Durango: CLUB 20 Water Policy Committee Meeting — July 31

July 22, 2014
Durango

Durango

From email from Club 20 (Shawna Grieger):

Here [are] the most recent agendas for the upcoming CLUB 20 Water, Agriculture, Public Lands & Transportation and Energy Policy Meetings that will be held in Durango, Colorado.

Anyone is welcome to attend CLUB 20 policy meetings during the Winter and Summer meetings. However, you must be a CLUB 20 Member to vote during committee meetings and to receive e-updates and alerts per committee. Please let us know if you are planning on attending the Summer Policy Committee Meetings July 31 and August 1 in Durango or if you have any questions regarding CLUB 20 efforts and membership.


Grand Junction: Some history of the Kannah Creek diversion #COWaterPlan

July 22, 2014
Grand Junction back in the day with the Grand Mesa in background

Grand Junction back in the day with the Grand Mesa in background

From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Greg Trainor):

From the incorporation of the town of Grand Junction in 1882 until 1911, the prospect of a firm water supply for Grand Junction citizens was in doubt. For almost 30 years, numerous recall elections, battles between the town and private water purveyors, and municipal expeditions to find mountain “water at any price” took up most of the official business of Grand Junction aldermen.

See-sawing back and forth between municipal ownership of the town water system and franchises to private companies to operate the system, the source of the town water supply also see-sawed between locations on the Colorado River at Fifth Street and the Gunnison River near the Redlands Water and Power Company Diversion. In Spring, supply was up, but so was sediment and mud. In late summer and fall, flow was down and ability to keep pipes full of water for fire protection suffered.

In 1894 the citizens voted 88 percent to build and operate a municipal water system but it took 13 years for the town to finally file for a water right in Kannah Creek, 20 miles to the southeast. The town was desperate: Could they afford a municipal system, who would buy bonds to pay for a system, where were there year-round supplies of water?

After having looked at mountain water supplies on Pinon Mesa near Glade Park, Kruzen Springs above Palisade, Whitewater Creek (later acquired by the City in 1989), the city settled on Kannah Creek. Ironically with the help of engineers from the Denver Union Water Company (later to become the Denver Water Department), the city filed a petition in eminent domain in Mesa County District Court for the first 7.81 cubic feet per second of flow from Kannah Creek.

As owners of all of the direct flow water rights on Kannah Creek, ranchers and farmers in Kannah Creek were not long in joining together in their opposition to the city’s actions. Their water was in the cross hairs of the city. An action in eminent domain is not the same as a filing for a water right in Water Court. In the latter case, a filing is made for water and proof is presented to the court that shows the water being put to beneficial use. The Water Court then establishes a priority date for use of the water, insuring that no other water user with a more senior water right is damaged. On the contrary, the city’s action in condemnation allowed the city to act under its powers of eminent domain and secure (“take”) water for the use of its citizens, provided, however, that the city make full compensation or satisfaction for all damages incurred by the taking.

In 1911, four years later, a jury awarded $182,940 to all parties from whom the city had acquired the water. The District Court also decreed that the city to be the owner of “a first, superior and paramount right to a continuous flow of 7.81 cfs over and above all other water rights claimed in Kannah Creek.” The city had the water, now it needed a way to get the water from Kannah Creek to Reservoir Hill above the city cemeteries, near Fifth Street. After years of offerings, Colorado Fuel and Iron Company (Pueblo steel mills), purchased the water bonds which allowed Grand Junction to build a state-of-the-art wood stave water line from Kannah Creek to the water plant.

To this day, the city’s pre-1922, “paramount” water right is the backbone of the city’s water supply system. Since 1911, the city has continued to acquire additional water rights and ranch properties to insure that mountain water is available to its citizens.

These actions between 1907 and 1911 colored all relationships between the City of Grand Junction and the landowners in Kannah Creek. Storage of Kannah Creek water, easements and rights of way, water for livestock, treated water for safe drinking, reservoir ownership and maintenance, and administration of the Grand Mesa “Pool” were continuous issues that festered during the entire 20th century. Yes, the landowners in Kannah Creek have long memories.

Today, the efforts to affect a State Water Plan include ideas to share water between agriculture and municipal users. It is unlikely that municipal condemnation would be the first idea implemented, but rather a series of purchase options, water banking, water rentals, or payments for fallowing would be considered. However, when circumstances cause a municipal water provider to feel it has exhausted all methods to secure a safe and reliable water supply, condemnation remains as a tool that, at the direction of a water policy board, could be employed to acquire water “at any price.”

Note: Material for this article comes from “City of Grand Junction v. Kannah Creek Water Users Association, No. 27047, Supreme Court of Colorado, En Banc. December 20, 1976.

Greg Trainor is the recently retired Public Works and Utility Director for the City of Grand Junction. He is currently the Chair of the Advisory Committee for the Water Center at Colorado Mesa University and acting President of the Southwest Chapter of the River Management Society.

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


Northern Water: The first C-BT Project water was released from Horsetooth Reservoir into the Poudre River on this day 63 yrs ago #ColoradoRiver

July 21, 2014

From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Ryan Maye Handy):

Horsetooth Reservoir gets its water from a network of Western Slope reservoirs fed by mountain snowmelt. Water is usually pumped up from Lake Granby to Shadow Mountain Reservoir, where gravity eventually pulls it down through the 13-mile Adams Tunnel and into a couple of more reservoirs before it reaches Horsetooth.

Back in 1951, hundreds of people came to the reservoir to mark the event — it was a long-awaited milestone for farmers and cities along the Front Range, who had survived decades of drought.

The shuttling of Western Slope water into Horsetooth and the Poudre River is a system that Northern Colorado has been reliant on for decades. In Northern Colorado, the plea for more water started in the Great Depression, when a devastating drought plagued the western and central United States.

The federal government agreed to come to the aid of Colorado’s farmers and in the late 1930s began building the Colorado-Big Thompson project. Today, the C-BT project supplies Fort Collins with 65 percent of its water.

I was 4 months and 16 days old at time. I don’t remember the event. More Colorado-Big Thompson Project coverage here.


Eagle River Valley: Eagle River Watershed Councils’s 5th annual RiverFest, August 9

July 21, 2014

eagleriverwatershedcouncilriverfest08092014
Click here for the announcement.

More Eagle River watershed coverage here.


Can we conserve our way out of our supply gap in the #ColoradoRiver Basin? #COWaterPlan

July 19, 2014

thehardestworkingriverinthewestcolooradoriver

Update: I heard from the Western Resource Advocates and American Rivers media guy, Gil Rudawsky. Scroll down to read the update.

Western Resource Advocates and American Rivers attempt to answer that question with a new report. Here’s their release:

On July 17 2014, Western Resource Advocates joined with American Rivers to release a new report that identifies conservation, reuse and other innovative solutions that could eliminate Western water shortages stemming from the over-taxed and stressed Colorado River. The report defines five cost-effective and clearly defined solutions that – if implemented at a larger scale across the basin – could meet the water needs of the West’s business, agricultural and growing population through 2060.

The Hardest Working River in the West: Common-Sense Solutions for a Reliable Water Future for the Colorado River Basin provides a comprehensive package of proven methods to conserve water.

  • Download the Executive Summary
  • Download the Full Report
  • See the full press release
  • The new report estimates that 4.4 million acre-feet of water could be saved and made available for other uses if these proven methods are implemented throughout the basin – more than enough water to meet projected growth in water needs in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming, for the next half-century.

    This report comes at a critical time for Western States with record droughts, depleted reservoirs hitting all-time lows, and a growing population increasing water demands.

    “Our report showcases the ‘All-Star’ water solutions – actions that are proven, cost-effective and ready to meet our current and future water needs,” said Bart Miller, Water Program Director at Western Resource Advocates. “The fact is, there is a lot of concern about the Colorado River right now but these solutions will work and help everyone – from agriculture to growing cities –

    “There is a widening water gap creating 3.8 million acre-feet of additional water needed to meet the needs of the growing population of the West. This is an enormous amount which, if not carefully managed, could deplete the river and dramatically alter the landscape of the seven basin states,” said Matt Rice, Director of Colorado Basin Programs for American Rivers. “These solutions will ensure the river’s resources meet all future water needs for urban, rural, business and agricultural communities across all seven basin states, while still protecting the natural environment of the West.”

    The five critical steps for solving our current and future water shortages are:

  • Municipal conservation, saving 1.0 million acre-feet through such efforts as improved landscaping techniques, rebate programs that incentivize water-saving devices and standardized water audits
  • Municipal reuse, saving 1.2 million acre-feet through gray water treatment and re-use for irrigation, industrial uses and other purposes
  • Agricultural efficiency and water banking, saving 1.0 million acre-feet via voluntary, compensated improvements in irrigation efficiency and technology, crop shifting and other measures (while avoiding permanently taking agricultural lands out of production)
  • Renewable energy and energy efficiency, saving 160 thousand acre-feet using wind, solar PV, and geothermal energy solutions, and new water-efficient thermoelectric power plants
  • Innovative water opportunities, generating up to 1.1 million acre-feet through creative measures such as invasive plant removal, dust-on-snow mitigation and targeted inland desalinization.
  • I’ve got email into their media guy about the dust-on-snow savings in their plan. 400,000 acre-feet is a lot and I haven’t run across an estimate like that. I thought the only historical adjunct for dust mitigation was the Taylor Grazing Act of 1934 and we certainly didn’t have accurate measurement of snowpack back then. We do know that the act lowered dust levels.

    Update: Gil Rudawsky got back to me with a paragraph from their report, I believe, it’s unclear from his email. At any rate the text reads, “By implementing measures to reduce the accumulation of dust on snow, lower evaporative losses are anticipated.”

    I told him that it’s a long way from “anticipated” to wet water. No one even knows if we can successfully implement dust-on-snow mitigation to the extent needed to back up their number. It’s just a little careless on their part.

    As an aside they also have a weather modification number in their totals. I have not been apprised of solid data from cloud-seeding efforts. That being said many large water providers set aside substantial funds each year for projects.

    I think everyone nowadays agrees that river health should be right up there when setting policy so I think that is one good takeaway from the report.

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

    Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer's office

    Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer’s office

    The undefined transmountain diversion to be addressed by the Colorado Water plan would be unnecessary under conservation proposals that would keep more water in the Colorado River, two environmental organizations said.

    Five proposals listed by the organizations in “The Hardest Working River” could be of immediate and long-term benefit to the river, said Bart Miller of Boulder-based Western Resource Advocates, which issued the report along with American Rivers, which releases an annual report listing endangered rivers.

    Conservation measures “absolutely” could offset the need for new storage in the river, said Matt Rice, director of Colorado conservation for American Rivers, in a conference call with reporters.

    “We’re having a hard enough time keeping waters in the reservoirs as it is” without a new one, Rice said.

    Augmenting Colorado’s water supply from outside sources also wouldn’t help, Rice said, dismissing the idea of new pipes and water projects to deliver water into the state.

    The Colorado Water Conservation Board is moving ahead on the task of drafting a statewide water plan.

    Front Range water providers have floated the idea of a new transmountain diversion, but have offered no information as to where it might be located. One proposal calls for water to be diverted only during years with heavy runoff.

    Two dozen transmountain diversions now send as many as 600,000 acre feet of water to the east side of the Continental Divide.

    Colorado and the other upper Colorado River basin states are required to send at least 7.4 million acre feet of water per year to Arizona, Nevada and California. Five solutions that American Rivers and Western Resource Advocates are suggesting “would go a long ways toward meeting the needs in the future,” Miller said.

    Taken together, the proposals could keep 4.4 million acre feet in the river, Miller said.

    The proposals call for conservation and reuse of municipal water, with both more efficient fixtures and reduced irrigation of lawns and other outside uses; greater agricultural efficiency and water banking.

    Further, the proposal calls for more efficient water use by the energy industry and the use of rooftop solar and wind sources; and the removal of water-guzzling invasive plants such as tamarisk.

    Xeriscape landscape

    Xeriscape landscape

    From Colorado Public Radio (Ana Hanel):

    The goal is not to divert water from one area to another, said American Rivers’ Matt Rice.

    “We deliberately don’t address and don’t believe that the right approach is with new pipelines and new large-scale water projects, because they’re significantly more expensive,” Rice says.

    The report says millions of people’s drinking water is at risk over the next few decades if demand continues to outpace the Colorado River’s water supply.

    It’ll be important over the next few years for communities to continue to encourage water conservation, said Bart Miller of Boulder-based Western Resource Advocates.

    “We can look to having landscapes that use more native vegetation, that are smaller in size,” Miller says. “We can greatly decrease the amount of water that’s used outside, which is about half of the water use for most metropolitan areas.”

    Miller said it’ll be important to replicate successful conservation and water-reuse programs in cities throughout the southwest.

    More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.


    Eating the #ColoradoRiver shortage elephant, one bite at a time — John Fleck

    July 19, 2014
    Colorado River Basin including out of basin demands -- Graphic/USBR

    Colorado River Basin including out of basin demands — Graphic/USBR

    John Fleck lays out a strategy to reduce the long-term shortage on the Colorado. Here’s his report from Inkstain. Here’s an excerpt:

    This line from a paper a few years back by Edella Schlager and Tanya Heikkila may seem obvious, but in the context of current discussions over the future of Colorado River management, it bears repeating:

    A water allocation rule that allocates more water than is available in a river is not well matched to its setting.

    Yup. That in a nutshell is the problem highlighted by this oft-revisited Bureau of Reclamation slide demonstrating how the Lower Colorado River Basin’s water budget works. Everyone here is following the rules, living within their legal allocation, and Lake Mead keeps dropping because the Law of the River has allocated more water than is available in the river.

    This is the critical thing to understand as we see the beginnings of the new “Colorado River System Conservation Program” taking shape, which would create a framework to pay farmers to leave water in the river. It’s not enough to simply save water. The way we go about it must be embedded within, and take into account, the rules governing allocation and distributions of Colorado River water…

    The 1990-2003 experience suggests that the water conservation piece of this may be the easy part. As a nice new Western Resource Advocates white paper explains, we know how to conserve the water. The key piece here, and the reason the System Conservation Program is so interesting and important, is that we need to get the water allocation rules and river management policies right in order to cause those conservation savings to happen.

    More Colorado River Basin coverage here.


    Northern Water opts for gradual rate increase — Fort Collins Coloradoan

    July 18, 2014
    Colorado-Big Thompson Project Map via Northern Water

    Colorado-Big Thompson Project Map via Northern Water

    From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Ryan Maye Handy):

    The Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District will increase the cost of its water step-by-step over 2016 and 2017, which will mean 28 percent cost increase per year for cities like Fort Collins.

    The district’s board came to a decision about the rate increases on July 11, after months of considering the best way to hike prices to balance out the district’s budget. The board initially considered a more than 40 percent increase in 2016, but decided to compromise with cities and other water users concerned that such drastic increases would harm their finances.

    Fort Collins Utilities, which now gets the bulk of its water from the district, says that in the short term customers’ utility rates will not be affected…

    For 2015, allotment prices for cities were set at $30.50 per acre foot, up from $28. While that cost will only increase for cities over the next few years, irrigators will face a 61 percent increase in allotment costs in 2016 and 2017.

