cases, local farmers said.
“The way things are going, that won’t be the case this year,” said Lande.
An increase in dry bean production this year would help Colorado — where sales of dry beans in recent years have amounted to about $30 million — rebound from its steady decline.
Dry bean acreage in the state has taken a hit in recent years as producers began planting crops that were seeing huge increases in commodity prices, and as Mexico, a big buyer of U.S. beans, has started growing more of its own crop. In 2001, 105,000 acres of dry beans were harvested in Colorado, nearly tripling the acres harvested in 2011 and 2013.
From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Monica Mendoza):
Members of the regional stormwater task force cheered Tuesday when the Colorado Springs City Council voted 7-2 to approve a contract for a stormwater funding program that was two years in the making.
With a sigh of relief following the vote, council member Jan Martin said the city has been trying to find a way to pay for millions of dollars in stormwater, flood control and drainage projects needs for a decade…
The contract and proposed November ballot language that would create a regional stormwater authority still needs to be approved by the other parties in the intergovernmental agreement: the El Paso County Board of County Commissioners, Green Mountain Falls, Fountain and Manitou Springs. All have indicated they will OK the contract.
The contract – the result of dozens of public meetings, community surveys and hours of public discussion – outlines the terms and duties of a Pikes Peak Regional Drainage Authority, a governmental agency that would plan regional flood control projects.
Voters are expected to be asked to OK an annual stormwater fee, which would be roughly $92 a year for a home with 3,000 square feet of impervious surface. If approved, a regional authority expects to collect about $39.2 million a year for 20 years. Most of the money would be spent on new construction projects, and maintenance and operations of existing flood control projects. A pot of money – about 10 percent of the fees collected – would be set aside for flooding emergencies.
An 11-member board would oversee the planning of the regional stormwater projects, and Colorado Springs would have six seats on the board.
But not everyone is happy. Mayor Steve Bach plans to hold a press conference Wednesday to detail his objections to the contract. He says it binds the city to a list of projects and does not give the city flexibility in cases of flooding emergencies. The contract infringes upon the city’s ability to manage its affairs, he said.
The stormwater contract requires that money collected from property owners in each city be spent in their city over a five-year rolling average, except for the emergency fund. Bach said spending the emergency pot of money will be decided by the authority’s board, which could reject a Colorado Springs project, he said.
“(The emergency fund) will not be returned to each city over a five-year rolling average,” he said. “Is it fair for third-party bureaucracy to have no responsibility to return it if we have an emergency in our city?”[...]
Bach also raised concerns about the proposed ballot language. He said it doesn’t detail the amount of the fees that will be assessed on each property.
“We need to be straight with the voters,” Bach said…
El Paso County Commissioner Amy Lathen, a member of the stormwater task force, noted that Colorado Springs is guaranteed a majority of the seats on the board, and said it is disingenuous for Bach to suggest that Colorado Springs, which has 80 percent of the flood control needs, would get short shrift.
From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):
Colorado Springs City Council approved, 7-2, an intergovernmental agreement Tuesday that is expected to lead to a vote on a regional drainage authority for El Paso County.
“I supported a regional process (when a stormwater task force started meeting). It made sense at the time and it still makes sense,” said Keith King, council president. “Let’s put it in the hands of the voters.”
Most council members said the agreement is not perfect, but supported the opportunity to ask voters for approval of the authority. Helen Collins said there are too many taxes already and Don Knight said it does not protect Colorado Springs adequately in voting against the agreement.
The authority would raise $39 million in 2016 and is expected grow over the next 20 years to meet a backlog of more than $700 million in stormwater projects and to maintain them. Money would be spent proportionally in the participating communities.
While council OK’d the agreement, El Paso County Commissioners will have to place the issue on the November ballot, which they could do as early as next week. The IGA also must pass muster with Manitou Springs, Fountain and Green Mountain Falls.
It’s important to Pueblo County because Colorado Springs City Council abolished its short-lived stormwater authority in 2009. The authority was one of the premises of the Southern Delivery System, including Pueblo County’s 1041 land-use permit and the Bureau of Reclamation’s contract for use of Pueblo Dam and Lake Pueblo.
Colorado Springs Utilities pledged to avoid worsening flooding on Fountain Creek as a result of SDS in permit hearings.
“Down-streamers like me have watched the stormwater issue for some time and we’re excited something is being done,” said Dennis Hisey, an El Paso County commissioner from Fountain who sits on the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District.
“This is a collaborative process such as I have never seen,” said Amy Lathen, a commissioner who has worked with the El Paso County stormwater task force since 2012. “We will not take a step without full agreement on the IGA.”
Council spent nearly three hours wading through the agreement’s details, with Assistant City Attorney Tom Florczak, former Pueblo city attorney, leading the panel through changes Mayor Steve Bach wanted.
Bach met Monday and Tuesday with the council and county to negotiate changes, which was portrayed in contrasting ways by his chief of staff, Steve Cox, and Lathen.
Cox maintained that Bach had little time to review the document.
Lathen said Bach had made public, misleading statements about the agreement, particularly in portraying the assessment to property owners as a tax, rather than a fee.
During the council meeting there also was some discussion about how costs would be divided among authority members and an emergency fund. Bach wants to make sure Colorado Springs’ needs are met, and some council members were wary that Colorado Springs would bankroll payments owed by smaller communities.
“We could have a huge storm that messes up the Fountain River through Pueblo,” King said. “Do we need to treat this as an insurance policy?”
From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Monica Mendoza):
Pueblo County Commissioner Sal Pace has closely followed the negotiations over the proposed El Paso County stormwater initiative and is crossing his fingers that political bickering won’t keep the issue from the November ballot.
Pace has talked about Colorado Springs’ floodwaters for years and says the stormwater initiative is directly tied to the $1 billion Southern Delivery System, a regional project that brings Arkansas River water stored in Pueblo Reservoir to Colorado Springs.
Stormwater management in Colorado Springs has been on Pueblo’s radar since Colorado Springs Utilities committed to Pueblo and Pueblo County that it would be in compliance with stormwater responsibilities before 2016 – when the water is due to start flowing north.
When the permits for SDS were inked, Colorado Springs had a stormwater fee in place and a list of projects designed to head off floodwaters going south, Pace said. But the fee ended in 2011 and left Pueblo officials wondering if the promised flood control projects would be built.
“We know there will be more water in Fountain Creek because of SDS,” Pace said. “Part of the SDS permit was a guarantee of no increase in stormwater flows.”
Pace said if Colorado Springs’ stormwater issues are not resolved, Pueblo could take Utilities to court and challenge the SDS permits that were based on stormwater controls. No one wants to go down that path, he said.
“The fact that Colorado Springs and El Paso County are moving in this direction is a very positive step,” he said.
Colorado Springs City Council is expected to vote on the proposed regional stormwater contract, called an intergovernmental agreement, for the creation of the Pikes Peak Regional Drainage Authority at its Tuesday meeting. El Paso Board of County Commissioners will consider the contract and ballot language at its Aug. 19 meeting.
The authority, if approved by voters in November, would collect about $39 million a year for the next 20 years to pay for flood control projects in the Fountain Creek Watershed, 928 square miles with a perimeter of 160 miles. Fountain, Green Mountain Falls and Manitou Springs also are considering joining the authority.
Mayor Steve Bach has raised concerns about the proposed contract, saying that it is too restrictive when it comes to the city planning stormwater projects within the city limits. He also worries that the city would not be able to quickly respond to a flood emergency.
“We have to be careful not to put ourselves in a straight jacket,” Bach said. “What if priorities change in a few years? Colorado Springs can’t change its priorities without a supermajority of the (stormwater) board.”
Bach sent a letter to the council July 31 outlining his concerns, which include the need for Colorado Springs to have seven seats on the 11-member governing board. He said he hoped the council would consider his concerns and adjust the contract before approving it.
“I would like to support the IGA,” Bach said. “But if it is so onerous and interferes with the business of the city, I may be forced to oppose the ballot initiative.”
The council appears ready to approve the contract without the mayor’s changes.
Council president Keith King said the stormwater task force designed a regional program so that flood control projects could be planned together among the four cities and county. It would defeat the purpose of a regional project if it were to change the contract to allow Colorado Springs to act on its own.
“I’m afraid we are probably at an impasse,” King said.
Last weekend, the stormwater task force conducted a phone survey asking potential voters whether it would matter to them if Bach did not support the stormwater initiative. The results, however, are “being kept close to the vest,” said Rachel Beck, a task force member.
Councilwoman Jill Gaebler said a conflict between the mayor and council could affect voters. Some, she said, equate the bickering to distrust.
“People want us to work together,” she said.
Gaebler said she believes Bach has the city’s best interests in mind with his proposed changes to the stormwater contract. But his proposal comes too late, she said.
“This task force has been meeting for two years,” she said. “Ever since I’ve been on council, every month an invitation was sent to (the city attorney) and the staff and no one ever attended.”
