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.

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

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

Denver Water’s collection system via the USACE EIS

From the Boulder Daily Camera (Charlie Brennan):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More Moffat Collection System Project coverage here and here.


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

June 18, 2014
Southern Water Supply Project

Southern Water Supply Project

From the Broomfield Enterprise (Megan Quinn):

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

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

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

More infrastructure coverage here.


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…

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“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.


#COWaterPlan: “We’ve gotten awfully good at taking water away from agriculture” — Eric Wilkinson #ColoradoRiver

May 11, 2014
Flood irrigation in the Arkansas Valley via Greg Hobbs

Flood irrigation in the Arkansas Valley via Greg Hobbs

From The Greeley Tribune (Eric Brown):

A northern Colorado water official expressed concern this week that talks of bringing more Western Slope water across the Continental Divide might take a backseat to other aspects of the long-term, comprehensive Colorado Water Plan.

The statewide water plan — put in motion by Gov. John Hickenlooper and expected to be complete in 2015 — takes into account all aspects of water use in the state, such as further conservation efforts and new water-sharing arrangements between cities and agriculture, among many other efforts aimed at avoiding the large water shortages the state is forecast to face by 2050.

A number of things have been agreed upon in the talks, but building new water-supply projects has long been a hot-button issue — particularly projects that would bring water from the Western Slope to Eastern Slope users.

Discussions Tuesday and Wednesday between representatives of all of Colorado’s river basins made limited progress on the topic.

During the meeting, Eric Wilkinson, general manager of the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District in Berthoud, expressed concern Tuesday that, because of its controversial nature, trans-mountain water diversions seem to be taking a backseat to other aspects of the long-term water plan.

Wilkinson stressed that without more water going to Eastern Slope users, agriculture in particular will suffer.

“We’ve gotten awfully good at taking water away from agriculture,” said Wilkinson, referring to the ongoing buy-and-dry issue taking place in Colorado, particularly on the Eastern Slope.

The purchasing of water rights from ag producers leaving the land is a comparatively inexpensive way for cities to acquire needed water.

Because of that, however, Colorado is on pace to see as many as 500,000 to 700,000 acres of irrigated farmland dry up by 2050, according to the Statewide Water Supply Initiative study, released in 2010.

With much of Colorado’s ag production taking place in northeast Colorado — particularly in Weld County, which ranks in eighth in the nation for its production — it’s the region that could be hit the hardest.

“If we investigate the possibility of bringing more water over here from the West Slope, and we’re told ‘it can’t be done,’ that’s fine,” Wilkinson said in an interview after the meeting. “But we at least need to be looking into it … and putting as much effort into that as we are other things, like conservation, and every other leg of the stool in these water talks.”

A commitment in the Colorado Water Plan to at least explore trans-mountain water diversions could help such projects, if feasible, get off the ground quicker, which is vital, Wilkinson said, considering that those projects — when factoring in planning, permitting and actual construction — take decades to complete.

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

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

To meet the needs of the growing Front Range and northeast Colorado’s robust ag industry, Eastern Slope water providers have long built projects that bring water across the Continental Divide.

There are now more than 30 such projects bringing about 450,000 to 500,000 acre feet of water each year from the Western Slope to the Eastern Slope, Wilkinson noted.

Many on the Western Slope have expressed concern and want the Eastern Slope to stop diverting more of its water.

While only about 20 percent of the population lives on the Western Slope, the Western Slope has its own water demands to meet, mainly its legal obligation to make sure several states downstream from Colorado receive certain amounts of water.

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

At the same time, though, many northeast Colorado water officials stress they’re set to face their own water crises, and more trans-mountain diversions, if feasible, would make a huge dent in solving the problem.

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

A representative of Front Range water providers told a Western Slope contingent Monday that Colorado can’t close its future supply gap through conservation alone, and other efforts need to include working on a potential new transmountain diversion project. But several participants at a meeting of the Colorado River Roundtable remained leery of any such idea, including what’s being called a breakthrough proposal that would limit such a project to diverting water only in wet years. The roundtable, covering the six-county mainstem of the Colorado River Basin, was meeting as it continues to prepare final recommendations for what it wants to see in a state water plan to meet future needs.

Much of the debate in that planning process has centered on the potential for further Front Range diversions of Western Slope water. Early this month, the Front Range Water Council told the Colorado Water Conservation Board that plan needs to contain an assurance rather than just the hope that a new Colorado River diversion project would be part of the plan.

Mark Pifher of Colorado Springs Utilities told those attending Monday’s meeting that the concern stemmed from an idea discussed by basin roundtable leaders that water supply might be put at the bottom of a sequential list starting first with conservation, then transfers of agricultural water, then completion of already-planned projects, with no assured pursuit of new supply. Instead, all four concepts should be worked at simultaneously so Front Range utilities can know that “there’s some certainty that new supply will be there when you need it, if you need it,” he said.