    Fort Collins Utilities directly owns 18,855 units in addition to about 14,000 units it leases from the North Poudre Irrigation Co. But, in terms of actual use for 2014, the city has used 14,900 acre feet of water since Nov. 1, when the water year begins.

    After the High Park Fire, Utilities became even more reliant on C-BT water since the Poudre River, the city’s other water source, was filled with fire and flood debris. This year, the city gets about 65 percent of its water from Northern Water, and 35 percent from the Poudre.

    From the Loveland Reporter-Herald (Jessica Maher):

    Costs are expected to increase every year until 2018, when municipal and industrial C-BT users will be charged $53.10 per unit and agricultural users will be charged $30.20 per unit. That represents a nearly 90 percent increase for municipalities and 202 percent increase for agricultural users.

    The city of Loveland owns 12,118 units of C-BT water, 5,112 of which are fixed at a rate of $1.50 per unit that will not change.

    The increase for Loveland’s remaining 7,006 open-rate units will cost the city about $176,000 more by 2018. Loveland Water and Power staff will budget for the increase in the coming years, senior water resources engineer Larry Howard said.

    “It’s real money, but it’s not something that’s devastating to the utility or something,” Howard said.

    Next year, rates are set to increase by 9 percent. That’s a manageable increase that will not require rate increases for Loveland Water and Power customers, Howard said.

    Whether customers will see an impact from the increase in future years is not known.

    “When we do our cost of service study next year, the cost increase will be taken into account, along with any other changes in our costs,” Utility Accounting Manager Jim Lees said.

    The city of Loveland’s primary two sources of water are the Green Ridge Glade Reservoir and water diverted directly from the Big Thompson River at the Big Dam.

    “We generally rely on those each year and then start filling in with C-BT and Windy Gap water,” Howard said. “It depends on the year and how much we need.”

    Depending on conditions year to year, the city rents C-BT water to farmers, so Howard said that could help to absorb the cost of the rate increases over the next few years.

    Brian Werner, Northern Water’s public information officer, said that the increases are the result of a comprehensive study that started last year.

    “The cost of doing business is going up,” Werner said. “Our management has charged us with looking at where we can control costs.”

    More Colorado-Big Thompson Project coverage here.


    Roaring Fork watershed: Robert Woods was named the 2014 River Conservator Award at River Rendezvous last week

    July 16, 2014

    Water Lines: Colorado needs a better water plan — Jim Pokrandt #ColoradoRiver #COWaterPlan

    July 16, 2014


    From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Jim Pokrandt):

    It’s almost time for football training camps, so here’s a gridiron analogy for Colorado River water policy watchers: Western Colorado is defending two end zones. One is the Colorado River. The other is agriculture. The West Slope team has to make a big defensive play. If water planning errs on the side of overdeveloping the Colorado River, the river loses, the West Slope economy loses and West Slope agriculture could be on the way out.

    This is how the Colorado River Basin Roundtable is viewing its contribution to the Colorado Water Plan ordered up by Gov. John Hickenlooper. A draft plan will be submitted this December and a final plan in December 2015. The Roundtable is assessing local water supply needs and environmental concerns for inclusion into the plan and there is plenty of work to consider in the region. But the big play may very well be the keeping of powerful forces from scoring on our two goal lines.

    Here’s why: Colorado’s population is slated to double by 2050. Most of it will be on the Front Range, but our region is growing too. Mother Nature is not making any new water. We still depend on the same hydrological cycle that goes back to Day 1. So where is the “new” water going to come from? Right now, there seems to be two top targets, the Colorado River and agriculture (where 85 percent of state water use lies in irrigated fields). Colorado needs a better plan.

    The Colorado Basin Roundtable represents Mesa, Garfield, Summit, Eagle, Grand and Pitkin counties. This region already sends between 450,000 and 600,000 acre feet of water annually across the Continental Divide through transmountain diversions (TMDs) to support the Front Range and the Arkansas River Basin.

    That water is 100 percent gone. There are no return flows, such as there are with West Slope water users. On top of that, this region could see another 140,000 acre feet go east. A number of Roundtable constituents have long-standing or prospective agreements with Front Range interests wrapped around smaller TMDs. Existing infrastructure can still take some more water. That’s the scorecard right now. We assert another big TMD threatens streamflows and thus the recreational and agricultural economies that define Western Colorado, not to mention the environment.

    In the bigger picture, the Colorado River Compact of 1922 requires Colorado to bypass about 70 percent of the river system to the state line to comply with legal limits on depletions so six other states can have their legal share of the water. Failure to do so, by overdeveloping the river, threatens compact curtailments and chaos nobody wants to see. For one thing, that kind of bad water planning could result in a rush to buy or condemn West Slope agricultural water rights.

    The Roundtable has heard these concerns loudly and clearly from its own members across the six counties as well as from citizens who have given voice to our section of the water plan, known as the Basin Implementation Plan (BIP). A draft of the BIP can be viewed and comments offered by going online to http://coloradobip.sgm‐inc.com/. It is under the “Resources” tab.

    Jim Pokrandt is Colorado Basin Roundtable Chair.

    More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


    Pueblo Board of Water Works board meeting recap

    July 16, 2014
    Colorado Springs circa 1910 via GhostDepot.com

    Colorado Springs circa 1910 via GhostDepot.com

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    Colorado Springs will be taking a more regional approach and looking at risk factors as it develops its 50-year water plan. That’s a shift from the 1996 water resources plan that focused solely on supply and led to Southern Delivery System, said Brett Gracely, water resources manager for Colorado Springs Utilities.

    “We are seriously evaluating the timing of future SDS components,” Gracely told the Pueblo Board of Water Works Tuesday.

    Utilities is updating the plan that will determine its actions in water development after SDS comes online in 2016. The plan will look at watershed health, fire vulnerability and climate change, as well as social values and tradeoffs. It also will incorporate traditional factors like water supply, demand and quality.

    “Because of changes in technology and software, we can run thousands of scenarios through our models,” Gracely said.

    Another key difference is that Colorado Springs Utilities is not planning on building another $1 billion pipeline as a result of this plan, but more carefully evaluating its options after SDS.

    “It’s a completely blank page,” Gracely said. “But it will have no effect on SDS phase I.”

    The first phase is a 50-mile pipeline from Pueblo Dam to Colorado Springs, served by three pump stations and a treatment plant. The second phase of SDS includes the construction of two reservoirs on Williams Creek southeast of Colorado Springs.

    Water board members Tom Autobee and Kevin McCarthy questioned Gracely on what conservation measures Colorado Springs envisions in order to cut demand. Reduced water use after the 2002 drought has been complemented by a tiered rate structure that makes expanded water use more costly, he explained. Colorado Springs also has dropped minimum landscaping requirements that at one time would have encouraged greater water use.

    “What is your telescope telling you about West Slope imports?” McCarthy asked.

    “Warmer weather is what we’re expecting,” Gracely replied. “Half the (climate) models are showing it will be wetter, and half drier, but they all say it will be warmer.”

    More Pueblo Board of Water Works coverage here.


    Northern Water board approves rate increase #ColoradoRiver

    July 15, 2014
    Colorado-Big Thompson Project east slope facilities

    Colorado-Big Thompson Project east slope facilities

    From The Greeley Tribune (Eric Brown):

    A number of share holders in the Colorado-Big Thompson Project — the largest water-supply project in northern Colorado — will see assessment costs sharply increase during the next few years, the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District board recently decided.

    Although the numbers aren’t set in stone and are subject to change, the board on Friday approved a general outline that over time increases open-assessment fees for municipal and industrial water users from $28 this year to $53.10 by 2018, and increases those fees for agricultural users from $10 this year to $30.20 per unit by 2018.

    The increases won’t apply to those who own fixed-assessment C-BT shares. Those who bought shares before 1959 and still own those shares still pay a fixed assessment of $1.50 per unit. The majority of the city of Greeley’s C-BT shares, for example, are fixed-assessment shares, and won’t be impacted by the changes, according to Brian Werner, public information officer with Northern Water.

    The recently approved uptick for open assessments was made to keep up with the always-increasing expenses at Northern Water, Werner said, noting that the uptick in wildfire-mitigation efforts, water-quality measures and overall regulation, among other expenses, are making it more and more pricey to deliver water from the C-BT’s high-mountain reservoirs to its users across northern Colorado.

    “It’s just another example of how water is getting more and more expensive. There’s no getting around it,” Werner said, noting that, despite Northern Water continuing its efforts to reduce operating costs, the increase in open assessments was needed.

    Increases in water costs are nothing new for users in the state, particularly in northern Colorado, where rapid population growth along the Front Range, large ag use and increased oil-and-gas production have sharply increased demand for water.

    And as supplies have tightened, prices have skyrocketed.

    In January 2013, the price of a water unit in the C-BT Project was about $9,500. Now it’s well over $20,000 per unit.

    But while costs are increasing, Northern water officials stress that, in the global picture, C-BT users are still getting a good deal on good water.

    Werner noted that 1,000 gallons of water is still being delivered to C-BT share holders “for pennies.”

    The C-BT Project collects and delivers on average more than 200,000 acre feet of water each year (about 65 billion gallons). Most of this water is the result of melting snow in the upper Colorado River basin west of the Continental Divide. The project transports the water to the East Slope via a 13.1-mile tunnel beneath Rocky Mountain National Park.

    C-BT water flows to more than 640,000 acres of irrigated farm and ranch land and 860,000 people in portions of eight counties within Northern Water boundaries, according to Northern Water data.

    More Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District coverage here.


    Garfield County Commissioners approve deep injection well

    July 15, 2014
    Deep injection well

    Deep injection well

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

    Garfield County commissioners on Monday approved an oil and gas wastewater injection well near Battlement Mesa after the company responded to concerns that it could trigger earthquakes.

    Duke Cooley, senior geologist at Ursa Resources, told commissioners there’s been no correlation between oil and gas injection wells and earthquakes in northwest Colorado’s Piceance Basin.

    The Battlement Concerned Citizens group and the Battlement Mesa Service Association, a homeowners group for the unincorporated community, had raised the seismic issue amid mounting concern about an apparent correlation between oil and gas injection wells and earthquakes in several states. Last month, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission suspended operation of an injection well in Weld County after a 3.4 magnitude earthquake struck in the Greeley area May 31, followed by smaller quake in June.

    “It was a wake-up call. It was the first seismic event there in 30 years,” Doug Saxton of Battlement Concerned Citizens told Garfield commissioners.

    He cited what he said is a lack of adequate earthquake monitoring by the U.S. Geological Survey.

    “Nothing under 4.0 (magnitude) really gets their attention,” Saxton said.

    Monitoring sites

    He said the agency’s closest monitoring site is 75 miles from Greeley, and the nearest to Battlement Mesa is in the Paradox Valley. He called for the installation of monitoring equipment in the Battlement area and for Ursa to cease injection activity if a quake occurs.

    But Cooley said a local monitoring station isn’t necessary because Geological Survey equipment can detect quakes of less than 1 magnitude hundreds of miles away.

    Garfield County already has 60 approved injection wells, and injection has occurred in 26 of them since 2013, according to the county’s oil and gas liaison, Kirby Wynn. Saxton said Ursa’s would be the seventh within 10 miles of Battlement Mesa.

    Cooley said seismic activity occurs where there has been geological folding, which in the case of the Piceance Basin is around its margins.

    He also said quakes can occur when water is added that reduces friction along a fault plane where geological compression is occurring, in places like Greeley and Oklahoma. The Piceance Basin, by contrast, is now undergoing geological relaxation after previously having been “folded up,” he said.

    State oversight

    Garfield County has surface authority over injection wells but the state oil and gas commission regulates technical “downhole” aspects of the wells such as injection pressure. Lindy Gwinn of Grand Junction, who consults for the industry, told Garfield commissioners Monday, “I can assure you they turn them down when they are not technically correct and there is any risk.”

    She noted that the commission recently did just that in Mesa County. In 2012 it turned down a proposal for an injection well southeast of Grand Junction out of concern it could contaminate ground and surface water due to its shallow depth, and possibly induce earthquakes at the U.S. Department of Energy’s uranium mill tailings disposal site a few miles away.

    That well would have been less than 2,000 feet deep. Ursa’s would be more than a mile deep.

    In agreeing to approve the well, Garfield Commissioner Mike Samson said, “The COGCC, they kind of go over these injection wells with a fine-tooth comb. … I have faith in the COGCC and their very strict regulations that they have.”

    Commissioner Tom Jankovsky agreed, and said if seismic activity did occur in the area, the county would ask companies to cease all injections until the cause could be determined.

    He also encouraged Ursa to install pipelines to the injection well as soon as possible to reduce truck traffic. Ursa officials indicated they hope to do that soon, and that reduced traffic resulting from being able to inject wastewater rather than otherwise dispose of it would be one of the benefits of the well.

    Said Monique Speakman, who supports the proposal and lives on the property where the well will be operated, “It’s going to eliminate truck traffic, noise, dust levels.”

    Battlement Mesa resident Mary Haygood said she had been concerned about both the truck traffic and seismic aspects of the well, but told Ursa officials Monday, “You have allayed my fears somewhat by your explanation and I thank you for that.”

    Ursa already has spent $2 million to drill the well. It needed to do that to do testing required by the oil and gas commission before it can approve the well. The agency is continuing to review the proposal.

    More oil and gas coverage here.


    Energy Fuels sells the Piñon Ridge uranium plant site

    July 14, 2014
    Piñon Ridge uranium plant site

    Piñon Ridge uranium plant site

    From the Denver Business Journal (Caitlin Hendee):

    Energy Fuels, which previously had plans to build the nation’s first new uranium mill in 30 years, sold its Piñon Ridge license and several other assets in Western Colorado.

    The Toronto, Canada-based company (TSE: EFR) that has an office in Lakewood bought a large quantity of land in the western part of the state almost five years ago.
    Colorado in May gave the mill the required “radioactive materials handling” license, but company spokesperson Curtis Moore told the DBJ that Energy Fuels wouldn’t begin construction until “market conditions warrant.”

    The company would also need an “air permit” from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) to begin the $150 million project.

    The mill has been an area of hot debate for environmental activists, who in March sued the U.S. Forest Service to stop the government from allowing the mill to be built near the Grand Canyon in Arizona.

    Energy Fuels instead diverted plans to build it in Montrose County.

    But the company said it has entered into agreements to sell the license and the Piñon Ridge mill to a private investor group managed by Baobab Asset Management LLC and George Glasier.

    Glasier served as president from 2006 until March of 2010.

    The company said the sale also includes mining assets — such as the Sunday Complex, the Willhunt project, the Sage Mine, the Van 4 mine, the Farmer Girl project, the Dunn project and the San Rafael project — all located along the Colorado-Utah border.

    More nuclear coverage here and here.