Richard Skorman, business owner and member of the stormwater task force, said he doesn’t expect the recent strife to influence voters.
“No one should beat themselves up for bringing up issues at the last minute,” Skorman said. “I think everyone at the table wants the same thing.”
Skorman said Bach’s request for seven seats on the board seems reasonable, given that Colorado Springs will contribute roughly 80 percent in fees and need 80 percent of the flood control projects.
“All of those things are important,” he said. “But the biggest goal is for us to finally address flooding problems. There seems to be unanimous support for that.”
More stormwater coverage here.
Originally posted on Summit County Citizens Voice:
FRISCO — Colorado’s native greenback cutthroat trout may be on their way to repopulating their historic habitat in the South Platte River Basin, thanks in part to a scientific sleuthing effort that helped trace the genetic roots of the colorful fish a couple of years ago.
About 1,200 greenback cutthroat fingerlings reared in federal and state hatcheries in Colorado were stocked into Zimmerman Lake, near Cameron Pass last week. An interagency recovery team hopes the stocking is a first milestone toward re-establishing populations of the state fish, which nearly vanished from Colorado’s rivers because of pollution, overfishing and stocking of native and non-native species of trout.
In 2012, scientists concluded that the only remaining genetically pure greenbacks were isolated in a small, single population — about 750 fish, all living in…
View original 485 more words
After a winter of happy news about the generous snowpack in Colorado’s mountains, summer brought reminders that our regional water situation is dire – or, at least, poised on the edge of direness.
Just as the ink was drying on mid-July headlines announcing that Lake Mead had dropped to its lowest level since filling 80 years ago, a new study found that groundwater loss in the Colorado River Basin has been even more dramatic. The study used satellite data to track changes in the amount of water in the basin from 2004 to 2013, and found that 75 percent of the nearly 53 million acre feet lost during that period was from groundwater depletions.
While it is easy to measure how much water is in reservoirs, it is much less clear how much groundwater remains in the region’s aquifers. Western Colorado doesn’t rely much on groundwater, but other states in the basin do.
Then, in early August, researchers at CU-Boulder released an updated report on Climate Change in Colorado. The report notes that higher temperatures are likely to put further pressure on the state’s water supplies, even if we get a bit more rain and snow, because plants will need more and more will evaporate.
An historic 14-year drought plus increasing demands are pushing the Colorado River system ever closer to the point where it could no longer be able to provide the services people rely on. And groundwater appears to be disappearing too fast to be much of a safety net.
The City of Las Vegas, Central Arizona farmers and power generation at Glen Canyon Dam are among the first in line to take a hit if water levels in Lakes Powell and Mead continue to drop.
However, disaster is not inevitable. The multi-state, bi-national agreement to send water back to the Colorado River Delta last spring, for the first time in 30 years, demonstrates that those who manage the river are capable of improbable feats.
Many of the same minds that negotiated the deal that provided water for the delta are working intensely to find ways to keep Mead and Powell functioning and to keep the region’s cities, farms and environment intact. There seems to be both a growing sense of urgency and an increasingly cooperative spirit to these efforts.
Not long ago, when I heard Colorado officials and water managers discuss the overuse of water in the Colorado River Basin, they made it clear that this was mostly a problem for California, Arizona and Nevada — and that Colorado was still intent on developing its full legal share. That tune hasn’t exactly changed, but more cooperative efforts have moved into the foreground.
Most recently, the Central Arizona Project, Denver Water, The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California and Southern Nevada Water Authority announced that they will team up with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to provide $11 million for pilot conservation projects to boost levels in Powell and Mead.
Cooperation is crossing constituencies as well as Upper – Lower basin divisions. The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel recently reported that Denver Water, the Colorado River District, the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association, the Colorado Farm Bureau, the Southwestern Water Conservation District, the Nature Conservancy and Trout Unlimited are working together to explore ways to use some of that $11 million to test “temporary, voluntary and fully compensated” conservation strategies.
Even within Colorado, some of the conflict between West Slopers and Front Rangers over additional transmountain diversions could be softening. A recent “conceptual agreement” released by Colorado’s Inter-basin Compact Committee, which includes representatives from all the state’s river basins, outlines how additional Colorado River water could be sent East “under the right circumstances.” Central to the draft agreement is the recognition by East Slope entities that a new transmountain diversion may not be able to deliver water every year and must be used along with non-West Slope sources of water.
These shifts in tone seem to indicate a coming-to-terms with the fact that Colorado River Basin water supplies are limited, and that everyone who relies on them has a stake in finding ways for all to live within those limits. What remains to be seen is whether we can adapt quickly enough to keep ahead of crisis. Don’t stop praying for snow just yet.
— Yahoo (@Yahoo) August 12, 2014
More Colorado River Basin coverage here.
From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):
A state report predicts climate change would stress Colorado’s water supplies by mid-century.
“It shows why the state water plan effort is timely,” said Alan Hamel, who represents the Arkansas River basin on the Colorado Water Conservation Board. “There’s a lot of good information that can help the state in the report.”
Warmer temperatures are projected to reduce spring snowpack, cause earlier snowmelt and increase the water use by all types of vegetation as the growing season expands, a report for the CWCB states.
“While future increases in annual natural streamflow are possible, the body of published research indicates a greater risk of decreasing streamflow, particularly in the southern half of the state,” it concludes.
The report was written by a team of climate scientists from the University of Colorado and Colorado State University, looking at historic records and future projections. It was funded by the CWCB, Western Water Assessment and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Annual temperature averages have heated up by 2.5 degrees Fahrenheit over the past 50 years, and the trend is expected to continue. However, there has been no longterm trend in precipitation, according to the report.
Although snowpack has been below average in all basins since 2000, no long-term trend has been detected. But runoff is occurring one to four weeks earlier because of higher spring temperatures and dust on snow.
Tree-ring research indicates that there were multiple droughts more severe than anything experienced since 1900 in Colorado.
The rise in temperature is expected by nearly all climate models to continue at the same rate or greater in Colorado through 2050, and climb even faster in the second half of the century.
There is little agreement about precipitation in climate models, except that more of it is expected to occur in the winter months and that it will melt off earlier.
The models project an increase in heat waves, droughts and wildfires.
The report suggests water planners incorporate climate change into scenarios, rather than focusing on a single trajectory of the future.
That’s already been initiated by the CWCB, which has used scenarios for variable climate and growth conditions in the state.
“Planning for longrange water supplies, it is critical to consider changes in climate,” Hamel said. “You have to have scenarios going forward. Just look at 2013 with record droughts, record fires and record floods, all in the same year. You have to plan for variability, as many of the state’s utilities are doing.”
From TheDenverChannel.com (Phil Tenser, Mike Nelson):
“Climate Change in Colorado,” the report issued Tuesday and led by a University of Colorado researcher, is based on compiled climate science. It focuses on current observed trends and forecasts for the mid-21st century.
Over the past 30 years, average temperatures in Colorado have increased by 2 degrees Fahrenheit, the report finds. That is the same amount by which North America has warmed over the same period.
“These global changes have been attributed mainly to anthropogenic (human-caused) influences, primarily the increase in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere to the highest levels in at least 800,000 years,” the report’s executive summary says.
While it says that warming in Colorado is “plausibly linked to anthropogenic influences,” it says recent variability in annual precipitation here “has not exhibited trends that might be attributed” to humans. The next paragraph, however, states human influences may have increased the severity of the drought in the western United States.
“Drought is not just a matter of precipitation, the amount of evaporation is just as important. Even if the total annual precipitation were to remain the same, a warmer Colorado will experience more drought due to the increase in evaporation,” 7NEWS Chief Meteorologist Nelson said…
The report says, “The uncertainty in projections of precipitation and streamflow for Colorado should not be construed as a ‘no change’ scenario, but instead as a broadening of the range of possible futures, some of which would present serious challenges to the state’s water systems.”
According to the report, these observations and predictions could influence reservoir operations including flood control and water storage. Changes in the timing and volume of runoff may also “complicate” future water rights issues and interstate water compacts. Lower streamflows could also lead to higher concentrations of pollutants.
Earlier peak flows could have impacts on aquatic ecosystems and rafting or fishing industries, while reduced snowpack may also impact Colorado mountain tourism.
Every climate model assessed in the report indicates future warming will increase average annual temperatures by 2.5 to 5 degrees Fahrenheit by 2050 if greenhouse gas emissions are in the lower range of estimates. If emissions are in a higher range, the increase could be 3.5 to 6.5 degrees.
“We will still have cold winters and cool summers, but as the global climate warms, these cooler trends will become less frequent in the coming decades,” Nelson said.
“Climate model projections show less agreement regarding future precipitation change for Colorado,” the report states. Most predict additional precipitation by 2050 during the winters, but there is weaker consensus in the projections for the other seasons.
Hydropower facilities or power plants that need water for cooling could also be impacted, it says.
