Fort Collins launches mountain tunnel project — Fort Collins Coloradoan

Photo via https://www.herrenknecht.com
Photo via https://www.herrenknecht.com

From The Fort Collins Coloradoan (Kevin Duggan):

A custom-built tunnel boring machine has been “launched” into a mountain side near Cameron Pass as part of Fort Collins Utilities project aimed at restoring and protecting Michigan Ditch.

As of Friday, the tunneling machine built by Akkerman of Brownsdale, Minnesota, had dug 91 feet into the mountain, said Diana Royval, spokesperson for Fort Collins Utilities.

“Everything is going very well and is even a little ahead of schedule,” Royval stated in an email to the Coloradoan.

Last year, a slow-moving landslide heavily damaged a piped section of Michigan Ditch, which carries water to city-owned Joe Wright Reservoir.

To ensure delivery of the ditch’s water, city officials decided to bore an 800-foot-long, 8-foot-diameter, slightly curved tunnel into bedrock and run a pipe through it.

When the tunnel is complete, a 60-inch pipe made from a fiberglass-type material will be installed and connected to the ditch, which originates in the upper Michigan River basin.

The tunnel boring machine is 27 feet long and weighs 58,000 pounds. It is “driven” by an operator who sits inside the machine. A conveyance belt and ore cars run out the back of the machine carrying material generated by a rotating cutting head.

Construction on the project is expected to be finished by fall with the ditch back in operation for spring runoff in 2017, city officials say.

Michigan Ditch photo via AllTrails.com
Michigan Ditch photo via AllTrails.com

Local water user groups share in federal grants — The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel

Photo via the State of Idaho.
Photo via the State of Idaho.

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Charles Ashby):

Two Western Slope water users associations will benefit from a federal effort to help mitigate drought issues and combat climate change.

The Grand Valley and Uncompahgre Valley water user associations were among 76 projects chosen nationwide to receive part of a $47 million grant program announced by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Department of the Interior.

For Grand Valley, that means $300,000 toward an $800,000 project to improve hydraulic efficiency for the top 500 feet of its Canyon Canal.

The association will install a polyvinyl chloride liner and a shotcrete wear surface to minimize water seepage.

For Uncompahgre, it means a $1 million grant for a $6.8 million project to install a 2.4 megawatt hydroelectric facility on one of its existing irrigation canals.

Other grants in Colorado are to go to an irrigation company that operates in Larimer and Weld counties, and a sanitation district in Arapahoe County.

“Water and energy efficiency are intricately linked,” Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Estevan Lopez said. “When we conserve water, we also conserve the energy it takes to move it. One way we can achieve these efficiencies is to bring federal resources to the table for local projects that focus on saving water.”

The money was part of a competitive grant process called the WaterSmart sustainable water initiative.

All together, the 76 projects are expected to save about 123,000 acre-feet of water.

Supporting Creative Use of a Dam to Meet Future Water Needs – and Save Plum Creek

This picture is an example of a head cut on another stream (Image courtesy of the <a href="https://www.env.nm.gov/swqb/Wildfire/Viveash/index.html">New Mexico Environment Dept.</a>) and Western Resource Advocates.
This picture is an example of a head cut on another stream (Image courtesy of the New Mexico Environment Dept.) and Western Resource Advocates.

From Western Resource Advocates (Robert Harris):

Better management and use of existing dams is a key tool to minimize new expensive, energy-consuming, and environmentally damaging large scale new dams or diversions from the West’s rivers.

We are a conservation group with a priority goal of saving rivers in the West. So you would think we would be opposing anything to do with dams. But the reality is that we believe that better management and use of existing dams is a key tool to minimize new expensive, energy-consuming, and environmentally damaging large scale new dams or diversions from the West’s rivers. Which brings us to today’s story about supporting more creative management of Chatfield Reservoir and saving Plum Creek.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers recently approved storing more water in Chatfield Reservoir on the South Platte River southwest of Denver to help meet Colorado’s existing and growing water needs. Western Resource Advocates, Conservation Colorado, and the Rocky Mountain Chapter of the Sierra Club support this decision because it follows the Smart Principles of water supply management by making more efficient use of existing reservoirs and local water supplies. In our view, select new-supply projects—including holding more water in the existing Chatfield Reservoir—high rates of water conservation, accelerated water recycling and reuse, and voluntary sharing of water with agriculture for other uses all can combine to meet and exceed 2050 water demands for the South Platte Basin. “Chatfield Reallocation” exemplifies the opportunities available to state water planners to meet reasonable anticipated water needs without building more costly, politically charged, large-scale concrete and steel water project proposals that cause major harm to rivers.

