Since lifting restrictions on outdoor water use more than two months ago, public discussion of infrastructure issues that led to a month and a half of water conservation measures has been largely absent at Rifle City Hall.
But behind the scenes, staffers in the city’s utilities department have been at work completing an assessment of the intake issues, along with compiling a 20-year plan for utility infrastructure needs and associated costs, according to City Manager Matt Sturgeon.
Ultimately it will be up to City Council to prioritize those items during its annual budget process, which typically begins in October each year.
Admittedly though, Sturgeon said the No. 1 priority for the city is the completion of Rifle’s new water treatment plant, which has been under construction for the past two years.
“This has been on the front burner of the entire community for years,” Sturgeon said.
The new regional water treatment plant is part of approximately $35 million in capital projects — which include new 2-million-gallon and 3-million-gallon storage tanks and the acquisition of property that can be used for a future expansion of the treatment plant — over the past two years.
The new plant will ultimately be capable of producing 8 million gallons a day — nearly double the capacity of the existing Graham Mesa water treatment plant, which was built in 1980. In bringing the new plant online in the next four to six months the city also has to take the Graham Mesa plant offline and decommission it.
All of this means issues such as those with the water intake system are taking a back seat.
Vulnerabilities in the intake system were first discovered on June 1, when the city located a break in the only raw water line that delivers Colorado River water to the Graham Mesa treatment plant — the main source of potable water to municipal water customers.
A ban on outdoor water use was implemented almost immediately in order to ensure the city had enough water for fire protection, sanitation and indoor use for municipal customers. Although the line was repaired in less than 24 hours, problems arose with the pump house and other intake infrastructure, which led to reduced outdoor water restrictions remaining in place until things returned to normal on July 13.
Despite the previous belief that the cost would come in well below the $250,000 in emergency dollars authorized by City Council, the final cost will likely be closer to that number, said Jim Miller, Rifle utilities director.
“We used less diesel but more equipment and temporary labor than forecasted,” he said, adding that there is still one outstanding invoice.
The $250,000 was in addition to a little more than $100,000 in initial costs authorized by City Council.
Although much of the focus in the coming months will be on wrapping up the in-process capital projects, that is not to say the city has ignored the intake issues.
The city is now aware of the weak points in the system and is ready should another issue arise in the near future, Sturgeon said. That readiness includes experience with the contractor that provided temporary pumps during the repair process, as well as having pipeline on hand to repair the raw water line if needed.
The intake, pump station and raw water line all remain stable at the moment, and staff has discussed the vulnerabilities in preparation for the budget process and discussion with a broader audience, Miller said.
Issues identified with the water intake infrastructure include: the age and route of the raw water line, as well as the poor bedding condition, which was cited as one of the leading reasons for the initial line break; more sediment being pulled with the raw water during greater periods of the year, which causes accumulation in the wet well; and the existing pump station is difficult to take offline to address the accumulation in the wet well.
With the new treatment plant and associated infrastructure coming online in the near future, it makes more sense to address the intake issues once the other infrastructure, which has a larger capacity, is on.
FromAspen Journalism (Allen Best) via the Aspen Daily News:
Two Front Range cities along with Western Slope parties and the Climax Molybdenum Co. hope to narrow their plans during the next 18 months for new or expanded reservoirs in the upper Eagle River watershed near Camp Hale.
One configuration of a possible new reservoir on Homestake Creek, a tributary of the Eagle River, would force a minor tweaking of the Holy Cross Wilderness Area boundary.
That adjustment along with the presence of ecologically important wetlands along where Whitney Creek flows into Homestake Creek are among the many complexities that partners — including the cities of Aurora and Colorado Springs — face as they consider how to satisfy their projected water needs.
Work underway this fall and expected to wrap up next year focuses on technical feasibility of individual projects. None alone is likely to meet the needs of all the partners.
Also at issue is money. One set of projects would cost $685 million, according to preliminary engineering estimates issued by Wilson Water Group and other consultants in April.
Aurora Water’s Kathy Kitzmann likens the investigation to being somewhere between the second and third leg around the bases.
