Fountain Creek: “The Water Quality Control Commission has ignored the problems” — Jay Winner

Fountain Creek Watershed
Fountain Creek Watershed

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Recent revelations about deficiencies in stormwater control could snag Colorado Springs plans to expand its water system.

The Bureau of Reclamation and Pueblo County need to take a second look at the environmental impact statement that cleared the way to build the $841 million Southern Delivery System, and the newly constructed water pipeline from the Pueblo dam to El Paso County should not be turned on until the issue is settled, said Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District.

“We’ve been saying this for years,” Winner said. “We need to get past the talk from Colorado Springs and stop them from flushing all their crap down Fountain Creek. They need to walk the walk.”

Winner was reacting to an inspection report released this week by the Environmental Protection Agency that could be the basis for a federal lawsuit over inadequate stormwater control in Colorado Springs.
Among other things, the report says the city failed to correct problems identified two years earlier, that it knowingly violated the terms of its municipal separate storm sewer system permit and that it is not enforcing its own guidelines for new development.

Reclamation’s EIS was done in 2009, when Colorado Springs had a stormwater enterprise in place that generated millions of dollars annually to take care of the very problems outlined in the inspection. The assumption by Reclamation was that since it was in place, the only issue were future flows generated by new development related to SDS.

If that created problems, Reclamation relied on a vague “adaptive management” concept to rectify problems.
Reclamation failed to answer political calls to reopen the EIS in 2010 after Colorado Springs City Council torpedoed the stormwater enterprise on a split vote after a city election.

The EPA’s inspection report shows problems continue to worsen as Colorado Springs ignores its stormwater infrastructure. The Colorado Springs City Council and Mayor John Suthers have devised a plan to provide $19 million in funding toward complying with the MS4 permit and addressing a more than $500 million backlog in projects.

Winner said a more permanent funding source is needed, which the EPA concurs with in its inspection report. This needs to be a consideration for Pueblo County commissioners, who are negotiating with Colorado Springs over compliance on the stormwater issue as it relates to the 1041 permit for SDS.

“I think we’ve been hoodwinked long enough by their City Council,” Winner said. “I would hope the new (Pueblo) City Council will become more engaged and not put up with these shenanigans.”

One of the new Pueblo City Council members is Winner’s wife, Lori Winner.

Winner also is uneasy that the Arkansas Basin Roundtable this month endorsed a Colorado Springs Utilities employee, Mark Shea, for a seat on the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission. Winner, a member of the roundtable, urged caution at the meeting. Recently, another Utilities executive, Mark Pifher, (now a consultant for Utilities) served on the commission.

“The Water Quality Control Commission has ignored the problems,” Winner said. “It’s like asking the fox to guard the henhouse.”

More coverage from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain:

Turns out the bare minimum that Colorado Springs said it was doing to prevent contaminated water from its streets flowing into Fountain Creek was not enough to satisfy the federal government.

The one constant that Colorado Springs officials had assured Pueblo County and the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District was being met was the MS4 permit with the Environmental Protection Agency.

MS4 stands for municipal separate storm sewer system, and the existence of the permit itself has been held up for years in presentations by Colorado Springs as evidence that the city was doing basic work to regulate stormwater.

But according to an EPA report finalized in August, little progress has been made to rectify problems identified in a February 2013 audit. The inspection could be the basis for a federal lawsuit over Colorado Springs stormwater deficiencies.

In fact, city o€fficials were aware of shortcomings, as the EPA stated: “During the inspection, city representatives stated they were fully aware of the lack of resources to adequately implement the MS4 program, and cited the termination of the city’s SWENT (stormwater enterprise) in 2009 and overall lack of political, managerial and community support for the city’s MS4 program as contributing factors.”

Photographs in the report show severe erosion, crumbled drop structures, vegetation growing in concrete ditches and cracked channels clogged by logs and trash throughout the city.

Colorado Springs also has assured Pueblo County and the Lower Ark that new development that benefits from the soon-to-be-completed Southern Delivery System would be regulated to avoid any additional impact on Fountain Creek.

