#ColoradoRiver: “Killing the #Colorado” spotlights new solutions — American Rivers #COriver

killingthecoloradotrailerscreenshot

From American Rivers (Sinjin Eberle):

I have noticed a lot of chatter lately about the situation at Lake Mead. Dramatic overuse, prolonged drought, and the effects of increased temperatures have led to a historically low volume of water stored in the largest reservoir on the Colorado River. One of the most critical components of water in the west is less than 40% full. Yet while some people scramble for a quick fix or point fingers, others see the long game and note the optimism that working together for smart, sustainable solutions can bring. There is hope, there is a roadmap, and together we have the knowledge, skill, and foresight to make it happen.

Lake Mead behind Hoover Dam December 2015 via Greg Hobbs.
Lake Mead behind Hoover Dam December 2015 via Greg Hobbs.

The Discovery Channel recently produced a new documentary, Killing the Colorado, a made-for-TV version of the lengthy ProPublica series of the same name. The show is excellent, comprehensive, and features a number of voices that you may not expect to be featured in a film about the environment. Imperial valley agricultural producers, water managers, a red-state Senator and a blue-state Governor – all identifying problems facing the basin, and most putting forth an optimistic view that a human-caused predicament can be solved with human-inspired ingenuity.

One quote in particular is poignant – there is a scene with Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper in his office flipping through a binder full of historic water compacts. Upon his observance of the generations of water agreements, he remarks “The thing you realize when you go through these [water] compacts, is that everyone is in this together.” Given the situation facing Lake Mead, a growing chorus of voices around Lake Powell, the birth of the Colorado Water Plan, and a recognition that heathy rivers support healthy agriculture and sustainable economies, we truly are all rowing the same boat together in the Colorado Basin.

Lake Powell via Aspen Journalism
Lake Powell via Aspen Journalism

But, how can Lake Mead affect Colorado from a thousand miles downstream? Well, due to the Colorado River Compact of 1922, headwaters states like Colorado must send a certain amount of water to the Southwestern states of Arizona, Nevada, and California – it’s the law of the river, and the law of the land. And since when the Compact was developed, California was a fast growing destination, it has priority and can “call” for water if needed. For years, California has had the luxury to get much of the surplus of water that Colorado and Wyoming have sent downstream to be stored in Lake Powell and Lake Mead. But now with prolonged drought, a fast-growing population across the entire Southwest, and a substantial agricultural economy (especially in the Imperial Valley), the era of surplus water is over. As such, Lake Mead is directly connected to Colorado, whether we like it or not, and that connection is the Colorado River.

Killing the Colorado does a fantastic job over nearly an hour-and-a-half of highlighting a variety of colorful characters who have recognized that shortage and a lack of water will change everything in the future – that future is now. But while both the show and the written article are excellent at highlighting the situation, they don’t delve deeply into what I think is most important – that real solutions do exist, and we know how to implement them, it simply takes our collective will to get them moving. Solutions like urban and agricultural conservation and efficiency, like reuse and recycling, like innovative water banking and flexible management practices, like continuing the shift towards renewable energy (solar and wind don’t devour cooling water like natural gas and coal plants require). But while these efforts all seem daunting and out of an individual’s control, there are actions that each of us can take every day that together, make a huge difference. Like buying and installing your own rain barrel for your outside plants and flowers, like supporting your local farmer at the farmer’s market – small things that have a great impact, especially when we all do them together.

Solutions do exist, and as Arizona Senator Jeff Flake said “The drought over the past couple of years has awakened all of us to the future we have if we don’t do better planning. There are many things that are out of our control…Planning is so important. Conserving. Recharging. Water banking. Water markets. These are all important things that have to take place.

Let’s get started!

