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.”

Pueblo Water renews pact with Colorado Springs — The Pueblo Chieftain

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The Pueblo Board of Water Works Tuesday agreed to renew a 25-year agreement with Colorado Springs Utilities to work together on water issues of mutual concern or benefit.

The agreement was first drafted in 1990 and renewed for another 25 years on Tuesday.

“In 1990, we executed an agreement with Colorado Springs on exchanges and storage space,” said Terry Book, executive director of Pueblo Water. “The new agreement eliminates some provisions that no longer apply or weren’t as straightforward as we thought.”

“How much water is involved?” asked board member Jim Gardner.

“It’s the spirit of the agreement,” replied Alan Ward, water resources manager. “It says (things such as) we’ll share storage when it’s available, but it doesn’t say how much.”

Among provisions of the agreement:

  • The right to use each other’s reservoir space if it is available.
  • Contract exchanges, which allow water to be traded between reservoirs.
  • Cooperation to maximize opportunities for exchange and reuse of water.
  • Right of first refusal for long-term contracts of exchange opportunity by either party.
  • The agreement grew out of legal cases during the 1980s which set priorities among Pueblo Water, Colorado Springs Utilities and Aurora Water for exchanging water into Lake Pueblo. Pueblo has the first priority for exchanges.

    All three entities use exchanges to maximize water rights that either bring water into the basin from the Colorado River system or, in Aurora’s case, take it out of the Arkansas River system.

    The new agreement incorporates more recent changes, including:

  • Intergovernmental agreements in 2004 that establish Arkansas River flow regimes through Pueblo.
  • A recovery of yield program associated with those agreements.
  • A 2009 low flow program that was adopted as part of Utilities’ Southern Delivery System and Pueblo Water’s purchase of Bessemer ditch shares.
  • Pueblo Dam
    Pueblo Dam

    Arkansas River Basin: Winter water storage starts up

    Straight line diagram of the Lower Arkansas Valley ditches via Headwaters
    Straight line diagram of the Lower Arkansas Valley ditches via Headwaters

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    Some Arkansas Valley farmers remember — and not too fondly — the cold, blustery and sometimes snowy days around this time of year when they’d venture out to irrigation headgates and fight the ice to move water.

    For the past 40 years, most have not had that chilly experience. The water is stored either in Lake Pueblo, John Martin Reservoir or along the Arkansas River in a ditch company’s reservoir.

    On Sunday, winter water storage began this year, reflecting one of those unusual cases when all of the water interests in the Arkansas River basin appear to be rowing in the same direction.

    “The best thing we did was the winter water program,” said Carl Genova, a Pueblo County farmer, when he left the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District board in 2009. “The district was able to get all those people together.”

    To be fair, achieving harmony in the program was no simple task. Ditch companies that had snarled at each other for a century came together in 1975 when Pueblo Dam had been completed to fulfill a vision from the Dust Bowl days of the 1930s.

    The idea isn’t complicated: You hold back the flows of the Arkansas River for a few months when no crops are growing for use later in the season.

    But the execution of that concept is as complicated as the hit-or-miss, use-it-or-lose-it water conditions farmers in Southeastern Colorado have always labored under.

    The winter water storage program was voluntary for the first 12 years, until a court decree was issued in 1987. The decree required participation not only by ditch companies, but by Pueblo and Colorado Springs as well. The Southeastern district administers and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and Corps of Engineers operate two of the reservoirs used in the program.

    And, oh yeah, Kansas also accused Colorado of violating the Arkansas River Compact when it filed suit in the U.S. Supreme Court in 1985. The special master in the case threw out that claim a decade later.

    Winter water has operated every year since 1975, with the exception of 1978, when the Catlin Canal refused to join because of a lawsuit with the Colorado Game and Fish Department. The program was diminished in 1998-99, when the safety of dams program lowered the level of Lake Pueblo temporarily so the dam could be reinforced.

    In most years, it boils down to a math problem for farmers to contemplate during the chilly months. The water is allocated to the participating ditch companies and stored where they can best use it.

    Over the past 20 years, it has stored an average of about 130,000 acrefeet (40 billion gallons) of water annually for use in the following irrigation season. The water is stored from Nov. 15-March 15.

