Fixing ‘moving’ dam near Kremmling could cost $15M — Aspen Journalism #ColoradoRiver #COriver

Upstream side of Ritschard Dam, which forms Wolford Reservoir
Upstream side of Ritschard Dam, which forms Wolford Reservoir

From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith):

It could cost $15 million to dig up and recompact the rocks on the downstream side of the dam that creates Wolford Reservoir, north of Kremmling, in order to stop the dam from moving slightly, but steadily.

“It is a pretty significant surgery of the dam,” John Currier, chief engineer at the Colorado River District, told the district board July 22 during a presentation.

Ritschard Dam was built for the river district in 1995 by D.H. Blattner and Sons of Minnesota for $42 million. The dam is 122 feet tall and 1,910 feet wide.

The $15 million estimate to rehabilitate the dam includes a 35 percent contingency factor and is still preliminary, Currier stressed.

The project would include removing the top 25 feet of the dam and then stepping down the downstream face of the dam in layers to get to three “bad acting” zones of poorly compacted rock, some of which are 90 feet inside the dam.

“At some point that movement will compromise the ability of the core of the dam to hold back the water,” Currier said.

Currier said there are “no near-term safety concerns” regarding the dam’s current ability to hold back 66,000 acre-feet of water from Muddy Creek, which flows into the upper Colorado River east of Gore Canyon.

“We’re not in any crisis,” Currier said. “We’re just ready to move this forward.”

Engineers with the district noticed in 2008 that the dam had settled vertically by a foot-and-half instead of just 1 foot, as expected.

The dam has now settled 2 feet, at the rate of about an inch a year. And it has also moved horizontally, by about 8 inches, at a spot 40 to 50 feet below the crest of the dam.

The dam’s impermeable clay core is held in place by rock shells on both the upstream and downstream sides of the dam.

A detail of the rock outer shell on the downstream side of Ritschard Dam
A detail of the rock outer shell on the downstream side of Ritschard Dam

Trouble at some point

The upstream rock shell appears to have settled appropriately in place, perhaps because of varying degrees of water pressure on its face as reservoir levels have fluctuated.

But the downstream shell is still moving.

“At some point that movement will compromise the ability of the core of the dam to hold back the water,” Currier said.

Currier said construction-sequence photos indicate the movement appears to be related to how fill material above and below haul roads was compacted during construction.

The plan is to dig into sections of the shell, remove the poorly compacted rock, and then recompact those zones, mainly using the same rocks.

“The bad-acting layers may be more a function of how the material was placed, not the material itself,” Currier said.

Currier said a consulting engineer at the firm of AECOM had observed that the construction work is essentially “just a big dirt job,” albeit one that will require complicated sequencing and careful on-site supervision by experienced engineers.

Over the last six years staff and consulting engineers have taken a variety of steps to investigate the situation at Ritschard Dam.

A graphic of the issues at Ritschard Dam from the Colorado River District
A graphic of the issues at Ritschard Dam from the Colorado River District

$1.5 million spent

They’ve installed inclinometers, established an expert review panel, developed modeling and conducted lab tests on the core material to establish that the dam did not present an immediate safety problem.

The river district has now spent close to $1.5 million on instrumentation and analysis, Currier said, and recent work on a range of alternatives has given engineers enough information to move from the “what” stage to the “how” stage.

“We have a very good understanding of what solutions might, or might not work, and thus we can we have a great deal more confidence in our solution,” Currier said. “We’re confident that structural rehab is required.”

Currier said that simply storing less water in order to take pressure off the dam won’t solve the long-term problem.

In a memo to the board, Currier wrote “operating at reduced levels slows the deformation rate but does not stop the deformation.”

The river district has been operating the reservoir at 10 feet below normal levels since 2014 as a standard precautionary measure.

Another option looked at was installing a series of concrete columns down through the downstream shell of the dam in order to stiffen it, but Currier said it was ruled out due to higher costs and doubts about its effectiveness.

