“We don’t want to demonize the Front Range” — Jim Pokrandt #ColoradoRiver #COWaterPlan

August 19, 2014


From the Vail Daily (Lauren Glendenning):

The soothing sound of the Colorado River as it meanders its way across Colorado’s Western Slope is the sound of a thriving economy, a fragile environment and also an impending crisis.

The state of water supplies in the arid West is volatile and forecasts are grim. Lake Powell and Lake Mead are at alarmingly low levels, while populations across the West are swelling past the capacities of current water supplies.

The Colorado River Basin is facing a battle of sorts as Colorado creates a statewide water plan. It’s a battle against time and against competing water needs, both here in Colorado and in lower basin states like Nevada and California.

Regionally, some view it as an Eastern Slope vs. Western Slope battle, although water officials are carefully shaping the public relations message as one of unity and collaboration. There’s a very real fear that exists west of the Continental Divide, though, that Colorado’s growing Front Range population is going to suck the Colorado River Basin dry. Some even say that has already happened…

“Population is still growing and there’s a need to find more water for municipal uses,” said Jim Pokrandt, chair of the Colorado Basin Roundtable and spokesman for the Colorado River Water Conservation District. “We don’t want to demonize the Front Range.”[...]

…the state’s water planning has really been going on for over a decade, said Brad Udall, a research faculty member at the University of Colorado’s Getches-Wilkinson Center for Natural Resources, Energy and Environment and former director of the Western Water Assessment.

Udall has written extensively about climate change issues as they relate to water resources but his passion for Western water began outside of books and classrooms. His mother took him down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon in the early 1970s, paving the way for Udall’s future in guiding Grand Canyon river trips. After getting into environmental engineering at Stanford University and developing a passion for water issues, he also began working on climate change issues. That’s when he realized that climate change means water change. They’re one in the same, he said…

…none of the states want to go back and draft new laws based on the realistic flows, except for maybe California, [Glenn Porzak] said.

“If you go back and say, ‘We made a mistake when we negotiated, we thought there was 17 million acre feet.’ If you renegotiate, (Colorado’s) going to lose,” he said. “All water is political.”[...]

The major concern at Lake Powell is that it’s getting down to such a level that it will no longer be able to generate power, said Glenn Porzak, a water attorney based in Boulder who represents water entities and municipalities in both Summit and Eagle counties, as well as Vail Resorts.

“The cost of power is going to quadruple,” Porzak said of Lake Powell, should it drop below power generating levels. “Almost all of the Western Slope’s power comes from the power grid that’s generated off Colorado River storage projects. That hits the ski industry and every other industry if the cost of power goes up four times.”

It also hits the average citizen, who has been enjoying relatively cheap water at home, Udall said.

“You hear we’re running out of water and we gotta get more, but we’re running out of cheap water,” he said. “Water that people are putting on lawns, that shouldn’t just be free, it should come with significant costs. … One of the lessons here is that water is going to get more expensive in the municipal sector, and a little bit more in the (agriculture) sector.”

When prices are low, people over-use water, but when they’re high, conservation becomes a lot easier and more attractive. And conservation is a big theme in the first draft of the Colorado Basin Implementation Plan, which came out last month and will undergo several more revisions before it’s sent to the state later this year for incorporation into the state water plan.

From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Lauren Glendenning):

Nathan Fey’s passion for kayaking led him to a career in river conservation and water quality issues. As the Colorado stewardship director for the nonprofit American Whitewater, he’s watching carefully as the state progresses through its water planning process.

The state must address some major conflicts as it creates the Colorado Water Plan, he said.

“Sure, our population is focused on the Front Range, but the reason we all live here is because recreation is a way of life for us,” Fey said. “I think there’s a big disconnect for people in our urban areas about where their water comes from. They don’t understand that if they grow green grass, there’s less water in the river when they’re fishing.”[...]

Recreation along the Colorado River and its tributaries is a $9.6 billion industry, and that’s just within the state of Colorado. According to a 2012 study for Protect The Flows, done by the consulting firm Southwick Associates, which specializes in recreation economics, the Colorado River would rank as the 19th-largest employer on the 2011 Fortune 500 list based on the jobs it generates.

“People moved here for the environment — it underpins the economy,” said Jim Pokrandt, chair of the Colorado Basin Roundtable and the communications and education director for the Colorado River Water Conservation District. “Water in the streams is an economic driver in and of itself.”

The recreation-based economies in mountain resort towns depend on healthy streams for more than just the water-based activities. Indirectly, hikers, campers and mountain bikers, to name a few, also depend on healthy streams.

“That’s the value we’re hoping Colorado embraces, so the desire to push for another transmountain diversion is deferred for a long time, if not forever, in favor of using the water we already have to its highest and most efficient use,” Pokrandt said…

Pokrandt likens the process to economizing, just like any business would do during tough times. You look at internal expenses, in this case water uses, and you cut back…

With the Colorado Water Plan’s deadline more than a year away, the Colorado Basin Roundtable is polishing its plan to make sure it gets the point across that more transmountain diversions would be detrimental to tourism economies, the environment and agriculture…

In the mountains, many of the major water providers such as the town of Breckenridge, the Upper Eagle Regional Water Authority and the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District, have senior, or pre-compact, water rights. The same goes for the Grand Valley and Grand Junction areas, said water attorney Glenn Porzak, who represents those entities as well as Vail Resorts and other local municipalities.

“The water rights really affected the most (under a compact curtailment) are all of the transmountain diversions,” Porzak said. “Fifty percent of Denver’s supply comes from the Dillon and Moffat systems and are post-compact. All of the Northern Colorado Conservancy District comes from the Thompson project, also junior. All of Colorado Springs and Aurora diversions are junior to the compact.”

When 75 percent of the Front Range supply comes from junior diversions, Porzak said it’s clear what municipalities will do: They’ll buy up more senior agriculture rights for the Western Slope.

More Front Range municipalities buying Western Slope agriculture water rights depletes rivers. When the water is diverted over the Continental Divide, it never returns to the basin. That affects flows, which affect water quality, stream health and the economic powerhouse that is recreation-based tourism…

The ski industry is the pulse of Summit, Eagle and Pitkin counties during winter months. Water is the source of winter-based recreation, but the fact that it doesn’t always fall from the sky at the right times or in the right quantities means water must be taken from elsewhere.

Aspen Skiing Co. and Vail Resorts have bought and maintained important water rights since the beginning of each company’s existence…

Predictability like a start date for the season — something the company typically announces during the previous ski season — is crucial to lock in season pass sales. Without important water rights and water supplies, Hensler said opening for Thanksgiving might be impossible, and Christmas would even be a challenge…

Hensler points out that snowmaking is only about 20 percent consumptive.

“About 80 percent of the water we put on the mountain as snow melts and flows back into the streams — it’s a very sustainable use,” Hensler said.

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


Water in the West: Conservation measures take center stage — Post Independent #ColoradoRiver #COWaterPlan

August 18, 2014

From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Laura Glendenning):

Gary Bumgarner doesn’t like to hear statistics that say irrigated agriculture makes up 85 percent of Colorado’s consumptive water use. It’s misleading, he says, and as a fourth-generation Grand County rancher with senior and junior water rights, he knows a thing or two about water.

Agriculture uses the same water more than once, he says, referring to return flows and downstream water uses. Transmountain diversions use water up and never return it. It’s known as consumptive use in the water world, meaning the use permanently removes the water from its natural stream system. Bumgarner and plenty of other ranchers and farmers argue that the agriculture industry’s share of the total consumptive use in Colorado is much less than 85 percent.

More than half the water in Grand County heads east to the Front Range through transmountain diversions, which has Bumgarner concerned about the current statewide water planning process, sure, but he’s more concerned about what has already happened to water in the Colorado River Basin.

Bumgarner, who is also a Grand County commissioner, remembers when his mother used to have to cross high water in a rowboat on her way up to Kremmling, he said.

“In my teens and 20s, there was so much water,” he said. “Now, it’s a pretty stark contrast.”

When a river is over-developed — meaning too much water is taken from it — danger lurks. The effects range from water quality issues to riparian habitat depletions to economic and recreational devastation.

The agriculture industry in Colorado has a bull’s-eye on it as the state creates its Water Plan. Municipalities want to buy up senior agriculture water rights to secure supplies that can meet the demands of population growth — it’s known as “buy and dry” — and being that the agriculture industry uses more water than any other, it has found itself at the center of the discussion.

At a recent Colorado River Basin Roundtable meeting, Bumgarner and others brought up the consumptive use point time and time again. The agriculture representatives at the roundtable want to be sure there’s more clarification in the Colorado Basin Implementation Plan before it’s sent off to the state.

Six themes have emerged from the first draft of the basin’s plan, one of which is to “sustain agriculture.”