“Water truly is liquid gold in Colorado, the long term trend toward a warmer and drier climate is something we will need to plan for in the future,” Nelson said.
More CWCB coverage here.
From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):
Summer rains have prolonged river flows in Southern Colorado beyond anyone’s expectations this year.
It’s been great for rafting on the Upper Arkansas River, a blessing for farmers and helped to replenish reservoir levels after years of drought.
“We’re seeing an increase in private boaters,” said Stew Pappenfort, lead ranger for the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area. “A lot have taken up kayaking or canoeing after going on a commercial outing.”
Caution was needed during the very high flows that occurred earlier this year, he added. There have been 11 deaths on the upper portion of the river, including seven drownings from boating accidents and one medical emergency.
Flows above Canon City remained above 1,000 cubic feet per second Friday, thanks to both wet conditions and releases to make even more space for imports in Turquoise and Twin Lakes in Lake County, near the headwaters of the Arkansas River.
“We’re still bringing water through the Boustead Tunnel. It’s running at twice of average,” said Roy Vaughan, manager of the Fryingpan- Arkansas Project for the Bureau of Reclamation.
The Boustead Tunnel brings water from the Roaring Fork watershed into Turquoise Lake.
So far, nearly 80,000 acre-feet (26 billion gallons) of water has been brought over, which is about 25 percent more than Reclamation forecast in June. Snowpack was about 25 percent above the median this year in Colorado’s central mountains. But regular summer rains, missing in 2012 and 2013, have boosted flows to more normal levels, Vaughan added.
For farmers, the wet conditions are welcome.
“We were dry early,” said Dale Mauch, who farms near Lamar. The Fort Lyon Canal has had 16 runs of water so far this year, compared with 12 total in 2013 and just seven in 2012. “We had a slow start, because it had been so dry, but it picked up in mid-June. We ran out of snow water on July 4, but then it started raining. You need rain. It really makes a difference.”
Here’s a look at the Lake Powell power pool and the cascading effects if the reservoir drops below the level necessary to continue to deliver power to the southwestern US, from Allen Best writing in The Denver Post:
Colorado water leaders used a curious approach last week in announcing a new water conservation program involving the Colorado River. They talked about electricity and the effect of spiking prices on corn farmers in eastern Colorado, ski area operators on the Western Slope, and cities along the Front Range.
The scenario? A Lake Powell receding to what is called a minimum power pool, leaving too little water to generate electricity. Glen Canyon Dam, which creates the reservoir, is responsible for 81 percent of the power produced by a series of giant dams on the Colorado River and its tributaries, including those on the Gunnison River. This electricity is distributed by the Western Area Power Administration to 5.8 million people in Colorado, Arizona and other states.
Should this power supply be interrupted, WAPA would make good on its contracts with local utilities by buying power in the spot market, such as from gas-fired power plants. But extended drought on the Colorado would certainly increase prices to reflect the higher costs of replacement by other sources.
Hydropower is far cheaper than renewables but also fossil fuels. Rural electrical cooperatives get nearly half the production, followed closely by municipalities, including Colorado Springs, Delta and Sterling, plus Longmont, Loveland, Estes Park and Fort Collins.
Right now, WAPA is selling the energy from Glen Canyon and the other dams at $12.19 per megawatt-hour with a separate charge for transmission. Just how much prices would increase in event of prolonged interruption is speculative. The same agency, however is shoring up August deliveries with purchases of power from other sources at $55 per megawatt-hour, according to Jeffrey W. Ackerman, the Montrose-based manager of WAPA’s Colorado River Supply Project’s Energy Management Office.
This illustrates the bone-on-bone relationship between energy production and water during time of drought.
Yet the broader story about the Colorado River is about a narrowing razor’s edge between supply and demand. There’s no crisis, but water officials are planning for one. A healthy snowpack in Colorado last winter helped, but did not solve problems. The basin as a whole was still below average, as it has been 11 of the last 14 years.
“As leaders, we simply cannot wait for a crisis to happen before we come together to figure out how to address it,” said Jim Lochhead, chief executive of Denver Water. “That would be irresponsible.”
Denver Water and providers in Arizona, Nevada and California, plus the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, are pooling $11 million to launch a demand-management program. Utilities such as Xcel Energy have similar programs, offering to pay customers willing to suspend use of air conditioners for a couple hours on hot summer afternoons.
In this case, $2.5 million is being allocated to fund programs that would yield reduced demands in Colorado and other states upstream of Lake Powell. The obvious idea is fallowing of crops, such as a hay meadow, with the irrigator to be reimbursed. But Lochhead stresses that it’s a blank chalkboard. The intent is to solicit ideas and then “demonstrate effective demand-management techniques.”
“It’s not something we expect to do. It’s not something we want to do, but if the drought continues, we want to be ready,” says John McClow, Colorado’s representative on the Upper Colorado River Commission.
The bulk of the $11 million will be allocated to demand-management programs in the lower-basin states.
Doug Kenney, director of the Western Water Policy Program at the University of Colorado’s Getches-Wilkinson Center for Natural Resources, Energy and the Environment, sees the agreement as representative of broad shift in states sharing water from the Colorado River. “In the past, they could get together to build things such as dams. Now, they are teaming up to save water,” he says. “That’s a paradigm shift.”
An effort involving The Nature Conservancy and water agencies based in Durango and Glenwood Springs has been underway for five years. That parallel effort, however, is driven by a different trigger: the prospect of a compact curtailment or “call.” The 1922 Colorado River Compact requires Colorado and the other upper-basin states — Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico — to deliver an average 75 million acre-feet over any given 10-year period.
Upper basin states at this point have a cushion of 15 million acre-feet, or two years’ supply. Yet abundant snowfall last year in Colorado only slightly filled Lake Powell. One relatively good year does not compensate for several bad ones.
Always hovering in the background is the prospect of even worse. Tree rings from across the River Basin provide clear evidence of longer, more intense droughts 800 to 900 years ago. An additional layer is the prospect of higher temperatures caused by global warming.
Chris Treese, external affairs director for the Glenwood Springs-based Colorado River Water Conservation District, acknowledges a growing sense of urgency. “We could be back in a near-crisis or crisis situation in as little two or three years,” he says. And for water planners, who typically try to think decades ahead, that’s a current event, he adds. [ed. emphasis mine]
How likely is this dead pool? U.S. Bureau of Reclamation modelers in April found a 4 percent chance of a minimum power pool in 2018 and a 6 percent in 2019. The models are based on recorded hydrology of the last 105 years.
What if Powell does decline and electricity cannot be generated? It depends upon how long the shortage lasts. A longer outage would affect electrical consumers from Arizona to Nebraska. “We’re struggling to quantify the impact,” says Andrew Colismo, government affairs manager for Colorado Springs Utility.
Tri-State is the single largest consumer, purchasing 28 percent of all power produced in 2012 from the dams. It sells this power to 44 member co-operatives in a four-state region, including those who sell to irrigators in eastern Colorado.
Irrigation is a huge consumer of cheap power. In northeastern Colorado, Holyoke-based Highline Electric meets demand that ranges from a low of 25 megawatts to a high of 190 megawatts, the latter occurring when irrigation pumps are drawing water from the Ogallala aquifer to spread across 123-acre circles of corn, beans and other crops. Some large irrigators pay hundreds of thousands of dollars annually in electrical costs, says general manager Mark Farnsworth.
The irony is that if a drought occurs accompanied by heat, as is usually the case, irrigators will probably pump more water and air conditioners will work even harder. Power demands will rise as water levels drop.
Tri-State spokesman Lee Boughey says existing rate structures anticipate both droughts and heavy precipitation.
Lochhead and others also point to other ripples from interrupted power sales. Revenues from hydroelectric sales, which were $198 million last year, are used for a great many programs: selenium control in the Delta-Montrose area, work to maintain ecosystem integrity downstream from Glen Canyon and ongoing efforts to preserve four endangered fish species in the Colorado River and its tributaries.
On Wednesday, Lochhead met with an interim legislative water committee at the Colorado Capitol to report about the new agreement. The testimony all day had been about potential measures to expand water conservation as Colorado tries to figure out how to accommodate a population expected to double from today’s 5.3 million residents to 10 million people by mid-century without drying up rivers and farms.
Denver Water already serves 1.3 million, but gets about half of its water from the Western Slope. “We have a vested interest” in the Colorado River, Lochhead told legislators.
One outstanding question is whether Denver and other water providers on the High Plains should try to be able to get additional water from new or expanded transmountain diversions.
With this story from Lake Powell, the take-home message is don’t count on it.
Allen Best writes frequently for The Post about water and energy and also publishes an online news magazine, found at http://mountaintownnews.net.
Coloradans have a special appreciation for the beauty of nature all around us. Everyone benefits from the beauty and bounty of America’s rivers, streams, lakes and other waterways. Of course, these natural resources should be protected from irresponsible polluters, and regulations are in place to ensure clean water in our communities.
