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.

Water restrictions lifted in Fountain — The #Colorado Springs Gazette

Widefield aquifer via the Colorado Water Institute.
Widefield aquifer via the Colorado Water Institute.

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Rachel Riley):

Stage 3 water restrictions, which were put in place in Fountain June 24 after perfluorinated compounds were found in area groundwater wells, were lifted Thursday.

The restrictions, which limited irrigation to two days a week to avoid using well water and meet demands with surface water, were imposed after contamination was found in groundwater wells in Fountain, Widefield and Security at levels above Environmental Protection Agency recommendations…

Stage 1 voluntary water restrictions remain in place in Fountain until Sept. 30, according to the utilities’ website.

Under the voluntary restrictions, property owners and renters with street addresses ending in an even number are encouraged to use water outdoors on even-numbered calendared days, and vice-versa with residents with street addresses ending in an odd number. Property owners and renters area also encouraged to refrain from using water outdoors on the last day of each calendar month.

Northwest Douglas County Water Project slated to be online in 2017

Denver Basin Aquifers confining unit sands and springs via the USGS. Page for report where graphic was taken: http://pubs.usgs.gov/pp/1770/
Denver Basin Aquifers confining unit sands and springs via the USGS. Page for report where graphic was taken: http://pubs.usgs.gov/pp/1770/

From The Wheat Ridge Transcript (Alex DeWind):

A regional partnership called the Northwest Douglas County Water Project will result in renewable water for existing homes and businesses in rural, northwest Douglas County by spring 2017.

For the past 20 years, residents in Plum Valley Heights, Chatfield Estates/Acres, Chatfield East and the Titan Road Industrial Park Chatfield have been using well water, a nonrenewable source…

The water agreement — among Douglas County, Aurora Water, Centennial Water and Sanitation District, Roxborough Water and Sanitation District and the Colorado Water Conservation Board — will deliver treated water to about 180 homes and 31 businesses in the northwest communities by February.

The county’s role in the partnership is its Water Alternatives Program, which was created in 2013 in an effort to help communities that owned wells. The county also took the lead in securing Aurora Water as a partner, according to a media release from county officials.

Communities will share infrastructure, Moore said, which is much more cost-effective.

Roxborough Water and Sanitation will deliver treated water from Aurora Water to paying customers in Plum Valley Heights. Centennial Water and Sanitation will treat, store and deliver water from Aurora Water to paying customers in Chatfield Estates, Chatfield Acres and Titan Road Industrial.

Construction of the appropriate delivery infrastructure is expected to begin next week.

Peterson AFB likely source of Widefield aquifer PFC pollution

Photo via USAF Air Combat Command
Photo via USAF Air Combat Command

From the Associated Press (Dan Elliott):

The state Department of Public Health and Environment said Wednesday it hasn’t ruled out additional sources, but officials believe at least some of the chemicals came from Peterson Air Force Base, where firefighters used the foam in training exercises.

The foam contained perfluorinated compounds, or PFCs, which have been linked to prostate, kidney and testicular cancer, along with other illnesses.

The comments by state officials were the most definitive statement to date linking the contamination to Peterson. It came hours after the military released a report identifying six sites at the base where the foam may have escaped into the environment after firefighting drills or fire equipment tests…

Colorado and Air Force officials will meet next week to discuss their next steps, said Roland Clubb of the state health department. The next phase will include drilling monitoring wells and taking soil samples, which the Air Force announced last month.

Clubb said state officials also want assurances from the Air Force about seven other sites at Peterson where the foam was used, but where the military said no follow-up investigation is needed. The Air Force said any foam released at those sites went through a treatment system…

The Security Water District has shifted almost entirely to surface water — from rivers and lakes — since the PFCs were found, Manager Roy Heald said Wednesday. Previously, about half the district’s water came from wells and half from surface water.

Heald expects the district to soon use surface water entirely, after modifications to the system.

The Fountain Water Department has not used wells since October and got through this summer’s peak demand period entirely on surface water, Utilities Director Curtis Mitchell said.

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Tom Roeder):

Six sites at Peterson Air Force Base were singled out for follow-up tests, the report submitted by the Army Corps of Engineers found.

