Why so few water markets in the West? — The Mountain Town News

The Four Corners Generating Station in northwestern New Mexico draws water from the San Juan River. 2014 photo/Allen Best
The Four Corners Generating Station in northwestern New Mexico draws water from the San Juan River. 2014 photo/Allen Best

From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

Water intensity of energy but also why the West has so few water markets

The value of water depends upon context. To somebody in a desert, absent a drink for three days, nothing could be more valuable. In a flood, the value of the water would lie in its absence.

In Western states, where scarcity more generally prevails, we’re still fumbling with how much value to assign water. Stacy Tellinghuisen brings this observation to her work in evaluating water issues at the nexus with energy for Western Resource Advocates, an environmental non-profit. WRA in 2011 issued a report “Every Drop Counts: Valuing the Water Used to Generate Electricity.”

Stacy Tellinghuisen
Stacy Tellinghuisen

In a conference call sponsored by The Biomass Monitor, Tellinghuisen said that one of the few water markets exists in northern Colorado. There, in the area north from Denver, many cities and farms get water diverted from the Colorado River via an elaborate diversion structure called the Colorado-Big Thompson project. Completed after World War II, the C-BT was intended to provide water to expand agriculture. Now, the water has mostly been purchased for municipal use in the Boulder-Greeley-Fort Collins area.

Water prices spiked between 2000 and 2008, said Tellinghuisen, reviewing the report that WRA did several years ago. “The price increased significantly, and that was largely due to significant drought in 2001 and 2002, combined with additional population growth in the region,” she said.

“I think that trend is a really relevant when you think about climate change and continued municipal growth across the West,” she added.

Why does this more highly developed market exist in northern Colorado? And why is it absent elsewhere?

Tellinghuisen explained that she thinks it’s because of the unusual nature of the C-BT. The project was finished at one time, water becoming available in the form of shares. This is in contrast with water availability in so many other places governed by the doctrine of prior appropriations. Appropriation dates vary greatly, as do allotments and other factors.

Tap fees are one way of measuring the value of water. They are the costs of getting the right to hook into the water-delivery infrastructure of a city or other jurisdiction. In theory, tap fees would be more-or-less uniform across a metropolitan area, just as the price of bread varies only marginally from one store to the next. In practice, said Tellinghuisen, there is great variability. She cited the example of Denver, which charges $5,000 for a tap fee, as compared with one of Boulder’s suburbs, where the cost is $25,000.

Even within individual cities, water can be valued very differently. Southern Nevada Water Authority has specified rates for existing users. How then to explain the current efforts by Las Vegas to extend pipelines hundreds of miles away to tap aquifers along the Nevada-Utah border? The cost of that water would necessarily be much higher.

Water consumed in generating electricity also varies greatly. Coal-fired power plants used significant quantities, typically 500 to 600 gallons per megawatt of production, while nuclear power plants use on the order of 700 gallons per megawatt. Combined-cycle natural gas plants use less, 180 to 200 gallons per megawatt.

Dry-cooling techniques for fossil-fueled generation can reduce water use by up to 90 percent, and more electrical production now comes from natural gas, instead of coal, resulting in a net reduction in the water footprint of energy.

In the renewable sector, biomass plants vary greatly, between 400 and 500 gallons per megawatt. Wind and solar use virtually none, except for concentrated solar—which uses a lot of water.

Solar panels, such these at the Garfield County Airport near Rifle, Colo., need virtually no water, once they are manufactured. Photo/Allen Best
Solar panels, such these at the Garfield County Airport near Rifle, Colo., need virtually no water, once they are manufactured. Photo/Allen Best

Recent years have brought greater awareness of the water intensity of various forms of electrical production. Investor-owned utilities, the primary providers of electricity in Colorado and other states, are governed by state-appointed public utility commissions, and those utilities in recent years have begun describing water impacts in the resource-planning documents they are required to submit to regulators.

Arizona Public Service was among the first to begin disclosing water impacts, but others now do so, too. Statutes delegating authority to PUCs provide authority to consider water, said Tellinghuisen, but there’s also a broadening understanding of the water-energy nexus among energy companies and government regulators.

Why does it matter?

“It comes back to a zero-sum game,” said Tellinghuisen. Virtually all rivers in the West are tapped out. For expansion of water use for one purpose, other water uses must be curtailed. While there are laws that govern the transfer, meaning a new power plant couldn’t just seize water, causing cities and farms to go dry, it is part of societal choices. WRA obviously thinks that the minimal water use of renewables is a major argument for increased renewables.