There has also been a lot of talk about how the city has developed a design criteria manual to protect Fountain Creek.

The EPA inspection, however, notes that Colorado Springs is doing very little to make new development comply with regulations after looking at more than 600 plans reviewed by the city. The report stated: “It was unclear at the time of the inspection how the city would ensure submittal of appropriate design elements in the future. … The city did not ensure that public and private permanent BMPs (best management practices) were properly designed, approved and installed.”

‘Conceptual Framework’ for diversions in #COWaterPlan — Glenwood Springs Post Independent

From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith) via the Glenwood Springs Post Independent:

A way to look at any new transmountain diversions in the state has been dubbed “Colorado’s Conceptual Framework” in the Colorado Water Plan after previously being called “the seven points” and the “draft conceptual agreement” as it has evolved over the past two years.

It’s a lofty title for a framework that major water providers on the East Slope are adamant does not carry any force of law, rule or policy, and that still divides water stakeholders in Colorado.

But no matter what it is called, the framework is, despite challenges, in fact included in the first-ever Colorado Water Plan, which was developed by the Colorado Water Conservation Board and presented to the governor on Nov. 19.

A number of Front Range entities told the CWCB that it should not adopt the conceptual framework or include it in the water plan.

“Even with wording changes, the basin roundtables recommend that the CWCB not adopt the framework as it is a work in progress that may be modified as dialogue continues,” wrote the S. Platte and Metro basin roundtables, two of nine regional water-supply groups that meet under the auspices of the CWCB, in a combined Sept. 17 comment letter.

But Chapter 8 of the water plan, “Interbasin Basin Projects and Agreements,” does include the conceptual framework.

In its introduction to the framework, the water plan recognizes that “a longstanding controversial issue in Colorado is the development of water supply from the Colorado River system for use on the Eastern Slope. It is controversial because of supply gaps, environmental health, compact compliance and other issues.”

The water plan describes the framework as providing “a path forward that considers the option of developing a new transmountain diversion and addresses the concerns of roundtables, stakeholders and environmental groups. The conceptual framework presents seven principles to guide future negotiations between proponents of a new transmountain diversion, if it were to be built, and the communities it would affect.”

The seven principles include concepts such as making sure a new transmountain diversion, or TMD, does not increase the likelihood of a compact call from states in the lower Colorado River basin, ensuring the Eastern Slope has other sources of water in dry years, and establishing guidelines for when diversions may need to be curtailed to keep enough water in Lake Powell.

The framework also says that new diversions should not limit Western Slope development, that it’s important to increase both municipal and agricultural water-conservation efforts in Colorado, and that steps should be taken repair damaged river ecosystems with or without new diversions.

The water plan says the CWCB will “use the conceptual framework as an integrated package of concepts to: encourage environmental resiliency; set high conservation standards; develop stakeholder support for interstate cooperative solutions; and establish conditions for a new multipurpose and cooperative transmountain diversion (TMD) project if proposed in the future.”

The framework was drafted and adopted by the members of the Interbasin Compact Committee, which includes two representatives from each of the state’s nine basin roundtables, six gubernatorial appointees, two legislative appointees and the director of compact negotiations on the IBCC.

The group’s “main charge is to work with the basin roundtables to develop and ratify cross-basin agreements,” the water plan says.

The water plan describes both the conceptual framework and the lingering geographic differences of opinion about future transmountain diversions.

“Generally, Eastern Slope roundtables identify the need for a balanced program to preserve the option of future development of Colorado River System water,” the plan says.

“Western Slope roundtables express concern regarding the impact on future development on the Western Slope, as well as the potential for overdevelopment related to both a Colorado River compact deficit and critical levels for system reservoir storage, such as the minimum storage level necessary to reliably produce hydroelectric power at Glen Canyon Dam,” the plan states.

The water plan also finds that the Colorado River basin roundtable, which meets regularly in Glenwood Springs, and the South Platte and Metro roundtables, which meet in Longmont and Denver, respectively, have the “greatest divergence” when it comes to the idea of more TMDs. [ed. emphasis mine]

“The Colorado basin roundtable points out the variability in hydrology,” the water plan says, “stating that TMDs ‘should be the last ‘tool’ considered as a water supply solution, once the many and complex questions are addressed over hydrology.’”

