Salida’s treatment facility wins award — The Mountain Mail

December 5, 2014

Salida Colorado early 1900s

Salida Colorado early 1900s


From The Mountain Mail (Ryan Summerlin):

The Salida Wastewater Treatment Facility was recently recognized in an article by Treatment Plant Operator magazine for winning the 2013 Wastewater Treatment Facility of the Year award.

TPO magazine is the industry’s go-to publication, said Randy Sack, wastewater plant manager.

“We were given this award because Salida was proactive on staying up to date with EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) and Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment mandates for effluent water quality,” said Dan Poole, a plant operator at the facility.

“And our success is largely due to the level of experience of our crew,” said Sack.

Sack is going on 37 years of wastewater treatment experience in Salida. The three employees under him have 30 years, 20 years and 5 years experience.

“We do the maintenance, run the lab, do the reporting – we even take turns doing the lawn outside,” Sack said.

“We’ve also been without a lost-time accident over the last 13 to 14 years. And we work in a very dangerous environment with poisonous gases and acids.”

The facility has also recently implemented a new treatment process called IFAS (integrated fixed-film activated sludge), which creates an environment for microorganisms that break down the waste.

The facility saw instant improvements when it implemented the new system, Sack said.

Before, the plant had been using a “trickling filter” system, which consisted of large tanks with rocks lining the floor where the microorganisms lived. With the new system thousands, if not millions, of half-dollar-size discs containing the microorganisms float in the wastewater and consume the waste before the water flows to the facility’s next compartments.

“With this new process, we were also able to get away from using chlorine gas in our disinfectant stage during final treatment,” Poole said. “Now, we use ultraviolet light for disinfectant.”

The measure of the facility’s success is clean water flowing back into the Arkansas River, said Sack. His crew runs a variety of tests on the water in their lab, covering biochemical oxygen demand, total suspended solids, E. coli testing, pH levels, temperature, phosphorus levels and many other useful measures.

In addition, flathead minnows and ceriodaphnia, a species of water flea, are tested in the water to make sure they can survive in the effluence, Sack said.

“Unfortunately, you don’t achieve that success without some pretty high energy bills, but we’re working to cut those costs where we can,” he said.

More wastewater coverage here.


Localized climate change contributed to ancient depopulation — Washington State University

December 5, 2014

From Washington State University (Eric Sorensen):

Washington State University researchers have detailed the role of localized climate change in one of the great mysteries of North American archaeology: the depopulation of southwest Colorado by ancestral Pueblo people in the late 1200s.

In the process, they address one of the mysteries of modern-day climate change: How will humans react?

Writing in Nature Communications, WSU archaeologist Tim Kohler and post-doctoral researcher Kyle Bocinsky use tree-ring data, the growth requirements of traditional maize crops and a suite of computer programs to make a finely scaled map of ideal Southwest growing regions for the past 2,000 years.

Their data paint a narrative of some 40,000 people leaving the Mesa Verde area of southwest Colorado as drought plagued the niche in which they grew maize, their main food source. Meanwhile, the Pajarito Plateau of the northern Rio Grande saw a large population spike.

The plateau “also happens to be the place where you would want to move if you were doing rain-fed maize agriculture, the same type of agriculture that people practiced for centuries up in southwest Colorado,” said Bocinsky, who built the data-crunching programs while earning a WSU Ph.D. with support from a National Science Foundation graduate research fellowship.

People try to ‘keep on keeping on’

The dramatic changes in the Southwest took place near the end of the Medieval Warm Period, the warmest in the Northern Hemisphere for the last 2,000 years. The period had a smaller temperature change than we’re seeing now, and its impact on the Southwest is unclear. But it is clear the Southwest went through a major change.

“At a very local scale, people have been dealing with climate fluctuations of several degrees centigrade throughout history,” said Bocinsky. “So we need to understand how people deal with these local changes to generate predictions and help guide us in dealing with more widespread changes of that nature.”

Bocinsky, the paper’s lead author, said the study is particularly significant for modern-day subsistence farmers of maize, or corn, the world’s largest food staple.

“People are generally going to try and find ways to keep on keeping on, to do what they’ve been doing before changing their technological strategy,” he said. “That was something extremely interesting to me out of this project.”