    Where our water comes from — Fort Collins Coloradoan

    July 14, 2014

    Ash and silt pollute the Cache la Poudre River after the High Park Fire September 2012

    Ash and silt pollute the Cache la Poudre River after the High Park Fire September 2012


    From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Ryan Maye Handy):

    With Colorado’s water year at its mid-July end and many Northern Colorado reservoirs still flush with the bounty of a plentiful water year, water woes of years past have turned into discussions of how the state will store water in the future.

    In the coming months, the Army Corps of Engineers will release an updated study on the Northern Water Conservancy District’s proposal to expand its water storage capacity near Fort Collins. The Northern Integrated Supply Project would build Glade Reservoir northwest of the city, bringing a new reservoir larger than Horsetooth Reservoir to the area.

    Before the release of the study reignites the battle over the potential environmental impacts of expanding Northern Colorado’s water storage capacity, we look at where Fort Collins gets the water that provides the basis for everything from the natural resources residents enjoy to the craft beer they drink…

    Before the High Park Fire, which burned more than 87,000 acres of the Poudre watershed, Fort Collins Utilities split its water sources between the project and the river. But the Poudre’s water has since become filled with fire and flood debris, which prompted a total shutdown of river water for Fort Collins customers.

    Time and the September 2013 floods have cleaned out the river, but the city is still mostly reliant on the C-BT project for more than 60 percent of its water each year.

    Fundamentally, snowmelt fills the many reservoirs in the C-BT project. The Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, which helps manage the project, delivers a certain amount of water to cities like Fort Collins as well as farmers and irrigators — all of whom own hundreds or thousands of acre-feet of the project’s water…

    Here’s a look at where our water comes from.

    THE WESTERN SLOPE

    The water that feeds Colorado — and a vast swath of the nation — begins its downward flow from the Continental Divide high in the Rocky Mountains. In order to harness water that otherwise would flow to the Pacific Ocean, water managers created a vast network of reservoirs, tunnels and canals to reroute Western Slope water to Colorado’s more populous Front Range.

    LAKE GRANBY

    For Fort Collins, and much of the northern Front Range, this is where it all begins. Snowmelt fills this Western Slope reservoir, and the water from it is pumped to Shadow Mountain Reservoir. From there, it’s literally all downhill — gravity pushes water through five reservoirs until it gets to Horsetooth Reservoir, southwest of Fort Collins. This year, due to above-average snowpack, Lake Granby soon will spill over its banks. It can hold up to 540,000 acre-feet of water.

    HORSETOOTH RESERVOIR

    Horsetooth was built along with the Colorado-Big Thompson Project and is a fraction of the size of Lake Granby — it holds about 156,000 acre-feet of water. This is where Fort Collins will get most of its C-BT water, which has traveled through the 13-mile Adams Tunnel, under U.S. Highway 34, and through several reservoirs. Fort Collins Utilities has its only operational water treatment plant at Horsetooth. In 2014, Fort Collins gets about 65 percent of its water from the C-BT project.

    THE CACHE LA POUDRE RIVER

    The Poudre River typically provides Fort Collins with 50 percent of its water. But after the High Park Fire polluted the river, Fort Collins has been forced to shut down its Poudre River sources, sometimes for months. The upper part of the river is considered “wild and scenic” — a federal designation. It is also one of the few remaining dam-free rivers in Colorado. In 2014, Fort Collins gets about 35 percent of its water from the Poudre.

    CARTER LAKE

    Carter Lake is one of many reservoirs that make up the Colorado-Big Thompson Project. Some of Fort Collins’ water can come from this reservoir, but not frequently. Other reservoirs in the system include Grand Lake, Mary’s Lake, Lake Estes and Flatiron Reservoir, to name just a few.

    FORT COLLINS

    Treated water coming into Fort Collins comes from a plant near Horsetooth Reservoir. Since Nov. 1, the city has used about 9,700 acre-feet of water from the Colorado-Big Thompson Project, and about 5,200 acre-feet from the Poudre River. Before the High Park Fire, the city typically split its water use between the two sources but has since had to use more C-BT water.

    More infrastructure coverage here.


    The latest climate briefing from the Western Water Assessment is hot off the presses #ColoradoRiver

    July 12, 2014

    Upper Colorado River Basin June 2014 precipitation as a percent of normal via the Colorado Climate Center

    Upper Colorado River Basin June 2014 precipitation as a percent of normal via the Colorado Climate Center


    Click here to go to the Intermountain West Climate Dashboard website. Here’s an excerpt:

    Highlights

  • June was much drier than average across most of the region, with southern Utah and far southwestern Colorado seeing the driest conditions.
  • With the above-average spring-summer runoff in Wyoming and most of Colorado, reservoir storage there has strongly rebounded. Utah and southwestern Colorado saw below-average runoff, and reservoir storage continues to lag compared to average conditions.
  • The NOAA CPC monthly and seasonal outlooks are tilted towards wetter-than-average conditions for our region for the summer and early fall. The PSD ‘SWcast’ is less optimistic about the monsoon season than the CPC outlooks, showing a dry tilt for most of Utah and Colorado.
  • In the past month, the progression of atmospheric and oceanic conditions towards El Niño status has slowed, but an El Niño event is still expected to emerge by fall.

  • County commissioners urge participation in developing the #COWaterPlan

    July 12, 2014
    Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer's office

    Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer’s office

    Rachel Richards and Karn Stiegelmeier have penned a guest column that’s running in The Aspen Times. Click through and read the whole thing. Here’s an excerpt:

    Colorado needs a State Water Plan for our water resources for many reasons. Colorado’s population is growing rapidly, with estimates that 4 million to 5 million more people will be living here by 2050. Not only do we need to ensure adequate amounts of drinking and municipal water in cities along the Front Range, but we also must maintain a secure supply for our state’s essential agricultural industry and the natural environment that our recreational and tourism economy depends upon, an industry that supports more than 80,000 Colorado jobs and contributes more than $9 billion to our economy.

    Water experts agree the plan must include a serious commitment to conservation as a key strategy to ensure the future of Colorado’s economy and natural resources. In addition to being less harmful to our natural environment, conservation is cost-effective and proven to work.

    With his pending State Water Plan, Hickenlooper has a chance to lead the entire Western region in implementing common-sense water conservation.

    We also hope more Coloradans will to get involved in the development of the State Water Plan. This is our chance to design a blueprint for intelligent growth, thriving economies and healthy rivers that are fundamental to our Rocky Mountain lifestyle. Let’s all agree to put politics aside because the reality is that everyone in both rural and urban Colorado owns this issue. The health of our rivers and streams equals the health of our state.

    To learn more about the State Water Plan, visit http://www.waterforcolorado.org and talk with your elected officials.

    Rachel Richards is a Pitkin County commissioner and former mayor of Aspen. Karn Stiegelmeier is a Summit County commissioner.

    Meanwhile, in other West Slope Colorado Water Plan news, the fight to prevent another transmountain diversion to the peopled side of Colorado is front and center. Here’s a report from Kattey Ortiz writing for KREXTV.com. Here’s an excerpt:

    According to the federal government, levels in Lake Mead are at their lowest since 1937. Lake Powell, a major source of hydro-power for a majority of the west, is less than half-empty.

    “It’s huge. It affects everybody, not just for water, but for the price of power,” said Ute Water General Manager Larry Clever.

    Clever is involved in a “roundtable” process for the Colorado Water Plan, specifically the Colorado River Basin, which serves Mesa County. The 9 roundtables of water basins throughout the state have approximately 30 members to represent the different aspects of their water use, including municipalities, recreational, agricultural and environmental.

    “All that work will be put together as part of the state water plan to look at the state as a whole and say, ‘Where are the big gaps and needs as far as water goes in the state?’” said Grand Junction Water Services Manager Rick Brinkman.

    The Front Range is asking for more water, and the Western Slope isn’t having it.

    “They think that we can build a project where we’ll take water only in our really good years. The problem with that is, it’s the really good years that help us in Lake Powell,” said Clever…

    Clever is also worried that since the west is already shipping enough water to the south, they won’t be able to meet their own needs for water if more is diverted to the east.

    According to Brinkman, the Bureau of Reclamation also uses the money generated from hydro-power at Lake Powell to run other reservoirs, including managing and hiring staff. This too, could be at risk.

    Still, there’s a chance the eastern half of Colorado will advocate for a trans-mountain diversion in the state water plan.

    “It’s going to end up as a fight at some point,” Clever said. “They’re going to say, ‘We’re going to build it.’ And we’re going to be sitting there saying, ‘No.'”

    Plans from all the basins will be submitted to the Water Conservation Board next week, and Governor Hickenlooper won’t see a plan on his desk until December of this year. Any sort of plan won’t be finalized until 2015, and permits to move forward with a trans-mountain diversion could take another 20-40 years.

    From the Vail Daily (Melanie Wong):

    …business owners should be concerned, say experts helping form the Colorado Water Plan, because how the state decides to manage its water has major economic consequences.

    “Consider the value of water,” said Linn Brooks, general manager of the Eagle River Water & Sanitation District. “Guests come here to enjoy our pristine natural environment, and water is really the centerpiece of that environment.”[...]

    As the experts explained, managing water in the West has always been a contentious topic. Before the past decade, there were no fruitful discussions on water policy, much less a consensus on future management, said James Eklund, of the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

    He said that changed about a decade ago when groups began to come together to represent a wide array of interests and all of Colorado’s geographical areas. The goal is to address “the gap” — the amount of water needed by growing communities both in Colorado and the downstream states that depend on Colorado water, and the shortfall in how much water is actually available.

    “The good news is that we’ve acknowledged that problem, and it’s a challenge we’re working on now,” said Chris Treese, of the Colorado River Water Conservation District. “(Our water sources are) not bankrupt. Our balance sheet is positive, but our income statement is bleeding red on an annual basis. We’re starting to look at solutions like reusing water. Other states have been doing this for awhile, but it’s still a new concept in Colorado.”

    In addition to the fact that many tourism industries directly depend on a good water supply — think ski resorts, raft and fishing guides and events like the GoPro Mountain Games — the cost of any business could rise if water becomes scarce.

    Treese explained that Colorado and the West has been in a 14-year drought (even with record snow years factored in). If Lake Powell and Lake Mead drop below certain levels, then the reservoirs will be unable to produce the same amount of hydropower. Also, the upper basins may have to cut its own water use in order to send the obligated amounts downstream to states such as California.

    “The estimates are that one year after the reservoirs stop producing electricity, power rates will quintuple,” Treese said. “Nobody wants to see that happen to any of their factors in their businesses and in their homes. Another factor is if we have to curtail our use here to meet our obligations to the lower basin. Both would be economically disastrous to the state.”[...]

    Some businesses are taking action by reducing their emissions and resources use across the board. Miller said that Alpine Bank was rated one of the “50 Greenest Businesses” in the state thanks to its energy reduction program. In 2006, the company aimed to reduce water use at its banks by 10 percent — to date, they’ve exceeded the goal and managed to reduce it by 30 percent.

    Larry Cavanaugh, president of Centennial Bank in Vail, said his bank is in the process of streamlining its resource use as well. As part of the local Actively Green 2015 program, the business is planning to focus on sustainability, an effort that includes reducing water use.

    “I think most people who live here recognize water as a limited resource, but I’m impressed that we appear to have a collaboration that recognizes a future problem. I’m glad we’re addressing this now instead of being reactionary. It bodes well for our state,” Cavanaugh said.

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

    Colorado’s water plan should look outside Colorado’s borders to meet fast-growing demands within, the head of the largest water supplier on the West Slope and the mayor of Grand Junction said Thursday.

    “There’s no water left to take to the Front Range,” said Larry Clever, general manager of the Ute Water Conservancy District, speaking at a discussion of the statewide water plan before an audience of about 30 people in the Grand Vista Hotel.

    The plan should take into account more than diversions of water to the east from the top of the Rocky Mountains, Clever said. It also should consider options such as diverting water from states that have a surplus, such as from spring flooding in the Midwest to helping fund desalination plants in California that would lessen demand there for Colorado River water, Clever said.

    The plan that Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper wants to see completed by the end of 2015 is “short-sighted” in that it envisions planning to meet the demands of 2050, Clever said. It could take decades to establish the kinds of relationships necessary to import water from other basins, such as the Mississippi and Missouri rivers, Clever said.

    “It’s going to take 30 years at least,” Clever said.

    “There are other places to get water” than the West Slope, Grand Junction Mayor Phyllis Norris said.

    “I think you need to look outside the box and try something else,” she said.

    Clever and Norris spoke during a session on the plan sponsored by the Grand Junction, Rifle and Montrose chambers of commerce, as well as the Colorado Competitive Council and Accelerate Colorado, which represents business and local governments before federal agencies.

    The plan as envisioned now doesn’t include importation of water or other efforts, which he referred to as “augmentation” of the state’s water supply, said James Eklund, who heads up the planning effort as director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

    “We’re not going to get bailed out by some basin that has water,” so Colorado has to look to better manage its own supplies, Eklund said.

    Colorado’s ability to manage its own water resources, however, is under pressure from other states dependent on the Colorado River, and the federal government.

    Federal efforts to acquire water rights from ski areas, control of groundwater and the extension of the Clean Water Act all show that the federal government is angling for a bigger role in water management in Colorado, Eklund said.

    “If we don’t have this conversation,” Eklund said, “then the feds or the lower-basin states are going to have it for us.”

    More Colorado Water Plan coverage here


    Say hello to @Northern_Water #ColoradoRiver

    July 12, 2014

    Meanwhile, Northern is looking at big rate increases to coverage operations. Here’s a report from Steve Lynn writing for the Northern Colorado Business Report. Here’s an excerpt:

    Under current projections, rates for Colorado-Big Thompson Project water could rise from $28 to more than $100 per unit for municipal users and from $10 to $80 per unit for agricultural users by 2023, according to documents from the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District…

    The extra money is needed because Northern Water’s expenses have outpaced its revenue in three of the last four years. Property taxes, which have remained flat since the recession, make up more than half of Northern Water’s revenue, while water-rate revenue accounts for about 20 percent of its funding.

    The agency has coped, up until now, by drawing from cash reserves to fund its operations. Reserve funds are partly intended to help stabilize revenue but are not a sustainable funding approach in the long term, according to Northern Water.

    The agency’s board is expected to decide on short-term rate hikes through 2018 this month. These potential hikes to $52.70 for municipal users and $32.20 for irrigation users would represent the largest dollar increase in Northern Water’s history, although the district has seen similar, double-digit percentage increases in the past.

    “In the early 1980s, there were several years with double-digit increases, similar to what we are looking at now,” Northern Water spokesman Brian Werner said.

    The rate hikes are essential to maintain infrastructure, according to Northern Water, and experts believe they will lead to additional water conservation. But the higher prices will put pressure on farmers…

    Northern’s customers receive water under two types of contracts: fixed and open rate. The new rate hikes apply to those customers who buy open-rate water. In June, Northern Water board members raised the open-rate assessment 9 percent for next year. The 2015 rate for cities will increase to $30.50 per unit while the agricultural rate will rise to $10.90 per unit. Fixed-rate assessments based on decades-old contracts will remain $1.50 per acre foot.