    During wet years, some winter water spilled — about 300,000 acre-feet total — from Lake Pueblo because there was no place to store it. Priority storage in Lake Pueblo goes to ditch companies that do not have their own reservoirs.

    In recent years, there have been some quirky ripples surrounding the winter water program.

    The release of water through Pueblo to support its Gold Medal trout fishery in the winter months became an issue during negotiations surrounding Pueblo Water, Aurora and Colorado Springs use of Lake Pueblo in 2004. The cities agreed not to exchange water into Lake Pueblo during low-flow periods.

    The city of Pueblo had placed boulders in the river below Pueblo Dam to improve fish habitat, and having water during the river months became more critical. Pueblo already was gaining a reputation as a winter fishing mecca during times when other sites were less accessible.

    The very next year, Arkansas River flows dried up as the winter water program sought to balance its accounts in Lake Pueblo because too much water had been stored in reservoirs below Pueblo.

    After the same thing happened briefly in 2007, water users agreed to leave 100 cubic feet per second in the river and sort out the accounting later.

    Three years later, the Pueblo Conservancy District needed to make emergency repairs to the levee through the Downtown Whitewater Park, partly caused by concrete anchors of parts of the kayak course that were attached to the levee.

    By storing winter water in Lake Pueblo, flows in the Arkansas River are kept artificially low, making for favorable construction conditions.

    That lesson was remembered last year, when the district began a complete rebuild of the levee through Pueblo and timed the work in the river bottom to the reduced flow period.

    Winter water storage also places a very junior call on the river, 1910, that allows many junior rights in the Arkansas River basin — both upstream and downstream — to use or store water that might otherwise not be available.

    #COWaterPlan: “…we’ve got to work the problem of the gap from both the supply side and the demand side” — James Eklund

    From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Brent Gardner-Smith):

    The Colorado Water Plan set to be released Nov. 19 will include a goal of developing 400,000 acre-feet of additional water storage in Colorado and a corresponding goal of reducing water use in the state by 400,000 acre-feet.

    “The gap between supply and demand that we are forecasting is 560,000 acre feet by 2050, and if you add up 400,000 acre feet in conservation and 400,000 acre feet in storage, we zero out the gap,” said James Eklund, the director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, which has been preparing the water plan for the last two years.

    “And,” Eklund said, “while we are not saying which specific projects are going to have to come on line, we are saying that as an entire state we’ve got to work the problem of the gap from both the supply side and the demand side.”

    Eklund said the goal of developing 400,000 acre-feet of additional water storage by 2050 was realistic.

    As examples, Eklund cited, without officially endorsing, the proposed Moffat, Windy Gap and NISP projects, all of which are under review and include expanded reservoir storage.

    Gross Reservoir, southwest of Boulder, is proposed to be enlarged to hold an additional 77,000 acre-feet of water as part of the expansion of the Moffat Collection System.

    The proposed Chimney Hollow Reservoir, part of the Windy Gap Firming Project, would add 90,000 acre-feet of storage southwest of Loveland.

    The proposed Glade and Galeton reservoirs, which are at the core of NISP, or the Northern Integrated Supply Project, would add 170,000 and 45,000 acre feet of new storage, respectively, near Fort Collins.

    And the planned expansion of Chatfield Reservoir, south of Denver, of which the CWCB is an official sponsor, would add 20,600 acre-feet of storage.

    In all, that’s 402,600 acre-feet of proposed additional storage on the Front Range.

    “We think the projects on the books are going to get us most of the way there,” Eklund said. “So I don’t see the storage goal as pie-in-the-sky. And I don’t see it requiring some really big nasty project that somebody has been worrying about emerging.”


    He also pointed to the growing potential to store water in underground aquifers near Denver as an additional opportunity. And, he noted, the Front Range “does not have a copyright on the idea of more storage.”

    “The Western Slope needs more storage, too,” Eklund said. “They have gaps, municipal and industrial supply and demand gaps, just the like the folks on the Front Range. “

    But the storage projects now in process may not be enough, or happen fast enough, for many Front Range water providers and planners, at least judging by the comment letters sent to the CWCB on the draft water plan by a Sept. 17 deadline.

    Colorado Springs Utilities, in a Sept. 17 comment letter, told the CWCB it was “disappointed with the relative lack of discussion on storage” in the water plan.