On the other side of the divide, the water plan says that the South Platte and Metro roundtables want to “’simultaneously advance the consideration and preservation of new Colorado River supply options.’

“Both viewpoints recognize the constraints of water availability and Colorado water law, but differ in their beliefs about whether such a project fits into water supply planning,” the plan concludes.

The members of the Front Range Water Council also have made it clear to the CWCB that they don’t see the framework as binding.

In a Sept. 15 letter to the CWCB on the water plan, the council said that the framework “’has no regulatory force or effect. Rather, it is guidance, the implementation and use of which will depend on the positions taken by the parties who engage in good faith negotiations on the construction of future specific proposed projects.”

The Front Range Water Council includes Denver Water, Aurora Water, Colorado Springs Utilities, Northern Water, the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, the Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co., and the Board of Water Works of Pueblo.

The concept of “environmental resiliency” is also laid out in the framework and is done so on terms that are as environmentally staunch as any other statement in the water plan.

The framework says that “Colorado’s Water Plan, basin implementation plans, and stakeholder groups across the state should identify, secure funding for, and implement projects that help recover imperiled species and enhance ecological resiliency, whether or not a new TMD is built.“

In terms of next steps on the conceptual framework, the water plan says only that “the CWCB will monitor ongoing discussions” at the roundtable and Interbasin Compact Committee levels “that involve the topics associated with the seven principles of the conceptual framework.”

Aspen Journalism collaborates with the Post Independent and The Aspen Times on coverage of rivers and water. More at


Principle 1: Eastern Slope water providers are not looking for firm yield from a new transmountain diversion (TMD) and the project proponent would accept hydrologic risk for that project.

Principle 2: A new TMD would be used conjunctively with Eastern Slope supplies, such as interruptible supply agreements, Denver basin aquifer resources, carry-over storage, terminal storage, drought restriction savings, and other non-Western Slope water sources.

Principle 3: In order to manage when a new TMD would be able to divert, triggers are needed. Triggers are operating parameters that determine when and how much water a potential new TMD could divert, based upon predetermined conditions within the Colorado River system.

Principle 4: A collaborative program that protects against involuntary curtailment is needed for existing uses and some reasonable increment of future development in the Colorado River system, but it will not cover a new TMD.

Principle 5: Future Western Slope needs should be accommodated as part of a new TMD project.

Principle 6: Colorado will continue its commitment to improve conservation and reuse.

Principle 7: Environmental resiliency and recreational needs must be addressed both before and conjunctively with a new TMD.


Grand River Ditch 18,000 acre-feet/year

Adams Tunnel 226,000 AFY

Moffat Tunnel 55,000 AFY

Roberts Tunnel 62,000 AFY

Blue Mountain Project 9,000 AFY

Homestake Tunnel 25,000 AFY

Busk Ivanhoe Tunnel 5,100

Boustead Tunnel 56,000 AFY

Twin Lakes Tunnel 41,000 AFY

San Juan-Chama Project 83,000 AFY

Aurora Homestake Pipeline 16,000 AFY

Source: Colorado Water Plan

Can Paris climate deal cap global warming at 2 degrees?

Originally posted on Summit County Citizens Voice:

dsfg Eight record-warm months and counting in 2015 so far.

Greenhouse gas cuts must start right away and continue after 2030

Staff Report

The deal currently on the table at the upcoming Paris climate talks would be a big step toward limiting global warming at or near 2 degrees Celsius — deemed a critical environmental threshold by climate scientists.

But reaching that target will require additional commitments to cut greenhouse gas emissions beyond 2025, according to a new study that took a close look at the pledges made by individual countries to reduce their emissions.

View original 365 more words

How does pharmaceutical pollution affect fish?

Originally posted on Summit County Citizens Voice:

The Snake River courses through a boulder field near Keystone. Colorado. Traces of medicine in freshwater streams have a wide range of impacts on fish.