The firefighting foam was used most heavily from about 1970 through the early 1990s at two fire training areas, which have since been decommissioned, the report said. A former assistant fire chief, however, told investigators that he remembered it twice being used in a lined basin during the last decade.

Also at risk of exposure is the installation’s golf course, which sits on a former leach field and is watered from an untreated pond that collects all runoff from the central and western areas of the base, the report said. Investigators were not certain how much firefighting foam made its way into the pond since it was built in 1979.

The chemicals also have been used during equipment tests in two areas, including a dirt-and-grass volleyball court near one fire station and along a concrete road near another, the report said…

The EPA says the chemicals are “toxic to laboratory animals and wildlife, producing reproductive, developmental, and systemic effects in laboratory tests.”

In the new report, investigators say none of the sites on Peterson contaminated with the firefighting chemicals “identified as presenting an imminent risk to public health or the environment.”

The base has at least 600 gallons of the chemicals in storage. The military has said it’s working to find a replacement for the firefighting chemicals.

Studies of the contamination, including the drilling of test wells, are expected to continue through the fall. Another report is due in March.

This year, the military said 664 sites in the U.S. and elsewhere may have used the toxic firefighting chemicals. They were mixed with water to create a foam used to extinguish fuel fires.

Widefield aquifer via the Colorado Water Institute.
Widefield aquifer via the Colorado Water Institute.

Navajos sue feds over Gold King Mine spill — The Durango Herald

The orange plume flows through the Animas across the Colorado/New Mexico state line the afternoon of Aug. 7, 2015. (Photo by Melissa May, San Juan Soil and Conservation District)
The orange plume flows through the Animas across the Colorado/New Mexico state line the afternoon of Aug. 7, 2015. (Photo by Melissa May, San Juan Soil and Conservation District)

From the Associated Press (Susan Montoya Bryan) via The Durango Herald:

Leaders of one of the nation’s largest American Indian tribes blasted the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as their attorneys sued Tuesday, claiming negligence in the cleanup of the Gold King Mine spill that tainted rivers in Colorado, New Mexico and Utah.

Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye stood on the bank of the San Juan River in northwestern New Mexico and explained his people’s link to the water and the economic, cultural and psychological damage inflicted in the wake of the August 2015 spill, which occurred in an inactive mine north of Silverton.

“EPA, we’re holding your feet to the fire,” Begaye said, promising that generations of Navajos are willing to fight. “We will not let you get away with this because you have caused great damage to our people, our river, our lifeblood.”

[…]

The Navajo Nation joins New Mexico in pursuing legal action over the spill. The state of New Mexico sued the EPA and Colorado earlier this year, citing environmental and economic damage.

Tribal officials at the news conference and in the lawsuit pointed to delays and resistance by the EPA, saying the agency has failed to compensate Navajos for their losses or provide any meaningful recovery efforts over the past year.

The EPA has dedicated more than $29 million to respond to the spill and for monitoring, but much of that is going toward stabilization and ongoing drainage at the mine. Reimbursement of state, local and tribal costs is underway, but the tribe has received only a fraction of the nearly $1.6 million doled out to all the parties.

Begaye said Navajo farmers have felt the brunt of the spill. Some crops went unplanted this year and cultural practices such as the gathering of corn pollen were skipped…

He called the actions of the agency, its contractor and the mining companies reckless and reiterated his disappointment that Navajos have yet to receive a phone call or letter of apology from President Barack Obama.

Navajo officials said the government has denied repeated requests for everything from compensation for farmers to resources for long-term monitoring and an on-site laboratory for real-time testing of river water.

“They have not done a thing,” Begaye said during his impassioned address.

While the lawsuit doesn’t include an exact dollar figure for damages the tribe is seeking, Begaye said Navajos are owed “millions” and that the scope of the contamination is still unknown.

A criminal investigation into the spill is being conducted by the EPA’s Office of Inspector General and the U.S. Justice Department, but it’s unclear how long that probe could take.

