#ColoradoRiver: “Killing the #Colorado” spotlights new solutions — American Rivers #COriver


From American Rivers (Sinjin Eberle):

I have noticed a lot of chatter lately about the situation at Lake Mead. Dramatic overuse, prolonged drought, and the effects of increased temperatures have led to a historically low volume of water stored in the largest reservoir on the Colorado River. One of the most critical components of water in the west is less than 40% full. Yet while some people scramble for a quick fix or point fingers, others see the long game and note the optimism that working together for smart, sustainable solutions can bring. There is hope, there is a roadmap, and together we have the knowledge, skill, and foresight to make it happen.

Lake Mead behind Hoover Dam December 2015 via Greg Hobbs.
Lake Mead behind Hoover Dam December 2015 via Greg Hobbs.

The Discovery Channel recently produced a new documentary, Killing the Colorado, a made-for-TV version of the lengthy ProPublica series of the same name. The show is excellent, comprehensive, and features a number of voices that you may not expect to be featured in a film about the environment. Imperial valley agricultural producers, water managers, a red-state Senator and a blue-state Governor – all identifying problems facing the basin, and most putting forth an optimistic view that a human-caused predicament can be solved with human-inspired ingenuity.

One quote in particular is poignant – there is a scene with Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper in his office flipping through a binder full of historic water compacts. Upon his observance of the generations of water agreements, he remarks “The thing you realize when you go through these [water] compacts, is that everyone is in this together.” Given the situation facing Lake Mead, a growing chorus of voices around Lake Powell, the birth of the Colorado Water Plan, and a recognition that heathy rivers support healthy agriculture and sustainable economies, we truly are all rowing the same boat together in the Colorado Basin.

Lake Powell via Aspen Journalism
Lake Powell via Aspen Journalism

But, how can Lake Mead affect Colorado from a thousand miles downstream? Well, due to the Colorado River Compact of 1922, headwaters states like Colorado must send a certain amount of water to the Southwestern states of Arizona, Nevada, and California – it’s the law of the river, and the law of the land. And since when the Compact was developed, California was a fast growing destination, it has priority and can “call” for water if needed. For years, California has had the luxury to get much of the surplus of water that Colorado and Wyoming have sent downstream to be stored in Lake Powell and Lake Mead. But now with prolonged drought, a fast-growing population across the entire Southwest, and a substantial agricultural economy (especially in the Imperial Valley), the era of surplus water is over. As such, Lake Mead is directly connected to Colorado, whether we like it or not, and that connection is the Colorado River.

Killing the Colorado does a fantastic job over nearly an hour-and-a-half of highlighting a variety of colorful characters who have recognized that shortage and a lack of water will change everything in the future – that future is now. But while both the show and the written article are excellent at highlighting the situation, they don’t delve deeply into what I think is most important – that real solutions do exist, and we know how to implement them, it simply takes our collective will to get them moving. Solutions like urban and agricultural conservation and efficiency, like reuse and recycling, like innovative water banking and flexible management practices, like continuing the shift towards renewable energy (solar and wind don’t devour cooling water like natural gas and coal plants require). But while these efforts all seem daunting and out of an individual’s control, there are actions that each of us can take every day that together, make a huge difference. Like buying and installing your own rain barrel for your outside plants and flowers, like supporting your local farmer at the farmer’s market – small things that have a great impact, especially when we all do them together.

Solutions do exist, and as Arizona Senator Jeff Flake said “The drought over the past couple of years has awakened all of us to the future we have if we don’t do better planning. There are many things that are out of our control…Planning is so important. Conserving. Recharging. Water banking. Water markets. These are all important things that have to take place.

Let’s get started!

The Yampa River flows through the Carpenter Ranch. Photo courtesy of John Fielder from his new book, “Colorado’s Yampa River: Free Flowing & Wild from the Flat Tops to the Green.” -- via The Mountain Town News
The Yampa River flows through the Carpenter Ranch. Photo courtesy of John Fielder from his new book, “Colorado’s Yampa River: Free Flowing & Wild from the Flat Tops to the Green.” — via The Mountain Town News

#Colorado #coleg interim committee meets, #conservation at the top of the agenda #COWaterPlan

Moffat Collection System pipeline photo via Bob Berwyn.
Moffat Collection System pipeline photo via Bob Berwyn.

From The Colorado Independent (Marianne Goodland):

If Colorado hopes to reach its goal of conserving at least 130 billion gallons of water a year by 2050, some of the state’s water utilities will have to step up their evaluation and repairs on aging or corroded water lines.