    Roughly two-thirds of Northern’s water is delivered via open-rate contracts, while one-third is governed by fixed-rate agreements…

    Northern Water isn’t the only water district that has had to raise water rates. The Greeley-based Central Colorado Water Conservancy District, which supplies water to areas of Weld, Adams and Morgan counties, also has passed rate-assessment increases in recent years and plans to meet this month to consider additional rate hikes.

    “Our organization is looking at future (operations and maintenance costs) and how do we keep our finances up,” Central Water Executive Director Randy Ray said. “You’ve got regular operations costs like labor, electricity and gasoline for vehicles. Then you also have deferred maintenance.”

    The rate increases come as the nation faces challenges from deteriorating water infrastructure, which will cost more than $1 trillion over the next 25 years to fix in order to maintain current water service levels, according to a report from the American Society of Civil Engineers. Customers will pick up the tab mostly through higher water bills.

    Similarly, users of Colorado-Big Thompson Project water will pay higher water bills as a result of the increased rate assessments. Increased revenue from the assessments will help fund Northern Water’s operations and maintenance budget, which accounts for almost half of the water district’s expenses. Northern Water says it needs to make major upgrades to water delivery infrastructure, much of which was built more than 60 years ago.

    Tom Cech, director of One World One Water Center at Metropolitan State University of Denver, said higher expenses and a rising population have pressured water supplies, leading to elevated costs. He noted, however, that investments in water infrastructure are critical to maintaining water delivery systems.

    “Look at all the investments that water providers did 100 years ago in our water system: new reservoirs, delivery systems and so forth,” he said. “That’s just the process of keeping up with the costs and population growth.”

    The Northern Board did pass an increase. Here’s a report from Steve Lynn writing for the Norther Colorado Business Report. Here’s an excerpt:

    The board of directors for Colorado’s largest water wholesaler Friday passed a historic water-rate hike in terms of dollars, representing a 202 percent increase for agricultural users and 90 percent for municipal users from 2014 through 2018.

    Customers of the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District receive water units under two types of contracts: open rate and fixed. By 2018, the open-rate assessment for a unit of water from the Colorado-Big Thompson Project will cost $30.20 for agricultural users, up from $10 this year, and $53.10, up from $28, for municipal users.

    Fixed-rate assessments based on decades-old contracts will remain $1.50 per acre foot.

    Board members unanimously approved a steep rate hike for the open-rate assessments, though Colorado-Big Thompson Project water users had requested a smoother transition of increases over time. The rate hike through 2018 represented the largest dollar increase in the public water district’s 77-year history, though the water district’s board members has passed similar percentage increases in the past.

    The steeper rate hikes will help Northern Water more quickly achieve a balanced budget, said Jerry Gibbens, project manager and water resources engineer for Northern Water. The water district’s expenses have outpaced its revenue in three of the last four years, but Northern Water expects to reach a balanced budget by fiscal 2017 through the rate hikes.

    Based on decades-old contracts, the fixed-rate assessments remained the same, a point of contention among some water users who pay the higher open-rate assessments and contend that Northern Water should raise the fixed-rate assessments.

    Northern Water’s board agreed to look into how it could adjust the fixed rates in the future, but the agency has indicated that it may not be able to do so because they are set “contractually in-perpetuity.”

    In June, the board decided to raise 2015 open-rate assessments to $30.50 per unit while the agricultural rate will rise to $10.90 per unit.

    Under current projections, rates for Colorado-Big Thompson Project water could increase to more than $100 per unit for municipal users and to $80 per unit for agricultural users by 2023, according to Northern Water documents.

    Board members did not decide on increases after 2018, but they plan to set rates annually as well as make projections of rate adjustments two fiscal years in advance.

    More Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District coverage here.


    Lake Mead: “The last time the lake was this low, the town of St. Thomas still had a post office” — Las Vegas Review-Journal #ColoradoRiver

    July 11, 2014

    From the Las Vegas Review-Journal (Henry Brean @RefriedBrean):

    Lake Mead sank to a record this week, its surface nudging downward a few tenths of an inch late Wednesday night to 1,081.82 feet above sea level.

    The last time the lake was this low, the town of St. Thomas still had a post office. In late spring of 1937, water from the once-wild Colorado River was still rising steadily behind the new Hoover Dam, inundating empty desert as it pushed toward Moapa Valley. By June of the following year, St. Thomas would be under water, but Mother Nature and human thirst couldn’t keep it there.

    In 1983, when the lake was as full as it’s ever been, the ruins of the town were under about 80 feet of water. Today, you can’t even see the lake from St. Thomas.

    The past 15 years have been especially hard on the nation’s largest man-made reservoir. Lake Mead has seen its surface drop by more than 130 feet amid stubborn drought in the mountains that feed the Colorado River. The unusually dry conditions have exacerbated a fundamental math problem for the river, which now sustains 30 million people and several billion dollars worth of farm production across the West but has been over-appropriated since before Hoover Dam was built…

    Wednesday’s record is unlikely to last. Forecasters expect Lake Mead to hit another new low today, then break that mark Saturday, and so on for the next several weeks.

    The streak of all-time lows should end by late August, when current projections from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation call for the reservoir to tick up slightly. Then it should inch down again, bottoming out sometime in November before starting back up as downstream water users cut their orders heading into winter.

    Bureau officials acknowledged this week’s milestone but said it won’t impact operations at Hoover Dam.

    “We will meet our water orders this year, and we are not projecting a shortage condition in 2015,” said Terry Fulp, the Boulder City-based director for the Bureau’s Lower Colorado Region. “We continue to closely monitor the projections of declining lake levels and are working with stakeholders throughout the Lower Basin to keep as much water in Lake Mead as we can through various storage and conservation efforts.”[...]

    Lake Powell, meanwhile, is expected to start next year 21 feet higher than it was at the beginning of 2014. Right now, the reservoir on the Utah-Arizona border is swelling by almost a foot a day as the last of the mountain snow melts into the Colorado River and its tributaries.

    Forecasters are predicting another big drop at Lake Mead next spring, as the lake stair-steps its way down to elevation 1,069, and below. By June 2016, the reservoir could hit 1,064, just 14 feet away from shutting down one of two intake pipes the Southern Nevada Water Authority uses to deliver 90 percent of the Las Vegas Valley’s water supply.

    With that in mind, the wholesale water agency is rushing to complete a new intake that will reach deeper into the lake. The $817 million project has seen its schedule slip by more than 2 years, but is on track to finish next summer.

    “We feel confident the third intake will be complete before we lose Intake Number One,” said authority spokesman Bronson Mack…

    Lake Mead’s decline has been a major headache for the National Park Service.

    For every two-foot drop in the water level, the shoreline can recede 60 feet or more. Already the shrinking reservoir has left some boat ramps high and dry, and has pushed marinas into deeper water or closed them altogether.

    A decade ago, Lake Mead was home to nine boat launch ramps and six marinas. Six ramps and three marinas remain open today…

    While access to the lake has grown more difficult in recent years, she said, there is still more than 125 square miles of open water and roughly 400 miles of shoreline to explore.

    More Colorado River Basin coverage here.


    Another transmountain diversion garners skepticism on the rainy side of Colorado #COWaterPlan

    July 10, 2014

    Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer's office

    Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer’s office


    From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (John Stroud):

    Though Colorado River Basin water users strongly urge against any new trans-mountain diversions to the East Slope as part of a draft plan for the basin released last week, a key part of the process to create a state water plan recognizes a need to eventually have that discussion. In addition to further refining the basin plan itself, the Colorado Basin Roundtable has been reviewing a conceptual inter-basin agreement that outlines parameters for negotiating new diversion projects.

    “We do take the position that another big trans-mountain diversion would have a major impact on the Western Slope,” said Jim Pokrandt, chairman of the Colorado Basin Roundtable.

    Skepticism about new diversions is shared by other Western Slope basin roundtables, he said. But the Colorado basin in particular has placed a strong emphasis on setting the bar high for water conservation and exhausting other resources within the eastern basins before new diversion projects are considered.

    Last month, the Inter-basin Compact Committee, which includes representation from each of the state’s nine basin roundtables, finalized a draft conceptual agreement to submit to the Colorado Water Conservation Board for inclusion in the draft state water plan, due out by the end of this year.

    Basin implementation plans from each of the roundtables are being submitted this month, all of which will go to create the comprehensive Colorado Water Plan that Gov. John Hickenlooper has requested be done by the end of 2015.

    East Slope water interests have been adamant that, in addition to water conservation measures, protecting agriculture and looking at more water storage within basins east of the Continental Divide, the state plan must keep open the possibility of diverting more water from the Western Slope.

    The draft agreement outlines seven “points of light,” as Pokrandt referred to them, that would have to be addressed collaboratively and agreed upon before a new diversion project could be OK’d. Those include concessions by eastern Colorado water users that they not seek a specific yield from a new trans-mountain diversion (TMD), and would accept hydrologic risk for any new projects.

    Also, any new TMD project would have to come with an agreement that it be in conjunction with existing eastern basin supply agreements, aquifer resources, reuse and other non-West Slope water sources, and that specific triggers be set for when diversions can occur.

    Future West Slope water needs, including for recreation and environmental protections, would have to be spelled out in the agreement.

    “There are lots of questions about hydrology, environmental concerns and compact considerations that would need to be addressed,” Pokrandt said. “Nevertheless, this is a way to talk about a project among the different groups and all the questions that have to be answered.”

    The state faces legal concerns to make sure compacts are fulfilled regarding how much water makes its way from the upper Colorado Basin to downstream users in other states, he emphasized.

    Each of the roundtable groups is scheduled to give a presentation on its basin implementation plan at a Colorado Water Conservation Board meeting in Rangely on July 16.

    Even after the draft basin plans are submitted, they are likely to be undergo further revisions as the process continues to draft the state plan, Pokrandt said.

    “Compared to where we were four months ago, we have made a lot of progress,” he said of the Colorado Basin plan, which was prepared by engineering consultants with SGM in Glenwood Springs.

    Gov. John Hickenlooper, during an interview with the Post Independent last week, said one of the main goals in asking for a state water plan was to get East Slope and West Slope interests talking.

    “The most important thing that can come out of this is to establish relationships, and to get to know each other … and each other’s habits and behaviors,” the governor said.

    In any case, conservation will be a key emphasis, Hickenlooper said.

    “What we’ve always said is that any conversation in the state about water has to start with conservation,” he said. “We will have to work out some compromises, and there will be some ruckus, but we will work it out.”

    The Colorado Basin Roundtable meets again from noon to 4 p.m. July 28 at the Glenwood Springs Community Center to further discuss and refine the basin implementation plan.

    Also, the interim Water Resources Committee of the Colorado General Assembly is coming to Glenwood Springs on Aug. 21 to take testimony from citizens on the Colorado Water Plan process.

    That meeting will take place from 5 to 7 p.m. at the Glenwood Springs Branch Library at 8th and Cooper.

    For more information on the Colorado Water Plan process, visit http://1.usa.gov/1oIyjb0.

    Meanwhile, the South Platte and Metro Roundtables are ready to submit their basin implementation plan. Here’s a report from Eric Brown writing for The Greeley Tribune:

    After years of discussion, the river basin that faces the “biggest challenges” is nearing completion of its first draft of a long-term water plan. That outline of how agriculture, cities and industries will coexist in the future — while minimizing expected water shortages — will be available to the public next week.

    Sean Cronin, chairman of the South Platte Basin Roundtable, a group of water officials and experts who meet regularly to address water issues in northeast Colorado, said the combined draft plan from the South Platte and Metro roundtables is expected to be approved at a meeting Monday.

    After that, it will go to the Colorado Water Conservation Board, which will begin piecing it together with the implementation plans of the seven other roundtables in the state, to create the comprehensive Colorado Water Plan that Gov. John Hickenlooper has requested be done by the end of 2015.

    It’s been a long time coming, according to South Platte and Metro roundtable members, some of whom met Tuesday to finalize the language in its draft plan. The basin roundtables across Colorado have been meeting since 2005.

    In the draft that will be completed soon are the major points northeast Colorado water officials and users have been driving home during the past nine years — protecting agriculture, water conservation, more water storage and keeping open the possibility of diverting more water from the West Slope, among other key points.

    While the group has reached consensus on those issues, there remains some dispute on others, such as how groundwater management might be addressed in the plan, and how municipal land use — which has impacts on water functions — might factor in.

    That’s why the South Platte and Metro roundtables want public input once the draft plan is available next week, possibly as early as Monday evening.

    All basin implementation plans are due by July 16. The South Platte and Metro roundtables pushed the deadline, likely because of the complexity and unique challenges in the basin — perhaps the biggest “challenges in the state,” roundtable members say.

    The South Platte Basin includes six of the state’s 10 top ag-producing counties, including Weld County, which ranks ninth in the nation for its value of production. Three of the other top 10 are also in northeast Colorado in the nearby Republican River Basin, which is impacted by South Platte basin functions.

    Also, eight of the 10 largest cities in Colorado are in the South Platte basin, including Denver and Aurora (which is why the South Platte and Metro roundtables are combining their implementation plans).

    Because of that and continued growth, the South Platte basin, which stretches across northeast Colorado from southwest of Denver to the Nebraska stateline, faces the biggest expected water shortages in the state. According to projections, there will be a municipal and industrial water-supply gap of as many as 190,000 acre feet (about 60 billion gallons) annually by 2050, with as many as 267,000 acres of irrigated farmground dried up by then.

    How will it all fit together?

    In addition to the challenges within the basin, members of the South Platte and Metro roundtables are concerned about how their plan will mesh with others and are worried that in trying to make all eight plans come together, some of the South Platte’s priorities could get lost.

    “With each basin having its own interests and each facing its respective challenges, it’s going to be a Herculean effort … to bring all of these together without something getting lost,” said Eric Wilkinson, general manager of the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District in Berthoud, which oversees the largest water-delivery system in northern Colorado and is working to put in place more water-storage projects. “Each basin has put in a lot of time and thought into their plans, and to see something get lost along the way going forward would be tough for any of us.”

    South Platte Basin water officials have been particularly concerned all along that, because of its controversial nature, talks of bringing more West Slope water across the Continental Divide could take a backseat to other aspects of the Colorado Water Plan.

    The disagreement over trans-mountain water diversions between East Slope and West Slope water officials and users goes way back.

    About 80 percent of the state’s population lives on the East Slope ,but about 80 percent of the state’s water supplies — primarily snowmelt in the mountains — sits on the West Slope.

    To meet the needs of the growing Front Range and northeast Colorado’s robust ag industry, East Slope water providers have long built projects that bring water across the Continental Divide. There are now more than 30 such projects bringing about 450,000 to 500,000 acre feet of water each year from the West Slope to the East Slope. Many have stressed that without more water going to the East Slope, the ag industry, which uses about 85 percent of the state’s water, will especially suffer.

    But many on the West Slope have expressed concern and want the East Slope to stop diverting more of its water. The West Slope has its own water demands to meet, mainly its legal obligation to make sure several Western states downstream from Colorado receive certain amounts of water.