That’s the million dollar question. Senior agriculture water rights are private property rights, meaning the owners can do whatever they want with their property — including buy, sell and transfer their water rights. If a Front Range municipality wants to come in a buy the rights, and the farmer or rancher wants to sell, there’s not much anyone can do to stop it.

“If you’re making money, it’s sustainable. If you’re not making money, it’s not sustainable,” Bumgarner said. “Do I want my neighbor to sell out? No. Do I want the ability to sell out? Yes.”

Bumgarner said the agriculture industry has to be nimble in order to sustain itself. His family has changed its operations around three times from a dairy farm to a sheep operation to its present day business of cattle and calves.

“(Agriculture) has to learn to adapt,” he said. “Just because I do it, doesn’t mean my kids or grandkids should be doing it. It’s no different than any job. What you’re doing today doesn’t mean you should be doing it in 120 years.”

Reducing the stress on the basin

The Colorado Basin Implementation Plan does include projects and policies that “provide incentives and protections necessary to support agriculture.”

It also calls for improved water laws that would allow the agriculture community the flexibility to implement efficient irrigation without the loss of water rights.

“An additional (transmountain diversion) that supports more bluegrass lawns on the Front Range while decreasing Colorado Basin irrigated agricultural lands and associated food supply is poor planning and not sustainable,” the draft reads.

But the level of conservation that irrigation efficiencies could create is debatable. Much of the water lost through irrigation inefficiencies returns to the river or groundwater system for use by downstream water diverters, according to a 2008 Colorado Agricultural Water Alliance study, “Meeting Colorado’s Future Water Supply Needs.”

“Increased agricultural water conservation could potentially result in a voluntary reduction in the diversion of water to the farm, creating benefits such as improved water quality, allowing more water to remain in the streams, reduced waterlogging of soils, and reducing energy costs for pumping, but may not result in water that can be legally transferred to other uses,” according to the study. “If the use of water conservation measures can improve water supply availability without causing injury to downstream users or the environment, then the result may be improved water supplies for agriculture and other uses.”

Irrigation for agriculture isn’t the only water use under conservation scrutiny. Homeowners with non-native landscaping such as Kentucky bluegrass lawns could also start to face regulations and consequences, or at the very least some dirty looks from the neighbors.

Talk to Western Slope water officials and conservationists, and you’ll hear a lot of criticism over bluegrass lawns along the Front Range, as well as in the High Country — and especially in resort towns where $20 million homes spare no expense for opulence.

Martha Cochran, executive director of the Aspen Valley Land Trust, thinks Coloradoans have to start thinking differently about water resources and personal responsibility. She thinks a new standard could emerge for home landscaping that shuns those with bluegrass lawns, but that day will never come if citizens don’t become more educated about water resources. It also might not happen without government regulation.

“I think we can do huge amounts to reduce what’s creating the stress on the basin,” she said. “There was a time when (bluegrass lawns and swimming pools) were kind of a symbol of prosperity. I think that some day it’s going to be looked upon as just tacky.”

Municipalities are teaching and encouraging xeriscaping, a practice in which native plants and grasses, mulch and other low-water landscaping replaces landscaping that wastes water such as bluegrass.

An informed citizenry is the best protection for Western Slope water, said Jim Pokrandt, chair of the Colorado Basin Roundtable and spokesman for the Colorado River Water Conservation District.

“If you turn on your faucet and water didn’t come out, you’d be interested real fast,” he said.

Values differ across the state

With more than a decade of persistent drought conditions, there’s a focus on conservation. The U.S. Department of the Interior and municipal water suppliers in Arizona, Colorado, California and Nevada signed a landmark water conservation agreement last month called the Colorado River System Conservation Program. The suppliers — which include Denver Water in Colorado ­— are contributing $11 million to fund pilot conservation projects on the Colorado River.

And municipalities across the Western Slope like Aspen, Winter Park and Snowmass are looking at both conservation efforts and also land use codes that limit growth based on water supplies.

The City of Aspen has also incorporated a Center for Resource Conservation Slow the Flow Sprinkler Inspection program for the past two years, and the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District offers a similar program through certified irrigation professionals.

These are all steps applauded by conservation groups like Western Resource Advocates. Water Program Director Bart Miller said if Colorado and the Colorado River Basin as a whole can do the right amount of urban conservation, water recycling, irrigation and energy efficiencies, the vast majority of future water needs should be met.

“I think the state Water Plan provides a really unique opportunity, the first ever opportunity for the state to embed, articulate and follow through on the broad range of values that folks across the state have,” he said.

While great opportunities exist, it’s also a safe bet to assume the state water plan won’t please all stakeholders — there will likely be some grumbling from each of the basins, but the hope is the plan can strike the right balance so it’s not about Eastern Slope versus Western Slope, said James Eklund, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board and the state water plan’s development director.

“Doing that is going to require some work,” he said. “(Colorado’s Water Plan) won’t read exactly the way every stakeholder wants it to.”

Western Slope stakeholders like Bumgarner fear the worst for the Western Slope: More transmountain diversions.

“I don’t think there’s any doubt that they’re going to come get more water, and (agriculture) will be the loser — and the tourism industry,” he said. “You’re not going rafting on rocks if there’s no water. I’m very much anti-government getting into things, but at some point the state has to figure out how many people the state can contain. We’re not going to get more water, and we’re going to double the population, so they have to take it from existing users.”

Part three in this series will explore the relationships between water and Western Slope economies. It will appear in Tuesday’s PI.

Read Part one at http://bit.ly/1t9ueP2

More conservation coverage here.


USBR finds $2 million for the Arkansas Valley Conduit for the current fiscal year

August 15, 2014

Arkansas Valley Conduit Comanche North route via Reclamation

Arkansas Valley Conduit Comanche North route via Reclamation


From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The Arkansas Valley Conduit has received $2 million for the current fiscal year through reprogramming of funds within the Bureau of Reclamation, according to Colorado Democratic U.S. Sens. Michael Bennet and Mark Udall.

“Folks in Southeast Colorado have been waiting a long time for the federal government to fulfill its promise to build the Arkansas Valley Conduit,” Bennet said. “Making these resources available for the conduit is crucial to completing this phase of the project and moving it one step closer to completion.”

Earlier this year, the senators backed legislation that loosened purse strings within the Bureau of Reclamation and allowed for transfer of funds to projects such as the conduit, which was first authorized in the 1962 Fryingpan-Arkansas Act.

The Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, sponsor of the project, was dismayed when President Barack Obama’s budget submitted to Congress contained only $500,000 in funding this year. More was needed to complete planning and feasibility analysis before the design work and land acquisition can begin.

“Southern Coloradans have been counting on the Arkansas Valley Conduit’s construction for access to clean drinking water — they’ve been waiting long enough,” Udall said.

U.S. Reps. Scott Tipton and Cory Gardner, both Colorado Republicans, also support the conduit and applauded the news.

“This completion of the Arkansas Valley Conduit will ensure the continued delivery of clean drinking water to families, agriculture producers and municipalities throughout Southeastern Colorado,” Tipton said.

The $400 million conduit is in its early stages, having gained approval last year from Reclamation for the 120-mile route from Pueblo Dam to Lamar and Eads.

It would serve 50,000 people in 40 communities by providing filtered drinking water. Most of the communities along the route rely on wells and many of them are facing water quality compliance issues that could force more expensive alternatives to the conduit.

“The support we have gotten from Congress, Gov. John Hickenlooper and James Eklund of the Colorado Water Conservation Board has been tremendous,” said Jim Broderick, executive director of the Southeastern district. “This will allow us to move the project forward as was intended more than 50 years ago.”

Hickenlooper praised the decision: “We have worked closely with all parties to stress the need for this conduit and will continue to support Southeastern and local government in the hard work to bring this project to fruition.”

From Governor Hickenlooper’s office:

Gov. John Hickenlooper today released the following statement on the Bureau of Reclamation’s decision to redirect $2 million to fund the Arkansas Valley Conduit.

“The Arkansas Valley Conduit will serve 50,000 people in more than 40 communities in southeastern Colorado. We commend the Bureau of Reclamation for prioritizing this project and thank the leadership of the Department of the Interior, Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, as well our congressional delegation for ongoing efforts to deliver funding for this critical project. We have worked closely with all parties to stress the need for this conduit and will continue to support southeastern and local government in the hard work to bring this project to fruition,” Hickenlooper said.

The conduit, a water pipeline originally envisioned as part of the federal Fry-Ark Project legislation in 1962, will assist communities experiencing high water treatment costs by providing water from Pueblo Reservoir. The latest funding will assist with preconstruction costs associated with the 130-mile project.

More Arkansas Valley Conduit coverage here and here.


Water Lines: Dire water predicament spurs cooperation, compromise — Grand Junction Free Press #ColoradoRiver

August 12, 2014
Colorado River Basin including out of basin demands -- Graphic/USBR

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

After a winter of happy news about the generous snowpack in Colorado’s mountains, summer brought reminders that our regional water situation is dire – or, at least, poised on the edge of direness.

