Forum on Agriculture: “Conservation, reuse, storage, and you have to do all of it now” — Greg Fisher

February 27, 2015
Flood irrigation in the Arkansas Valley via Greg Hobbs

Flood irrigation in the Arkansas Valley via Greg Hobbs

From The Greeley Tribune (Kayla Young):

Gov. John Hickenlooper addressed Colorado’s agricultural community Thursday in full Western style, donning a black Stetson cowboy hat for the annual Governor’s Forum on Colorado Agriculture at the Renaissance Hotel.

While the variation from the governor’s typical attire lightened the mood, the day touched on some of the most serious issues affecting the future of agriculture.

Water reigned as the topic of the day, carrying through not only Hickenlooper’s presentation, but also the day’s panel discussion led by 7News meteorologist Mike Nelson and the keynote speech by the governor’s water adviser, John Stulp.

Hickenlooper lauded the Colorado State Water Plan as vital to creating long-term security and better preparing the state for the challenges of climate change.

Stulp described the plan as achieving five major goals: fostering collaborative solutions to address the state’s looming supply gap, creating alternatives to the buy and dry of agricultural lands, protecting Colorado’s compact entitlements, pushing federal regulators to move more quickly on approval processes, and aligning state policies with dollars.

Stulp applauded the basin roundtable discussions that contributed to much of the legwork behind the water plan for bringing together diverse state interests that “would have otherwise only gotten together in a courtroom to sue each other.”

With Hickenlooper looking to expand international exports in agriculture, water security will play a key role in establishing confidence and capacity to move forward.

“Ag is one of the leading, if not the leading, industries in the state,” Hickenlooper said.

To bolster the sector further, he encouraged the passage of the Trans-Pacific Partnership to expand export markets for beef and pork. The proposed treaty would expand trade routes for U.S.-made goods in Asia, the Pacific and Latin America.

Hickenlooper also praised the Colorado Agricultural Leadership Program for bringing new advocates into the sector, and the Western Dairy Association for its efforts to afford veterans opportunities in agriculture.

Earlier in the day, a lively panel discussion led by Nelson touched on national, statewide and local water challenges, addressed by panelists Robert Sakata, Carlyle Currier, Reagan Waskom, Greg Fisher and Bart Miller.

The panel captured the complexity of Colorado’s state water laws, which often translate to decades of work to conclude infrastructure projects. With concern over excess flows entering Nebraska and potential calls on the Colorado River by western neighbors, one audience member asked why the state is not able to create more storage areas.

Waskom, director of the Colorado Water Institute, said uncertainty often leads well-intended projects off course.

“We see participants pull out because they’ve been putting money in and they don’t know if they’re going to get the storage in the end,” he said.

Greg Fisher, manager of demand planning for Denver Water, said, while additional storage would help, the state needs to look at supply development holistically.

“Storage will help, but we must take an all-of-the-above approach: conservation, reuse, storage, and you have to do all of it now,” Fisher said.

The panel differed on its opinions regarding the overall water use from fracking operations.

Waskom said the estimated 20,000 acre-feet of water that goes into hydraulic fracturing on the South Platte represents a drop in the bucket for the capacity of the river. Most of the water comes from systems such as Greeley’s that permit multiple use, which avoids additional demand.

One acre-foot of water is enough to serve four homes for a year.

Bart Miller, water program director for Western Resource Advocates, said while 20,000 acre-feet may not sound like a lot, when compared to the enormous cost of creating storage for such water, the quantity does equate to a meaningful amount in the grand scheme of things.

The panel also turned to the high groundwater levels damaging homes and farmland around Gilcrest and LaSalle in Weld County.

While Waskom said he has been living this drama for a decade, the water expert could not provide an easy solution.

“This is a really hard one to solve without someone getting harmed,” he said. “This is a classic Colorado water fight.”

While unity served as a recurring theme, discussion over Weld’s groundwater headache served as a reminder that on many water issues, cohesive solutions have yet to be found.

More education coverage here.


Is dam seepage cause for alarm? — The Pueblo Chieftain

February 20, 2015
Clear Creek Dam via Colorado Guy

Clear Creek Dam

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The Pueblo Board of Water Works agreed to hire Black & Veatch Engineering for $130,000 to assess the risk of Clear Creek Dam, located in northern Chaffee County. The earthen dam, built on a glacial moraine, has experienced seepage during the past 20 years, creating the occasional need to lower water levels temporarily to fix problems, Steve Anselmo, water resources engineer, told the board. Seepage monitoring has revealed 300-700 gallons per minute at varying exit points.