New study documents wide range of impacts

Staff Report

Fish exposed to remnant traces of medicines, including pain relievers, muscle relaxants and antidepressants, grow more slowly and have a harder time escaping predators, say scientists who carefully studied the effects of pharmaceutical pollutants.

The study analyzed effects from nine individual pharmaceuticals, as well as varying mixtures of these chemicals, on both juvenile and adult fathead minnows. It was conducted by the Aquatic Toxicology Laboratory at St. Cloud State University and the U.S. Geological Survey, with the findings published in a special edition of Environmental Toxicology & Chemistry.

View original 483 more words

#AnimasRiver: Questions remain for mine spill claims process — The Farmington Daily Times

From the Farmington Daily Times (Noel Lyn Smith):

Navajo Nation Attorney General Ethel Branch is continuing to question the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency about the procedure to file claims for damages caused by the Gold King Mine spill.

Branch presented her concerns and issues in a Nov. 18 letter to Avi Garbow, general counsel for the EPA. Her letter, which was released by the tribe on Monday, questions the EPA’s efforts to address claims and recovery efforts for the Aug. 5 spill…

Branch’s letter was in response to a Nov. 3 letter Garbow wrote to the attorney general, which was a reply to two letters Branch wrote in October.

The attorney general stated she was “surprised” by Garbow’s suggestion the EPA has not determined if the Federal Tort Claims Act applies to the spill. The Federal Tort Claims Act is a federal law that permits private parties to sue the United States in federal court for damages committed by individuals acting on behalf of the country.

“This position cannot be squared with the U.S. EPA’s repeated public statements of responsibility for the spill,” Branch wrote.

She added that indecision does not seem to jibe with the EPA’s distribution of Standard Form 95 on the Navajo Nation and on the EPA website.

Branch’s second expressed concern is that the EPA still does not have a process in place to “ensure full, fair and prompt recovery” for the Navajo people and tribe.

She added that Garbow’s letter did not accept the tribe’s proposal to establish an interim claims process and relief fund for tribal members who seek compensation without releasing future claims or those unknown to the claimant.

“I was disappointed to hear your position that the U.S. EPA does not ‘have the ability to establish’ such a process,” Branch wrote.

The attorney general said the tribe is continuing to examine all options, including working with Congress on legislation to improve the process to allow interim claims.

In hopes such congressional action occurs, Branch stated Navajo officials are providing tribal members with claim forms that include language reserving the claimant’s right to file supplemental claims.

She said tribal officials have been talking to individuals who were impacted by the spill, and many of those people have wondered about the need to present documentation to support their claims.

“My concern is that my people may forego submitting legitimate claims because they do not have itemized documentation of every loss,” she wrote.

In concluding her letter, Branch stated she remains committed to working with federal agencies, and she hopes Garbow clarifies statements made in his Nov. 3 letter.

In Garbow’s letter to Branch, he assured Branch the EPA remains committed to cleanup responsibilities and to a long-term monitoring strategy.

He mentioned the EPA is continuing an internal review of events leading up to the spill. In addition, the agency received the results of an independent evaluation by the U.S. Department of the Interior and is waiting for the release of a review by the Office of Inspector General.

“The findings and conclusions of these reports and investigations, once complete, will be carefully reviewed by EPA’s Claims Officer in order to assess the applicability of the FTCA for purposes of paying legitimate claims against the United States for money damages arising from the Gold King Mine incident,” Garbow wrote.

He added it is “not unusual” for claimants to need additional time to assess damages, and the Federal Tort Claims Act allows claimants up to two years to file a claim.

Garbow wrote the EPA does not have “the ability to establish an interim claims process by amending the Standard Form 95,” which was requested by the Navajo Nation.

“I am also committed to exploring and considering all options to seek means of providing compensation as allowed by law for legitimate money damages arising from the incident, both within the Navajo Nation, and in other impacted communities,” Garbow stated in the conclusion of his letter.

Bottom of Animas River at Durango August 8, 2015 via Twitter and The Durango Herald
Bottom of Animas River at Durango August 8, 2015 via Twitter and The Durango Herald

#COWaterPlan: “…the same giant unresolved issue is always present — funding” — Greg Walcher

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Greg Walcher):

Ever since the writings of Solomon more than 900 years BC, it has been said that “there is nothing new under the sun.” He was not referring to Colorado’s continual water planning, but he could not have described it better.

