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.”

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.

Arkansas River: Restoration of Giant salmonflies (Pteronarcys californica) hasn’t had the hoped for results — yet

Giant salmonfly (Pteronarcys californica) By Walter Siegmund (talk) - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10470719
Giant salmonfly (Pteronarcys californica) By Walter Siegmund (talk) – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10470719

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Lance Benzel):

…on the Arkansas River, Pteronarcys californica has been missing from the menu for upwards of a century, the casualty of a toxic past.

One state aquatic biologist hypothesizes they suffered a localized extinction, or extirpation, during an era when Leadville mine waste flowed unchecked into the Arkansas. That was before new water treatment measures initiated a turnaround that began in the early 1990s and eventually spawned one of the state’s most popular fisheries.

Now an effort to re-establish the bug, also known as the giant stonefly, seeks to add a fresh chapter to the unfolding success story. It has anglers sitting up and taking notice, even as it puts the river’s vaunted recovery to the test.

In 2012, Colorado Parks and Wildlife launched a three-year effort that scooped up an estimated 135,000 giant salmonfly nymphs from the Colorado River near Kremmling and deposited them at eight test sites near Salida.

After mounting what the agency calls the largest insect transplantation on record, a problem emerged at a critical juncture.

In 2015, a year after the last of the salmonfly deliveries to the Arkansas, state wildlife workers went back to the test areas to gauge their progress, searching the riverbank in 100-foot swaths, from the water’s edge to the willows.

After 58 man hours, they found no evidence that transplanted salmonflies had crawled out of the river to shed their exoskeletons and sprout wings, the culminating change in their roughly three-year lifecycle.

Further searches this spring and summer turned up no adults and little more than a “handful” of exoskeletal chucks, said Greg Policky, the state aquatic biologist who devised the experiment…

After mining came to Leadville in 1859, heavy metals began filtering into the Arkansas and ravaged its ecosystem, killing all fish around Leadville. Further downstream, near Salida, trout for decades lived for no more than two to three years – long enough to spawn, but too brief to acquire significant size.

“The Arkansas was a dead river,” said Jean Van Pelt of the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District.

lmdtportal

The river’s fate began to change in 1992, when two treatment facilities were constructed near Leadville to remove heavy metals like cadmium and zinc, generated on mine runoff, before they reached the river.

The effect was nearly immediate.

“It turned things around,” Policky said. “By 1994, we had a self-sustaining population of brown trout here.”

Better water quality cleared the way for two decades of piecemeal improvements, including efforts to restore the Arkansas to a natural state in areas where it had been straightened or otherwise modified, a common occurrence in the developing West.

One recent project in Hayden Flats south of Leadville, for example, created a new bend in the river by installing a subterranean structure of latticed logs and timber at the river bank, then burying it under transplanted willows. The result is a veritable “fish condo” that creates optimal flow conditions while giving trout a place to hide from predators.

Downstream near Salida, the effect of the river’s rehabilitation was profound, fattening up trout and extending their life expectancy to up to a decade.

In theory, it should have created trophy conditions for the giant salmonfly, too…

During all three years the bugs were stocked, they hatched in mid-May, fueling hopes it would be a matter of time before they took off like “gangbusters,” he said.

Back-to-back years without hatches suggest the process will be slower than expected; it could also indicate the experiment has been a failure.

Policky urges patience.

Any number of factors could explain the bugs’ apparent absence, Policky said, including competition from other bugs, or the large amount of sediment that washes into the river from the overgrown forests cloaking the Collegiate Peaks.

But he acknowledges the problem could also be environmental. For that reason, the search to explain the bugs’ failure to take wing is centered on water quality data measured by sensors by the river’s headwaters near Leadville.

So far, the data show no evidence of heavy metals in the water, but the monitoring isn’t continuous, raising the possibility that some level of contamination could be finding its way back in.

Standing at the river bank, he mulled the possibilities.

“Did heavy metals rear their ugly head again? Did we have a release that we don’t know about? This is the canary in the coal mine.

“If indeed I can track it to water quality, Pteronarcys is how I’m going to get there.”

On the other hand, fish and other bug communities appear to be thriving, an indication that perhaps some other cause is to blame. Policky chalks it up to another unknown in an unprecedented effort to revive a bug species through transplantation.

“Frankly, there’s never been anything like this, for sure not to this magnitude.”

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.

Water restrictions lifted in Fountain — The #Colorado Springs Gazette

Widefield aquifer via the Colorado Water Institute.
Widefield aquifer via the Colorado Water Institute.

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Rachel Riley):

Stage 3 water restrictions, which were put in place in Fountain June 24 after perfluorinated compounds were found in area groundwater wells, were lifted Thursday.