Tree rings yield precipitation, temperature info

To get a more granular look at the changing climate of the Southwest, Bocinsky and Kohler used more than 200 tree-ring chronologies, which use the annual rings of ancient trees to reconstruct the area’s climate patterns over time. Pines at lower elevations will have their growth limited by rainfall, making their rings good indicators of precipitation. High-elevation trees get good rain but are susceptible to cold, making them good indicators of temperature.

The shifting patterns of rainfall and temperature let Bocinsky and Kohler isolate to a few square kilometers the areas that would receive just under a foot of rainfall a year, the minimum needed for ancestral maize varieties still farmed by contemporary Pueblo people.

The area in what is now southwest Colorado’s Mesa Verde National Park ended up being one of the best places to grow maize, with good conditions more than 90 percent of the time. The Pajarito Plateau ended up being highly suitable as well, with slopes that would shed cold air and precipitation levels suited to rain-fed agriculture.

Large disparities in small areas

Such big climate differences in such a small area illustrates how some areas could be hit harder than others by the extremes of global climate change, said Bocinsky. He said it is telling that, when the Pueblo people moved, they moved to where they could preserve their farming techniques. He said that could be important to keep in mind as farmers, particularly subsistence farmers on marginal lands, face localized climate impacts in the future.

“When we are looking for ways to alleviate human suffering, we should keep in mind that people are going to be looking for places to move where they can keep doing their type of maize agriculture, keep growing the same type of wheat or rice in the same ways,” he said. “It’s when those niches really start shrinking on the landscape that we start having a major problem, because you’ve got a lot of people who are used to doing something in one way and they can no longer do it that way.”


Snowpack news: Get your snowdance on!

December 5, 2014
Westwide snow water equivalent as a percent of normal December 5, 2014

Westwide snow water equivalent as a percent of normal December 5, 2014

Doing a snowdance

Doing a snowdance


@AmericanWater’s Mark LeChevallier discusses water utility innovations and treatment technology

December 5, 2014


Energy Pipeline: Produced water from drilling sites may have other beneficial uses — The Greeley Tribune

December 5, 2014
DJ Basin Exploration via the Oil and Gas Journal

DJ Basin Exploration via the Oil and Gas Journal

From The Greeley Tribune (Tracy Hume):

Most of the produced water coming out of exploration and production operations in Weld County ends up being disposed of in one of 39 injection wells in the county. The produced water is injected back into the earth, thousands of feet deep, never to be used again.

Water quality expert Gary Beers thinks that’s a waste, and he is on the front lines of a growing movement to examine the economic and environmental benefits of treating and re-using produced water from oil and gas operations. Beers’ company, Industrial Water Permitting and Recycling Consultants, LLC, helps operators navigate Colorado’s complex regulatory environment and permitting processes to find better uses for produced water than just throwing it away.

“I was born and raised in southern Arizona, where water is very scarce,” Beers said, “I guess that planted the seed of being very concerned about not wasting water.”

Beers’ interest in water led him to pursue several degrees in the field, including a master’s degree in fisheries management from the University of Arizona and a doctorate in aquatic ecology from Utah State University. He established his consulting firm after a long career in the water quality field, including stints with the Environmental Protection Agency office in Denver and nearly 10 years in the Water Quality Control Division of the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment. His extensive experience on the regulatory side helps him to help operators identify and navigate the obstacles that impede beneficial use of produced water.

One of those obstacles is the public perception of produced water as “contaminated.” According to Beers, a lot of people “don’t understand that E&P (exploration and production) waste is just a category that’s used to identify any type of waste material generated while they’re drilling and producing oil and gas.

“But just because it is labeled ‘E&P waste’ doesn’t mean the water is polluted or anything; it just says that’s where it came from,” Beers said, “You can have E&P waste that’s very clean, or you can have E&P waste that’s contaminated. There is a lot of variability.”

Produced water comes in two main types, each with distinctive characteristics that have implications for beneficial use. The first type of water to return from a well, called “flowback,” is the water used to facilitate the initial drilling process, and may include traces of the chemicals used for hydraulic fracturing. The second type, “formation water,” is the water that is part of the original geological formation and is brought to the surface in the course of oil and gas production.