Gov. John Hickenlooper just announced what he called Colorado’s “first-ever” comprehensive water plan. It is the final product of a decade of meetings, committees, and proposals. As finally adopted by the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB), the 500-page plan calls for $20 billion worth of conservation measures, though no specific strategy for funding it.

Interestingly, the press reports mention the 10-year process, but also claim this governor ordered CWCB to begin statewide water planning in 2013. In fact it has been underway a long time — not one decade, but several. But when things go well, there is plenty of credit to go around, and much of this new water plan is praiseworthy.

It calls for a new statewide conservation goal of 400,000 acre-feet of water by 2050. It also mentions a projected shortfall in municipal and industrial water demand of 560,000 acre-feet by 2050, and proposes to reduce that shortfall to zero by 2030. Again, the math is a bit unclear, but whether we plan to conserve 400,000 or 560,000 acre feet, it would be a good thing either way.

Interestingly, the plan also calls for construction of 400,000 acre-feet of additional water storage — which many of us have advocated for years. Our state is growing, not shrinking, and our need for water will continue to grow. Colorado is entitled under interstate agreements to substantially more water than it uses, so it is simply irresponsible not to store the water we get during wet periods, so we can use it during dry periods. When I served on the CWCB 15 years ago, we advocated creative new ways to store water, by expanding existing reservoirs, and using underground storage in closed aquifers. Both techniques have been used successfully elsewhere, and both are now part of Colorado’s official state plan. Bravo.

Unfortunately, the plan also mentions the prospect of new trans-mountain diversions — which should not and will not happen. Half of the Colorado River is already diverted to the Front Range, more than enough. There are, as the plan points out, plenty of ways for Denver to conserve water, and to store more of its own supply. In fact, as Denver Water CEO Jim Lochhead points out, their residents have already reduced usage 20 percent over the last 10 years without any major problems. Lochhead was quoted saying, “We can go a lot lower without sacrificing quality of life.” He is right.

We have been down this road many times before, and the same giant unresolved issue is always present — funding. Much of the anticipated $20 billion cost of these water measures would be borne by utilities and their customers (who have not yet been asked if they want higher water bills), but the state also needs another $100 million a year for its share. The report suggests new federal funding (unlikely from today’s budget-sensitive Congress), tax increases (perhaps a statewide mill levy, higher severance taxes, or a sales tax increase) — or a new bond program. Only the latter approach would really be new, and believe me, it is a can of worms.

You see, new water projects are always viewed with suspicion in Colorado. A 2003 initiative [Referendum A] to create bonding authority for water projects became so thoroughly unpopular that it was defeated in every county, and became a campaign issue against candidates (including me) in three consecutive elections. That measure authorized no water projects; it was merely a future funding mechanism. Still, a century of history gave Coloradans good reason to suspect the worst: that someone might eventually use it to build trans-mountain diversions to “steal” water from one basin to another. So the proposal went down in flames at the ballot box and the result was, for another generation, no new water storage at all.

The comprehensive plan completed this week provides some hope that Coloradans might eventually emerge from those years of distrust and work together on a long-term solution. That could involve both conservation and creative new storage in every river basin of the state (instead of diverting water between them), public-private partnerships, bonding and other new funding sources, and a genuinely more prosperous future for all of Colorado. That would be something new under the sun, and would be worth all the effort that has gone into it.

Greg Walcher is president of the Natural Resources Group and author of “Smoking Them Out: The Theft of the Environment and How to Take it Back.” He is a Western Slope native.

“We’re pleased that the #COWaterPlan recognizes that healthy rivers are central to Colorado’s quality of life” — David Nickum

The Western Slope headwaters of the Yampa River, which legally still has water that could be put to beneficial use on the Front Range.
The Western Slope headwaters of the Yampa River, which legally still has water that could be put to beneficial use on the Front Range.