But, there is a proposal afoot that would extend federal jurisdiction and accompanying regulations far beyond what makes sense. The National Association of Counties (NACo) sees this proposal as a critical issue, and in my role as First Vice President of NACo and a Colorado county commissioner, I am concerned about how these rule changes will impact local communities.
A new rule, proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers, would erase the distinction between bodies of water — such as streams and lakes — and ditches on the side of a road. According to the proposed redefinition of “Waters of the U.S.,” a river would be no different than a public safety ditch; a lake no different than an emergency flood mitigation system.
This latest example of over-regulation makes no sense and creates more confusion than it seeks to address.
Local water conveyances, such as ditches and flood control channels, may fall under federal regulation in this unworkable proposal. It is unclear how far it would extend into drainage systems. That means counties would be required to obtain federal permits to do routine maintenance work on a roadside ditch or storm-water drain. These are essential components of effective water management.
In many cases, the nation’s counties are responsible for maintaining storm drains and other water conveyance systems that keep people safe from rising waters. They often pay a high price to wait for the federal government to issue permits. This new red tape would slow down the process even more and potentially put more people in harm’s way by inhibiting projects that keep water off of roads and away from homes.
The costs and delays of this federal over-regulation would have a significant impact on public safety and economic prosperity. To give a concrete example of some of these concerns, maintaining drainage is critical to keeping our roads safe and open for use, and it requires daily attention. Increasing fees due to additional regulatory permitting for all runoff, as anticipated by the proposal, could bring maintenance efforts to a halt.
How this regulation would be administered is unclear and would be especially cumbersome if it went directly through federal offices not adequately equipped to accommodate heavier permitting.
The expense for plan preparation would add costs not accounted for in our existing budgets.
If fully exercised every basic culvert maintenance or repair could be held up, placing not only a burden on counties financially, but also putting citizens at risk due to delays, as all work would have to first be reviewed and approved by a federal agency.
The approach taken by this proposal would drain local budgets and create delays in critical, time-crucial repairs with no demonstrated long-term environmental benefit.
Federal over-regulation and unfunded mandates unnecessarily hinder counties’ ability to get things done for local citizens. All of us want to protect the environment, but we cannot allow over-regulation to do more harm than good.
Sallie Clark is first vice president of the National Association of Counties and an El Paso County Commissioner.
More Environmental Protection Agency coverage here.
Having a conversation about conservation may be clever word play. Having that conservation is rather more difficult than saying it, as became evident in legislative committee hearing last week in Denver.
Nobody testifying before the committee opposed the idea of saving water as Colorado seeks to accommodate 10 million people at mid-century, up from today’s 5.3 million. In fact, it became clear that much is already being done.
But neither was there clear agreement about what the next steps should be and what role state government might have. State Sen. Ellen Roberts, whose bill last winter spurred the legislative hearing, summarized the testimony as recommending “local control, state conversation.”
Without specific mandates, per capita water use has declined dramatically since the late 1990s. Per capita residential use in Pueblo dropped from 185 gallons per capita daily to 120 this year. “We’ve changed, the culture changed,” said Paul Fanning, of the Pueblo Board of Water Works.
Changes provoked by severe drought of 2002 has remained. Before the drought, people were giving turf 22 gallons per square foot in Denver. Now, it’s down to 16 gallons, said Chris Pipher, governmental affairs coordinator for Denver Water.
Municipalities use only 8 percent of water in Colorado, suggesting the state can easily reallocate or develop water for new residents. It’s not that simple. Water available for additional development in the Colorado River Basin is uncertain and highly contested in the case of new transmountain diversions. Rural, farming areas want to survive – while preserving the right for individuals to sell their water to cities, if they wish.
Roberts’ bill originally proposed sharp restrictions on lawn sizes when new subdivisions are built that use water obtained by drying up farms. That proposal didn’t survive.“I now know what it’s like to be between people and grass in Colorado,” said Steve Harris, of Durango, who originally came up with the idea.
The idea now on the table is to specify a ratio between indoor and outdoor use. The size of the dwelling wouldn’t matter. It’s currently at about 50-50, but in some places 60 percent of annual water at homes is used indoors. Some thing it can be pushed to 70 percent.
Why does this matter? Indoor water is typically flushed down drains and ultimately 85 to 90 percent is returned, after treatment, to streams and rivers. Water is being directly reused after treatment in several places in metropolitan Denver.
If that proportion is higher, that means less water is used outdoors.
Water budgets were also mentioned frequently. Boulder has already embraced the concept. The budget is the amount of water you are expected to use during a specific month. Each customer’s budget is based on the unique water needs and past use. Stay within your budget and you pay less for the water you use.
Two water districts in the southwest metropolitan Denver, Centennial and Highlands Ranch, also have adopted water budgets for customers.
“The water budget for outdoor irrigation provides enough water for healthy landscapes, but not so much that our resource is wasted,” the Centennial Water and Sanitation District website says. “Progressively higher tiered rates over the allotted budget serve to encourage conservation.
Several speakers made the point that it’s far easier to install water conservation when homes and other buildings are developed, instead of afterward. Rebecca Mitchell, of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, further offered that incorporating water conservation is much less expensive than developing new supply.
John Barnett, long-range planner for Greeley, noted that a 20 percent increase in density will yield a 10 percent decline in per-capita consumption.
But Greeley, like all other municipal representatives, pushed back at a “one size fits all” approach to conservation.
Joseph Stibrich, planning director for Aurora Water Department and the Metropolitan Roundtable representative at statewide negotiations, says one all-encompassing standards “does not work in Colorado as the ability to reach higher levels of conservation is dependent upon what has already been accomplished to date.”
Stibrich also spoke to the perceived drawbacks of conservation that goes too far in towns and cities: reduced tree canopy, increased “heat island” effects, increased stormwater runoff and accompanying water quality degradations, and reductions in property values.
A recurring theme was a call for “measurable outcomes.” Bruce Whitehead, director of the Southwestern Water Conservation District, said the conversation needs to lead to outcomes that are “meaningful and quantifiable.”
Drew Beckwith, of Western Resource Advocates, suggested one way that Colorado might allow local autonomy while move statewide conservation forward is to use funding as incentive. That’s what California does, he said.
April Washington, chairwoman of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, lives in Norwood, and as a resident of the Western Slope, she said she feels there needs to be something that is a “little more forceful.”
Despite the absence of clear ideas of how future legislation may take shape, Whitehead said he was pleased with the conversation in Denver. “I heard loud and clear that he entities do have conservation measure sin place, but they are all using different methods,” Whitehead said in a later interview. “I can’t say enough about the work that Denver has done, and other communities, too.”
Whitehead continues to think the proposal coming out of Durango might work. It sets a goal of indoor use vs. outdoor use, clearly pushing local governments to deeper conservation, but letting them figure out how to do it.
Also of note:
Denver Water’s Chris Pipher called “bluegrass still the path of lease resistance.”
Chris Elliot, a developer of master planned communities in Arvada, Aurora and Golden, said that planning offices generally are very open to landscaping that requires less water use, but parks departments are old school, wanting to lavish water.
Brenda O’Brien of Green Co said the role of state government is to provide consistency.
State Rep. Don Coram, of Montrose, listened to Denver Water’s Jim Lochhead talk about Colorado River problems, and then responded: “We’ve heard a lot today about water budgets,” he said. “It’s time they lived within their budget, as far as I’m concerned,” taking swipe at California’s water use in excess of its compact allocation.
More conservation coverage here.
Krista Bonfantine can look up into the mountains behind her Sandia Park home and understand, better than most, the connection between the forested watersheds that provide most of New Mexico’s water and the stuff coming out of her tap.
As she opened the lid on the concrete box that surrounds Cienega Spring, which supplies her neighborhood’s water, she pondered what might happen if a fire burned through the overgrown woods above – the risk of floods tearing down the picturesque canyon, ash and debris wiping out the water supply intake.
Fire and the resulting damage to watersheds have been an increasing concern in recent years, and Bonfantine is part of an ambitious effort to tackle the cause – overgrown forests in New Mexico’s mountains.
While the risk to Bonfantine’s neighborhood is nearby, and therefore immediately apparent, the widespread risk of fire in the watersheds that provide much of New Mexico’s water supplies is harder to see.
The problem is not just the forests themselves, explained Beverlee McClure, president of the Association of Commerce and Industry, a business group. The threat of upland fires threatens the reliability of the water supplies on which we all depend, she said…
McClure’s organization is part of The Rio Grande Water Fund, a broad-based coalition that is working to scale up patchwork efforts underway in the mountains of northern and central New Mexico to restore forests in order to protect the watersheds and water systems on which they depend.
As McClure spoke, a crew from a Corona-based company called Restoration Solutions was at work up the road with chain saws, felling trees in an overgrown patch of woods at a place called Horse Camp on the edge of the Cibola National Forest.