Colorado water experts anticipate that by 2050, the state will need at least one million acre-feet of water more than it will have, an estimate that many believe is conservative. (An acre-foot of water is 326,000 gallons, or the amount of water it would take to cover Mile High Stadium from end zone to end zone with one foot of water.)

That means every sector of water use — recreational, agricultural, industrial, municipal and environmental — can anticipate shortages. Much of the shortfall is tied to Colorado’s population boom. The state’s population is projected to nearly double from about 5.3 million to at least 8.7 million people, perhaps reaching as high as 10.3 million, by 2050.

On Tuesday, a state legislative interim committee met to discuss, among other things, how to save more water by stopping “water loss.”

Water providers lose 25 billion gallons of water a year through leaking water lines and hundreds of water main breaks, according to estimates in the Colorado Water Plan.

For water providers and utilities, that loss comes at the cost of extracting water and treating it, only to lose some of it before it reaches the user. In Colorado, water experts put the cost of that loss at about $50 million a year. In addition to actual water loss, there are also costs associated with incorrectly-operating water meters or other discrepancies.

Bottom line: Those financial losses mean utilities have less to spend on maintaining their systems. And the bottom, bottom line? Guess who helps make up the difference?

Utilities pass on the costs of water loss to consumers, says Teresa Conley of Conservation Colorado. Utilities have fixed costs and revenue that fluctuates based on how much water is used throughout the year. Water loss impacts water providers’ bottom line, she said, and that means consumers end up paying for water that gets lost in the system.

Fix these problems and that could save about 77,000 acre-feet of water a year — or about 20 percent of the state’s conservation goal. The focus on repairing leaking pipes comes at a time when national and local attention is being paid to lead in water supplies, largely due to corroded water lines in Flint, Michigan but found in Colorado, as well.

The Colorado Water Conservation Board, part of the state’s Department of Natural Resources,and author of the state’s water plan, would like to see a uniform way of measuring water loss. It has developed a tool for utilities that would track water loss statewide. But the utilities aren’t all that enthusiastic about using it, pointing out that their own efforts are producing the desired results.

John Thornhill, chief engineer at Greeley Water and Sewer, told the committee this week that pipes installed in the 1950s were the biggest problem for Greeley because the linings in them were susceptible to corrosion. The utility recently finished replacing those corroded pipes, which were part of a network of 640 miles of water lines.
Offering a well-worn pun in the industry, he said: “We’re getting the lead out.”

#ColoradoRiver: The Plan to Strengthen Denver’s Water Supply — 5280.com #COriver

Gross Dam enlargement concept graphic via Denver Water
Gross Dam enlargement concept graphic via Denver Water

From 5280.cm (Amy Thomson):

Considering the Denver region is growing by an average of 4,500 new residents per month, a large sector of the population likely doesn’t remember the catastrophic 2002 drought. The most severe water shortage since the Dust Bowl, snowpack and soil moisture were at all-time lows, and we remained in a dry period until 2006. Luckily, with water restrictions in place, we never actually ran out of water—we just got really close.

“We realized that we had an immediate need to correct a vulnerability in our system,” Denver Water CEO Jim Lochhead says. That’s when Denver Water started planning the Gross Reservoir Expansion Project, and after more than a decade of negotiations, the project (which was recently endorsed by Gov. John Hickenlooper) is underway.

But will it be enough? The short answer is yes—as long as Denverites work on strengthening their water conservation practices. Lochhead was pleased to note that when a storm comes through the Mile High City, there is a noticeable drop in outdoor water use, because well-informed residents are turning off their sprinkler systems. Denver residents have managed to reduce water consumption by more than 20 percent in the last 15 years, even with a 15 percent increase in population, according to Lochhead.

The decrease is not enough to mitigate the risk of drought, however. As Colorado’s largest water utility, the Denver Water system is made up of two collection systems—the Northern and the South Platte—and they are incredibly imbalanced. About 80 percent of the water comes from the south system, leaving the north very vulnerable to low rainfall or wildfires. During the notable dry years of 2002 and 2013, clients in the north end were lucky their taps continued to flow.

“We were literally only one drought away from a major problem in our system,” Lochhead says, noting that as recently as 2013, the system was virtually out of water in the north-end.

@DenverWater: Monthly #conservation tips

Orr Manufacturing Vertical Impact Sprinkler circa 1928 via the Irrigation Museum
Orr Manufacturing Vertical Impact Sprinkler circa 1928 via the Irrigation Museum

Click here to read the article. Here’s an excerpt:

This summer has been a hot one, but the sizzle doesn’t have to burn out your water-wise mindset.

