It’s Time to Put Water First | Heather Himmelberger | TEDxABQ

October 17, 2014


San Juan River Basin: Dry Gulch Project update

October 17, 2014
San Juan River from Wolf Creek Pass

San Juan River from Wolf Creek Pass

from The Pagosa Springs Sun (Renita Freeman):

In the regularly scheduled meeting of the San Juan Water Conservancy District (SJWCD) on Oct.14, board chairman Rod Proffitt discussed the progress and tour of the Dry Gulch Water Storage Facility (Dry Gulch Project), concerns of the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) and the appraisal value of the Running Iron Ranch.

In a letter of intent dated Sept. 10 between SJWCD and the Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District (PAWSD), each party agreed to work toward finalizing a satisfactory agreement that both relieves PAWSD of its financial obligations to the Dry Gulch Project and acknowledges efforts by SJWCD to develop the Dry Gulch Project on a more practicable basis with a broader group of interested partners.

The letter of intent stated that an exchange of PAWSD equity in the ranch to the CWCB for substantial debt relief is to both parties’ mutual advantage.

The letter of intent also states that if the principal outstanding on the loan cannot be reduced by the amount equal to the appraisal value of the ranch or $4.6 million, whichever is more, PAWSD may seek other means to reduce its debt to the CWCB. The letter of intent further states that the annual interest rate may be reduced to no more than 1.75 percent and a full term for payment of 30 years.

SJWCD agreed to provide an appraisal of the ranch to the CWCB, which would establish the fair market value of the 660-acre ranch, shared water rights directly and indirectly related to the Dry Gulch Project, and long-term debt obligations to the CWCB incurred in the purchase of the ranch…

Proffitt went on to explain that the problems with comparables done on similar ranches which sold for more was the fact they had more buildings and structures in place, as well as more riverfront on the properties than those of the ranch that was appraised.

Proffitt told the board he had completed a tour of the Dry Gulch Project with CWCB Commissioner James Eklund, Jeff Robbins, legal council for PAWSD, and Kent Holsinger, legal council for SJWCD.

Eklund was impressed with the site, Proffitt explained…

Proffitt told the SJWCD board Tuesday evening that steps should be taken in order to satisfy the CWCB concerns that the board stayed focused on the Dry Gulch Project and did not wane.

“Due diligence is needed to keep the Dry Gulch Project moving forward. Hopefully, the courts will see we are exercising due diligence,” he said.

In an email, CWCB Deputy Director of Resource Management Tim Feehan stated other items CWCB would like to see as part of an agreement going forward: “SJWCD would retain an equitable interest in the Dry Gulch Project and its fee interest in the property. SJWCD would be able to move forward with land exchanges to further the Project.”

Other items for consideration mentioned in the email were that SJWCD would be provided with adequate funding to move the project forward and would take the lead in discussions with the Southern Ute Indian Tribe and other potential partners in the project.

The email went on to state that the CWCB would like to see SJWCD considered as manager/coordinator for the project once it is built and it also needs closure to be on the loan/grant agreement. The correspondence also pointed out a new operating agreement needs to include a forgiveness provision on the loan side of the existing agreement.

More Dry Gulch Reservoir coverage here.


“Right now the firm yield of Windy Gap is zero” — Brian Werner #ColoradoRiver

October 15, 2014

Site of proposed Chimney Hollow Reservoir -- Windy Gap Firming Project via the Longmont Times-Call

Site of proposed Chimney Hollow Reservoir — Windy Gap Firming Project via the Longmont Times-Call


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

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District and the Northern Water Municipal Subdistrict have negotiated a contract that would allow the subdistrict to use excess capacity in the Colorado-Big Thompson Project for the Windy Gap Project and future Windy Gap Firming Project, according to a press release. A 30-day public comment period on the contract opened Oct. 8 and will close Nov. 7…

Currently, Windy Gap water rights are in priority during wet years, though paradoxically the C-BT project is often too full to hold excess water. Because the Windy Gap Project has a junior water right, it is often not able to divert water during dry years, when there is available capacity in the C-BT project.