Here’s the release from Colorado Trout Unlimited:

Trout Unlimited praised the final Colorado Water Plan unveiled today by the Colorado Water Conservation Board, saying that it recognizes the key role that healthy rivers and streams play in sustaining the state’s economy and quality of life.

“We’re pleased that the Colorado Water Plan recognizes that healthy rivers are central to Colorado’s quality of life and help drive our booming, $13 billion recreation economy,” said David Nickum, executive director of Colorado Trout Unlimited. “If we want a future of Gold Medal trout rivers and outdoor opportunities, we need to plan for that future—and this plan is a step in the right direction.”

“Instead of fighting over a dwindling resource, with winners and losers, Coloradans should work together to find solutions that meet all of our diverse needs, from agriculture and industry to recreation and the environment. Collaboration is key,” said Drew Peternell, director of TU’s Colorado Water Project. “There are a number of concepts highlighted in the Water Plan that could lead Colorado to a better water future.”

Trout Unlimited pointed to three specific features of the Water Plan that, if adequately supported and funded by state lawmakers, will help protect Colorado’s rivers and sustain our economy:

1. The Water Plan calls for irrigation modernization.

Across Colorado, TU is a leader in working with ranchers and farmers on innovative irrigation modernization projects that improve water delivery while protecting river flows and habitat. “We are pleased that the plan recognizes the benefit of modernizing irrigation infrastructure,” said Peternell. “But ranchers and farmers need support and incentives to undertake these improvements.”

TU called on the Colorado General Assembly to provide increased funding for irrigation modernization and innovation projects and to enact substantive legislation to facilitate these projects.

Peternell noted that water rights are valuable property interests, and TU strongly believes that agricultural producers who use their water rights to improve stream flows should be compensated for doing so. “We look forward to working with state lawmakers, the CWCB and other stakeholders to promote irrigation modernization and innovation during the plan implementation,” said Peternell.

“We need to get money to the ground for good projects,” he added. “That’s the next challenge—moving from good ideas to on-the-ground action.”

2. The Water Plan encourages local communities to create stream management plans.

TU also praised the plan for encouraging local communities to create stream management plans (SMPs). SMPs will help stakeholders gain a better understanding of the stream flows necessary to support river health and recreational uses of water, while continuing to meet other water uses. Healthy flow levels can be integrated into community-driven water plans that meet diverse water needs.

“Steam management plans bring local water users together to determine how best to use limited water resources,” Peternell said. “They are an exercise in collaboration.”

TU applauded the CWCB and General Assembly for setting aside funding for SMPs through the 2015 projects bill. However, the $1 million currently earmarked will not be sufficient for these important plans in coming years. TU calls on the CWCB and General Assembly to increase funding for SMPs in future years.

The Water Plan establishes a framework for evaluating proposed trans-mountain diversions of water.
TU is also pleased that the Water Plan contains a “Conceptual Framework” for evaluating new proposed diversions of water from one basin to another. TU believes that the Conceptual Framework should prevent unnecessary, river-damaging trans-mountain diversions (TMDs).

TU has argued that Colorado should reject all new TMDs unless the project proponent (1) is employing high levels of conservation; (2) demonstrates that water is available for the project; and (3) makes commitments that guarantee against environmental or economic harm to the basin of origin.

The Colorado Water Plan, requested by Gov. Hickenlooper in 2013, is the product of more than two years of public meetings, thousands of public comments and eight Basin Implementation Plans. Trout Unlimited staff and volunteers have been actively involved throughout the Colorado Water Plan process, submitting comments and helping shape Basin Implementation Plans. Through its Our Colorado River program, TU has helped unite tens of thousands of Coloradans around core water values such as collaboration, infrastructure modernization, and conserving healthy rivers and streams.

While the final plan contains a host of strong ideas, TU said that implementing these good ideas will be the true measure of success.

“The Final Water Plan is a beginning not an end,” said Nickum. “The key to Colorado’s water future will be actual on-the-ground collaboration to meet our water needs while protecting our state’s rivers and agricultural heritage.”

Colorado transmountain diversions via the University of Colorado
Colorado transmountain diversions via the University of Colorado