“Most of the produced water people talk about is the long-term formation water that’s brought up as the well is producing oil and gas,” Beers said. “The quality of the initial flowback water can change, because of the different chemicals used in drilling and other factors, but the quality of the formation water is pretty consistent, depending upon the original geological formation.”

Some operators in the DJ Basin have taken steps to treat and re-use produced water, including flowback water, for hydraulic fracturing. Flowback water may include chemical additives and total dissolved solids, but it typically includes fewer salts than formation water, making it easier to treat for industry re-use.

Concord Produced Water Services is a produced water treatment provider that Beers has worked with in the DJ Basin. Among the services Concord offers is mobile recycling units, which can be taken out into the field to treat flowback and produced water for re-use.

Re-use of produced water within industry operations is, in some ways, the most straightforward beneficial use to implement. When operators re-use produced water within their own organizations, it minimizes the number of regulatory hoops that have to be negotiated. Furthermore, the public typically supports industry re-use of produced water because it reduces the industry’s impact on public water supplies.

“There’s a lot of controversy around the issue of using fresh water supplies, such as surface water or shallow ground water, for hydraulic fracturing,” Beers said. “The use of public water to supply the oil and gas industry is a continuing issue in Weld County.”

The possibilities of treatment and re-use could make it possible for the industry to decrease its reliance on municipal water sources.

“There have been significant efforts to ramp up re-use practices in Weld County,” Beers said, pointing out that “in theory, the demand for water for hydraulic fracturing in Weld County could be met by recycling all the produced water five times over.”

Another possibility for beneficial use of produced water is dust suppression. Many rural communities with high numbers of dirt roads use significant amounts of water to mitigate dust and maintain roads. Some communities have begun exploring the idea of using produced water, particularly formation water, for this purpose.

“The deeper formations were laid down when the land was almost totally dominated by oceans,” Beers explained, “so produced water from these marine sediments typically has a high concentration of salts.” Interestingly, the composition of these briny produced waters is similar to the composition of common commercial magnesium chloride solutions municipalities use for dust control on unpaved roads. Beers sees an opportunity there.

“Many counties in Colorado spend hundreds of thousands of dollars a year for commercial magnesium chloride solutions,” Beers said, despite the fact that the produced water coming out of the oil fields might serve the same purpose.

However, this particular beneficial use is quite a bit trickier to implement. The beneficial use of produced water is overseen by a complex network of regulatory agencies including the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, the Water Quality Control Division of the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment, and county permitting processes. Which regulations and permitting processes apply is contingent upon variables such as the produced water source; the composition of the water; whether the water has been treated, how it has been treated, and by whom; and the proposed use.

Beers finds irony in the fact that despite the similarities in composition between commercial magnesium chloride products and produced water (brine), there are virtually no regulatory hurdles to using a commercial magnesium chloride solution for dust suppression, but there are numerous regulatory hurdles to using produced water for the same purpose, because it is classified as industrial waste.

“Let’s say you’re going to buy ‘Compound X’ for dust suppression,” Beers said. “The company is required to disclose what chemicals they put in their solution. If you look at that, they’ll say so much magnesium chloride, etc. Then they’ll say ‘confidential’ or ‘proprietary’ ingredients and they won’t disclose what they are. So you don’t know.

“But if you were going to use produced water,” Beers said, “you would have to get state approval to do that. You would have to analyze hundreds of compounds and disclose what each of those were. So if you were going to buy the magnesium chloride solution from a commercial guy, he would say, ‘Well, it only has salt in it and a bunch of stuff which I can’t tell you.’ And then you look at the produced water and say, ‘Look at all of the things they found in it!’ Whether those components are harmful or not.

“Nine times out of ten the buyer will say, ‘I’m not going to get that produced water because it’s got all these weird things in it.’ But I’ve done some side-by-side testing and there are a lot of materials in the commercial products that they should tell you about, but they don’t, because they don’t have to,” Beers said.

The bottom line is, “it’s an uneven playing field, because recycled products, like produced water, have regulatory baggage and they have to disclose everything, unlike commercial products,” he said.

