Water in the West and California’s drought: Why Colorado Springs should care — Colorado Springs Utilities

April 8, 2015

Colorado Springs circa 1910 via GhostDepot.com

Colorado Springs circa 1910 via GhostDepot.com


From Re:Sources Blog (Patrice):

Living in the West offers many advantages. Wide open spaces, majestic mountains and amazing recreational opportunities, to name a few. Still, there are challenges and water is certainly one them.

If you’ve seen the recent news, extreme drought is taking its toll in California. In light of this, we caught up with our own water planners – Abby Ortega and Leon Basdekas – to learn if what’s taking place with our neighbors could affect our community and why we need to stay involved in what’s happening around the region.

Some of our customers many ask, could what’s taking place in California happen in Colorado?

Extreme drought can happen anywhere, and we are certainly not immune. We continuously monitor our water supply situation and maintain a storage reserve in our reservoirs to meet customer demand for at least one year.

Why should we take an interest in or follow what’s happening with drought in the West?

In Colorado Springs and across the Front Range, we are heavily reliant on the Colorado River for our water supply. The Colorado River starts in Colorado, but we only keep a portion of the flow for use in the state per the Colorado River Compact. The Colorado River also serves Arizona, Utah, Nevada, Wyoming, New Mexico and California (see below for a breakdown). There is also an obligation to Mexico. When any of the states or Mexico are in an extreme drought, their reliance on the Colorado River water may increase, possibly resulting in ripple effects that could negatively impact us. At any given time, the Colorado River supplies about 70 percent of our community’s water. Drought can also affect the levels in Lake Powell and Lake Mead, which part of the western United States relies on for power production.

Will Colorado Springs experience any impact from the situation in California?

The California drought will not have direct impacts to our community’s water supply yet. We are working closely with the Upper Basin States to create a proactive contingency plan in the event that storage levels in Lake Mead and Lake Powell drop to critical levels.

What is Colorado Springs Utilities doing to help protect our community from this type of situation?

Maintaining a dependable water supply for Colorado Springs residents and businesses is one of our community’s greatest challenges. Continuous long-term water planning is the reason we have a reliable water system today that supports our economy and quality of life. For us, planning is part of our daily responsibilities and includes factors such as water sources, demand, water rights, infrastructure, storage and much more. In addition, we are currently updating our Integrated Water Resource Plan, which provides the roadmap for sustainably addressing water supply and demand issues, while reflecting our community values.

What can customers do to help?

The intelligent use of water will always be a priority for our community, which has done a great job of adapting to our semi-arid climate. Our customers continue to find ways to use water wisely and we can help. A good place to start is our website, which has free xeriscape class schedules, efficiency ideas, DIY videos, and more. Folks should also join in the conversations we’re having through the Integrated Water Resource Plan process. There are opportunities for input, whether online or at upcoming meetings.

More Colorado Springs Utilities coverage here.


Swan River restoration

April 6, 2015

Restoration plans are afoot for a degraded section of the Swan River, in Summit County, Colorado.

From 9News.com (Matt Renoux):

If all goes as planned, the Swan River between Frisco and Breckenridge will once again run like it did more than a century ago.

That’s because the Colorado Water Conservation Board and Colorado Basin Roundtable have given Summit County a $975,000 grant to restore 19 miles of the river that was drastically changed by mining activity…

The overall plan is restore the part of the river that’s separated by the huge dredge piles – and hopefully bringing back fish and wildlife in the area – returning it to how it was more than a hundred years ago.

More restoration/reclamation coverage here.


Breckenridge: 5% bump in water rates to build fund for new water plant

January 22, 2015

breckenridgevailresorts

From the Town of Breckenridge via the Summit Daily News:

For the first time in recent memory, the town of Breckenridge will raise water usage rates by 5 percent for residential and commercial customers across town.

In an effort to both encourage conservation and kick-start funding for a proposed new water plant, the town council last year approved a higher water utility rate for 2015. Historically, water fees have increased at a low pace of 1 percent annually. Beginning this March, the town’s water usage rates will increase by 5 percent and plant investment fees (PIFs) will jump by 10 percent, the steepest hike since 2007, according to town records.

“Rapidly increasing demands, especially in the drought-prone West, are placing an immense strain on this limited, precious resource,” Mayor John Warner said. “It is our duty to address this critical issue for our community.”

The 5 percent rate increase for residential and commercial users will raise the base residential usage charge from $31.26 to $32.81 over a two-month billing cycle, an increase of $1.55. That translates to a $9.30 increase annually per customer.