There is also the opportunity to increase the amount of water the reservoir can hold by increasing the height of the existing spillway, but Currier advised it was better to first just fix the dam to avoid a “permitting quagmire” by trying to also expand the reservoir’s capacity.

Water in the dam would likely have to be lowered or completely drained during the project in order to take enough pressure off the dam. Those lower water levels could cause ripples in regional water-supply operations, especially in a dry year.

But Dan Birch, the district’s assistant general manager, said water-supply concerns would not be the tail that wags the dog of the rehabilitation project and related safety concerns.

However, it was also noted that the project would take 220 days over two construction seasons and would likely have an affect on four years of water operations in all.

“It could have some impact on water operations for one year pre- and one year post-construction,” Currier said.

Currier and other engineers plan on continuing their analysis of the proposed solution, including meeting with the state dam safety engineer in August and continuing to ask a panel of experts to peer review the plans.

A refined proposal will be presented to the River District board in September as part of the district’s annual budget meetings.

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism is collaborating with the Glenwood Springs Post Independent and The Aspen Times on coverage of rivers and water. The Post Independent published this story on July 27, 2015.

#COWaterPlan — is it strong enough? — KUNC

Colorado Water Plan screen shot August 1, 2015
Colorado Water Plan screen shot August 1, 2015

From KUNC (Stephanie Paige Ogburn):

Colorado’s statewide water plan has been criticized for failing to make tough decisions about the state’s biggest water issues: how new growth uses water, a new transmountain diversion from the Western Slope, and how to balance urban needs for water with a desire to preserve agriculture, which uses the majority of the state’s water.

In response, those involved with the plan say that’s not the point. The plan, by gathering input from across the state, is bringing together people with very different perspectives on water. By getting them to discuss the biggest issues around water in the state, it lays the foundation for better water management.

“It’s kind of like building a house,” said James Eklund, the director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board and head of the water plan process.

“You have to have the right tools and this plan sets out our tools, and where we are lacking, and how we can make them stronger. And really it’s a blueprint for how we want to build Colorado moving forward.”

On the other side, some of those watching the plan call it less a blueprint and more of a list. Susan Greene, a longtime water reporter and editor of The Colorado Independent, published an in-depth article on the plan where she interviewed Brookings Institution water expert Pat Mulroy. According to Greene, Mulroy was not impressed with Colorado’s plan.

“Essentially she was just saying this is more of a values statement, or almost an encyclopedia or compendium of the water issues Colorado faces than a plan,” Greene said.

Others quoted in the article had similar criticisms.

The Water Board’s Eklund dismissed this critique, essentially saying Mulroy is stuck in the past, where, as the saying goes, “whiskey is for drinking; water is for fighting.” That’s not Colorado’s way, or the way of the future, he insisted.

“Up here, collaboration and cooperation are our motto, and that’s our drive,” said Eklund…

Others involved in the water planning process say that growth and reducing water use with that new growth is the real issue. Jim Pokrandt, with the Colorado River District, said he is glad the state water plan at least talks about land use, growth, and landscaping as an important component of water use.

“How can we grow more smartly is the million dollar question that we need to start dealing with tomorrow,” said Pokrandt.

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.

#Colorado: Happy 139th Birthday

Here’s a tribute to Colorado on the 139th anniversary of statehood from Kathy Bedell writing for Leadville Today. She lays out all the inside skinny about Colorado’s state mineral (Rhodochrosite), state rock (Yule Marble), and state gem (Aquamarine). Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

Happy Birthday Colorado! Yes, today our beloved state celebrates 139 years of statehood.

And when it comes to states, Colorado simply couldn’t be more patriotic. Its nickname is the Centennial State, because in the year of America’s 100th Birthday – 1876 – Colorado received its statehood. And of course, there’s the fact that “America The Beautiful” was written by Katherine Bates when she saw Pikes Peak and was inspired to write the verse, “Purple’s mountain’s majesty, above the fruited plain.”