    “While we appreciate the plan’s focus on enlarging existing storage, we believe more attention should be paid to developing storage of all types, e.g., on-channel storage, off-channel storage, gravel pit storage, etc.,” wrote M. Patrick Wells, the managing engineer for water resource planning for CSU.

    “The plan should include an affirmative statement that it is state policy to develop additional storage,” Wells said. “This cannot be stressed enough, and Colorado needs to do as much as it can to secure as much additional storage of all types within its borders as is possible.”


    The city of Westminster, which sits between Denver and Boulder, “believes that many of the components of the water plan will be successful only if there is the political will to create more water storage, including identifying new storage locations, expanding existing storage and encouraging regional storage solutions,” Westminster Mayor Herb Atchison wrote in a Sept. 17 letter.

    And John Kaufman, the general manager of Centennial Water and Sanitation District, which serves customers south of Denver, told the CWCB “more storage, particularly on the East Slope of the Continental Divide, is needed. And creative ways to bring more West Slope water to the East Slope should be explored in a manner that also benefits West-Slope interests.”

    Kaufman also said in his Sept. 17 letter that the water plan “will not achieve full success if conservation is viewed as the keystone of the plan.”

    While there is abundant enthusiasm for additional storage among Front Range water providers, there is less support for, and even belief in, the CWCB’s goal of conserving an additional 400,000 acre-feet, which has been dubbed a “stretch goal” during the development of the water plan.

    Aurora Water, for example, questioned the assumptions used by CWCB in reaching its 400,000 acre-foot goal.

    Joe Stibrich, Aurora Water’s water resources policy manager told the CWCB in a Sept. 17 letter he understood CWCB added up 154,000 acre-feet of potential “passive conservation” savings, 166,000 acre-feet of “active conservation” savings, and 80,000 acre-feet of “aspirational stretch” savings to reach its goal.

    Stibrich said “additional work is needed to validate the numbers” and that it would be more useful to “define potential saving in a range” such as 320,000 to 400,000 acre-feet.

    And he said CWCB should make sure people know its “stretch goal” is just aspirational.

    “By its very nature, a stretch goal is aspirational and is not achievable under current policies and with existing technology and programs,” Stibrich said.


    And the Front Range Water Council, made up of the largest water providers in Colorado, told the CWCB that reaching the conservation goal couldn’t be expected to come before new storage.

    “The plan should reject the notion that project approvals should be contingent of first meeting any sort of conservation goals or targets,” the letter from the council said. “Passive and active conservation savings occurs over time as a result of technological innovation, education, market penetration and other factors and as a result, does not naturally lend itself to being ‘sequenced’ ahead of other water supply options. “

    Burt Knight, Greeley’s director of water and sewer, bluntly warned against relying on conservation.

    “We cannot conserve our way out of the anticipated gap, and the conservation mandates proposed in this draft could have a domino effect on our environment, our economy, our public health and our quality of life,” Knight wrote.

    Offering another perspective, Richard Van Gytenbeek, the outreach coordinator for Trout Unlimited’s Colorado Water Project, said the state should go beyond the 400,000 acre-foot goal in the plan and set a goal of saving 460,000 acre-feet.

    “A stretch goal, by its very definition, should be aggressive and go beyond what we know we can do using the types of strategies already in place,” Van Gytenbeek told the CWCB in a Sept 17 letter. “Colorado needs to be aggressive and discover how far we truly can go in water efficiency.”

    And in addition to the full-throated call for more storage in the comment letters to the CWCB, there are also words of caution about new dams and reservoirs.

    “Reservoirs can provide beneficial stream flows downstream, but they can also do the opposite,” said Ken Neubecker, the assistant director for the Colorado River Program at American Rivers, in a Sept. 14 comment letter.

    While Neubecker concedes that additional water storage “must be considered,” he told the CWCB ”we must also recognize that politically such storage will be difficult.”

    “It is easy for politicians and roundtables to demand more storage,” Neubecker said, “until they identify the specific ‘backyard’ they want to fill, the source they wish to deplete and the existing uses they intend to deprive.”