Just as the ink was drying on mid-July headlines announcing that Lake Mead had dropped to its lowest level since filling 80 years ago, a new study found that groundwater loss in the Colorado River Basin has been even more dramatic. The study used satellite data to track changes in the amount of water in the basin from 2004 to 2013, and found that 75 percent of the nearly 53 million acre feet lost during that period was from groundwater depletions.

While it is easy to measure how much water is in reservoirs, it is much less clear how much groundwater remains in the region’s aquifers. Western Colorado doesn’t rely much on groundwater, but other states in the basin do.

Then, in early August, researchers at CU-Boulder released an updated report on Climate Change in Colorado. The report notes that higher temperatures are likely to put further pressure on the state’s water supplies, even if we get a bit more rain and snow, because plants will need more and more will evaporate.

An historic 14-year drought plus increasing demands are pushing the Colorado River system ever closer to the point where it could no longer be able to provide the services people rely on. And groundwater appears to be disappearing too fast to be much of a safety net.

The City of Las Vegas, Central Arizona farmers and power generation at Glen Canyon Dam are among the first in line to take a hit if water levels in Lakes Powell and Mead continue to drop.

However, disaster is not inevitable. The multi-state, bi-national agreement to send water back to the Colorado River Delta last spring, for the first time in 30 years, demonstrates that those who manage the river are capable of improbable feats.

Many of the same minds that negotiated the deal that provided water for the delta are working intensely to find ways to keep Mead and Powell functioning and to keep the region’s cities, farms and environment intact. There seems to be both a growing sense of urgency and an increasingly cooperative spirit to these efforts.

Not long ago, when I heard Colorado officials and water managers discuss the overuse of water in the Colorado River Basin, they made it clear that this was mostly a problem for California, Arizona and Nevada — and that Colorado was still intent on developing its full legal share. That tune hasn’t exactly changed, but more cooperative efforts have moved into the foreground.

Most recently, the Central Arizona Project, Denver Water, The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California and Southern Nevada Water Authority announced that they will team up with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to provide $11 million for pilot conservation projects to boost levels in Powell and Mead.

Cooperation is crossing constituencies as well as Upper – Lower basin divisions. The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel recently reported that Denver Water, the Colorado River District, the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association, the Colorado Farm Bureau, the Southwestern Water Conservation District, the Nature Conservancy and Trout Unlimited are working together to explore ways to use some of that $11 million to test “temporary, voluntary and fully compensated” conservation strategies.

Even within Colorado, some of the conflict between West Slopers and Front Rangers over additional transmountain diversions could be softening. A recent “conceptual agreement” released by Colorado’s Inter-basin Compact Committee, which includes representatives from all the state’s river basins, outlines how additional Colorado River water could be sent East “under the right circumstances.” Central to the draft agreement is the recognition by East Slope entities that a new transmountain diversion may not be able to deliver water every year and must be used along with non-West Slope sources of water.

These shifts in tone seem to indicate a coming-to-terms with the fact that Colorado River Basin water supplies are limited, and that everyone who relies on them has a stake in finding ways for all to live within those limits. What remains to be seen is whether we can adapt quickly enough to keep ahead of crisis. Don’t stop praying for snow just yet.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.


“We’re still bringing water through the Boustead Tunnel. It’s running at twice of average” — Roy Vaughan #COdrought

August 12, 2014

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Summer rains have prolonged river flows in Southern Colorado beyond anyone’s expectations this year.

It’s been great for rafting on the Upper Arkansas River, a blessing for farmers and helped to replenish reservoir levels after years of drought.

“We’re seeing an increase in private boaters,” said Stew Pappenfort, lead ranger for the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area. “A lot have taken up kayaking or canoeing after going on a commercial outing.”

Caution was needed during the very high flows that occurred earlier this year, he added. There have been 11 deaths on the upper portion of the river, including seven drownings from boating accidents and one medical emergency.

Flows above Canon City remained above 1,000 cubic feet per second Friday, thanks to both wet conditions and releases to make even more space for imports in Turquoise and Twin Lakes in Lake County, near the headwaters of the Arkansas River.

“We’re still bringing water through the Boustead Tunnel. It’s running at twice of average,” said Roy Vaughan, manager of the Fryingpan- Arkansas Project for the Bureau of Reclamation.

The Boustead Tunnel brings water from the Roaring Fork watershed into Turquoise Lake.

So far, nearly 80,000 acre-feet (26 billion gallons) of water has been brought over, which is about 25 percent more than Reclamation forecast in June. Snowpack was about 25 percent above the median this year in Colorado’s central mountains. But regular summer rains, missing in 2012 and 2013, have boosted flows to more normal levels, Vaughan added.

For farmers, the wet conditions are welcome.

“We were dry early,” said Dale Mauch, who farms near Lamar. The Fort Lyon Canal has had 16 runs of water so far this year, compared with 12 total in 2013 and just seven in 2012. “We had a slow start, because it had been so dry, but it picked up in mid-June. We ran out of snow water on July 4, but then it started raining. You need rain. It really makes a difference.”


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.


Another transmountain diversion for the Front Range? #COWaterPlan

August 9, 2014
Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer's office

Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer’s office

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

The nascent Colorado Water Plan has begun to materialize in the form of draft implementation plans for each of the state’s eight largest river basins. And Front Range interests are once again looking toward the Colorado River to cushion water demand in the face of rising populations and interstate water obligations on the other side of the divide…

Each roundtable released its draft plan last week, and the joint draft plan from the South Platte and Metro roundtables, which includes the Denver Metro Area, identifies new Colorado River water supplies as one of the “four legs of the stool” to address water needs in the South Platte River Basin.

The draft plan cites a growing population in the South Platte River Basin and obligations to send water to other states as major factors that justify additional trans-mountain diversion.

As of yet, the South Platte and Metro roundtables haven’t established just how much extra water it would need to divert from the Colorado River.

“There’s a lot of speculation out there from different folks, but I think the basin plan was very deliberate not to put a number to it because it really seemed to stall the conversation,” said Sean Cronin, the chair for the South Platte Roundtable. “It really felt like it was more prudent that we ought to be having a discussion about additional supplies, and we ought to be having a discussion about what those additional supplies would look like.”

The South Platte and Metro roundtables saw that the gap between water supplies and water demands on the West Slope left room for additional diversions, Cronin said. Additional diversions would also be limited to wet years, when more water is available.

“In the end, it really wasn’t a matter of how much water,” Cronin said. “It was simply a matter of do we want to pursue this idea for the greater good for Colorado.”

But the Colorado River Basin Roundtable’s draft plan doesn’t view its resources as expendable.

“We think that a new project should be the last thing that’s sought in that there still might not be enough resources or water to make that viable,” said Jim Pokrandt, chair of the Colorado River Basin Roundtable. “We base that on the fact that the we are already big donors of water to the Front Range.”[...]

But as Mark Koleber, chair of the Metro Roundtable, explained, Denver Water doesn’t supply all of the Denver-Metro area and outlying parts of the South Platte River Basin.

“The metro area is much larger than that outside of the Denver water system,” Kobeler said. “So what might be provided by the Moffat-Gross expansion wouldn’t necessarily go to areas outside of the Denver Water service area unless they have a contract for it.”

This means another entity could seek permitting for a transmountain diversion project from the Colorado River, which wouldn’t fall under the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement.

But Pokrandt said any additional diversions to the South Platte, in theory, would have to come from other basins like the Yampa or the Gunnison.

“Some new big transmountain diversion would probably have to go somewhere else,” Pokrandt said. “It would have to go somewhere else that’s not hard hit.”[...]

The draft basin implementation plan issued from the Colorado River Basin Roundtable has found that additional transmountain diversion would damage agriculture and degrade environmental conditions in the Colorado River basin.

“There’s already so much water taken out of the headwaters that we don’t think that there’s any more water to give without severe economic and environmental degradation,” Pokrandt said…

Each roundtable will submit its final plan to the Colorado Water Conservation Board in April 2015. The board will submit the final state water plan to the governor in December 2015.

For more information on each roundtable’s draft plan, visit http://coloradowaterplan.com.

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


Southern Delivery System: Pueblo county firms net $65 million in orders during construction

August 7, 2014
Southern Delivery System route map -- Graphic / Reclamation

Southern Delivery System route map — Graphic / Reclamation

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The estimated construction cost of the Southern Delivery System, a water pipeline from Pueblo Dam to Colorado Springs, has been lowered to $841 million, about $145 million less than earlier estimates.

“It’s our responsibility to manage project costs as closely as possible to protect the investment being made by the SDS partner communities,” said Janet Rummel, spokeswoman for Colorado Springs Utilities.

The timing of SDS construction saved money primarily because of lower interest rates and lower pricing for materials and services, she said.