The overgrown woods in the mountains of New Mexico are the result of a century of firefighting that prevented natural, low-intensity fires that used to clear out undergrowth. The result is forests that are so thick in places that they are hard to walk through…
Trees being cut last week on Forest Service land near the Sandia Crest Road can be used as firewood, but there is not enough money to be made from cutting the small timber clogging the unhealthy forests to make such work self-supporting, Racher said. “There’s not enough value in that wood to pay for what needs to be done,” Racher said.
That is at the heart of the Forest Trust, which is attempting to raise $15 million per year in government money and private contributions to pay to expand the work, said Laura McCarthy, director of New Mexico conservation programs for the Nature Conservancy, an environmental group…
“This is a big problem that the federal government is not going to be able to solve for us,” McCarthy said.
More restoration/reclamation coverage here.
While most people would consider it blessing enough to have just one incredible asset such as the Eagle River flowing through their communities, Eagle County residents are lucky to live in close proximity to two remarkable rivers. The Colorado River flows through Eagle County for 55 miles and is known locally as the Upper Colorado. It is the economic and cultural lifeblood for much of our state and most of the Southwestern U.S.
The Upper Colorado plays a vital role in our mountain community identity, as well as our tourism and recreation-driven economy. Locals and visitors log tens of thousands of river days each year, and the region’s difficult geography preserves much of the classic Western Slope Colorado culture and scenery that remains undeveloped in Eagle County.
From the Colorado Independent (Bob Berwyn):
The money will primarily be used to buy or lease water rights from ranchers and farmers in the Upper Colorado River Basin, including Colorado. Instead of being diverted for irrigation, the water will flow to Lake Powell, the giant desert reservoir in southeast Utah.
Denver, Phoenix, Las Vegas and Southern California want to boost flows to Lake Powell, because if the reservoir’s water level drops below a certain threshold, it changes everything.
In a worst-case scenario of extended drought, Denver Water might have to send water from its reservoirs down to Nevada and California, cutting the amount of water available to water bluegrass suburban lawns.
Under the deal announced last week, The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, the Central Arizona Water Conservancy District, Denver Water and the Southern Nevada Water Authority pledge to work cooperatively with farmers and ranchers to find new and flexible ways of managing existing water supplies to avert a crisis.
Conservation is one of the ways to manage water supplies, and includes everything from fixing rusty, leaking irrigation pipes to installing high-tech soil moisture monitors that ensure efficient irrigation. The new agreement also specifically aims to pay farmers and ranchers in Wyoming, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico to stop irrigating some of their land, at least temporarily, and letting it lie fallow, or uncultivated.
Denver Water CEO Jim Lochhead said the agreement is not a water grab by cities.
“This is about water security,” Lochhead said, explaining that, in times of shortages, it’s important to manage the existing water supply as efficiently as possible. “We have to put our money where our mouth is,” he said. “Part of this is to try and determine really how much water we can obtain for the system through programs like this.”
A key principle of the agreement is demand management, which means focusing on water use rather than on building new diversions or dams. It can include using water more efficiently, and the sale or temporary lease of water rights. Since water managers only have a finite amount of water to work with, shifting around uses within the system is one of the few options for avoiding interstate conflicts while meeting projected gaps in supply…
The agreement looks good on its surface but raises a slew of thorny new legal issues, said Mark Squillace, a leading water law scholar at a University of Colorado natural resource think tank. According to Squillace, agreements reached under the new program could violate state laws that govern water allocation. Participants to voluntary agreements can bind each other legally with a water contract, but the new multi-state program doesn’t address what happens if those deals affect other water users not party to the agreement, Squillace said. At this point, the transfers envisioned under the agreement are probably more of a Band-Aid than the major surgery that may be required to equitably distribute Colorado River water during times of shortage, according to some water law experts.
Along with colleague Douglas Kenney at CU-Boulder’s Getches-Wilkinson Center for Natural Resources, Energy, and the Environment, Squillace has been advocating for revisions to the basic legal framework to reflect 21st-century realities, including climate change and shifts in the demand for water away from agriculture and to municipal use.
And with agriculture using so much of the water, those changes would mainly have to address concerns related to water use by farms and ranches. Squillace said the governing laws need to give farmers more flexibility to save water without losing their water rights.
“Right now, the incentives are for agriculture to use as much water as they can,” Squillace said. Instead, there should be incentives that would encourage farmers to switch to crops that use less water, he explained.
For example, if a farmer switches from growing alfalfa to growing a less water intensive crop like barley, he or she shouldn’t lose their water rights, which is the way things are under the existing use-it-or-lose-it doctrine. Instead, that farmer should be able to market the “extra” water, Squillace explained.
Once the basic laws have been revamped, market-based transfers of water like those envisioned by the new agreement have a much better chance of succeeding, he concluded.
More Colorado River Basin coverage here.
From the Sky-Hi Daily News (Hank Shell):
The nascent Colorado Water Plan has begun to materialize in the form of draft implementation plans for each of the state’s eight largest river basins. And Front Range interests are once again looking toward the Colorado River to cushion water demand in the face of rising populations and interstate water obligations on the other side of the divide…
Each roundtable released its draft plan last week, and the joint draft plan from the South Platte and Metro roundtables, which includes the Denver Metro Area, identifies new Colorado River water supplies as one of the “four legs of the stool” to address water needs in the South Platte River Basin.
The draft plan cites a growing population in the South Platte River Basin and obligations to send water to other states as major factors that justify additional trans-mountain diversion.
As of yet, the South Platte and Metro roundtables haven’t established just how much extra water it would need to divert from the Colorado River.
“There’s a lot of speculation out there from different folks, but I think the basin plan was very deliberate not to put a number to it because it really seemed to stall the conversation,” said Sean Cronin, the chair for the South Platte Roundtable. “It really felt like it was more prudent that we ought to be having a discussion about additional supplies, and we ought to be having a discussion about what those additional supplies would look like.”
The South Platte and Metro roundtables saw that the gap between water supplies and water demands on the West Slope left room for additional diversions, Cronin said. Additional diversions would also be limited to wet years, when more water is available.
“In the end, it really wasn’t a matter of how much water,” Cronin said. “It was simply a matter of do we want to pursue this idea for the greater good for Colorado.”
But the Colorado River Basin Roundtable’s draft plan doesn’t view its resources as expendable.
“We think that a new project should be the last thing that’s sought in that there still might not be enough resources or water to make that viable,” said Jim Pokrandt, chair of the Colorado River Basin Roundtable. “We base that on the fact that the we are already big donors of water to the Front Range.”[...]
But as Mark Koleber, chair of the Metro Roundtable, explained, Denver Water doesn’t supply all of the Denver-Metro area and outlying parts of the South Platte River Basin.
“The metro area is much larger than that outside of the Denver water system,” Kobeler said. “So what might be provided by the Moffat-Gross expansion wouldn’t necessarily go to areas outside of the Denver Water service area unless they have a contract for it.”
This means another entity could seek permitting for a transmountain diversion project from the Colorado River, which wouldn’t fall under the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement.
But Pokrandt said any additional diversions to the South Platte, in theory, would have to come from other basins like the Yampa or the Gunnison.
“Some new big transmountain diversion would probably have to go somewhere else,” Pokrandt said. “It would have to go somewhere else that’s not hard hit.”[...]
The draft basin implementation plan issued from the Colorado River Basin Roundtable has found that additional transmountain diversion would damage agriculture and degrade environmental conditions in the Colorado River basin.
“There’s already so much water taken out of the headwaters that we don’t think that there’s any more water to give without severe economic and environmental degradation,” Pokrandt said…
Each roundtable will submit its final plan to the Colorado Water Conservation Board in April 2015. The board will submit the final state water plan to the governor in December 2015.
For more information on each roundtable’s draft plan, visit http://coloradowaterplan.com.
More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.
The Colorado River District is working with partners on a new regional program to study agricultural conservation projects involving fallowing or deficit irrigation and is advocating the focus be larger than just Western Colorado agriculture, that Front Range agriculture and all municipal users also “share the pain.”
In discussing the subject at the July quarterly meeting of the Board of Directors, General Counsel Peter Fleming said that some degree of temporary fallowing and deficit irrigation may be required to manage the Colorado River Basin under a future dry scenario.
The River District would need to monitor closely and participate in pilot project proposals to ensure that West Slope agriculture and its related economies are best protected, he said.
General Manager Eric Kuhn said that as regional efforts focus on work in Colorado, they need to reach out more broadly than just Western Colorado agriculture. A successful program needs to explore methods to reduce Colorado River demands among all use sectors in the state: municipal, industrial, East Slope agriculture, as well as West Slope agriculture.
A program focused solely on West Slope agriculture will not be successful, he said.
More Colorado River Water Conservancy District coverage here.
Last week, the Project 7 Water Authority, which provides drinking water to the Montrose, Olathe and Delta communities (and the Menoken, Chipeta and Tri-State water districts, as well) stopped using sodium silicofluoride in its water treatment to boost fluoride levels.