Here are recommended lawn watering times for August:

  • Fixed spray heads: 14 minutes per zone
  • Rotary/high-efficiency nozzles: 34 minutes per zone
  • Rotor heads: 27 minutes per zone
  • Manual sprinklers: 20 minutes per zone
  • On watering days — limited by the rules to no more than three a week — you can make each minute matter by cycling and soaking. Water when the time is right, which is easy if you remember that time never falls between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m.

    Water only when your lawn needs a drink. Besides wasting water — and your money — overwatering can lead to weeds, disease and dreaded fungus.

    And here’s a hot tip for smart savings indoors: Our rebates changed this year, so be sure to look up which toilets qualify for rebates before you buy. Only WaterSense-labeled toilets averaging 1.1 gallons or less per flush qualify for a $150 rebate. With a little bit of research, you and your new rebate-worthy throne can rule the world of efficiency.

    2016 #coleg: Let it rain (in barrels) in Colorado — The Greeley Tribune

    From The Greeley Tribune (Samantha Fox):

    Gov. John Hickenlooper signed House Bill 1005 in May, and now it’s up to residents to buy and install rain barrels, as long as limitations are followed.

    Most single-family homes and townhomes can use rain barrels to collect water, but homeowners can’t have more than two 55-gallon barrels.

    Those who live in residences with homeowners associations shouldn’t buy and install rain barrels right away, though. Like the American flag, an HOA can’t ban the barrels, but it can implement requirements about how they’re used, since the barrels fall under an exterior change. Abby Bearden, office manager and architecture review committee manager for Greeley Community Management, LLC, said rain barrels should be approved prior to installment, that way there are no issues or unforeseen problems.

    Once approval is given, rain barrels can be purchased in a number of hardware stores or online. Installation is relatively simple, but TreePeople, a Los Angeles company that disseminates information about rain barrels, said the water catching devices should be installed on a raised surface, attached to a gutter. A downspout will be needed to get downpour directly into the barrel. It’s also important to make sure the barrel is secure, in case of harsh weather.

    Once the barrels start collecting rain, the water can’t be used for just anything. The new law allows for outside use on the owner’s property, so watering lawns and plants outside is OK, but greenhouses and indoor uses are not allowed.

    Reagan Waskom, director of the Colorado Water Institute, said the barrels should be cleared about once a week during the summer, and should be disconnected during the winter.

    It shouldn’t take too many storms before there is plenty of water gathered to use on lawns and gardens, Waskom said.

    Waskom said he doesn’t anticipate too many people running out and buying rain barrels, but he said in other states, about 10 percent of the population actually uses them. That figure shouldn’t be enough to hurt water right owners, which is a big reason why the controversial legalization of rain barrels was finally approved.

    The way Colorado’s water law works is similar to a first-come, first-serve model. It’s called prior appropriation. The first person to take and use the water for an agricultural, industrial or household reason got the first rights to that water. These are called senior water rights. Those who secured water rights later can use what was remaining after the senior water user took what they were allotted. These are called junior water rights.

    There was concern that rain barrels can prevent runoff into the water sources people have rights to, which would hurt the non-senior holders first, but Colorado State University conducted a study that showed rain barrels shouldn’t hurt the water supply.

    Not everyone was convinced, like Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling. He said the bill didn’t do enough to guarantee rain barrel users would be responsible in case their use of rain barrels does hurt in senior water rights holders. He was one of three legislators to vote against the bill.

    There is a provision in case there is a loss of water due to rain barrels, though. It was written into the bill that there can be a reexamination of regulation if there wasn’t enough runoff water getting to water sources.

    “If everyone were to (buy barrels) there are the checks and balances in there so somebody can go back there and look on a regular basis to see if there is, indeed, an impact,” said Northern Water’s Brain Werner in May.

    South Metro drops plans to export Ark Valley water — The Pueblo Chieftain

    WISE System Map via the South Metro Water Supply Authority
    WISE System Map via the South Metro Water Supply Authority

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    A new long-term plan by the South Metro Water Supply Authority, which serves 13 water providers in the greater Denver-Aurora area, avoids any mention of taking water from the Arkansas River basin.

    That’s significant, because the group’s 2007 master plan included two possible pipeline routes from the Arkansas River basin as a way of filling future water supply needs. Located in some of the fastest-growing areas of Colorado, South Metro’s population increased to 325,000 in 2016 from 250,000 in 2005.