However, putting more water in Chatfield Reservoir will still harm wildlife habitat provided by nearby wetlands and cottonwood stands. These habitat areas are accustomed to a lower, and less variable, water table in the reservoir. As part of the agreement to re-allocate water storage space in Chatfield reservoir, the environmental impacts must be offset, or “mitigated,” through replacement and permanent protection of other wetlands and other important wildlife habitat. To this end, the project’s beneficiaries have deposited approximately $130 million into a special bank account dedicated to environmental and recreational mitigation. Western Resource Advocates is joined by representatives of relevant state and federal agencies and other stakeholders as a member on the Technical Advisory Committee for the Chatfield Reservoir Reallocation Project, which guides implementation of the environmental protection and restoration mitigation projects.

At its first meeting in late April, the Committee urged the mitigation company to use some of the mitigation funds to address rapidly deteriorating wildlife habitat along Plum Creek, which is above the reservoir in the park. Urban development in the Plum Creek watershed has significantly increased rain runoff flows that are scouring a deep channel into the creek bottom, and in turn, lowering the water table and draining high-quality wetlands next to the creek. This erosion, called a “head cut,” is unrelated to the Chatfield water storage project.

This year, the head cut in Plum Creek is advancing dozens of feet upstream with each rain storm. Western Resource Advocates and the Committee unanimously urged the mitigation company to stabilize the creek and stop the head cut. This will help restore Plum Creek’s health and provide good creek-side habitat for birds and other wildlife.

Mitigation projects like this one on Plum Creek demonstrate the potential of creative water supply solutions, including Chatfield Reallocation, to meet communities’ water needs and to fix significant local and regional environmental challenges. It also illustrates how dynamic mitigation projects can be since few anticipated that this habitat would, on its own, deteriorate so badly in such a short period of time. Without mobilizing the mitigation funding made possible by this project, Plum Creek’s wetlands might be lost for generations. Stay tuned to the Chatfield Reallocation Project as the stakeholders develop and implement this and other exciting protections for wetlands and rivers.

Rob Harris is a Western Resource Advocates attorney representing WRA, Conservation Colorado, and the Rocky Mountain Chapter of the Sierra Club on the Technical Advisory Committee for the Chatfield Reservoir Reallocation Project.

Proposed reallocation pool -- Graphic/USACE
Proposed reallocation pool — Graphic/USACE

Security: Town is looking for dough to manage perfluorinated chemical pollution

securitywatersanitation

From Colorado Public Radio (Anthony Cotton):

In May, the agency reduced the levels for allowable contamination by perfluorinated chemicals from 0.4 micrograms per liter to 0.07 micrograms per liter, almost 10 times less. The advisory only provides technical guidelines to states and regulation isn’t mandatory, however it has had a great impact in Security.

“The EPA lowered the standards below what we had anticipated; and then the problem was the new health advisory was so much more stringent that none of our wells would meet them,” Heald said. “Different people have different concerns. The health advisory is protecting the most sensitive members of the population — pregnant women, fetuses, infants…I’m a healthy middle-aged male so I feel my risk is low. But I understand that others rightfully have concerns.”

Well water has been most affected by the advisory; Heald said that supply is largely being replaced by surface water. However, he adds that there’s not enough at present to meet peak demand — and water usage is as much as five times greater during the summer.

Wells have been shut down and other steps, like the installation of new pipes and building filtration structures, are underway. The problem is paying for them. Heald says the cost will eventually have to be passed on to customers.

“We’ve been asking for help from anyone who will listen for some financial support but no one has offered,” he said. “There’s no party that’s been found to be responsible for the contamination, so no one’s stepped up to pay for this.”

From KKTV.com (Katie Pelton):

“All of our water meets all federal and state drinking water standards,” said Roy Heald, general manager of Security Water and Sanitation Districts. “In other words, it meets all the regulations. This is an EPA health advisory, so it doesn’t rise to the level of a regulation. It just advises us and the public to be cautious.”

Heald said if you’re concerned, you “may want to consider a different source.”

In light of the advisory, Security has closed seven of its wells. One of them tested at a level of 1,300 parts per trillion of PFCs.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s new regulation is 70 parts per trillion.

However, Heald said residents never got that amount because the water was diluted.

Security also gets its water from surface water in the Pueblo Reservoir, which is what Heald said the community is mainly relying on for now.

However, only certain residents are affected. The area is split into three regions…

Security’s water department didn’t say when the problem would be fixed, but said it could take a long time before the chemicals are out of the system.

“We’re looking at treatment over the long term because I think over the long term it’s going to be decades or maybe even generations before these chemicals work their way through the aquifer,” said Heald.

From KOAA.com (Jessi Mitchell):

Man-made PFCs have been in the ground water for years in the communities south of Colorado Springs, but last week the EPA lowered the safe level of contamination and put them in the danger zone. Now residents are paying out of pocket for bottled water and filters for their homes, which they say is not fair.

Families in the three communities are already feeling the impact of PFCs in the water. Stories are coming out on the petition page about health problems possibly linked to the contamination. Cancer, elevated cholesterol and birth and developmental defects are among the CDC’s listed effects…

Right now residents are buying clean water to use for drinking, cooking and bathing multiple times a week, in addition to paying their water bills, and say they should not have to. Loudenber says, “You’re talking single moms. You’re talking families that are already on assistance. They can’t afford to go get bottled water every few days.”