At Monday’s work session of the Montrose City Council, Public Works Director John Harris explained he has already received some positive comments about the change. Harris, who also sits on the Project 7 board, said the supply of sodium silicofluoride, produced by a manufacture in Louisiana, was interrupted due to hurricane Katrina in 2005. He said that supply never recovered, leaving municipalities in the United States looking elsewhere, including China.
In July — just as supplies were running out — Harris said the Project 7 board voted in favor to end the practice.
“I’m not willing to take a risk on a Chinese-based project,” Harris told The Watch Monday. “Something would have to change to make us rethink that.”
Harris said residents can use supplemental fluoride found in toothpastes and mouthwashes, but because of the shortage, fluoride “just wouldn’t be added to the drinking water.”
Although fluoride can occur naturally, sodium silicofluoride has been used in America’s public drinking water for more than half a century, for prevention of tooth decay.Studies published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggest there has been an 18-to-40 percent reduction in cavities, in children and adults, as a direct result of water fluoridation.
In a press release, Project 7 said “sodium silicofluoride will no longer be added to boost the naturally occurring fluoride in the water to the “optimum level” as defined by the EPA…
“We can no longer obtain sodium silicoflouride that is manufactured in the USA, with the only supplier being China,” ” said Adam Turner, manager of Project 7. “We are not comfortable with the long-term quality control of the product we would be adding.”
According to the Project 7 website, water supplied to Project 7 from the Blue Mesa Reservoir contains a concentration range of naturally occurring fluoride (from 0.15 to 0.25 mg/l); the EPA limit of fluoride in water is 4 mg/l. Consuming levels higher than 4 mg/l, the EPA states, can cause bone disease and, for children, pits in their teeth…
For more information visit: http://www.project7water.org. or call 970/249-5935.
More water treatment coverage here.
I love politics.
From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):
An oil company’s claim for underground water near Gardner in Huerfano County was rejected last month by the state.
Shell Oil argued produced water from planned drilling is non-tributary, meaning it could be claimed for other uses. Produced water refers to excess water that nearly always accompanies oil and gas drilling operations.
But the Colorado Division of Water Resources said Shell failed to prove its case, in an initial report. Shell has until Aug. 22 to appeal the finding.
Shell’s consultant, AMEC, failed to consider local geologic factors that connect as well as separate the deep Niobrara shale formation with the natural stream system, according to a decision written by Ralf Topper and Matthew Sares of the hydrogeological services section of the division.
Shell’s application was opposed by Citizens for Huerfano County, a group of about 450 local residents and 600 total members that advocates for clean water and air.
“We’re contending that the water is connected because of the vertical dikes in the particular geology of the area,” said Jeff Briggs, president of the citizens group.
Shell made the claims for water underlying three 25,000-acre tracts known as the Seibert, State and Fortune federal units. It plans to drill 7,000 feet deep with horizontal fracturing at a depth of 5,000 feet.
That plan troubles area residents because of past contamination from drilling, Briggs said.
“We feel the state Legislature and executive branch have tried to facilitate as much oil and gas exploration as possible,” Briggs said. “I think what we are saying is that the decision by all levels of government and the oil and gas industry to go all in on fracking was economic and political and not scientific or medical.”
However the Huerfano County decision might not have statewide implications because it applies to specific geologic conditions found in the Spanish Peaks area.
A nontributary designation has advantages for a driller, because containing produced water for either direct use, treatment or deep injection would not require finding other sources to augment stream depletions
More coalbed methane coverage here.
Originally posted on Mile High Water Talk:
Take a drive down West Colfax Avenue in Lakewood and it’s hard to miss the collection of retro neon diner and motel signs illuminating the road.
But, have you ever noticed the aesthetically pleasing median strip? We have!
Following the drought of 2002, the city of Lakewood parks department evaluated the condition of more than 1.3 million square feet of landscaped medians. Many of the medians had overgrown plants and inefficient spray irrigation systems, more than 25 years old.
This led to a trial run of using drip irrigation systems and xeric plants, including native and adapted plants, in 2004. And, Lakewood hasn’t looked back. The city has upgraded nearly 8 miles of landscaped medians to eye-catching and efficient low-water landscapes, resulting in a 40 percent…
View original 173 more words
From Denver Water (Travis Thompson):
In a first-of-its-kind partnership, agricultural and environmental organizations, West Slope water districts and Denver Water have come together to explore measures that could help benefit the Colorado River and avoid reaching critically low water levels in Lake Powell. Should levels in this important reservoir continue to decline due to the prolonged drought in the basin, it could result in a compact call, putting water supplies to much of Colorado and the upper basin states at risk. This also could result in a loss of regionally important hydropower production, a reduction in revenues derived from the sale of this power, and an associated loss of funding for important programs like the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program that provides the means by which all existing water use and an increment of future use in the upper basin can comply with the federal Endangered Species Act.
The Colorado Cattlemen’s Association, Colorado Farm Bureau, Colorado River District, Southwestern Water Conservation District, Denver Water, The Nature Conservancy and Trout Unlimited are working together to leverage $11 million made available under the Colorado River System Conservation Program, which will fund pilot projects to reduce demands in the Colorado River Basin and improve reservoir levels in Lake Powell as well as Lake Mead, which also has declined to its lowest level in its 80 year history.
“Without collaborative action, water supplies, hydropower production, water quality, agricultural output, recreation and environmental resources are all at risk in the next several years in the upper basin, if Lake Powell reaches critically low levels,” said Doug Robotham, Colorado water project director of The Nature Conservancy in Colorado.
The Colorado River System Conservation Program, announced last week, was created by the Bureau of Reclamation and four municipalities in the upper and lower Colorado basins, including Denver Water, to provide funding to develop, test and gather data on potential short-term demonstration or pilot programs that keep water in lakes Powell and Mead through temporary, voluntary and fully compensated mechanisms. If a pilot program proves to be successful, it could be part of a contingency toolbox developed by states and the federal government to be implemented only if a severe shortage looks imminent and discontinued when conditions improve.
“Our interest is to protect water users in Colorado and the upper basin. We know that if there is a compact call, agriculture is the first area that will be looked at for the solution,” said Don Shawcroft, Colorado Farm Bureau. “A crisis is bad for everyone — especially agriculture. It is vital that we have a voice at the table.”
The upper basin pilot projects developed under the System Conservation Program will be used to demonstrate ways to put water immediately in Lake Powell, through voluntary, compensated means, and only for as long as a drought continues.
“Lake Powell is the ‘bank account’ that assures the upper basin has the wherewithal to meet our obligation to the lower basin under the Colorado River Compact. While the risks of Lake Powell going below its power pool are low, the consequences are high,” said Jim Lochhead, CEO/manager of Denver Water. “Currently there are no contingency plans for such an event. Denver gets half its water supply from the Colorado River so we have a big stake in the future security of the river, not just for ourselves, but for all water users in Colorado. As leaders, we simply cannot wait for a crisis to happen before we come together to figure out how to address it. That would be irresponsible.”
“For a number of years now we have been working with Colorado, Front Range water providers, Southwestern, TNC, and agricultural producers on a long-term water banking solution. The System Conservation Program is a natural outgrowth of that effort. The challenge is to be sure all parties are represented and that we have fair and transparent processes,” said Eric Kuhn, general manager of the Colorado River District.
In order to ensure that local concerns are addressed, and that there is equity and fairness among all parties, the upper basin states of Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming, and the Upper Colorado River Commission will have a direct role in program efforts. This envisioned structure is distinct from that of the Lower Colorado River Basin, where the Bureau of Reclamation will manage conservation actions in Arizona, California and Nevada to address declining reservoir levels in Lake Mead in a manner consistent with past programs.
“Complying with the Colorado River Compact is a shared responsibility across all water-use sectors and among all the upper basin states” said James Eklund, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board. “We must control our destiny. The worst case is a compact call or a situation where the federal government determines how we will manage critical flows. We simply must work together to protect the future of this state, all our economies and critical industries to avoid a future compact call.”
As this is a basin-wide project, the coalition will continue to seek additional stakeholders throughout the upper basin states. The members also plan to actively seek additional funding for education and outreach.
“This is not a one-sector or one-state solution. The pilot programs will demonstrate the viability of cooperative means to reduce water demand from any number of different sources where water is lost or consumed — agriculture, municipal and industrial,” said Frank Daley, president of the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association.
“We have learned in Colorado though our Water Conservation Board and Basin Roundtables how critical public awareness is to project success. Education and awareness of the pilot projects may be equally as beneficial as the projects themselves. We have to be sure people have the real facts of what we are trying to do, buy in to the process and then document the benefits,” stated Bruce Whitehead, executive director of the Southwestern Conservation District.
The Colorado River and its tributaries provide water to nearly 40 million people for municipal use, and the combined metropolitan areas served by the Colorado River represent the world’s 12th largest economy, generating more than $1.7 trillion in Gross Metropolitan Product per year along with agricultural economic benefits of just under $5 billion annually.