But did you know that Colorado is the only state whose official geological symbols are red, white and blue?! Yes, when it comes to Colorado’s State Mineral (red- rhodochrosite), State Rock (white – Yule marble) and State Gem (blue- aquamarine) this color trio is an intended tribute to America. And – of course – this patriotic gesture has a Leadville connection!

Aurora: “We have more water in our system than we’ve ever had since we’ve been recording” — Joe Stibrich


From The Aurora Sentinel (Rachel Sapin):

“We have more water in our system than we’ve ever had since we’ve been recording,” Aurora Water Resources Management Advisor Joe Stibrich told congressional aides, city council members, city staff and Aurora residents on a tour of the city’s vast water distribution system last week. “We hit 99 percent of our storage capacity about a week ago.”

In total, Aurora Water has more than 156,000 acre-feet of water storage, which could supply the city with years of emergency supply in case of a drought.

The city gets water from three river basins. Half of the city’s water comes from the South Platte River Basin, a quarter comes from the snow melt flows from Colorado River Basin, and a quarter from the Arkansas River Basin.

But Aurora was not always a municipal water powerhouse.

In 2003, Aurora’s water supply level was at 26 percent capacity, the lowest in the city’s history. The idea for the at-the-time innovative Prairie Waters Project came about in the wake of that severe drought.

The $653-million Prairie Waters Project increased Aurora’s water supply by 20 percent when it was completed, and today provides the city with an additional 3.3 billion gallons of water per year.

The entire system pumps water from wells near Brighton, where it’s then piped into a man-made basin and filtered through sand and gravel. From there, the water is then piped 34 miles through three pumping stations to the Binney Water Purification Facility near Aurora Reservoir, where it’s softened and exposed to high-intensity ultraviolet light. The water is then filtered through coal to remove remaining impurities.

“It’s the crown jewel of our system,” said Stibrich during the tour. “Prairie Waters almost creates a fourth basin for us.”

But even before Prairie Waters, the first “crown jewel” project that allowed Aurora to grow and become the state’s third-largest city, was the one that allowed Aurora to cut most of its water ties with Denver.

Throughout the 1900s and into the 1960s, Aurora relied on the Denver Water Board for its supply. But the partnership between the neighboring cities grew contentious when, in the 1950s, Denver Water imposed lawn watering restrictions on a booming metropolitan area. Part of those restrictions included a “blue line” that prevented some Aurora suburbs from getting permits for new tap water fees.

In 1958, Aurora partnered with Colorado Springs to construct the Homestake Project, located in southern Eagle County in the Colorado River basin. The project was designed to use water rights purchased on the Western Slope that could supply the two cities.

For nearly a decade after the project was conceived, it was mired in legal battles with Denver and Western Slope entities. The first phase of the dam wasn’t even completed until 1967. In the 1980s, Aurora and Colorado Springs unsuccessfully attempted to expand the water collection system within the Holy Cross Wilderness area as part of a phase two plan.

The issue to this day is divisive, said Diane Johnson, a spokeswoman with the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District during the city’s tour of the reservoir.

“For people to think we might be having some other dam up here and impacting their access to wilderness is an emotional issue,” she said.

It was a memorandum of understanding created in 1998 between Eagle County and the two Front Range cities that identifies 30,000 acre-feet of water in the Eagle River basin to be divided into thirds between the three entities that helped alleviate tensions and put the project back on track.

Today Homestake Reservoir provides Aurora with 25 percent of its water, and Aurora Water officials are looking at various ways to expand their storage to satisfy the Eagle River MOU.

One idea is a small reservoir in the Homestake Valley near the Blodgett Campground. Aurora Water officials said the issue with that plan is having to relocate the winding Homestake Road to a portion of the Holy Cross wilderness to accommodate it. Another alternative, which Aurora Water officials said they prefer, is to create a holding facility called a forebay, in the same valley, along Whitney Creek, that would hold water pumped back from a former World War II military site known as Camp Hale. From the holding facility, water could be further pumped up the valley to Homestake Reservoir.

Aurora Water officials are still working through the various politics of the alternatives, and repeatedly emphasized during the tour that there is no “silver bullet’ when it comes to water storage.

