Denver Water customers not “that guy” in July

August 20, 2014

Originally posted on Mile High Water Talk:

Matching CoupleBy Lindsay Weber, Denver Water demand planner

We would like to thank our customers for not being “that guy” this July.

Denver Water’s 2014 Use Only What You Need campaign, Don’t be that guy, focuses on smart watering practices, including not watering when it rains. And, this July customers did just that by watching the weather and adjusting accordingly.

At the end of July, the Denver metro area received more than 2 inches of rain along with record low temperatures in a two-day span, and customers took note.

Water use dropped 34 percent for the three days following the rain compared to the three days preceding the rain. And, nearly two weeks later, we are seeing water use remain below those pre-rain levels.

So, we thank you for shutting off the sprinklers, keeping the hose at bay and letting Mother Nature do the work. And, for heeding the advice…

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Denver Water: The pour has started! New 256′ diameter roof being poured at Ashland Reservoir

August 18, 2014

Many eyes are on Lake Powell and the power pool #ColoradoRiver

August 12, 2014
A high desert thunderstorm lights up the sky behind Glen Canyon Dam -- Photo USBR

A high desert thunderstorm lights up the sky behind Glen Canyon Dam — Photo USBR

Here’s a look at the Lake Powell power pool and the cascading effects if the reservoir drops below the level necessary to continue to deliver power to the southwestern US, from Allen Best writing in The Denver Post:

Colorado water leaders used a curious approach last week in announcing a new water conservation program involving the Colorado River. They talked about electricity and the effect of spiking prices on corn farmers in eastern Colorado, ski area operators on the Western Slope, and cities along the Front Range.

The scenario? A Lake Powell receding to what is called a minimum power pool, leaving too little water to generate electricity. Glen Canyon Dam, which creates the reservoir, is responsible for 81 percent of the power produced by a series of giant dams on the Colorado River and its tributaries, including those on the Gunnison River. This electricity is distributed by the Western Area Power Administration to 5.8 million people in Colorado, Arizona and other states.

Should this power supply be interrupted, WAPA would make good on its contracts with local utilities by buying power in the spot market, such as from gas-fired power plants. But extended drought on the Colorado would certainly increase prices to reflect the higher costs of replacement by other sources.

Hydropower is far cheaper than renewables but also fossil fuels. Rural electrical cooperatives get nearly half the production, followed closely by municipalities, including Colorado Springs, Delta and Sterling, plus Longmont, Loveland, Estes Park and Fort Collins.

Right now, WAPA is selling the energy from Glen Canyon and the other dams at $12.19 per megawatt-hour with a separate charge for transmission. Just how much prices would increase in event of prolonged interruption is speculative. The same agency, however is shoring up August deliveries with purchases of power from other sources at $55 per megawatt-hour, according to Jeffrey W. Ackerman, the Montrose-based manager of WAPA’s Colorado River Supply Project’s Energy Management Office.

This illustrates the bone-on-bone relationship between energy production and water during time of drought.

Yet the broader story about the Colorado River is about a narrowing razor’s edge between supply and demand. There’s no crisis, but water officials are planning for one. A healthy snowpack in Colorado last winter helped, but did not solve problems. The basin as a whole was still below average, as it has been 11 of the last 14 years.

“As leaders, we simply cannot wait for a crisis to happen before we come together to figure out how to address it,” said Jim Lochhead, chief executive of Denver Water. “That would be irresponsible.”

Denver Water and providers in Arizona, Nevada and California, plus the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, are pooling $11 million to launch a demand-management program. Utilities such as Xcel Energy have similar programs, offering to pay customers willing to suspend use of air conditioners for a couple hours on hot summer afternoons.

In this case, $2.5 million is being allocated to fund programs that would yield reduced demands in Colorado and other states upstream of Lake Powell. The obvious idea is fallowing of crops, such as a hay meadow, with the irrigator to be reimbursed. But Lochhead stresses that it’s a blank chalkboard. The intent is to solicit ideas and then “demonstrate effective demand-management techniques.”

“It’s not something we expect to do. It’s not something we want to do, but if the drought continues, we want to be ready,” says John McClow, Colorado’s representative on the Upper Colorado River Commission.

The bulk of the $11 million will be allocated to demand-management programs in the lower-basin states.

Doug Kenney, director of the Western Water Policy Program at the University of Colorado’s Getches-Wilkinson Center for Natural Resources, Energy and the Environment, sees the agreement as representative of broad shift in states sharing water from the Colorado River. “In the past, they could get together to build things such as dams. Now, they are teaming up to save water,” he says. “That’s a paradigm shift.”

An effort involving The Nature Conservancy and water agencies based in Durango and Glenwood Springs has been underway for five years. That parallel effort, however, is driven by a different trigger: the prospect of a compact curtailment or “call.” The 1922 Colorado River Compact requires Colorado and the other upper-basin states — Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico — to deliver an average 75 million acre-feet over any given 10-year period.

Upper basin states at this point have a cushion of 15 million acre-feet, or two years’ supply. Yet abundant snowfall last year in Colorado only slightly filled Lake Powell. One relatively good year does not compensate for several bad ones.

Always hovering in the background is the prospect of even worse. Tree rings from across the River Basin provide clear evidence of longer, more intense droughts 800 to 900 years ago. An additional layer is the prospect of higher temperatures caused by global warming.

Chris Treese, external affairs director for the Glenwood Springs-based Colorado River Water Conservation District, acknowledges a growing sense of urgency. “We could be back in a near-crisis or crisis situation in as little two or three years,” he says. And for water planners, who typically try to think decades ahead, that’s a current event, he adds. [ed. emphasis mine]

How likely is this dead pool? U.S. Bureau of Reclamation modelers in April found a 4 percent chance of a minimum power pool in 2018 and a 6 percent in 2019. The models are based on recorded hydrology of the last 105 years.

What if Powell does decline and electricity cannot be generated? It depends upon how long the shortage lasts. A longer outage would affect electrical consumers from Arizona to Nebraska. “We’re struggling to quantify the impact,” says Andrew Colismo, government affairs manager for Colorado Springs Utility.

Tri-State is the single largest consumer, purchasing 28 percent of all power produced in 2012 from the dams. It sells this power to 44 member co-operatives in a four-state region, including those who sell to irrigators in eastern Colorado.

Irrigation is a huge consumer of cheap power. In northeastern Colorado, Holyoke-based Highline Electric meets demand that ranges from a low of 25 megawatts to a high of 190 megawatts, the latter occurring when irrigation pumps are drawing water from the Ogallala aquifer to spread across 123-acre circles of corn, beans and other crops. Some large irrigators pay hundreds of thousands of dollars annually in electrical costs, says general manager Mark Farnsworth.

The irony is that if a drought occurs accompanied by heat, as is usually the case, irrigators will probably pump more water and air conditioners will work even harder. Power demands will rise as water levels drop.

Tri-State spokesman Lee Boughey says existing rate structures anticipate both droughts and heavy precipitation.

Lochhead and others also point to other ripples from interrupted power sales. Revenues from hydroelectric sales, which were $198 million last year, are used for a great many programs: selenium control in the Delta-Montrose area, work to maintain ecosystem integrity downstream from Glen Canyon and ongoing efforts to preserve four endangered fish species in the Colorado River and its tributaries.

On Wednesday, Lochhead met with an interim legislative water committee at the Colorado Capitol to report about the new agreement. The testimony all day had been about potential measures to expand water conservation as Colorado tries to figure out how to accommodate a population expected to double from today’s 5.3 million residents to 10 million people by mid-century without drying up rivers and farms.

Denver Water already serves 1.3 million, but gets about half of its water from the Western Slope. “We have a vested interest” in the Colorado River, Lochhead told legislators.

One outstanding question is whether Denver and other water providers on the High Plains should try to be able to get additional water from new or expanded transmountain diversions.

With this story from Lake Powell, the take-home message is don’t count on it.

Allen Best writes frequently for The Post about water and energy and also publishes an online news magazine, found at http://mountaintownnews.net.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.


#ColoradoRiver water conservation project gets $11 million in funding

August 9, 2014

From the Colorado Independent (Bob Berwyn):

The money will primarily be used to buy or lease water rights from ranchers and farmers in the Upper Colorado River Basin, including Colorado. Instead of being diverted for irrigation, the water will flow to Lake Powell, the giant desert reservoir in southeast Utah.

Denver, Phoenix, Las Vegas and Southern California want to boost flows to Lake Powell, because if the reservoir’s water level drops below a certain threshold, it changes everything.

In a worst-case scenario of extended drought, Denver Water might have to send water from its reservoirs down to Nevada and California, cutting the amount of water available to water bluegrass suburban lawns.

Under the deal announced last week, The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, the Central Arizona Water Conservancy District, Denver Water and the Southern Nevada Water Authority pledge to work cooperatively with farmers and ranchers to find new and flexible ways of managing existing water supplies to avert a crisis.

Conservation is one of the ways to manage water supplies, and includes everything from fixing rusty, leaking irrigation pipes to installing high-tech soil moisture monitors that ensure efficient irrigation. The new agreement also specifically aims to pay farmers and ranchers in Wyoming, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico to stop irrigating some of their land, at least temporarily, and letting it lie fallow, or uncultivated.

Denver Water CEO Jim Lochhead said the agreement is not a water grab by cities.

“This is about water security,” Lochhead said, explaining that, in times of shortages, it’s important to manage the existing water supply as efficiently as possible. “We have to put our money where our mouth is,” he said. “Part of this is to try and determine really how much water we can obtain for the system through programs like this.”

A key principle of the agreement is demand management, which means focusing on water use rather than on building new diversions or dams. It can include using water more efficiently, and the sale or temporary lease of water rights. Since water managers only have a finite amount of water to work with, shifting around uses within the system is one of the few options for avoiding interstate conflicts while meeting projected gaps in supply…

The agreement looks good on its surface but raises a slew of thorny new legal issues, said Mark Squillace, a leading water law scholar at a University of Colorado natural resource think tank. According to Squillace, agreements reached under the new program could violate state laws that govern water allocation. Participants to voluntary agreements can bind each other legally with a water contract, but the new multi-state program doesn’t address what happens if those deals affect other water users not party to the agreement, Squillace said. At this point, the transfers envisioned under the agreement are probably more of a Band-Aid than the major surgery that may be required to equitably distribute Colorado River water during times of shortage, according to some water law experts.

Along with colleague Douglas Kenney at CU-Boulder’s Getches-Wilkinson Center for Natural Resources, Energy, and the Environment, Squillace has been advocating for revisions to the basic legal framework to reflect 21st-century realities, including climate change and shifts in the demand for water away from agriculture and to municipal use.

And with agriculture using so much of the water, those changes would mainly have to address concerns related to water use by farms and ranches. Squillace said the governing laws need to give farmers more flexibility to save water without losing their water rights.

“Right now, the incentives are for agriculture to use as much water as they can,” Squillace said. Instead, there should be incentives that would encourage farmers to switch to crops that use less water, he explained.

For example, if a farmer switches from growing alfalfa to growing a less water intensive crop like barley, he or she shouldn’t lose their water rights, which is the way things are under the existing use-it-or-lose-it doctrine. Instead, that farmer should be able to market the “extra” water, Squillace explained.

Once the basic laws have been revamped, market-based transfers of water like those envisioned by the new agreement have a much better chance of succeeding, he concluded.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.


More color, less water: How Lakewood is brightening up West Colfax

August 9, 2014

Originally posted on Mile High Water Talk:

Looking for more inspiration? After taking a drive down West Colfax Avenue, check out the xeriscape demonstration gardens at Kendrick Lake in Lakewood.

Looking for more inspiration? After taking a drive down West Colfax Avenue, check out the xeriscape demonstration gardens at Kendrick Lake Park in Lakewood.

Take a drive down West Colfax Avenue in Lakewood and it’s hard to miss the collection of retro neon diner and motel signs illuminating the road.

But, have you ever noticed the aesthetically pleasing median strip? We have!

Following the drought of 2002, the city of Lakewood parks department evaluated the condition of more than 1.3 million square feet of landscaped medians. Many of the medians had overgrown plants and inefficient spray irrigation systems, more than 25 years old.

This led to a trial run of using drip irrigation systems and xeric plants, including native and adapted plants, in 2004. And, Lakewood hasn’t looked back. The city has upgraded nearly 8 miles of landscaped medians to eye-catching and efficient low-water landscapes, resulting in a 40 percent…

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New partnership formed to address drought in Colorado River Basin — Denver Water

August 8, 2014
Denver Water's collection system via the USACE EIS

Denver Water’s collection system via the USACE EIS

From Denver Water (Travis Thompson):

In a first-of-its-kind partnership, agricultural and environmental organizations, West Slope water districts and Denver Water have come together to explore measures that could help benefit the Colorado River and avoid reaching critically low water levels in Lake Powell. Should levels in this important reservoir continue to decline due to the prolonged drought in the basin, it could result in a compact call, putting water supplies to much of Colorado and the upper basin states at risk. This also could result in a loss of regionally important hydropower production, a reduction in revenues derived from the sale of this power, and an associated loss of funding for important programs like the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program that provides the means by which all existing water use and an increment of future use in the upper basin can comply with the federal Endangered Species Act.

The Colorado Cattlemen’s Association, Colorado Farm Bureau, Colorado River District, Southwestern Water Conservation District, Denver Water, The Nature Conservancy and Trout Unlimited are working together to leverage $11 million made available under the Colorado River System Conservation Program, which will fund pilot projects to reduce demands in the Colorado River Basin and improve reservoir levels in Lake Powell as well as Lake Mead, which also has declined to its lowest level in its 80 year history.

“Without collaborative action, water supplies, hydropower production, water quality, agricultural output, recreation and environmental resources are all at risk in the next several years in the upper basin, if Lake Powell reaches critically low levels,” said Doug Robotham, Colorado water project director of The Nature Conservancy in Colorado.