More Denver Water coverage here.
From 9News (Blair Shiff):
The City of Evans received notice from Governor Hickenlooper’s office on Aug. 1 of a $1-million grant awarded to the city from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s Water Quality Division – Natural Disaster Grant Program…
The City of Evans will use the grant monies according to the guidelines established by the Water Quality Control Division of CDPHE for the following:
Repairs to the existing wastewater treatment facility to allow reliable and effective wastewater treatment until the new facility is fully operational Hazard Mitigation Plan implementation at the Evans Wastewater Treatment Facility Preliminary site applications, process design report, design of a future wastewater treatment facility and associated approvals.
When the flood occurred in September 2013, the City Council was already evaluating needed improvements to increase capacity of the wastewater infrastructure at the Evans Wastewater Treatment Facility. The flood caused serious damage to the facility, highlighting the vulnerability of maintaining a treatment facility in a floodplain. Receipt of these grant monies moves Evans one step closer to a treatment facility of appropriate capacity, out of the floodplain and which meets upcoming state regulatory standards.
From 9News (Meagan Fitzgerald):
Nearly a year after last September’s historic floods, many businesses in Boulder County are still trying to recover.
The U.S. Small Business Administration says they have approved nearly $11 million in loans to help with relief efforts…
Matt Varilek with the USBA says the long-term loans that were approved for businesses in Boulder County were at a 4 or 6 percent interest rates…
An SBA spokesperson says the window to apply for the business loans have passed. But, those who are in need of assistance can contact their local Small Business Development Center. There is still grant money available for businesses devastated by flood water.
The Small Business Development Center is an economic development organization that helps small businesses. There are 14 centers across Colorado to include to include one in Boulder and Larimer County.
Click here to go to the US Drought Monitor website. Here’s an excerpt:
A vigorous monsoon circulation led to heavy rain (locally 2 inches or more) in parts of Arizona and the central and southern Rockies. The rain provided some drought relief, benefited rangeland and pastures, and eased irrigation demands. At times, showers spread as far west as California, resulting in some rare, locally heavy summer rainfall but having little overall impact on the state’s 3-year drought. Moisture also spilled across portions of the central and southern Plains, where interaction with a cold front led to copious rainfall (2 to 6 inches) in Oklahoma and environs. Rainfall totals were much lighter, however, across the majority of Texas. Farther north, however, only isolated showers interrupted an otherwise dry pattern from the Pacific Coast to the northern Plains and western Corn Belt. Despite a July drying trend, many Midwestern crops continued to thrive due to moderate temperatures and adequate subsoil moisture reserves. On August 3, USDA rated nearly three-quarters of the U.S. corn (73%) and soybeans (71%) in good to excellent condition—the highest such ratings this late in the season since 2004. In stark contrast, the return of extremely hot weather to the interior Northwest maintained stress on rangeland, pastures, and rain-fed crops. Elsewhere, locally heavy showers peppered the East, although amounts were highly variable. Some of the heaviest rain fell in the southern Mid-Atlantic States, helping to ease the effects of short-term dryness…
A strange thing happened on the path to California’s historic drought: it rained. Although the rain’s overall effect on the drought were inconsequential, there were some short-term benefits such as reduced irrigation demands and evaporation rates; lower temperatures in the wake of record-setting heat; and temporary relief for drought-stressed rangeland and pastures. Reasons that California’s rain did not provide substantial drought relief included: 1) a lack of widespread coverage of the heaviest showers, 2) the fact that heavy showers mostly fell outside California’s key watershed areas in the Colorado River basin and the Sierra Nevada, and 3) the fact that the high runoff rate of the heaviest rain did not allow for significant percolation into drought-parched soils. Nevertheless, intense rainfall on August 3 led to memorable flooding on the slopes of Mt. Baldy in southern California. Selected daily-record rainfall totals in California on August 3 included 0.49 inch in Needles and 0.07 inch in Long Beach. Scattered showers were reported in other parts of California on various days. Despite the cooler weather and showers, California’s rangeland condition remained steady (70% very poor to poor on August 3). Similarly, topsoil moisture (80% very short to short) and subsoil moisture (85% very short to short) were unchanged from the previous week. Across the northern tier of California, several wildfires—including the 30,000- to 40,000-acre Eiler and Bald fires—remained active in early August…
Northern Plains and Midwest
Spotty showers accompanied below-normal temperatures across the northern Plains and Midwest. Due to persistently cool weather and a lack of heat stress, impacts from short-term dryness have been slow to emerge. Nevertheless, there was some minor expansion of abnormal dryness (D0) and moderate drought (D1) in the southwestern Corn Belt, while a new region of D0 was introduced in northeastern Wisconsin and northwestern Michigan. From June 1 – August 5, rainfall in Traverse City, Michigan, totaled 4.77 inches (71% of normal). Similarly, Green Bay, Wisconsin, netted a June 1 – August 5 total of just 5.29 inches (67% of normal). In Wisconsin, USDA reports indicated that “dry soil conditions and a lack of heat units were keeping corn development behind normal, especially for late-planted fields.” Reports from Michigan echoed those comments: “cool, dry weather in most regions has been a challenge [with respect] to crop development.” In Nebraska, “another week of only scattered rainfall stressed dryland crops and pastures, [while] irrigation continued non-stop in many areas.” North Platte, Nebraska, completed its driest July on record, with rainfall totaling just 0.14 inch (5% of normal) [ed. emphasis mine]. Previously, North Platte’s driest July had occurred in 1901, when 0.34 inch fell. By August 3, topsoil moisture was rated at least one-third very short to short in Missouri (52%), Montana (52%), Nebraska (49%), South Dakota (36%), and Wisconsin (33%). On the same date, nearly one-fifth of the rangeland and pastures were rated very poor to poor in Montana and Nebraska—both at 18%…
Record-setting heat returned to the interior Northwest, leading to some further increases in drought coverage—mainly in Washington and Oregon. In Washington, Omak posted consecutive daily-record highs (105 and 104°F, respectively) on July 29-30, followed by another record setting high of 100°F on August 2. Wenatchee, WA, also notched a pair of daily-record highs (105 and 103°F, respectively) on July 29-30. Other triple-digit, daily-record highs on July 29 included 105°F in Yakima, WA, and 104°F in Pendleton, OR. Effects of heat and drought were apparent on rangeland, pastures, and rain-fed summer crops. For example, 35% of Washington’s spring wheat crop was rated in very poor to poor condition on August 3, according to USDA. On the same date, 39% of Oregon’s rangeland and pastures were rated very poor to poor. And, topsoil moisture was rated more than half very short to short in Washington (65%), Oregon (62%), and Idaho (56%)…
Heavy rain swept across Oklahoma and environs on July 30-31, resulting in modest reductions in drought intensity and coverage. A stripe of 2- to 6-inch rainfall totals stretched across southeastern Colorado, southwestern Kansas, central and eastern Oklahoma, and northeastern Texas, with official, 2-day totals reaching 5.18 inches in McAlester, Oklahoma; 4.02 inches in Paris, Texas; and 2.18 inches in Medicine Lodge, Kansas. Oklahoma’s topsoil moisture was rated 36% very short to short on August 3, an improvement from 47% the previous week. However, the effects of a multi-year drought were still apparent in the fact that, on August 3, subsoil moisture was rated 59% very short to short in Oklahoma, along with 52% in both Colorado and Kansas.
Aside from some heavy showers in northern and eastern Texas, significant rainfall largely bypassed the Lone Star State in late July and early August. As a result, both topsoil and subsoil moisture was rated 67% very short to short on August 3, according to USDA. Several degradations in the drought depiction were introduced in Texas, while USDA reported that rangeland and pasture “conditions began to deteriorate in areas of Edwards Plateau due to dry weather.” In addition, some producers in southern Texas “began to provide supplemental feed.”[...]
Locally heavy showers associated with the monsoon circulation continued to pepper the Great Basin, Intermountain West, and Southwest, resulting in further improvements to the drought depiction where significant rain fell. Many of the improvements were concentrated across New Mexico, as well as portions of west-central and southeastern Arizona. On August 3, rangeland and pastures were rated 56% very poor to poor in New Mexico and 50% very poor to poor in Arizona. However, those numbers represented improvements from 65 and 56%, respectively, from the previous week. Shower activity continued to bypass many areas in Utah, which topped the Southwestern States on August 3 with 61% of its topsoil moisture rated very short to short. In northeastern Arizona, rain also continued to skirt much of the Navajo Nation and the Hopi Indian Reservation, leading to an increase in the coverage of severe drought (D2)…
From August 7 – 11, showery weather will gradually shift from the north-central U.S. into the Southeast. Five-day rainfall totals could reach 2 to 4 inches from the southwestern Corn Belt to the Carolinas. Meanwhile, mostly dry weather will prevail across the Great Lakes region and the southern Plains, although generally cool weather in the Midwest will contrast with hot conditions in the south-central U.S. Farther west, monsoon showers will be mostly confined to the northern Intermountain region, although a new surge of moisture may reach the Southwest during the next few days. In Hawaii, the remnants of Hurricane Iselle will pass over or very close to the Big Island during the night of August 7-8. Iselle, expected to be a tropical storm upon reaching the Big Island, could result in torrential rainfall and gusty winds. Effects from Iselle may also reach some of the other Hawaiian Islands, mainly on August 8.