In 1997, when the downstream face became set, the water level in Clear Creek was lowered and a drain blanket installed and low spots filled in. Additional low spots were filled in 2007, when the water level was lowered to replace the outlet gates.

No unusual problems occurred until 2014, when one flow stopped and a new seepage path was detected.

“The new seepage path created in 2014 has raised the question of how to determine if this seepage event and others that might occur in the future pose a risk to the safety of the dam,” Anselmo said in a memo to the board.

“What actions should be taken to address that risk?”

The Black & Veatch study will look at the probability of a significant event and develop short-term and long-term solutions.

Pueblo Water bought Clear Creek from the Otero Canal Co. in 1954 and in 2004 filed an application in water court that would nearly triple its storage capacity. Clear Creek can now store 11,439 acre-feet of water. A native water right produces a small amount of water, but most of the water in the reservoir is imported from the Western Slope through tunnels and ditches and moved into the reservoir by exchange.

More Pueblo Board of Water Works coverage here.


“It’s the same conversation, the same lack of movement that we’ve had” — Melissa Esquibel to Colorado Springs

February 19, 2015

Fountain Creek through Colorado Springs.

Fountain Creek through Colorado Springs.


From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Pleas to reconsider a federal lawsuit over water quality fell on skeptical ears Wednesday.

The Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District board listened patiently to Colorado Springs Councilman Merv Bennett’s assessment of stormwater protection progress, but in the end voted to continue to pursue a federal court filing charging that Colorado Springs is violating the Clean Water Act.

The board instructed attorney Peter Nichols to continue building a case.

Bennett urged the Lower Ark board to stay out of court, saying money would be better spent elsewhere. Still the board voted 7-0 to continue the lawsuit.

“Nothing’s binding on this council, the next council or the next mayor,” board member Melissa Esquibel said, clearly frustrated by Bennett’s promises. “It’s the same conversation, the same lack of movement that we’ve had. What’s going to happen?”

Colorado Springs City Council last month commit­ ted $19 million annually to stormwater projects, shuffling existing funds in the city’s general fund and adding $3 million from Colorado Springs Utilities beginning in 2016.

But Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Ark, asked Bennett if other funds in the city would be shorted in the process and political pressure would again lower stormwater as a priority.

Bennett countered that the current council is committed to funding stormwater control, as well as the candidates for mayor in the April municipal election. He said the city’s other problems, such as potholes, would be settled in some other way not related to stormwater. He maintained the city currently is spending the required amount on stormwater and council’s action makes the funding permanent.

“I believe in the integrity of the people running,” Bennett said in response to Esquibel’s comments. “I feel we’ve made progress and we’ll continue to make progress.”

But he acknowledged that three to five new members may be elected to the nine-member council, and he could not personally guarantee that the stormwater money would remain in place.

“I can’t solve it by myself and we can’t solve it overnight,” Bennett said.

Winner pressed Bennett on several issues, including the council’s 2009 decision to dissolve its stormwater enterprise, stormwater funding that has been missing in the intervening years and whether the money would go toward projects identified when the enterprise was formed in 2005.

Bennett agreed that council made the wrong decision in response to Doug Bruce’s Issue 300 in 2009. He said Colorado Springs is working on a report that would show its funding level for stormwater projects has been higher than the $17 million the stormwater enterprise would have generated each year.

He pledged to have city staff develop a side-by-side comparison of projects.

The stormwater issue is tied to Pueblo County’s 1041 permit for Southern Delivery System, which was negotiated earlier in 2009, before the stormwater enterprise was abolished. Flood control is needed because growth in Colorado Springs has elevated flows on Fountain Creek, increasing the danger of flooding in Pueblo.

More stormwater coverage here.


Steamboat Springs: The city and Yampa Valley Housing Authority collaborate on project

February 17, 2015
Steamboat Springs

Steamboat Springs

From Steamboat Today (Tom Ross):

The city of Steamboat Springs and the Yampa Valley Housing Authority are advertising for bidders on a water and sewer project in Fish Creek Mobile Home Park that would combine replacement of the city’s sanitary sewer interceptor that happens to run through the park, while accomplishing a much needed replacement of water and sewer lines to park’s 67 mobile homes.