The Yampa River flows through the Carpenter Ranch. Photo courtesy of John Fielder from his new book, “Colorado’s Yampa River: Free Flowing & Wild from the Flat Tops to the Green.” -- via The Mountain Town News
The Yampa River flows through the Carpenter Ranch. Photo courtesy of John Fielder from his new book, “Colorado’s Yampa River: Free Flowing & Wild from the Flat Tops to the Green.” — via The Mountain Town News

Public to get say next year on final NISP impact statement — BizWest

Northern Integrated Supply Project July 27, 2016 via Northern Water.
Northern Integrated Supply Project July 27, 2016 via Northern Water.

From BizWest (Dallas Heltzell):

“We don’t know if that’s early or late 2017,” said Brian Werner, communications manager for the Berthoud-based Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, the driving force behind the proposed Northern Integrated Supply Project. Noting that the planning process for NISP now is in its 13th year, he added that “given the pace so far, we’d expect to see it released to the public toward the latter part of the year.”

[…]

The additional opportunity for public input “is not something we’d ordinarily do,” said John Urbanic, a Littleton-based senior project manager for the Corps’ Omaha District. “There’s typically no comment period on the final because the studies have been completed.”

The change in Corps policy was decided, Urbanic said, because the Corps has done additional water-quality analyses since it issued a Supplemental Draft EIS in June 2015. The final EIS will include updated environmental studies, as well as refinements that project manager Northern Water has made to its proposal.

In April, Northern Water responded to last year’s sharp criticism from citizens and some governmental bodies by revising its plans in order to provide a larger, steadier flow of water in the Cache la Poudre River as it flows through Fort Collins. The change would include releasing 14,000 acre-feet of water a year from Glade Reservoir into the Poudre for a 12-mile stretch through the city, then capturing it again at the “Timnath Inlet” near East Mulberry Street west of Interstate 25 through a pumping station and pipeline that would carry it down the Larimer-Weld county line to Northern Water’s Southern Water Supply Project, which serves communities from Broomfield to Fort Morgan.

Northern Water designed the revision to help allay opponents’ fears that by draining water from the Poudre, NISP would limit opportunities for recreation that include tubing, whitewater kayaking and fishing. The Fort Collins City Council late last summer unanimously voted to conditionally oppose the project, based on a report from a broad range of city departments that listed concerns about water-quality degradation because of reduced streamflow that could cause the city to spend tens of millions of dollars on extra water treatment, as well as what they saw as an incomplete supplemental draft EIS by the Corps.

Northern Water’s revised plan also would eliminate a proposed pipeline from Horsetooth Reservoir, west of Fort Collins, into the NISP system, Werner said — another response to public concerns.

Then in July, Werner said the proposed Galeton Reservoir might have to be moved because the site is home to about two dozen active oil and gas wells operated by Noble Energy…

“The move of the Galeton Reservoir site will not slow down the process further,” Werner told BizWest on Monday.

Urbanic said all public input received during the comment period for the final EIS will be reviewed and addressed in the “Record of Decision,” which completes the Corps’ permitting process.

About a dozen cities and towns and four water districts have signed up to buy water from the project if it wins final approval from the Corps. Supporters see NISP as crucial to keeping up with the growing demands of development, industry and agriculture along the Front Range and catching rainwater and snowmelt for use in drier years.

Arkansas Valley Super Ditch update

Arkansas Valley Conduit Comanche North route via Reclamation
Arkansas Valley Conduit Comanche North route via Reclamation

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Lease-fallowing plan so successful, no one notices

After all of the fireworks that accompanied creation of the Arkansas Valley Super Ditch, the actual operation has attracted little notice.

By design.

“We put enough water into the ponds so that no one on the river knows this is happening,” Jack Goble, engineer for the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District, told the board Wednesday.

Goble gave an update on the Super Ditch pilot program that is providing water to Fountain, Security and Fowler from farm ground dried up on the Catlin Canal near Rocky Ford. The water is accounted for on a dayto- day basis, with deliveries to the cities each month. The response of all participants has been enthusiastic.

“With crop values down, they want to fallow more farms,” Goble said.

But under [HB13-1248], passed by the state Legislature in 2013, that can’t happen. The law limits 30 percent of the farmland enrolled in the program to be fallowed in any given year, and each farm can be dried up only three years in 10.