“We’re not in the home stretch,” Kitzmann said at a recent meeting.
Still to be decided, as costs estimates are firmed up, is how badly Aurora, Colorado Springs and other water interests want the additional storage.
The Glenwood Springs-based Colorado River Water Conservation District has decided it only needs another several hundred-acre feet of yield.
John Currier, chief engineer for the river district, said that the less expensive studies have been done. Coming studies will be more expensive.
“I think we are to the point that the cost of investigations themselves are going to start driving the decisions, and I also think that the timing and need of the partners is helping drive those decisions,” Currier said.
At one time, the idea of pumping water eastward from Ruedi Reservoir was considered. That idea has been discarded as part of this investigation.
This exploration of water what-ifs is governed by a 1998 agreement, the Eagle River memorandum of understanding, or MOU.
The MOU envisioned water projects collaboratively constructed in ways that benefit parties on both Eastern and Western slopes, as well as Climax, the owner of the molybdenum mine that straddles the Continental Divide at Fremont Pass. Minimal environmental disruption is also a cornerstone of the agreement.
Long legal fight
The collaboration stems from a milestone water case. Aurora and Colorado Springs in 1967 completed a major water diversion that draws water from Homestake Creek and its tributaries.
Homestake Reservoir has a capacity of 43,500 acre-feet, or a little less than half of Ruedi, and is located partly in Pitkin County. The water is diverted via a 5.5-mile tunnel to Turquoise Lake near Leadville and into the Arkansas River.
Near Buena Vista that water is pumped 900 feet over the Mosquito Range into South Park for eventual distribution to Aurora and Colorado Springs.
But the cities left water rights on the table. In 1987, they returned to Eagle County with plans to divert water directly from the Holy Cross Wilderness.
The Colorado Wilderness Act of 1980 that created Holy Cross left the legal door open for a new water diversion. The law specified that “this act shall not interfere with the construction, maintenance, and/or expansion of the Homestake Water Development Project of the cities of Aurora and Colorado Springs in the Holy Cross Wilderness.”
But Colorado had changed greatly from 1967 to 1987 and state laws adopted in the early 1970s gave Eagle County expanded land-use authority. County commissioners in 1988 used that authority to veto Homestake II.
That veto, which was appealed all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, along with the denial of the Two Forks Dam southwest of Denver at about the same time, signaled that Colorado was in a new era of water politics.
Under Colorado water law, though, the two cities still owned substantial water rights in the Eagle River Basin. Guided by the Glenwood Springs-based Colorado River District, negotiations led to an agreement to develop projects to jointly benefit the former protagonists: 10,000 acre-feet of guaranteed dry-year yield for Western Slope users, 20,000 acre-feet of average-year yield for the cities, and 3,000 acre-feet for Climax.
Water supply options
Expansion of Eagle Park Reservoir is one option being studied.
Located near Fremont Pass at the headwaters of the East Fork of the Eagle River, it was originally created to hold mine tailings from Climax. In the 1990s it was gutted of tailings in order to hold water. A consortium of Vail Resorts, two-interrelated Vail-based water districts, and the Colorado River District combined to create a reservoir.
Aurora and Colorado Springs agreed to subordinate water rights in order to ensure firm yield for the Western Slope parties.
To expand the reservoir from the existing 3,300 acre-feet to 7,950 acre-feet could cost anywhere from $39.1 million to $70.8 million, depending upon how much work, if any, is needed to manage seepage beneath the existing dam. Test borings that began Sept. 12 will advance the design of the larger reservoir. Five possible configurations date from 1994.
Another option is to create a new relatively small dam on or adjacent to Homestake Creek, near its confluence with Whitney Creek. This is three miles off of Highway 24, between Camp Hale and Minturn.
Among the four possible configurations for this potential Whitney Creek Reservoir is a tunnel to deliver water from two creeks, Fall and Peterson, in the Gilman area.
A third option is restoration of a century-old dam at Minturn that was breached several years ago. Bolts Lake, however, would serve only Western Slope interests.
