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

killingthecoloradotrailerscreenshot

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

El Paso County struggles to fill water needs — The Pueblo Chieftain #COWaterPlan

Upper Black Squirrel Creek Designated Groundwater Basin
Upper Black Squirrel
Creek Designated Groundwater Basin

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

In a way, the whole reason a state water plan is needed lies north of the Pueblo County line.

In the Arkansas River basin, three-fourths of the future need identified in a 2008 study was in El Paso County, the fastest growing area in the region. Like Denver, the metropolitan growth has the potential to dry up rural farming areas.

Not all of the growth is in Colorado Springs; it’s in outlying areas, as well.

For more than a decade, The Pueblo Chieftain has documented the progress of the Southern Delivery System, purchases of water rights by El Paso County cities or water providers, and water quality issues, such as changing limits on groundwater contaminants.

Cherokee Metro District President Jan Cederberg and Fountain Water Engineer Mike Fink give their viewpoints on Colorado’s Water Plan, based on questions supplied by The Chieftain on behalf of the Arkansas Basin Roundtable.

Cherokee, a district that sits like an island within Colorado Springs, over the last decade has looked at various pipelines from other areas to meet its water needs.

Fountain, a city south of Colorado Springs, gets its water from several sources but is relying heavily on SDS, which also allows it to draw more water through the Fountain Valley Conduit.

How do we fill the gap in the Arkansas River Basin within the Colorado Water Plan and Basin Implementation Plan?

Cederberg: Given that the river is already over-appropriated, we will all need to keep on a continuous path of improving water efficiency, but recognize that alone will not close the gap. We will also need to collaborate with our friends and neighbors in the basin to make best use of the water resources available through innovative arrangements such as alternative transfer methods. Ultimately, water uses are likely to be prioritized to “highest and best uses” in response to market economics.

Fink: Each water supplier and all of the major water users in the Arkansas Basin will need to participate in the effort to fill the gap. All elements of the water supply pantheon should be reviewed for improvements in yield, improvement of efficiencies in the sources, in the transportation, storage and treatment, delivery and return flow management and conservation (both the supply side and the demand side).

What projects do you plan to fill the gap?

Cederberg: Cherokee Metropolitan District’s primary supply is alluvial groundwater in the Upper Black Squirrel Creek designated basin. We will continue considering the purchase of water rights from that basin as they are made available.

We also recently developed a new Denver Basin well field near Black Forest, approximately 15 miles north of our main service area. Although this supply is regarded as unsustainable for the long term, it is drought-proof and can be used in conjunction with junior water rights to help meet dry-year demands. We will grow this well field and consider strategies to extend the life of this Denver Basin supply.

In addition, the Cherokee Metropolitan District is collaborating with several other members of the Pikes Peak Regional Water Authority to consider a regional water system that would allow efficient delivery of water from the Fountain Creek/Arkansas River system.

Fink: Fountain Utilities adopted a comprehensive Water Master Plan in 2007. It was a decisional study that confirmed our participation in the Southern Delivery System Project, but it also provided a longer planning horizon for development of supply diversity and redundancy, treatment options, transmission system planning and delivery system planning.

One foundational element of the 2007 Water Master Plan was a dedication to enhancing the City’s Water Conservation efforts.

The projects that Fountain Utilities will either continue or commence implementation to improve our ability to meet the demands that increased population require include the following:

1. Southern Delivery System — SDS is an important addition to our utility’s supply system, but it is only a tool to move water from the Pueblo Reservoir and treat that water; SDS does not provide water, it only moves and treats water. Each of the participants is required to bring their own water to the pipe.

2. Return flow management — Fountain, as a beneficiary of the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project, receives an allocation of transbasin water delivered through the Fountain Valley Authority transmission and treatment system. This allocation is usable to extinction and the City will continue to maximize the use of this water through effective return-flow management.