Beers sees the possibility of change on the horizon.

The industry is starting to acknowledge the economic benefits of water re-use. Treating and re-using water in the field cuts down on the cost of purchasing water and transporting it to the site. Treating produced water and using it for dust suppression, or similar beneficial uses, even holds the potential of turning an industry expense, such as disposal of produced water, into a revenue stream, such as selling treated produced water to municipalities.

Stakeholders, such as regulatory agencies, are also beginning to discuss streamlining permitting processes to make it easier to recycle produced water and use it for beneficial purposes. In January of this year, the Colorado Energy Office and the Water Center at Colorado Mesa University convened 65 stakeholders from the Grand Junction community to talk about re-use projects on Colorado’s Western Slope.

Beers said he believes that with enough education, the public, too, will begin to see the benefits of treating and using produced water.

“A lot of people are looking at beneficial uses for produced water,” Beers said, “it’s just a matter of having a few on-the-ground projects to show people that it does work and that it can be done.”

More oil and gas coverage here.


NRCS snow survey program fully funded for this season

December 5, 2014
Manual collection of snowpack data

Manual collection of snowpack data

From The Pagosa Springs Sun (Petra Barnes Walker):

Elise Boeke, acting state conservationist for the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in Colorado, recently announced the sustained maintenance and viability of the Snow Survey and Water Forecasting program (SSWF) despite continued federal budget cuts.

As a result of Colorado’s cooperative network, the SSWF Program is able to sustain all desired manually monitored snow courses within the state this winter.

“This is not only great news, but also a testament to the effectiveness and necessity of partnerships,” shared Boeke. “Without the natural resource partners who form the program’s cooperative network, many manually monitored snow courses may have been discontinued.”

During the last year, NRCS worked diligently with the existing cooperative network and called upon new partnerships to be formed. In 2014, of the 97 total active snow courses in Colorado, 38 were measured by cooperators. This year, eight cooperators have pledged to support an additional 14 manually monitored sites, bringing the total of snow courses measured by partners to 52 (that’s 55 percent) with no cost to the NRCS.

The mission of the NRCS snow survey program is to provide western states and Alaska with information on future water supplies. Trained personnel collect and NRCS staff analyzes snowpack depth and water equivalent data at nearly 956 manual snow courses in the United States, including the sites in Colorado. This allows NRCS to forecast annual water availability, spring runoff and summer stream flows. NRCS, formerly known as the Soil Conservation Service has managed the snow survey and water supply forecasting program since the early 1930s. NRCS also collects data using SNOpack TELemetry (SNOTEL) technology, which is an automated system that uses meteorburst communications to relay information about the depth and water content of the snowpack, precipitation and air temperatures to a central computer facility.


Colorado River Research Group Delivers Message of Water Limits — Circle of Blue

December 5, 2014
Colorado River via Google Street View

Colorado River via Google Street View

From Circle of Blue (Brett Walton):

I have been reporting on Western water issues – specifically the Colorado River Basin – since 2009. Over the past five years, the question of how to meet current and future water needs in the iconic watershed has taken on new urgency as a long drought and steady water consumption sap both reservoirs and aquifers. Typically the debate is one of bridging the gap between expected demand and a shortfall in supply.

But a refreshingly direct statement was released this week from a new university research group that is dedicated to Colorado River issues. In the second paragraph of the group’s first policy paper, the message about limits hits with force and clarity:

“Water users consume too much water from the river and, moving forward, must strive to use less, not more. Any conversation about the river that does not explicitly acknowledge this reality is not helpful in shaping sound public policy.”

Such sentiments are a sharp turn from a history of increasing consumption, a pattern that no longer seems tenable. As the researchers point out with graphs of shrinking water supply and rising demand, the river’s ability to drive more growth in the future cannot be hitched to the same tactics that led to economic prosperity in the 20th century. Those tactics depleted the river to the point that it no longer touches the sea. (Note: The Colorado River did reach the ocean this spring as part of an experiment to restore the river’s delta. The flush of water was part of a November 2012 agreement between Mexico and the United States.)