“Talk about a partnership — the city has been terrific,” Housing Authority Board Chairwoman Kathi Meyer said Monday. “The city’s departments that do the bid work and public works have been very helpful in putting this together.”

Combining the city’s sewer interceptor project with water and sewer line replacement for the homes in the mobile home park, which is owned and managed by the Housing Authority, represents an economy of scale, Meyer said. It will allow the successful bidder to stage the job site once for both jobs and avoid incurring the extra expense of disrupting homeowners’ driveways and retaining walls twice.

Replacement of the city sewer interceptor already was on its list of prioritized capital projects. Merging the two projects required multiple departments having the will to “figure out how do we do it?” Meyer added.

The city loaned the Housing Authority $954,000 in 2007 to help with purchase of the mobile home park from Bob and Audrey Enever, who had owned it for 33 years. The Housing Authority took out an additional bank loan of $2.58 million, counting on lot rent to cover the debt.

Everyone involved understood that the park’s infrastructure was aging and required frequent repairs, but the Housing Authority’s cash flow was tied up with debt service.

Three years ago, the Authority’s consulting engineering firm, Drexel Barrell, informed the board that it needed to replace the water and sewer lines.

“We knew it was original infrastructure. Some of the sewer lines run underneath the homes,” Meyer said. “Over the last eight years, there have been ongoing maintenance issues. We’ve been lucky that although breaks over the last few years have caused inconvenience to tenants, there hasn’t been a significant incident.”

Fortunately, prevailing lending terms allowed the board to refinance the original bank loan, this time with Alpine Bank, at a lower interest rate. The freed-up revenue stream allowed the Housing Authority to leverage a loan through the Colorado Water Resources and Power Development Authority to fund the water and sewer work.

“The stars aligned,” Meyer said, securing an important source of workforce housing in the community for perhaps another 50 years or so.

More infrastructure coverage here.


Norwood: Lawn and garden irrigation project awaits CWCB funds for feasibility study

February 17, 2015
Lone Cone from Norwood

Lone Cone from Norwood

From The Norwood Post (Regan Tuttle):

At February’s Norwood town board meeting, trustees discussed the Colorado Water Conservation Board’s upcoming decision on a grant award that Norwood recently applied for. The funding would make possible a feasibility study that will determine whether or not Norwood should move forward with a lawn and garden raw water irrigation project, similar to that of Dove Creek.

Last month, town officials met with those of Dove Creek to learn the details of the project.

Town Administrator Patti Grafmyer said that receiving the grant would not mean that the irrigation project will automatically move forward.

“Norwood can evaluate the feasibility study,” she said. “We are just asking for the funding, but once that has happened, there will be a scope of work that will have to be signed with the town board.”

CWCB members will make the decision this March.

More San Miguel River watershed coverage here.


A look at the art of water board governance from The Greeley Tribune #ColoradoRiver

February 15, 2015

Here’s an in-depth look at the Greeley Water and Sewer Board from Sherrie Peif writing for The Greeley Tribune. Click through to read the whole article and for the sidebar with the details about the current board along with some historic notes:

Most anyone who works closely with the water industry agrees the commodity is taken for granted by consumers, except for in a couple of instances.

“When water doesn’t come out of the faucet,” said Harold Evans with a laugh. “And when they get their bill.”

Evans, the chairman of the Greeley Water and Sewer Board, said it is unlikely that most know where their water comes from or how it gets to their faucets.

It is a complicated process involving more than a dozen lakes, ponds, rivers and reservoirs across Colorado. And in Greeley, seven men oversee it all.

It is so complicated, in fact, that fellow board member Robert Ruyle said it takes several years on the board before a member really understands it.

“Water board members serve 10-15 years before they really know what to do,” Ruyle said. “Even if they come to the board with water experience. Our system is unique, and it takes a while to understand it.”

It is also why, Evans said, the water board needs the absolute power it currently enjoys.

“The primary reason for establishing it this way was to provide for long-term needs in a non-political way,” Evans said.

Not everyone agrees, however, including a former top Greeley official who may take a proposal to the voters to put the power back into the hands of the Greeley City Council.

Many argue the Greeley water board has too much power, and its authority to set rates, development fees and the cost to bring raw water to a new development are all too high and there is no one that can reverse its decisions.

Members of the water board say what most don’t realize is how far ahead of the game Greeley is compared to other communities and water districts in northern Colorado.