The Colorado River System Conservation Program, announced last week, was created by the Bureau of Reclamation and four municipalities in the upper and lower Colorado basins, including Denver Water, to provide funding to develop, test and gather data on potential short-term demonstration or pilot programs that keep water in lakes Powell and Mead through temporary, voluntary and fully compensated mechanisms. If a pilot program proves to be successful, it could be part of a contingency toolbox developed by states and the federal government to be implemented only if a severe shortage looks imminent and discontinued when conditions improve.

“Our interest is to protect water users in Colorado and the upper basin. We know that if there is a compact call, agriculture is the first area that will be looked at for the solution,” said Don Shawcroft, Colorado Farm Bureau. “A crisis is bad for everyone — especially agriculture. It is vital that we have a voice at the table.”

The upper basin pilot projects developed under the System Conservation Program will be used to demonstrate ways to put water immediately in Lake Powell, through voluntary, compensated means, and only for as long as a drought continues.

“Lake Powell is the ‘bank account’ that assures the upper basin has the wherewithal to meet our obligation to the lower basin under the Colorado River Compact. While the risks of Lake Powell going below its power pool are low, the consequences are high,” said Jim Lochhead, CEO/manager of Denver Water. “Currently there are no contingency plans for such an event. Denver gets half its water supply from the Colorado River so we have a big stake in the future security of the river, not just for ourselves, but for all water users in Colorado. As leaders, we simply cannot wait for a crisis to happen before we come together to figure out how to address it. That would be irresponsible.”

“For a number of years now we have been working with Colorado, Front Range water providers, Southwestern, TNC, and agricultural producers on a long-term water banking solution. The System Conservation Program is a natural outgrowth of that effort. The challenge is to be sure all parties are represented and that we have fair and transparent processes,” said Eric Kuhn, general manager of the Colorado River District.

In order to ensure that local concerns are addressed, and that there is equity and fairness among all parties, the upper basin states of Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming, and the Upper Colorado River Commission will have a direct role in program efforts. This envisioned structure is distinct from that of the Lower Colorado River Basin, where the Bureau of Reclamation will manage conservation actions in Arizona, California and Nevada to address declining reservoir levels in Lake Mead in a manner consistent with past programs.

“Complying with the Colorado River Compact is a shared responsibility across all water-use sectors and among all the upper basin states” said James Eklund, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board. “We must control our destiny. The worst case is a compact call or a situation where the federal government determines how we will manage critical flows. We simply must work together to protect the future of this state, all our economies and critical industries to avoid a future compact call.”

As this is a basin-wide project, the coalition will continue to seek additional stakeholders throughout the upper basin states. The members also plan to actively seek additional funding for education and outreach.

“This is not a one-sector or one-state solution. The pilot programs will demonstrate the viability of cooperative means to reduce water demand from any number of different sources where water is lost or consumed — agriculture, municipal and industrial,” said Frank Daley, president of the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association.

“We have learned in Colorado though our Water Conservation Board and Basin Roundtables how critical public awareness is to project success. Education and awareness of the pilot projects may be equally as beneficial as the projects themselves. We have to be sure people have the real facts of what we are trying to do, buy in to the process and then document the benefits,” stated Bruce Whitehead, executive director of the Southwestern Conservation District.

The Colorado River and its tributaries provide water to nearly 40 million people for municipal use, and the combined metropolitan areas served by the Colorado River represent the world’s 12th largest economy, generating more than $1.7 trillion in Gross Metropolitan Product per year along with agricultural economic benefits of just under $5 billion annually.

More Denver Water coverage here.


#ColoradoRiver water conservation project gets $11 million in funding

August 5, 2014

uppercoloradoriverbasinusbrprojects

From the High Country News (Nelson Harvey):

Under the agreement, finalized late last week between the Department of Interior and the utilities Denver Water, the Central Arizona Project, the Southern Nevada Water Authority and the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, farmers, cities and industries will get paid to implement two-year, voluntary conservation projects that put water back into the Colorado River. The goal is to demonstrate that so-called “demand management” can prevent water levels in lakes Powell and Mead from dropping too low for their dams to generate electricity.

“We want to demonstrate how we can live within our means on the river,” said Jim Lochhead, CEO of Denver Water, whose city relies on Colorado River water piped east over the Continental Divide for about half of its water supply.

In the agricultural sphere, one candidate for funding under the partnership would be rotational fallowing agreements, where farmers band together, dry up some of their land and leave the associated water in the river in dry years. Yet after years of Western cities “buying and drying” nearby farms to lubricate their growth, agricultural groups are eager to see other non-fallowing options explored as well…

“Fallowing is really a blunt force tool that would harm agriculture,” said Terry Frankhauser, executive vice president of the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association. “We want to try to explore other ways of reducing demand,” like switching to less water intensive crops, watering less and accepting reduced yields, or water banking—foregoing diversions when you don’t need them in exchange for the right to use more later.
In cities, projects eligible for funding could include things like water-smart landscaping, increased use of reclaimed water, or efficiency standards for appliances and new construction.

Whatever the demand-reducing mechanism, Lochhead said, “The goal is to develop a plan that we can put into place as we need to in emergency situations.” And for water managers who depend on the Colorado River, losing power-generating capacity in lakes Mead and Powell would certainly qualify as an emergency. If water levels drop that low, there likely won’t be enough head pressure in Lake Powell behind the Glen Canyon Dam to push through 7.5 million acre feet of water over 10 years. That’s how much the upper basin states—Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming—are required to deliver to the lower basin under the 1922 Colorado River Compact. If they fall short, the lower basin states—Arizona, Nevada and California—have license to place a call on the river and force their friends in the upper basin to cut consumption…

“If that happens, it would mean chaos in the basin among water users because everyone would be scrambling to try to shore up our water supplies,” Lochhead said.

And losing power generating capacity could have other consequences: proceeds from the electricity generated at Glen Canyon Dam now fund recovery programs for four endangered species—the Kanab ambersnail, the razorback sucker, the humpback chub and the southwestern willow flycatcher—that are native to the Colorado River Basin. If enough water in Lake Powell evaporates, funding for those programs could too, allowing the federal government to intervene and curtail water use in the upper basin in the name of the Endangered Species Act.

Finally, if the turbines inside Glen Canyon Dam ground to a halt, Lochhead points out that it could prompt power prices in the upper basin to spike, since roughly 5.8 million people now depend on electricity from the dam for a portion of their power supply. Exactly how much rates would rise remains unclear.

State Reps. Don Coram and Jerry Sonnenberg are cool to the proposal. Here’s a guest column that’s running in the Sterling Journal-Advocate:

Denver Water on behalf of the Bureau of Reclamation and the respective water districts from Arizona, California and Nevada recently developed a drought management pilot program for the Upper Colorado River System to send more water downstream. Other than Denver Water, the water districts involved in this program represent the states known as the Lower Basin states. The proposal addresses several concerns, which can be summed up as the Lower Basin states cannot satisfy their current water demand. Unfortunately, when the drafters of this pilot program looked up stream for more water, it seems Colorado’s agriculture industry became their target for relief.

In order to send more water to these Lower Basin states, the pilot program suggests farmers could fallow more land, employ deficit irrigation techniques and plant crops that use less water; but let us explain why these ideas will greatly damage our agriculture industry. First, fallowing, a term for intentionally leaving a portion of a field vacant, is strategically used by farmers to let soils recover from a harvest. Fallowing can improve yields in future years, but because a farmer is choosing not to plant in a portion of the field, no crops are produced. Secondly, changing to deficit irrigation methods can be very difficult and result in lower crop yields. And lastly, crops are soil, location, elevation and climate specific, and each require an enormous investment in equipment specific to that crop. Additionally, crop selection is based on market prices, demand and cost of harvest. Requiring farmers to plant different crops can be costly, and in some cases, not viable.

On top of the burdens proposed in this program is the current Colorado drought, which reduced agricultural production by 25 percent last year alone. Yet despite this drastic drop in production, Colorado’s agriculture industry still contributed over $2 billion to our state’s economy. Asking Colorado farmers to plant less, reduce their yield and even switch crops will have devastating impacts on our agriculture industry and ultimately our state’s economy.

Much like Colorado, the Lower Basin states are struggling to meet their water demand, but with growing populations in this region and declining rain and snow fall, this problem is likely here to stay. However, as Colorado and its neighboring states continue to look for solutions for water management, they need to consider who has been and will continue to be a leader of water conservation — our agriculture industry. This industry is first to experience the effects of drought and consequently is the first to take steps to better manage its water supply. Simply put, farmers and ranchers are already consummate water conservationists because their livelihoods depend on it.

The Lower Basin states can receive water above their agreed upon allotment. If these states are looking for more water, cities like Las Vegas need to discuss ways to better manage their current water budget, and leave Colorado farmers’ and ranchers’ water out of the discussion.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.


“Summit County has a huge stake in this with Denver Water” — Jim Lochhead #ColoradoRiver

August 4, 2014

From the Summit Daily News (Alli Langley):

The Colorado River System Conservation program is an effort to address a long-term imbalance on the Colorado River caused by years of drought and water demands that exceed supply.

Denver Water, Central Arizona Project, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California and Southern Nevada Water Authority each contributed $2 million and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation pitched in $3 million to create an $11 million fund for Colorado River water conservation pilot projects.

The projects will demonstrate the viability of cooperative, voluntary compensated measures for reducing water demand in agricultural, municipal, industrial and other areas. [ed. emphasis mine]

“Summit County has a huge stake in this with Denver Water,” said Jim Lochhead, Denver Water CEO.

The county is a headwaters community for the Colorado River, and Lochhead said Summit shares a common interest with the utility in water conservation and in meeting collective obligations to the people and ecosystems down river.

One of the biggest causes for concern, he said, is the dangerously low water level at Lake Powell…

That has a host of consequences for communities up river from the lake, including increased energy bills due to less productive hydroelectric power plants, reduced agricultural output, diminished snowmaking capabilities at ski resorts, water quality issues and loss of funding for protections under the federal Endangered Species Act of 1973.

Plus, he said, “we might have to be cut off from our water supply in order to meet our obligations to the lower basin.”

Summit County especially would see the effects in Dillon Reservoir, which Denver Water constructed in 1963 to supply its customers in the Denver metro area.

“Dillon could be literally drained in that scenario,” he said…

“This situation is becoming increasingly critical. We are already dealing with unprecedented pressure on the southern California region’s water system,” said Jeffrey Kightlinger, general manager for The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California. “This innovative program is aimed at expanding conservation efforts from a local level to a collaborative system-wide program.”[...]

“I applaud the far sighted municipal water providers for beginning to address the imbalance in supply and demand on the Colorado River that could seriously affect the economy and the people who rely upon the river,” said U.S. Deputy Secretary of the Interior Mike Connor in a press release. “There is still much work to be done, and the Interior Department is committed to supporting the efforts of the Colorado River Basin states and other stakeholders as partners in improving water management and operations, particularly during this historic drought.”

The program’s pilot projects will include residential and industrial water conservation programs and in the agricultural sector, something called “temporary compensated borrowing,” which Lochhead said would pay farmers not to irrigate or to irrigate less than they were.

The pilot projects are in the planning stages but should start next year, he said, and the two-year program will fund them into 2016. Successful ideas could then be expanded or extended.

To ensure that local concerns are addressed and that there is equity and fairness among all parties, the Bureau of Reclamation will manage the conservation actions in the Lower Colorado River Basin states of Arizona, California and Nevada in a manner consistent with past programs. In the Upper Basin, the states of Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming and the Upper Colorado River Commission will have a direct role in program efforts.

Denver Water plans to do a broad outreach program and partner with agricultural and environmental groups, Lochhead said.

“I think it’s important that we engage all of those groups in this effort,” he said. “We just set up the funds. Now we got to figure out how to make it work.”

More Blue River watershed coverage here.


#ColoradoRiver Concerns Mount as Lake Mead’s Surface Continues to Fall — Colorado PBS

August 3, 2014

From Colorado PBS (Jim Trotter):

Western water expert Brad Udall, a senior fellow at the University of Colorado Law School, believes it will take a “full-out” crisis to bring meaningful reforms, but that such a crisis may well be at hand.

The surface elevation of Lake Mead reached the historic low of 1,081.75 feet above sea level during the week of July 7, according to the Bureau of Reclamation, and is projected to fall to 1,080 by November. On July 31, it was projected at 1080.61.

However, should it fall to 1,075 feet it would trigger a declared shortage on the river, at which point water deliveries could be impacted. The lake has dropped 128 feet since 2000.

But, Udall told Rocky Mountain PBS I-News, water providers are looking at solutions to avoid a shortage declaration.

There’s a plan underway right now that involves Denver water, involves three of the lower basin water providers, one in each state, plus the Bureau of Reclamation, to put $11 million dollars on the table next year to start buying these water rights from voluntary agriculture users and have them not exercise those rights in order to keep the two reservoirs – Lake Mead and upstream Lake Powell – keep them higher than they might otherwise be.”

To effectively meet the challenges of this century, the basic premise underpinning the Law of the River – first in time, first in right – will have to be rethought.

“The other way to look at this is that the glass is half full,” Udall said. “We still have 80 percent of the river, still a lot of water. But we’ve got to use it correctly, and that means a healthy agriculture industry that doesn’t use 70 percent. It could be a system in which agriculture is paid handsomely not to plant in very dry years. We need to do better in using water wisely.”