“Right now the firm yield of Windy Gap is zero because there are some years where they can’t get any water out of the project,” said Brian Werner with Northern Water.

The Windy Gap Firming Project proposes construction of Chimney Hollow Reservoir near Carter Lake Reservoir in Larimer County. The added storage capacity would “firm up,” or reinforce the Windy Gap water right during dry years. The contract is needed to use federal infrastructure to firm up the Windy Gap water right.

“This project will make more efficient use of existing water rights,” said Mike Ryan with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, in a prepared statement. “When completed, Windy Gap Firming would provide water storage for 13 municipal providers.”

The Windy Gap project is allowed to divert a maximum of 90,000 acre feet in a single year, and its 10-year running average cannot exceed 65,000 acre feet per year.

The cost for using the excess capacity will be $34 per acre-foot, said Tyler Johnson with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

Initial estimates for the Windy Gap Firming Project put the cost at $270 million.

Also up for comment is Senate Document 80, which contains guidelines for project facilities and auxiliary features, and Section 14 Determination Memos, which authorize the Secretary of the Interior to enter into contracts for the exchange or replacement of water, water rights, or electrical energy for the adjustment of water rights.


Reclamation: Check it out! Two Reclamation employees perform a rope inspection of Granby Spillway #ColoradoRiver

October 12, 2014


Chatfield Reservoir water supply project OK’d by feds, faces lawsuit — The Denver Post

October 10, 2014
Proposed reallocation pool -- Graphic/USACE

Proposed reallocation pool — Graphic/USACE

From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

Federal water engineers on Thursday launched the long-planned and controversial Chatfield Reservoir water supply project, closing a deal with Colorado sponsors.

Audubon Society opponents filed a lawsuit in federal court trying to block construction.

A reallocation of the South Platte River water that is captured in the reservoir, created in 1975 for flood control, is expected to add 2.8 billion gallons a year to water supplies.

But the project will inundate 10 percent of the premier state park.

Col. Joel Cross, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Omaha district commander, signed an agreement with the Colorado Department of Natural Resources and the Colorado Water Conservation Board — clearing the way for state-supervised construction after 15 years of negotiation.

“This completes the study and gives approval to move forward. This is a huge milestone,” Army Corps of Engineers project manager Gwyn Jarrett said.

Colorado natural resources director Mike King on Oct. 6 signed for the state. Colorado water supply planners have estimated that, by 2050, the state’s population probably will grow to between 8.6 million and 10.3 million people, up from 5 million in 2010. Today’s water supplies are expected to fall short by 390,000 to 450,000 acre-feet.

“As we look to meet our state’s future water needs, taking advantage of existing infrastructure and maximizing yield from Chatfield is by far the most environmentally responsible option available,” King said.

“This project will not pull any additional water from the West Slope, and the environmental impacts can and will be mitigated through an aggressive plan to ensure that Chatfield remains a tremendous recreational and wildlife viewing site,” he said. “At the same time, the new project will provide additional water to the already stressed farms and communities along the South Platte.”

The 20,600 acre-feet of water stored in Chatfield Reservoir, located 25 miles southwest of downtown Denver, has been reallocated for municipal and industrial water supply along with other purposes, including agriculture, environmental restoration, recreation and improving fish habitat.

Federal engineers said using Chatfield to augment water supplies is better than building a new dam and reservoir elsewhere.

The plans say the water level will rise by up to 12 feet and the project will provide an average of 8,539 acre-feet of water (about 2.8 billion gallons) for municipal, industrial, environmental and agricultural use.

This will inundate 10 percent of the 5,378-acre Chatfield State Park, which draws 1.6 million visitors a year.

Lengthy reviews and negotiation among federal engineers, state officials and water users led to plans to mitigate adverse impacts.