He outlined a number of ways those utilities already are pursuing all four approaches to addressing water needs, including by having cut per-capita water use by 20 percent. But he said studies suggesting the Front Range can entirely meet future needs through conservation is wrong, and that it’s just a question of when more supply will be needed.

“The world’s not going to stop in 2040 or 2050 or 2060. Demand is going to develop,” he said.

While Front Range utilities want to be able to count on Western Slope water to help meet that demand, one of the themes the Colorado River Roundtable is settling on is that at least the mainstem six-county basin already has given up plenty of water to the Front Range and has no more left to develop.

The state Interbasin Compact Committee is hoping a compromise might be reached through the idea of a new water project providing no firm yield of water, with diversions occurring only in years of above-average precipitation. The concept is receiving some Front Range support.

Carlyle Currier, a Mesa County resident who sits on the committee, said many on the Western Slope long have said it needs protection from diversions in dry years.

“I think this (new idea) offer certainly opened the door to that and went in the direction we’ve been talking” about, he said.

But several who attended Monday’s session questioned whether the region can afford to give up water even in wet years. They pointed to low water levels at Lake Powell, which states in the Upper Colorado River Basin use to help meet compact obligations to states in the Lower Basin.

“Shouldn’t high-water years be when we start to replenish Lake Powell?” asked Rachel Richards, a Pitkin County commissioner.

She said wet years also provide the environmental benefit of variety in stream flows from year to year if the water isn’t being diverted. And if the Western Slope builds more storage of its own, it needs to make sure it has the ability in high-water years to fill those reservoirs, she said.

Despite the widespread reservations within the roundtable about more transmountain diversions, they generally agreed Monday that they need to at least be willing to discuss the possible conditions of such diversions so decisions aren’t made without their involvement. Several suggested that one condition governing wet-year diversions should be the current water level at Lake Powell.

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


Water Lines: Learn about Colorado and Gunnison rivers May 15 at Grand Junction City Hall #ColoradoWater

May 11, 2014

On Thursday, May 15, the Colorado River District and the Water Center at Colorado Mesa University will co-sponsor the annual “State of the Rivers — Mesa County” meeting in the Grand Junction City Hall Auditorium at 250 N. Fifth St. There’s no charge to attend the meeting, and it will run from 6-8 p.m.

This year’s meeting will provide an opportunity to learn about and discuss the present, past and future state of the Colorado and Gunnison rivers in Mesa County. Light refreshments will be provided.

WHAT’S THE OUTLOOK FOR WATER USERS THIS YEAR?

The meeting will open with a presentation by Erik Knight of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation on what this year’s snowpack will mean for reservoir operations and flows in the rivers. This winter, the headwaters of the Colorado and Gunnison rivers enjoyed above-average snowfall for the first time since 2011.

Following Erik Knight’s presentation, Grand Valley Water Users Association Manager Mark Harris will present a slide show of historical photographs depicting the building of the Grand Valley Project, including the roller dam in DeBeque Canyon and the Government Highline Canal. This project, which began supplying irrigation water in 1915, greatly increased the amount of land under cultivation in the Grand Valley.

The meeting will conclude with an update on water planning efforts in the Colorado and Gunnison River Basins, which meet in Grand Junction. Mark Hermundstad — a water attorney with Williams, Turner & Holmes, PC and a member of the Colorado Basin Roundtable — and Frank Kugel — manager of the Upper Gunnison Water Conservancy District and a member of the Gunnison Basin Roundtable — will provide the updates and take comments from the public.

These basin plans will feed into a statewide plan that Governor Hickenlooper has ordered to be drafted by the end of this year. The plan is intended to show the way towards filling a projected gap between water needs and developed supplies as the state’s population grows.

For more information, visit http://www.coloradomesa.edu/watercenter.

More Gunnison River Basin coverage here. More Colorado River Basin coverage here.


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

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

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

From The Boulder Weekly (Bob Berwyn):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More Moffat Collection System Project coverage here.


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

May 10, 2014
Blue River

Blue River

From the Summit Daily News (Ali Langley):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.


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

May 9, 2014
Breckenridge circa 1913 via Breckenridge Resort

Breckenridge circa 1913 via Breckenridge Resort

From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More conservation coverage here.


Tilting the table of Colorado’s water geography — Mountain Town News

May 7, 2014
Diagram depicting average streamflow leaving Colorado -- graphic/State Engineer

Diagram depicting average streamflow leaving Colorado — graphic/State Engineer

From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

Transmountain diversions from Colorado’s Western Slope to cities and farms east of the Continental Divide range from 450,000 to 600,000 acre-feet a year

How much water is that? It represents just 4.8 percent to 6.9 percent of all waters from the Western Slope, including not just the Colorado River but tributaries whose waters flow into the river outside Colorado: the Yampa, the Dolores and San Miguel, the Animas, and the San Juan.