    South Metro communities were built on water from the Denver Basin aquifer, but began shifting their focus to finding new renewable supplies, conservation and increasing efficiency as ways to stretch their supplies.

    “I think our members wanted to focus on projects that are on a foreseeable timetable,” said Eric Hecox, executive director of the authority. “The study confirms our region’s tremendous progress toward securing a sustainable water future. There is more to be done, but there is no question we are on the right path.”

    With Pure Cycle’s sale of its Fort Lyon Canal water rights last year, no South Metro member has any projects planned in the Arkansas Valley. Pure Cycle is connected to the emerging Rangeview district east of Aurora.

    Annual demand for South Metro is expected to more than double to 120,000 acre-feet (39 billion gallons) by 2065. Increased storage, expanded use of the WISE agreement with Denver and Aurora and continuing conservation efforts are expected to fill 38,400 acre-feet in the next 50 years.

    The WISE agreement allows South Metro areas to reuse return flows from the Denver area through Aurora’s Prairie Waters Project. Reuter-Hess Reservoir and the East Cherry Creek Valley pipeline have opened new ways to use water. Per capita use in the South Metro area has decreased 30 percent since 2000.

    Another 30,000 acre-feet annually of new supplies still are needed by 2065, according to the revised master plan released Tuesday. About two-thirds of that supply is identified in existing projects, but the plan proposes finding the remainder through cooperative agreements with other users in the South Platte and through the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement, Hecox said.

    Finally, individual members of the South Metro group are developing innovative solutions. For instance, Sterling Ranch is harvesting rainwater and incorporating conservation into land-use design. Other communities have initiated landscape regulations and some are even paying property owners to remove turf or plants that use excessive amounts of water. Some rate structures have been changed to promote conservation.

    The new plan fits in with Colorado’s Water Plan, which seeks collaborative solutions rather than buying agricultural water rights and drying up farmland.

    “A remarkable transformation is happening in the South Metro region,” said James Eklund, executive director of the Colorado Water Conservation board. “Colorado’s Water Plan calls for innovative water management and this study demonstrates how this important region is transitioning to a more sustainable water supply.”

    #ColoradoRiver: Lake Mead still shrinking, but lower consumption offers glimmer of hope — Las Vegas Review-Journal


    From The Las Vegas Review-Journal (@RefriedBrean):

    The reservoir that supplies 90 percent of the Las Vegas Valley’s drinking water bottomed out at 1,071.61 feet above sea level on July 1, its lowest level since May 1937, when the lake was filling for the first time behind a newly completed Hoover Dam.

    Though the surface of the lake has ticked back up by about 2 feet since then, it remains 5 feet lower than it was at this time last year and 43 feet lower than it was in early August 2012.

    But the news isn’t all bad.

    The amount of water being drawn from the Colorado River for use in Nevada, Arizona and California is on track to hit its lowest level in more than 20 years, a sign that conservation efforts and temporary cuts by river users are having an effect, at least on the demand side of the ledger…

    If the current federal projection holds, the three lower basin states will combine this year to consume less than 7 million acre-feet of Colorado River water for the first time since 1992…

    That’s a “symbolically important milestone,” said author and long-time environmental journalist John Fleck, because the region’s population has grown by roughly 7 million people since the last time consumption was this low…

    Even with reduced consumption, there will still be more water taken out of the river this year than there is flowing into it.

    As a result, the record low set on July 1 is unlikely to stand for long. Federal forecasters expect Lake Mead to start 2017 about 6 feet higher than it is now, then dip downward again into record territory in April, before bottoming out next June or July at about 1,063 feet above sea level…

    Though Lake Mead’s decline is expected to continue for the next two years at least, forecasters say the reservoir is likely to contain just enough water on Jan. 1, 2017, and Jan. 1, 2018, to avoid a first-ever federal shortage declaration that would trigger mandatory water reductions for Nevada and Arizona…

    Mack said the voluntary cuts and conservation gains made already by cities, farms and water agencies in Nevada, Arizona and California are at least partially responsible for keeping Lake Mead just out of shortage territory. And more cooperative cuts are coming.

    By the end of the year, officials in Nevada, Arizona and California hope to finalize a landmark deal outlining a series of voluntary water reductions designed to prop up Lake Mead and stave off deeper, mandatory cuts for Arizona and Nevada.

    Arizona would shoulder most of the voluntary reductions, but the tentative deal marks the first time California has agreed to share the pain if the drought worsens.

    As it stands now, California is not required to take any cuts to its 4.4 million acre-foot share of the Colorado, which is the largest annual allotment among the seven states that share the river.