    Meeting those needs, while also contributing to those of Colorado’s East Slope, is stretching the West Slope thin, water officials from that part of the state say.

    More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


    Lake Mead drops to lowest level since first fill #ColoradoRiver

    July 9, 2014

    From the Associated Pres via the Cache Valley Daily:

    The projected lake level of about 1,080 feet above sea level will be below the nearly 1,082 feet recorded in November 2010, and below the 1,083 feet measured in April 1956 during another sustained drought. But U.S. Bureau of Reclamation regional chief Terry Fulp said water obligations will be met at least through next year without a key shortage declaration. The result will be full deliveries to cities, states, farms and Indian tribes in an area home to some 40 million people and the cities of Las Vegas, Phoenix and Los Angeles.

    “We will meet our water orders this year and we are not projecting a shortage condition in 2015,” Fulp said in a statement. “We continue to closely monitor the projections of declining lake levels and are working with stakeholders throughout the Lower Basin to keep as much water in Lake Mead as we can through various storage and conservation efforts.”

    The lake on Tuesday was just under 1,082 feet above sea level, and the reservoir was about 39 percent full, said Rose Davis, a bureau spokeswoman in Boulder City, Nevada. The dropping level since the reservoir was last full in 1998, at just under 1,296 feet above sea level, has left as much as 130 feet of distinctive white mineral “bathtub ring” on hard rock surfaces surrounding the lake. Davis said the bureau expects a slight increase in water level to about 1,083 feet by Jan. 1, 2015.

    “We projected this was coming.” Davis said. “We are basically where we expected to be, given the in dry winters in 2012 and 2013,”[...]

    Las Vegas, with more than 2 million residents and some 40 million tourists a year, is almost completely dependent on Lake Mead for drinking water.

    Federal and state water officials have negotiated plans for a shortage declaration triggering delivery cuts to Nevada and Arizona if annual projections for the Lake Mead water level drop below a 1,075 foot elevation. That projection is based on data currently being compiled by the Bureau of Reclamation.

    Davis said the 1,075 foot trigger point is not expected this year or next. But last year, after back-to-back driest years in a century, federal water managers gave Arizona and Nevada a 50-50 chance of having water deliveries cut in 2016.

    California, Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and Wyoming wouldn’t see direct cuts in their share of river water, but officials have acknowledged there would be ripple effects.

    More Colorado River Basin coverage here.


    Rifle: “Many different eyes are on each [drill] pad each day” — Michael Gardner #ColoradoRiver

    July 9, 2014

    Rifle Gap

    Rifle Gap


    From the Rifle Citizen Telegram (Mike McKibbin):

    Rifle City Council unanimously approved an amendment to the company’s original 2009 watershed district permit to allow the activity, subject to conditions. The 12-square-mile, 8,000-acre watershed, approximately 5 to 6 miles southwest of Rifle, is the source of 9 percent of Rifle’s drinking water. The vast majority of the city’s water comes from the Colorado River. Several years ago, the city established the district and considers permits for certain industrial activities to help protect the water source. The company would also need drilling permits from the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.

    Michael Gardner, WPX environmental manager, outlined the drilling plans and noted various companies had been active in and near the Beaver Creek watershed since 1999. WPX is currently the only active company in the district. A total of 44 producing wells have been drilled from 11 pads in the district since 1999, with 27 of those wells located on a pad outside the district boundaries, Gardner said.

    “What we’re proposing is to drill up to 253 wells from 15 pads between now and 2018,” he told the council last week.

    WPX plans to drill up to 23 wells on the existing pad outside of the watershed and up to 112 wells on four new pads outside the watershed, but accessed through the watershed, Gardner noted. Up to 80 wells could be drilled on seven existing pads within the watershed and up to 65 wells on four new pads within the watershed.

    “A lot of this depends on the market price for gas, obviously,” Gardner added. “So this is a maximum-case scenario.”

    WPX would build access roads, install gathering and water lines and other associated facilities in the area, Gardner said.

    WPX spokesman Jeff Kirtland said in an interview Tuesday that the permit amendment was sought to keep the permit active, as it was due to expire soon.

    “It’s more to make sure we’re keeping up with what we need to do with the permit,” he stated. “So we would have this permit in hand if prices improved.”[...]

    Michael Erion, a water resources engineer with Resource Engineering of Glenwood Springs and a city consultant, said the amendment was acceptable and noted the target area is actually a tributary to Beaver Creek, which itself is often dry in the summer, so most direct activity in the district will be road crossings. The permit was amended last year to allow a water pipeline across the watershed and a temporary 1.5 million gallon water storage tank, Erion noted.

    Among the nine conditions already part of the permit and included with the latest amendment is a requirement for WPX to submit detailed drawings to the city at least 30 days before construction. New wells can be drilled on approved pads, provided WPX sends written notice to the city 15 days before that activity. WPX is also required to submit an annual activity plan for the entire district by March 1 of each year, and the project shall be subject to biannual inspections, or more frequently if needed, by the city and/or its consultants.

    WPX will also continue to participate in the city’s water quality monitoring program on Beaver Creek. This includes a periodic stream monitoring program with sampling at various locations along the creek and the operation and maintenance costs associated with a 24/7 monitoring system at the city intake structure on the Colorado River.

    “We understand how critical this area is to Rifle,” Gardner said. “We have all kinds of plans and procedures for spills, to protect groundwater and storm water control. Many different eyes are on each pad each day.”

    He also noted that no reportable spills, as defined by state regulations, had occurred in the district since 2008.

    More oil and gas coverage here.


    Colorado Parks and Wildlife: Event to honor builders of Ridgway dam and reservoir

    July 8, 2014

    Ridgway Reservoir during winter

    Ridgway Reservoir during winter


    Here’s the release from CPW:

    This year marks the 25th anniversary of the construction of the Ridgway dam and the establishment of Ridgway State Park. A special event to recognize those who worked on the construction project is scheduled for the weekend of Aug. 8 at the park.

    Did you work on the project? Or do you know someone who did? This includes former or current employees of the Bureau of Reclamation or other government agencies, construction workers, and municipal and county officials who assisted with the project. If so, please send your contact information via e-mail to: rhonda.palmer@state.co.us, or call her at 970-626-5822, ext. 11. You’ll be contacted about the event.

    Planning for the Dallas Creek Project, as it is called formally by the BOR, began shortly after the end of World War II. Construction eventually started in 1978 and the reservoir filled completely for the first time in 1990. The dam stores water for agricultural, municipal and industrial uses for the Uncompahgre Valley in western Colorado.

    One of Colorado’s premier recreational facilities, Ridgway State Park offers camping, hiking, bicycling, boating, fishing and swimming. More than 300,000 people visit the park every year.

    For more information about Ridgway and all of Colorado State Parks, see: http://cpw.state.co.us.

    More Uncompahgre River watershed coverage here.


    10 Things You Probably Don’t Know About the Grand Canyon #ColoradoRiver

    July 8, 2014

    More Colorado River Basin coverage here.


    Piñon Ridge Uranium Mill and Assets Set to Be Sold for $2 Million

    July 8, 2014

    More nuclear coverage here.


    Rifle: Bids for new water treatment plant blow budget

    July 8, 2014
    The water treatment process

    The water treatment process

    From the Rifle Citizen Telegram (Mike McKibbin):

    Rather than wait up to another year and risk even higher costs, Rifle City Council unanimously rejected two bids on a new $25 million water treatment plant and decided to proceed under a “sole source” approach.

    At a special June 25 meeting, the council also approved nearly $150,000 in project expenses, an application for a $2 million state grant to help purchase filters and equipment for the plant and the return of a $600,000 grant that was to help build a new main waterline connection to South Rifle.

    The action came after two bids for the project came in $8 million to $11 million higher than the city engineer’s estimate and the funds available to build the plant. Alder Construction, located in Salt Lake City, Utah, submitted a base bid of $33.1 million and PCL Construction, located in Phoenix, Ariz., with an office in Glenwood Springs, submitted a base bid of approximately $36.5 million.

    The city received a $25 million low-interest loan from the Colorado Water Resources and Power Development Authority, to help pay for the plant. Two years ago, Rifle voters approved a 3/4 cent sales tax increase to help repay the loan.

    Mayor Randy Winkler said the city had underestimated the cost of the new plant.

    “All building costs seem to have gone up greatly just in the last year,” he said. “So we were forced to really take a hard look at this project.”

    The project was originally designed to include improvements to the city’s raw water pump station, a new 24-inch raw water pipeline to the new 40,000-square-foot plant, a radio tower at the existing Graham Mesa water plant for remote data transmission of information about the city’s water system to the pump station and then by cable to the new plant, and connections to water transmission and main lines.

    City officials have said the Graham Mesa plant is aging, undersized to serve projected population growth and unable to meet possible tougher federal water quality standards in the future. Construction work was expected to last up to two years.

    More Rifle coverage here.


    Water policy briefing Thursday at Donovan Pavilion in Vail, RSVP by July 8 #COWaterPlan

    July 7, 2014

    eagleriver
    From email from the Eagle River Water & Sanitation District (Diane Johnson):

    Business community invited to discuss water policy principles

    Contacts:

    Diane Johnson, Eagle River Water & Sanitation District, 970-477-5457
    Alison Wadey, Vail Chamber & Business Association, 970-477-0075

    Join the Eagle River Water & Sanitation District and the Vail Chamber & Business Association for a business briefing on the Colorado Water Plan from noon to 1:30 p.m., Thursday (7/10) at Donovan Pavilion in Vail. A complimentary lunch will be served.

    Gov. John Hickenlooper ordered work to begin on the statewide water plan in May 2013; a draft is due to the Governor’s Office no later than Dec. 10, 2014, with the final plan complete by December 2015.

    Business leaders have developed statewide business community water policy principles to be part of Colorado’s Water Plan and are seeking regional input to finalize the principles. Working through local business chambers, this statewide initiative seeks local feedback on the principles, which address the business and economic development needs of Colorado.

    Thursday’s speakers include:

  • Tom Binnings of Summit Economics will discuss the economics of water from a statewide perspective.
  • Linn Brooks of Eagle River Water & Sanitation District will share local water operations and policy, and discuss needs in the Eagle and Colorado River basins.
  • James Eklund, executive director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board – the state agency tasked with drafting the Colorado Water Plan.
  • Bryan Blakely of Accelerate Colorado and Mizraim Cordero of the Colorado Competitive Council will discuss the business community water policy principles.
  • To ensure enough food for attendees, please RSVP to the Vail Chamber & Business Association at info@vailchamber.org or 970-477-0075 by tomorrow (7/8).

    More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


    Runoff news: Lake Granby spill imminent? #ColoradoRiver

    July 7, 2014
    Lake Granby spill June 2011 via USBR

    Lake Granby spill June 2011 via USBR

    From the Sky-Hi Daily News (Hank Shell):

    Typically, reservoirs on the Front Range fill by May, which lowers Lake Granby enough to accept additional water during runoff season, said Kara Lamb with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. But flooding on the East Slope in September, coupled with additional precipitation and runoff, have kept Carter and Horsetooth reservoirs, the Colorado-Big Thompson Project’s main draw points for Front Range water users, too full to accept much water. Add above-average runoff on the Western Slope to the equation, and there is a fair amount of uncertainty whether the Alva B. Adams Tunnel will have anywhere to transport water if and when Lake Granby spills.

    “There could be a little pumping to help with the spill situation,” said Brian Werner with Northern Water. “It’s dependent on this side of the mountains, and if there’s any room to put any water, so demands really haven’t started, and like I said, we’re full everywhere.”

    There’s a possibility that pumping could be halted until Labor Day, Werner said.

    For Grand Lake residents, pumping can mean the difference between pristine clarity and a cloudy lake. Last year, reduced pumping saw the clarity of natural Grand Lake increase, while the shallower Shadow Mountain Reservoir became more turbid…

    As of July 3, Lake Granby was at 2.6 feet from capacity, with levels rising around a third of a foot per day. Werner, of Northern, said if the lake does spill, forecasters expect it to do so between July 10 and July 14.

    “Our forecaster, who I just talked to, said we’re still 50-50 on whether we’re going to spill,” Werner said.

    Spilling is not a very common occurrence for Lake Granby. The last time the lake spilled was in 2011, and before that it was in 2000. The large amount of snowpack has led to above-average flows this year, and reservoirs on the Front Range are already near capacity. Specifically, Carter Lake is at 99 percent full, while Horsetooth Reservoir is 99.2 percent full, according to the Bureau of Reclamation’s website.


    Norwood infrastructure upgrades should help with water quality

    July 7, 2014

    norwood

    From The Norwood Post (Regan Tuttle):

    The Town of Norwood continues to make headway in water quality and availability. This past February, Norwood completed a major upgrade to the water treatment plant.

    “We just completed a big project that we did last year. We’ve added a filter to the water treatment plant to help with water quality. That took about a year and was finished in February,” Public Works Director Tim Lippert said.

    Lippert has been in service to the Town of Norwood — in public works, Norwood Water Commission and Norwood Sanitation District — for 22 years.

    According to Lippert, the EPA, through the Colorado Department of Health, has tightened the standards for drinking water over the years. As a result, Norwood’s previous water treatment system was not in compliance.

    Through many grants and low-interest loans, and the hard work of town officials, the water treatment plant is now producing more and cleaner and water than ever before…

    The latest addition features a new clarifier system that converts raw water through a chemical and sand filter process to produce Norwood’s best drinking water yet…

    Last year, Norwood also completed repair on the Gardner Springs water right. During that process, Lippert and his crew discovered damage to the Norwood Pipeline.

    The Norwood Pipeline will now be rehabilitated through grant funding made possible by Southwest Water Conservancy in Durango.

    “We had done exploratory digging there to see why it wasn’t producing. The pipe was smashed, and we are now replacing 600 feet,” Lippert said.

    According to Lippert, the plastic irrigation pipes may not have been bedded properly. Over the years, the weight of the mud collapsed them.

    “We couldn’t get water through it,” Lippert said. “And silting happened also because of restrictions.”

    The Norwood Pipeline project will include a flume with control valves for the purpose of measuring water flow. Water from Norwood Pipeline can then be diverted into one of Norwood’s two reservoirs.

    “We can then measure flow and divert it where we want,” Lippert said.

    More infrastructure coverage here.


    Conservation front and center in Broomfield

    July 7, 2014

    broomfield

    From the Enterprise Broomfield News:

    Broomfield offers two water conservation programs to help residents save water and money. Residents and businesses could qualify for an irrigation audit and/or rebates if they receive treated water from Broomfield.

    Free irrigation audits are provided by Slow the Flow Colorado, a nonprofit program of the Center for Resource Conservation. To schedule an irrigation audit, call 303-999-3820 ext. 217 or go to conservationcenter.org/.

    Water rebates help offset the cost to replace inefficient toilets and irrigation components. More information on rebates, including qualifying models and residential rebate instructions, go to broomfield.org/index.aspx?NID=1098.

    More information on water conservation, including lawn watering guidelines, can be found at broomfield.org/index.aspx?NID=439.