And that — they say — is because of the way the Greeley Home Rule Charter is set up, giving board members the power to set rates and fees, acquire water and manage the system that cleans and transports it.

“When you think about what you pay for a cup of coffee, we supply a gallon of safe drinking water for four-tenths of one penny,” Evans said.

Board members all believe they are assuring many more generations to come plenty of the precious resource.

But has the original intention of Greeley’s forefathers outlived its usefulness?

Should voters change the way water has been managed for nearly six decades?

It all depends on who you ask.

WHICH WAY DID IT GO?

From as far away as Lake Granby on the Western Slope, into the Colorado-Big Thompson system, and eventually the South Platte River; or from as far away as Cameron Pass and the Poudre River, spring snow melt from the mountains flows through 500 miles of pipeline into two water treatment plants and into homes and business in Greeley.

It didn’t take long after Greeley was founded in 1869 for its forefathers to realize they needed to secure the rights to the water coming out of the mountains.

W.D. Farr, known to many as Mr. Water, and former Greeley Tribune publisher Charles Hansen are credited for bringing water from the Colorado River across the Continental Divide and to the Front Range. The Greeley water system is among the most elaborate and most rich in the nation, everyone close to the situation says.

Many say that’s thanks to the authority granted the Greeley Water Board when it was formed in the 1958 charter to manage the system.

Norman Dean, who was a member of the charter committee and one of those responsible for the Water Board’s authority, said it was a battle over who to put in charge.

“It was a very contentious subject,” Dean said. “Some guys wanted it to be a department of the city.”

But in the end, a University of Northern Colorado professor convinced the majority, including Dean, that it needed to be separate.

“Water and sewer generates a lot of money,” Dean said. “He did not want it to flow into the general fund for city council to use it as they wanted.”

Technically, it is a department of the city, but it is run by the water board.

The other option, said Leonard Wiest, former Greeley city manager who is now a consultant, would be to make the board an advisory board. Let them continue to do what they do, but leave the final decision to the Greeley City Council.

“We get a chance to vote on the city council,” Wiest said. “If we don’t like what they do, we can vote them out. The only thing the council can do right now to the water board is cut the budget. But they never do that either.”

The seven members of the water board are appointed by city council to serve a five-year term and cannot be recalled by voters. At the end of that term, they must be reappointed to serve again. However, no one can recall a time when the council did not reappoint someone.

“If at anytime they came to one of us and said, ‘We don’t think you’re doing your job,’ we would step down,” Evans said. “We may make decisions that some may not like, but we have to do what is best for the whole big picture.”

Additionally, there are no limits to the number of terms a water board member can serve. New members are recommended to the city council by the current board, leaving some to refer to it as a “good ol’ boys club.”

Many members have served for decades. Dean, who served 15 years on the board from 1989-1994, said that, too, was thought out by the charter committee.

“It seemed a shame to put term limits on them,” Dean said. “They finally get to understand it all and then they have to leave the board.”

The board controls a $26 million budget. Although city council ultimately has to approve any loans the water board requests, the water board has the authority to borrow money and sell bonds without going to voters, Wiest said.

“It’s taxation without representation,” Wiest said. “The water and sewer board is entirely independent. They do whatever they want.”

The board is responsible for setting water and sewer rates, plant investment fees (which are fees paid by a developer when a new home or business is constructed) and cash-in-lieu charges to get water to a new development.

Council can raise the rates and fees, but has no authority to lower the rates below a minimum formula set by the charter, which includes things such as depreciation and maintenance.

City Manager Roy Otto equates it to buying a car. You have to pay a minimum amount for a basic car, but all the bells and whistles are additional. If the water and sewer board wanted to raise the rates above what the formula says is needed to pay the bills, council could deny that.

“I have never since I’ve been city manager had a disagreement over the budget,” Otto said of the recommended budget versus what the council wants. “We all understand the importance of our rate structure. We have a sound system, I would put our system up against any in the area because the charter language considers depreciation and maintenance.”

Developers, however, have recently threatened to stop building in Greeley because development fees, especially for water and sewer, are too high, they say.

Many developers in the area have asked Wiest to lead an effort to ask voters to amend the Home Rule Charter in November, to make it an advisory board.

Wiest isn’t sure yet if he will, but he’s leaning toward leading the effort.

WHO PAYS THE WAY FOR GROWTH?