The plans describe new habitat for birds and replacement of park structures and roadways. State officials said water providers purchasing storage space in the reservoir must place funds to pay for mitigation work in an escrow account before construction begins. And no new water can be stored until on-site recreational and environmental work is done.

The Army’s assistant secretary for civil works, Jo-Ellen Darcy, has deemed the Chatfield project “technically sound, environmentally acceptable and economically justified.”

Bird-watchers opposed it. Cottonwoods that serve as bird habitat likely will be lost.

The Audubon Society of Greater Denver this week filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court, arguing that federal authorities arbitrarily dismissed better alternatives and that the Clean Water Act allows only the least-damaging alternative. It argues that federal documents show the “dependable yield” of water from the project is zero and that project reviewers’ “segmentation” in evaluating impacts led to an improper analysis.

“They need to take another look at alternatives they dismissed,” Audubon Society member Gene Reetz said. “Everybody realizes that demands for water are growing. And, especially with climate change, water is going to be very short. We all have to get more serious about conservation.”

More Chatfield Reservoir coverage here.


It’s Time For America To Talk About The Price Of Water — The Huffington Post

October 9, 2014

From The Huffington Post (Cynthia Barnett):

Squeezed by drought, U.S. consumers and western farmers have begun to pay more for water. But the increases do not come close to addressing the fundamental price paradox in a nation that uses more water than any other in the world while generally paying less for it. And some of the largest water users in the East, including agricultural, energy and mining companies, often pay nothing for water at all.

As a result, we’re subsidizing our most wasteful water use — while neglecting essentials like keeping our water plants and pipes in good repair. “You can get to sustainability,” says David Zetland, a water economist and author of the book Living with Water Scarcity. “But you can’t get there without putting a price on water.”

Cheap, Abundant Illusion

Water is the most essential utility delivered to us each day, meeting our drinking and sanitation needs and many others, from fire protection to irrigation. Incongruously, it is also the resource we value least. This is true generally for both the way we use water and the price we put on it.

On the global scale, Americans pay considerably less for water than people in most other developed nations. In the U.S., we pay less for water than for all other utilities. That remains true in these times of increasing water stress, says Janice Beecher, director of the Institute of Public Utilities at Michigan State University, whose data show the average four-person household spends about $50 a month for water, compared with closer to $150 for electricity and telephone services.

Water’s historically cheap price has turned the U.S. hydrologic cycle abjectly illogical. Pennies-per-gallon water makes it rational for homeowners to irrigate lawns to shades of Oz even during catastrophic droughts like the one gripping California. On the industrial side, water laws that evolved to protect historic uses rather than the health of rivers and aquifers can give farmers financial incentive to use the most strained water sources for the least sustainable crops. In just one example, farmers near Yuma, Ariz. — the driest spot in the United States, with an average rainfall of 3 inches per year — use Colorado River water to grow thirsty alfalfa; under the law of the river, if they don’t use their allotment, they’ll lose their rights to it.

For both municipal waterworks and those that carry irrigation water to farms, the illusion of cheap, abundant water arose with the extensive federal subsidies of the mid-20th century. The Bureau of Reclamation built tens of billions of dollars worth of irrigation and supply projects that were supposed to have been reimbursed by beneficiaries; most were not repaid. After passage of the Clean Water Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act in the 1970s, the feds doled out billions more dollars, this time to local communities to help upgrade water plants and pipes. Since ratepayers didn’t have to bear the costs, they didn’t balk at treating water destined for toilets and lawns to the highest drinking-water standards in the land.

Americans got used to paying wee little for a whole lot of pristine water. At the same time, many utilities delayed the long-term capital investments needed to maintain their pipes and plants. Water boards are often run by local elected officials, making decisions uneasily political. A board member with a three-year term might not vote for a water project that would pay off in year six. Officials who tried to raise rates risked being booted out of office. It was easier to hope federal subsidies would continue to flow. They did not. A Reagan Administration phase-out of water-infrastructure grants began 25 years ago. Over the past decade, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency water infrastructure funding has declined (with the exception of 2009, the year of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act), and policy has shifted from grants to loans.

