2016 #COleg: Are flexible water markets back on the agenda?

Colorado Capitol building
Colorado Capitol building

From the Fort Collins Coloradan (Nick Coltrain):

State Rep. Jeni Arndt, D-Fort Collins, may propose a water bill ambitious enough that she may need to win a second term to see to fruition.

The proposal is an offshoot of her bill introduced last year to create a flexible use market for water rights, which essentially aimed to let water rights holders sell some of their water instead of feeling forced to use it all due to use-it-or-lose-it rules.

Arndt’s new proposal, which hasn’t been formally introduced but was discussed with the Coloradoan’s editorial board Monday morning, likewise aims at “taking away the disincentive” for a water rights holder to conserve water they don’t need. In essence, her proposal would create a virtual water market where water rights holders could take water they won’t use and put it up for bid by other water users in the basin. As long as it’s not more than 30 percent of the rights holder’s allocation over a 10-year period, it won’t affect their historic use patters, which can jeopardize how much they are allocated each year.

She used the example of an alfalfa farmer wanting to try his hand at growing hemp, a low-water crop, but facing the concern of losing water rights moving forward — and with it, the ability to grow enough alfalfa if he wants to return to his roots.

“There’s some flexibility in the system, but nothing like this,” Arndt said.

She acknowledged that this bill could be a big push, and that it could take a multi-year effort to reach a vote.

Webinar: Paying the $1 trillion bill for America’s Decaying Water Infrastructure — Columbia Water Center

Water infrastructure as sidewalk art
Water infrastructure as sidewalk art

From the Columbia Water Center (Lakis Polycarpou):

America’s once world-class water infrastructure is crumbling and will cost, by some estimates, upwards of $1 trillion to fix. How can municipalities and water utilities find the revenue and capital to make the investments we need to preserve access to this vital resource?

Join us on the next America’s Water Webinar as Christine Boyle, Founder & CEO of Valor Water Analytics, discusses innovative approaches to address the water infrastructure challenge.

Webinar Date: Tuesday, December 7th, 2015 at 12pm EST

To join the webinar, sign in at: https://cuahsi.adobeconnect.com/_a1027428284/waterfuture/

Colorado Springs faces possible action from the EPA over stormwater permit violations

Fountain Creek erosion via The Pueblo Chieftain
Fountain Creek erosion via The Pueblo Chieftain

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Billie Stanton Anleu):

Colorado Springs repeatedly has violated its water quality permit and now faces a potential federal lawsuit, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has warned the city.

The EPA inspected 14 sections of the city’s stormwater system Aug. 18-19 and found “continuous failure” to meet standards or remediate problems highlighted in a state audit conducted Feb. 4-7, 2013.

Problems cited include inadequate funding, infrastructure problems, insufficient inspections, “not holding developers’ feet to the fire,” a lack of internal controls and too many waivers, Mayor John Suthers said Monday.

The city’s federal MS4 permit (for Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System) requires adherence to water quality standards. While drinking water is not at issue in this report, Suthers said, heavy sedimentation and other problems were reviewed in detail.

No city official denies the long-term neglect. But the irony is rich.

Since he took office six months ago, Suthers repeatedly has vowed that $19 million a year will be spent on stormwater improvements. That has the City Council’s full support, and $16 million for stormwater has been carved out of the mayor’s proposed 2016 budget, with $3 million to come from Colorado Springs Utilities.

So the city finally is poised to address a problem that has been worsening since at least 2008. The recession kicked in that year, and the city’s Stormwater Enterprise Fund was dismantled a year later, “a bad, bad combination,” Suthers noted.

Voters in 2009 backed Issue 300, a measure weakening the city’s use of enterprise funds. In response, City Council eliminated the stormwater fund. It had six inspectors at the time; today the staff has about three.

The timing couldn’t have been worse. The Waldo Canyon Fire struck in 2012, and the burn scar contributed to widespread flooding in 2013 that exacerbated already severe problems with Fountain Creek, Monument Creek and other tributaries.

Tim Mitros, until recently the city’s Stormwater Division manager, has been widely lauded for his response to those disasters and for his diligence on stormwater issues.

Homeowners cited his vigilance and daily visits in May, when record-breaking rainfall led to landslides that endangered two Rockrimmon houses. He also oversaw updates last year to the city’s antiquated, two-volume Drainage Criteria Manual for developers.

Now the city is advertising for a new stormwater manager. Why? “I don’t know. You’ll have to talk to Travis Easton,” Mitros said.

“We’ll be introducing accountability where it wasn’t before,” said Easton, who became Public Works director in August 2014. “We recognized long before this report came out that we had issues to address.”

Said Suthers, “We need to up our game in stormwater, and that’s what’s going on there.”

But he also noted: “If you really dig deep (in the report), the problem of inadequate manpower doing inspections” is evident.

The city has retained Broomfield-based MWH Global consulting engineers to review the EPA report and “propose how to move forward to settle this,” Suthers said.

The EPA encourages settlement discussions but says any settlement must be done through a consent decree by U.S. District Court with a schedule for injunctive relief and payment of an appropriate civil penalty.

In January, city officials will meet to negotiate with representatives of the EPA, U.S. Department of Justice and Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. (EPA and CDPHE officials working on the issue referred calls to their communications staff representatives, who did not return requests for comment.)

Suthers said the city hopes to obtain a waiver on penalties and avoid litigation.

The city has been negotiating for months with Pueblo County, which has threatened legal action, too, over the severe problems downstream users have experienced because of Colorado Springs’ inadequately controlled stormwater.