Silt water plant to be powered by sun — Rifle Citizen Telegram

Silt water plant solar array photo via the Rifle Citizen Telegram
Silt water plant solar array photo via the Rifle Citizen Telegram

From the Rifle Citizen Telegram (Heather McGregor):

Crews are setting foundations, erecting racks and installing solar panels in a wave of activity at the Silt Water Treatment Plant. The 234-kilowatt solar array is slated to be in service and powering the plant by Dec. 31, according to Katharine Rushton, commercial sales associate for Sunsense Solar.

The new solar array will offset 100 percent of the plant’s electrical use on an annual basis.

It’s being financed with a power purchase agreement and renewable energy credits from Xcel Energy, so it cost the town just $3,500 in upfront fees.

The solar system will save the town an estimated $102,000 over the next 20 years, or about 15 percent of the plant’s total annual electric costs, and it will lock in electric rates for 20 years.

Work on the project started Nov. 3. It’s the first of three major solar energy systems being installed in Garfield County in 2014 and 2015 by Sunsense, a Carbondale solar developer and contractor. Together, the systems will add up to 1 megawatt of renewable energy capacity.

Next up after the Silt project are arrays that will power the Battlement Mesa Metro District water treatment plant and Roaring Fork High School in Carbondale.

The Silt array includes 756 solar panels, each capable of generating 310 watts of electricity. A bank of eight inverters will convert the direct current electricity to alternating current, so the power can be used by the plant’s equipment or fed back onto the Xcel Energy power grid.

Facing a tight, two-month timeline, the crews are closely following each other for all three phases of building the ground-mounted array, Rushton said.

The foundation contractor, Lyons Fencing of Rifle, set the footers. The Sunsense crew erected the framework and solar panels, and is now finishing off the electrical wiring. Expert Electric of Rifle is handling the alternating current aspects of the project.

Sunsense is also partnering with Garfield Clean Energy to install an energy data logger at the plant as part of the project. It will measure electricity use and solar production in 15-minute intervals for display on the Garfield Building Energy Navigator website.

More water treatment coverage here.

The Atlantic: A 200,000-mile ‘canyon of fire’ erupts through the atmosphere of the sun

Greeley’s wastewater treatment plant wins awards for energy efficiency

Wastewater Treatment Process
Wastewater Treatment Process

Here’s the release from the City of Greeley:

Greeley’s Water Pollution Control Facility (WPCF) recently received statewide recognition for sustainability and energy reduction from the Colorado Environmental Leadership Program and the Colorado Industrial Energy Challenge. The awards ceremonies occurred on October 17 in Denver.

For its energy reduction programs, the WPCF received the Partner of the Year award from the Colorado Industrial Energy Challenge (CIEC). The wastewater plant reduced energy use from 2011-2012 by 11.5 percent. Greeley received the top honor and only six other organizations were recognized. The program acknowledges achievements in energy efficiency for large industrial facilities with more than $300,000 in annual energy costs.

The second award is from the Colorado Environmental Leadership Program (CELP).The WPCF received a Bronze Award for its efforts to reduce energy use at the wastewater treatment plant. The CELP is a voluntary program that encourages and rewards superior environmental performers that go beyond the requirements of environmental regulations and move toward the goal of sustainability.

The WPCF has recently implemented several projects that have contributed to the decrease of energy use. The 2011 installation of high-speed turbo blowers improved aeration at the plant, increased energy efficiency, and lowered energy costs. In 2012, 2,106 solar panels were installed making it the largest solar farm in Weld County. Greeley’s Water and Sewer Department will continue to find ways to make the WPCF and other facilities more energy and cost efficient.

Greeley recently scored some grant money from the state. Here’s the release from the City of Greeley:

Gov. John Hicklooper announced today that 21 municipal wastewater and sanitation districts throughout Colorado will receive a total of $14.7 million in state grants to help with the planning, design and construction of facility improvements to meet new nutrient standards. The City of Greeley’s Water Pollution Control Facility will receive a total of $80,000 for planning and $1 million for design and construction.

“Greeley is in the forefront of water quality and water management. This grant simply helps the City do its job with less cost to residents,” stated Greeley Mayor Tom Norton.

Excessive nutrients harm water bodies by stimulating algae blooms that consume oxygen, kill aquatic organisms and ultimately lead to smaller populations of game and fish. While nutrients are naturally occurring, other contributors include human sewage, emissions from power generators and automobiles, lawn fertilizers and pet waste.

“Coloradoans in rural and urban areas will benefit from these new water standards that improve and protect our water,” Hickenlooper said. “This grant funding will help communities offset the costs of bringing their systems into compliance. In addition, the grants announced today will help ensure safe and healthy water for wildlife, agriculture, recreation and drinking water purposes.”

The state’s Water Quality Control Commission adopted new standards in September 2012 to help prevent harmful nutrients, such as nitrogen and phosphorus, from reaching state waters. The new regulation requires certain larger domestic wastewater treatment facilities to meet effluent limits for nutrients.