From InkStain (John Fleck):

While all eyes have been on Lake Mead’s bathtub ring, Lake Powell is forecast to rise by nearly 1.4 million acre feet by the end of September. But Mead’s 2 million acre foot drop will more than offset the increase, leaving us with the lowest end-of-year total storage in the two reservoirs combined since 1967, when they were first filling Lake Powell.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here


US Department of the Interior and Western municipal water suppliers reach landmark collaborative agreement #ColoradoRiver

August 1, 2014


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

In support of the Colorado River basin states drought contingency planning to address a long-term imbalance on the Colorado River caused by years of drought conditions, municipal water providers in Arizona, California, Nevada and Colorado and the federal government signed a landmark water conservation agreement this week called the Colorado River System Conservation program.

Central Arizona Project, Denver Water, The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California and Southern Nevada Water Authority are partnering with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to contribute $11 million to fund pilot Colorado River water conservation projects. The projects will demonstrate the viability of cooperative, voluntary compensated measures for reducing water demand in a variety of areas, including agricultural, municipal and industrial uses.

For more than a decade, a severe drought — one of the worst in the last 1,200 years — has gripped the Colorado River, causing the world’s most extensive storage reservoir system to come closer and closer to critically low water levels. The Colorado River and its tributaries provide water to nearly 40 million people for municipal use, and the combined metropolitan areas served by the Colorado River represent the world’s 12th largest economy, generating more than $1.7 trillion in Gross Metropolitan Product per year along with agricultural economic benefits of just under $5 billion annually.

“This is a critically important first step, and I applaud the far sighted municipal water providers for beginning to address the imbalance in supply and demand on the Colorado River that could seriously affect the economy and the people who rely upon the river,” said U.S. Deputy Secretary of the Interior Mike Connor. “There is still much work to be done, and the Interior Department is committed to supporting the efforts of the Colorado River Basin States and other stakeholders as partners in improving water management and operations, particularly during this historic drought.”

“This situation is becoming increasingly critical. We are already dealing with unprecedented pressure on the southern California region’s water system,” said Jeffrey Kightlinger, general manager for The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California. “This innovative program is aimed at expanding conservation efforts from a local level to a collaborative system-wide program.”

Without collaborative action now, water supplies, hydropower production, water quality, agricultural output and recreation and environmental resources are all at risk, in both the upper and lower basins.

“This agreement represents a unique approach to save water and protect the Colorado River system from the impacts of the on-going drought and the current imbalance between supplies and demands in the Basin,” said Central Arizona Project Board President Pam Pickard. “It is an important milestone in interstate collaboration, with CAP working with partners in California, Nevada, Colorado and the federal government to improve the health of the Colorado River.”

All water conserved under this program will stay in the river, helping to boost the declining reservoir levels and benefiting the health of the entire river system.

“Half of Denver’s water supply comes from the Colorado River, so we have a direct interest in the health of the entire system,” said Jim Lochhead, Denver Water CEO. “This is a proactive contingency plan for drought years to help secure our water supply future with a balanced, economic and environmental approach. This is clearly the right thing to do for our customers, our future water supply and the basin.”

The Colorado River System Conservation program will provide funding for pilot conservation programs in 2015 and 2016. Successful programs can be expanded or extended to provide even greater protection for the Colorado River system.

“The time has come for our states to work together to develop contingency strategies to manage the Colorado River under extreme drought conditions that threaten the levels of Lakes Mead and Powell,” said John Entsminger, general manager for the Southern Nevada Water Authority. “As Lake Mead continues to drop toward critical levels, we must simultaneously begin to take collective action now and plan additional future measures.”

In order to ensure that local concerns are addressed, and that there is equity and fairness among all parties, in the Lower Colorado River Basin, the Bureau of Reclamation will manage the conservation actions in Arizona, California and Nevada in a manner consistent with past programs, while in the Upper Basin, the Upper Basin states of Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming, and the Upper Colorado River Commission will have a direct role in program efforts.

From InkStain (John Fleck):

The program has been simmering for months (see here, here and here for previous public discussions), but this evening’s announcement marks the final signing of the deal by federal officials. The program is a partnership of the basin’s four largest municipal water agencies – the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, the Central Arizona Project, Denver Water and the Southern Nevada Water Authority – and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation…

This is a small but very significant step forward. Previous conservation efforts were funded by an individual water agency, with water conserved banked in reservoir storage for later use by that agency. In this program, the water conserved will simply become “system water” for the benefit of all.

Significantly, the announcement says pilot programs will be conducted in 2015 and 2016. (I had been hearing water managers talk about the possibility of getting something underway this year, but it looks like July 31 is too late for that.)

Also, there’s some nuance here about who will built the institutional widgets to carry this out. In the Lower Basin, it will be the Bureau. In the Upper Basin, it will be some sort of state-managed effort that I don’t fully understand. There’s apparently been a lot of sensitivity on the question of who’s driving this bus in the Upper Basin.

US Drought Monitor July 29, 2014

US Drought Monitor July 29, 2014

From the Associated Press via ABC News:

The Interior Department said Thursday that local water providers in Arizona, California, Nevada and Colorado will take part in the deal.

It aims to create several small pilot programs in 2015 and 2016 that would provide incentives and compensation for conservation by cities, farmers and industry, according to a statement announcing the agreement. The programs that work best can then be expanded, extended, or both.

The move was called very necessary, though only a beginning with the severe shortfall threatening to challenge the region’s long-term water supply…

The project’s partners include the Central Arizona Project, Denver Water, The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, Southern Nevada Water Authority and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.


How to tackle brown spots

July 28, 2014

Originally posted on Mile High Water Talk:

Do you find yourself battling brown spots in your yard all summer long? If so, you’re not alone. Associated Landscape Contractors of Colorado says brown spots and weeds are the two most common lawn problems. And more often than not, the underlying cause of both is a faulty sprinkler system.

So, what can you do? ALCC offers the following advice:

Brown spots are really the lawn’s call for help. The grass is stressed and you think it needs more water.

While you may be tempted to turn up the sprinkler system so it waters longer, that won’t solve the problem if the water isn’t getting to that brown spot to begin with.

Many brown spots stem from issues with the sprinkler heads. Here are three common problems with quick fixes to get your system back in order:

Irrigation audit, September 2013 Denver Water conservation technicians Jenelle Rhodes and Rick Alvarado demonstrate how to properly align a…

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“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: Video collage — Beautiful, water-efficient landscapes of our customers

July 5, 2014

Originally posted on Mile High Water Talk:

Because July is Smart Irrigation Month, we thought it would be fun to highlight some of our customers who have transformed their yards into a more water-efficient landscape.

We sent out Denver Water’s team of nine Water Savers, who spend their day with customers providing water-saving tips and tools, to capture some of the beautiful landscapes throughout Denver Water’s service area. In just one day, our Water Savers captured more than 100 photos highlighting a variety of efficient landscapes.

This video highlights a portion of what the Water Savers discovered.

Transforming your landscape doesn’t have to be extreme or even happen all at once. It can be as simple as identifying an area of your grass that is difficult to maintain because it is on a slope or receives too much sun exposure, or by locating areas of turf that aren’t necessary or beneficial, like on the side…

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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.


Strontia Springs Dam — under the spillway

June 30, 2014

Originally posted on Mile High Water Talk:

Last week we explored the history of the High Line Canal, which begins at a diversion dam on the South Platte River 1.8 miles upstream from the mouth of Waterton Canyon. Roughly five more miles up the canyon is Strontia Springs Dam.

And, as we learned in our trip to Cheesman Reservoir two weeks ago, several Denver Water reservoirs filled this spring during the runoff, including Strontia Springs Reservoir.

Lance Cloyd, Denver Water’s Strontia Springs caretaker, provides an all-access tour of the area with behind-the-scenes vantage points capturing the beauty behind 800 cubic feet per second flowing out of the spillway.

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Take a trip down the High Line Canal

June 29, 2014

Originally posted on Mile High Water Talk:

The trail along the High Line Canal is a favorite urban getaway that meanders 66 miles across the Denver metro area. While the waterway (71-miles long) is owned and operated by Denver Water, this National Landmark Trail is maintained by municipal recreation agencies.

The workers who built the High Line Canal more than a century ago didn’t envision that people would be using their ambitious irrigation project as a recreational outlet in the midst of a busy urban area. Take a trip back in time with Greenwood Village to learn how the canal transformed into the recreational amenity it is today.

Beyond The Green – The High Line Canal Trail


The Guide to the High Line Canal Trail, a full-color guide with mile-by-mile descriptions and a pull-out trail map, is a perfect companion for anyone looking to enjoy a slice of the outdoors in the middle of a city.

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Don’t be “that guy”

June 23, 2014

Originally posted on Mile High Water Talk:

Check out Denver Water's annual watering rules to avoid being this guy.

Follow Denver Water’s annual watering rules  to avoid being this guy.

Denver Water customers have created a culture of conservation. In fact, water use is down by about 21 percent compared to our benchmark of pre-2002 use. This is a great accomplishment, especially when you consider there are 10 percent more customers in our service area.

Through our aggressive conservation programs and campaigns, customers recognize that conserving water is the right thing to do in our semi-arid region. But, there are other reasons why this culture of conservation has been adopted, from enjoying the beauty that water-wise plants add to the landscape to saving money by saving water.

We also know that many customers simply don’t want to be “that guy.” The one in the neighborhood who stands out because he hasn’t adopted the same conservation practices as everyone else. This concept inspired Denver Water’s 2014 Use Only What…

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Colorado: Forest Service comment letter shows breadth and depth of impacts from Denver Water’s diversion plan

June 23, 2014

Originally posted on Summit County Citizens Voice:

ghj

More water from the West Slope? Not the best idea, says the U.S. Forest Service . bberwyn photo.

Current plan underestimates impacts to water and wildlife

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — As currently spelled out, Denver Water’s plan to divert more water from the headwaters of the Colorado River will result in unacceptable impacts to wildlife and other resources on publicly owned national forest lands, the U.S. Forest Service wrote in a June 9 comment letter to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The Forest Service also wrote that the creation of a pool of environmental water in an expanded Gross Reservoir doesn’t compensate for the loss of two acres of wetlands and 1.5 miles of stream habitat that will be lost as a result of the expansion.

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Moffat Firming Project support absent at Boulder BOCC hearing — Sky-Hi Daily News #ColoradoRiver

June 20, 2014
Denver Water's collection system via the USACE EIS

Denver Water’s collection system via the USACE EIS

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

“There were numerous data issues raised that might be worth flagging,” said Elise Jones, Boulder County commissioner. “Everything from the use of median versus average in the statistics to whether or not the cost estimates are accurate. There were numerous other examples but that seemed to be a theme.”[...]

At the beginning of the meeting, Boulder County Commissioners’ staff voiced concerns about the project’s Final Environmental Impact Statement.

The 12,000-page Final Environmental Impact Statement is meant to reveal possible environmental impacts of the project.

“There wasn’t a robust discussion of the need and purpose of the project,” said Michelle Krezek, the commissioners’ staff deputy. “Specifically, there wasn’t any analysis of water conservation measures that could be taken or other smaller projects that could be undertaken instead of this large project. So it was hard to determine whether this was the right alternative.”

Other concerns included the absence of the Environmental Protection Agency from the process and the effect that expansion of the reservoir would have on Boulder County infrastructure.

Though most of the discussion focused on the project’s impacts in Boulder County, Grand County arose multiple times during the discussion, from both Grand and Boulder county residents. Boulder County commissioners said that they would take into account testimony about the effects of the project on the Western Slope.

“We would want to draw the Corps’ attention to those substantive comments even though they were outside Boulder County,” Jones said.

More than 20 people spoke during the hearing, but only one speaker, Denver Water Planning Director David Little, was in favor of the project, though he did not present an argument to counter previous assertions.

“The passion that the people in the audience have shown and some of the information that they’ve brought forward is important for you to consider in augmenting your comments to the corps,” said Little.

The Boulder County Commissioners will now submit their new comments to the Army Corps of Engineers.

More Moffat Collection System Project coverage here and here.


Colorado: Not much love for proposed new water diversions

June 19, 2014

Originally posted on Summit County Citizens Voice:

EPA raises questions about compliance with Clean Water Act

Denver Water plans to increase transmountain diversions through the Moffat collection system will be up for comment at a pair of upcoming meetings.

Denver Water plans to increase transmountain diversions through the Moffat collection system is not drawing rave reviews, as numerous entities have expressed significant concerns about impacts to water quality. bberwyn photo.

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — For all the detailed information in the 16,000-page study for Denver Water’s proposed new water diversions from the Western Slope, there are still more questions than answers, according to formal comment letters filed in the past few weeks.

As currently configured, the proposal to shunt more water from Colorado River headwaters streams to the Front Range could worsen water water quality in many streams that are already feeling the pain of low flows, EPA water experts wrote in a June 9 letter.

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Boulder County Commissioners’ hearing about Moffat Collection System Project now online #ColoradoRiver

June 19, 2014
Denver Water's collection system via the USACE EIS

Denver Water’s collection system via the USACE EIS

From the Boulder Daily Camera (Charlie Brennan):

To listen to Monday’s Boulder County commissioners public hearing on Gross Reservoir (Requires installation of Silverlight).

The Environmental Protection Agency has added its voice to those with critical comments on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ analysis of the potential impact of a Gross Reservoir expansion.

“This letter and enclosed detailed comments reinforce the primary concern as stated in the EPA’s draft EIS letter that the Project would adversely impact water quality and aquatic resources in an already degraded system,” the EPA’s letter stated, referring to criticisms it initially raised when the analysis was in draft form.

The letter, from the EPA’s office of Ecosystems Protection and Remediation, asserts that the Army Corps’ analysis describes all mitigation measures “as conceptual, and does not include mitigation commitments for some Project impacts that are significant to regulatory requirements” of the Clean Water Act.

The official 45-day public comment period for the finalized environmental impact statement for what is formally known as the Moffat Collection System Project closed on June 9, and the EPA’s letter carries that date.