    Aspen Journalism is collaborating with the Glenwood Springs Post Independent and The Aspen Times on coverage of water and rivers in Colorado. More at

    #COWaterPlan: Even with wording changes, the basin roundtables recommend that the CWCB not adopt the framework

    Alan Ward stands at the Ewing Ditch headgate
    Alan Ward stands at the Ewing Ditch headgate,

    From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Brent Gardner-Smith):

    Letters sent to the Colorado Water Conservation Board in September about the draft Colorado Water Plan reveal a range of opinions about potential new transmountain diversions and the merits of using a “conceptual framework” to evaluate them.

    Various Front Range water providers and interest groups told the CWCB that the conceptual framework should not be included in the water plan, should not be a regulatory requirement, and should not apply to transmountain diversion projects already in the planning and approval stage.

    “Even with wording changes, the basin roundtables recommend that the CWCB not adopt the framework as it is a work in progress that may be modified as dialogue continues,” wrote the S. Platte and Metro basin roundtables, two of nine regional water-supply groups that meet under the auspices of the CWCB, in a combined Sept. 17 comment letter.

    But a number of organizations based on the Western Slope or that focus on the Colorado River basin say the framework is a good step forward.

    Officials at the Getches-Wilkinson Center for Natural Resources, Energy and the Environment at the University of Colorado Boulder, for example, gave an enthusiastic endorsement of the framework.

    “This is a revolutionary document and a quantum leap forward in Colorado water history,” Lawerence MacDonnell and Anne Castle, both of the Getches-Wilkinson Center, wrote in a Sept. 17 letter to the CWCB. “The conceptual framework is a critically important part of the Colorado Water Plan and should be formally adopted in the plan and by the CWCB, not just monitored.”

    The final water plan is expected to be approved by the CWCB board of directors at their meeting on Nov. 19 at the History Colorado Center in Denver.

    The conceptual framework includes seven principles “to guide future negotiations between proponents of a new TMD and those communities who may be affected were it built.”

    The concepts covered include a recognition that there may not be water to divert in dry years, that new diversions should not increase the likelihood of a compact call from California, that municipal conservation should also be pursued and that environmental needs must be addressed.

    Brent Newman, a program manager in the water supply planning section of CWCB, said Friday that the framework is going to be included in the final water plan and will be called “Colorado’s Conceptual Framework.”

    “Folks may not agree with every single principle, or even with discussing the concepts of a transmountain diversion out loud, but it represents a historic milestone in Colorado water policy that’s a long way from ‘Not One More Drop’ or ‘We’ll See You in Court,’” Newman said, citing the long-held positions of the Western Slope and the Front Range, respectively.


    Comments on the second draft of the water plan were due Sept. 17 and water-focused organizations filed more than 50 substantive letters.

    It’s not hard to pick up on the differing views in the letters about the framework, which was developed over the last two years by members of the Interbasin Compact Committee, which serves as an executive committee for the CWCB’s nine basin roundtables.

    Those who don’t think new transmountain diversions are a good idea tend to support the framework. But those who see new diversions as necessary diminish the framework’s authority and reject its potential restrictions.

    Castle and MacDonnell of the Getches-Wilkinson Center clearly support the framework, but they see big problems with taking more water from the upper Colorado River basin.

    The pair told the CWCB that “development of significant new Colorado River supplies increases the risk of future curtailment to all existing, post-1922 Colorado River water users, reduces the production of renewable hydropower at Colorado River Storage Project reservoirs, and could ratchet up unwelcome and counterproductive political dynamics among the Colorado River basin states.”

    But officials at Colorado Springs Utilities, while aware of potential issues with downstream water users in other states, see new TMDs as a likely necessity.

    M. Patrick Wells, the managing engineer for water resource planning for CSU, told the CWCB in a Sept. 17 letter that the draft water plan “consistently overlooks the fact that one or more new TMDs will ultimately need to be constructed to address Colorado’s water supply gap.”

    As such, Wells said the final water plan “should contain a definitive statement that a new TMD will be constructed, even if no formal concept has been proposed.”

    Wells also said CSU has “a significant concern” that adhering to the framework will become a regulatory requirement of new water projects.

    The utility “strongly requests” that language be added to the water plan to “make it abundantly clear that the conceptual framework is not a statement of state policy, and is not in any way to be interpreted or construed as a basis for any conditions or requirements in any water court case, state or federal permitting process, or contract negotiation.”

    The members of the Front Range Water Council agree with Colorado Springs Utilities on this point.