The EPA is encouraging people with wells in those three districts to make appointments to get their water tested. The local water districts are only advising pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers to avoid the tap water. They continue to investigate the source of the PFCs, but Peterson AFB confirms they used firefighting foam that contained the chemicals up until 2002.

Still, people like Loudenber want action now. “I’m not saying it’s the water district’s fault,” she says. “Obviously it came from somewhere else, but it’s here now. We need to deal with it.”

In addition to the request for free water bottles and filters for neighbors in the three communities, she hopes the water districts implement a free long-term fix for the wells there. “There are filters out there that they can put on the wells that will help with the PFCs,” Loudenber says. “They just have to be willing to do that.”

Care and Share Food Bank will hold a meeting in the coming days to asses their supply of bottled water, and see if they will be able to get more if the water districts do not take action.

When News 5 spoke with Security Water District on Monday, representatives said they had not heard about the petition and would not provide a comment. They did say the district was already mixing more surface water into the supply that does not contain PFCs.

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

“The history of #Colorado Springs is a history of bold and ambitious water projects” — Mayor John Suthers

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Usually a water treatment plant just sits off to the side of a city, pumping along with little notice unless something goes wrong.

But more than 300 people gathered Friday at the Edward W. Bailey treatment plant on Colorado Springs’ east side to dedicate the Southern Delivery System.

A choir belted out “God Bless America” with its inspiration, Pikes Peak, as a backdrop. People who had worked on the project over its more than 20-year history reconnected. At the end, there was a grand toast with — what else? — a jigger of water from keepsake mini-jugs.

“The history of Colorado Springs is a history of bold and ambitious water projects,” Mayor John Suthers told the crowd. “Without those bold and ambitious water projects, Colorado Springs would be a city of only 20,000 or 30,000.”

Instead it has grown to 450,000, and with SDS makes it possible for the city to get bigger.

That made most of the people at the ceremony happy. Suthers and others praised the regional benefits of SDS, urging cooperation in areas such as economic development and transportation.

“Water has been our community’s greatest challenge and its greatest resource,” said Jerry Forte, CEO of Colorado Springs Utilities. “Nothing happens without water.”

Forte detailed the history of the $825 million water pipeline from Pueblo Dam to Colorado Springs, explaining that planning dates back to 1996, when the idea crystallized in the Colorado Springs Water Plan. It was one of four alternatives in the document, but the only one that made it to the finish line.

It was a tortured run, however, filled with disputes in Lake, Chaffee, Fremont, Pueblo and Crowley counties. Forte nodded at the entanglements only briefly.

“There were lots of opportunity to build character and relationships,” he deadpanned as the crowd started chuckling.

Instead, he concentrated on the accomplishments that led to SDS, recognizing former officials such as Lionel Rivera, who was mayor of Colorado Springs when a deal was made in 2004 on Arkansas River flows through Pueblo. Seated next to Rivera was Randy Thurston, who pushed his fellow members on Pueblo City Council to approve the agreement. He enumerated the benefits of SDS to Colorado Springs’ partners Fountain, Security and Pueblo West.

Forte also lamented that SDS required 470 permits, which was a good set-up line for Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., who joked: “How many of you thought SDS stood for Still Doing Studies.”

On a serious note, Gardner praised the collaboration it took to build SDS, saying more projects like it are needed, citing their importance in Colorado’s Water Plan.

“If we do not invest in water projects, Colorado will see a shortfall of 500,000 acre-feet per year,” Gardner said. “That’s five times the supply of Colorado Springs.”

While the event maintained a festive spirit, some from Pueblo County who attended were more low-key in their assessment of SDS.

“Technologically, it’s an amazing accomplishment,” said Bill Alt, whose property on Fountain Creek is being destroyed because of increased flows from the north. “I’m not sure all the cooperation they were talking about is there. I’d have to say the stormwater agreement probably benefit everyone.”

Jane Rhodes, who also owns land on Fountain Creek, said there are still challenges ahead in dealing with Fountain Creek flooding.

“The first of the $50 million payments will come, and one of those projects is on my land,” Rhodes said. “I’m glad SDS is done so the projects can get started.”

From 9News.com (Maya Rodriquez):

Fifty million gallons: it’s the amount of water that will be flowing through a new water system every day.

It’s called the Southern Delivery System, or SDS. It is the largest water system built in the western U.S. so far in the 21st century.

The planning for it began 20 years ago. After nearly a billion dollars and more than 470 permits later, it’s now a reality in Colorado Springs.

“In the whole western United States, water is probably the most precious commodity that we have and all of us need to do what we can to steward water,” Colorado Springs Utilities CEO Jerry Forte said.

That is where the system comes in – it is designed to treat water efficiently, as more and more people move to southern Colorado.