The project manager for the proposed expansion has said, however, that the Army Corps would continue to take “meaningful” and “substantive” comments on the analysis until the agency makes a decision on the project, likely by April 2015…

The EPA in its letter also states that it hopes its comments will stimulate further discussions with the Army Corps, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, and Denver Water to ensure that its concerns are addressed prior to issuance of a project permit, so that the project is compliant with the Clean Water Act and “protective of waters of the U.S.”

U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., had implored the Army Corps on June 5 to extend its public comment period. And, the same day, the Boulder County Commissioners unanimously approved a letter detailing their objections to the adequacy and accuracy of the Army Corps’ analysis of the project, also saying the 45-day window for public comment should be extended.

On Monday, the commissioners held three hours of public comment on the project, which will be distilled and used to contribute to a follow-up letter the commissioners will be sending to the Army Corps.

“We had a full room, and I would say it was very well attended, and that people came in with quite a bit of research, science and data,” said commissioners’ spokesperson Barbara Halpin.

More Moffat Collection System Project coverage here and here.


Broomfield’s rate payers won’t see increase in 2015 despite Northern Water’s bump for C-BT deliveries

June 18, 2014
Southern Water Supply Project

Southern Water Supply Project

From the Broomfield Enterprise (Megan Quinn):

David Allen, director of Broomfield Public Works, said the rate increase likely will not affect residents in 2015. Broomfield is in the midst of creating its 2015 budget and aims to adjust the water budget to cover the expenses. Broomfield’s finance department will have a better picture of what the water budget might look like sometime in the fall, Allen said. The $39,000 increase “is pretty minor” considering the overall water-related budget is around $16 million, he said.

Broomfield typically pays around $16 million a year for water and water-related operations, such as treatment, maintenance, administration and utility billing, he said.

That amount also includes paying for water from Broomfield’s other two water sources: Denver Water and the Windy Gap project.

More infrastructure coverage here.


Colorado: Wrangling continues over Denver Water’s proposed new transmountain diversion, reservoir enlargement

June 6, 2014

Originally posted on Summit County Citizens Voice:

Boulder County gets high-level backup on request for comment period extension on major new transmountain water diversion

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Will the public get more time to review and comment on the final environmental study for the largest proposed water project in years?

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — Boulder County’s request for more time to comment on the proposed Moffat Tunnel Collection System expansion got some high-level backup this week, as Sen. Michael Bennet formally asked the federal government for an extension.

Denver Water’s proposed new diversions from Colorado River headwaters in Grand County, specifically the Fraser River, are under federal scrutiny as the Corps considers issuing a permit for the enlargement of Gross Reservoir in Boulder County. The federal agency released the final version of a massive environmental study in April, setting a June 9 deadline for comment.

The agency received about 400 requests for an extension, many of them via a…

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Recycled water system celebrates 10 years

May 29, 2014

Originally posted on Mile High Water Talk:

The Denver Water Recycling Plant, pictured here, celebrates a decade of service.

The Denver Water Recycling Plant, pictured here, celebrates a decade of service.

Water is a precious resource here in the West, much too precious to use just once. That’s why Denver Water started a program to treat and recycle wastewater. There are more than a dozen wastewater recycling programs in Colorado, and Denver Water operates the largest recycled water system in the state.

And, the system is celebrating a milestone birthday …

Recycled water system celebrates 10 years

By Ann Baker, Denver Water Communications and Marketing

When Denver Water’s recycled water system opened a decade ago, it distributed water through nine miles of pipe to 12 large water users.

Since then, the system has grown seven times that size, sending water through 65 miles of pipe to more than 80 customers, including parks and golf courses, the Denver Zoo, schools, homeowners associations and industrial complexes, and has plans to…

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Denver Water and the DWR reach agreement for Dillon Reservoir to mitigate flood risk along the Blue River should the need arise

May 23, 2014

morninggloryspillwaydillonreservoir

From the Summit Daily News (Joe Moylan):

The Colorado Division of Water Resources recently signed off on a first-of-its-kind proposal that could significantly reduce the risk of catastrophic flooding events in Summit County.

The plan, proposed by Bob Steger, manager of Raw Water Supply for Denver Water, would allow the state’s largest water utility to divert excess flows from Lake Dillon to the Front Range by way of the Roberts Tunnel in order to prevent a destructive water event in Summit County, most notably in Silverthorne.

Summit County Emergency Management director Joel Cochran said earlier this month during a Summit County Commission workshop that record snowpack combined with unseasonably warm spring and early summer temperatures could cause flooding on a magnitude not seen in two decades in the Blue River Watershed.

According to data Cochran presented during the commission’s first meeting in May, this season’s total snowpack consists of the equivalent of 17 to 20 inches of rainwater. It’s the highest concentration of snowpack in Summit County since 1995, the last year there was significant flooding in Summit County, Cochran said.

In addition to record snowpack, Cochran said spring and early summer temperatures are hovering between 6 and 10 degrees above normal throughout the state. Although Summit County last week caught a break from unseasonably warm temperatures, the return of spring has local officials concerned that the runoff could be triggered earlier than usual.

Historically, runoff in Summit County begins the first week of June, peaks about the middle of the month and ends before early July, Cochran said.

However, floods aren’t triggered by mountain runoff or even an accelerated runoff, Cochran said.

“A lot of people remember 2011 when we lost Coyne Valley (Road), but you can’t have (extreme) flooding due solely to spring runoff,” Cochran said. “We lost Coyne Valley because we had a major rain event when the Blue River was at peak water.”

With this season’s snowpack, it’s almost a certainty the Blue River will reach its capacity of 1,800 cubic feet per second of water at some point in the coming weeks, said Summit County assistant manager Thad Noll. If Summit County receives a significant rain event while the Blue is peaking, the damage could be extensive all over the county, but particularly in Silverthorne.

“Silverthorne got by relatively unscathed once in the past when the Blue reached 2,100 cfs, but anything higher than that and we’re trying to keep Silverthorne from getting washed down to the Sea of Cortez,” Noll said. “Denver Water’s proposal would relieve that pressure on the Blue by sending excess water to Denver in the event of a flood.”

That water would be transported by way of an underground aqueduct known as the Roberts Tunnel, which was constructed to carry water more than 23 miles from Lake Dillon to the North Fork of the South Platte River, where it is then distributed to several other reservoirs in and around Denver. Each year, water from the Blue River and Lake Dillon accounts for about 40 percent of the water annually collected and stored on the Front Range.

The South Platte’s capacity is about 680 cfs, according to a letter by Steger, which means up to that much water could be sent through the tunnel to the Front Range. Depending on South Platte flows, the water diverted downtown could relieve a significant amount of strain on the Blue River should it reach critical mass.

However, prior to receiving approval, Noll said the idea sparked an interesting debate among West Slope water advocates who opposed the proposal. Although Lake Dillon is owned and operated by Denver Water, it was previously prohibited from sending water to the South Platte if Front Range reservoirs were full.

Opponents were particularly critical of the idea to divert water to Denver considering Front Range reservoirs are expected to reach capacity this year.

“It raises an interesting question because the Blue River’s natural flow is toward the Colorado River,” Noll said. “The debate was whether saving the tiny town of Silverthorne, Colorado supersedes the rights of stakeholders down the line.”

The Colorado Office of the State Engineer thinks that it does, so long as Denver Water doesn’t cause flooding on the Front Range in trying to prevent the same in Summit County.

More Blue River watershed coverage here.


Youth and water — what lies beneath

May 21, 2014

Originally posted on Mile High Water Talk:

In 2014, Denver Water is scheduled to replace and rehabilitate 20 miles of pipe in the metro area.

In 2014, Denver Water is scheduled to replace and rehabilitate 20 miles of pipe in the metro area.

For the 2014 Youth and Water blog series, we’ve covered:

And, for the last post in this series, we’re taking you underground …

Week six: groundwater and infrastructure

There is a lot happening below the ground that you can’t see. Let’s discuss two of them.

Groundwater:

Even though the journey of water for Denver’s supply begins as surface water, groundwater is a very important part of the water cycle.

After it rains or snows, water infiltrates into the ground and percolates down through the spaces between soil, sand and rocks. Many people across Colorado and the world rely on groundwater for their water supply, and they use wells to pull groundwater up to the surface.

Infrastructure:

Once water…

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Marijuana and federal water projects

May 20, 2014
Pueblo dam spilling

Pueblo dam spilling

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The Bureau of Reclamation will not allow federally controlled water to be used to grow marijuana in Colorado and Washington, according to a temporary policy issued Tuesday. [ed. emphasis mine] The news comes as local water providers and ditch companies have been struggling with the issue.

In fact, the Pueblo Board of Water Works, which has contracts with Reclamation, has scheduled a discussion at Tuesday’s meeting on whether it would make water available to marijuana-growing operations that will be licensed by the city of Pueblo.

Pueblo gets a small part of its water from Reclamation, but has contracts for storage in Lake Pueblo and for connection at Pueblo Dam that might be affected by the policy.

St. Charles Mesa water district already has prohibited using its water to grow marijuana on land where federally supplied water is used. Pueblo West and the Bessemer Ditch have not prohibited the use of their water supplies for marijuana grows.s

Here is the complete news release issued from Reclamation to the media Tuesday morning:

“The Bureau of Reclamation has issued a Temporary Policy on the Use of Reclamation Water or Facilities for Activities Prohibited by the Controlled Substances Act of 1970. Dan DuBray, Chief of Public Affairs, issues the following statement:

“As a federal agency, Reclamation is obligated to adhere to federal law in the conduct of its responsibilities to the American people.

“Among the 17 states Reclamation serves, Washington, Colorado and others have taken actions that decriminalize the cultivation of marijuana. Water districts and providers that receive water from Reclamation within those states have requested a decision on whether the delivery of Reclamation water to their customers is approved for those purposes.

“Reclamation will operate its facilities and administer its water-related contracts in a manner that is consistent with the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, as amended. This includes locations where state law has decriminalized or authorized the cultivation of marijuana. Reclamation will refer any inconsistent uses of federal resources of which it becomes aware to the Department of Justice and coordinate with the proper enforcement authorities. Reclamation will continue to work with partner water districts and providers to ensure their important obligations can continue to be met.”

From the Huffington Post (Matt Ferner, Mollie Reilly):

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which oversees management of federal water resources, “is evaluating how the Controlled Substances Act applies in the context of Reclamation project water being used to facilitate marijuana-related activities,” said Peter Soeth, a spokesman for the bureau. He said the evaluation was begun “at the request of various water districts in the West.”

Local water districts in Washington state and Colorado, where recreational marijuana is now legal, contract with federal water projects for supplies. Officials from some of those water districts said they assume the feds are going to turn off the spigots for marijuana growers.

“Certainly every indication we are hearing is that their policy will be that federal water supplies cannot be used to grow marijuana,” said Brian Werner at Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, which handles approximately one-third of all water for northeastern Colorado and is the Bureau of Reclamation’s second-largest user in the number of irrigated acres…

A Department of Justice official told HuffPost it has no comment on the water issue. The Bureau of Reclamation is likely to announce a decision this month. “We’re going to work with our water districts once that decision is made,” Soeth said.

Marijuana advocates condemned the possibility of a federal water ban for state-legal crops. Mason Tvert, communications director for Marijuana Policy Project and key backer of Amendment 64, which legalized marijuana for recreational use in Colorado, criticized the hypocrisy of a federal government that would prevent water access to some legal businesses and not others.

“If water is so precious and scarce that it can’t be used for state-legal marijuana cultivation, it shouldn’t be used for brewing and distilling more harmful intoxicating substances like beer and liquor,” Tvert said…

Growing in Denver, home to the majority of Colorado marijuana dispensaries, likely wouldn’t notice a shortage if the Bureau of Reclamation cuts off federal water.

“Because we are not a federal contractor, we would not be affected,” said Travis Thompson, spokesman for Denver Water, the main water authority for the state’s capital and surrounding suburbs.

But many other regions of the state rely on federal water. In Pueblo, about two hours south of Denver, about 20 percent of regional water is Reclamation-controlled. Although the remaining 80 percent of the region’s water is locally controlled, it passes through the Pueblo Dam, operated under Bureau of Reclamation authority.

“Yes, they come through a federal facility, but the federal facility is required to let those water right to pass,” Pueblo Board of Water Works executive director Terry Book said to southern Colorado’s NBC-affiliate KOAA.

The St. Charles Mesa Water District, another Pueblo-area water facility, has already imposed a moratorium on supplying water to marijuana businesses until the Bureau of Reclamation settles the issue…

The potential water ban has already set off local opposition. The Seattle Times’ editorial board urged the Bureau of Reclamation to allow federal water contracts to be used by marijuana farmers.

“The bureau has never had — nor should it have — a stake in what crop is planted. That’s a basic tenet of the 1902 National Reclamation Act, which created the bureau and transformed the arid American west,” read the May 4 editorial. “Yet the federal government is now threatening to forget that history, because some regulators are queasy about Washington and Colorado’s experimentation with marijuana legalization.”

As the Times’ board points out, there is some precedent for the Justice Department to stand down on the water issue. Last August, Attorney General Eric Holder told the governors of Washington and Colorado that the DOJ wouldn’t intervene in the states’ legal pot programs. And earlier this year, federal officials issued guidelines expanding access to financial services for legal marijuana businesses, so long as the business doesn’t violate certain legal priorities outlinedby the Justice Department.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The Pueblo Board of Water Works today will discuss issues surrounding the supply of water to marijuana growers. The Pueblo City Council has adopted zoning regulations that allow marijuana to be grown within city limits, but not sold. City legal staff is working on how those rules will be written. Providing water for growers is a different matter, with some questions still unresolved.

While Colorado and Washington state voters legalized marijuana in 2012, it remains a federal crime. Pueblo is affected because it has federal contracts for storage in Lake Pueblo.

Pueblo also has direct flow rights that pass through Pueblo Dam, as well as a contract for connection to the dam.