This year, only 26 percent of the 900 acres on six farms in the program were fallowed and so far have yielded more water than at the same time last year. Through the end of July, the program yielded 239 acre-feet (78 million gallons). That’s on track to beat last year’s yield of 409 acre-feet.

But that depends on what happens the rest of this irrigation season, Goble said.

Water not used on fields is channeled into recharge ponds, which mimic the runoff and seepage that would have occurred if the farms had been irrigated. The ponds also cover their own evaporative losses. Recharge stations measure the flows on the ditch each day.

Those numbers are plugged into formulas that compute the consumptive use — the amount of water crops traditionally grown in the fields would have consumed.

On a monthly basis, the consumptive use equivalent is transferred, on paper, from Lower Ark accounts to Security and Fountain accounts in Lake Pueblo, where it is transported through the Fountain Valley Conduit.

For Fowler, the water is moved to Colorado Water Protective and Development Association accounts to augment the town’s wells.

“We need to let the water community know, ‘Hey, this works,’ ’’ said Peter Nichols, attorney for the Lower Ark district and Super Ditch.

Participants have had to overcome skepticism, opposition and even lawsuits since 2012 to achieve results that have been favorable to everyone involved, he said.

Leah Martinsson and Megan Gutwein, of Nichols’ Boulder Law office, are writing articles about the success of the program for national water and legal journals. Nichols also suggested presenting a report on the progress of Super Ditch to Colorado Water Congress and the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

“We’ve done a pretty incredible job,” added Lynden Gill, president of the Lower Ark board. “The first year, it seemed like there were nothing but roadblocks. It’s absolutely incredible, the progress we’ve made.”

Taos students complete unique acequia project — The Taos News

An acequia along the Las Trampas in northern New Mexico is suspended on a trestle. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)
An acequia along the Las Trampas in northern New Mexico is suspended on a trestle. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

From the Taos Soil and Water Conservation District via TaosNews.com:

Earlier this year, the Taos Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) received a grant for more than $37,000 from the New Mexico Youth Conservation Corps (YCC) to put Taos youth to work mapping and documenting the condition of acequias within the town of Taos.

Ten Taos youth participated and earned an income, transferable University of New Mexico science credits and Taos High School science credits. Taos SWCD hired three trainers — David Gilroy, Miguel Santistevan and Enrique Gonzales — to teach the students about the cultural, financial, biological and historical importance of acequias.

The students also earned their American Red Cross first aid certification and were taught how to work as a team and how to use GPS units and ArcView geographic information systems.

As they walked the acequias, they were accompanied by mayordomos, who were each interviewed. Students had many guest speakers who taught them about the identification of weed infestations, legal issues that acequias face, water table/recharge issues and more.

Late last month, the Taos SWCD held its 75th annual meeting and potluck at the Juan I. Gonzales Agricultural Center, located at 202 Chamisa Road. The guest speakers were the YCC students, who presented the outcome of the project.

About 110 community members attended, including Taos Mayor Dan Barrone, Town Manager Rick Bellis, City Councilman Fritz Hahn, County Commissioner Candyce O’Donnell and more. The YCC students later presented at a town council meeting, and another presentation was scheduled before the county commission.

“I think it is so important for Taos youth to learn about the acequias that define Taos, to understand the gravity of ignoring restoration needs and to get involved in protecting what remains. This project may become an annual endeavor for Taos SWCD – we’ll be assessing the success when this year’s program is complete,” said project organizer Tanya Duncan.

El Paso County struggles to fill water needs — The Pueblo Chieftain #COWaterPlan

Upper Black Squirrel Creek Designated Groundwater Basin
Upper Black Squirrel
Creek Designated Groundwater Basin

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

In a way, the whole reason a state water plan is needed lies north of the Pueblo County line.

In the Arkansas River basin, three-fourths of the future need identified in a 2008 study was in El Paso County, the fastest growing area in the region. Like Denver, the metropolitan growth has the potential to dry up rural farming areas.