“Competitive bidding has allowed more than 100 Pueblo County-based businesses to benefit from $65 million in SDS spending so far,” Rummel said.

Although most of the benefit from SDS goes to Colorado Springs, Pueblo West, Security and Fountain also are SDS partners.

The pipeline has a capacity of 96 million gallons per day, with 78 mgd going to El Paso County.

Pueblo West will increase its capacity by 18 mgd through a connection to the newly constructed north outlet works.

Its current connection at the south outlet delivers 12 mgd — just above the metro district’s peak-day delivery. The outlet is shared by the Pueblo Board of Water Works and the Fountain Valley Authority. It also will be the hookup for the Arkansas Valley Conduit.

Pueblo West has paid $6.5 million for construction of its SDS connection, and estimates it will have paid a net price of $6.7 million — when all bills and refunds are totaled — by 2017.

The money came from reserves, said Jack Johnston, metro district manager.

“We have cash-funded the project out of reserves that were collected primarily during the growth years,” Johnston said. “They were fees that were set aside to help build the reserves to do capital projects.”

Pueblo West got some of the SDS savings, but just for the construction nearest the dam, where its 36-inch-diameter connection splits off from the 66-inch-diameter line that runs 50 miles north.

“Whatever savings were realized in building the north outlet works were passed on to us,” Johnston said.

Pueblo West had been negotiating an agreement to turn on SDS ahead of schedule, since its spur from the dam will be ready for use ahead of the rest of the project.

However, the board last month delayed action on a draft agreement that could allow early turn-on of SDS. If no agreement is reached, the startup would be whenever Colorado Springs gets the go-ahead from Pueblo County to turn on SDS, expected in 2016.

Colorado Springs must meet Pueblo County’s 1041 permit conditions in order to start SDS.

Those conditions include $50 million in payments, plus interest, to the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District; $15 million for road rehabilitation in Pueblo West; and $2.2 million for Fountain Creek dredging in Pueblo. All of those payments are included in the $841 million construction cost.

Colorado Springs also will pay $75 million for wastewater system improvements by 2024 within the city under the 1041 permit, but that cost is not included in the estimate.

More Southern Delivery System 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


Northern Water is increasing rates to stop the drain on cash reserves

August 3, 2014
Colorado-Big Thompson Project Map via Northern Water

Colorado-Big Thompson Project Map via Northern Water

From the North Forty News (Jeff Thomas):

Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District moved to triple the yearly assessment for agricultural users by 2018, beginning with a 9 percent increase this year, though North Poudre Irrigation Co. users will be largely unaffected.

“It’s a fairly significant increase for agricultural users,” said Northern spokesman Brian Werner. “But we’ve been dipping into our reserves the last couple of years, and the board felt that we had to take a more fiscally responsible path.”

The Northern board in June set the 2015 assessment for a per acre-foot unit of Colorado Big-Thompson water at $30.50 for municipal and industrial users, up from $28, and $10.90 for agricultural users, up from $10. The board also approved a plan in which the rates will rise in 2018 to $53.10 for municipal and industrial and $30.20 for farmers.

The increase does not affect subject-to-change contracts or fixed-rate contracts, established between the creation of the water district in 1937 and 1959, when the district went to open rates. Today only one third of the district’s shares have a fixed-rate contract, which pay only a $1.50 a year assessment, but that includes all 40,000 C-BT shares owned by North Poudre Irrigation Company.

“We’ve really wrestled with these fixed-rate contracts,” Werner said, noting that while attorneys have been asked to take a long look at whether they could be changed, some fixed-rate contract holders have already threatened suit if the board takes such action.

At any rate, the hit on agriculture changes a long-held emphasis at Northern Water of trying not to price farmers and ranchers out of the market.

“We’ve always been focused on ability to pay, but now we are moving to more cost-of-service,” Werner said, noting the board attempted to come somewhere in between. “More than two thirds of our shares are now owned by municipal and industrial users, and they are yelling about why they are taking the brunt of the costs.”

Taking into consideration only the assessment cost, Werner said, the water is fairly inexpensive for agriculture, moving from about 6 cents per 1,000 gallons to about 16 cents through 2018. But after next year, the steep incline begins for farmers and ranchers, as in 2016 the rate will increase 61 percent, followed by a 61 percent raise in 2017.

And that may be just the tip of the iceberg, as the district’s future plans reveal a rate change through 2023 in which municipal and industrial users could be assessed more than $100 per acre foot and agriculture, $80…

For Colorado agriculture, however, the fastest growing cost is most probably water. A share of C-BT, with an average yield of 0.7 acre feet, is now selling for between $20,000 and $25,000, compared to $9,500 in January 2013, Werner said.

More Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District coverage here.


“It was a complete defeat for the Western Slope” — Pitkin County Attorney John Ely

August 3, 2014

Busk-Ivanhoe system diversions

Busk-Ivanhoe system diversions


From the Aspen Daily News (Brent Gardner-Smith):

Pitkin County and the Colorado River District are planning to appeal a judge’s ruling that gives the city of Aurora the right to use water from the upper Fryingpan River basin for municipal purposes, without a penalty for 23 years of “unlawful” water use.

“It was a complete defeat for the Western Slope,” Pitkin County Attorney John Ely said of the order issued on May 27 by Larry C. Schwartz, a state water court judge in Pueblo.

As it stands today, the court’s ruling means Aurora can retain the 1928 priority date on its full right to divert 2,400 acre-feet a year through the Busk-Ivanhoe tunnel for municipal instead of irrigation purposes. Over 60 years, Aurora can divert 144,960 acre-feet under the right.

Pitkin County and other Western Slope entities wanted the court to reduce the scope of Aurora’s water right, as the Front Range city has been using the water from the Busk-Ivanhoe system for municipal purposes, without a decree, since 1987.

The “West Slope Opposers,” as the court called them, also argued that the court should consider that Aurora was also storing water on the East Slope without an explicit right to do so, which they felt constituted an “expansion” of its water rights.

The board of the River District agreed on July 15 to appeal the judge’s ruling, while the Pitkin County commissioners agreed shortly after the May ruling. Ely said he understands the Colorado State Engineer’s Office also plans to appeal.

Pitkin County has spent $247,500 on the Busk-Ivanhoe water case so far, and using money from the county’s Healthy Rivers and Streams fund to pay for outside water attorneys.

Other parties from the Western Slope in the case are Eagle County, Basalt Water Conservancy District, Grand Valley Water Users Association, Orchard Mesa Irrigation District and the Ute Water Conservancy District. Trout Unlimited is also a party to the case, which is 09CW142 in Water Division 2.

Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer's office

Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer’s office

Transbasin water

Since 1928, about 5,000 acre-feet of water a year has been diverted from Ivanhoe, Lyle, Hidden Lake and Pan creeks, headwater streams of the Fryingpan River.

The water is sent from Ivanhoe Reservoir to Busk Creek through a pipe in the Busk-Ivanhoe tunnel, first built as a railroad tunnel in the late 1880s. From Busk Creek, the water flows to Turquoise Reservoir and the Arkansas River, and eventually reaches Aurora and Pueblo.

The Pueblo Board of Water Works owns the right to half of the water diverted through Busk-Ivanhoe tunnel, and in 1993 it changed the use of its water right from irrigation to municipal.

In 1987, Aurora bought the other half of Busk-Ivanhoe water and started using its half of the water for municipal purposes. But it didn’t come in for a change-of-use decree from water court until 2009.

Aurora’s 2009 application received 35 statements of opposition and as is common in water court, opponents were winnowed down to a core group. Many cases are settled before trial, but this case went to a five-day trial in July 2013.

Judge Schwartz’s subsequent ruling in May established the parameters of how a new decree for Aurora’s water should read, and the draft decree is now being prepared, Ely said. Once the proposed decree is filed with the court, it will trigger the appeal period in the case. Appeals in water court cases go directly to the Colorado Supreme Court.

Greg Baker, the manager of public relations for Aurora Water, was contacted early Friday afternoon for comment. He said officials were in various meetings throughout the day, and they couldn’t be reached by deadline.

Busk-Ivanhoe tunnel entrance

Busk-Ivanhoe tunnel entrance

“Zero” years

Ely said Pitkin County is primarily concerned about the judge’s decision not to take into account the 23 years that Aurora used water for undecreed purposes, i.e.,, municipal instead of irrigation.

Ely said it is a “fundamental” part of Colorado water law that non-use diminishes the scope of your water right when you go to change it, and it appears Aurora is getting “special treatment” because the water right is a transmountain diversion.

He said that when determining the “historic consumptive use” of a water right — which is what can legally be changed to another use — it is common practice for the court to reduce the scope of a water right by averaging in any years of “zero” or non-use. And undecreed uses typically count as “zero” years.

“But what the court said in this case said was, ‘We’re just not going to look at those years’ of zero use,” Ely said.