“We’re trying to evaluate issues that might arise with the Bureau of Reclamation,” said Executive Director Terry Book. “So far, there have been no court cases you can hang your hat on with any certainty.”

There have been requests to provide water to growing operations both within and outside city limits, Book added.

“We just don’t know the answers yet,” he said.

After receiving legal advice prior to the meeting in executive session, the Pueblo water board will convene at 2 p.m. today in the William F. Mattoon Board Room of the Alan Hamel Administration Building at 319 W. Fourth St.

Reclamation still is evaluating how water supply fits in under the Controlled Substances Act, because it provides irrigation water for land in both Washington and Colorado. It’s not known what the decision will be or when it will be reached, said Peter Soeth, Reclamation spokesman in Denver.

The state Division of Water Resources has taken the position so far that one type of crop is the same as any other, but also is awaiting the decision on federal policy.

Another Pueblo County water provider, the St. Charles Mesa Water District, already has banned use of its water to grow marijuana.

Two Rivers Water & Farming Co. has formed a subsidiary called GrowCo that will use some of its privately held water rights for marijuana growing.

Pueblo West and the Bessemer Ditch have not adopted rules prohibiting water use by marijuana growers.


Denver Water recycled water for the Rocky Mountain Arsenal? CDPHE says not so fast.

May 20, 2014
Rocky Mountain Arsenal -- 1947

Rocky Mountain Arsenal — 1947

From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

Even with Colorado’s push to rely more on recycled water, the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge will spend another summer using millions of gallons of Denver’s drinking water to fill lakes and irrigate fields after a recent decision by state health officials.

Federal wildlife biologists calculate they’re drawing more than 82 million gallons of Denver drinking water a year to fill three once-toxic lakes at the refuge, formerly a nerve gas and pesticides plant that became an environmental disaster.

“This refuge needs water, and using recycled water to fulfill a portion of our needs is a wise choice for the future,” refuge manager Dave Lucas said. Denver recycled water “meets our needs and allows millions and millions of gallons of drinking water to be put to better use by Denver residents.”

But the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment last week reaffirmed its position that the refuge must go through a process of proving why it should be allowed to use water that is not as clean and submit to an Environmental Protection Agency review.

A $2.1 billion cleanup of toxic pollution included restoration of the lakes for catch-and-release fishing and to store water, which wildlife managers use to irrigate the 27-square-mile refuge — habitat for bison and other species.

Until the drought of 2002, High Line Canal agricultural water trickled into the lakes. Groundwater pumping added more water. CDPHE at some point — it was not clear when — reclassified the lakes as water supplies, and refuge managers made a deal with Denver to use drinking water, which started in 2008.

Then, in 2009, CDPHE reclassified the lakes as water bodies, meaning “an important social or economic development” reason for allowing lesser-quality water must be demonstrated. State officials, on an emergency basis in May 2013, agreed to remove the water supply classification on the refuge lakes but still require the proof of a public purpose before water quality can be reduced.

Frustrated refuge managers, backed by Denver Water and the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, have been pressing to use recycled water and putting in the plumbing to do so.

Denver Water has spent more than $197 million installing a citywide 80-mile network of pipelines that distribute partially treated recycled water to parks, golf courses and the Denver Zoo. The museum uses recycled water in its new heating and cooling system.

All sides agree that using more recycled water is a priority.

But CDPHE Water Quality Control commissioners on May 13 voted 5-4 to reject a request to reconsider — so the refuge must go through a “necessity of degradation demonstration” review to be able to use recycled water.

“We want to support use of recycled water. But we cannot do it by bending the rules,” CDPHE water quality standards chief Sarah Johnson said. “The best solution is for them to complete the necessity of degradation determination. It isn’t a heavy lift. We have promised to help.”

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service managers of the refuge say the analysis for the review would not cost much but would require spending $10,000 to $15,000 a year more for water monitoring. They said new analysis would have to be done every three to five years, tied to permitting, creating uncertainty because state officials could ask for operational and infrastructure changes during reviews.

Lucas said even if they were to have something to present by the June commissioners’ meeting, it would be October at the earliest for the water switch if everything was approved.

Denver Water officials have been working aggressively since 2004 to increase use of recycled water, saving 7,000 acre-feet of drinking water a year, utility recycled water director Jenny Murray said.

Switching to recycled water at the refuge is the correct solution, Murray said. “It’s the right use because we are trying to preserve drinking water supplies for a growing population in a water-scarce region. Using drinking water for uses that do not require drinking water is wasteful.”

Denver Water attorneys in a May 6 letter to CDPHE argue that state lawmakers have ordered efforts to “encourage the reuse of reclaimed domestic wastewater.” Denver Water contends CDPHE decisions undermine state policy, waste public resources and defy common sense by imposing a needless bureaucratic burden.

One of Denver’s new recycled water pipelines runs by the Denver Museum of Nature & Science to the refuge. A steady, year-round flow of recycled water in that pipeline is required to ensure sufficient flow to run the museum’s innovative new geothermal heating and cooling system, which was funded by a federal grant to boost energy efficiency.

“When we designed our system three to four years ago, both Denver Water and the refuge folks felt that obtaining a permit to discharge recycled water into the lakes at the refuge would not be a problem,” said Dave Noel, museum vice president for facilities, capital projects and sustainability.

CDPHE’s stance “has got all of us scratching our heads,” Noel said.

Museum officials sent a May 8 letter to CDPHE arguing that “the loss of 17,000 acres of thriving wildlife and fish habitat due to lack of water would be a severe blow to the state and the Front Range, and simply does not make sense when a logical solution seems readily available.”

At the refuge, future water needs are projected as high as 456 million gallons a year. Beyond Denver Water, wildlife managers rely heavily on pumping water from underground aquifers into the Mary, Ladora and Lower Derby lakes — pumping they are trying to reduce by using more recycled water, which is cheaper than drinking water. They calculate the federal water bill could be cut by $30,000 a year.

A thriving bison herd is growing, with 11 calves born this spring, pushing the population to 81. An adult bison can eat around 50 pounds of grass a day. A team of biologists recently had to reduce the herd to prevent exhaustion of the short-grass prairie. Plans call for expanding bison habitat to allow a herd of 209 bison, which would roam up to the road to Denver International Airport, where a visitor viewing station is envisioned. Not having reliable recycled water will limit the bison herd and lead to decreased numbers of waterfowl, fish and grassland birds, Lucas said.

“We’re probably not going to irrigate this summer, which is bad for habitat restoration,” he said, “or we will have to drain down the lakes to irrigate.”

Lucas remains puzzled by the entire process.

“We’re talking about the same recycled water used everywhere. But somehow the refuge is different? Lots of smart people are looking at this, and no one can figure it out,” he said. “We engaged in this year-long process with hopes of fixing their error — the water supply change. Why would we want to engage in another unknown and uncertain process that will last months, if not years?”

More South Platte River Basin coverage here.


Colorado Foundation for Water Education’s “Urban Waters Bike Tour” recap

May 17, 2014


It was a grand time the other day cycling along the South Platte and hearing about current projects, operations, hopes and plans.

The tour was from the Confluence of Clear Creek and the South Platte River to Confluence Park where Cherry Creek joins the river.

Along the way we heard about Clear Creek, water quality in the South Platte Basin, infrastructure investments, and education programs.

A recurring theme was the effort to reach out to a younger generation through the school system.

Darren Mollendor explained that the program he honchos attempts to get the students to connect to their neighborhood parks. This includes an understanding of pollution, pollution abatement, and habitat improvement. He invited us all to go camping at Cherry Creek Reservoir when students from the upper and lower Cherry Creek watershed get together later this summer.

Michael Bouchard (Denver Parks and Recreation) detailed planned improvements along the river through Denver. Most of the new facilities will also have an education focus, including native flora at some locations.

Metro Wastewater is one of the largest clean water utilities in the nation, according to Steve Rogowski. The Metro District is directing a huge investment to comply with tougher treatment standards.

At the Burlington Ditch diversion Gray Samenfink explained operations under the ditch. The ditch is a supply for Barr Lake, other reservoirs, and direct irrigators. Several municipalities also take water off the ditch. The new diversion and flood control structure replaced the old dam at the location.

Caitlin Coleman (Colorado Foundation for Water Education) was tasked with keeping the tour on track. That was no easy task. When you get young and older, students, water resources folks, educators, conservationists, scientists, attorneys, engineers, and ditch riders together there’s going to be a lot of stuff to talk about.

Click here to go to the CFWE website. Become a member while you are there. That way you’ll know about these cool events in advance so you won’t miss the fun.

More Colorado Foundation for Water Education coverage here.


Youth and water – how do you use water?

May 15, 2014

Originally posted on Mile High Water Talk:

In our Youth Education series, we’ve followed a snowflake from the time it lands in our watershed through the journey it takes within our distribution system, including the complex treatment process. We’ve also highlighted the importance of conserving our most precious resource — water.

But, have you ever thought about how you use water?

Denver Water is constantly thinking about how customers use water now, and how that use may change in the future. By analyzing customer water-use patterns, we are able to better plan for an adequate supply of clean, reliable water in the next 50 years and beyond.

Week three: Water demand

Because Denver Water serves a wide range of customers — single- and multi-family homes, parks, businesses and many others — that all use water differently, it is important for Denver Water to understand the complexities behind how each uses water.

Here is the breakdown of Denver Water’s total retail treated water use by category Here is the breakdown of…

View original 306 more words


Environment: Feds release final study on Denver Water’s proposed new transmountain water diversions

May 12, 2014

Originally posted on Summit County Citizens Voice:

Massive study evaluates and discloses impacts of new Fraser River diversions, expanded Gross Reservoir

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Will Denver Water get permission to divert more water from the West Slope?

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — Not developing new water diversions from the Colorado River Basin to the Front Range would increase the chances of a major Denver Water system failure, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers concluded in its final environmental impact study for the Moffat Tunnel Collection System expansion.

The federal agency, charged with evaluating and disclosing impacts of the proposal, claims that Denver Water customers could experience periodic raw water and treated water shortages in dry years, with Arvada, Westminster and the North Table Mountain Water and Sanitation District especially vulnerable to raw water shortages.

“Severe and more frequent mandatory watering restrictions, including surcharges, may result in a reduced quality of life and place financial burdens on customers. Though still infrequent…

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Moffat Collection System Project: “My sense is Denver has been pretty willing to mitigate and negotiate” — Becky Long #ColoradoRiver

May 11, 2014
Moffat Collection System Project/Windy Gap Firming Project via the Boulder Daily Camera

Moffat Collection System Project/Windy Gap Firming Project via the Boulder Daily Camera

From The Boulder Weekly (Bob Berwyn):

“After being in a permitting process for more than 10 years, we are pleased to see the release of the Final Environmental Impact Statement for Denver Water’s Moffat Collection System Project,” says Jim Lochhead, Denver Water CEO and manager.

Colorado’s biggest water provider says the project will guard against future shortages on the northern branch of its system and provide more operating flexi bility, make the overall system more resilient to climate change and extreme weather events like floods and fires. And part of the mitigation includes water earmarked for environmental purposes on both sides of the Continental Divide, water that could benefit a sometimes stressed trout population in the South Fork of Boulder Creek.

After scouring thousands of public comments and compiling the voluminous scientific and engineering studies for the Moffat Collection System Project, the federal agency says the new diversion and storage would help avert a potential major Denver Water system failure. The feds singled out Arvada, Westminster and the North Table Mountain Water and Sanitation District as especially vulnerable to raw water shortages without the project.

Release of the final EIS is one of the final steps in the intricate and regulatory ritual required by the National Environmental Policy Act, commonly known as NEPA. Especially for big projects involving public resources, the law is intended as an environmental bulwark. Ten years is a long time, but irrevocable allocation of public resources requires a hard — not a fast — look, the law says…

A few hours after the study was posted, the environmental community targeted media and the public with statements and blog posts from conservation groups, including a stern warning shot from Earthjustice, the legal arm of the green machine. In response to the Corps’ dire warnings of water shortages, some conservation advocates seemed to be saying they’re ready for an all-out battle over the Moffat project.

Hardened battle lines are nothing new in western water wars, but if Winston Churchill were to comment on this one, he might say, “Never have so many battled so hard over so little.”

The Moffat project would reliably deliver 18,000 acre feet of water. That’s enough to comfortably supply a small community for a year, but to keep that number in perspective consider this: All of Denver Water’s reservoirs combined lose more than 25,000 acre feet of water annually to evaporation…

Conflict over the Moffat project may be avoided, since all the parties worked on this collaboratively, says Conservation Colorado advocacy director Becky Long.

“People really rolled up their sleeves and went to work on that plan. … My sense is Denver has been pretty willing to mitigate and negotiate,” says Long, who has deep roots in rural agricultural water use after growing up in the ranch and grazing lands of the Lower Blue Valley, north of Silverthorne.

Even before fully studying the final environmental impact statement, Long says it’s clear that this proposal is different from many past projects because of the huge effort put into mitigating the effects of new diversions and storage, especially on the Western Slope…

“At some point, Denver Water will need a permit from the county,” says Chris Garre, who lives on the south shore and has become leader of a grassroots effort to draw attention to the concerns of area residents.

Standing at one of the stunning overlooks, Garre explained graphically how the landscape would permanently change with construction, including a de-forested rock face at the site of the potential quarry, along with a total inundation of the existing shoreline and the elimination of tens of thousands of trees…

The formal comment period ends in June, but could be extended by another 45 days, with many entities already saying they will request more time. Denver Water execs said they expect a final Corps of Engineers decision on the $360 million project within a year. The decision will be made at the regional Corps of Engineers headquarters in Omaha.

Beyond that, Denver Water still needs several other major permits, including an amendment to a federal hydropower license and a water quality certification under the state-run Clean Water Act standards.