Still on the table is a new reservoir on a tributary to the Eagle River near Wolcott. That reservoir has been discussed occasionally for more than 30 years. However, like a Ruedi pumpback, it’s not part of the current discussion involving the Eagle River MOU partners.
Most problematic of the options is Whitney Creek. It would require relocation of a road and, in one of the configurations, water could back up into the existing wilderness area. For that to happen, Congress would have to tweak the wilderness boundary.
Wetlands displacement could also challenge a Whitney Reservoir. An investigation underway seeks to reveal whether those wetlands include areas classified as fens. Fens are peat-forming wetlands fed primarily by groundwater. As they may take thousands of years to develop, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service specifies that “every reasonable effort should be made to avoiding impact fens.”
“If fens are found, I expect a lengthy debate about the quantity and quality of fens required to be a fatal flaw,” said the river district’s Currier in a July memorandum. That determination will be made before drilling is authorized to determine whether a dam is possible.
Western Slope parties, said Currier in the memo, “believe an Eagle Park enlargement may ultimately become very attractive because the environmental and permitting issues are much, much simpler than a Whitney Creek alternative.”
Nearly all the alternatives being considered in the Eagle River Basin would require extensive pumping, as opposed to gravity-fed reservoir configurations. Water would have to be pumped 1,000 vertical feet into Eagle Park Reservoir, for example, then pumped again to get it across the Continental Divide.
A Whitney Creek Reservoir would require less, but still expensive pumping. Water in the reservoir would be received by gravity flow, but from there it would be pumped about seven miles up to Homestake Reservoir. Whether it can accommodate more water has yet to be determined, one of many dangling question marks.
Earlier, the parties had investigated the possibility of using an aquifer underlying Camp Hale as a reservoir. But drilling to determine the holding capacity proved maddening complex. Accounting for water depletions from pumping would have been very difficult. Further, operation of the system to prevent impact to other water users and instream flows would have been problematic. The idea was abandoned in 2013.
Currier, in his July report to the River District board of directors, outlined several questions that he said should provoke discussion among the Eagle River partners this fall: How much of the water outlined under the 1998 agreement does each party realistically need, and when? Are they ready to begin seeking permits after this new round of investigation to be completed next year?
Need for water?
This week, in response to questions from Aspen Journalism, the Eagle River MOU partners explained the need for the water to be developed between 2036 and 2050.
Both Aurora and Colorado Springs have added major projects in recent years. After the drought of 2002, a very-worried Aurora pushed rapidly for a massive reuse project along the South Platte River called Prairie Waters. It went on line in 2010 — far more rapidly than any project on the Eagle River could have been developed.
Colorado Springs last year began deliveries of water from Pueblo Reservoir via the Southern Delivery System, an idea first conceived in 1989. The Vail-based water districts also increased their storage capacity after 2002.
At a meeting in Georgetown in August, representatives of the two cities said they were unsure of the precise need for water.
Greg Baker, a spokesman for Aurora Water, describes a “delicate balancing act” about what is “going to be most reliable and what is going to be most environmentally permittable and permissible.”
Brett Gracely, of Colorado Springs Utilities, said project costs are “still in the realm of other projects are we looking at.”
The 1998 agreement specified that costs of initial studies should be divided equally, four ways. As the project progresses, the costs are to be split according to percentage of yield that each party would gain.
Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism and the Aspen Daily News are collaborating on the coverage of rivers and water. More at http://www.aspenjournalism.org.
Colorado Springs’ parks, grass and trees need more water. About $450,000 worth of water. And they need it soon, a parks manager told the Utilities Board on Wednesday.
Water costs paid to Utilities have escalated, said Kurt Schroeder, park operations and development manager.
While the Parks Recreation and Cultural Services’ budget was slashed by 80 percent between 2008 and 2010, potable water rates doubled between 2008 and 2012, from $93 to $188 for 1 inch of water on 1 acre, Schroeder said.
Meanwhile, drought conditions in 2008, 2010 and 2012 brought the city less precipitation than the average in bone-dry Tucson, Ariz.
So Parks sprang into action, reducing its bluegrass by 10 percent and reducing watering levels by installing irrigation systems with web and smart-phone controls.
