Water district fights for relaxed quality standard — The Colorado Springs Gazette

Upper Black Squirrell Creek Designated Groundwater Basin
Upper Black Squirrell
Creek Designated Groundwater Basin

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Ryan Maye Handy):

For years, the Cherokee Metropolitan District has failed to meet one of its water quality standards, and the eastern El Paso County water district has proposed a change in state regulations to make it easier to meet that requirement.

The proposal has started an unorthodox process with the state’s Water Quality Control Commission to allow the district to have a higher level of dissolved solids – like salt – in its water. The change would only affect wells in the district, but the proposal has raised concerns from well-owners about the health of the system’s aquifer and prompted three stakeholder meetings before a rulemaking hearing in August.

The Upper Black Squirrel Creek aquifer has already been degraded by the number of wells that tap into it, well owners argue. Wells in the Cherokee district pull from an aquifer that is recharged with treated wastewater – water that, under a new requirement, would have more dissolved solids. If Cherokee fails to change regulations for its so-called “total dissolved solids” levels, it will have to spend tens of millions of dollars to meet current state requirements – a cost that will be borne by the district’s ratepayers.

The problems date back to 2010, when a new waste water treatment facility was completed without machines to treat water for total dissolved solids, known as TDS. At a Tuesday stakeholder meeting, the first in a series, Cherokee’s General Manager Sean Chambers described the consequences of this to a group of around 30 people.

“So whatever comes in the waste water plant in terms of total dissolved solids comes out the other end,” Chambers said. “Thus, we have a $30 million waste water plant that does not treat a lick of TDS.”

The district’s drinking water quality more than complies with state requirements for dissolved solids levels, but the levels in waste water pose problems. The water district typically measures 600 mg per liter of dissolved solids in its treated waste water, well over the state requirement of 400 mg per liter, said Chambers. Ever since the district opened its new facility in 2010, it has never been compliant with state standards for dissolved solids. By changing the level allowed in its water, the district hopes to save $10 million on costs over the next 20 years while it tries to become compliant.

On Tuesday, the district emphasized that dissolved solids in its water do not pose a public health risk, but only affect the water’s taste. Most water districts around the country adhere to the federal standard of 500 mg per liter of dissolved solids, except for Texas, which has its threshold set at 1,000 mg per liter, said Andrew Ross, with the state’s water control commission.

While the water district is aiming for compliance, well owners fear that more dissolved solids will continue to degrade the quality of the aquifer, said Jerod Farmer, a well owner who attended Tuesday’s meeting. Officials with the water quality control commission acknowledge that a higher presence of those solids in water can impact the aquifer’s quality.

Unlike surface water, which is regulated for quality at the federal level, groundwater quality is regulated on a state-by-state basis. Colorado’s groundwater regulations have remained relatively unchanged since the 1980s, when two regulatory structures were set up- one for statewide regulation, and another to grant individual exceptions to the state’s rules.

The Cherokee district is unique in Colorado – it has the largest facility in the state that dumps its waste water back into the groundwater. Its request to change the dissolved solids requirements in its waste water is equally unusual – the water quality commission rarely handles regulatory changes proposed by an outside agency, representatives said on Friday.

The public will get two more chances to learn about the proposed changes at stakeholder meetings on Feb. 11, time and location to be determined, and March 10 from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m., location to be determined. Both will help the commission gather as much public opinion and information as possible before the August hearing, said Lisa Carlson, who facilitated Tuesday’s meeting.

“The hope is that, when you get to the hearing, you will all be well educated and understand what the issues are in the process,” Carlson told the audience.

Several El Paso County water suppliers are interested in Southern Delivery System deliveries

Southern Delivery System route map -- Graphic/Reclamation
Southern Delivery System route map — Graphic/USBR

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Even before a drop of water flows through Southern Delivery System, other El Paso County communities are making plans to hook up to the pipeline.

Donala Water & Sanitation District, which serves 2,600 people north of Colorado Springs plans to begin an environmental impact statement process with Bureau of Reclamation within the next two weeks in order to obtain a long-term storage contract in Lake Pueblo.

Cherokee Metro District, serving about 18,000 people in a community surrounded by Colorado Springs, wants to hook up to SDS in the future.

Those communities will be held to the same environmental commitments, including federal environmental review and stormwater management, under Pueblo County’s 1041 permit.

Donala purchased a ranch south of Leadville for its water rights in 2009, but will need SDS to deliver about 280 acrefeet annually — about 25 percent of its needs. “We have been talking to the city for years,” said Kip Peterson, manager of the Donala District. Donala already has a temporary contract in place to use Colorado Springs water delivery systems to deliver water from the ranch.