    In its Sept. 15 letter, the council pointed to recent remarks about the framework made by John McClow, a CWCB board member from the Gunnison River basin.

    “As board member McClow stated in his remarks at the summer Colorado Water Congress convention, the framework has no regulatory force or effect. Rather, it is guidance, the implementation and use of which will depend on the positions taken by the parties who engage in good faith negotiations on the construction of future specific proposed projects.”

    The council includes Denver Water, Aurora Water, Colorado Springs Utilities, Northern Water, the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, the Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co., and the Board of Water Works of Pueblo.


    A few organizations have told the CWCB that the framework should apply to both potential new transmountain diversions and the “firming” of existing transmountain water supplies.

    Today, about 600,000 acre-feet of water a year is sent east under the Continental Divide and over 500,000 acre feet of that is diverted from headwaters in Grand, Summit, Eagle and Pitkin counties.

    And another 120,000 to 140,000 acre-feet of water could be sent east after changes are made to existing transmountain diversion systems, according to the Colorado River basin roundtable.

    Included in that 140,000 acre-feet figure is 20,000 acre-feet more from the Windy Gap project in Grand County, 18,000 acre-feet more from the Moffat Collection System above Winter Park, and 20,000 from the Eagle River MOU project, which potentially includes an expansion of Eagle Park Reservoir at the Climax Mine and a new dam and reservoir on lower Homestake Creek.

    In addition to those, the water quality and quantity committee of the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments told the CWCB that there are other projects in the works that could send more water east, including “future Dillon Reservoir diversions, firming in the upper Roaring Fork and Fryingpan rivers, and Colorado Springs Utilities expanded diversions from the upper Blue River.”

    In the language of the Colorado Water Plan, these projects already on the books are called IPPs, for “identified projects and processes.”

    The Pitkin County commissioners, in a Sept. 15 letter, told the CWCB that the county “wholeheartedly endorses” the framework but “strongly believes” the framework’s core principles need to be “expanded in scope to apply equally to the various IPPs that involve trans-basin diversions.”

    The Pitkin County Healthy Rivers and Streams Board, a tax-funded organization dedicated to leaving more water in the Roaring Fork River and its tributaries, feels the same way.

    “The IPPs are the result of simple community canvassing to obtain information as to any potential plans or processes that are being contemplated around the state,” the board wrote in a Sept. 17 letter. “The IPPs have not been vetted and vary widely in size, impact and feasibility. “


    Trout Unlimited, which has been paying close attention to the development of the water plan, said it supports the framework.

    But it also gave the CWCB some plain-language criteria it thinks should be used to judge new TMDs.

    “These transmountain diversions of water can cause severe economic and environmental damage to the areas of origin,” wrote Richard Van Gytenbeek, the Colorado River Basin outreach coordinator for Trout Unlimited, in a Sept. 17 letter to the CWCB.

    As such, Gytenbeek told the CWCB it “should reject all new TMDs” unless the project proponent is already “employing high levels of conservation,” can show “that water is available for the project,” and “makes commitments that guarantee against environmental or economic harm to the basin of origin.”

    The Colorado River District, which has board members from 15 Western Slope counties, said it supports the framework.

    The river district’s general manager, Eric Kuhn, has been instrumental as a member of the IBCC in developing many of the framework’s key concepts.

    “Admittedly, there are elements of the framework that we would prefer to edit but recognize there are others who would address those same edits in an opposite fashion,” the River District told the CWCB in a Sept. 17 memo.

    However, the River District said the framework “represents a ‘way forward’ for constructive discussion about possible development of Colorado River basin water resources for out-of-basin use.”

    Aspen Journalism is collaborating with the Post Independent and The Aspen Times and on coverage of statewide water issues. More at…


    1. East Slope water providers are not looking for firm yield from a new TMD and the project proponent would accept hydrologic risk for that project.

    2. A new TMD would be used conjunctively with East Slope supplies, such as interruptible supply agreements, Denver Basin Aquifer resources, carry-over storage, terminal storage, drought restriction savings and other non-West Slope water sources.

    3. In order to manage when a new TMD would be able to divert, triggers are needed. Triggers are operating parameters that determine when and how much water a potential new TMD could divert, based upon predetermined conditions within the Colorado River System.