Judge Schwartz decided that the period from 1928 to 1986 — before Aurora started using the water — was the best “representative period” to use to determine how much water Aurora had been putting to proper use.

“The representative study period to be utilized should be based on a period of time that properly measures actual decreed beneficial use, and that excludes undecreed uses,” Schwartz concluded.

“The use of zeros during the years of undecreed use would permanently punish (Aurora) for the undecreed use after 1987,” Schwartz also wrote. “This court does not view a change application case as a means to permanently punish a water user for undecreed use.”

In regard to the issue of undecreed storage, the judge looked at the history of the water right, and found that while the original decree from 1928 may have been silent on the subject of East Slope storage, it was always part of the plan by the water developers to store water in a reservoir on the East Slope.

“West Slope Opposers assert that the storage of the Busk-Ivanhoe water in the Arkansas River Basin is an ‘expansion’ of use,” Schwartz wrote. “Storage of the Busk-Ivanhoe water in the Arkansas River Basin is not an expansion. Said storage has always been a part of the water right.”

Ely said the Colorado River District is more concerned about the storage issue than Pitkin County is. However, the county does feel the judge’s overall response to Aurora’s request to change its water right was faulty.

“We knew they were going to be able to change their use, it was just a question of how much,” Ely said. “And it was a question if the Front Range would be held to the same standard as everybody else, in terms of using their water consistent with a decree, or if they get some kind of special treatment for being a transbasin diversion. The judge, and his order, found that they should get some kind of special treatment, and we think that runs contrary to the law.”

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism and the Aspen Daily News are collaborating on the coverage of land and water in Pitkin County. More at http://www.aspen
journalism.org.

More water law coverage here.


“Want an expert overview on the #COWaterPlan?” — @ConservationCO/@wradv #ColoradoRiver

August 2, 2014

The latest newsletter from the Water Center at Colorado Mesa University is hot off the presses #ColoradoRiver #COWaterPlan

August 2, 2014

Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer's office

Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer’s office


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

“CONCEPTUAL AGREEMENT” ON FUTURE TRANSMOUNTAIN DIVERSIONS RELEASED
Colorado’s Inter-basin Compact Committee has released a draft conceptual agreement on how additional Colorado River water could be sent East “under the right circumstances.” Central to the draft agreement, which is being circulated for comment, is that the East Slope recognizes that a new transmountain diversion may not be able to deliver water every year and must be used along with back-up non-West Slope sources of water.

The document is available here, and includes an annotated bibliography that summarizes many of the studies, pilot projects and white papers that have been developed over years of debate over how to meet Colorado’s future water needs. Feedback can be submitted via the Colorado’s Water Plan website, which contains draft chapters and information on the individual basin plans that were due at the end of July. The CO legislature’s Water Resources Review Committee is also holding hearings on the plan around the state. See the schedule here.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here and 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.


Aspinall Unit operations update: 1,000 cfs in Black Canyon

July 29, 2014

From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

Releases from Crystal Dam will be reduced from 2000 cfs to 1900 cfs on Monday, July 28th at 10:00 AM. Flows in the lower Gunnison River are currently above the baseflow target of 1500 cfs. The weather forecast calls for rain in the basin over the next few days and the river forecast shows flows continuing to increase during this time.

Pursuant to the Aspinall Unit Operations Record of Decision (ROD), the flow target in the lower Gunnison River, as measured at the Whitewater gage, is 1500 cfs for August.

Currently, diversions into the Gunnison Tunnel are 1100 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon are around 1000 cfs. After this release change Gunnison Tunnel diversions will still be 1100 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon should be around 900 cfs. Current flow information is obtained from provisional data that may undergo revision subsequent to review.

More Aspinall Unit coverage here.


“I have been proud to work for years to ensure the [support for] the Arkansas Valley Conduit” — Sen. Mark Udall

July 25, 2014
Arkansas Valley Conduit Comanche North route via Reclamation

Arkansas Valley Conduit Comanche North route via Reclamation

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A draft federal energy and water funding bill includes an additional $90 million for projects such as the Arkansas Valley Conduit, U.S. Sens. Michael Bennet and Mark Udall, both Democrats, said Thursday. The Senate appropriations committee approved the bill, which contains a provision supported by both senators that explicitly makes data collection and design work eligible for funding through these accounts. It will help ensure the Arkansas Valley Conduit is eligible for these funds and sends a clear signal to the Bureau of Reclamation that the conduit is a priority project.

The board of the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, conduit sponsor, was dismayed earlier this year when it learned only $500,000 was budgeted for the conduit next year. It is hoping to get at least $3 million for continuing data and design tasks that will lead to construction of the $400 million conduit.

The conduit is the final piece of the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project, authorized in 1962. When complete, the 130-mile pipeline will provide clean drinking water to 50,000 people in 40 communities east of Pueblo.

“For more than five decades, folks in Southeastern Colorado have been waiting for the federal government to fulfill its promise to build the Arkansas Valley Conduit.

That’s far too long for these communities to wait for a reliable source of clean drinking water,” Bennet said.

“I have been proud to work for years to ensure the federal government supports the Arkansas Valley Conduit. This funding brings the people of Southeastern Colorado one step closer to having a clean, safe and reliable source of water,” Udall said.

More Arkansas Valley Conduit funding here and here.


SDS construction reaches Colorado Springs ahead of schedule and under budget — The Colorado Springs Gazette

July 24, 2014
Southern Delivery System route map -- Graphic / Reclamation

Southern Delivery System route map — Graphic / Reclamation

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Emily Donovan):

Huge pipes being tunneled underground near the intersection of Powers Boulevard and Constitution Avenue is the first big sign after almost two decades of work to increase the water available to the Colorado Springs area by a third…

Pipeline construction at the busy intersection is ahead of schedule, expected to be complete in September rather than November, said SDS spokesperson Janet Rummel…

A $125 million facility that will be able to process 50 million gallons of water a day, the treatment plant on the east side of Colorado Springs is halfway constructed, also ahead of schedule. Construction began in March 2013 and will be finished in fall of 2015. The plant is expected to put out drinking water in April 2016…

SDS construction is estimated to cost $847 million – $147 million less than the original estimation in 2009.

Rummel said money was saved by asking engineers to make designs that would be cost-effective without damaging drinking water quality, like keeping every part of the water treatment plant under the same roof instead of separate buildings.

This means SDS will cause less of a utilities rate increase for CSU customers than originally expected in 2009…

“This is the future of Colorado Springs,” said Jay Hardison, CSU water treatment plant project manager.

More Southern Delivery System coverage here and here.


East West Divide Apparent At Colorado Water Meeting #COWaterPlan

July 23, 2014

Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer's office

Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer’s office


From KUNC (Stephanie Paige Ogburn):

Water managers are taking the next steps in formulating a statewide water plan, following a meeting where representatives from Colorado’s eight water basins met and presented drafts of their individual plans.

There have been longstanding tensions between the state’s Western side and the Front Range over water transfers, and those differences came through in some of the presentations.

“We are already a major donor of water to the Front Range of Colorado,” said Jim Pokrandt, a representative from the Colorado River District, which manages water for six counties in that basin on the Western Slope.

Sean Cronin, executive director of the St. Vrain and Left Hand Water Conservancy District, represents the South Platte and Metro interests in the state water plan discussions. In his presentation, Cronin pointed out the Front Range will likely need additional sources of water from the Colorado River.

“The South Platte Basin is in favor of further development of Colorado’s [Colorado River] entitlement,” Cronin said.

The difference between Pokrandt’s western perspective and Cronin’s eastern one has been in existence for decades, say water experts…

The Western Slope’s Pokrandt said that while he appreciates existing conservation efforts from certain entities like Denver Water, Aurora, and Colorado Springs, the Front Range could do a lot more overall to use its water more efficiently.

“That’s going to include addressing your urban conservation, how we landscape, appliances and things that we have in our house. And Colorado hasn’t totally embraced that,” he said.

From the metropolitan side, Cronin said he saw the South Platte as a “model throughout the state” from a conservation standpoint.

“We agree, we feel there can be more done in the way of conservation. Where it starts to get controversial is to what degree.”

Cronin said the Metro/South Platte roundtable favored the preservation of local control over water, shying away from any measures that might force municipalities to use water in certain ways.

Another big focus for the South Platte is keeping water in agriculture, rather than doing what is called “buy and dry,” allowing farmland to go dry while the water is used in cities.

On the flip side, the desire to keep water in agriculture in the state’s eastern side is part of what drives the need for more transfers from the west, noted Pokrandt.

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


Snowmass: Colorado Water Congress summer meeting “Rallying Our Water Community” August 20-22

July 23, 2014
Westin Snowmass Resort

Westin Snowmass Resort

From email from the Colorado Water Congress (Doug Kemper):

Excitement continues to build for our 2014 Summer Conference and Membership Meeting. It will be held at the Westin Snowmass Resort, August 20-22. Our theme this year is “Rallying Our Water Community.” To register please visit: Conference Registration.