Stormwater controls are problematic, because 95 percent of the land in Donala already has been developed, but the district is looking at how to amend its plan to address stormwater, Peterson said.

Like Donala, Cherokee has a contract to buy water from or have its water delivered by Colorado Springs Utilities. Cherokee has a two-year lease from the Pueblo Board of Water Works. Cherokee gets most of its water from wells, but needs additional sources to round out its supply. “Unlike Donala, we don’t yet own any water we could store in Lake Pueblo,” said Sean Chambers, Cherokee manager.

But Cherokee is interested in using SDS for the long-term. Like Colorado Springs, it has some water and wastewater lines that cross Sand Creek, a tributary of Fountain Creek. Those would be held to the same level of scrutiny as Colorado Springs lines.

More Southern Delivery System coverage here and here.

The Cherokee Metropolitan District scores a 600 acre-feet water lease from the Pueblo Board of Water Works

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The Pueblo Board of Water Works Tuesday approved a two­year lease of water to the Cherokee Metropolitan District in Colorado Springs.

The district is located just north of the Colorado Springs airport and serves about 18,000 people, said Sean Chambers, general manager of the district.

“When we were formed, Colorado Springs did not think it would extend services,” Chambers said. “Now, we are an island within the city.”

The district formed in 1957, and went through a series of reorganizations, consolidations and expansions until 1995. It lost water court cases that have reduced its ability to pump from the Upper Black Squirrel Creek and Chico Creek aquifers.

The district will lease 600 acre­feet of water (almost 200 million gallons) yearly from Pueblo in 2013 and 2014 at a rate $366.25 per acre­foot or $219,750 per year. Any rate increases for Pueblo water would increase the payment by the same percentage. The amount is within Pueblo’s projected surplus, but in an emergency the delivery could be canceled “This is just a bridge for us,” Chambers said. “We would not be relying on short­term leases such as this for a water supply.”

Cherokee is drilling wells and building a pipeline in northern El Paso County to deliver 1,000 acre­feet annually to meet its long­term needs, Chambers said.

The district has implemented conservation measures, which include outdoor watering no more than three times per week, and sometimes has banned outdoor watering altogether.

Cherokee has an agreement with Colorado Springs to deliver water to its system. The water would be exchanged from Pueblo’s accounts into the Colorado Springs system at Twin Lakes for delivery, said Terry Book, executive director of the Pueblo water board.

More coverage from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain:

The Pueblo Board of Water Works is investigating an idea to create wetlands banks at its Tennessee Creek Ranches property north of Leadville in Lake County.

The water board Tuesday approved a contract of up to $25,000 with Johnson Environmental Consulting to look at the concept of mitigating wetlands in order to offset impacts from projects elsewhere.

The idea is to replace wetland areas destroyed by activities such as highway projects or reservoir construction by creating permanent areas to “bank” wetlands, said Executive Director Terry Book.

“I like the intent,” said board member Tom Autobee, in making a motion to approve the contract.

The Pueblo Water Board has looked at building a reservoir on the Tennessee Creek site since 1950, but those plans hit a snag in the late 1990s when fens — ancient marshy areas — were located on the site.

More coverage from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

Former ponds west of Pueblo once owned by Valco are now incorporated into Lake Pueblo State Park.
Keeping water in them has become the responsibility of the Pueblo Board of Water Works, and a pending water court case will allow more efficient use of old ditch rights to meet that need.

The water board acquired the Hamp-Bell Ditch water rights from Valco in 2004. The ditch diverted a relatively small amount of water, accruing more credits in the irrigation season than at other times of year.

To balance the credits year-round, the water board will apply for storage rights.

“Currently, the board replaces the nonirrigation season depletions from its other water supplies and the excess Hamp-Bell

Ditch water from the irrigation season often goes unused,” said Alan Ward, water resources manager, in a memo.
The complex historic use issues surrounding the ditch — which has 1870, 1878 and 1880 water rights — were settled in Valco’s 2003 court case, making the new case fairly straightforward, Ward added.

“We should get a net gain of water to store,” added Executive Director Terry Book.

The water board unanimously approved to enter a water court application to complete the plan.

More Arkansas River Basin coverage here and here.

Cherokee Metropolitan District ousts absentee director

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From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Bob Stephens):

A May recall failed to oust three members of the district board of directors, leaving the panel split 3-2. That split was on display Tuesday as board member Steve Hasbrouck was voted off for missing three consecutive meetings. So, once again, applications are being accepted for the vacancy and a special meeting is scheduled Aug. 29 to appoint a new board member.