On April 7,  2016, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed adding the “Bonita Peak Mining District” to the National Priorities List, making it eligible for Superfund. Forty-eight mine portals and tailings piles are “under consideration” to be included. The Gold King Mine will almost certainly be on the final list, as will the nearby American Tunnel. The Mayflower Mill #4 tailings repository, just outside Silverton, is another likely candidate, given that it appears to be leaching large quantities of metals into the Animas River. What Superfund will entail for the area beyond that, and when the actual cleanup will begin, remains unclear. Eric Baker
On April 7, 2016, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed adding the “Bonita Peak Mining District” to the National Priorities List, making it eligible for Superfund. Forty-eight mine portals and tailings piles are “under consideration” to be included. The Gold King Mine will almost certainly be on the final list, as will the nearby American Tunnel. The Mayflower Mill #4 tailings repository, just outside Silverton, is another likely candidate, given that it appears to be leaching large quantities of metals into the Animas River. What Superfund will entail for the area beyond that, and when the actual cleanup will begin, remains unclear.
Eric Baker

Lawsuit brewing over Security-Widefield water issues — KOAA.com

Photo via USAF Air Combat Command
Photo via USAF Air Combat Command

From KOAA.com (Greg Dingrando):

Security-Widefield residents are in the midst of filing a massive lawsuit concerning contaminated water. About a month ago, the area’s water supply was found to have high levels of PFC’s, contaminates linked to certain kinds of cancers.

McDivitt Law Firm received calls from people concerned about their health and their property values and decided to take on the case. Mike McDivitt told News 5 that is it unclear who the affected residents will be suing, as the contamination remains under investigation.

McDivitt said it will be an extremely tough case to win, but the more people they get on board, the better the chances, especially if they’re up against the government or a large manufacturer.

“Those types of defendants who should be held accountable are very large and very well healed. When we get strength in numbers it presents a force front that they cannot ignore,” McDivitt said.

@USGS: Groundwater Recharge in Upper #ColoradoRiver Basin May Hold Steady Under Climate Change #COriver

Here’s the release from the USGS:

Groundwater movement via the USGS
Groundwater movement via the USGS

Future groundwater replenishment in the Upper Colorado River Basin may benefit from projected increases in future basin-wide precipitation under current climate projections, according to a recent study by the U.S. Geological Survey and Bureau of Reclamation.

The Colorado River provides water for more than 35 million people in the United States and 3 million people in Mexico. A recent USGS publication suggests that as much as half of the water flowing in rivers and streams in the Upper Colorado River Basin originates as groundwater. Understanding how much groundwater is available and how it’s replenished is important to sustainably manage both groundwater and surface water supplies in the Colorado River basin now and in the future.

USGS and Reclamation scientists estimated projected changes in groundwater recharge for the Upper Colorado River Basin from recent historical (1950–2015) through future (2016–2099) time periods using climate projections and a groundwater-recharge model. Simulated future groundwater recharge through 2099 is generally expected to be somewhat greater than the historical average in most decades due to an anticipated wetter future climate in the basin under the most advanced climate modeling projections. Groundwater resources are replenished through increases in precipitation, which may offset reductions from increased temperatures. The full report is available online in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

While recharge simulations from a majority of the projected climate data sets result in increased recharge in the Upper Colorado River Basin during most future decades, there were some that resulted in decreased future recharge relative to the historical climate period.

“You can’t manage what you don’t measure,” said Fred Tillman, lead author and USGS scientist. “These results are the first step in understanding the quantity of groundwater we can expect in the Upper Colorado River Basin; however, further studies are needed to help more accurately forecast future groundwater availability.”

“Future estimates of groundwater recharge are compounded by the large-scale of the Upper Colorado River Basin and the uncertainties of future climate projections,” said Reclamation co-author Subhrendu Gangopadhyay.

“Given these uncertainties, multiple-future water supplies scenarios are used to inform Reclamation’s water management and planning within the Upper Colorado River Basin,” Reclamation’s Upper Colorado Region Water Resources Manager Malcolm Wilson added.

This study was completed with support from Reclamation’s Science and Technology Program to help meet objectives of the SECURE Water Act, which was created by Congress in 2009 as a framework for a programmatic approach to understand climate change impacts, and to develop adaptation and mitigation strategies. This act contains substantive mandates for both the USGS and Reclamation to help provide a more accurate assessment of the status of the water resources of the United States and assess the potential impacts of climate change on water management.