Pagosa Springs: Dry Gulch reservoir update

May 20, 2014
San Juan River from Wolf Creek Pass

San Juan River from Wolf Creek Pass

From the Pagosa Sun (Shanti Johnson):

With the ushering in of a new Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District (PAWSD) board, the Dry Gulch project and PAWSD’s relationship with the San Juan Water Conservancy District (SJWCD) are once again being defined.

Below is a recap of the current Dry Gulch situation as it relates to both PAWSD and SJWCD.

Rod Proffitt, president of the SJWCD board, was authorized to act of behalf of PAWSD in matters concerning Dry Gulch through May 5.

Proffitt emailed copies of a letter of intent and memorandum sent to PAWSD, regarding Dry Gulch, to The SUN.

In his April 28 memorandum, Proffitt stated, “Because my authority to act on behalf of PAWSD ends May 5th, everything that can be done has been done. For efforts to continue toward fruition, I will need the PAWSD board show its renewed confidence in the process through a vote to extend the existing resolution.”

Proffitt will present a Dry Gulch report to the PAWSD board during its June meeting and will seek agreement on different aspects of the project to continue moving forward.

The memorandum noted that progress has been made this year between the two districts, particularly during a Feb. 17 meeting out of which a letter of intent was prepared and sent to state officials regarding the future of Dry Gulch…

Several “principles of agreement,” dated April 4, were presented to both districts and the state. The proposals are still being discussed and none of the agreements have officially been adopted. The agreements are expected to be formalized on or before Sept. 2.

The SUN was provided with a copy of the April 4 agreements, which propose the following:

• The districts will request that the state forgive half of the $9.2 million loan taken out in 2007 by PAWSD. If the loan restructure is accepted, PAWSD would begin making payments Jan. 1, 2015.

• SJWCD would “exchange its ownership interest in the Ridge Parcel for the Park Ditch water rights associated with the Project …”

• PAWSD would “transfer all right, title and interest in and to the remainder of the Running Iron Ranch to SJWCD by Special Warranty Deed,” except the Ridge Parcel, outlined in a follow-up letter of intent by Proffitt.

• “SJWCD would agree to mortgage its fee simple ownership to the Running Iron Ranch to the State for the amount of $5 Million; said amount to be forgiven if the SJWCD begins work on the Property by December 31, 2024. If work does not commence by that time, SJWCD would agree to sell the property, sign it over to the State, or begin making payments on the outstanding balance at the option of SJWCD.”

• “SJWCD would agree to immediately assume all forthcoming costs and expenses associated with the Project, and will absolve PAWSD of any further or additional obligations under the agreement(s) terminated March 22, 2014.”

Agreements proposed also include protecting the future interests of both districts in purchasing and providing water, attracting different partners to replace PAWSD’s role in the project, and others…

The Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) has been a major player in the Dry Gulch discussions.

According to Proffitt, the CWCB “financed property needed for the development of Dry Gulch to this point … [and] is critical to resolving how PAWSD exits this project and SJWCD moves Dry Gulch forward.”

In an email sent to state officials April 24, Proffitt wrote, “The State has not decided definitively Dry Gulch is a project they want to get behind and support by making it possible for PAWSD to get out of the project without making it impossible for SJWCD to move the project forward.”

Originally, it was believed that CWCB would discuss taking on the project during a closed session in May and then during a public session in July. However, as of May 13, the CWCB has delayed putting Dry Gulch on the agenda. The public meeting will now likely not take place until September.

Proffitt informed The SUN that a meeting with the CWCB is scheduled for June 3 to further refine the Dry Gulch project proposal. Updates on the project will continue to be made available as they occur.

More Dry Gulch Reservoir coverage here.


The Roaring Fork Conservancy 2013 Annual Report is hot off the presses

May 20, 2014

Map of the Roaring Fork River watershed via the Roaring Fork Conservancy

Map of the Roaring Fork River watershed via the Roaring Fork Conservancy


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

Watershed Action
Our watershed action program addresses current issues and future threats to our watershed. Proactive science and watershed planning help inform decision-makers and drive on-the-ground projects to improve and restore our watershed. Many of these actions come from the recently published Roaring Fork Watershed Plan and take the form of scientific studies, restoration projects, changes to policies and educational campaigns. Our watershed action staff address areas of water quantity and quality, hydrology, riparian and river ecology, geomorphology, and economics.

Watershed Education
Inspiring people to take action requires knowledge. Each year our watershed education programs reach thousands of students and adults with hands-on science, exploration and experiences. Our student classes range from water chemistry and river ecology to watershed mapping and economics. When we cannot bring students to the river we often bring the river to them.

Our adult community outreach programs include River Guide Trainings, Watershed Explorations, educational dialogues and forums, and our popular river float trips. Each of these programs are designed to engage participants with people and/or places in the watershed to which they might not have access otherwise.