The Nutrient Grant Program will help wastewater facilities with the costs of planning for, designing and implementing system improvements. Funding for the program was made available through HB13-1191 “Nutrient Grant Domestic Wastewater Treatment Plant,” sponsored by Reps. Randy Fischer and Ed Vigil and Sens. Gail Schwartz and Angela Giron.

There are about 400 municipal wastewater systems in Colorado. The new nutrient standards apply to about 40 systems and will have the greatest impact on the waters of the state.

More wastewater coverage here and here.

CWCB: State of Colorado Receives Partners in Conservation Award


Here’s the release from the Colorado Water Conservation Board (Ted Kowalski):

The State of Colorado, as well as the other cooperating partners in the Colorado River Supply and Demand Basin Study (“Colorado River Basin Study” or “Basin Study”), were presented today with the prestigious “Partners in Conservation Award” by the Department of the Interior. This award was presented by Deputy Secretary David Hayes in recognition of the cooperation between these different entities on one of the most pressing natural resources issues in the Unites States–the future of the Colorado River basin.

The Colorado River Basin Study is the most comprehensive effort to date to quantify and address future supply and demand imbalances in the Colorado River Basin. The Basin Study evaluates the reliability of the water dependent resources, and also outlines potential options and strategies to meet or reduce imbalances that are consistent with the existing legal framework governing the use and operation of the Colorado River. To date, the Basin Study has published a number of interim reports and appendices, and the final report of the Basin Study is scheduled to be published by the end of November, 2012.

Jennifer Gimbel, Director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, and Ted Kowalski, Chief of the Interstate, Federal and Water Information Section of the Colorado Water Conservation Board accepted the award on behalf of the State of Colorado. “The Basin Study reflects the cooperative spirit in which the Colorado River Basin States have worked since the adoption of the 2007 Interim Guidelines,” Gimbel said.“Colorado and the other Basin States, the tribes, the federal government, and the many diverse stakeholders must continue to work together in order to address the difficult water imbalances facing the southwestern United States in the next half century. It is clear that there are no silver bullets, but rather we must explore and develop multiple options and strategies in order to meet our projected future water supply/demand imbalance.”

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.

Freshwater Use by U.S. Power Plants: Electricity’s Thirst for a Precious Resource (2011) — Union of Concerned Scientists


Here’s a guest commentary about the report, running in The Denver Post (Alice Madden/Peter C. Frumhoff). Here’s an excerpt:

Electricity generation from coal and nuclear plants requires water — a lot of water compared to other fuel sources — to cool the steam they produce to make electricity. In Colorado, coal plants consumed some 80,000 acre-feet of water for cooling in 2008. That’s enough water to supply the city of Boulder for four years, or Denver for four months.

Colorado’s water consumption rates in energy production were highlighted in a recent report of the Energy and Water in a Warming World Initiative, a research collaboration between the Union of Concerned Scientists and a team of more than a dozen national scientists, including local experts at the University of Colorado, National Renewable Energy Laboratory and Western Resource Advocates.

For most conventional coal plants, the bottom line is this: To keep the lights on, keep the water coming. It’s easy to ignore this dependence when there’s plenty of water. But in a water-constrained future, is heavy reliance on coal the best choice when we have smart water energy choices?

Although extracting natural gas via hydraulic fracturing is placing growing demands on water resources, an efficient natural gas plant consumes far less water than a coal plant. And some, like the Front Range plant in Colorado Springs, cool with air instead of water.

By contrast, wind and solar photovoltaics use virtually no water, making them smart energy choices for water-constrained states. Fortunately, Colorado has had impressive growth in both. That’s thanks in part to the Renewable Portfolio Standard law that requires investor-owned utilities Xcel Energy and Black Hills to produce at least 30 percent of the energy they generate from renewable sources by 2020, a goal both companies will meet easily. The remaining utilities, which provide about 40 percent of the state’s energy, must only meet a 10 percent RPS and rely heavily on coal.

Here’s the link to the report: Freshwater Use by U.S. Power Plants: Electricity’s Thirst for a Precious Resource (2011). Here’s the executive summary:

Across the country, water demand from power plants is combining with pressure from growing populations and other needs and straining water resources—especially during droughts and heat waves:

• The 2011 drought in Texas created tension among farmers, cities, and power plants across the state. At least one plant had to cut its output, and some plants had to pipe in water from new sources. The state power authority warned that several thousand megawatts of electrical capacity might go offline if the drought persists into 2012.