Not all of the growth is in Colorado Springs; it’s in outlying areas, as well.

For more than a decade, The Pueblo Chieftain has documented the progress of the Southern Delivery System, purchases of water rights by El Paso County cities or water providers, and water quality issues, such as changing limits on groundwater contaminants.

Cherokee Metro District President Jan Cederberg and Fountain Water Engineer Mike Fink give their viewpoints on Colorado’s Water Plan, based on questions supplied by The Chieftain on behalf of the Arkansas Basin Roundtable.

Cherokee, a district that sits like an island within Colorado Springs, over the last decade has looked at various pipelines from other areas to meet its water needs.

Fountain, a city south of Colorado Springs, gets its water from several sources but is relying heavily on SDS, which also allows it to draw more water through the Fountain Valley Conduit.

How do we fill the gap in the Arkansas River Basin within the Colorado Water Plan and Basin Implementation Plan?

Cederberg: Given that the river is already over-appropriated, we will all need to keep on a continuous path of improving water efficiency, but recognize that alone will not close the gap. We will also need to collaborate with our friends and neighbors in the basin to make best use of the water resources available through innovative arrangements such as alternative transfer methods. Ultimately, water uses are likely to be prioritized to “highest and best uses” in response to market economics.

Fink: Each water supplier and all of the major water users in the Arkansas Basin will need to participate in the effort to fill the gap. All elements of the water supply pantheon should be reviewed for improvements in yield, improvement of efficiencies in the sources, in the transportation, storage and treatment, delivery and return flow management and conservation (both the supply side and the demand side).

What projects do you plan to fill the gap?

Cederberg: Cherokee Metropolitan District’s primary supply is alluvial groundwater in the Upper Black Squirrel Creek designated basin. We will continue considering the purchase of water rights from that basin as they are made available.

We also recently developed a new Denver Basin well field near Black Forest, approximately 15 miles north of our main service area. Although this supply is regarded as unsustainable for the long term, it is drought-proof and can be used in conjunction with junior water rights to help meet dry-year demands. We will grow this well field and consider strategies to extend the life of this Denver Basin supply.

In addition, the Cherokee Metropolitan District is collaborating with several other members of the Pikes Peak Regional Water Authority to consider a regional water system that would allow efficient delivery of water from the Fountain Creek/Arkansas River system.

Fink: Fountain Utilities adopted a comprehensive Water Master Plan in 2007. It was a decisional study that confirmed our participation in the Southern Delivery System Project, but it also provided a longer planning horizon for development of supply diversity and redundancy, treatment options, transmission system planning and delivery system planning.

One foundational element of the 2007 Water Master Plan was a dedication to enhancing the City’s Water Conservation efforts.

The projects that Fountain Utilities will either continue or commence implementation to improve our ability to meet the demands that increased population require include the following:

1. Southern Delivery System — SDS is an important addition to our utility’s supply system, but it is only a tool to move water from the Pueblo Reservoir and treat that water; SDS does not provide water, it only moves and treats water. Each of the participants is required to bring their own water to the pipe.

2. Return flow management — Fountain, as a beneficiary of the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project, receives an allocation of transbasin water delivered through the Fountain Valley Authority transmission and treatment system. This allocation is usable to extinction and the City will continue to maximize the use of this water through effective return-flow management.

3. Continued use of local groundwater resources — Fountain has groundwater wells that are both in the Fountain Aquifer and in the Widefield Aquifer. These are renewable resources that must have depletions augmented by surface water. Fountain’s continuing challenge is to treat the water from these sources to the quality that not only meets the Clean Drinking Water Standards, but that also maintains compliance with Health Advisories for trace contaminants.

Fountain, with Widefield and Security, is also pursuing the Widefield Aquifer Recharge Project. This long-term, renewable resource will divert flows from Fountain Creek into a treatment facility, inject the treated water into the Widefield Aquifer for storage that does not have evaporative losses, retrieve that water and treat it to drinking water standards.