From Homestake, water travels east through the Continental Divide and tunnel where it’s sent to Turquoise Lake, then to Twin Lakes Reservoir near Leadville.

Aurora only owns the rights to a limited amount of storage in Twin Lakes, and that water has to be continuously lifted 750 feet via the Otero Pump Station to enter a 66-inch pipeline that leads to the Front Range.

The Otero Pump station — located on the Arkansas River about eight miles northwest of Buena Vista — is another impressive facet of Aurora’s vast water system, and the last stop on Aurora’s water journey before it is delivered to the Spinney Mountain Reservoir in South Park. With the ability to pump 118 million gallons per day, Otero provides half of Aurora’s and 70 percent of Colorado Springs’ drinking water, delivered from both the Colorado and Arkansas basins to the South Platte River Basin.

Tom Vidmar, who has served as the caretaker at Homestake for nearly 30 years and lives right next to the pump station, said the biggest issue facing Aurora’s water system is storage.

“We actually spilled water out of Homestake this year and didn’t collect (the) full amount we were eligible to take, simply because the reservoirs are at capacity,” Vidmar said during a tour of the massive pump facility. He said the electricity costs alone for Aurora to pump the water add up to around $450,000 a month.

A project Aurora Water officials hope to see come to fruition in 15 years is turning land the city purchased at Box Creek north of Twin Lakes in Lake County into additional storage space so water can be pumped more efficiently through Otero.

“Box Creek is an important project. It gives us more breathing room,” said Rich Vidmar, who is Tom Vidmar’s son and an engineer with Aurora Water, during the tour. “As we look at storage and where to develop storage, right now we’re looking at spots where we have chokepoints in our system where we’re not able to operate perfectly to get as much water as possible.”

Just as the state anticipates that its population of 5 million will double by 2050, so does Aurora — and storage will be key to providing water for a city that could potentially grow to more than 600,000 residents in the coming decades.

But the mountains aren’t the only place where Aurora hopes to expand its reservoirs. The city also is looking to expand Aurora Reservoir even further east.

At a July study session, Aurora Water Officials described a feasibility study being conducted to determine just how much water Aurora could store at a future reservoir, which would sit on the former Lowry Bombing and Gunnery Range.

More Aurora coverage here.

Denver Water gets pressured to end fluoride dosing

The water treatment process
The water treatment process

From the Associated Press (Ivan Moreno) via the Fort Collins Coloradan:

The discussion at Denver Water, which serves about one out of five of Colorado’s 5 million residents, comes as other utilities in the state and the country debate fluoridation. In some cases, fluoridation opponents are pressuring them to do so, claiming that it damages teeth and bones.

Two weeks ago, the mountain community of Snowmass Village, about 165 miles west of Denver, decided to stop water fluoridation, joining a handful of other Colorado municipalities that have discontinued the practice in recent years.

“The ultimate goal is to stop this absolutely insane process,” said Paul Commett, a retired chemistry professor and director of the New York-based Fluoride Action Network. About 200 places worldwide have stopped putting fluoride in drinking water since 2010, according to the group.

The movement has caught the attention of Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper and his chief medical officer, Dr. Larry Wolk. They released a joint statement Wednesday, hours before the Denver Water Board met for public discussion.

“More than 70 years of research has proven that community water fluoridation is a safe, effective and inexpensive method of improving the oral health of all Coloradans,” the statement said.

Denver Water plans to decide Aug. 26 what to do about adding fluoride to water, a practice it has maintained since 1953…

About 72 percent of Colorado residents consume fluoridated water through their drinking systems. Nationally, 75 percent of people have access to fluoridated water.

“One of the benefits of having fluoride in the water system is that everybody in the community can benefit from it regardless of their age, their income, their race, their gender, because all you have to do is drink the water and have access to that benefit,” said Katya Mauritson, Colorado’s dental director.

She said fluoride in water reduces cavities and leads to savings of about $61 per year in dental costs, she said.