We will know in a couple of weeks if enough signatures have been gathered to place Initiative 89, Local Government Regulation of the Environment, on the 2014 Ballot. Whether it does or not, the water community will need to develop a greater public presence on these issues. Our conference is designed to help develop your advocacy skills and knowledge base.

We want to ensure we are focused on our member’s priorities when the Water Congress Board sets our priorities this fall. Summer Conference activities are designed to give you the opportunity to provide direct input to our leadership. We hope that you will take this chance to engage with us.

Our exciting program will again include a session with the Water Resources Review Committee. Additional honored guests include both Republican and Democratic candidates for the U.S. Senate, U.S. House Third District, and Attorney General. Don’t miss this chance to catch up with colleagues and meet new community members during our POND networking activities.

Highlights of our unique program sessions include:

Strategies for Finding Your Voice
Do you have adequate tools to advocate on behalf of Colorado’s water community? Practice conveying your message with other attendees and workshop leaders.

Senator Udall, Congressman Gardner, Congressman Tipton, and Former State Senator Tapia
We are pleased to host candidates for some of our top political offices as they address issues of keen importance to Colorado’s water community.

Costs of Doing the Right Thing
As we plan for our water allocation in the future, we rarely examine the full social and economic costs, including burdens on individual ratepayers. This panel will examine those costs, along with a brief overview of other economic challenges currently faced by Colorado water providers.

Mono Lake
For 100 years, the L.A. Aqueduct has been the source of legend and controversy. Today, drought imperils much of California’s water supply. How is Los Angeles handling the drought within the confines of a Public Trust Doctrine?

Mitigation for Transbasin Diversion
Past Aspinall Water Leaders will discuss historic transbasin water projects and their mitigation. What can we learn from the past?

We are looking forward to seeing you in Snowmass, August 20-22. Additional conference information and registration can be found at: Conference Information.

More education coverage here.


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

July 21, 2014

From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Ryan Maye Handy):

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

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

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

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

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


Northern Water opts for gradual rate increase — Fort Collins Coloradoan

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

Colorado-Big Thompson Project Map via Northern Water

From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Ryan Maye Handy):

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

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

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

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

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

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

From the Loveland Reporter-Herald (Jessica Maher):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More Colorado-Big Thompson Project coverage here.


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

July 16, 2014


From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Jim Pokrandt):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jim Pokrandt is Colorado Basin Roundtable Chair.

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


Pueblo Board of Water Works board meeting recap

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

Colorado Springs circa 1910 via GhostDepot.com

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More Pueblo Board of Water Works coverage here.


Northern Water board approves rate increase #ColoradoRiver

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

Colorado-Big Thompson Project east slope facilities

From The Greeley Tribune (Eric Brown):

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

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

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

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

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

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

And as supplies have tightened, prices have skyrocketed.

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

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

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

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

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

More Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District coverage here.


Where our water comes from — Fort Collins Coloradoan

July 14, 2014

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

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


From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Ryan Maye Handy):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE WESTERN SLOPE

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

LAKE GRANBY

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

HORSETOOTH RESERVOIR

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

THE CACHE LA POUDRE RIVER

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

CARTER LAKE

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

FORT COLLINS

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

More infrastructure coverage here.


County commissioners urge participation in developing the #COWaterPlan

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

Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer’s office

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From the Vail Daily (Melanie Wong):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here


Say hello to @Northern_Water #ColoradoRiver

July 12, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District coverage here.


Conservation front and center in Broomfield

July 7, 2014

broomfield

From the Enterprise Broomfield News:

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

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

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

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

More conservation coverage here.


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

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

Drought affected Lake Mead via the Mountain Town News

From Circle of Blue (Brett Walton):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.


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

July 2, 2014

Morning Glory spillway via the USBR

Morning Glory spillway via the USBR


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

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

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

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

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

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

More Denver Water coverage here.


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

June 30, 2014

Smuggler Mine back in the day via GregRulon.com

Smuggler Mine back in the day via GregRulon.com


From the Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Last year, it was 164 gallons per capita daily.

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

More Roaring Fork River watershed coverage here.


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

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

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

From The Colorado Springs Business Journal (John Hazlehurst):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Perhaps not…

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

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

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

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

Use it or lose it.

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

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

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

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

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

More Southern Delivery System coverage here and here.


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

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

Southern Delivery System route map — Graphic / Reclamation

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More Southern Delivery System coverage here.


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.

View original 297 more words


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.

View original 500 more words


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.


Pueblo West Utilities Board members and staff are trying to make sense of SDS MOU with Colorado Springs

June 18, 2014
Pueblo West

Pueblo West

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Pueblo West is pondering whether it even needs to turn on Southern Delivery System early after the metro district board waded through the process that led up to a controversial memorandum of understanding that would allow that to happen. The MOU apparently represents years of complex negotiations between Colorado Springs attorneys.

Three board members, Chairman Lew Quigley, Mark Carmel and Judy Leonard, voted on May 27 to talk about the MOU in open session, rather than behind closed doors.

But at Tuesday’s metro board meeting — devoted solely to water issues — board members and staff wrangled over what the document means and how it should be drafted.

The MOU could pave the way for Pueblo West to begin using a new 36-inch pipeline from the north outlet on Pueblo Dam ahead of schedule. It’s needed because Pueblo West is reaching the limits of its current delivery line, and to provide redundancy if anything should happen to its sole supply source, said Manager Jack Johnston. Johnston said the MOU was merely conceptual, and the argued that details of it needed to be explained in executive session.

“This is really our bus to drive,” Johnston said.

Carmel countered that a more open discussion in public among Pueblo West, Colorado Springs needed.

Pueblo County commissioners and attorneys objected to details of the agreement which required Pueblo West to obtain approval of 1041 permit conditions, saying Colorado Springs is attempting to bully the metro district.

“This was presented to me as an ultimatum. … I suspect this new board will go back to the drawing board to give you a new direction,” Carmel said. He wanted to delay action until a full board could act — board member Jerry Martin was not at Tuesday’s meeting.

Quigley objected to discussing the agreement in executive said that a meeting behind closed doors was needed to explain how the agreement related to several other lawsuits in order to protect Pueblo West’s legal position.

Board member Barbara Bernard favored discussing such an agreement in executive session if necessary.

“Yes, I want to know how we got to this point,” she said. “I need as much counsel as we can have.”

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Colorado Springs Utilities was trying to make sure the clock wouldn’t start ticking if Pueblo West got water early under a controversial agreement.

That’s how Mark Pifher, permit manager for Southern Delivery System, explained the situation Wednesday to the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District during his update on SDS progress.

The agreement was to have been discussed in executive session on May 27 by the Pueblo West Metropolitan District, but newly elected board member Mark Carmel objected to talking about it behind closed doors, claiming the agreement would hold Pueblo West “hostage.”

The issue escalated when Pueblo County commissioners and attorneys claimed Colorado Springs was using bully tactics to pressure Pueblo West into gaining county approval of 1041 permit conditions from the county.

“Pueblo West wanted delivery of the water as soon as possible,” Pifher said. “The concern we had was that if the water is delivered to Pueblo West, will all the other conditions be expedited?”

Among those conditions is the beginning of $50 million payments to the Fountain Creek District and other Fountain Creek issues. Utilities and the Lower Ark have been in negotiations over Fountain Creek issues for the past nine years.

“What we’re asking is that Pueblo West go to the commissioners so those other conditions will not be triggered,” Pifher said.

The agreement also contained a provision that would require Pueblo West to stop using the new pipeline if Colorado Springs did not meet SDS conditions.

On Tuesday, the Pueblo West board discussed the agreement with Manager Jack Johnston and attorney Harley Gifford.

Carmel and board President Lew Quigley wanted an open discussion of the agreement. Johnston said it had been negotiated over several years by staff and attorneys. Gifford said it is tied to other legal issues that need to be discussed in executive session.

The 36-inch water line from the north outlet is nearly complete and would provide redundancy for the existing 24-inch line Pueblo West has connected to the south outlet. The new line would provide up to 18 million gallons per day in addition to the 12-million-gallon capacity of the existing line.

More Southern Delivery System coverage here and here.


Reclamation Announces Public Meeting on Recreation at Lake Nighthorse

June 15, 2014

Lake Nighthorse via the USBR

Lake Nighthorse via the USBR


Here’s the release from Reclamation (Justyn Hock)

Reclamation will hold a public meeting on Wednesday, June 18, 2014 from 5 pm to 7 pm on recreation at Lake Nighthorse, part of the Animas-La Plata Project. The meeting will be at the Durango Community Recreation Center, 2700 Main Avenue, in the Eolus and Sunlight Meeting Rooms. Reclamation will provide a brief presentation, and the public will be able to ask questions and look at maps and plans about recreation at Lake Nighthorse.
Currently, Reclamation is working with all Animas-La Plata Project partners and stakeholders to reach consensus regarding development and management of recreation at Lake Nighthorse. We believe we are nearing an agreement to integrate recreation into the project, while ensuring compatibility with the primary purposes of the project for municipal and industrial water supply.