The NWS 6- to 10-day outlook for August 12 – 16 calls for the likelihood of below-normal temperatures from the central Plains into the Midwest and Northeast, while hotter-than-normal conditions can be expected across the northern High Plains, Deep South, and much of the West. Meanwhile, near- to above-normal rainfall across the majority of the U.S. will contrast with the likelihood of drier-than-normal weather in southern Texas and from the Pacific Northwest to the northern High Plains.
Nobody doubts that the Colorado town of Pagosa Springs has hot water. It bubbles to the surface at around 140 degrees and in quantities sufficient to sustain a large commercial spa and several more public pools along the San Juan River.
As well, the hot water heats 13 businesses and 5 homes in downtown Pagosa Springs plus the Archuleta County courthouse, delivering this energy at a cost roughly 20 to 25 percent below the going rate for natural gas and 30 percent less than electricity.
But is there sufficient hot water available to produce electricity, warm 10 acres of greenhouses, and deliver heat to 600 homes?
Geologic modeling suggests there is, but until additional wells are drilled, as is expected later this summer, there’s no way of knowing for sure. If those exploratory wells confirm large volumes of hot water, then two large-bore wells will be required to extract the hot water and, after the heat is transferred from the water, return it underground.
Federal and state grants this year have given the project traction. The U.S. Department of Energy delivered $3.9 million, followed by $1.9 million from state sources. The town and county governments created a consortium called the Pagosa Area Geothermal Water and Power Authority to provide 30 percent in local funds, or $520,000, as required by the federal grant.
A private company, Pagosa Verde, which is pushing the project, came up with an equal amount in in-kind services. It owns 20 percent of the project and has the backing of a South Carolina-based investment firm called Natural Energy LLC.
Another milestone occurred in late May, when Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper stopped in Pagosa to sign H.B. 14-1222 into law. The law, co-sponsored by Sen. Ellen Roberts, a Republican from Durango, and Sen. Gail Schwartz, a Democrat from Snowmass Village, lengthens the repayment period and otherwise provides great flexibility for private-activity bonds issued with the backing of the state government for geothermal and other renewable energy projects.
Michael McReynolds, policy advisor at the Colorado Energy Office, says the new law recognizes the large costs of proving the geothermal resource exists before development can occur.
However, other areas of the state are interested in replicating the business model of diverse revenue streams being assembled at Pagosa Springs. “It really depends upon the specific communities and what they want to pursue,” he said when asked if the new law will be used to finance other community renewable energy projects.
Jerry Smith, the chief executive at Pagosa Verde, says the new law was “huge” in allowing the project in Pagosa Springs to go forward.
In providing access up to $16.7 million available for as little as 2 percent interest, Smith’s project can now proceed. He estimates the need to spend $26 million before revenue can be gained.
“It’s a community-scale project, replicable throughout the Rocky Mountain states. I wanted town and county citizens to own it,” says Smith. “They only way they could participate was by forming an authority, similar to a housing authority. It’s a quasi-governmental authority.”
The public-private partnership is called Pagosa Waters LLC.
Because of the lower-cost money produced by the state and federal grants plus the clear bonding authority enabled by the new state law, he sees a financial path opening up.
Bonds will be just 2 percent. “That’s essentially free money,” he says. “We can borrow as much as we need to secure revenue for the project, “and it’s a way we go.”
Cheap borrowed money also relieves the onus of finding extremely hot water and arranging for sale of electricity, says Smith. If tests reveal merely hot water, such as bubbles up in the local springs, then that’s still hot enough for greenhouses and living rooms.
From the Romans forward
Hot water originating underground has long been put to practical uses. Romans at Pompei used hot water to heat buildings.
The Idaho Capitol Building has been heated with water drawn from 3,000 feet below ground, but 86 buildings with more than 5.5 million square feet of space are also heated by a separate geothermal heating district, according to Jon Gunnerson, geothermal coordinator for the City of Boise Public Works. It is the largest geothermal heating system in the United States, he says.
Commercial electrical production from geothermal sources began in 1911 in Larderello, Italy. The first commercial electrical production in the United States began in 1960 at The Geysers in California.
In 2013, according to the Geothermal Energy Association, the United States had 3,386 megawatts of installed geothermal capacity, or about three times as much as the trio of giant coal-fired power plants found in the Comanche complex near Pueblo, Colo.
Less prominent than photovoltaic panels, geothermal was nonetheless responsible for 0.41 percent of all electrical generation last year, ahead of solar at 0.23 percent. Biomass, wind, and hydro all produced more than geothermal.
California far and away has the most geothermal installed capacity, followed by Nevada, then trailed more distantly by Hawaii, Utah, and Idaho.
In Colorado, geothermal resources have been used to heat small greenhouses associated with the Mt. Princeton Hot Springs, near Buena Vista, as well as commercial springs. But no electrical production has been achieved because of concerns that new uses will rob existing users of their heat.
“Until very recently, Colorado’s geothermal potential for generating electricity has been assigned little promise,” notes the Colorado School of Mines at its geothermal website. “This appears to be based more on a lack of study, rather than on sound science.”
The website article goes on to note that a 2008 report from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that Colorado is the top state in the nation for potential commercial development of its heat, mostly if deep wells are drilled near Rico, Trinidad and other hot spots in a process called enhanced geothermal recovery.
Potential in Pagosa
Just how much electricity the Pagosa project could produce depends upon the heat of water. Colorado School of Mines studies concluded a strong likelihood of substantial hot water 2,000 to 5,000 feet under the land leased by Smith’s company about two miles south of downtown Pagosa Springs. Hot water for the downtown heating district is drawn from a depth of 300 feet.
Smith says it’s a cinch that the water found 2,000 to 5,000 deep will be at least 140 degrees Fahrenheit, the temperature of the water found closer to the surface. If so, it should be enough to produce four megawatts of round-the-clock electricity, what is called base-load generation.
If the water is 250 degrees, as the geological modeling suggests, it could generate 12 megawatts—and still have residual heat for the greenhouses and the homes.
Archuleta County altogether has baseload demand for 20 megawatts of generation. Another renewable source, a proposed biomass plant that would burn forest products to generate electricity, would generate 5 megawatts. Both biomass and geothermal generators probably need to get paid more for their electricity by the local electrical cooperative, La Plata Electric, than what the cooperative currently pays.
Biomass plant proponent J.R. Ford last winter said he needed 15 to 20 percent more than what the La Plata and other electrical cooperatives pay wholesale provider Tri-State Generation and Transmission. Tri-State’s power comes primarily from coal, natural gas, and hydroelectric.
Both the geothermal and biomass projects in Archuleta County are representative of small sources of electricity called distributed generation. In a famous 1976 essay published in Foreign Affairs, Aspen-area resident Amory Lovins advocated more localized generation as necessary to shift power production from giant but often distant coal-fired power plants. In that same essay, Lovins also stressed that more local sources of electricity would reduce the vulnerability of the grid to terrorism.
“Distributed energy is what the world needs to get to,” says Smith, who cites Lovins as one of his heroes.
Smith moved to Archuleta County in 1989 after a career in the entertainment industry in California. He describes himself as a “liberal arts guy who values things that most people find technical and dry.”
Geothermal is wet, of course, but whether it moves forward in Pagosa Springs depends upon the outcome of a review by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The 600 acres of land leased for the drilling between the San Juan River and Highway 84 has a plant species, the Pagosa skyrocket (Ipomopsis polyantha), which has been listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act.
The plant grows one or two feet tall, often in the understory of Ponderosa pine, and has been found in only three places, all near Pagosa Springs.
The federal grant money triggered the need for a biological assessment, which will be the basis for a biological opinion. If adverse effects can be avoided, such as by using care in the placement of wells, the Fish and Wildlife Service can approve the drilling this summer.
Existing wells reach a maximum 1,200 feet, but Smith expects to need wells 2,500 to 5,000 feet deep. The working hypothesis is that the underground rocks at the site are fractured than those that provide the water for the commercial hot springs and downtown heating district.
How will anybody know if the new wells are tapping a new source of heat instead of robbing the existing geothermal resource? Smith says his company will inject heat and pressure gauges on all local hot-water wells, “so they know immediately whether we are tapping the resource.” Colorado law and new regulations in Archuleta County protect existing geothermal users in case of damage to their resource.
Chris Gallegos, who administers the town’s geothermal heating district, says it’s “an unknown” whether Smith’s project would impair the existing users. “Through the test wells we should be able to determine whether the extraction of that heat would affect us or not,” he says.