Greeley City Council has long charged its staff with the directive that growth pays its own way. In other words, fees should be charged to handle improvements or expansions when new developments come in.

Water and sewer is no different. New developments require the developer to supply the water rights to service the area, and new residential and commercial development must pay plant investment fees to help with maintenance and expansion to the system when it is needed because of growth.

However, the fees set by the water board are the source of disagreement.

At several recent meetings held by the city to discuss increased development fees that go in effect March 1, real estate brokers and contractors expressed concern that development was about to stop in Greeley because they can’t afford to build here compared to other communities. In particular, many believe the water and sewer fees charged against developers are too excessive.

Their contention is the increased fees drive up the cost of new homes in an area continuing to battle with poverty.

A recent attempt to lower those fees failed on a 4-3 city council vote. The argument against lowering the fees is that it puts the burden of paying for growth in the water system on the current users.

“It’s a philosophical belief,” Evans said. “Because on the other hand, you can say new development benefits everyone.”

Wiest said the water and sewer board are more concerned about someone who may move here in 50 years than they are those who live here now.

“The growth factor flies in our face,” Wiest said. “The person who moves here in 50 years will still have to bring their own water. But we are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars for water for the future.”

WHAT THE FUTURE HOLDS

Water board members say they are only trying to continue the logic of Farr, which has made Greeley the envy of many in Colorado for its long-term planning and vision in acquiring water rights.

“When you think about the previous boards and what they’ve done, we have the chance to stand on the shoulders of giants,” Evans said.

He added the land around northern Colorado is drying up, and people need to remember where they live.

“We are an arid landscape, but we want to look like the Midwest,” Evans said. “We have had water restrictions in place since 1905 for a reason.”

Ruyle agreed, adding it is getting more and more difficult every day to acquire water.

“It is a challenge to be able to acquire enough raw water to supply new growth for the city,” Ruyle said. “It is a limited resource in the area we live.”

In fact, 80 percent to 85 percent of the water used in Colorado is still used for agricultural purposes. That is a real challenge, both men said, because changing water use from ag to domestic in water court is a complicated process.

So what happens when Greeley’s economy moves away from agriculture? Evans asked.

“It is predicted we will have more than double our population by 2050,” Evans said. “Where is the water going to come from? What is it going to look like in 2050? Who knows? We’ll figure it out, but it’s going to look different.

“But we are fortunate to have the system we have. It allows us to do things others can’t do. When 2100 rolls around, I hope people look back on us and say, ‘Those guys in 2015 did a great job for us.’ ”

More Greeley coverage here.


Ritschard Dam repairs are a top priority for Colorado River District officials #ColoradoRiver

February 12, 2015
Wolford Mountain Reservoir

Wolford Mountain Reservoir

From CBS Denver:

The Ritschard Dam on Wolford Mountain Reservoir near the town of Kremmling has some residents in the area concerned.

There have already been a few public meetings regarding the dam in Grand County. The Ritschard Dam has a clay core and is filled in around that with rocks, but the dam hasn’t held its shape. Something has happened with the settling of all the material over the past two decades.

“In 2009 it was discovered that pieces of the dam have settled faster than was expected by designers,” Jim Pokrandt with the Colorado River District said.

Sophisticated monitors have been placed inside the dam. The crest of the dam has settled down 2 feet, twice as much as expected — and also shifted downstream 8 inches.

“We’ve been studying that since 2009, spent $1.5 million or more on this, and we really can’t say why exactly, other than there could be some compaction issues that date back to construction time,” Pokrandt said.

Engineers have said it’s the river district’s top priority, and not fixing the dam could send a devastating flood down the Colorado River.

“Public safety is not at risk and it won’t be at risk because we’re going to take this quick action,” Pokrandt said.

Exactly how the dam will be secured and fixed won’t be decided until later in the year. One idea is making the dam and reservoir bigger.

“You can imagine that if you’re going to fix a settlement issue you might be scraping off part of the dam and rebuilding it. How much, we don’t know.”

Forty percent of the water in the dam is owned by Denver Water. The rest is to ensure water in the river for endangered fish and water for municipalities on the Western Slope. But making the reservoir hold more water brings in a whole new set of issues.

“It’s premature to talk about what the exact repair scenario could be,” Pokrandt said. “There’s no quick fix.”

The Colorado River District board will likely make a decision on how the dam will be fixed by the end of the year.

More infrastructure coverage here.


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