Unfortunately for water utilities, the timing coincided with the arrival of requirements to scrub dozens of newly regulated contaminants out of drinking water and record numbers of water mains and pipes bursting due to age and extreme temperatures, both hot and cold.

Playing Catch-Up

In recent years, municipalities have begun raising rates to play catch-up. Since 2007, city water prices have risen at rates faster than the overall cost of living. Even so, the water sector reports it is not enough to pay for an estimated $1 trillion in anticipated repair costs for buried water pipes and growth-related infrastructure costs over the next 25 years.

When it comes to meeting needs associated with growth, many of the most promising solutions are found on the demand side. Americans still use more water per person than anywhere else in the world. But the U.S. today taps less water overall than it did 40 years ago despite population and economic growth, thanks to increased efficiency and awareness. From irrigation to manufacturing to toilet flushing, everything we do takes a lot less water than it used to.

Because utilities’ funding relies on revenue generated by water sales, efficiency has many utilities up a creek and churning blame. Earlier this fall, The Washington Post published a story, reprinted in newspapers around the nation, that blamed “federally mandated low-flow toilets, shower heads and faucets” for water utilities’ financial woes. Conservation, the story said, was the cause of higher water rates and new fees.

The reality is just the opposite, says Mary Ann Dickinson, president and CEO of the Alliance for Water Efficiency, a Chicago-based nonprofit dedicated to sustainable water use. Everyone is beginning to pay more for water — but communities that conserve have lower long-term costs than those that don’t. In many cases, simply saving water can eliminate the need for costly new sources, Dickinson says. Growing, water-stressed cities including San Antonio and Perth, Australia, have saved ratepayers more than a billion dollars in long-term capital costs by helping them slash water use in half. An analysis by the city of Westminster, Colo., found that reduced water use by citizens since 1980 saved residents and businesses 80 percent in tap fees and 91 percent in water rates, compared to the costs of acquiring the new water — close to $220 million on Colorado’s Front Range.

Efficiency will be the answer in many communities, although it cannot save the day in financially strapped cities that are losing population. Detroit’s emergence from bankruptcy depends in part on its ability to sell water, but it has lost a quarter of its population over the past decade. Under pressure to reduce more than $90 million in bad debt, the Water and Sewerage Department in the spring began ordering shutoffs for customers who had fallen behind on their bills, prompting a global outcry and a warning from the United Nations.

Pictures of American families bathing and brushing teeth from five-gallon buckets hold a mirror to the nation’s hydro-illogical cycle: We subsidize water for the largest users in the United States, including agriculture and energy plants, yet we do not ensure a basic amount of water for the poorest citizens.

Agriculture at the Table

Likewise, efficiency doesn’t solve water-quality issues like Toledo’s, where ratepayers could be looking at $1 billion for a new drinking-water plant advanced enough to filter out the pollutants brewing in Lake Erie, their water source. Donald Moline, commissioner of Toledo’s public utilities department, says the cost issues are opening up much-needed dialogue with the agricultural community on its contribution to nonpoint-source pollution in Lake Erie. Fueled by farming, septic systems, urban runoff and other causes, nonpoint-source pollution is the largest contributor to water-quality problems in the United States. “It used to be we just weren’t allowed to get into the agricultural causes, but given the science of this, we can’t ignore that piece,” Moline says.

Indeed, concerns over both quality and quantity make agriculture an increasingly important part of the conversation about how we value and price water, says University of Arizona law professor Robert Glennon, author of the books Water Follies and Unquenchable: America’s Water Crisis and What To Do About It.