How do we keep the gaps for agriculture and municipalities from becoming bigger?

Cederberg: We must continue to improve water efficiency on all fronts. As Cherokee has faced water supply challenges in recent years, we have asked our customers to conserve through watering restrictions and a tiered rate structure.

Their response, as proven through water demand data over time, has allowed us to reduce our demand forecast per home by more than 25 percent. In addition, Cherokee has developed an indirect reuse system by which reclaimed water recharges our main water supply aquifer.

Fink: All of the tools that the Colorado Water Plan examined (conservation, agriculture, storage, watershed health, education and outreach) will be needed to address demand, but I think that the coordination between water resource planning and land-use planning has possibly the most positive potential for closing the gap.

The one wild card in the identified tools in the Water Plan is innovation, and I am a firm believer that Colorado has the innovators to bring different and effective tools to the jobs than anyone has yet.

Agricultural drain replacement project a top priority for the Grand Valley Drainage District

Bicycling the Colorado National Monument, Grand Valley in the distance via Colorado.com
Bicycling the Colorado National Monument, Grand Valley in the distance via Colorado.com

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

It’s when storms break uphill that the Buthorn Drain becomes overwhelmed and the network of pipes turns from a pastoral conveyance to a pressurized system for which it was never designed.

“I’ve seen that manhole cover blow two feet off the ground,” said Bruce Palmer, who has lived for 51 years near the manhole cover on Walnut Court, through which the running water can be heard. “I’ve stood here in 9-inch engineer-type boots and the water was running over the top of those boots.”

The Buthorn Drain runs beneath the property of 50 or 60 residences, through a mobile-home park, beneath businesses and streets, and below — and through — a park.

It runs below Westlake Park downhill from West Middle School and then flows above and below a hill steep enough that concrete piles, or baffles, have been built in its path to slow floodwaters. Those same waters have dug beneath the baffles, reducing their ability to slow the floods.

The Grand Valley Drainage District made the Buthorn Drain its top priority and is expecting to spend $5 million on repairs and improvements to it, beginning with a close look at the system by Eric Krch of the engineering firm Souder Miller & Associates.

The first step in his study is to make sure that the drain still can handle its main job, then move into the question of whether it could handle a [1% probability flood].

It almost surely will not. Work already done has shown the system to be “severely undersized” for the 922-acre watershed served by the Buthorn Drain.

From there, Krch will draw up one or more solutions he’ll propose to the drainage district…

Businesses, local governments and other property owners, including churches and nonprofits, are charged $3 a month for every 2,500 square feet of impervious surface — those roofs, driveways, parking lots and so on. The district also has a $500 per 2,500 feet of impervious surface fee on new construction.

In all, the charges are expected to generate $2.7 million this year.

The fees, however, have earned the ire of Mesa County and the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce, which have challenged them in Mesa County District Court, contending that they amount to a tax that was imposed without a vote as required by the Colorado Constitution.

A judge, however, has ruled in denying a preliminary injunction that the charges are fees and not subject to the voter-approval requirement of the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights.

A full hearing on the matter remains to be scheduled — attorneys next week are to set a schedule — even as the district is moving ahead with the Buthorn Drain by hiring Souder Miller & Associates.

County and chamber officials say they don’t question the need for improvements such as those contemplated for the Buthorn Drain, but say they prefer to tackle drainage issues — and there are plenty — on a larger scale, using the 5-2-1 Drainage Authority.

The authority encompasses an area 10 times larger than that of the district. It takes in lands north of the river that are outside the boundaries of the drainage district, as well as land south of the river.

The county also questions the leadership of the drainage district, characterizing the three-member board as self-perpetuating.

The election of Cody Davis to the drainage district board this year was the first contest in decades.

All of those issues are beside the point for Ryan, who contends that the drainage district board is dealing properly with issues inside district boundaries, which happen to include much of the most heavily populated parts of the county, as well as much of its commercial and industrial base.