“This is all the piping that goes put to the finished water tank to be delivered to the customer,” said Operations Superintendent Chad Sell. “One of the most state of the art facilities in Colorado.”

The system serves more than a half million people in Colorado Springs, parts of Pueblo and the communities of Fountain and Security. Within 50 years, though, 900,000 people are expected to get their water from SDS.

“I think the long-term vision that put this in place means we’re good for the next 50 years,” said Colorado Springs Utilities Board Chair Andy Pico. “We have water. Water in the West is critical.”

Even as they celebrate the opening of the SDS as it stands now, they’re already planning for a second phase that will eventually expand it to handle more water for more people.

Colorado Springs officials say the SDS project did not receive any state or federal dollars. The 830-million dollar project, which also came in more than $100 million under budget, is being funded through bonds and will be paid for by its water customers of today and the next 30 years.

From KRDO.com (Angelica Lombardi):

After more than 20 years of planning and construction, Colorado Springs Utilities dedicated the historic Southern Delivery System water project at the Edward W. Bailey water treatment plant Friday morning.

On April 28, history flowed out of this historic Southern Delivery System for the first time.

It took decades of planning and six years of construction and Friday morning the hard work was recognized.

“I’ve been involved in this project for 14-plus years. To see it complete with excellence and all the people who contributed. I was overwhelmed,” said Jerry Forte, CEO of Colorado Springs Utilities…

“It’s amazing for Colorado Springs and our partners. It means water for the future. We call Southern Delivery ‘water for generations’ and what that means is our children and grandchildren will be able to have water in Colorado Springs for 50, 60-plus years from now,” said Forte.

The water is pumped out of the Pueblo Reservoir and makes its way through 50 miles of pipeline going through three pump stations and ending at Colorado Springs…

It took more than 470 permits to finalize the project.

SDS Facts

  • The Water Treatment Plant has approximately 200 miles of electrical wires and cables, enough to stretch from the Water Treatment Plant site nearly to the International Space Station or the Pueblo Reservoir four times.
  • The Water Treatment Plant used enough rebar to fill 54, 50-foot rail cars or a train half-a-mile
  • If the concrete masonry blocks used in construction of the Water Treatment Plant were stacked, they would be four-and-a-half times taller than Pikes Peak.
  • The raw water tank at the Water Treatment Plant has a capacity of 10 million gallons, enough to fill 200,000 bathtubs.
  • 5,401 truckloads of pipe to SDS projects
  • Net tons of steel used for pipe furnished was 37,810.
  • From the Colorado Springs Independent (Pam Zubeck):

    Some 400 to 500 people gathered at the Edward W. Bailey Water Treatment Plant, 977 N. Marksheffel Road, Friday morning to dedicate the Southern Delivery System pipeline project.

    The project, 20 years in the making,d represents the service, safety, commitment and excellence brought to bear by hundreds, even thousands, of people, said Colorado Springs Utilities CEO Jerry Forte.

    He noted that the project adds another noteworthy item to Colorado Springs’ water history, which began in the late 1800s when city founder Gen. William Jackson Palmer built the El Paso County Canal from Fountain Creek on what is now 33rd Street, Forte said.

    SDS, he noted, will provide water for generations to come.

    SDS first appeared in the city’s water master plan in 1996 and was geared to supply water to the 20,000-acre Banning Lewis Ranch, which had been annexed into the city in 1988. Only a fraction of that property is built out, but SDS now is viewed as a crucial component of the city’s existing system to ensure redundancy. Most of the city’s water comes from transmountain systems built in the 1950s and 1980s. SDS brings water from Pueblo Reservoir.

    Although Rep. Doug Lamborn heralded the project for not requiring federal money, the Pueblo Dam and reservoir project was part of the Frying Pan-Arkansas project built in the 1960s and 1970s by the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation, along with a special district that collected property tax money in the region. SDS, obviously, wouldn’t have been possible without that reservoir on the Arkansas River.

    City Council President Merv Bennett demonstrated the span of time needed to plan and build SDS by noting 11 Councils have played key roles in the project. He recognized El Paso County Commissioner Sallie Clark, a former Council member, who he said laid the groundwork for relationships with Pueblo officials; former Mayor Lionel Rivera, who oversaw the project as both mayor and a Council member; Randy Thurston, former Pueblo City Council member; former Vice Mayor Larry Small, who now runs the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District, which grew from SDS negotiations; and Margaret Radford, former Council member who now works for an SDS contractor, MWH Global.

    CSU Chair Andy Pico boasted that the project was originally envisioned to cause water rates to increase by 121 percent, but it has required increases to rates of only 52 percent. The $825 million project came in $160 million under budget.

    Mayor John Suthers also spoke. His role might have been one of the most pivotal, because he sorted out a mess created by his predecessor, Steve Bach, in terms of the city’s stormwater situation, which had become a nearly insurmountable barrier to the project.