We are conducting regular meetings with partners and stakeholders to discuss and resolve a broad range of issues concerning water quality, environmental protection, and tribal trust responsibilities of the United States government. Many issues have been resolved and Reclamation continues to work on remaining issues, including working closely with Association members to ensure protection of cultural resources and annexation of project lands by the city of Durango for administration of recreation and law enforcement purposes.

More Animas-La Plata Project 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…

View original 375 more words


“This proposed MOU is a heavy-handed tactic by [Colorado Springs Utilities]” — Ray Petros

June 3, 2014
Pueblo West

Pueblo West

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Pueblo County officials believe Colorado Springs Utilities is trying to pressure Pueblo West for help in meeting 1041 permit requirements for the Southern Delivery System. After obtaining a copy of a draft memorandum of understanding that was to be considered by the Pueblo West metro board in executive session last month, two commissioners and the county’s water attorney say it’s the same type of coercion Utilities tried to exert on the county earlier.

“It’s bully tactics. I think it’s terrible and totally inappropriate,” said Terry Hart, chairman of the county commissioners. “This is the second time in a couple of months where Utilities is trying to negotiate approval of 1041 conditions. In this case, it pits Pueblo West against Pueblo County, when there’s no good reason to do it.”

Commissioner Sal Pace agreed: “Whether Pueblo West has access to its own water has nothing to do with conditions on Fountain Creek.”

Water attorney Ray Petros was equally blunt: “This proposed MOU is a heavy-handed tactic by Utilities to withhold water deliveries to Pueblo West as a lever against the county in the event the county had to consid­er suspending the SDS permit.”

Pueblo West has not approved the MOU, and Jack Johnston, the metro district manager, portrayed it as a working document “at the staff and attorney level.”

However, newly elected Pueblo West board member Mark Carmel objected at his first official meeting to considering the deal in executive session. He was backed by Chairman Lew Quigley and board member Judy Leonard.

Johnston said a document for public consideration would be ready for discussion in open session, probably in mid-June.

But the document provided to The Chieftain by Carmel, and shared with the county, asks Pueblo West to get the county to sign off on several conditions of the 1041 permit before Pueblo West can turn on SDS.

Among other things, the agreement instructs Pueblo West to obtain written confirmation from Pueblo County that four politically charged conditions of the county’s 1041 permit have been met or “will not be triggered . . . by use of SDS facilities.”

Those conditions include the payment of $50 million to a special district for Fountain Creek flood control, the Pueblo Arkansas River flow program, the adaptive management scenario for Fountain Creek and Colorado Springs stormwater management. Each of those has led to complicated political negotiations or even court cases for Colorado Springs. Pueblo West has been in court with Pueblo County over the flow program.

Pueblo County ran into the same tactics when it asked Utilities to release interest money from the $50 million early to fund dam studies on Fountain Creek, Hart and Pace noted.

“In any event, holding Pueblo West hostage casts Springs’ Utilities as a bully,” Petros said. “It’s certainly counterproductive to a cooperative approach for addressing environmental mitigation of the SDS Project.”

More Southern Delivery System coverage here and here.


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.


Northwest Pipe Co. is major supplier for the Southern Delivery System #ColoradoRiver

May 23, 2014
Southern Delivery System construction celebration August 19, 2011 via The Pueblo Chieftain

Southern Delivery System construction celebration August 19, 2011 via The Pueblo Chieftain

From The Denver Post (Aldo Svaldi):

Orders at the Northwest Pipe Co. plant in Denver were drying up in 2010 when bid requests started coming for a massive water project linking the Pueblo Reservoir and Colorado Springs called the Southern Delivery System.

“The start of the SDS project couldn’t have come at a better time,” Northwest’s vice president of sales Eric Stokes said.

At a cost of $841 million, the water project is the largest the region has seen in decades. Starting in 2016, it will pipe water held in the Pueblo Reservoir to consumers in Colorado Springs, Pueblo West, Security and Fountain.

“This is our water security for many years to come, 50 years into the future,” said John Fredell, program director of the water services division for SDS.

Northwest Pipe’s Denver plant won almost all the contracts to supply 50 miles of steel pipe, and the company celebrated the completion of the last piece Thursday afternoon. Northwest produced 7,000 pieces of the pipeline, each averaging 50 feet in length and 66 inches in diameter. The orders allowed Northwest’s employment in Denver to grow from 116 full-time workers to more than 231 at the peak of manufacturing.

Of about $500 million spent so far on the project, $359 million has gone to 333 Colorado businesses, including more than 75 based in metro Denver, Fredell said.

Northwest Pipe alone received about $110 million, including $23 million spent on payroll. Given that the next closest competitor was in California, Stokes said Northwest had a distinct advantage.

“Proximity was part of it,” Fredell said.

Back in 1997, Northwest Pipe, which is based in Vancouver, Wash., acquired Thompson Pipe & Steel Co., a manufacturer with Denver roots going back to the late 1800s. For decades, Thompson built pipes in the Curtis Park area that continue to help move water across much of the state. Thompson moved its plant to a 45-acre facility at 6030 Washington St., where workers continued to convert steel coil arriving by rail car into water pipes shipped out on trucks.

Once formed, the pipes are pumped full of water and pressure-tested to ensure there are no leaks. They are moved into a cavernous ⅛ – mile-long warehouse where they are rotated rapidly while concrete is poured inside to make a lining designed to last for decades. In a third building, the pipes are primed, painted and prepared for shipping.

“It is nice to know you have finished on time,” said Jason Cheng, a welder from Westminster who joined Northwest in October to work on the SDS order.

Cheng and other workers lined up to sign the last piece of pipe, undeterred as the rain poured down Thursday afternoon. Their signatures, in white ink, quickly smeared down the bright-blue pipe.

“We want the water on the inside of the pipe, not the outside,” one person commented.

From the Denver Business Journal (Cathy Proctor):

Northwest Pipe, (Nasdaq: NWPX) is based in Vancouver, Washington. Its Denver manufacturing plant had a $110 million contract to build the project’s 50 miles of pipeline to carry the water. It was the biggest contract for materials under the project.

Northwest Pipe started making its 50-foot sections of pipe for the project, each section 66 inches in diameter, in 2011.
And the last pieces are now coming off the manufacturing line and awaiting a truck for transport to the project site.

“This is one of the largest programs that we’ve seen,” said John Moore, manager of Northwest Pipe’s manufacturing plant at 6030 N. Washington St. in north Denver.

During peak production, as many as 25 trucks a day left Northwest Pipe’s manufacturing facility.
Being in Denver meant trucking costs were less and Northwest Pipe could submit a more competitive bid for the project, Moore said.

And the project meant jobs for Northwest Pipe, which ramped up to 231 people during peak production, from a low of 116 people prior to work on the project, said John Moore, the plant manager. The company currently has 131 people on staff.
Northwest Pipe, which supplies pipes to carry water and waste water, has delivered pipes to other big water providers, including Denver Water and Aurora.

More Southern Delivery System coverage here.


Solving the supply gap problem #COWaterPlan

May 22, 2014
Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer's office

Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer’s office

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (James Hagadorn):

There is cause for concern because Colorado is growing. A lot. Which means more baths, more grass and more thirsty crops. Yet the Rockies’ runoff-capturing system is nearly all claimed. In some years there is some water left untapped in the system, but in drought years there isn’t enough.

Sometimes heavy floods help the system catch up by filling reservoirs that buffer demand. But multiple dry years or less-than-average snowpack years, coupled with steady population growth, means that the system is at its tipping point.

The days of prospecting for more Rocky Mountain water are essentially over. Thus, viable solutions include improving efficiency or “buy and dry” – a strategy employed by cities such as Aurora where water is taken from farmland and used to slake suburbs.

Within our water distribution system, there are minor efficiencies to be gained, including reducing evaporative water losses in canals and reservoirs and fixing leaking pipelines and tunnels. But these losses are not sizeable enough to satisfy future demand.

Fortunately, there are opportunities to improve our individual water usage efficiency. This is illustrated by the great variation in the amount of water used by like-kind Coloradans. For example, over the course of a year, Colorado Springs residents use about 100 gallons/day, whereas Denverites use about 85 and Fort Lovely residents use about 130. Yet in the same cities, there are folks with similar homes and lifestyles who use much less water.

Pumping, cleaning and maintaining water consumes lots of energy. And this costs money. To put things into perspective, our family uses between 4,000 gallons per month in the winter and 11,000 gallons per month in the summer. We pay as little as $2.58 per 1,000 gallons. In contrast, Colorado Springs and other Front Range communities pay more – $4 to $5 per 1,000 gallons. It could be worse, though. Los Angeles residents, who divert mountain and agricultural water just like we do, pay $6.31 per 1,000 gallons.