More Roaring Fork River watershed coverage here.


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.


Drought news

May 19, 2014

Snowpack news

May 19, 2014
Statewide snow water equivalent as a percent of normal May 19, 2014 via the NRCS

Statewide snow water equivalent as a percent of normal May 19, 2014 via the NRCS

Don’t get too giddy looking at the map. The runoff has started and those percentages are of a historically steep drop in snowpack that starts in earnest right about now.


Paying for stormwater drainage is a conundrum in the Grand Valley

May 19, 2014
Colorado River via Wikipedia

Colorado River via Wikipedia

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

The Grand Valley Drainage District will send out the first of regular monthly invoices to Mesa County and the three Grand Valley municipalities for its services in collecting water off untaxed government facilities. District officials say they’re concerned that they face liability for the water that runs off streets, government buildings and parking lots and other impervious surfaces that collect in the drainage system they operate. The district has taken several steps to reduce financial woes that officials detailed to Mesa County and municipal officials last year. District Chairman Mark Harris said it’s clear that the district is short of the revenue needed to deal with day-to-day activities and insulate itself from liability for the kinds of waters that end up in the ditches and pipelines the district operates.

Waters such as those that flow off the impervious surfaces of government facilities fit into a category different from that of the agricultural runoff the district was designed to collect nearly a century ago. What are now called “regulated,” as opposed to agricultural, waters flow into the district’s system, which covers lands from Palisade to Loma north of the Colorado River. The pressure to treat regulated waters differently than agricultural runoff is growing, Harris said.

“People who tell us not to worry about water quality are just not paying attention,” Harris said.

The district collects a mill levy of 1.245, but government entities don’t pay property taxes.

So, the district will send invoices next month to Mesa County, $13,250.40; Grand Junction, $11,910.80; Fruita, $4,277.60; and Palisade, $354.29.

“It’s not in the budget,” Mesa County Commission Chairman John Justman said.

“I don’t know if we can pay it.”

Fruita City Manager Clint Kinney said Fruita disagrees with the assessment.

“Their approach doesn’t make any sense,” Kinney said, noting in a memo to the City Council that, “The district must be crazy.”

By the same logic, Kinney noted in the memo, Fruita could charge the district for the use of those same impervious surfaces, such as roads.

The Grand Junction City Council is to discuss the district at a future meeting, the city said.

In no small part, the invoices are intended to get the attention of the local governments and bring them to the bargaining table, Harris said.

The county and cities should “pay their fair share of the cost of conveying and managing the regulated urban storm waters they produce.”

More stormwater coverage here.


Montezuma County: Non-hazardous waste from the Red Arrow Mill to local landfill?

May 19, 2014
Red Arrow Mill site Mancos via The Durango Herald

Red Arrow Mill site Mancos via The Durango Herald

From the Cortez Journal (Mary Shinn):

The Montezuma County landfill has taken a proactive measure to help save taxpayers any unnecessary expense when disposing of nonhazardous waste from the Red Arrow mill in Mancos.

Landfill manager Deb Barton recently requested clarification from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency about accepting any non-hazardous waste from the federal Superfund site. Acting as a concerned citizen, Barton said she sought the clarification in order to help lower waste disposal transportation costs associated with the cleanup effort.

“Why pay an extra 50, 60 or 70 miles of transportation when we’re basically 20 miles from Mancos?” she asked. “If this will reduce the cost to taxpayers, isn’t that my responsibility as a citizen?”

“The EPA is going to tear down everything at the mill, and they would like to keep any non-hazardous material as close as possible,” she said.

After an environmental investigation by state authorities, the EPA issued a temporary 60-day permit for the landfill on Feb. 28. Barton said state and federal laws prohibit the landfill from accepting anything but non-hazardous and non-liquid waste only.

“We’ve been certified to meet EPA standards,” said Barton. “Does that mean they can bring the material to me willy-nilly? No. They have to prove that it is non-hazardous.”

Barton said a certified EPA lab report stating the waste was not hazardous would have to be produced before receiving any non-hazardous waste from Red Arrow. Any mercury tainted waste from the milling site must be less than 0.2 parts per million, and any lead or arsenic polluted material must be less than 5 parts per million, she said.

“The EPA will test everything that comes out of the milling site, because they don’t want another Superfund site along the way,” Barton said. “The EPA would not allow any waste to come that doesn’t meet their standards, so I’m not going to screw the pooch either.”

Because of the EPA lab results, Barton said she remained confident that no hazardous material would ever enter the local landfill. She added that nearby archeological sites, ranchers and ordinary citizens also have nothing to fear.

“If the waste doesn’t have that EPA lab report, then it will be going someplace else,” Barton said. “I’m not going to take any hazardous material.”

More Montezuma County coverage here.


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