But while Parks is saving 6 acre-feet of water a year, it’s also facing a crunch after this June proved to be the city’s third-warmest on record, followed by the seventh-warmest July on record, Schroeder said.
“We’ve got an expectation of what citizens want their community to look like,” he said. “We’ve been watering at a deficit for many, many years and only now are beginning to catch up. If we cut back? We would see the turf degrade, and the trees wouldn’t get any better.”
Utilities Board members empathized. Merv Bennett said some trees have died for lack of water. Some of those were Gen. William Jackson Palmer’s original trees, said fellow board member Jill Gaebler.
But Utilities has its own challenges, including a push to replace water mains before the city paves streets using Ballot Issue 2C sales tax dollars, noted Chief Financial Officer Bill Cherrier.
“Historically, over the past three years, park watering hadn’t spent all its money,” said board member Don Knight. “I really appreciate all the hard work Parks has done in conservation. Water usage is very, very weather dependent.”
He suggested a five- or 10-year plan be crafted so Parks could get extra money when needed to compensate for the years it had leftover water funds. Cherrier said Utilities will work on a plan to present to the City Council, whose members make up the Utilities Board, at its work session Monday.
“We are bumping up against the time of warm weather,” Schroeder warned, “and the dollars I have could be burned away quickly. I need to get a determination quickly.”
The Bureau of Reclamation recently awarded two new contracts totaling $66.3 million for the Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project. Those contracts continue construction work on a project that will provide long-term, sustainable water for 43 chapters of the Navajo Nation Reservation, the southwest area of the Jicarilla Apache Reservation and the City of Gallup, New Mexico.
On September 7, 2016, Reclamation awarded a $37 million design-build contract to CH2M for the design and construction of a water treatment plant along the project’s Cutter Lateral. Water for the Cutter Lateral will be supplied from Navajo Reservoir via Cutter Reservoir near Bloomfield, N.M. In addition to a state-of-the-art water treatment plant, work under this contract will include design and construction of a clearwell pumping plant, 500,000 gallon regulating tank, 2,500 square foot operation and maintenance building and 21,400 feet of pipeline. The plant will have a phased water treatment system to accommodate increasing flows over time up to a future total capacity of 5.4 million gallons per day. Work under this contract is scheduled to be completed in the fall of 2019.
On September 8, 2016, Reclamation awarded a second contract valued at $29.3 million to Moltz Constructors, Inc. for construction of Reach 22B of the Cutter Lateral, which will consist of 16 miles of 24-inch diameter pipe and two pumping plants. The pipeline is designed to handle flows up to 9.6 cubic feet per second and is scheduled to be complete in the summer of 2018.
“Vital infrastructure is a key focus for President Obama, the Department of the Interior and Reclamation and we’re proud of the monumental work being accomplished on this project by our employees, contractors and partners,” said Commissioner Estevan López. “These awards mark a significant milestone for the project; all Reclamation construction along the Cutter Lateral is now either underway or under contract and we’re on track to begin water deliveries through the lateral in 2019.” said Brent Rhees, Director of Reclamation’s Upper Colorado Region. The Navajo Nation is also moving forward with design and construction of downstream sections of the lateral under a financial assistance agreement with Reclamation.
The Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project is the cornerstone of the San Juan River Basin in New Mexico Navajo Nation Water Rights Settlement Agreement. When complete, it will include approximately 300 miles of pipe, two water treatment plants, 19 pumping plants and multiple water storage tanks.
For decades, water storage and supply infrastructure in Southwestern Colorado have been slow-moving, underfunded dreams. Lake Nighthorse, a critical component of the grandiose Animas-La Plata Project intended to supply water to Native American tribes, was filled in 2011, but it took five years before the very first mechanism to transport water from the storage facility would be realized.
On Wednesday, water authorities, Southern Ute and Ute Mountain Ute tribal leaders and La Plata County officials gathered at the lake just west of town to commemorate the watershed moment…
The 4.6-mile pipeline will wind west and then northward through La Plata County to Lake Durango, cutting through Bureau of Reclamation land as well as private properties. Some of the private homeowners consented to the infrastructure in exchange for taps.