Irrigation costs differ significantly for American farmers depending on whether they operate in the West or in the East. Reclamation Reform Acts in the 1980s and 90s began to shift the costs of major U.S. irrigation projects — which move river water around the West — from federal taxpayers to western farmers, whose bill depends on an arcane mix of water rights, allocations and contracts. But in the Colorado River basin, century-old water law can still create a tragedy of the commons in which farmers risk losing their allotment if they don’t use it. To solve this waste-encouraging dilemma, Glennon advocates a regulated system of markets and trading that would allow farmers to sell their water allotments to cities in times of drought or let a manufacturer pay to convert a large farm from flood to drip irrigation in exchange for the saved water.

Groundwater presents yet another paradox of price: Rising energy costs and declining water levels in troubled aquifers such as the Ogallala in the U.S. Great Plains have helped motivate many farmers to use less water. Agricultural and industrial water users pay for the wells, pumps and energy to draw water up from belowground, but in much of the country they still pay nothing for the water itself — which in some cases has provoked a race to the bottom that can dry up neighbors’ wells and even collapse the ground underfoot. In one hot spot in California’s San Joaquin Valley, U.S. Geological Survey scientists found that steady groundwater pumping in the nut-tree region south of Merced is sinking the ground nearly a foot a year, threatening infrastructure damage to local communities…

New Approaches

Going forward, water infrastructure, supply and quality challenges intensified by the droughts, floods, temperature extremes and other influences of a changing climate will require new approaches to not only price, but also ethics: using less and polluting less, recycling more, and sharing costs among all users.

At the local utility level, higher prices and tiered price structures, in which households that use more pay more, are both working to encourage conservation. Utilities are also turning to new types of bonds to cover long-term projects, such as the 100-year “green bond” sold this summer by the District of Columbia Water and Sewer Authority to finance environmentally friendly stormwater solutions.

Water-science and engineering groups such as the American Society of Civil Engineers make the case that the U.S. infrastructure crisis is severe enough that local communities cannot solve it alone; they suggest that federal investment is crucial to forestall significant costs in emergency repair and business losses.

Market fixes and agricultural partnerships are also part of the answer — especially if water law can evolve to do a better job of protecting the environment and local communities. Over the past two decades, drought-addled Australia has built the world’s largest water market, trading $2.5 billion per year and allowing the government to buy back overallocated rights and return water to nature. Price trends are up — both utility customers and agricultural users are paying more for water — while overall consumption is down. However, feared adverse social impacts may be coming to pass; researchers from Griffith University in Queensland found governments trading “with little regard or knowledge of Indigenous interests, and many Indigenous people believe that contemporary water resource management is amplifying inequities.”

Human rights advocates often oppose water markets on the grounds that we should not commodify an essential human need. But U.S. water use and price have been so skewed for so long that market solutions may be the only politically feasible way to right them. If we are to subsidize anyone, perhaps it should be the poor: A sustenance level of water for those who need it — free or dirt cheap — and higher prices for those who want more and choose to pay. “I argue for a human right to water,” says Glennon. “If we can’t guarantee that in the richest country in the world, we are a sorry lot.”

Key tenets as U.S. water law and policy evolves, Glennon says, are making sure the environment and communities where water originates are not harmed. “It’s glacial, but we are finally seeing people do things differently,” he says. “Across California, you see block rates and municipalities paying people to rip out lawns. Price is going to give us the opportunity to do some things before crisis becomes a catastrophe.”


13th Annual DARCA Convention February 13, 2015

October 7, 2014

From email from DARCA:

DARCA is coming together for the 13th Annual DARCA Convention. The event will take place in Grand Junction, Colorado at the Two Rivers Convention Center. The pre-convention workshop is scheduled for February 11th, 2015, with the topic of technology and ditch companies. The convention will be on February 12th & 13th, with the theme of Colorado’s Water Plan and Irrigated Agriculture. For more information and to register, visit http://www.darca.org or call (970) 412-1960.


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