For customers beyond town limits, such as homes in the Blue River neighborhood, the two-month rate is 50 percent higher, according to the town’s 2011 water plant feasibility study. Those customers will pay $18.60 more per year.

Excess usage rates will also increase in turn. The base rate for maximum usage will drop from 12,000 gallons to 10,000 gallons per two-month billing cycle. Rates for excess usage will increase from $3.11 per 1,000 gallons to $5.00 per 1,000 gallons. These measures were put in place to encourage conservation efforts, according to a town release.

To assist customers with conservation efforts, the town will send individual water usage history reports shortly after the rate increase. These reports will detail two-year usage history for each customer. Town officials hope the reports can help guide and track conservation efforts, and they come paired with a link to water conservation tips on the town website.

Over the past 10 years, water has factored heavily into council discussions about the town’s future. After noting that water is essential to the community’s economy, natural environment and quality of life, the council made water-related issues a priority and in 2014 completed a comprehensive study on the town’s water system, which strongly recommends the addition of a second water plant.

The PIF increase of 10 percent for 2015 is double the historical annual increase rate of 5 percent. This rate hike is the first step for financing a new plant. Only new customers connecting to the municipal system pay PIFs.

The 2014 water study indicated that the town’s sole water treatment plant, a 41-year-old facility, will not be able to meet future demand. As a result, the town has started the process of planning for a new facility that will help the town meet future water demand as the town continues to grow.

While the town has made strides in conserving water and management efficiency, the current water plant is nearing 80 percent capacity. The current plant will not be able to support new customers outside the current service area, which is supplied by private wells with a high likelihood of failure.

Another benefit of a new plant is emergency readiness. In the event of a wildfire, natural disaster or mechanical malfunction at the current plant, a second water plant would provide a critical back-up system.

The study also found that the Breckenridge system supplies high-quality drinking water at a low cost to customers in comparison to other communities in Colorado. Funding currently comes from user fees, tap fees and water system maintenance fees. The upcoming usage rate and PIF increases are the first such increases. The town council and utility department have not yet decided on any future increases.

“The town is working with water system consultants, engineers and water rights attorneys to secure our community’s water future,” Warner said. “Increased water rates are just one part of taking steps to improve our water utility system. The council and staff are aware that increased rates are rarely welcome news, but we believe that our citizens will understand the critical needs for water conservation and system improvements.”

The Breckenridge Water System study and an informational Q&A on the rate increase are available on the town website at http://www.townofbreckenridge.com.

More infrastructure coverage here


Environment: Bulkhead a big step in Peru Creek cleanup

October 20, 2014

Originally posted on Summit County Citizens Voice:

All-out remediation effort targets acid mine drainage near Keystone Ski Area

Remediation work in progress at the Pennsylvania Mine site in Summit County, Colorado. Photo via Snake River Watershed Task Force. Remediation work in progress at the Pennsylvania Mine site in Summit County, Colorado. Photo via Snake River Watershed Task Force.

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — For decades, the abandoned Pennsylvania Mine high has been oozing heavy metals — zinc, manganese, cadmium, lead and and arsenic — into the waters of Peru Creek, a small tributary of the Snake River near Keystone, Colorado. The site has been the focus of intensive study during the past 15 years with the goal of improving water quality downstream.

Last week, engineers and environmental experts took a big step toward trying to staunch that flow by blocking one of the mine tunnels. If all goes well, the new bulkhead could reduce the direct discharge from the mine by about two-thirds, said Jeff Graves, a remediation expert with the Colorado Division of Reclamation Mining and…

View original 549 more words


Summit County: The Pennsylvania Mine gets plugged

October 20, 2014
Acid mine drainage Pennsylvania Mine via the Summit County Citizens Voice

Acid mine drainage Pennsylvania Mine via the Summit County Citizens Voice

From the Summit Daily News (Ben Trollinger):

On Friday, Oct. 17, Stiegelmeier was one of several federal, state and local officials marking a milestone for the centerpiece of the county’s current mining cleanup efforts — plugging the Pennsylvania Mine.

About 8 miles east of Keystone, the abandoned mine is Summit County’s biggest mess. The mine, considered the worst in the state, spews toxic heavy metal concentrates and acidifies water flowing into the Peru Creek, a tributary of the Snake River, which feeds Dillon Reservoir. Peru Creek is without fish, insects or other aquatic life. The Snake River has life, but it’s sparse and found only in the lower reaches. In 2007, a burp of acidic water from the abandoned mine killed fish all the way to Keystone, county officials said.