So as we look to the future, perhaps we ought to think about water in the context of energy and with an eye toward balancing economic and population growth with needs for water for farming, forests, wildlife, recreation and tourism.

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


Animas-La Plata project: Sens. Udall and Bennet pen letter to Reclamation asking for quicker opening of Lake Nighthorse to recreation

May 16, 2014
Lake Nighthorse first fill via The Durango Herald

Lake Nighthorse first fill via The Durango Herald

From The Durango Herald (Sarah Mueller):

The frustration surrounding Lake Nighthorse found a fresh voice Thursday as Sens. Mark Udall and Michael Bennet wrote to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation asking the agency to issue a plan for opening the reservoir for recreation soon. The letter says recreation on Lake Nighthorse could bring in up to $12 million each year to the local economy.

“The completed Lake Nighthorse reservoir is conveniently located two miles from downtown Durango and presents a significant opportunity for a new public amenity,” the two Democrats wrote.

The reservoir was filled in June 2011, but the parties involved, after years of talks, have yet to agree on major issues. However, bureau spokeswoman Justyn Hock said they seem to be close to finalizing the agreements. The agency plans a public meeting in June to update residents on negotiations.

“We feel like the end is in sight,” Hock said. “We’re getting really close to having an agreement in place.”

Lake Nighthorse is a reservoir with 1,500 surface acres created in Ridges Basin southwest of Durango by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to provide water for Native American tribes, cities and water districts in Colorado and New Mexico. Southwestern Water Conservation District owns the water rights. The water is allocated, but not owned, through project contracts to the Southern Ute Indian Tribe, the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, the Navajo Nation, the Animas-La Plata Conservancy District, the state of Colorado, the San Juan Water Commission and the La Plata Conservancy District. The entities formed the Animas-La Plata Operation, Maintenance and Replacement Association in 2009, which fronted money in anticipation of water purchases by the city of Durango and the Animas-La Plata Water Conservancy.

Calls to several Animas-La Plata Operation, Maintenance and Replacement Association stakeholders were not returned.

There are three agreements under negotiation: an annexation agreement, a lease agreement and memorandum of understanding.

The city of Durango has offered to operate the park but wants to annex the area to provide police protection. The Utes have said annexation is unacceptable. There’s been conflict about who should run the park and be involved in making decisions. The Utes also have said they must be able to exercise Brunot Treaty rights to hunt on ancestral land.

In a statement, the Southern Utes said important issues need to be addressed, including tribal treaty rights, protection of historic cultural resources, and operation of the project for the specific purposes for which it was built.

“We’re working with the tribes in particular to make sure that we’re protecting their cultural resources,” Hock said…

“While use of the lake for recreational purposes was contemplated during the reservoir planning process, it is not a specific project purpose,” said a Southern Ute Tribal Council statement from last year.
Irrigation was cut because of environmental problems. Southwestern Water Conservation District was awarded the water rights to the A-LP project in a 1966 State District Water Court decree that allowed irrigation and recreation as water uses.

“Unfortunately, the need to comply with applicable laws is not always well understood by those unfamiliar with these laws,” the Tribal Council statement said.

The reservoir was filled in June 2011 but stayed closed while those involved bickered and delayed. But Cathy Metz, parks and recreation director, also believes progress is being made. After the lease agreement is signed, an inspection station and decontamination area needs to be built. The Animas-La Plata Operation, Maintenance and Replacement Association received grant funding for the construction. The city also has received some grant funding from the state for some improvements to the park. The earliest it could open would be 2015.

More Animas-La Plata Project coverage here and here.


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…

View original 351 more words


The Southern Delivery System has been a long time coming

May 12, 2014
Southern Delivery System route map -- Graphic / Reclamation

Southern Delivery System route map — Graphic / Reclamation

Here’s part one of an in-depth look at the Southern Delivery System from John Hazlehurst writing for the Colorado Springs Business Journal. Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

Contending that the denial [of Homestake II] had been arbitrary and capricious, the two cities [Aurora and Colorado Springs] appealed the decision to the courts. In a comprehensive description of the city’s water system and possible future sources of supply given to City Council in 1991, CSU managers said that “extensive litigation is expected to continue.”

Denied by the Colorado Court of Appeals and the Colorado Supreme Court, the cities appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which declined to hear the case.

City officials were stunned. They couldn’t believe that a coalition of Western Slope “enviros” and ski towns had prevented them from developing water to which the city had an undisputed right. They had believed the Environmental Protection Agency’s 1990 decision to scuttle Denver’s proposed Two Forks Dam near Deckers on the South Platte River was an outlier, not a sign of things to come…

Slow to recognize that mountain communities now had the power to kill their water development plans, Utilities officials looked at another alternative. Instead of taking water directly from the wilderness area, the city proposed to build a dam on the mainstem of the Arkansas at Elephant Rock, a few miles upstream of Buena Vista.

A grassroots rebellion against the project was soon evident, as hand-lettered signs appeared along U.S. Highway 24, which parallels the Arkansas. The signs carried a simple message: “Don’t Let Colorado Springs Dam this River!”

It soon became clear that Chaffee County commissioners would not issue a construction permit for any such project, dooming it before the first planning documents were created…

If trans-mountain diversions or dams on the Arkansas were no longer feasible, that left a single alternative for developing the city’s water rights. CSU would have to let its water flow down to Pueblo Reservoir, construct a diversion structure on the dam, and pump it uphill to Colorado Springs.

It would be, water managers believed, the easiest project to build and permit.

“It was just a pipeline,” said CSU water resources manager Gary Bostrom, who has worked 35 years for Utilities. “What could go wrong?”[...]

“We didn’t really understand the importance of partnering with and involving the public in decision-making,” said [Gary Bostrom], “until the Southern Water Project.”[...]

The plan for the Southern Delivery System was presented to City Council in 1992. Among the material submitted to councilmembers was a comprehensive description of the city’s existing water system. Water managers made sure Council was aware of the importance of the task before them.

“The massive scope of this project,” CSU staff noted, “requires a very long lead time to allow for complexities of numerous permitting processes, land acquisition, litigation, design, financing and construction.”

Of all the variables, CSU managers and elected officials gave the least weight to those that may have been the most significant…

“We weren’t worried about hydrology,” said Bostrom. “The years between 1980 and 2000 were some of the wettest years on record. The water was there for the taking. Shortages on the Colorado weren’t part of the discussion.

“We knew about the Colorado River Water Compact of 1922 (which allocated Colorado River water between Mexico and the upper and lower basin states), but it wasn’t something we worried about.”

Then as now, 70 percent of the city’s water supply came from the Colorado River. SDS would tap the city’s rights on the Arkansas, diversifying the portfolio.

“We have to plan for growth,” said Bostrom. “That’s what history tells us. We know that it will be expensive, but the cost of not building a system well in advance of need would be much greater. People complained about the cost of the Blue River (trans-mountain diversion) project in the 1950s, but we wouldn’t have a city without it — we wouldn’t have the Air Force Academy.”

But even as the project moved slowly forward, the comfortable assumptions of a wet, prosperous future began to unravel.

“Exactly 15 years ago today (April 29, 1999),” said Bostrom, “we were in the middle of a flood — remember? We didn’t know it, but that was the day the drought began.”

More Southern Delivery System coverage here and here.


Grand County “State of the Rivers” meeting May 13 #ColoradoRiver

May 11, 2014
Historical Colorado River between Granby and Hot Sulphur Springs

Historical Colorado River between Granby and Hot Sulphur Springs

From the Sky-Hi Daily News:

Many claim that we are now living in a “new normal.” In fact, there is no “normal” when it comes to our rivers. In the last 12 months we have gone from heavy autumn rains, enjoyed abundant late-season snow and are now faced with earlier record river flows.

How are water managers reacting to this incredible variability? And what might we anticipate in the near future? There may seem to be plenty of water to satisfy for now, but how does this year’s supply affect longer-term needs? These questions will be the subject of a public outreach and education meeting sponsored by Grand County and the Colorado River District.

The public can learn more about this season’s outlook for river flows, reservoir levels, overall water yields and the status of the longer-term drought at this annual “State of the River” meeting set for 6 p.m. on Tuesday, May 13, at Mountain Parks Electric, 321 W. Agate Ave., Granby.

Water experts from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, Northern Water, Denver Water and the Colorado River District will present detailed information related to operations of area reservoirs and how they may affect river flows.

Lastly, Eric Kuhn, General Manager of the Colorado River District, will talk about Colorado’s effort to create a statewide water plan and western Colorado’s perspective on the questions of supply versus demand, the future of the Colorado River basin and other regional river basin issues.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.


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