Dealing with the Buthorn Drain means dealing with “a major public health hazard,” Krch said.

When the drain is overfilled by stormwater, Krch said, “People have suffered significant damages to their possessions, there has been loss of property and I don’t know how many accidents occurred on flooded streets.”

It’s algal bloom time for area surface waters

HarmfulAlgalBloomillustrationseagrantmichigan

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Rachel Riley):

Steamy temperatures, a lack of shady trees and stagnant, shallow waters make the pond [Duckwood Pond in Fountain Creek Regional Park ] a breeding ground for the green algae, which thrives on warmth and sunlight. Another ingredient for the algae’s success, nitrogen, is added by the resident flock of Canada geese, with each bird producing about a pound of nutrient-rich feces each day…

The photosynthetic, plant-like organisms are found in practically every…body of water, from ponds to reservoirs, and can multiply rapidly under the right conditions to create algae blooms. Luckily, there are no negative effects on the body of water’s aquatic ecosystem – only its aesthetic value, Salamon said.

But it’s often hard to distinguish regular algae with its much less innocuous counterpart: cyanobacteria, also known as blue-green algae. For reasons scientists haven’t nailed down, cyanobacteria blooms can sometimes produce toxins that threaten nearby flora and fauna.

Of the 150 lakes across the state sampled routinely by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, about 30 have tested positive for blue-green algae, including 10 to 15 that regularly produce blue-green algae blooms, according to the department.

And while officials have not observed any negative consequences for wildlife connected to the presence of cyanobacteria, state agencies are taking precautions.

The department has developed an in-house testing method to determine if the blue-green algae is producing harmful toxins, what the toxins are and how concentrated they are, said Sarah Wheeler, a researcher at the state’s Water Quality Control Division…

According to Colorado Parks and Wildlife, areas where cyanobacteria blooms have occurred include Stagecoach State Park, Barr Lake State Park, and Cherry Creek State Park and De Weese Reservoir.

The cyanobacteria blooms most often occur in urban areas and agricultural regions the eastern plains that experience a lot of runoff from fertilizers – the same places that are hotspots for regular algae blooms, Wheeler said.

“Cyanobacteria do really well with high nutrients and lots of sunlight – they form when conditions are right, so when the temperatures are really hot in the summer, the water temperatures increase and you also have high nitrogen,” she said.

Unlike most other contaminants, cyanobacteria and the toxins they produce are not regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency, so it’s up to state officials to decide how to monitor its presence in recreational and drinking water sources. In June 2015, the EPA issued a drinking-water health advisory for two contaminants sometimes produced by cyanobacteria: microcystins and cylindrospermopsin.

Research has associated high levels of drinking water containing the toxins with stomach flu, liver and kidney damage. People swimming in lakes where cyanobacteria was present have reported stomachaches, allergic reactions and skin rashes. For wildlife, long-term exposure may also lead to liver and kidney damage, according to the EPA advisory.

While officials have observed some drinking-water sources that have cyanobacteria blooms, none has tested positively for levels of above-recommended levels of microcystins and cylindrospermopsin specified in the EPA’s health advisory, said David Dani, who oversees coaching and training for the Colorado Safe Drinking Water Program…

In 2014, the agency formed the Algal Toxin Team, consisting of park, district, area and deputy regional managers, as well as public information officers. Last spring, Parks and Wildlife met with environmental epidemiology officials from the health and environment department to determine at what toxin level warning or caution signs should be posted at bodies of water containing cyanobacteria blooms.

The guidelines also help park officials identify the blooms, [Mindi May] said.

One method is the stick test: If you run a stick through the water and strings of the algae cling to the stick, it’s filamentous algae, not cyanobacteria. Another is the bottle test: If you scoop up some of the water and the algae sinks to the bottom of the container, it’s probably regular algae and not cyanobacteria, which would float or remain suspended in the water.

When park officials identify a cyanobacteria bloom, there is often little they can do besides wait for the bloom to subside, which can happen within days, May said.