3. Continued use of local groundwater resources — Fountain has groundwater wells that are both in the Fountain Aquifer and in the Widefield Aquifer. These are renewable resources that must have depletions augmented by surface water. Fountain’s continuing challenge is to treat the water from these sources to the quality that not only meets the Clean Drinking Water Standards, but that also maintains compliance with Health Advisories for trace contaminants.

Fountain, with Widefield and Security, is also pursuing the Widefield Aquifer Recharge Project. This long-term, renewable resource will divert flows from Fountain Creek into a treatment facility, inject the treated water into the Widefield Aquifer for storage that does not have evaporative losses, retrieve that water and treat it to drinking water standards.

How do we keep the gaps for agriculture and municipalities from becoming bigger?

Cederberg: We must continue to improve water efficiency on all fronts. As Cherokee has faced water supply challenges in recent years, we have asked our customers to conserve through watering restrictions and a tiered rate structure.

Their response, as proven through water demand data over time, has allowed us to reduce our demand forecast per home by more than 25 percent. In addition, Cherokee has developed an indirect reuse system by which reclaimed water recharges our main water supply aquifer.

Fink: All of the tools that the Colorado Water Plan examined (conservation, agriculture, storage, watershed health, education and outreach) will be needed to address demand, but I think that the coordination between water resource planning and land-use planning has possibly the most positive potential for closing the gap.

The one wild card in the identified tools in the Water Plan is innovation, and I am a firm believer that Colorado has the innovators to bring different and effective tools to the jobs than anyone has yet.

#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.

Larimer pays $8.4 million for farm, water rights — Loveland Reporter-Herald

Colorado-Big Thompson Project east slope facilities
Colorado-Big Thompson Project east slope facilities

Here’s the release from Larimer County (Kerri Rollins):

Larimer County Department of Natural Resources purchased a 211-acre farm southwest of Berthoud, along with its valuable water rights. The deal closed Monday, August 8.

Using Help Preserve Open Spaces sales and use tax dollars, Larimer County Department of Natural Resources purchased the property, known previously as the Malchow Farm, to conserve its agricultural, historic, scenic, community buffer and educational values. General public access is not permitted at this time. Larimer County plans to continue leasing the property as an active agricultural farming operation.

The Town of Berthoud provided $100,000 to Larimer County to help purchase the farm, which will also help leverage a potential Great Outdoors Colorado funding request being submitted later this month.

“We’re excited to acquire this farm and its myriad of conservation values,” said Gary Buffington, director of Larimer County Department of Natural Resources. “The property helps us further our mission to conserve working lands and foster an appreciation for our agricultural heritage in Larimer County.”

This property is located one mile southwest of Berthoud, just north of the Little Thompson River and adjacent to U.S. 287 on the highway’s west side. It consists of high-quality agricultural soils, with approximately 188 irrigated, 18 pasture and 5 farmstead acres. Located just north of the Larimer-Boulder county line, the property serves as a gateway to Larimer County and a doorstep to the town of Berthoud, with sweeping views of Longs Peak and the Front Range. The property contains several historic features, including a pioneer gravesite, beet shack and a big red barn that can be seen for miles. The Overland Trail once crossed the property.

The property, infrastructure and minerals were purchased along with the valuable water rights, including 240 units of Colorado-Big Thompson, or C-BT, water, 16 shares of Handy Ditch native water rights and 20 shares in Dry Creek Lateral Ditch.

Larimer County is actively seeking partners to engage in a water sharing agreement on this property that will provide partnership funds toward the purchase of the water, keep the farm in active production and allow water partners to share some of the water in drought years. This water sharing agreement, known as an Alternative Transfer Mechanism, or ATM, is a cooperative solution encouraged by the Colorado Water Plan to share water across uses without permanently drying up high-quality working farms, such as this farm near Berthoud.

Larimer County has developed a stewardship plan for the property and will develop a full management plan with public input within the next several years. The property was purchased from the Malchow family, but an official name for the property, now that it’s a Larimer County open space, will be chosen at a later date. Public tours of the property are planned for later this year.