“It’s such a simple message,” Doug Kenney, director of the Colorado River Research Group, told me, referring to the principle of using less. “It’s not like we’re getting veteran researchers together and coming up with something completely new. It’s an obvious problem and an obvious solution. We just need people to say it.”

From Constraints Come Creative Solutions

The research group is a pet project that Kenney, the director of the Western Water Policy Program at the University of Colorado, Boulder, has been pondering for two years.

A grant from the Walton Family Foundation – no relation to me – gave life to the vision, and this fall Kenney began handpicking his research dream team. Each of the 10 members that he selected is a respected scholar with decades of experience studying the Colorado River. Their expertise strikes at all angles – public policy, law, hydrology, water management.

Kenney’s inspiration came from another arid river basin, Australia’s Murray-Darling, a watershed that crashed during the horrendous Millennium Drought of the first decade of this century. In those bleak years, the Wentworth Group, a collection of scientists – “esteemed people with clout,” as Kenney put it – came together to guide political leaders through the crisis.

“It looked like they helped steer the conversation in a productive way,” Kenney explained.

For Kenney’s group, the conversation begins with the idea of limits. Going by the long-term historical record (1896-2013), water use in the Colorado River Basin began outstripping the average supply in the late 1990s or early 2000s. The Basin has since endured the driest 14-year period on record by depleting its two huge reservoirs, Lake Mead and Lake Powell. With both lakes less than half full and with the knowledge that river flows will likely decrease even more as the planet warms, a continuation of past water-development policies seems absurd.

Yet the group’s goal of redirecting water policy in the Southwest will be a formidable challenge.

Obstacles

Earlier this year, I spoke with officials in each of the four Upper Basin states: Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming. According to legal tradition, the Basin is divided in two, and each half is granted by treaty the use of 7.5 million acre-feet of water from the river.

  • The Lower Basin – the states of Arizona, California, and Nevada – is already using its full allocation.
  • The Upper Basin – Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming – is using roughly 60 percent of its share, but all four states are planning to pull more water from the river, to use for irrigation or urban growth, energy development or water rights settlements with Indian tribes.
  • “We have mapped out how the remainder of our allocation can be used,” Eric Millis, director of the Utah Division of Water Resources, told me in June. “It’s going to happen sooner rather than later. We have a place for every drop.”

    All of the water officials that I have interviewed recently about this issue told me that they were thinking about the risks involved but that the existence of risk alone would not cause them to shy away from a project.

    As more water is used, the potential for a shortage increases, but each state will determine its own acceptable level of risk. It is this lack of Basin-wide perspective that Kenney says is missing in these debates about new withdrawals. Each project is analyzed individually, but the accumulation of such diversions will – drop by drop – magnify the risks for everyone. [ed. emphasis mine]

    If not more diversions, where does new water come from? Kenney is careful to point out that the principle of less use does not mean a grounding of the region’s economy. Embracing a less-is-more frugality has a way of generating creative responses to increase efficiency and wring out the waste from the system – an idea that any college student on a budget would understand.

    To that end, Kenney said his group will be publishing short policy briefs every couple of months that will address the benefits of these water-saving adaptations – measures such as transfers of water between farms and cities, fallowing farmland, and irrigating with less water. Beyond the policy briefs, Kenney is not sure where the group’s path leads.

    “We’re still evolving,” he said.

    I will be following Kenney and his group in the coming months. What other groups are doing interesting work on the Colorado River? Contact me via email at brett@circleofblue.org…

    Colorado River Research Group Members

    Robert Adler, University of Utah (Professor of Law and Dean)
    Bonnie Colby, University of Arizona (Professor of Ag. and Resource Economics)
    Karl Flessa, University of Arizona (Professor of Geosciences)
    Doug Kenney, University of Colorado (Director of Western Water Policy Program)
    Dennis Lettenmaier, UCLA (Professor of Geography)
    Larry MacDonnell, University of Colorado (Adjunct Professor of Law)
    Jonathan Overpeck, University of Arizona (Professor of Geosciences)
    Jack Schmidt, Utah State University (Professor of Stream Geomorphology)
    Brad Udall, Colorado State University (Senior Water and Climate Research Scientist)
    Reagan Waskom, Colorado State University (Director of Colorado Water Institute)


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