    More conservation coverage here.


    “The more water you develop, the more risk you take on” — James Eklund #ColoradoRiver

    July 7, 2014
    Drought affected Lake Mead via the Mountain Town News

    Drought affected Lake Mead via the Mountain Town News

    From Circle of Blue (Brett Walton):

    America’s largest reservoir, Las Vegas’ main water source, and an important indicator for water supplies in the Southwest — will fall this week to its lowest level since 1937 when the manmade lake was first being filled, according to forecasts from the federal Bureau of Reclamation.

    The record-setting low water mark — a surface elevation of 1,081.8 feet above sea level — will not trigger any restrictions for the seven states in the Colorado River Basin. Restrictions will most likely come in 2016 when the lake is projected to drop below 1,075 feet, a threshold that forces cuts in water deliveries to Arizona and Nevada, states at the head of the line for rationing.

    But the steadily draining lake does signal an era of new risks and urgency for an iconic and ebbing watershed that provides up to 40 million people in the U.S. and Mexico with a portion of their drinking water. The rules governing the river are complex, but the risk equation is straightforward: less supply due to a changing climate, plus increasing demands from new development, leads to greater odds of shortages…

    Yet despite a shrinking lake, diminishing supplies, and ardent pleas from tour guides and environmental groups to preserve a canyon-cutting marvel, the four states in the basin upriver from Lake Mead intend to increase the amount of water they take out of the Colorado River. All of the states are updating or developing new state water strategies, most of which involve using more Colorado River water, not less.

    “We have mapped out how the remainder of our allocation can be used,” Eric Millis, director of the Utah Division of Water Resources, told Circle of Blue. “It’s going to happen sooner rather than later. We have a place for every drop.”

    Utah — like fellow upper basin states Colorado, New Mexico, and Wyoming — is not using all the Colorado River water it was granted by a 1922 interstate compact. The four states have the legal authority to increase their Colorado River diversions.

    However, the water they seek may not be available. The calculations of availability stem from wetter hydrological conditions and supply forecasts made nearly a century ago. Under the 1922 compact, the upper basin is entitled to 7.5 million acre-feet. A later agreement apportioned each state a percentage of the available supply. The upper basin’s average annual use between 2007 and 2011, the most recent figures, was 4.6 million acre-feet.

    The legal entitlement, granted at a time when the river’s hydrology was poorly understood, is surely too high. All the states acknowledge that fact. “We’re not pegging our hopes or analysis on the full 7.5,” said James Eklund, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, the state water planning agency…

    The upper basin put forward a plan this spring to keep more water in Powell. The states would do this by paying farmers not to farm and by changing how smaller mountain reservoirs are managed. Three urban water utilities in the lower basin, along with Denver and the federal government, put up $US 11 million to develop a similar basin-wide program…

    Though the lower basin is using its entire allocation, the four upper basin states are not. They desire more water from the Colorado, yet exactly how much water is available is uncertain.

    The only concrete number to emerge so far is 5.8 million acre-feet of water available for the upper basin, or three-quarters of what was granted. That figure, called the hydrological determination, was developed by New Mexico and the Department of the Interior in 2007 as part of a water supply study.

    New Mexico is the only state using 5.8 million acre-feet as a firm number. Millis said Utah is using 6.5 million acre-feet of upper basin supply for its planning, and Colorado and Wyoming are looking at a range of values.

    Eklund told Circle of Blue there is “vigorous debate” both within and between states over what number should be used to assess water availability and what the acceptable levels of risk are as water use increases.

    “There’s a sliding scale of risk,” Eklund said. “The more water you develop, the more risk you take on. But that doesn’t necessarily counsel against a project.”

    More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.


    Denver Water upgrading 50-year-old infrastructure at Dillon Dam

    July 2, 2014

    Morning Glory spillway via the USBR

    Morning Glory spillway via the USBR


    Here’s the release from Denver Water (Stacy Chesney/Travis Thompson):

    Beginning July 7, and ending in early 2015, Denver Water will be upgrading Dillon Dam’s outlet works facility, which houses the system that controls the flow of water from Dillon Reservoir into the Blue River. The facility’s gates are more than 50 years old and need maintenance due to normal wear and tear. The focus of the work is to restore the gates to near original condition.

    “We don’t expect this project to have much of an impact on traffic in the area, or on recreational users of the reservoir and the river,” said Jeff Archer, project engineer. “We’re working closely with county officials, as well as Colorado Parks and Wildlife. Fishing on the reservoir and the Blue River will remain available during the project.”

    A Denver Water contractor will carry out the work. The majority of the construction will take place inside the fenced-in area near the Morning Glory spillway toward the Frisco side of the dam road. During construction, the contractor will occasionally be moving heavy equipment — such as cranes, loaders, excavators and trucks — around the dam area. Daily construction traffic should not impact traffic around Dillon Reservoir; however, there may be limited traffic impacts when the contractor transports large equipment at the beginning and end of construction.

    In order to work on the gates, the contractor will reroute the normal flow of water around the construction in the outlet works using a bypass system that will redirect water into the Blue River while the gates are out of service. While construction activities are slated to begin in July, the bypass system likely will operate from August through December. The flows in the Blue River are expected to correspond with average flows for that time of year. In addition, a barge with a crane will be placed on the reservoir within the buoy lines near the spillway as part of the bypass system for a week in the fall. The barge will not interfere with normal activities on the reservoir.

    This $3.4 million project was previously announced in 2012, but was postponed due to drought conditions, which made the project not feasible because of the bypass system needed to carry out the work.

    More Denver Water coverage here.


    Union Pacific plans treatment plant for discharge mitigation at the West Portal of the Moffat Tunnel #ColoradoRiver

    July 2, 2014

    westportalmoffattunnel

    From the Sky-Hi Daily News (Hank Shell):

    The Union Pacific Railroad announced on June 19 that it plans to construct a water treatment facility that will remove fine particulates and metals discharged in flows from the west portal.

    As part of its discharge permit, Union Pacific must meet preset effluent limitations by April 30, 2017. The new treatment plant will help Union Pacific reach compliance with those limitations.

    “It’s a victory,” said Mike Wageck, president of the East Grand Water Quality Board. “It’s definitely a victory for the river, if they’re going to be removing that coal dust that’s getting in there and removing those metals.”

    The way the tunnel is bored, ground water flows from seepages inside the tunnel, picking up coal dust left by passing trains and heavy metals leached from the railroad ballast and exposed rock.

    “This isn’t much different than a mineral mine,” said Kirk Klancke, East Grand Water Quality Board member. “If you just put a hole in the ground and have water leeching out, it’s going to carry the heavy metals you’ve exposed that have been buried for millennia.”

    The way the Moffat Tunnel is pitched, water flows from both portals of the tunnel. To the east, water flows through a sedimentation pond before it’s discharged into South Boulder Creek. But to the west, water flows untreated into the Fraser. In 2013, average daily flows from the west portal were 171 gallons per minute, according to an implementation schedule sent from Union Pacific to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

    The sediment in this discharge increases turbidity, or cloudiness, in the Fraser River…

    Slag, a by-product of metal processing found in railroad ballast, leeches copper, lead, mercury and arsenic, among other elements, into the discharge and ultimately the river, according to the implementation schedule.

    “Basically, from 2007 to today, we’ve been reviewing various ways we could treat the water coming out, primarily the water when it comes out of the tunnel,” said Mark Davis, a spokesman for Union Pacific.

    Union Pacific examined a number of options for reaching compliance with effluent levels in the discharge, including diverting the water to publicly-owned treatment works in Winter Park, though the town ultimately decided that it would not benefit from receiving the water, pretreated or not…

    Davis said he wasn’t sure when construction on the facility would begin or how much it would cost, though the state requires that Union Pacific have something in place by its compliance date of April 30, 2017.

    More Fraser River watershed coverage here.


    Tim Barnett of @Scripps_Ocean predicts Lake Mead may be out of water by 2036 #ColoradoRiver

    July 2, 2014

    More Colorado River Basin coverage here.


    Governor Hickenlooper pow wows with Club 20

    July 1, 2014
    Governor Hickenlooper, John Salazar and John Stulp at the 2012 Drought Conference

    Governor Hickenlooper, John Salazar and John Stulp at the 2012 Drought Conference

    From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Will Grandbois):

    Many talking points touched on the need for the rural mountain West to have a seat at the table, particularly on issues relating to public lands and the economy. Major talking points included regulations on gas and coal development, water usage and diversion, and the need to attract business on this side of the Continental Divide.

    The scale of the conversation ranged from the hyper-local to the global. When the discussion touched on oil and gas development in the Thompson Divide, Hickenlooper, who has a geology background, expressed doubt about the area’s production potential, but acknowledged he wasn’t an expert.

    When it came to global climate change, he was more vehement.

    “Climate change is serious. Colorado has a lot at risk,” Hickenlooper asserted. “Half our water storage is in snowpack, and we don’t have clear places for reservoirs if we have to make up for that.”

    The issue of water is a fraught one, with growing resentment for ongoing diversion of Western Slope water to the more populated Front Range. Hickenlooper was sympathetic, but challenged the idea that litigation is the best means of combatting further diversion.

    “If you want to change a culture, you can’t just sit there and throw stones at each other,” he said. “Every discussion, whether it’s on the West Slope or the Front Range, needs to start at conservation.”[...]

    In the end, nothing was decided at the meeting. The governor has little direct authority to implement programs that pull from the state coffers. Still, the assembled roundtable seemed gratified at the dialogue.

    Rep. Coram even ventured a lighthearted comment before they adjourned.

    “Empty your bladder before you go,” he quipped. “No water leaves the Western Slope.”

    From KREX (Travis Khachatoorian):

    Governor Hickenlooper was receptive to finding solutions to the problems. He said he’s been working to combat federal control of lands, is a proponent of exploring energy development in the potential Bookcliff Coal Mine north of Fruita and will continue urging various water basins throughout the state to come together and hash out a sensible water plan.

    “I think we’re all seeing that people of goodwill can sit down and listen to the other side and say ‘all right, let me think about how we can get you what you need’,” Hickenlooper said about a Colorado water plan.


    #ColoradoRiver Basin: “Temperatures have been above average since the 1980s” — Wendy Ryan

    July 1, 2014

    Upper Colorado River Basin High/Low graph June 26, 2014 via the NRCS

    Upper Colorado River Basin High/Low graph June 26, 2014 via the NRCS


    From the Vail Daily (Randy Wyrick):

    Wendy Ryan stood in front of a room packed with water professionals and offered this historical perspective. In the last 1,400 years, the last 14 years were not the driest. But it’s as dry as it has ever been. Ryan is with the Colorado Climate Center at Colorado State University. She and her peers were curious about drought and wanted data, not anecdotes.

    So Ryan and the Climate Center crew collected data from the years 762 through 2005, poring over records and studying tree rings, to calculate precipitation during those vast expanses of time before computers measured this sort of thing. They found that we’ve had 14 similar dry stretches during that millennia and a half. But this 14-year stretch is as dry as any of them.

    “It was among the driest,” Ryan said.

    Temperatures have been above average since the 1980s, Ryan said.

    “The last 14 years have been a drought,” said John McClow, General Counsel of the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District and one of the West’s foremost water experts…

    The rivers flowing into Lake Powell are running 105 percent of normal, Ryan said, so it’ll fill a little bit. It’ll need to, [John McClow] said. Lake Powell is 45 percent full right now, McClow said. This year, for the first time in several years, it should receive more water than it releases — if it keeps raining. The years 2012-13 were the two driest years since they started keeping records 140 years ago, McClow said. Two more consecutive years like that would leave Lake Powell so low it would be unable to generate electrical power.

    “People in seven states would see their power cut. They’d be forced to pay double to quadruple for power for at least eight years,” McClow said.

    If that happens, it would take 12 years for Lake Powell to refill, assuming those are normal water years…

    Snowpack is a fickle thing. In the Colorado River basin — that’s Eagle County and the Central Rockies resort region — it was 19 percent of normal in the drought year of 2012, and 83 percent last year. It was 121 percent this year.

    On the other hand, the last four years were slightly wetter than normal, based on the average of the last 30 years, Ryan said. But it also depends on where you’re measuring. The Colorado River Basin was hammered with 223 percent of the median snowpack and 180 percent of last year’s. At the other end of the state, the drought continues. The Rio Grande basin saw just 39 percent of the median snowpack.

    More Colorado River Basin coverage here.


    River series: The state of the river — The Vail Daily #ColoradoRiver

    June 30, 2014


    From the Vail Daily (Randy Wyrick):

    Lake Powell is being drained to fill Lake Mead, which is being drained by states downstream from it.

    Ken Neubecker, executive director of the Western Rivers Institute, has often put it this way: “The West will always be a semi-arid environment, no matter how much we move the water around.”

    However, how that water gets moved around is a constant matter of contention for those pulling it from the Colorado River — which is almost everyone who lives in this part of the country…

    delphcarpenter

    Delphus Emory Carpenter, an early Colorado attorney and rancher, was the first native-born Coloradan to serve in the Colorado state legislature. Carpenter litigated the early conflicts over Colorado River water and saw California developing much faster than Colorado.

    “He could foresee a time when all the water would go to California,” said John McClow, general counsel of the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District and one of the West’s foremost water experts.

    Carpenter created the Colorado River Compact in 1922 to equitably divide the river’s water among seven Western states — split into the Upper Basin and Lower Basin — and Mexico. Everyone wants a share — and then some.

    Sean Cronin and John McClow at the 2014 CFWE President's Award Reception

    Sean Cronin and John McClow at the 2014 CFWE President’s Award Reception

    “If you use more than your share, you have to pay it back before anyone puts in any more water,” McClow said. “The Compact has been tested but has proven to be pretty adaptable.”

    It apportions Upper Basin and Lower Basin each 7.5 million acre feet per year. The dividing line between the Upper Basin and Lower Basin states is Lee Ferry, Arizona. Upper Division states cannot deplete flows at Lee Ferry below an aggregate of 75 million acre feet over any period of 10 consecutive years.

    However, at their current rate of consumption, the Lower Basis states would be at 90 million acre feet over 10 years, McClow said.

    That water has to come from somewhere, and it’s coming from Lake Powell. However, since 2000, inflows into Lake Powell have only hit the average for three years.

    “The problem is that Lake Powell is emptying fast,” McClow said.

    Lake Powell is full when its water surface is 3,700 feet above sea level. The last time that happened was 1999. Right now, it’s about 44 percent full…

    “Efficiency is improving immensely and rapidly,” McClow said.

    In 2000, California was using 5.6 million acre feet. Two years ago, Californians were forced to cut consumption to their allotted 4.4 million acre feet.

    “There’s a lot of blood on the floor in California,” McClow said…

    In May, forecasts said Lake Powell will fill to 3,610 feet above sea level by the end of this year. Right now, it’s at 3,491 feet, 44 percent full.

    “We dodged the bullet,” McClow said.

    More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.