Denver Water spokesman Steve Snyder said the cost of the project, based on a per acre-foot yield, is in line with other water projects along the Front Range.

The first phases of construction including offsite road improvements could start as early as 2017, with dam construction expected to start in 2018 and finish in 2021, with the heaviest construction occurring between 2019 and 2020, Snyder says. All schedules are based upon the permitting schedule and may be delayed or accelerated pending approvals.

More Moffat Collection System Project coverage here.


Blue River “State of the River” meeting recap #ColoradoRiver

May 10, 2014
Blue River

Blue River

From the Summit Daily News (Ali Langley):

About 80 people — water managers, weather experts, government officials and interested community members — attended the event hosted by the Colorado River District at the Community Center in Frisco Tuesday, May 6. Discussion revolved around snowpack, runoff, flooding and the state water plan…

[Joanna Hopkins, board president of Blue River Watershed Group] spoke about the group’s restoration project of Ten Mile Creek, impacted by decades of mining, railroads, highways and development, and presented before and after photos of the work. The group will now focus attention on restoration of the Upper Swan River Watershed, where dredge boats in the early 20th century mined for 2 miles and the group and its partners will work to turn the river “right side up.”[...]

[Troy Wineland, water commissioner for the Blue River basin] pointed to a graph and asked the audience to consider this year’s snowpack levels. “What does that surplus, that bonus, that cream on the top, what does that mean to you?” he said. Better rafting, some said. Fishing. Full reservoirs…

Bob Steger, water resources engineer with Denver Water, discussed Dillon Reservoir operations. The utility’s main priorities for the reservoir are maintaining its water supply and reducing flood risk, he said, but it also considers boating, rafting, kayaking, fishing, endangered fish and its upcoming construction project.

The utility began lowering the reservoir level in late February, just like in other high-snowpack years, he said. Going forward, the reservoir will start filling in mid-May or June, depending on whether the spring is wet or dry.

The Roberts Tunnel, which brings water from Dillon to Denver, won’t be turned on until mid-June or July, he said, and the utility will replace the large gates that control outflow to the Blue River likely sometime between August and October…

Ron Thomasson, a hydrologist with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation who oversees Green Mountain Reservoir operations, said he expects to fill that reservoir in mid-July.

He talked about how more runoff will improve habitat for four endangered fish species in the 15-Mile Reach of the Colorado River and showed his “obligatory snowpack graph.” Then he presented spaghetti plots to explain that when experts say “most probable scenario” what they really mean is, “It’s actually no more probable than any other scenario. It just happens to be in the middle.”[...]

explained the rare conditions that combined to cause record-breaking flooding in the Boulder area in September. Then he switched to the “crazy winter that you just lived through” in Summit and what to expect in the six- to eight-week runoff season produced by seven months of snow.

He joked about the polar vortex, a phenomenon that’s been around forever but didn’t make the media until this winter, and he showed more spaghetti plots saying, “Those averages are beautiful. They give us something to think about. They never happen.”

Those excited about a surplus should remember the rest of the state is experiencing drought conditions. “You fared well,” he said. “It’s not always going to work that way, so please be grateful.”

Then he asked for volunteers to help collect real-time precipitation data with rain gauges for http://cocorahs.org.

Jim Pokrandt, chair of the Colorado Basin Roundtable that represents Summit and five other counties, emphasized problems with low levels in Lake Powell and Lake Mead and focused on the state water plan, which the roundtable is helping to create.

Of the 14 states in the West, Colorado is one of four without a water plan. The other three are Washington, Oregon and Arizona…

“Transmountain diversion should be the last tool out of the box,” he said. “Conservation and reuse needs to be hit hard.”

If a new transmountain diversion must be constructed, it should be done along the lines of the recent agreement between West Slope stakeholders and Denver Water.

One audience member asked why reducing population growth wasn’t one of the considered solutions. Most of the projected growth “is us having children,” Pokrandt said. “It’s the elephant in the room, but it’s the one that you really can’t touch.”

He said in some parts of the Front Range, the untouchable issue is green grass.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.


Breckenridge: “We can’t just sit up here and say we have all the water, now we’ll use it” — Tim Gagen #ColoradoRiver

May 9, 2014
Breckenridge circa 1913 via Breckenridge Resort

Breckenridge circa 1913 via Breckenridge Resort

From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

The town council is considering legislation that would cap outdoor use at three days a week. It’s part of an effort to put a new emphasis on water conservation and efficiency, says Tim Gagen, the town manager.

“We have to walk the talk,” says Gagen. “We can’t just sit up here and say we have all the water, now we’ll use it.”

Breckenridge is not alone. Other mountains towns in Colorado are devoting more attention to water conservation and efficiency. A coalition in the Roaring Fork Valley is assembling plans for public outreach to elevate water efficiency. The Vail-based Eagle River Water and Sanitation District began crimping water use in 2003. Aspen’s water-efficiency measures go back even further, to the 1990s…

Colorado’s Front Range cities, where 85 percent of state residents live, have become more efficient with existing supplies. But they have also expanded supplies in recent decades by buying farms in the South Platte and Arkansas River valleys for their water rights, and allowing the farms to then dry up. They have also purchased mountain ranches in such buy-and-dry transactions.

Front Range water providers also want to retain the option of going to the Colorado River and its tributaries for one final, big diversion. Western Slope water leaders urge caution. But to have credibility, leaders in the mountain valleys realize they first must put their own houses in order.

“The Western Slope needs to be goosed,” says Chris Treese, director of external affairs for the Colorado River Water Conservation District. “Frankly, the Front Range has led most of the water-conservation efforts in Colorado to date.”[...]

Gagen says that Breckenridge has been nibbling at water conservation efforts for several years. Leaking segments of existing pipes, which can cause loss of 8 to 15 percent of all the municipal water supply, are being replaced. Sprinklers in parks are being changed out in favor of more efficient devices. And the town is now looking at narrowing irrigation at its golf course to avoid watering of the roughs.

Breckenridge, in its municipal operation, has also adopted more xeriscaping, using plants that don’t require irrigation, reducing irrigation of remaining turf, and, in some cases, installing artificial turf.

Still on the agenda is elevating rates for high-consumption users. The average water bill in Breckenridge is just $35 every two months, not much more than dinner at one of the town’s higher-end restaurants. As such, most people probably pay little, if any attention, to the idea of conserving water in order to reduce their costs. They just write the check, says Gagen.

While Breckenridge has broad goals of improved sustainability, Gagen says the plan to reduce outdoor lawn irrigation to three days a week was pushed by two council members who have been persuaded by books they’ve read: “Blue Revolution,” by Cynthia Barnett (2011), “Cadillac Desert,” by Marc Reisner (1986), and “Getting Green Done,” by Auden Schendler (2011)…

Eagle River Water and Sanitation District has achieved a 20 percent per capita reduction in use, according to Diane Johnson, communications director. That’s in line with the reduction in water use since 2000 by Denver Water’s 1.3 million direct and indirect customers.

However, Eagle River has not pushed indoor water savings. Because 95 percent of indoor water is treated and released into the Eagle River, explains Johnson, the impact is small on the valley’s creeks and rivers. This compares with just 15 to 40 percent of water returned to streams after outdoor irrigation. Given limited resources for messaging, the better return is to hammer home the message of reduced outdoor use.

“What we really try to work with local people to understand is that their outdoor use affects how much water is in the rivers,” says Johnson. “If you are using water indoors, save yourself some money and be efficient, but most of that water comes back to the treatment plant and returns to the river.”[...]

In adopting its regulations on outdoor lawn watering, Eagle River Water was motivated by the searing drought of 2002. But laws also provide incentives. When seeking permits for new or expanded reservoirs, county regulations ask about “efficient use” of existing resources. State and federal regulations approach it with different wording, but essentially the same intent. “Efficient use of resource is going to be a consideration in any of those permitting processes,” says Johnson.

Eagle River Water has also adopted tiered rates, charging higher rates per 1,000 gallons as consumers step up consumption. But what do you do about those pockets of consumers for whom money is no deterrent?

That’s an issue in the Vail Valley that water officials are starting to wrestle with. Aspen recognized years ago that price was no object to some homeowners—and charges nosebleed rates.

Aspen’s municipal utility, which delivers both electricity and water, uses the income from high-use water customers to pay for front-end renewable energy programs and demand-side energy efficiency, says Phil Overeynder, the former utilities director and now the utilities engineer for special projects.

Aspen in the early 1990s approached the forked paths of water use. But instead of continuing to build capacity for existing water demands, the city instead reined in use. Last year, Aspen used the same amount of water as it did in 1966, despite having three times as many residents. (See more detailed story).

Now, an effort has been launched to frame a broad water efficiency strategy for the Roaring Fork Valley. The seed was planted in 2010 by the Community Office for Resource Efficiency, or CORE, a non-profit founded in the mid-1990s. The effort has several motives—including energy.

Formation of the group was at least partly influenced by the writings of Amory Lovins, a resident of the area, who for decades talked about “negawatts”—the idea that efficiency in energy was as good as new supply. The group he co-founded, Rocky Mountain Institute, further applied this idea of a soft path to water efficiency.

CORE’s Jason Haber explains that saving water also saves energy in several ways. Developing water resources requires energy, but it also takes energy to pump water. Energy is also embedded in treatment of sewage, he points out. Typically, water and sewage are the largest components of any municipality’s energy budget…

Whether Colorado truly has any water to develop on the Western Slope is debatable—and has been debated frequently in state-wide water forums. The Colorado River Water Conservation District has suggested that major new diversions would be risky, simply because of the lack of certainty of legally entitled water in future years. Colorado’s use of the river that bears its name is tightly capped by two inter-state water compacts and one international treaty.

More conservation coverage here.


Denver Water: A must read on “drought tolerant” (or is it “native”?) plants #COdrought

May 6, 2014

Youth and water – conservation

May 4, 2014

Originally posted on Mile High Water Talk:

Denver Water's Teacher Resource Packet illustrates the three Rs of water conservation.

Denver Water’s Teacher Resource Packet illustrates the three Rs of water conservation.

Last week’s Youth Education blog post, Youth and water – following a water drop, focused on the movement of water through the water cycle. Now that you understand the journey of Denver’s water — let’s talk about how to conserve our most precious resource.

Week three: Use only what you need

The weather in this area constantly fluctuates (Ebbs and flows highlights the extremes we faced in 2013 alone), but it’s typically dry. Denver receives an average of 15 inches of precipitation each year, which is about a fourth of the precipitation a tropical city such as Miami receives. We’ve also experienced several severe droughts in the past that have challenged our water system. We never know the extent of a dry period or when precipitation may come, so conservation has to be a way of…

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Living West exhibit at the History Colorado Museum takes on #ColoradoRiver diversions now and in the future

May 4, 2014
The Storm is Coming -- History Colorado

The Storm is Coming — History Colorado

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

Water, according to Western lore, flows uphill to money. According to a display at the History Colorado Center in Denver, it runs uphill with something else: a grudge.

That’s according to what History Colorado describes as “a groundbreaking new 7,000-square-foot exhibit that explores the living dynamics between the people of Colorado and their state’s extraordinary environment.”

Called “Living West,” the exhibit includes a diorama of Colorado depicting the natural flow of water west from the Continental Divide and the population differential showing the vast majority of people, 80 percent, on the east side of the Rocky Mountains.

“The Western Slope has water, but a small population,” reads the display. “To eastern Colorado, this is a waste; shouldn’t water go where the people are?”

“But piping water east means less for western towns, ranches, and orchards. Western Slope residents believe their future is being sacrificed to benefit the rest of Colorado.”

dontsuckthecoloradoriverdry

The text accompanies a photo of a rally in which protesters waved signs emblazoned with slogans such as “Let Our Rivers Run!” and “Don’t Suck the Upper Colorado River Dry.”

Headlining the text is, “Water comes from the Western Slope (with a grudge.)”

Western Slope residents and water managers said they weren’t consulted on the exhibit, and some suggested that it might be a harbinger of bad feelings to come.

Indeed, the exhibit, which illustrates the way Coloradans from ancient Puebloans to Dust Bowl-era farmers have dealt with drought, is subtitled “The Storm is Coming!”

“Wouldn’t anybody begrudge the fact that their future is being limited?” Mesa County Commissioner Steve Acquafresca said when told of the exhibit. “I wouldn’t dispute the fact — but I think there are good reasons for it.”

“It sounds like somebody is trivializing the issue,” Acquafresca said.

Kids open pumps

There is more to the Colorado River story than the exhibit suggests, said Bonnie Petersen, executive director of Club 20, a Western Slope advocacy organization.

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

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

“There’s certainly no recognition that seven states rely on the water over here,” Petersen said, referring to Arizona, Colorado, California, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming.

The diorama is interactive and geared to younger visitors, who can open and close pumps to move water about the state.

“Your job:” the exhibit says, “Send water from Big River in the west to Small River in the east, all the way down to Thirsty Town.”

Another instruction urges visitors to “Crank that pump and keep cranking, Watch the pump move water from Big River into Western Reservoir. This takes water away from Busy City and Dry Throat Ranch.”

That could present an opportunity, Acquafresca said.

“I’d like to go there and direct it back from the east to the west,” Acquafresca said.

“Living West,” according to the History Colorado website, was presented by Denver Water with “generous support” from the Gates Family Foundation.

“Denver Water, yeah, there’s a surprise,” Petersen said.

Denver Water's collection system via the USACE EIS

Denver Water’s collection system via the USACE EIS

“Denver Water,” Larry Clever, general manager of the Ute Water Conservancy District in Grand Junction, guessed when told of the exhibit. “I didn’t know. I just figured it was Denver Water.”

“And people wonder why we don’t trust them,” said Diane Schwenke, president of the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce.

Denver Water, however, had little to do with the display that prominently bears its name, said spokesman Travis Thompson.