This is typical for 8,000 homeowners in the district. They’ve endured astronomical rate hikes, reaching 87 percent, and water rationing since the board took bad legal advice and used water from the Upper Black Squirrel Basin without proper water rights. Cherokee lost a court battle and was ordered by a water court judge to abandon four of its 17 wells. Those wells provided more than 20 percent of Cherokee’s water supply. To replace the lost wells, Cherokee has been forced to buy expensive water from Colorado Springs Utilities, causing rates to soar.

More Cherokee Metropolitan District coverage here and here.

Cherokee Metropolitan District board members survive recall effort

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From email from Jan Cederberg: “I thought I would let you know we won the recall!”

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Bob Stepens):

Nothing changed in the Cherokee Metropolitan District as Tuesday’s attempt to recall three board members was unsuccessful. Jan Cederberg, Dave Hammers and Bill Beahan all survived the recall effort.

“I was worried,” Cederberg said. “I’m just so happy that people listened to what we were telling them and that we are going to finish our time on the board and do our job.”

More Cherokee Metropolitan District coverage here and here.

Recall election in the works for the Cherokee Metropolitan District

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From KRDO.com:

The recall process began at the end of 2011 and petitions were approved on Feb. 14, 2012. Cherokee Water customers will vote on May 22nd to recall President Dave Hammers and Directors Bill Beahan and Jan Cederberg. Cederberg said the three protested the recall petitions in front of El Paso County Clerk and Recorder, Wayne Williams. She said many voters were not told about the recall when asked to sign the petition. “We have witnesses that were told if they signed, their water rates wouldn’t go up,” she said.

Steve Hasbrouck, current water board member and member of the citizens group, said the recall petition was deemed sufficient with ample signatures above the 300 signature threshold and was certified by Waybe Williams, the court appointed DEO and Clerk and Recorder for El Paso County on March 12, 2012. He said all protests by Hammers, Cederberg and Beahan were deemed irrelevant by Williams, so the recall moved forward.

The group behind the recall blames the three board members for the district having less water and higher rates. “The charges against us include secret meetings, bonding issues and getting rid of previous management, which isn’t true,” said Cederberg…

Cederberg blames the district’s financial and water situation on the former board members who were recalled in 2010 and said it’s the same people trying to recall her now. “People need to look at all the facts. Look at the people in the concerned citizens group, they’re former board members. They are the reason we’re in this mess,” she said.

More coverage from the Colorado Springs Independent (Pam Zubeck):

Once again, there’s trouble on the east side of Colorado Springs, with voters submitting sufficient numbers of signatures to hold a recall election for three Cherokee Metropolitan District board members: Jan Cederberg, David Hammers and William E. Beahan…

The election is set for May 22, despite protests by those being recalled.

More Cherokee Metropolitan District coverage here and here.

How much water will the Niobrara shale play under eastern Colorado Springs require and where will it come from?

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From the Colorado Springs Independent (Pam Zubeck):

Colorado Springs Utilities is required to serve Banning Lewis Ranch under the annexation agreement, in which the annexor relinquishes the land’s water rights to the city forever, except for 2,000 acre feet of groundwater on the south end. That water, about 652 million gallons, is to be split between the city and annexor.

But Utilities, still building the SDS pipeline, hasn’t heard a water request from Ultra, says spokesman Dave Grossman. He says the city doesn’t know how much is needed, because “fracking is new to our area, so we don’t have past data for planning purposes.” Ultra did not respond to a request for comment for this story, but Montgomery says 1 million to 5 million gallons is used per frack.

If the 326 million gallons to which Ultra would have access under the annexation agreement isn’t enough, and the company doesn’t want to buy water from Utilities, Cherokee Metropolitan District, which serves the 18,000-customer Cimarron Hills enclave east of Powers Boulevard, is open to the idea of selling water, manager Sean Chambers says. Five years ago, Cherokee lost its use of several wells in the Upper Black Squirrel Creek Ground Water Management District, east of its service area, after illegally exporting water from the basin to its customers.

Chambers now wonders if that water, which Cherokee still owns, could be sold to drillers.

“We would consider it, so long as we were assured certain protections and we could confirm our decrees are consistent with what’s allowable,” he says. “The state is a little unsure … They don’t want this oil bonanza to turn into a water problem.”[…]

[Charlie Montgomery, energy organizer of the Colorado Environmental Coalition] says the next battle will be over local control. The Pueblo Chieftain has reported that Rep. Marsha Looper, R-Calhan, wants to require a more comprehensive state accounting of oil and gas drilling’s water needs. Meanwhile, the Longmont Times-Call says that Rep. Matt Jones, D-Louisville, wants to give local governments more control over the industry, including fracking.

More oil and gas coverage here and here.