    First, Suthers had to deal with federal and state clean-water regulators who have accused the city of failing to comply with the Clean Water Act for years before Suthers took office in June 2015. Those negotiations are ongoing. Second, Suthers had to find a quick solution to stormwater improvements to satisfy Pueblo County commissioners, who threatened to reopen the city’s SDS construction permit. (Bach opposed a ballot measure in 2014 that would have funded stormwater work.)

    Suthers finessed a deal in which the city agreed to spend $460 million in the next 20 years to upgrade and maintain the city’s drainage facilities. Pueblo officials accepted the deal, clearing the way for water to begin flowing through the SDS pipeline in late April, as scheduled. (Bach was invited to, but did not attend, Friday’s SDS dedication.)

    Suthers said the city would have remained a tourist town of 20,000 but for its water resources. “Our future is bright, and we are poised for continued success,” he said.

    In a surprise development, U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., showed up and lauded the city for the project. “It can’t be said enough how important water infrastructure is to the state of Colorado,” he said. “It’s our past. It’s our present, and it’s our future. It’s my hope this [project] can be replicated throughout Colorado, because water will continue to drive our success.”

    Others who spoke included CSU’s Chief Water Officer Dan Higgins, and the project director since 2007, attorney John Fredell, who became the face of SDS in the past decade through contracting, negotiations with neighbors, legal wrangling and interviews with the media. About 470 permits were required for the project.

    As Forte said, “We never would have reached this point today without one person,” that being Fredell.

    When Fredell stepped to the dais, he received a standing ovation from a crowd that included elected officials, contractors, project partners, officials from surrounding towns and Pueblo, Utilities employees and citizens.

    Fredell, in turn, thanked Forte for his “trust and vision and leading every step of the way.”

    After the speeches, the crowd was invited to open gift boxes at each chair which contained a commemorative coin and a little glass of SDS water, used to toast the project.

    All that was left at the end of 75 minutes of speeches was to have a sip of SDS water. Photo via the Colorado Springs Independent.
    All that was left at the end of 75 minutes of speeches was to have a sip of SDS water. Photo via the Colorado Springs Independent.

    To take a trip back in time through the Coyote Gulch history of the Southern Delivery Click here and click here.

    #ColoradoRiver Aqueduct marks 75 years of water delivery — The Desert Sun #COriver

    Click here to go to Metropolitan Water’s 75th Anniversary website. Click through for the photo gallery and video. Here’s an excerpt:

    75 Years of Water Delivery

    Seventy-five years ago this year, water from the Colorado River Aqueduct was first delivered to a rapidly growing and thirsty Southern California, keeping a promise made to voters in the depth of the Great Depression.

    The milestone culminated a years-long construction effort by the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California. The district was formed in 1928 for the purpose of building the great aqueduct across hundreds of miles of sun-baked desert to bring Colorado River water to the young and vibrant metropolis. Decades later, the effort still stands as an historic engineering and construction achievement.

    Why we need the water – pro-Colorado River Aqueduct bond map from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.
    Why we need the water – pro-Colorado River Aqueduct bond map from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.

    The project would employ 35,000 men, who labored 24/7 in grueling Mojave Desert heat, erecting four dams and five pumping plants, blasting 90-plus miles of tunnels and constructing 150 miles of canals, siphons, conduit and pipelines.

    On June 17, 1941 a valve was turned from the new Weymouth Treatment Plant and for the first time water followed to the city of Pasadena, one of the original 13 cities whose voters in 1931 overwhelmingly approved a $220 million bond measure to finance aqueduct construction (that would be $3.5 billion today). By the end of July, water would flow to Beverly Hills, Burbank, Compton and Santa Monica. Orange County would soon follow.

    As the final countdown began to delivery day, it was a time of promise and uncertainty. Slugger Joe DiMaggio was in the middle of his 56-game hitting streak and heavyweight champion Joe Louis was racking up a string of knockouts. Glenn Miller and Duke Ellington were cutting records like “Chattanooga Choo-Choo” and “Take the A-Train.” It was the debut of Captain America, Cheerios and Chanel No. 5.

    The first commercial TV broadcasts were weeks away. Across the Atlantic Ocean, World War II raged from Belgium to Britain as the Nazis tightened their grip on much of Europe. For weeks, America had been in a state of emergency because of Axis threats, and six months later, the Pearl Harbor attack would plunge the nation into war.

    The aqueduct provided crucial support to the war effort, and years after the war ended, each generation of Southern Californians has risen to the challenge of preserving water reliability to a region and its industries that took their place on the world’s stage.

    When drought struck the region in the 1940s and 1950s, agencies from Ventura, San Diego and the Inland Empire joined Metropolitan, which spread water reliability to an area that today stands at 5,200 square miles.

    In 1960, Metropolitan threw its support behind the new State Water Project. In the 1970s, Metropolitan continued to evolve, expanding its complex distribution system to bring imported water from both Northern California and the Colorado River.

