Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District board meeting recap

View of runoff, also called nonpoint source pollution, from a farm field in Iowa during a rain storm. Topsoil as well as farm fertilizers and other potential pollutants run off unprotected farm fields when heavy rains occur. (Credit: Lynn Betts/U.S. Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service/Wikimedia Commons)
View of runoff, also called nonpoint source pollution, from a farm field in Iowa during a rain storm. Topsoil as well as farm fertilizers and other potential pollutants run off unprotected farm fields when heavy rains occur. (Credit: Lynn Betts/U.S. Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service/Wikimedia Commons)

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A district formed in 2002 to keep water in the Arkansas Valley is turning its attention toward the quality of that water.

“We cannot stick our heads in the sand,” General Manager Jay Winner told the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District board Wednesday. “There’s going to be a paradigm shift to water quality.”

Winner’s comment followed an assessment of how state regulations on nutrients in water will shift in the near future by Peter Nichols, the district’s attorney and a former chairman of the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission.

Nichols explained that four large dischargers in the Arkansas River basin — Colorado Springs, Pueblo, Fountain and Security — are headed toward state standards that will require them to further treat discharged wastewater to meet numeric standards for nutrients by 2022.

In addition, there will be more limits on nonpoint source pollutants, those which do not have a defined source. While the state enforces water quality, the directives are issued by the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

“What they’ll look at is whether the levels are protective to uses downstream,” Nichols said.

That would affect the largest user of water in the basin: large-scale, commercial irrigated agriculture.

“This is a very large problem,” Nichols said. “The state has taken an incremental approach to fund projects to get (the numbers) under control.”

The Lower Ark has taken an active role in flood control on Fountain Creek and the Arkansas River in the past, Winner said. It will now be more concerned about projects that improve water quality as well.

There also is concern that regulations for irrigators on water quality could tighten, and the Lower Ark’s Super Ditch program, which fallows some land so water can be leased, would benefit water quality, according to ongoing studies by Colorado State University- Fort Collins.

The Lower Ark also is developing a pilot project on 2,000 acres to see how improvements like sprinklers or drip systems could improve water quality. This would complement past studies that show water quality gains by changing irrigation patterns.

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