For additional information, contact Kerri Rollins, Open Lands Program manager, at (970) 619-4577.

From The Loveland Reporter-Herald (Pamela Johnson):

Larimer County now officially owns the 211-acre Malchow farm south of Berthoud and its associated water rights — a unique agreement that includes a water sharing component.

The $8.4 million sale from the Malchow family to the Department of Natural Resources closed Monday.

The county bought the property to conserve its agricultural, historic and scenic values and plans to continue leasing the fields as an active farm.

One unique aspect of the sale was that the county also bought the water rights, including 240 units of Colorado-Big Thompson water, with the intention of entering into a water sharing agreement.

Under such an agreement, the farm may vary its crops over several years, so in drought years, some of the irrigation water can be sold.

This allows the farm to stay in production for the long-term and is an arrangement encouraged by the Colorado Water Plan.

The farm is located along U.S. 287 one mile southwest of Berthoud, and along with rich farmland, it includes historic buildings and a pioneer grave site believed to be tied to the Overland Trail, which once crossed the property…

The farm will not immediately be open for public access. However, a management plan that will be developed within the next few years could include an educational component in which the farm may be used to teach the public about agriculture.

The town of Berthoud pitched in $100,000 toward the purchase of the property, and Larimer County will be applying for a Great Outdoors Colorado grant to help with the cost.

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.”

The latest #CWCB Confluence newsletter is hot off the presses

Pueblo dam releases
Pueblo dam releases

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

What you missed at the CWCB July Board meeting in Steamboat Springs…

  • Our newest Board member, Jim Yahn, was sworn in to represent the South Platte River Basin. Jim is the manager of the North Sterling and Prewitt Reservoirs where he oversees the diversion and distribution of water to over 350 farmers.
  • Carlee Brown attended her first Board meeting as the new Section Chief for the Interstate, Federal, and Water Information Section. Previously, Carlee was the Policy Advisor for water at the Western Governors’ Association (WGA), where she led WGA’s bipartisan efforts on drought, the Clean Water Act, water data, and groundwater.
  • The implementation of Colorado’s Water Plan is in full swing. Some highlights:

  • Distributed over $5M in WSRF funds from statewide and basin accounts since the beginning of November 2015. This $5m has been successfully leveraged against over $25M in matching contributions.
  • CWCB staff are working with other stakeholders to provide water loss trainings statewide over the next few years. These trainings will update water managers on proper water loss reporting and accounting.
  • A LEAN event was held between the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Colorado Department of Natural Resources (DNR), the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB), and local regulators, such as the Northwest Council of Governments (NWCOG) to improve the efficiency of the permitting process. Water providers and environmental groups were also involved. Stakeholders are creating a Permitting Handbook.
  • The CWCB Board and staff have developed a creative funding plan for up to five years, in its conception phase, that proposes:

  • $50 million one-time investment in a repayment guarantee fund
  • $10 million annually to the WSRF
  • $5 million annually to the Watershed Restoration Program
  • $10 million annually to non-reimbursable programs
  • The Non Native Fish Subcommittee is working to reduce non native fish populations through education, outreach, and harvest incentives. In the Ridgway Reservoir, the Smallmouth Bass adult population has been reduced by 36 percent.
  • Instream flow water rights have been decreed on Alkali Creek, Armstrong Creek, Brush Creek, East Douglas Creek, Schaefer Creek, Terror Creek, and Timber Springs Gulch, totaling 22 miles in length.
  • The Board approved a loan to the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District for the Pueblo Dam Hydroelectric Project. This is the first phase of the Arkansas Valley Conduit project, which was a part of the original Fryingpan-Arkansas project signed by President Kennedy in 1962. The Board also approved a loan to the North Poudre Irrigation Company for rehabilitation of the Livermore Irrigation Tunnel. This project will help to ensure continued deliveries to more than 36 square miles of irrigated acreage.
  • The Board approved seven WSRF grants at this meeting, totaling $270,572.