    After drought again challenged the region in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Metropolitan’s member agencies committed the district to diversifying its water supplies through the Integrated Water Resources Plan. The amount of water preserved through conservation, water recycling and recovery is now the equivalent to filling a new Colorado River Aqueduct.

    The first Metropolitan Water District Board of Directors’ meeting in Pasadena, December 1928. Photo via the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.
    The first Metropolitan Water District Board of Directors’ meeting in Pasadena, December 1928. Photo via the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.

    In 2000, Metropolitan finished Diamond Valley Lake, the largest reservoir in Southern California, helping the Southland secure a six-month emergency supply. As the Colorado River entered an historic drought, Metropolitan maintained reliability through the development of an innovative mix of exchange, transfer and storage agreements throughout the state and along the Colorado River.

    Since the state’s historic drought began four years ago, Southern California has endured and thrived, using a combination of record water reserves and the nation’s largest water conservation rebate program. Metropolitan continues to pursue solutions in the San Joaquin-Sacramento Delta that balances environmental protection with water-supply reliability. At the same time, the district is pursuing development of a major water recycling partnership with Los Angeles County Sanitation Districts.

    The heroic efforts that sent water across the desert and flowing into Southern California 75 years ago have inspired Metropolitan and its 26 member public agencies to make sure the promise of water reliability is one that will always be kept.

    A map of the Aqueduct route from the Colorado River to the Coastal Plain of Southern California and the thirteen cities via the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.
    A map of the Aqueduct route from the Colorado River to the Coastal Plain of Southern California and the thirteen cities via the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.

    From The Desert Sun (Denise Goolsby):

    The 242-mile Colorado River Aqueduct — constructed from 1933 to 1941 by the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California — stretches from Parker Dam at the Arizona border to Lake Mathews in western Riverside County. Since June 1941, it’s provided water to millions of residents of Los Angeles and the surrounding counties.

    This week marks the 75th anniversary of the first water delivery of Colorado River water to the Los Angeles area — Pasadena received the first flow — and as a bonus, the 13 cities that originally formed the district received free water for two months.

    The eight-plus-year construction project was launched at a critical time in the nation’s history, when jobs were scarce and people were still reeling from the fallout of the stock market crash of 1929.

    Also known as the Metropolitan Aqueduct, “it was one the biggest public works projects in the country during the Depression,” local historian Pat Laflin said.

    The construction of this aqueduct was a Herculean undertaking and engineering marvel that came about out of necessity: to quench the thirst of a growing Southern California population.

    The Los Angeles Basin was already receiving water from the Owens River, but just 10 years after the 233-mile Los Angeles Aqueduct (Owens Valley aqueduct) was completed in 1913, it became apparent the Sierra Nevada watershed was not adequate to fill the aqueduct in a dry cycle, Laflin said.

    The men of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power looked to the east for a new source of water to support the throngs of settlers flooding into Los Angeles.

    They decided the Colorado River was their only hope to sustain the growth of the area as Los Angeles had become a city of major manufacturing importance and an essential port.

    In 1928, a group led by William Mulholland — the driving force behind the Los Angeles Aqueduct — organized the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.

    The district, formally created by the state Legislature, would be responsible for the planning, building and funding of the Colorado River Aqueduct.

    In 1931, voters living in the district approved a $220 million bond issue to build the aqueduct, which would require 29 tunnels covering 92 miles to be blasted through the solid core of mountains, including the San Jacintos. That bond issue would cost about $3.5 billion today.

    There would be four dams and five pumping plants built to lift the water 1,600 feet along its journey to the terminal reservoir near Riverside and Corona.

    The project — officially underway in January 1933 — employed more than 30,000 people over an eight-year period and was a boon to the local communities, especially Indio.

    The Jan. 13, 1933, issue of The Date Palm newspaper reported that “aqueduct camps (were) being established daily in the hills near Indio.”

    By April 1933, the paper reported that six permanent aqueduct camps of men were at Wide Canyon, 1000 Palms Canyon, Pushawalla Canyon, Berdoo Canyon, Fargo Canyon and Yellow Spot.

    Berdoo Camp, the one The Date Palm mentioned most, can be reached by a side road that leads into San Bernardino Canyon from Dillon Road.

    One of the largest buildings at Berdoo was a 27-bed hospital. Other camps only had emergency first aid stations.

    The hospital was staffed by a surgeon/medical officer, an assistant surgeon and 14 registered male nurses. The air-conditioned hospital was equipped with a modern operating room, X-ray plant, diet kitchen and general offices. Each employee was charged five cents per working day for medical care. The men made $4 to $5 a day on average.

    At least 25 men died while working on the Coachella Valley section of the aqueduct due to falls, crushings and heat.

    As work ended at each of the camp sites and crews moved on to the west, the camps were dismantled. Some buildings were moved intact. Many were dismantled for salvage.

    Thermal date farmer Ben Laflin ran a salvage business during the time the aqueduct was being built.