But on the main stream of the Colorado River, upstream from Grand Junction (and excluding the Gunnison), the dent is much more severe. Half of all water available for consumption is taken from the basin in diversions ranging from Grand Lake to Aspen.

More transmountain/transbasin diversions coverage here.


Colorado-Big Thompson Project update: Carter will fill Monday, Horsetooth at 88% #ColoradoRiver

May 4, 2014
Colorado-Big Thompson Project east slope facilities

Colorado-Big Thompson Project east slope facilities

From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

On Monday, May 5, we will stop pumping water to Carter Lake. Carter is about 98% full and ready for the season.

Colorado-Big Thompson Project water that was going up to Carter will now go to Horsetooth. Horsetooth Reservoir is about 88% full and its water level is still rising.

Boat ramps are open.

From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

apologize for a late evening notice. I’m on business travel and communicating across time zones.

This e-mail is to let you all know there are some changes coming to the river flow down the Big Thompson Canyon. Run-off is increasing and so will flows down the canyon, beginning Monday.

Currently, we are seeing run-off inflows up to 200 cfs at night. But, as you have read in previous e-mails, under Free River conditions, we have been able to divert some of that at Olympus Dam to Colorado-Big Thompson Project reservoirs like Carter Lake and Horsetooth Reservoir. This weekend, Free River conditions are ending.

As a result, we will no longer be able to pull some of the spring run-off flows native to the Big T coming into Lake Estes out of the river. Instead, the Big Thompson will resume its native outflow through Olympus Dam to the Canyon.

Currently, we are releasing about 35 cfs. Beginning Monday, May 5, we will start incrementally increasing the releases in several steps. The resulting flows down the Canyon by Monday afternoon could go up to about 140 cfs. It is possible there could be additional increases on Tuesday.

I will send an update on Monday. Meanwhile, please let me know if you have any related questions.

More Colorado-Big Thompson Project coverage here.


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

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

The Storm is Coming — History Colorado

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

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

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

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

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

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

dontsuckthecoloradoriverdry

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kids open pumps

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That could present an opportunity, Acquafresca said.

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

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

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

Denver Water's collection system via the USACE EIS

Denver Water’s collection system via the USACE EIS

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

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

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

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

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

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

East-west relations

Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer's office

Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer’s office

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

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

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

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

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

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

Broader picture

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

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

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

The issue involves more than diverting water, Clever said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

More education coverage here.


Northern Water slows down rate restructuring push #ColoradoRiver

May 4, 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):

Without changes to its water rates, Northern Water’s expenses are on track to exceed its revenue in 2015. At its monthly meeting on Thursday, the board reviewed a study it commissioned to outline options for future water-rate hikes.

Northern Water released the rate study on Tuesday, and several water district managers and lawyers asked the board on Thursday to postpone its decision until they had more time to review the massive document.

The board also postponed a decision to set the water rates for 2015, which will likely increase by 9 percent for all stakeholders…

Northern Water plans to raise the cost of Colorado-Big Thompson or CB-T shares, which many districts rely on for most of their water. Regardless of the board’s ultimate decision, water rates will increase for Fort Collins Utilities, which gets about half of its water from the Big Thompson. Utilities costs for Fort Collins customers will not be affected, a city official previously said.

The rate study, done by CH2MHill in Denver, came up with three options for rate changes, all of which would double or triple the costs of water for farmers and cities alike.

At its Thursday meeting, the board eliminated one option, which would keep the existing rate system.

In June, the board will decide between the two remaining options, which could turn out to be drastically different after 10 years, according to CH2MHill’s research:

• One option could mean a sharp increase in water rates. For municipalities and industrial clients, at most, one unit of CB-T water would jump from $28 per acre foot to $51.90 per acre foot by 2016. For irrigators, this increase would bump the cost from $10 to $18.70 per acre-foot.

• The other model would likely mean a more gradual increase. By 2016, this option would bump municipal and industrial rates to $49.10 and irrigation rates to $20.90 per acre foot.

Only those who own fixed-rate contracts would escape the proposed changes. Fixed-rate allotments were created in 1957 and set at $1.50 per acre-foot. The city of Fort Collins owns 6,052 fixed-rate units among its 18,885 total units of CB-T water.

Several water district managers asked the board to reconsider the fixed-rate contracts and allow them to absorb some of the costs of modern water operations.

Dennis Jackson, who worked on the rate study for CH2MHill, cautioned that a volatile economy could drastically change some of the study’s findings. While a strong economy would make rate hike unnecessary, a weaker economy would likely mean more increases in the future, he told the board.

“If for some reason the economy were to stall, and if we had conditions that were sluggish and not as forecasted, assessments would need to be higher, 15 to 20 percent higher,” Jackson said.

More Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District coverage here.


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

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

Denver Water’s collection system via the USACE EIS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More Colorado River Cooperative Agreement coverage here.


Aspen: City Council approves instream flow for the Roaring Fork River through town

April 30, 2014
Map of the Roaring Fork River watershed via the Roaring Fork Conservancy

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

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

In an effort to improve the aquatic environment of the Roaring Fork River as it flows through central Aspen, the city of Aspen has agreed to leave 2 to 3 cubic feet per second (cfs) of water in the river during low-flow periods this summer instead of diverting it into the Wheeler Ditch.

The Wheeler Ditch diverts water from the Fork a short distance downstream from the Aspen Club pedestrian bridge and just below Ute Park, east of Aspen. The headgate for the irrigation ditch is on the left side of the river, when looking downstream, and is visible from the upper end of the city’s Wheeler Ditch Trail.

The water in the ditch is typically used to supply small channels in the downtown pedestrian malls, to irrigate some city property, and to keep a base flow running through the city’s stormwater system.

The Aspen city council on Monday approved an agreement with the nonprofit Colorado Water Trust to leave the water in the river when river flows drop below 32 cfs, the amount identified by the state as necessary to protect the river’s environment “to a reasonable degree.”[...]

It’s the second year the city has entered into such an agreement with the Water Trust, which works to bolster flows in rivers across the state.

Last year the city announced that it would leave between 6 and 8 cfs of water in the river, but experience showed that it was more practical to leave 2 to 3 cfs, according David Hornbacher, the director of utilities and environmental initiatives for the city.

The city owns an 1889 senior water right to divert up to 10 cfs from the Fork into the Wheeler Ditch.

The agreement with the Water Trust says the city will begin bypassing water from the Wheeler Ditch when the river drops below 32 cfs. If the river drops to 31 cfs, the city will bypass 1 cfs, and so on, until the point when there is at least one cfs left in the ditch…

“The Water Trust brings structure to the effort,” Hornbacher said. “They bring resources. And they provide a framework to work toward other future agreements to benefit the river.”[...]

This year, Twin Lakes expects to divert about 55,000 acre-feet of water from the headwaters of the Roaring Fork.

Further downstream and just east of Aspen, the Salvation Ditch in mid-to-late summer often diverts more water than is left in the river below the ditch’s diversion structure…

The Salvation Ditch, which has a water right from 1902 to divert 58 cfs, was diverting 17.4 cfs that day, leaving 7.6 cfs of water flowing in the Fork.

Another 2.4 cfs was then diverted into the Wheeler Ditch that day, leaving just 5.2 cfs flowing in the river as it made its way past Rio Grande Park, the Aspen Art Museum, and under the Mill Street Bridge.

That’s a far cry from the 32 cfs the state says is required to protect the river’s aquatic environment, and the city’s effort this summer is intended to help close such gaps.

“I appreciate the city’s leadership, as it can help start the conversation,” said [Amy Beatie] of the Water Trust. “We would love everyone to really sit down and think about what they have and how they could use it strategically to put water back in the river.”

More Roaring Fork River watershed coverage here and here.


The Southern Delivery System is on time and under budget, according to @CSUtilities

April 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 (Marija B. Vader):

Wayne Vanderschuere, general manager of the Colorado Springs Utilities water services division, said the Southern Delivery System will be completed on schedule and $150 million under the original budgeted amount.

More Southern Delivery System coverage here and here.


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

April 26, 2014

More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.


Colorado-Big Thompson Project update #ColoradoRiver

April 26, 2014
Colorado-Big Thompson Project east slope facilities

Colorado-Big Thompson Project east slope facilities

From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

You’ve likely noticed the water level at Pinewood dropping again. While this is typical for this time of year (Pinewood often fluctuates for power generation), we’ll be going a little lower, back to the 6560 foot level seen last month. The reason is the same: more canal maintenance downstream of the reservoir.

We are anticipating we’ll hit the 6560 elevation on Tuesday, April 29. Water level elevations will begin going up again on Wednesday the 30th, and the reservoir should be close to full again by next weekend, May 3.

From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

The weather front coming in over the weekend is probably raising some questions for folks. I want to reassure you all that we do not anticipate any major changes at Olympus Dam or Lake Estes as a result of this weekend’s forecast.

The reservoir’s water level has dropped down to about 85% of full. We will continue sending some of the inflow from the Big Thompson River to the Olympus Tunnel and on over to Horsetooth and Carter. We will continue releasing about 40 cfs through the dam on down to the canyon.

Also, if you missed our presentation at the Town of Estes’s public workshop for runoff preparedness on Monday, here is a link to the video they took and other related information: http://www.colorado.gov/cs/Satellite/TownofEstesPark/CBON/1251652514966

More Colorado-Big Thompson Project coverage here and here.


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