“We really do have a large number of children and adults that have untreated cavities that are preventable. We need water fluoridation in order to ensure that they stay healthy. Oral health does affect overall health,” Mauritson said.

Fluoride is a mineral found in the soil and water. Some areas naturally have the dosage recommended by the government, and in others, utilities add it.

Commett said that amounts to delivering medication without consent.

More water treatment coverage here.

#BlueMoon sets over Mount Massive — Leadville Today

Colorado State University receives $12 million award to establish urban water sustainability research network

Sloans Lake at sunrise via Redbubble.com
Sloans Lake at sunrise via Redbubble.com

From Colorado State University (Kate Jeracki):

A consortium of 14 academic institutions and key partners across the country is addressing the challenges that threaten urban water systems in the United States and around the world. With support from a $12 million cooperative agreement from the National Science Foundation, Colorado State University leads the effort to establish the Urban Water Innovation Network (UWIN).

The mission of UWIN is to create technological, institutional, and management solutions to help communities increase the resilience of their water systems and enhance preparedness for responding to water crises.

UWIN builds on long-standing programs at CSU for research and training, and trusted leadership in all facets of water resources. These programs include urban water conservation, sustainable urban drainage systems and flood control, drought management, pollution control, water resources planning and management, ecological engineering, climate sciences, and urban biodiversity.

Mazdak Arabi, associate professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at CSU, serves as the director of UWIN. Other CSU faculty involved with UWIN include professors Sybil Sharvelle, Brian Bledsoe, Neil Grigg, Jorge Ramirez, Dan Baker, and Scott Denning from the CSU College of Engineering, and LeRoy Poff with the Department of Biology.

According to the 2014 Global Risks Perception Survey by the World Economic Forum, water crises are the top global risk to the viability of communities throughout the world. From the crippling droughts and water shortages in the West to the devastating floods in the East and South, water systems in the U.S. have been impacted by changes in climate, demographics, and other pressures. Our absolute reliance on water is why Americans express greater concern about threats to water than about any other environmental issue and why more than half of all Americans worry a great deal about it, according to latest Gallup poll of environmental concerns.

Extreme events and global climate change can have profound impacts on water security, shattering the most vulnerable communities and instilling enormous costs on governments and economies. Effective response to these challenges requires transitioning to both technological and management solutions that protect water systems from pressures and enhance their resilience.

The vision of UWIN is to create an enduring research network for integrated water systems and to cultivate champions of innovation for water-sensitive urban design and resilient cities. The integrated research, outreach, education and participatory approach of UWIN will produce a toolbox of sustainable solutions by simultaneously minimizing pressures, enhancing resilience to extreme events, and maximizing co-benefits. These benefits will reverberate across other systems, such as urban ecosystems, economies and arrangements for environmental justice and social equity.

The network will establish six highly connected regional urban water sustainability hubs in densely populated regions across the nation to serve as innovation centers, helping communities transition to sustainable management of water resources. Strategic partnerships and engagement with other prominent U.S. and international networks will extend UWIN’s reach to more than 100 cities around the world.

Key UWIN partners and collaborators include the Water Environment Research Foundation (WERF), the Urban Sustainability Directors Network (USDN), and the Network for Water in European Regions and Cities (NETWERC H2O).

This innovative and adaptive research approach will ultimately produce an Urban Water Sustainability Blueprint, outlining effects and tradeoffs associated with sustainable solutions for cities of all sizes. It will also provide steps and guidance for action based on the collective knowledge gained by the research and the collaborative approach of the SRN. The Blueprint will be rigorously vetted by regional stakeholders across the U.S. and the global urban water community.

The UWIN consortium includes:

Colorado State University
Arizona State University
Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies
Florida International University
Howard University
Oregon State University
Princeton University
University of Arizona
University of California-Berkeley
University of California-Riverside
University of Maryland Baltimore County
University of Miami
University of Oregon
University of Pennsylvania

For more information please contact UWIN coordinator Meagan Smith at meagan.smith@colostate.edu

More education coverage here.