    “This was the Depression and farming wasn’t very profitable,” son Ben Laflin Jr. told The Desert Sun in 2014. The elder Laflin contracted to buy a lot of the timber, lumber and railroad ties being disposed of as the tunnel work was finished.

    “There would be big piles of this disposed material up at the entrances into the different sections of the tunnel,” Laflin said. “I remember stacking an awful lot of lumber as a kid. My dad and I would go up in the truck and either truck it down to the ranch or take it directly to people who had ordered timber and ties. We took the materials to buyers everywhere from Los Angeles to Kingman, Arizona, and points east.”

    Valley continues to benefit

    The Coachella Valley receives some of that Colorado River Aqueduct water.

    The Desert Water Agency and the Coachella Valley Water District have entitlements to State Water Project water supplies from Northern California, but lack any physical connection to the state aqueduct.

    In order for DWA and CVWD to obtain State Water Project water entitlement, Metropolitan Water District swaps an equal quantity of its Colorado River water for the agencies’ state water. The water is released from the aqueduct near the Whitewater River recharge area, providing water to the aquifer in the upper Coachella Valley groundwater basin.

    A topographical map showing the route of the aqueduct is on permanent loan from the Metropolitan Water District at the General Patton Memorial Museum in Chiriaco Summit.

    The map, built in the late 1920s and ’30s, is in five sections, each weighing a ton.

    “All five sections were flown back to Washington, D.C., in 1938, put back together, to illustrate to Congress how an aqueduct system could deliver fresh water from a pumping station at Parker Dam up through this pass, which has an elevation rise of 1,700 feet,” museum general manager Mike Pierson said while pointing out the course of the aqueduct on the map.

    “And from the summit here (Chiriaco Summit), starts going back downhill through the Coachella Valley, through the Hemet valley and into Los Angeles. All the area in pink — from North Los Angeles to San Diego — thrived … because of this aqueduct being built.”

    The aqueduct began delivering water just six months before the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. Gen. Patton established the Desert Training Center the following year, just months after the start of World War II.

    “Being a California boy, he knew that the Metropolitan Water District had already completed the aqueduct,” Pierson said.

    “He knew the aqueduct was right here off of the two two-lane roads that intersected four miles west of here — the old two-lane highway from Indio to Blythe and the still current two-lane road from Mecca, called Cottonwood. He pitched his first pup tent literally within 200 yards of the aqueduct, told his soldiers to tap into that water and that’s how his camps grew.”

    State looking to increase funding for water projects

    A headgate on an irrigation ditch on Maroon Creek, a tributary of the Roaring Fork River.
    A headgate on an irrigation ditch on Maroon Creek, a tributary of the Roaring Fork River.

    By Brent Gardner-Smith, Aspen Journalism

    PUEBLO – To counter a sudden and sharp reduction in severance tax revenue from the oil and gas sector, the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) has proposed a five-year, $175 million funding plan for water-supply and river-restoration projects.

    If approved by the state Legislature next year, the agency’s plan would bolster the amount of money that regional basin roundtables, and the CWCB board, have on hand to give out as grants in support of water projects and proposals.

    Such funding has helped complete a number of projects within or near the Roaring Fork River watershed since 2006, including $40,000 for a feasibility study of a potential 18,000-acre-foot Kendig Reservoir south of Silt, $60,000 for repairs to the East Mesa Ditch irrigation system in the Crystal River watershed, and $100,000 to help the Snowmass Water and Sanitation District improve its water-metering program.

    The Colorado basin roundtable, which meets every other month in Glenwood Springs, has approved an average of $820,000 a year in water-project grants through the state’s Water Supply Reserve Account (WSRA), which has been funded with severance tax revenues. In all, the roundtable has approved $8.2 million worth of grants since 2006.

    The WSRA program as a whole has approved about $75 million in grants over the past 10 years, and has been funded at about $8 million annually with severance tax revenue. That stream of revenue has come from oil and gas companies in Colorado, but is subject to large year-to-year swings from both the cyclical nature of the industry and how companies choose to take advantage of tax deductions.

    One factor in the severance tax equation — tax deductions — changed this spring when the Colorado Supreme Court ruled that oil and gas companies can, in fact, deduct certain expenses that the Department of Revenue had previously ruled against. The ruling means the state has to rebate $125 million, or more, to the industry.

    The court ruling came when severance tax revenues were already expected to drop.

    The CWCB had been ratcheting down the amount of severance tax revenue it expects to see flow into the WSRA accounts this year, which are divided between the nine basin roundtables and a statewide account administered by the CWCB board.

    In January, the roundtables were advised to expect a 25 to 50 percent drop in severance revenues this year. And as of this month, they’ve been told to expect zero money from severance tax dollars next year.

    “For this year, ‘16-’17, we’re not looking at any money coming into the WSRA accounts, statewide or basin,” said Brent Newman, a program manager at CWCB who works in a support role with several roundtables.

    With the drying up of severance tax revenue, the amounts available to the roundtables for grants are restricted to the money they now have on hand.