The restrictions, which limited irrigation to two days a week to avoid using well water and meet demands with surface water, were imposed after contamination was found in groundwater wells in Fountain, Widefield and Security at levels above Environmental Protection Agency recommendations…

Stage 1 voluntary water restrictions remain in place in Fountain until Sept. 30, according to the utilities’ website.

Under the voluntary restrictions, property owners and renters with street addresses ending in an even number are encouraged to use water outdoors on even-numbered calendared days, and vice-versa with residents with street addresses ending in an odd number. Property owners and renters area also encouraged to refrain from using water outdoors on the last day of each calendar month.

Colorado Springs completes first stormwater project promised under new commitment — KRDO.com

The Fountain Creek Watershed is located along the central front range of Colorado. It is a 927-square mile watershed that drains south into the Arkansas River at Pueblo. The watershed is bordered by the Palmer Divide to the north, Pikes Peak to the west, and a minor divide 20 miles east of Colorado Springs. Map via the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District.
The Fountain Creek Watershed is located along the central front range of Colorado. It is a 927-square mile watershed that drains south into the Arkansas River at Pueblo. The watershed is bordered by the Palmer Divide to the north, Pikes Peak to the west, and a minor divide 20 miles east of Colorado Springs. Map via the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District.

From KRDO.com (Chris Loveless):

The City of Colorado Springs says it has finished building a detention and water quality basin on the city’s northeast side as part of a new commitment to stormwater projects.

The city has committed to spending $19 million a year on stormwater projects.

The new detention basin at Woodmen Road and Sand Creek cost $3 million and is designed to reduce the velocity of flows in Sand Creek and to prevent downstream erosion while creating a more natural environment.

The city says 71 projects were selected based on negotiations with Pueblo County to identify and prioritize stormwater projects that would benefit both Colorado Springs and downstream communities…

All of the projects are designed to reduce flooding, provide improved water detention, and reduce flows, sediment and other pollutants entering drainages and going downstream.

Peterson AFB likely source of Widefield aquifer PFC pollution

Photo via USAF Air Combat Command
Photo via USAF Air Combat Command

From the Associated Press (Dan Elliott):

The state Department of Public Health and Environment said Wednesday it hasn’t ruled out additional sources, but officials believe at least some of the chemicals came from Peterson Air Force Base, where firefighters used the foam in training exercises.

The foam contained perfluorinated compounds, or PFCs, which have been linked to prostate, kidney and testicular cancer, along with other illnesses.

The comments by state officials were the most definitive statement to date linking the contamination to Peterson. It came hours after the military released a report identifying six sites at the base where the foam may have escaped into the environment after firefighting drills or fire equipment tests…

Colorado and Air Force officials will meet next week to discuss their next steps, said Roland Clubb of the state health department. The next phase will include drilling monitoring wells and taking soil samples, which the Air Force announced last month.

Clubb said state officials also want assurances from the Air Force about seven other sites at Peterson where the foam was used, but where the military said no follow-up investigation is needed. The Air Force said any foam released at those sites went through a treatment system…

The Security Water District has shifted almost entirely to surface water — from rivers and lakes — since the PFCs were found, Manager Roy Heald said Wednesday. Previously, about half the district’s water came from wells and half from surface water.

Heald expects the district to soon use surface water entirely, after modifications to the system.

The Fountain Water Department has not used wells since October and got through this summer’s peak demand period entirely on surface water, Utilities Director Curtis Mitchell said.

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Tom Roeder):

Six sites at Peterson Air Force Base were singled out for follow-up tests, the report submitted by the Army Corps of Engineers found.

The firefighting foam was used most heavily from about 1970 through the early 1990s at two fire training areas, which have since been decommissioned, the report said. A former assistant fire chief, however, told investigators that he remembered it twice being used in a lined basin during the last decade.

Also at risk of exposure is the installation’s golf course, which sits on a former leach field and is watered from an untreated pond that collects all runoff from the central and western areas of the base, the report said. Investigators were not certain how much firefighting foam made its way into the pond since it was built in 1979.

The chemicals also have been used during equipment tests in two areas, including a dirt-and-grass volleyball court near one fire station and along a concrete road near another, the report said…

The EPA says the chemicals are “toxic to laboratory animals and wildlife, producing reproductive, developmental, and systemic effects in laboratory tests.”

In the new report, investigators say none of the sites on Peterson contaminated with the firefighting chemicals “identified as presenting an imminent risk to public health or the environment.”

The base has at least 600 gallons of the chemicals in storage. The military has said it’s working to find a replacement for the firefighting chemicals.

Studies of the contamination, including the drilling of test wells, are expected to continue through the fall. Another report is due in March.

This year, the military said 664 sites in the U.S. and elsewhere may have used the toxic firefighting chemicals. They were mixed with water to create a foam used to extinguish fuel fires.

Widefield aquifer via the Colorado Water Institute.
Widefield aquifer via the Colorado Water Institute.