    Conservation: Big water savings in Aspen — Mountain Town News #ColoradoRiver

    June 30, 2014

    Smuggler Mine back in the day via GregRulon.com

    Smuggler Mine back in the day via GregRulon.com


    From the Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

    In 1974, Aspen’s future seemed clear enough. The town was growing briskly, the ski industry booming, and by the 1990s the town would need to make major investments to provide water for the future.

    With that in mind, town officials filed for storage rights on two upstream creeks, Castle and Maroon, where the municipality already had significant senior water rights. Had the town gone ahead with construction of those reservoirs, the cost today would be roughly $50 million.

    Instead, in about 1994, Mayor John Bennett and council members chose a different approach. They would emphasize water savings.

    Phil Overeynder, who was the city’s utility manager then, says he has calculated that today water rates would need to be quadrupled to pay for the reservoirs and other infrastructure.

    But there was another reason for Aspen to pursue conservation beginning in the 1990s. Overeynder said improved efficiency bolstered the argument that Eastern Slope water providers needed to make do with what they had before expanding diversions. In his eyes, Eastern Slope water providers still have not done everything they can. “Not to the extent it was promised 40 years ago,” he says.

    For Aspen, improving water efficiency has several components. The city couldn’t account for 55 percent of the water being sent to customers. There were leaks, lots of them. It was, says Overeynder, a third-world water system. But a lot of water was used to bleed pipes. Water mains were buried deep, but the service lines to individual houses were within the frost line. During winter, homeowners left their faucets running, to avoid freezing. It was city policy to overlook that use.

    Over time, these inefficient uses have been eliminated. The rate structure was revised to strongly recommend efficiency.

    From 450 gallons per capita daily in 1974, use peaked in 1993 at 516 gallons.

    Last year, it was 164 gallons per capita daily.

    Use still spikes in summer, but not as much. The water treatment plant expanded in the 1980s has surplus capacity.

    More Roaring Fork River watershed coverage here.


    SDS: There is no Plan B — Colorado Springs Business Journal

    June 29, 2014
    The new north outlet works at Pueblo Dam -- Photo/MWH Global

    The new north outlet works at Pueblo Dam — Photo/MWH Global

    From The Colorado Springs Business Journal (John Hazlehurst):

    CSU’s ongoing billion-dollar bet is the Southern Delivery System. Scheduled to go online in 2016, SDS will convey water from Pueblo Reservoir via a 66-inch-diameter underground pipeline to Colorado Springs. It will expand the city’s raw water delivery capacity by an eventual 55 million gallons per day (MGD), a nearly 50-percent increase in system capacity…

    “What we’re hoping for is a record snowpack,” CSU Chief Financial Officer Bill Cherrier said in late March, “followed by a hot, dry summer.”

    Cherrier said it with a smile, but he had neatly summarized CSU’s dilemma. Water in the reservoirs must both be replenished and sold. The sell side of the equation is driven by fixed costs, including system maintenance and replacement, energy costs and continuing capital investment. But buyers don’t care about CSU’s problems; they prefer to water their lawns with free water from the skies.

    Per-capita water use has dropped sharply in the past 20 years, leading to corresponding reductions in the city’s long-term consumption estimates.

    “The Base (i.e. revenue) forecast is for an estimated service area population (city, suburban, Green Mountain Falls, military) of about 608,552 and about 106,000 AF/yr for demand,” wrote CSU spokesperson Janet Rummel in an email. “The ‘hot and dry’ scenario uses the same service area population and estimates about 120,000 AF/yr demand. This particular ‘hot and dry’ scenario equates to an 80 percent confidence interval and adds about 13 percent to annual demands.”

    That’s a precipitous drop from the high-side estimate of the 1996 water resources plan, which forecast a population in 2040 as high as 900,000 and water demand of 168,150 acre-feet. The base forecast, at 106,000 acre-feet annually, is only 1,800 acre-feet more than the community used in 2000, 40 years previously.

    Does that mean CSU’s water managers dropped $841 million into a new water delivery system that we may not need until 2016? Does this prove that the project, originally conceived to furnish water for the Banning-Lewis Ranch development, is now entirely unnecessary?

    Perhaps not…

    “SDS is not a short-term solution,” Rummel said in a 2010 email. “The time to build a major water project is not when you have run short of water … [we need] to better prepare our community for drought, climate change and water supply uncertainty on the Colorado River.”

    Many factors entered into the decision to build SDS. In 1996, there was no discussion of system redundancy, of having an additional water pipeline that could serve the city in case one of the existing conduits needed emergency repair. But 18 years later, the pipelines are that much more vulnerable to accident or malfunction.

    In 1996, population growth and per capita water use were expected to continue indefinitely at historic levels. But they didn’t. Commercial and industrial use declined, and price-sensitive residents used less water. Indoor use declined as well as outdoor, thanks to restricted-flow shower heads and low-flush toilets.

    SDS stayed on track. In the eyes of the water survivalists who conceived and created the project, the city’s rights on the Arkansas River had to be developed. They saw long, hot summers in the city and dry winters in the mountains. Opponents could make any arguments they liked, but these five words trumped them all.

    Use it or lose it.

    Undeveloped water rights are like $100 bills blowing down the street — someone will grab them and use them for their own benefit…

    “This will be our last pipeline,” said CSU water resources manager Gary Bostrom. “We will never be able to develop a new water delivery system. When SDS is finished, that’s it.”

    Bostrom’s peers in Las Vegas, Phoenix, San Diego and Los Angeles have reason to envy him. Colorado Springs has won the water wars. We’ve bought ourselves decades of time. Whether we save or squander this liquid bounty is up to us.

    In 2040, the city may have 30,000 to 50,000 acre-feet a year of unneeded delivery capacity. That cushion will allow for decades of population growth and for the introduction of sophisticated irrigation techniques that will preserve our green city and minimize water use.

    In years to come, members of the Colorado Springs City Council will decide how to preserve the city’s future. Will they heed Bostrom’s warning and encourage radical conservation? Will new developments be required to xeriscape, and preserve trees with drip irrigation devices?

    More Southern Delivery System coverage here and here.


    “Western Views” — news from Western Resource Advocates is hot off the presses

    June 29, 2014
    Yampa/White/Green/North Platte river basins via the Colorado Geological Survey

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

    Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:

    Earlier this month, Bart Miller, Water Program Director, joined a group of more than 20 national and local conservationists, water policy stakeholders, and other river advocates on a four-day raft trip through Yampa Canyon and Dinosaur National Monument as part of the Yampa River Awareness Project (YRAP).

    Some YRAP participants did a fly-over of the Yampa Valley and Yampa Canyon to see the river and landscape from the air. Then the entire group spent the next four days floating down the 71-mile stretch of river from Deerlodge Park (west of the town of Maybell) to the Split Mountain Boat Ramp in Utah.

    The trip was fun and informative. Rafts and kayaks crashed through waves at a whopping 20,000 cubic feet per second while the group learned about the Canyon’s geology, history, recreation, and habitat value for endangered fish. Discussions took place on potential threats to the river and how best to preserve the flows and integrity of the river’s bio-diversity and many other values. Each participant left with a better understanding of what needs to be done to preserve the Yampa and his/her personal role in that effort.

    Bart’s take-homes included the benefits of: better aligning recreational and agricultural interests at the local level; creating an update to the management plan for the Yampa’s resource values; and spreading the word on the Yampa River’s unique and irreplaceable bio-diversity.

    More Yampa River Basin coverage here.


    Reducing the Impact of Stormwater Challenges — Nancy Stoner

    June 29, 2014

    aspen
    From the Environmental Protection Agency (Nancy Stoner):

    Stormwater pollution is a dilemma all across the country – even in beautiful mountain towns like Aspen, Colorado. Pollutants such as oils, fertilizer, and sediment from the steep mountains that tower over the town, can be carried via stormwater and snowmelt and deposited into waterways like the Roaring Fork River. This has a huge impact on the ecosystem.

    Last month, I toured the Jennie Adair wetlands, a bio-engineered detention area designed to passively treat stormwater runoff in Aspen. I saw firsthand how the city is working to deal with its stormwater challenges. Before this project, stormwater did not drain to a water treatment facility. It used to flow directly into the Roaring Fork River and other water bodies within the city limits, having significant impacts on the water quality.

    To reduce this impact, Aspen designed a passive stormwater treatment facility that also serves as an attractive and natural looking feature in a beautiful park that is dedicated to the memory of John Denver. The innovative and beautiful design uses boulders and large rocks that were naturally present on site, to shape the channel that carries runoff from the roads and from a vault into the detention pond where sediment and other pollutants settle out. On the other side of the pond, the water comes out crystal clear and drains right into the Roaring Fork River.

    I was impressed by the use of green infrastructure to improve water quality and that they made such a beautiful public park out of it and did so voluntarily. This is a town that is dedicated to clean water. The people of Aspen should be proud.

    Green infrastructure, similar to what is being built in Aspen and many other cities across the country, can be a cost-effective approach for improving water quality and can help communities to stretch their infrastructure investments further. Green infrastructure reduces and treats the water at its source, often delaying the time it takes to clear the structure. Therefore green infrastructure often reduces flooding within the area the project is constructed.

    Since 2007, the EPA has supported the idea of green infrastructure to control storm events. The Agency has formulated strategic agendas, built community partnerships, and provided technical assistance to many communities seeking to implement green infrastructure practices.

    Aspen has shown us that with a little innovation we can reduce our impact on the environment while enhancing its beauty.

    More stormwater coverage here.


    “Coors and skiing commercials worked. People came and some of them stayed.” — Jim Pokrandt #ColoradoRiver #COWaterPlan

    June 29, 2014
    The Glenwood Wave

    The Glenwood Wave

    From the Vail Daily (Randy Wyrick):

    We live in a semi-arid environment, but we love to play in the water.

    Take the massive wave park in Glenwood Springs. Surfers love it, but it hasn’t run like this for a few years, says Jim Pokrandt, communications and education director with the Colorado River District.

    “The bigger the snowpack the bigger the runoff and the bigger the wave at Glenwood Springs. It gets this big when the river is running 20,000 cfs,” Pokrandt said, pointing to the picture with this story.

    Pokrandt chairs the Colorado River Basin Roundtable. Every month, 50 to 60 people come together from Summit and Grand counties where the river begins, down to the state line below Grand Junction. The roundtable has been meeting for eight years.

    Here’s what they know: There’s already not enough water to do everything that everyone wants to do, and some people want more.

    “Coors and skiing commercials worked. People came and some of them stayed,” Pokrandt said.

    They get together and have kids, and the population grows. By 2050 Colorado’s population could hit 10 million people, Pokrandt said. It’s around 5 million people right now…

    Much of that growth will remain along the Front Range, where officials euphemistically talk about “new supply,” which basically means transmountain diversions, said John McClow, general counsel of the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District and one of the West’s foremost water experts.

    “How can that be when the river is so dangerously close to being overdeveloped?” McClow asked.

    The Front Range already pulls 650,000 acre feet every year from the Colorado River, McClow said.

    Another 150,000 acre foot diversion is already planned, Pokrandt said.

    “We don’t think there’s enough water for another big diversion project,” Pokrandt said.

    Transmountain diversions to the Front Range would be a junior water right. That means if there’s not enough water to go around, they’re the first to go without.

    “Denver and Aurora are acutely aware of all that,” McClow said.

    Douglas County, however, is a “black hole,” McClow said.

    “They say water must be provided for farms and that it has to come from somewhere,” McClow said.

    More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


    Mesa County wants explanation of stormwater charges billed by the Grand Valley Drainage District

    June 27, 2014

    stormwateroutlet

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Emily Shockley):

    A $13,250 bill to Mesa County from the Grand Valley Drainage District will go unpaid for now as county personnel seek an explanation for the charge.

    The district’s board of directors decided in April to begin charging the county, the town of Palisade and the cities of Grand Junction and Fruita a monthly fee starting in June for using the district’s equipment by allowing water that drains off local government-owned buildings, streets, roads, alleys and other land to spill into the district drainage system rather than building and using their own storm water drains.

    The fee may be impossible to enforce, though, according to Acting Mesa County Attorney David Frankel.

    A letter Frankel drafted to Mesa County commissioners explains that the district can assess taxes and fees, but not on exempt properties. The county is exempt from taxation on real property under state statute. Frankel added that he does not believe county roadways can be charged the same way as property is by the district and, since it would take taxpayer money to pay the bill, Frankel added the fee may violate Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights prohibitions against creating or raising taxes without voter approval.

    “I think we have some strong arguments against this charge,” Frankel told commissioners Monday during a discussion of the bill’s validity.

    Drainage istrict staff wrote in a rationale for the “urban storm water fee” that local government bodies are unwilling to fund engineering studies to determine how the district can handle an influx of runoff from urban land, including roadways.

    The board decided to charge local government entities to raise money for water quality monitoring, operating and maintenance costs in urban parts of the valley, and to study regulations associated with non-agricultural water, among other costs.

    The district plans to charge the county $13,250 per month, the city of Grand Junction $11,911 per month, the city of Fruita $4,278 per month and the town of Palisade $354 per month.

    Fruita and Grand Junction have notified the district that they do not plan to pay the fee. Palisade Town Administrator Rich Sales said Monday that he plans to discuss the bill with town trustees to decide what to do.

    County commissioners on Monday directed Frankel and Julie Constan, an engineer with the Mesa County Public Works Department, to draft a letter to the district asking why it believes it has the authority to bill local governments and how the district determined how much to charge each entity.

    District documents show the rate for each entity is based on square footage of “impervious areas” those entities are responsible for, but does not specify which land and roadways are involved in the calculation or whether all of those roads and properties touch parts of the drainage system.

    Drainage District Manager Kevin Williams did not return a call for comment Monday afternoon [June 23].

    More stormwater coverage here.


    Take a boat tour on the first National Water Trail in the Southwest — Black Canyon Water Trail #ColoradoRiver

    June 26, 2014
    Colorado River, Black Canyon back in the day, site of Hoover Dam

    Colorado River, Black Canyon back in the day, site of Hoover Dam

    From the Las Vegas Review-Journal (Henry Brean):

    The Black Canyon Water Trail, as it is now known, takes in a 30-mile stretch of the Colorado from the downstream side of Hoover Dam to the mouth of Eldorado Canyon, south of Boulder City.

    It is the first such designation of a boating trail in the Southwest and the first to traverse a desert.

    In announcing the designation Tuesday, Jewell said the scenic route through Black Canyon joins “a distinctive national network of exemplary water trails” that have won recognition since 2012 as part of a federal initiative to encourage tourism and stewardship.

    The stretch of river is already managed by the National Park Service as part of Lake Mead National Recreation Area.

    More Colorado River Basin coverage here.


    Jackson Gulch Reservoir: “The bureau used to be a friend. Not anymore.” — Dee Graf

    June 26, 2014

    Jackson Gulch Dam photo via USBR

    Jackson Gulch Dam photo via USBR


    From The Mancos Times (Mary Shinn):

    The Mancos Water Conservancy District board on Thursday weighed the consequences of taking ownership of Jackson Gulch Reservoir, the dam, the canal system and the land it sits on from the federal government.