    The Colorado basin roundtable has $473,327 to spend between now and July 1, 2017, which is when CWCB is hoping its new funding plan will come to fruition.

    At its meeting in May, the Colorado basin roundtable members tightened their belts and denied one application for funding and approved three other projects, but only granted half of the requested amounts in each case.

    OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
    OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

    Four buckets of money

    The funding plan put forth by the CWCB includes four types, or buckets, of funding.

    One $50 million bucket consists of $10 million a year over five years to fund the WSRA program at the level it generally has been funded since 2006.

    “We’re trying to make up the deficit in severance tax revenue,” Newman said.

    But if severance tax revenues do return to prior levels, the money would still go into the WSRA accounts, along with the newly designated funds. This means funding for the WSRA program as a whole could rise as high as $20 million a year, which would be a dramatic reversal of fortune for the regional roundtables and the CWCB.

    A second $50 million bucket — filled at the rate of $10 million a year for five years — would allow the CWCB board to directly make grants to support programs and initiatives described in the 2015 Colorado Water Plan, such as water-efficiency programs and education and outreach efforts.

    A third $50 million bucket would consist of a one-time cash infusion into a loan repayment guarantee fund. This money would be used to fund future water-supply projects that have a number of municipal and governmental entities behind them.

    The credit ratings of many smaller cities and districts are lower than those of large water providers and cities, and that can increase risk to lenders and make it harder to get big loans for projects. But if the state guarantees that the loans will be repaid, it should make it easier to get new projects built.

    Newman said funds from this proposed bucket could help proposals such as the Windy Gap Firming Project, which would allow additional diversions from the West Slope to be stored in a new East Slope reservoir.

    There are 13 different entities on the northern Front Range that are supporting the Windy Gap project.

    “Some have an awful credit rating, some have a great credit rating,” Newman said, speaking in general terms about water projects with various entities involved. “By guaranteeing these bonds from a state fund, it brings everyone up to the same credit rating, and makes it a lot easier for multiple partners to work together on a project. And it actually cuts out millions of dollars in costs.”

    Alan Hamel, a CWCB board member representing the Arkansas River basin, supports the proposed funding plan, including the loan repayment guarantee fund.

    “It will really help smaller communities with their projects,” he said.

    Newman and Hamel made their remarks on June 8 in Pueblo at a meeting of the Arkansas roundtable’s executive committee. That roundtable is especially interested in CWCB’s funding proposal because it only has $185,000 in its account for the next 12 months, and it has approved an average of $1.2 million a year in water projects and plans over the past decade.

    The fourth bucket in the CWCB’s funding plan includes $25 million, at $5 million a year for five years, to fund projects and plans designed to improve the environment, and recreational values, of the state’s rivers and streams.

    This funding, up from about $1.5 million a year over the past two years, will go to help fund river management and restoration efforts, such as the recently completed Crystal River management plan and the forthcoming Roaring Fork River management plan.

    In all, it adds up to $175 million being put forth over five years to move forward on the projects and ideas described in the Colorado Water Plan.

    “All of this is very conceptual,” Newman said. “The [CWCB] is going to be beating this up for the next couple of months before we have a final funding plan in place.”

    Gears on the top of the dam that forms Lost Man Reservoir, part of the diversion system on the upper Roaring Fork River headwaters.
    Gears on the top of the dam that forms Lost Man Reservoir, part of the diversion system on the upper Roaring Fork River headwaters.

    Money in hand

    The money for the project is coming from the CWCB itself, which has been loaning money to various entities to build water projects for years. As those loans have been repaid over the years, the CWCB has kept the money in a fund. Now it plans to tap that pool of money to fill the four buckets described above.

    Newman said the CWCB was in a unique position of having funds to work with “because of the good stewardship of our loan funds over the past several decades.”

    “We’re in this position of having, and it’s weird to say this in public, too much money to loan out,” Newman said in Pueblo. “We have a really healthy loan program, and it’s not just dependent on severance tax. We’ve given out some really big loans that are starting to be paid back in installments every year now. So we have these perpetual funds that are cycling back.”

    Since it has the funds on hand, and is watching severance tax revenue dry up, CWCB board members in May asked staff to put a plan together that would help implement the ideas in the Colorado Water Plan and in the various regional basin plans developed over the past two years.

    The authorization to spend the money in CWCB’s proposed funding plan has to come from the state Legislature as part of its annual review and approval of the CWCB’s “projects bill.”

    If the Legislature approves the funding plan, the funds would not be available until July 2017, at the start of the state’s next fiscal year, which means many of the nine basin roundtables are looking at a lean 12 months ahead.

    Between now and the end of the year, the CWCB staff and board will continue to discuss and fine-tune the conceptual $175 million plan. The CWCB will next discuss the plan at its July meeting in Steamboat.

    Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism, the Aspen Daily News, and Coyote Gulch are collaborating on coverage of rivers and water in Colorado. The Daily News published this story on Wednesday, June 15, 2016.