This past week, the Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety finished installing one of two bulkheads, massive plugs of concrete and steel built about 500 feet inside the mine.

According to project manager Jeff Graves, once both bulkheads are installed, toxic burps and blowouts will be a thing of the past.

“That won’t happen again — it can’t,” he said.

The bulkheads prevent water from flowing through the mine. Water will back up inside, reducing the amount of oxygen the metals and sulfides are exposed to, which should improve water quality.

POSITIVE IMPACTS

Though the more than $3 million project still has far to go, reclamation efforts seem to have had positive impacts already. Last year, the Peru Creek turned reddish-orange seven or eight times. That hasn’t happened once this year.

In addition to the bulkheads, new drainage ditches channel water away from waste-rock piles. Those piles have been capped. Eventually, they’ll be revegetated. Limestone has also been strategically added to raise the pH of the water, which could help filter out metals into settlement ponds.

Organizations involved in the project include: the Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Safety, the U.S. Geological Survey, the U.S. Forest Service, Summit County Open Space and Trails, Northwest Council of Governments, the Snake River Watershed Task Force, the Blue River Watershed Group and the Keystone Center.

More Peru Creek Basin coverage here and here.


CWCB ponies up $275,000 for Ten Mile Creek restoration

September 26, 2014
Ten Mile Creek via ColoradoFishing.net

Ten Mile Creek via ColoradoFishing.net

From the Summit Daily News (Ali Langley):

In the summer of 2013, the group of partners put heavy machinery in the creek and began the project, which is expected to take four summers and cost about $800,000.

Due to a lack of initial funding, the project was broken into two parts and shortened from a goal of 3,200 feet of creek restoration to about 2,750 feet.

Project partners completed phase one of the project last week. So far, they’ve restored about 1,600 feet of stream channel and 3.15 acres of riparian, wetland and floodplain habitat.

On Sept. 12 the partners received a $275,000 grant from the Colorado Water Conservation Board for phase two.

Thanks to that grant funding, Anderson said, the project has almost reached its fundraising goal and work will continue.

The state water conservation board has provided most of the money for the project. Climax contributed $80,000 to the first phase and $50,000 to the second, Copper Mountain paid for the Forest Service environmental assessment and some materials, and the National Forest Foundation and CDOT are pitching in.

This summer, the group planted around 3,000 shrubs, Anderson said. The town of Frisco provided 2,200 willow clippings from a site near Whole Foods, which a Forest Service crew clipped in the early spring and volunteers with the Friends of the Dillon Ranger District planted in June. Then another 800 shrubs came from a nursery.

The revegetation has seen an 80 percent success rate so far with the willow transplants, said Jim Shaw, board treasurer of the Blue River Watershed Group, which he credits to “a wonderfully wet summer.”

That wet summer created some hurdles though. Runoff season lasted longer than usual, and high flows eroded the creek for two weeks, damaging the revegetated area in two places.

The heavy runoff gave some insight into how the creek will flood in future years, Shaw said, so last week the partners fixed up some of the damaged spots but they will probably keep one part the way it is now.

Next summer, the partners will start phase two and work toward restoring another 1,200 feet of the creek downstream toward the Conoco gas station.

When the project is finished, the creek will have improved habitat for fish, birds and other creatures. For the humans spending time in and around the Tenmile, that means better wildlife watching, fishing and kayaking.

“Having natural ecosystems that function at their potential, be they streams or lakes or forests,” Anderson said, “all these things, they’re important to the quality of life in Summit County.”

More Blue River watershed coverage here.


USGS: Analysis of Water Quality in the Blue River Watershed, Colorado, 1984 through 2007

August 26, 2014
Blue River

Blue River

Here’s the release from the United States Geological Service (Nancy J. Bauch, Lisa D. Miller, and Sharon Yacob):

Water quality of streams, reservoirs, and groundwater in the Blue River watershed in the central Rocky Mountains of Colorado has been affected by local geologic conditions, historical hard-rock metal mining, and recent urban development. With these considerations, the U.S. Geological Survey, in cooperation with the Summit Water Quality Committee, conducted a study to compile historical water-quality data and assess water-quality conditions in the watershed. To assess water-quality conditions, stream data were primarily analyzed from October 1995 through December 2006, groundwater data from May 1996 through September 2004, and reservoir data from May 1984 through November 2007. Stream data for the Snake River, upper Blue River, and Tenmile Creek subwatersheds upstream from Dillon Reservoir and the lower Blue River watershed downstream from Dillon Reservoir were analyzed separately. (The complete abstract is provided in the report)

Click here to read the report.

More USGS coverage here.


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