“We had no influence or design on the content of the exhibit,” Thompson said. “It wasn’t for us to tell the story. It was for them to tell the story.”

“Them” is History Colorado, a nonprofit organization previously referred to as the Colorado Historical Society. It’s also a state agency that receives funding under the Division of Higher Education.

A spokesperson for the museum didn’t respond to several requests for comment.

East-west relations

Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer's office

Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer’s office

The transmountain diversion display “seems a little biased” toward a Front Range perspective, said David Bailey, curator of history at the Museum of Western Colorado in Grand Junction, who has viewed the exhibit.

“Usually you try to give all a voice,” Bailey said. “Our job is to make you think about the topic, in this case the historic and present-day crisis of water.”

Denver Water is a major transmountain diverter and water provider to 1.3 million customers that just last year reached an agreement with water providers and local governments down the Colorado River Basin that was hailed as marking a new era in east-west water relations.

Lurking beneath the good feelings, however, has been the possibility of a new transmountain diversion. Although Gov. John Hickenlooper’s state water plan is being drafted without identifying one, it is to set out a way by which such a project could be pursued.

And James Lochhead, who heads Denver Water, last month signed a letter on behalf of the Front Range Water Council saying that a new transmountain diversion is a necessity.

Talks about a state water plan “should begin with an assurance, and not simply a hope” for a new project diverting water from the Colorado River to the Front Range.

Broader picture

Western Slope water is now sent east via 24 transmountain diversions that suck up, in a wet year, about 600,000 acre feet of water. An acre foot of water, or 325,851 gallons, is enough to supply about two and a half Front Range households for a year, according to DenverWater.org.

It’s also about 8 percent of the water that the upper Colorado River Basin states are required to deliver to the lower basin under a 1922 compact governing management of the river.

The amount of water diverted east could be crucial in a succession of dry years as the upper and lower basins deal with keeping enough water in Lake Powell to ensure the efficient operation of the electricity-generating turbines and putting enough water into Lake Mead downstream, Clever said.

The issue involves more than diverting water, Clever said.

Front Range water interests “want everybody to pay for a diversion,” Clever said. “They want the West Slope to help pay for taking our water.”

The fact is, said Grand County Manager Lurline Underbrink Curran, the Colorado River Basin “might not have as much water to give as everybody thinks we do.”

To be certain, Denver Water has lived up to its agreement with the Colorado River Basin, Curran said, but the tone of the exhibit bearing its name and citing the grudging nature of the Western Slope is “somewhat disturbing,” Curran said.

“Does the West Slope grudgingly withhold water?” Curran said. “No, in my opinion. The West Slope wants to have recognition of the needs and uses (of water) on the West Slope.” Those uses aren’t limited to ranches and orchards, Curran said, noting that the West Slope has growing cities and industries of its own, just as on the East Slope.

It’s possible that the message children absorb isn’t one favoring transmountain diversions, Acquafresca said.

“If Denver Water is trying to indoctrinate kids to view water resources as the Front Range does, I think that’s the wrong approach,” Acquafresca said. “Children could easily ask themselves, ‘Shouldn’t water flow where God meant for it to flow?’”

More education coverage here.


April 24 “celebration lunch” for Colorado River Cooperative Agreement recap #ColoradoRiver

May 1, 2014
Denver Water's collection system via the USACE EIS

Denver Water’s collection system via the USACE EIS

From the Sky-Hi Daily News (Leia Larsen):

At a celebration lunch on April 24 at Devil’s Thumb Ranch in Tabernash, representatives from Denver Water, the Colorado Governor’s Office, Grand County and Trout Unlimited spoke in favor of the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement. Nearing its one-year anniversary this September, the agreement coordinates efforts between 18 interest groups to both protect West Slope watersheds while providing future water supplies to Denver customers. The celebration came in the wake of the latest development in the proposed Moffat Collection System, Denver Water’s latest trans-mountain water project.

“(Our) overall goal is to protect the watershed and economies in the Colorado River Basin and help provide additional water security for those who live, work and play on the West Slope and (for) the customers of Denver Water,” said Jim Lochhead, CEO and Manager of Denver Water, at the lunch celebration…

Denver Water will pay out $1.95 million in Grand County for watershed, water treatment and river habitat improvements. It will send another $2 million to Summit County. The agreement is being called “historic” for its unprecedented work in bringing together a wide range of interests throughout the state and for its “learning by doing” program of adaptive water management.

“Working together, we were able to resolve historic conflicts through a holistic approach to resolving Colorado water disputes,” Lochhead said.

According to John Stulp with Gov. John Hickenlooper’s office, the unprecedented water cooperation will also be used as a model for the statewide Colorado Water Plan, set to be ready by December 2014.

“Part of the concerns we have, and why we need a water plan, is based on many of the same principles you had in this cooperative agreement,” Stulp said at the lunch. “Important … building blocks that went into this cooperative agreement (are) having good people with a broad vision of the future beyond their own community.”[...]

Still, the agreement hasn’t eliminated all controversy. Part of the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement negotiations is that West Slope parties must agree not to oppose any permits for the Moffat Project, the latest trans-mountain diversion plan to move water from the Fraser watershed to the Denver-metro area…

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers released its final Environmental Impact Statement for the Moffat Project last week. It’s a massive document — the table of contents alone is over 60 pages and Wockner said it has around 11,000 pages total. So far, however, he said he hasn’t seen anything in the study to address the negative impacts to river systems in Grand County. Other environmental interests have also said even with the environmental impact statement, the Moffat Project is “far from a done deal.”

“This project should not be approved unless the long-term health of the river is assured and our nation’s environmental standards are met,” said McCrystie Adams, a Denver-based attorney with Earthjustice, in a press release. “We and our partners are committed to keeping the Colorado River flowing.”

Geoff Elliott, an earth scientist with the local firm Grand Environmental Services, said Denver Water presented bad data to begin with, stacking the numbers in its favor.

“Their data is skewed to show more water in the Fraser Headwaters than now exists,” he said. “My problem is no one is doing math. Denver gets out with everything it wants.”

Elliot said according to his analysis so far, the Moffat Project’s proposals compared with U.S. Geological Survey data on actual water flows means it could take 90 percent or more water out of the Fraser.

“Now, we get hit by a 12,000-page Final EIS that requires an army to review,” he said. “This is Big Brother Denver Water hitting Grand County hard, and we are told we should be happy with vague platitudes, scraps of water and lawyerly agreements for more closed-door meetings.”

More Colorado River Cooperative Agreement coverage here.


Drought or no drought, smart water use is essential

May 1, 2014

Originally posted on Mile High Water Talk:

News release:

Drought or no drought, smart water use is essential

Denver Water’s summer watering rules begin May 1

Denver — April 28, 2014 — After responding to multiple years of drought conditions, Denver Water stresses the importance of using water efficiently, regardless of the weather.

“We just came out of a severe drought, and our customers did a great job of answering our call to save even more water than usual last year,” said Greg Fisher, Denver Water’s manager of demand planning. “But, water conservation isn’t a drought response; it must be a permanent way of life for all of us.”

To help eliminate outdoor water waste, Denver Water implements annual summer water use rules, which begin May 1, 2014.

The Water Savers program – to educate customers about Denver Water's watering rules – has been in place since 2008.

The Water Savers program – to educate customers about Denver Water’s watering rules – has been in place since 2008.

The watering rules, which help facilitate smart irrigation, include:

View original 252 more words


Denver Water: Waterton Canyon will be closed May 6-9 to reduce dust on canyon road

April 29, 2014

Denver Water’s summer watering rules begin May 1

April 28, 2014

Live panel on the Gross Reservoir expansion, April 30 #ColoradoRiver

April 26, 2014

More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.


Youth and water – following a water drop

April 24, 2014

Originally posted on Mile High Water Talk:

Denver Water's teacher resource packet illustrated the water cycle from a local viewpoint.

Denver Water’s Teacher Resource Packet illustrates the local water cycle.

Last week’s Youth Education blog post, Youth and water – our future depends on it, focused on watersheds, where the journey of water begins within Denver Water’s collection system. Watersheds are only a small portion of the complete water cycle, however, so this week we’ll look at the water cycle in its entirety.

Week two: Journey of water – the water cycle

Online resources

  1. How does water move through the water cycle? The Project Wet Foundation’s chapter on The Water Cycle provides information, activities, vocabulary and much more around the never-ending movement of water.
  2. The U.S. Geological Survey provides an interactive graphic highlighting how Earth’s water is always changing form and moving around the Earth. Start with the beginner diagram and work your way up to the intermediate and advanced diagrams for a comprehensive study of the complete water…

View original 235 more words


Grand County Commissioners announce benefits from pact with Denver Water — Sky-Hi Daily News #ColoradoRiver

April 23, 2014
Denver Water's collection system via the USACE EIS

Denver Water’s collection system via the USACE EIS

Here’s the release from the Grand County Commissioners via the Sky-Hi Daily News:

The Grand County Board of County Commissioners has announced a major economic win for the county. The Colorado River Cooperative Agreement, which went into effect Sept. 26, 2013, is already paying off – literally – in the county. The agreement between Denver Water and Grand County, as well as other West Slope governments, water providers and ski areas, was reached after years of negotiations.

Earlier this year, Denver Water began to meet dozens of obligations outlined in the agreement. In January, Denver Water made a payment of $1.95 million to Grand County for two water supply projects:

• The Jim Creek Bypass and Pipeline, which Winter Park Water and Sanitation District is already designing, will help protect water quality at its water treatment plant in low-flow periods, and provide system flexibility. In addition, the project will be constructed following a competitive bid process, which will be an economic boost for the county. Because Denver Water is funding the Jim Creek Bypass and Pipeline project, Winter Park Water and Sanitation District will not need to raise service fees to pay for it.

• The Fraser River Pump Station, Pipeline and Discovery Park Pond project, which pays for much-needed improvements that will help stabilize the business of Winter Park Resort and other businesses in the upper Fraser Valley. The project will enhance Winter Park ski area’s snowmaking capability, allowing the resort to open more ski areas earlier in the season, which will drive early-season income to local businesses, as well as provide additional jobs for local residents. In addition, water previously provided by Denver Water only in the winter to the ski area, Winter Park Water and Sanitation District, Grand County Water and Sanitation District, and the Towns of Fraser and Granby, will now be available on a year-round basis. The pond also will provide a source of water for wildfire suppression.

“More than five years of negotiations with Denver Water have paid off,” said Grand County Commissioner James Newberry. “It was important to us to make sure Grand County’s future was secure, and we believe the economic value we’re receiving from the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement achieves that.”

The agreement ushers in a new era of cooperation between Denver Water and West Slope entities to create a spirit of cooperation instead of litigation over water resources.

“The relationship forged through this agreement was bearing fruit for Grand County even before the agreement was officially in place,” said Newberry.

Commissioner Newberry pointed to the recent drought as an example of this cooperation. “In 2012, Denver Water implemented a critical component of the agreement in Grand County to provide more water for county streams than would have been available without the agreement. Instead of the historic practice of significantly reducing the bypass flows at its diversion points during droughts, Denver Water gave approximately 1,500 acre-feet of water back to the Fraser River when they legally could have diverted it to Denver.”

Another project, which created a settling pond on the east side of U.S. Highway 40 near the entrance of the Mary Jane ski area, was also completed and has been operated by Denver Water since before the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement was official. The pond improves water quality in Fraser Basin by trapping sand applied to Berthoud Pass by CDOT before it is carried down the river. The project was completed in 2011, and 680 tons of sediment was removed in 2013.

“The removal of sediment not only improves water quality, which assists the wastewater plants, but over time it will help restore the trout fishing habitat that President Eisenhower travelled to the Fraser River to enjoy,” said Newberry. “It’s these types of collaborative projects that will serve Grand County well into the future.”

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.


“…the waterways of Grand County have become the poster child for aquatic death by a thousand cuts” — Allen Best #ColoradoRiver

April 20, 2014
Denver Water's collection system via the USACE EIS

Denver Water’s collection system via the USACE EIS

Another independent journalist covering water issues is Allen Best purveyor of The Mountain Town News. Here’s an analysis of the recent agreement between Denver Water, Trout Unlimited, and Grand County for operating the Colorado River Cooperative agreement. Here’s an excerpt:

Located at the headwaters of the Colorado River, the waterways of Grand County have become the poster child for aquatic death by a thousand cuts…

Called the Mitigation and Enhancement Coordination Plan, the agreement between Denver Water, Grand County, and Trout Unlimited proposes to govern Denver’s incremental diversions through the Continental Divide known as the Moffat firming project. However, according to the architects of the deal, it should also serve as a model in the ongoing dialogue as Colorado’s growing metropolitan areas look to squeeze out the final drops of the state’s entitlements to the Colorado River, as defined by the Colorado River compact of 1922 and other compacts.

“It is a demonstration of a new way of doing business that should be a model as Colorado talks about meeting its water gaps (between demands and supplies),” says Jim Lochhead, chief executive of Denver Water.

“Instead of platitudes or politics or parochialism, you need to do it by sitting down and working together and dealing with the issues,” he adds…

There are skeptics, unable to explain this strange alchemy in which a river can in any way benefit from having less water, as the agreement insists can be the case.

Among those withholding enthusiasm is Matt Rice, the Colorado coordinator for American Rivers. He points out that the agreement covers just 4 of the 32 creeks and streams trapped by Denver Water in the Fraser Valley and the adjoining Williams Fork. Too, like too many other similar programs, the data collection begins after permits are awarded, not before, which he thinks is backward.

In short, while Denver is careful to talk about “enhancements,” he thinks it falls short of addressing full, cumulative impacts.

Cumulative impacts are likely to be a focal point of federal permitting. While the Environmental Protection Agency is likely to have a voice, the vital 404 permit must come from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The parties to the new agreement have asked that their agreement be incorporated into the permit…

A far greater financial cost to Denver specified by the agreement is the agency’s commitment to forfeit up to 2,500 acre-feet annually of the city’s added 18,700 acre-foot take.