• As drought hit the Southeast in 2007, water providers from Atlanta to Raleigh urged residents to cut their water use. Power plants felt the heat as well. In North Carolina, customers faced blackouts as water woes forced Duke Energy to cut output at its G.G. Allen and Riverbend coal plants on the Catawba River. Meanwhile the utility was scrambling to keep the water intake system for its McGuire nuclear plant underwater. In Alabama, the Browns Ferry nuclear plant had to drastically cut its output (as it has in three of the last five years) to avoid exceeding the temperature limit on discharge water and killing fish in the Tennessee River.

• A 2006 heat wave forced nuclear plants in the Midwest to reduce their output when customers needed power most. At the Prairie Island plant in Minnesota, for example, the high temperature of the Mississippi River forced the plant to cut electricity generation by more than half.

• In the arid Southwest, power plants have been contributing to the depletion of aquifers, in some cases without even reporting their water use.

• On New York’s Hudson River, the cooling water intakes of the Indian Point nuclear plant kill millions of fish annually, including endangered shortnose sturgeon. This hazard to aquatic life now threatens the plant as well. Because operators have not built a new cooling system to protect fish, state regulators have not yet approved the licenses the operators need to keep the plant’s two reactors running past 2013 and 2015.

• Proposed power plants have also taken hits over water needs. Local concerns about water use have scuttled planned facilities in Arizona, Idaho, Virginia, and elsewhere. Developers of proposed water-cooled concentrating solar plants in California and Nevada have run into opposition, driving them toward dry cooling instead.

This report—the first on power plant water use and related water stress from the Energy and Water in a Warming World initiative—is the first systematic assessment of both the effects of power plant cooling on water resources across the United States and the quality of information available to help public- and private-sector decision makers make water-smart energy choices.

Our analysis starts by profiling the water use characteristics of virtually every electricity generator in the United States. Then, applying new analytical approaches, we conservatively estimate the water use of those generators in 2008, looking across the range of fuels, power plant technologies, and cooling systems. We then use those results to assess the stress that power plant water use placed on water systems across the country. We also compare our results with those reported by power plant operators to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) for 2008.

We examine both the withdrawal and consumptionof freshwater. Withdrawal is the total amount of water a power plant takes in from a source such as a river, lake, or aquifer, some of which is returned. Consumption is the amount lost to evaporation during the cooling process. Withdrawal is important for several reasons. Water intake systems can trap fish and other aquatic wildlife.

Water withdrawn for cooling but not consumed returns to the environment at a higher temperature, potentially harming fish and other wildlife. And when power plants tap groundwater for cooling, they can deplete aquifers critical for meeting many different needs. Consumption is important because it too reduces the amount of water available for other uses, including sustaining ecosystems.

While our analysis focuses on the effects of water use by power plants today, we also consider how conditions are likely to change in the future. In the short run, our choices for what kind of power plants we build can contribute to freshwater-supply stress (by consigning an imbalanced share of the available water to power plant use) and can affect water quality (by increasing water temperatures to levels that harm local ecosystems, for example). Over a longer time frame, those choices can fuel climate change, which in turn may also affect water quantity (through drought and other extreme weather events) and quality (by raising the temperature of lakes, streams, and rivers). Population growth and rising demand for water also promise to worsen water stress in many regions of the country already under stress from power plant use and other uses.

More coal coverage here and here.

‘Water Wranglers’ is George Sibley’s new book about the Colorado River District #coriver



Here’s the link to the web page where you can order a copy. Here’s the pitch:

Water Wranglers
The 75-Year History of the Colorado River District:
A Story About the Embattled Colorado River and the Growth of the West

The Colorado River is one of America’s wildest rivers in terms of terrain and natural attributes, but is actually modest in terms of water quantity – the Mississippi surpasses the Colorado’s annual flow in a matter of days. Yet the Colorado provides some or all of the domestic water for some 35 million Southwesterners, most of whom live outside of the river’s natural course in rapidly growing desert cities. It fully or partially irrigates four-million acres of desert land that produces much of America’s winter fruits and vegetables. It also provides hundreds of thousands of people with recreational opportunities. To put a relatively small river like the Colorado to work, however, has resulted in both miracles and messes: highly controlled use and distribution systems with multiplying problems and conflicts to work out, historically and into the future.

Water Wranglers is the story of the Colorado River District’s first seventy-five years, using imagination, political shrewdness, legal facility, and appeals to moral rightness beyond legal correctness to find balance among the various entities competing for the use of the river’s water. It is ultimately the story of a minority seeking equity, justice, and respect under democratic majority rule – and willing to give quite a lot to retain what it needs.

The Colorado River District was created in 1937 with a dual mission: to protect the interests of the state of Colorado in the river’s basin and to defend local water interests in Western Colorado – a region that produces 70 percent of the river’s total water but only contains 10 percent of the state’s population.

To order the book, visit the Wolverine Publishing website at http://wolverinepublishing.com/water-wranglers. It can also be found at the online bookseller Amazon.

More Colorado River District coverage here.