    If the district worked with the Bureau of Reclamation to take ownership, the district would have to take over all the contracting and inspections…

    The Bureau of Reclamation currently budgets $160,000 a year to manage the irrigation project, and and $150,000 a year for recreational use of the lake.

    Kennedy estimates that if the district did all the work the bureau does for irrigation and water management, it would cost $20,000 to $40,000 because the district wouldn’t have as much administrative overhead. The district doesn’t plan to cover any of Mancos’ state parks expenses if the board pursues the transfer of ownership.

    A major question the board members tried to address at the Thursday workshop was: What value does the Bureau of Reclamation add to the project?

    They determined it isn’t a reliable source of funding…

    If the district took ownership of the project, it would still be subject to some state inspections for dam safety.

    Currently, the Bureau of Reclamation does regular inspections, but the district is responsible for maintenance or replacement. For example, the district paid $3 million for the recent rehabilitation project.

    There is one exception to the maintenance rule. The Bureau of Reclamation would step in if the dam started to experience a failure. But the agency would also send the district a bill for half the cost, and it would be due in three years…

    At an initial meeting about the transfer with James Hess, a bureau representative from Washington, Hess said the transfer process can take years.

    Only 27 other water projects in the nation have been fully transferred from the federal government to a local organization.

    More Jackson Gulch Reservoir coverage here.


    Water Lines: Hydropower kicks off at nearby Ridgway Dam #ColoradoRiver

    June 25, 2014
    Ridgway Dam

    Ridgway Dam

    From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Hannah Holm):

    When Ridgway Dam was constructed on the Uncompahgre River back in the 1970s and 1980s, hydropower was anticipated to be one of its uses — along with providing irrigation water, drinking water and flood control.

    Mike Berry, general manager of Tri-County Water (company operating the dam), continues to look for opportunities to start generating hydropower since 2002.

    It wasn’t until this month, however, this vision was finally realized.

    In June, Tri-County Water officially commissioned a new eight-megawatt generating station powered by water flowing through the dam.

    Finding a customer to buy the power at the right price was the key allowing the project to go forward.

    The $18 million project is financed through the City of Aspen. The agreement includes payment of a premium for the power generated by Ridgeway Dam for a few years of the 20-year contract in exchange for better rates later.

    Tri-County will also sell power to Tri-State Generation & Transmission and the Town of Telluride.

    The power generated by Ridgway Dam will vary seasonally, with peak generation coinciding with large summer releases of water to downstream irrigators. The Grand Junction Sentinel reported last week the plant will produce a total of about 24,000 megawatt hours of electricity in an average year — enough to supply 2,500 average homes and eliminate 50 million pounds of carbon dioxide emissions.

    The Ridgway Dam generating station was commissioned just one year after the completion of a 7.5-megawatt power generation project on the South Canal — carrying water from the Gunnison Tunnel near Montrose to the irrigators of the Uncompahgre Valley.

    Both the Ridgway Dam and South Canal projects avoid the opposition previous hydropower projects faced because it’s installed on existing infrastructure and harvesting power from the regular operations of the facilities. As a result, irrigation deliveries are uninterrupted and no additional disruptions to river flows.

    Interest in retrofitting existing water infrastructure to add power generation capability has surged in recent years. Both the State of Colorado and the federal government have made moves to support the trend with new laws to streamline the permitting process.

    Finding customers for the power generated at affordable prices for construction is one of the key challenges faced by those interested in developing such facilities. Low prices for natural gas and the irregular supplies generated by such projects are complicating factors in working out power purchase agreements.

    On the other side of the equation, renewable energy standards passed by Colorado and other states have created new opportunities.

    From The Watch (Samantha Wright):

    A decades-long quest to convert the power represented by the 84,600 acre feet of water pent up behind the dam into clean, green hydropower came to fruition at a commissioning ceremony hosted by Tri-County Water Conservancy District [June 6].

    Tri-County’s new 8 megawatt hydroelectric plant will produce approximately 24,000 megawatt-hours of electricity in a typical water year, enough energy to supply about 2,500 homes, on average. The emissions reduction benefit from the new plant is equivalent to removing approximately 50 million pounds of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere (the same effect as taking about 4,400 cars off the road each year).

    Federal officials including Larry Walkoviak, the Upper Colorado Regional Director of the Bureau of Reclamation, and U.S. Congressman Scott Tipton were on hand at the commissioning ceremony on Friday to praise the project’s merits.

    But the folks who are really celebrating this historic moment are those who have steered the hydro project through choppy waters toward its completion including officials from Tri-County and the City of Aspen, which helped fund the project and is purchasing a significant portion of the energy it produces.

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

    Green and grassy, Ridgway Dam looms high 15 miles southeast of Montrose, holding back Ridgway Reservoir. It’s flanked by a rocky ridge and U.S. Highway 550, with the Uncompahgre River bubbling up from the base of the dam to a prized stretch of trout water running through Ridgway State Park.

    There is more to Ridgway Dam, though, than appearance.

    “It’s not just a beautiful pile of dirt,” said Ion Spor, who has managed the dam for decades for the Tri-County Water Conservancy District.

    Ridgway Dam is now generating electricity, eight megawatts worth during the height of the water year.

    Tri-County — referring to Montrose, Delta and Ouray counties — commissioned the generating station earlier this month, marking the culmination of a project that was anticipated well before construction of Ridgway Dam, begun in 1978 and completed in 1987. Ridgway Reservoir filled in 1990.

    The dam was built with hydropower in mind. Pipes were run through the dam in anticipation of someday being hooked up to generators, said Mike Berry, Tri-County general manager.

    After years of debate, Tri-County opted to move ahead with the $18 million project. It reached agreements with Aspen, Telluride and Tri-State Generation and Transmission to get enough money for the project.

    The station also generates power for the Delta-Montrose Electric Association and the San Miguel Power Association.

    As part of its agreement to purchase power, Aspen is buying renewable-energy credits created by the project during winter months. Telluride is purchasing the credits that are created by the project during summer months.

    Renewable-energy credits represent the added value and environmental benefits of the electricity produced by the generating station.

    Tri-County will use the revenues generated from the sale of the electricity and renewable-energy credits to repay loans on the project for the first 30 years and then to offset its operating expenses, Berry said.

    Tri-County’s generating station contains two turbines and generators.

    The smaller is a 0.8-megawatt system, which will operate solo during the winter when flows are low, in the range of 30 to 60 cubic feet per second. The larger, 7.2-megawatt system will operate on flows of 500 cfs during the summer.

    Both generators are in a powerhouse at the base of the dam.

    The plant will produce about 24,000 megawatt-hours of electricity in an average water year, enough energy to supply about 2,500 average homes and eliminate the equivalent of 50 million pounds of carbon dioxide emissions.

    Now, Tri-County needs one thing to make the system work, Berry said.

    “We’re counting on Mother Nature,” Berry said, “To bless us with enough water to repay the notes.”

    More hydroelectric/hydropower coverage here.


    Hydropower used to replace flood irrigation and to lessen ag runoff and salinity

    June 25, 2014

    Hydropower sprinkler system via Homelink Magazine

    Hydropower sprinkler system via Homelink Magazine


    From ColoradoBiz Magazine (Allen Best):

    And now come new efforts across Colorado to further yoke the power of falling water. One such example is near Yampa, a town between Vail and Steamboat Springs. The site is just a few miles from where the Bear River takes a sharp turn and becomes the Yampa River. On his ranch, Gary Clyncke decided three years ago to use the 126-foot drop in elevation of his irrigation water to power a new center-pivot irrigation system.

    Clyncke’s hydro-mechanical center-pivot doesn’t produce electricity. It does, however, preclude the need for stringing up power lines to operate the center-pivot sprinklers. The sprinkling system, in turn, saves water — which is worth money. The 90 acres were previously irrigated with flood irrigation from ditches spread across the field of timothy, brome and clover several inches thick. Center-pivot irrigation requires just one-sixth the water.

    That savings motivated Clyncke to invest in center-pivot. This hydro-mechanical system cost $13,000, of which $6,000 came from the Natural Resources Conservation Service, a federal agency. That left Clyncke a cost of $7,000. Payback on that investment is achieved in three years.

    Federal aid is motivation, at least in part, because of concerns about salinity. When large volumes of water are applied to fields in flood irrigation, the water picks up salts that are then returned to creeks and then rivers. It’s a major problem on the Western Slope, where water can be used two times for flood irrigation before it enters Utah. Downstream in California’s Imperial Valley, an important source of food for the nation, some fields have become so salty they have been abandoned.

    One of the most saline areas is in the Uncompahgre Valley, where Delta, Montrose and Paonia are located. An ancient sea left salts and the element of selenium in unusually large quantities in the Mancos shale. Both are harmful to endangered fish downstream in the Colorado River. “Anything that you can do that helps with salinity also helps with selenium, and vice versa,” says “Dev” Carey, manager of the Delta Conservation District.

    Saving money is a strong argument by itself. Farmers spend an average of $33,000 each year on electricity, more than half of that to power irrigation pumps, according to the Colorado Energy Office. Using hydropower to operate these pumps doesn’t work everywhere. Farms near Sterling, for example, tend toward flatness. Still, the state agency estimates Colorado has untapped capacity in pressurized irrigation systems to deliver 30 megawatts in direct production of electricity or avoided electricity. To put that into context, it’s enough electricity for 12,125 homes, says Kurt Johnson, president of the Colorado Small Hydro Association.

    More potential exists in irrigation ditches. Not just any irrigation ditch will do. It must have flows of more than 100 cubic feet per second, a relatively large volume. And there must be drops of at least 150 feet. When falls of that steepness occur, various devices are used to contain the force.

    One such canal is located east of Montrose, where water from the Gunnison River is diverted through a tunnel that emerges near U.S. Highway 50. From there, the water flows through South Canal toward the head of the Uncompahgre Valley. In 2012, the Delta-Montrose Electric Association completed a project that had been talked about for more than 100 years. The two powerhouses generate electricity equal to what is needed for 3,000 homes.

    In nearby Delta County, the state has identified nine sites on irrigation ditches where it would be economical to install small hydro systems, collectively producing 0.8 megawatts. That’s given current prices of electricity. Should electricity prices go up, as they have steadily, more potential would exist near Delta and many other locations.

    More hydroelectric/hydropower coverage here.


    Weekly Climate, Water and Drought Assessment of the Upper #ColoradoRiver Basin

    June 25, 2014
    Upper Colorado River Basin month to date precipitation May 22, 2014 via the Colorado Climate Center

    Upper Colorado River Basin month to date precipitation May 22, 2014 via the Colorado Climate Center

    Click here to read the current assessment. Click here to go to the NIDIS website hosted by the Colorado Climate Center.

    More Colorado River Basin coverage here.


    USGS video: Hydroelectric survey of the Grand Canyon, 1923 #ColoradoRiver

    June 23, 2014

    Didymo outbreaks due to changing water chemistry in a warming world?

    June 23, 2014
    Didymo algae

    Didymo algae

    From The Crested Butte News (Seth Mensing):

    For seven years he has sought the cause of widespread blooms of an algae known as didymo, or rock snot. Now longtime Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory researcher and Dartmouth College professor Brad Taylor finally has his culprit. And the invasive outbreaks might have an origin closer to home than once believed, taking the unaware angler off the hook and placing the blame for the suffocating algae blooms on bigger environmental changes, according to a paper Taylor published in the journal BioScience.

    Taylor reports the algae Didymosphenia geminata was likely always present in even our most pristine streams and rivers, turning from an insignificant diatom into an asphyxiating blanket of goop as a result of changing water chemistry and a changing climate.

    Taylor started looking into the occurrence of large and unprecedented didymo blooms while at RMBL in the summer of 2007, a year after the blooms were first documented.

    “The work at RMBL figured prominently in the BioScience paper,” Taylor says. Didymo cells are in many rivers around Crested Butte and Gunnison and have been for more than 50 years, based on the research at the RMBL.

    According to Taylor, didymo blooms have been observed in the Taylor River, West Brush Creek, Cement Creek, East River, Oh-Be-Joyful below and above the wilderness area and Coal Creek, as well as some unnamed creeks and more. But such large blooms are a new phenomenon, Taylor says. And for reasons still being researched, the didymo cells in Poverty, Slate, Rustlers, East Fork Crystal, and some other rivers don’t bloom in the way didymo has come to be known.

    In his research plan on the RMBL website, Taylor says the second of two rounds of research, started in 2012, set out to answer four questions related to the didymo outbreaks.
    First, he hoped to answer the question of whether or not timing and magnitude of runoff correlated with didymo outbreaks. He wondered if the outbreaks could be related to the presence of beaver dams or occurred more in lake-fed streams. What he found was an affirmative answer to his final question about the relationship between an outbreak and phosphorus levels in the water. Instead of the algae blooming in response to an abundance of nutrients in the water, didymo was extending its reach to gather what few nutrients were left.

    Taylor doesn’t see any direct connection between low levels of phosphorous in the water and the abandoned mines in the area, since didymo occurs naturally in almost all streams, and blooms are being documented around the world. However, he said, the mats of didymo are trapping heavy metals that would otherwise flow freely downstream.

    And while that might sound like a good thing, the heavy-metal-laden didymo will eventually flow downstream, Taylor says, potentially depositing the heavy metals en masse.

    More Gunnison River Basin coverage here.


    Southern Delivery System update: $359 million spent so far, >44 miles of pipe in the ground

    June 23, 2014
    Southern Delivery System route map -- Graphic / Reclamation

    Southern Delivery System route map — Graphic / Reclamation

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    Tunneling under Fountain Creek is proving more difficult than expected for the Southern Delivery System. Some pipeline near Pueblo Dam has been laid in solid rock. And the temporary irrigation system to provide water for native vegetation over the pipeline scar through Pueblo County contains 50 miles of pipe (main line and laterals) and 15,000 sprinkler heads. Those were some of the highlights of a progress report by Mark Pifher, SDS permit manager, to the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District Wednesday.

    “The tunneling project was more difficult than we thought,” Pifher said. The work was being done just over the El Paso County line from the west side of Interstate 25, with a tunnel-boring machine 85 feet below ground.

    Because of the difficulty, a second borer from the east side one mile away is being used.

    “They had better meet in the middle,” Pifher joked.

    More than 44 miles of the 50 miles of 66-inchdiameter pipeline from Pueblo Dam to Colorado Springs has been installed; a treatment plant and three pump stations are under construction; and a Fountain Creek improvement project has nearly been completed, he said. All of the pipeline in Pueblo County has been installed, and revegetation has begun on 323 acres that were disturbed in Pueblo West and on Walker Ranches. The irrigation system is so large that it has to run in round-the-clock cycles seven days a week, Pifher noted.

    “It’s apparently the largest sprinkler system in the state,” he said.

    Another 484 acres has been planted with native seed in El Paso County.

    As of March, $359 million has been spent on SDS, with $209 million going to El Paso County firms, $65 million to Pueblo County companies, $900,000 to Fremont County contractors and $84 million to businesses in other parts of Colorado.

    More Southern Delivery System coverage here.


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