Based on the firm yield of the water and Denver’s rate for outside-city raw water to customers, this commitment is valued at $55 million.

Denver will make this water available for release into the creeks and rivers, to keep water temperatures colder and hence more hospitable to insects and fish. The water can also be used for flushing, to mimic what happens naturally during spring runoff, scouring river bottoms, to clear out the silt that clogs the spaces between rocks where mayflies and other insects live – and upon which fish feed…

A final environmental impact statement from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is expected in late April. The federal agency can also impose conditions of its own making. They would be included in a record-of-decision, which is expected to be issued in late 2015.

A permit from the Colorado Department of Health and Environment is also needed. Boulder County insists it also has say-so over enlargement of Gross Reservoir, an assertion contested by Denver Water.

In addition, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission must award a permit for revised hydroelectric generation at Gross.

At earliest, expansion of Gross could start in 2018 and be ready to capture spring runoff in 2022…

The agreement represents a new wave of thinking about impacts of water diversions. The older way of thinking was demonstrated in the Colorado Big-Thompson project. Financed by the federal government, it gave the Western Slope a one-time package, Green Mountain Reservoir, between Kremmling and Silverthorne, to serve Western Slope needs, particularly the farmers near Grand Junction who need water for late-summer fruits and produce. The agreement did not cover a more recent problem seemingly caused by the diversion, algae that obscure the clarity of Grand Lake.

The most recent of of the new agreements since the 1990s provides more living, breathing elasticity. The foundation for the new agreement was announced in 2011 but not finalized until recently. Called the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement, it sharply restricts Denver’s ability to develop new water sources on the Western Slope and also calls for Denver to provide both water and money to address problems in the Vail, Breckenridge and Winter Park areas.

Then, in 2012, came agreements addressing the ambitions by five cities along the northern Front Range to increase the take of spring flows at Windy Gap, similar to what Denver wants to do at the Moffat Tunnel.

The Windy Gap settlement introduced adaptive management, an idea gaining favor in management of rivers of the West for several decades. The essential idea of Learning by Doing, the program embraced for both Windy Gap and the Moffat projects, is that it’s impossible to know exactly what to do in advance…

“In the past, you’d build a project, do the required mitigation and move on. That’s no longer the case. Denver Water is committed to a new way of doing business – one that approaches water management in a way that is collaborative and as beneficial to West Slope interests as possible. The partnership we’ve created through Learning by Doing is permanent. Our commitment is t o work with Grand County, Trout Unlimited and all the partners in Learning by Doing in an ongoing manner permanently into the future.”

More Denver Water coverage here.


“We’ve got to start thinking about rivers as rivers” — Ken Neubecker #ColoradoRiver #COWaterPlan

April 11, 2014
Blue River

Blue River

From the Summit Daily News (Alli Langley):

The Blue and the Snake are in trouble. These two Summit County rivers are part of the Upper Colorado River Basin, which was named the second most endangered river in the country Wednesday by American Rivers, a Washington D.C.-based nonprofit focused on river advocacy.

“If you want to have healthy rivers and a recreational economy and agriculture on the West Slope, there really is nothing left to take,” said Ken Neubecker, associate director of the organization’s Colorado River project…

The nonprofit’s biggest fear is a new diversion, Neubecker said, because taking a lot of water out of the Colorado anywhere would have serious repercussions.

American Rivers and other conservation organizations say the Colorado Water Conservation Board, charged with creating the state water plan, should make sure it prioritizes river restoration and protection, increases water efficiency and conservation in cities and towns, improves agricultural practices and avoids new transmountain diversions.

Rivers on the Western Slope are already drained and damaged, Neubecker said. He called it wrong to divert more water instead of focusing on alternative methods to meet the gap between water supply and demand.

New supply development concepts via the Front Range roundtables

New supply development concepts via the Front Range roundtables

Right now, he said, details on a new diversion project have been vague, but Front Range proposals have considered developing the Yampa, Flaming Gorge and Gunnison and taking more water out of the Blue, Eagle, Roaring Fork and Fryingpan rivers…

The Colorado River and its headwaters are home to some endangered fish species. They support wildlife, agriculture and multi-billion dollar tourism industries.

And they provide some or all of the drinking water for the resort areas of Breckenridge, Vail, Aspen, Steamboat Springs, Winter Park and Crested Butte and most of the urban Front Range.

To meet its customers’ water needs, Denver Water is focused on Gross Reservoir enlargements as well as conservation and forest health efforts, said CEO Jim Lochhead Thursday.

Colorado’s largest water provider has no current plans to construct a new transmountain diversion, he said, but the state as a whole should consider that option.

A new diversion is “probably inevitable at some point,” he said. “We want to do that in partnership with the West Slope.”

And after signing the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement last year, the utility has to.

The agreement does not allow future water development without the permission of all parties, including Western Slope representatives. Lochhead said, it “establishes a framework where we are really working together as partners instead of the old framework of East Slope versus West Slope.”

But the push is not coming from Denver Water.

“They’re really not the ones that are after a new diversion,” Neubecker said. “They got what they want.”

Pressure for more water from new or existing transmountain diversions comes mainly from north and south of Denver, the Arkansas and South Platte basins and especially Douglas County, he said. Those areas should look at conservation efforts more seriously, he said, and “pay attention to land use policies that basically encourage wasteful water use.”[...]

“We’ve got to start thinking about rivers as rivers” instead of engineering conduits for delivering water, Neubecker said, and “understand that we may think that growth should be infinite, but the resources like water that support the growth are not.”

From the Glenwood Springs Post-Independent (Mike McKibbin):

There is no more unclaimed water in the Colorado River Basin, so if the state’s population nearly doubles by 2050, as some have projected, the consequences for everyone along the river – including Rifle – could be dire. That was the message Louis Meyer, a civil engineer, president and CEO of SGM in Glenwood Springs, told City Council as he detailed the ongoing Colorado Water Plan process at an April 2 workshop…

Of the counties in the Colorado River basin, he noted, Garfield is projected to have the most growth, around 274 percent, or 119,900 people, by 2030.

“The Front Range is expected to have serious water shortages by 2020, unless they find more water,” he said. “They can’t take any more from agriculture on the Front Range, so they want a new supply from the Colorado River basin.”

“We have a target on our back,” Meyer continued. “But we have no more water to give.”

If every entity on the Front Range implemented some strict conservation measures, such as banning all new lawns and perhaps the removal of some existing lawns, Meyer said, the water gap could possibly be eliminated in coming years.

“But if we put that in the [water] plan, we need to do the same thing in our basin,” he added.

All storage water in Ruedi and Green Mountain reservoirs is allocated, along with nearly every other reservoir in the state, Meyer said.

Water quality issues are already becoming acute, Meyer said, because there is less water in the Colorado River.

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


More snow same adventure – Denver Water crews measure snowpack

April 4, 2014

Originally posted on Mile High Water Talk:

Tracking snowpack is a vital part of managing Denver Water’s water supply. But, with sample sites in remote locations throughout our watersheds, this is no easy task.

Take a journey with Jay Adams, from Denver Water’s Communications and Marketing Department, as he joins Denver Water crews to take on this adventurous mission.

Per Olsson, Jones Pass caretaker; Brian Clark, equipment operator; Tim Holinka, assistant district foreman on the Arrow snow course near Winter Park.

Per Olsson, Jones Pass caretaker; Brian Clark, equipment operator; Tim Holinka, assistant district foreman on the Arrow snow course near Winter Park.

What a difference a year makes in snowpack levels

By Jay Adams

It’s a trek not many people take, but one that provides critical information to more than 1 million people. The journey begins just below the Continental Divide in a Trooper Snow Cat. The ride leads up the side of a mountain, past a group of snowmobilers and two wandering moose. Onboard the Snow Cat heading into the forest are Denver Water employees Brian Clark, equipment operator; Tim…

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Denver Water: Water rules begin May 1

April 3, 2014

Recently executed agreement designed to increase river health in the Upper #ColoradoRiver and Fraser River

March 26, 2014
Ike enjoying the Fraser River back in the day

Ike enjoying the Fraser River back in the day

From the Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

Grand County is that part of the snow-rich Western Slope most proximate to the farms and cities of the Front Range. It juts like a thumb eastward, the most easterly point of the Pacific drainage in North America.

As such, it became a target, early and often, of transmountain diversions. The first major diversion across the Continental Divide was completed in 1890 and the last, located at Windy Gap, where the Fraser River flows into the Colorado, in 1985. Several others, more audacious in scale, came between.

Taken together, these great engineering achievements annually draw 60 percent or more of the native flows of this headwater region eastward, over and through the Continental Divide. The water delivered to cities between Denver and Fort Collins have made them among the most vibrant in the country, and the water that flows to farms as far east as Julesberg, hundreds of miles away, among the nation’s most productive.

But this achievement has had a hidden cost that became more apparent in recent years. Combined with the frequent drought since 2000, the depletions have left the Colorado River shallow and warm as it flows through Middle Park. It is, according to environmental advocates, a river on the edge of ecological collapse, unable to support sculpin, trout, and other fish…

Now come new efforts, the most recent announced earlier this month, to bring the Colorado River and its tributaries back from this brink.

Called the Mitigation and Enhancement Coordination Plan, the agreement between Denver Water, Grand County, and Trout Unlimited proposes to govern Denver’s incremental diversions through the Continental Divide known as the Moffat firming project. However, according to the architects of the deal, it should also serve as a model in the ongoing dialogue as Colorado’s growing metropolitan areas look to squeeze out the final drops of the state’s entitlements to the Colorado River, as defined by the Colorado River compact of 1922 and other compacts.

“It is a demonstration of a new way of doing business that should be a model as Colorado talks about meeting its water gaps (between demands and supplies),” says Jim Lochhead, chief executive of Denver Water…

David Taussig, a native of Grand County and now the county’s water attorney, working from the 16th Street firm of White & Jankowski in downtown Denver, also sees the agreement as a model. “Nobody knows what (the agreements) will look like, but there are ways to develop things that benefit the Western Slope,” he says.

There are skeptics, unable to explain this strange alchemy in which a river can in any way benefit from having less water, as the agreement insists can be the case.

Among those withholding enthusiasm is Matt Rice, the Colorado coordinator for American Rivers. He points out that the agreement covers just 4 of the 32 creeks and streams trapped by Denver Water in the Fraser Valley and the adjoining Williams Fork. Too, like too many other similar programs, the data collection begins after permits are awarded, not before, which he thinks is backward.

In short, while Denver is careful to talk about “enhancements,” he thinks it falls short of addressing full, cumulative impacts.

Cumulative impacts are likely to be a focal point of federal permitting. While the Environmental Protection Agency is likely to have a voice, the vital 404 permit must come from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The parties to the new agreement have asked that their agreement be incorporated into the permit…

Under terms of this agreement, however, Denver Water is required to spend $10 million in direct costs in Grand County.

A major concern on the Fraser River is higher temperatures caused by more shallow flows, harmful or even deadly to fish. The money would go to such things as temperature-monitoring stations, to track how warm the Fraser is getting in summer months.

In places, creeks and the Fraser River will be rechanneled. A river with 75 percent of its flows diminished over a year’s cycle has less need for width. Instead, it needs a narrower course, to allow more depth and hence the colder water needed for aquatic life. Such work was already started several years ago on a segment near the Safeway store in Fraser.

A far greater financial cost to Denver specified by the agreement is the agency’s commitment to forfeit up to 2,500 acre-feet annually of the city’s added 18,700 acre-foot take…

A final environmental impact statement from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is expected in late April. The federal agency can also impose conditions of its own making. They would be included in a record-of-decision, which is expected to be issued in late 2015.

A permit from the Colorado Department of Health and Environment is also needed. Boulder County insists it also has say-so over enlargement of Gross Reservoir, an assertion contested by Denver Water.

In addition, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission must award a permit for revised hydroelectric generation at Gross.

At earliest, expansion of Gross could start in 2018 and be ready to capture spring runoff in 2022…

Mely Whiting, an attorney for Trout Unlimited, says the new deal builds on both the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement and the Windy Gap settlements. They mesh together and, downstream from Windy Gap, should have great benefit.

The weakness is that in the Fraser Valley, there is little existing baseline data. “We don’t have a very good grasp on either what we have lost or what we may lose in the future,” she says. “We know there have been declines, but don’t have nearly as much information (as below Windy Gap). So the effort will be to develop a strong baseline and get a strong understanding of what is going on up there.”

At the end of the day it is a compromise, and Whiting admits that not all environmentalists are thrilled.

“On my side of the equation, when I talk to people in the conservation community, some people want language that nails Denver to the ground, so that they have no wiggle room. They want things very predictable,” she says.

“This Learning by Doing agreement is not extremely predictable,” she added. “We have some basic parameters. There are three ways we are going to measure, to monitor to make sure the values of the streams aren’t going down.”

More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.


Breakthrough water agreement benefits cities and rivers

March 11, 2014

Originally posted on Mile High Water Talk:

Water management is never easy. And in Colorado, where the resource is scarce, everyone’s interest is valuable, and needs are often widely divergent.

Last year, Denver Water and Trout Unlimited came together to pen a guest editorial for The Denver Post, Together, we can meet Colorado River challenges, acknowledging the fact that there are differences over how to best use water to meet our diverse needs. But, more important, the editorial highlighted the fact that smart water planning and cooperation are the only way to meet the future water needs of all interests along the Colorado River.

Less than a year later, Denver Water and Trout Unlimited have come together again, this time with Grand County, to reveal an agreement that balances municipal needs and environmental health. And, just like the recently finalized Colorado River Cooperative Agreement, this partnership demonstrates the benefits of working together to protect our…

View original 790 more words


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