At risk is the 1041 permit that the county issued to city-owned Colorado Springs Utilities for its Southern Delivery System, a massive water project set to deliver up to 50 million gallons a day of Arkansas River water to Colorado Springs, Fountain, Security and Pueblo West.

Without the permit, CSU can’t turn on the tap for SDS.

But downstream users have incentive to let the project begin: $10 million a year for five years that the system will pay to the Fountain Creek Watershed, Flood Control and Greenway District to build even more stormwater projects.

Instead of lawsuits and penalties, Suthers said, “We would rather spend money trying to solve the problem. We’re hoping both Pueblo and the EPA have some realization that we have a council and mayor that realize you can’t kick the can down the road any farther.”

#COWaterPlan is Historic Step Forward — San Juan Citizens Alliance

From the San Juan Citizens Alliance via the Pagosa Daily Post:

Colorado’s leading conservation and recreation organizations American Rivers, American Whitewater, Audubon, Conservation Colorado, Environmental Defense Fund, High Country Conservation Advocates, San Juan Citizens Alliance and Western Resource Advocates agree that Colorado’s first-ever water plan is an important step forward for the state in terms of future water management.

The final plan reflects Coloradans’ values made clear in 30,000 public comments that revealed overwhelming support for conserving water in our cities and towns, protecting rivers and promoting a strong river-­based recreation economy.

These conservation groups agree the plan will help protect Colorado’s $9 billion recreation and outdoor economy, our vital agricultural communities, and the birds and wildlife that depend upon healthy rivers for survival, while also helping to preserve our Western way of life. Specifically the groups applaud the fact the plan makes important progress in securing Colorado’s water future by:

  • Setting the first-­ever state wide water conservation targets for cities and towns, prioritizing water conservation as never before
  • Helping preserve and restore our rivers by proposing annual funding for healthy rivers, which will create ongoing and unprecedented financial support for river assessments and restoration
  • Making new, costly and controversial large trans-­‐mountain diversions, which harm rivers and local communities, much less likely
  • Together, these groups express optimism about the plan’s overall direction, and are committed to the implementation process. The groups emphasize that the plan will not be valuable without action from Colorado’s leaders to implement it.

    Meeting all of Colorado’s water needs will require implementation and action in the same spirit of collaboration, flexibility and innovation that was shown in producing the plan. The groups will work with Governor Hickenlooper and the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) to protect Colorado’s environment by strengthening the water project evaluation criteria so the state engages only in those efforts that are cost-­‐effective and have support from local communities. The groups look forward to collaborating with the state, water utilities, irrigators, the business community and others to adhere to and execute the plan and protect water for future generations.

    Overall Colorado’s conservation experts agree the state is taking historic steps in the right direction by ensuring Colorado increases water conservation and recycling, keeps rivers healthy and flowing, and avoids new large trans-mountain diversions.

    “The plan provides ample water for fast-­growing Front Range cities, while recognizing the importance of protecting what makes Colorado special: gold-­medal streams, flowing Rocky Mountain rivers, healthy western slope communities, and abundant wildlife. It’s clear that Coloradans value what our state has to offer and we are optimistic the plan will provide a down-­payment for protecting healthy rivers and streams across the state. Now we have to get to work.”
    — Matt Rice, Director of Colorado River Basin Programs, American Rivers

    “We commend the CWCB and the Basin roundtables for ensuring actions to protect Colorado’s river systems and river-­dependent recreation are incorporated into the plan. These critical actions need funding, stakeholder input, technical consultation and study as we manage water for the future and ensure that our recreation industry and whitewater rivers are world-­class.”
    — Nathan Fey, Director Colorado River Stewardship Program, American Whitewater

    “The plan addresses the importance of preserving and restoring our rivers’ and steams’ environmental resiliency. Recognizing we still need more information and action to achieve that goal, the plan recommends that Colorado invest in stream protection and restoration. By 2030, the plan has a strong goal that 80 percent of a priority list of Colorado’s rivers and streams will have stream management plans.”
    — Abby Burk, Western Rivers Outreach Specialist, Audubon Rockies

    “Coloradans overwhelmingly support water conservation, and we are pleased to see this plan proposing our state’s first ever urban conservation goal. The plan recognizes that to meet our future water needs we must change the status quo from focusing on new, large trans-­mountain diversions to prioritizing conservation, reuse and recycling. We look forward to the Governor moving forward and carrying out our state’s water plan to better protect our rivers and wildlife.”
    — Theresa Conley, Water Advocate, Conservation Colorado

    “Colorado is taking an historic step in the right direction with this first water plan. Meeting all of Colorado’s water needs moving forward will require implementation and action in the same spirit of collaboration, flexibility and innovation that was shown in producing the plan.”
    — Brian Jackson, Associate Director, Environmental Defense Fund

    “We commend the Governor and CWCB for committing to water conservation in such a commonsense manner. Making better use of the water we already have is the cheapest, fastest and most flexible way to meet new demands – it’s just a no-­brainer.”
    — Bart Miller, Water Policy Director, Western Resource Advocates

    The San Juan Citizens Alliance advocates for clean air, pure water, and health lands – the foundations of resilient communities, ecosystems and economies in the San Juan Basin. For more information, visit our website at http://sanjuancitizens.org

    James Eklund and Governor Hickenlooper roll out the Colorado Water Plan, Thursday, November 19, 2015 via The Colorado Independent
    James Eklund and Governor Hickenlooper roll out the Colorado Water Plan, Thursday, November 19, 2015 via The Colorado Independent

    Snowpack news: Rio Grande hits average, it’s still early

    Click on a thumbnail graphic to view a gallery of snowpack data from the Natural Resources Conservation Servicel.