    4. A collaborative program that protects against involuntary curtailment is needed for existing uses and some reasonable increment of future development in the Colorado River System, but it will not cover a new TMD.

    5. Future West Slope needs should be accommodated as part of a new TMD project.

    6. Colorado will continue its commitment to improve conservation and reuse.

    7: Environmental resiliency and recreational needs must be addressed both before and conjunctively with a new TMD.

    Colorado transmountain diversions via the University of Colorado
    Colorado transmountain diversions via the University of Colorado

    #COWaterPlan: Front Range water providers defend their turf — Aspen Journalism


    From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith):

    A group of Front Range water providers have told the Colorado Water Conservation Board to stop denigrating lawns and civic landscapes in the Colorado Water Plan, while at the same time, Western Slope organizations are telling cities to use less water to grow grass.

    “Urban dwellers are entitled to a ‘reasonable recreational experience’ in the environment in which they reside,” the Front Range Water Council wrote in a Sept. 15 letter about the water plan.

    “This includes adequate irrigation supplies for yards, public parks, recreation fields, open space, etc.,” the council said. “Many urban citizens, including those of limited economic means or physical limitations, or those who simply are not kayakers, fisherman, backpackers or skiers, engage in enjoyable outdoor recreational activities ‘in their own backyard.’”

    The members of the Front Range Water Council are Aurora Water, Colorado Springs Utilities, Denver Water, Northern Water, the Pueblo Board of Water Works, the Southeastern Water Conservancy District and the Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co.

    The deadline for comments on the draft water plan was Sept. 17. The finished document is to be released Nov. 19 at a CWCB meeting in Denver.

    Colorado Springs Utilities also sent its own letter to the CWCB, signed by M. Patrick Wells, the managing engineer for water resource planning for the utility.

    “Many city dwellers value their city parks, ball fields, and backyards just as much as the scenic rivers or bucolic valleys, and they enjoy their urban environment far more often,” Wells said in his Sept. 17 letter.

    But Ken Nuebecker, the associate director of the Colorado river program at American Rivers, walked across the Front Range’s lawn argument in his own comment letter to the CWCB on Sept. 14.

    “While parks, ball fields and the urban forest have their place, we need to make sure that these engineered areas, which can easily be rebuilt, are not ‘protected’ at the expense of far more complex rivers systems which are not so easily ‘rebuilt,’” Neubecker said.

    But lawns can lead people to nature, and to rivers, Wells told the CWCB.

    “How can we expect current and future generations of citizens in urban areas to understand or appreciate the value of locally grown food in the lower Arkansas Valley or the importance of healthy rivers on the West Slope if they do not have healthy, sustainable outdoor spaces of their own to first make a connection with nature,” Wells wrote.

    Wells also said “there remains too much focus on curbing outdoor water use” which “currently accounts for less than 4% of Colorado’s total water use.”

    However, Andre Wille, the chair of the Pitkin County Healthy Rivers and Streams Board, suggested to the CWCB that healthy rivers may be a higher priority for many than lush lawns.

    “Truly, no Coloradan believes our water supply should be satisfied by sacrificing our quality of life or the very natural environment that has brought so many of us here and supports at numerous levels our state’s vibrant and growing economy,” Wille said in an Sept. 15 letter to CWCB.

    This sign, on the irrigated lawn outside the Aspen music tent, could well sum up how Front Range and Western Slope water organizations view each other.
    This sign, on the irrigated lawn outside the Aspen music tent, could well sum up how Front Range and Western Slope water organizations view each other.

    The dissing of summer lawns

    Denver Water CEO Jim Lochhead told the CWCB that the tone of the draft water plan was overly negative in regard to outdoor urban water uses.

    “The assumption and tone of the plan that municipal use (particularly the roughly 3% of the state’s water use that supports urban landscaping) is somehow wasteful or less valuable than other uses of water needs to be removed and replaced with language that is respectful of all uses of water that are done in an efficient manner,” said Lochhead in a Sept. 17 letter.

    Wells of Colorado Springs Utilities also said the tone of the first section of the water plan was “anti-growth and anti-city.”

    “If the plan is to reflect the values of the citizens of Colorado, it must recognize and validate the values clearly espoused by the silent millions in the state who have voluntarily chosen the municipal lifestyle of single family residences with a reasonable amount of bluegrass lawn,” Wells wrote.