Charlie Smith, general manager of the Lake Durango Water Authority, said more than 100 property owners, who either haul water or depend on low-quality wells, are on a waiting list for taps, which come at a price of about $10,000. Lake Durango supplies potable water to households in Durango West I and II, Rafter J, Shenandoah and Trapper’s Crossing.
The pipeline will add to Lake Durango’s reserves, and will be constructed with $2.8 million from the Lake Durango Water Authority and $1 million each from the two tribes as well as loans and grants from the Colorado Water Conservation Board. The sum contributed by the Lake Durango Water Authority includes water purchased from Animas-La Plata.
Construction is expected to be complete by the end of summer 2017, which will be only the beginning of the Animas-La Plata Project’s long-range vision.
The Ute Mountain Utes have the ability to extend the pipeline in the future, and the San Juan Water Commission, a New Mexico water authority, is considering a main of its own from Lake Nighthorse to northern New Mexico. The Daily-Times of Farmington reported the commission will meet next month to discuss particulars of the proposal.
As plans advance to remove water from the Animas River-fed Nighthorse, the water and shore remain free of recreationists. Bureau of Recreation officials said last week that the agency is in consultation with tribes and project partners to find the best recreation plan without compromising cultural resources.
A draft recreation plan and environmental assessment was released last spring, and a final document is still to come.
Meanwhile, preparatory infrastructure is underway at the lake, including a decontamination station, where boats will be checked for invasive species when recreation is permitted at the lake.
Roadwork on a turn lane into Lake Nighthorse from County Road 210 began the first week of September.
Engineering and consulting firm MWH Global Inc. in Broomfield, a division of Canada-based Stantec Inc., has received an $11.9 million contract to design the Chimney Hollow Reservoir dam that will be located between Loveland and Longmont.
The Municipal Subdistrict of the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District hired MWH to design a 360-foot-tall dam, spillway and outlet works for the 90,000-acre-foot reservoir near Loveland.
Officials said on Tuesday that the Chimney Hollow Reservoir dam, located on the west side of Carter Lake, will be the largest dam built in Colorado in 50 years. It will provide water storage for growing communities in Northern Colorado, including Broomfield, Longmont, Loveland and Greeley. The subdistrict estimates that its communities could see a water-supply shortage of 64,000 acre feet, or approximately 29 billion gallons, by 2030.
The design for the Chimney Hollow Reservoir Project is expected to be completed in 2018, with construction completed in 2021. The engineering services provided by MWH will include evaluating alternatives, final design and support during bidding.
The commission decided today that it will meet in October to discuss whether to pursue a conceptual design of the pipeline.
Aaron Chavez, director of the San Juan Water Commission, highlighted the Gold King Mine spill in August 2015 as a reason the county could benefit from a pipeline from Lake Nighthorse.
During a meeting in August about the spill, County Executive Officer Kim Carpenter said a pipeline to Lake Nighthorse could be used during emergency situations to provide water to downstream communities…
Chavez said that while the lake could provide additional water to San Juan County, there has been no pumping this year from the reservoir — which is fed by the Animas River — due to concerns stemming from the Gold King Mine spill, which released more than 3 million gallons of wastewater containing toxic metals into the river.
Chavez said the original purpose of Lake Nighthorse was to provide communities a reliable source of water during droughts…
The possibility of a pipeline also comes with other concerns. Chavez highlighted invasive species, such as quagga mussels, as one of those issues. A recreation plan is currently being developed for Lake Nighthorse, and officials fear boats on the reservoir could introduce quagga mussels to the system. The invasive species could then attach to pipeline infrastructure, leading to clogged water systems.
Chavez said a conceptual design for the pipeline is estimated to cost $10,000 to $15,000, while a more detailed study would cost between $200,000 and $250,000.
Commissioner Jim Dunlap, who represents rural water users, said the pipeline will be expensive to construct.
“We can’t just put it in Lake Farmington and call it done,” Dunlap said.
He said the pipeline would need “spurs” to all the San Juan County water treatment facilities.