    But the vision of a new wave of “silent millions” enjoying thirsty lawns on the Front Range creates apprehension on the West Slope.

    The Roaring Fork Conservancy, which works to protect the heavily-diverted Roaring Fork River watershed, told that the CWCB that “outdoor water use is an area ripe for major conservation gains.”

    “While Roaring Fork Conservancy doesn’t insist lawns are a thing of the past, local land use codes ought to mandate green infrastructure and water-efficient native landscaping in new development, and incentivize conversion for existing development,” said Rick Lofaro, the conservancy’s executive director, in a Sept. 17 letter to the CWCB.

    And the Colorado River Basin Roundtable, which meets in Glenwood Springs under the auspices of the CWCB, took an even stronger stance on suburban lawns and civic landscapes.

    “It has been said that municipal outdoor irrigation is but three percent of the state’s water use,’ the roundtable said in its Sept. 17 comments. “Outdoor water use, however, is roughly 50 percent of municipal demands in the irrigation season. In totality, it is the municipal gap – most often described as 500,000 acre-feet — that is driving the water plan. A high conservation level closes better than 90 percent of the gap.”

    Denver Water’s Lochhead comes at it from the other side of the fence.

    “Denver Water serves almost a quarter of the state’s population using less than two percent of all the water used in Colorado,” Lochhead told the CWCB. “Even if we eliminated all outdoor water use (approximately half of our total water demands), we would only make a one percent change in the State’s water usage.”

    Meanwhile, the Colorado River District, which represents 15 counties on Colorado’s Western Slope, acknowledged the Front Range’s sensitivity about its lawns and civic landscaping.

    “The River District does not wish to ‘demonize, lawn grass, the district told the CWCB in an unsigned memo on Sept. 17. “However, outdoor landscaping is by far the greatest, single consumptive use of municipal water supplies. Accordingly, the plan must include specific, measurable goals for turf-related conservation.”

    Enjoying a recreational experience on grass.
    Enjoying a recreational experience on grass.

    Lawns aside, more water

    And while Front Range water utilities tend not to intertwine their defense of lawns with a call for new water supplies, most of their letters do include direct calls for more water storage projects – new dams and reservoirs – and new transmountain diversions.

    The Front Range Water Council told the CWCB that the water plan must “emphasize the need for ‘new’ storage as well as the expansion of existing facilities, and the state must advocate for policies that advance this end.”

    Denver Water’’s Lochhead said that “conservation alone will not be enough to close the gap. Additional storage will be required to allow us to manage water efficiently and for multiple benefits.”

    And Wells of Colorado Springs Utilities told the CWCB, somewhat deeper in its letter than the section about the virtue of lawns, that “the final plan should contain a definitive statement that a new transmountain diversion will be constructed, even if no formal concept has been proposed. Any plan that fails to include a section on new supply development … cannot be considered a comprehensive, strategic vision for meeting Colorado’s future water needs.”

    Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism is collaborating with The Aspen Times and the Glenwood Springs Post Independent on the coverage of statewide water issues and the development of the Colorado Water Plan. The Post Indy ran a version of this story on Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2015.

    Colorado Springs asks councillors for water rate increase in 2016

    Colorado Springs circa 1910 via
    Colorado Springs circa 1910 via

    From the Colorado Springs Independent (Pam Zebeck):

    The Southern Delivery System, due to become operational next year, hasn’t cost as much as predicted in 2010, which led to lower and fewer rate increases since that time. Originally, Colorado Springs Utilities planned to increase water rates by 12 percent per year for six years. Instead, rates went up by 12 percent each in 2011 and 2012 and 10 percent each in 2013 and 2014.

    That said, revenue hasn’t generated as much money as CSU planned, according to a City Auditor’s Office assessment of water rates released this month.

    When the costs of the pipeline from Pueblo Reservoir to Colorado Springs came in some $400 million less than originally projected, that meant the city had to borrow less, the audit reports…

    In any event, Springs Utilities proposes to change gas, electric and water rates in 2016. The water rate increase would increase the typical residential bill from $57.07 a month this year to $59.62 next year, an increase of $2.55 per month, or 4.5 percent…

    Rates changes will become effective January 1 if approved by City Council, which doubles as the Utilities Board.