Seminar: Sorting through the problems and promises of aquifers in Colorado — The Mountain Town News

From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

With temperatures rising, will aquifers replace above-ground reservoirs for water storage?

This idea isn’t particularly new. Florida, New Jersey, Oregon and other states have used aquifer for storage for years, says Andrew Stone, of the American Ground Water Trust. Stone’s organization will conduct a one-day seminar on Friday, Dec. 4, at the Holiday Inn in Denver’s Stapleton neighborhood.

Arizona has also famously banked water for decades. In Colorado and other states, there has been more limited aquifer recharge. Centennial Water, which serves Highlands Ranch, in south-metropolitan Denver, has been using an aquifer for storage. Now, other communities in the south-metro area are starting to move in that direction, too, as a result of the WISE project.

Stone makes the case that aquifers can be collaboratively managed in line with the general direction of the new State Water Plan. “Managing recharge operations and determining the right to recovered water will require collaboration among farmers, land owners, ditch companies, state agencies and their legal representatives,” he says.

Doug Kemper will be among those speaking at the seminar. He was with Aurora Water from 1986 to 2005, when he took the reins of the Colorado Water Congress. That’s long enough to have seen the management of water become much more high-tech.

Data collections is phenomenally different, he says. “We used to have a guy just go around for two days to read 20 stream gauges,” he says. “Now remote sensing can handle it all.”

Too, technical specialization has increased. “That creates interdependence, because you end all these different skill sets that need to interact.”

Kemper will also touch on system security, as both cyber-security and terrorist threats have become more significant issues. They will, he says, likely “play out in ways that we are not even able to understand right now.”

And specifically regarding groundwater, he thinks we are just starting to get our arms around conjunctive use, making groundwater storage a larger part of our water systems.

“If you look back 35 or even 15 years, the tools for modeling groundwater are so much different than they were,” he observes.

One of the issues at this year’s seminar will be the lined gravel pits long the South Platte River, which have restricted the return of groundwater not the river and which impede recharge to the aquifers.

Other speakers include:

  • John Stulp, special policy advisor for water to Gov. John Hickenlooper, who will address “basins where groundwater if of particular importance.”
  • Rick Marsicek, director of engineering for the South Metro Water Supply Authority, who will talk about changing uses of the Denver Basin Aquifer.
  • Joseph Ryan, professor, of the AirWaterGas Sustainability Research Network, at the University of Colorado, who will speak to impacts to Colorado’s groundwater from hydraulic fracturing processes.
  • CO2: Earth Passes Into ‘Uncharted Territory’ — KQED Science

    From KQED Science (Andrew Alden):

    This week [November 22, 2015], you can watch as Earth passes a threshold not seen for at least a million years. The concentration of carbon dioxide in the air will rise above 400 parts per million. And scientists predict neither you nor your children will ever see it go below 400 ppm again.

    The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said on Monday that this year’s El Niño combined with global warming puts the world “in uncharted territory.”

    “This naturally occurring El Niño event and human induced climate change may interact and modify each other in ways which we have never before experienced,” said WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud.

    ‘An Icon of Climate Change’

    When scientists talk about atmospheric CO2, their yardstick is the so-called Keeling curve. It’s the record of the air’s composition, made each day at a station run by the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in the pure air high on Mauna Loa volcano, in Hawaii.

    This week’s carbon dioxide readings at the Mauna Loa Observatory are updated every day. As they rise above the 400 parts-per-million threshold, scientists warn that they will not return to it in our lifetimes. (Scripps/UC San Diego)
    This week’s carbon dioxide readings at the Mauna Loa Observatory are updated every day. As they rise above the 400 parts-per-million threshold, scientists warn that they will not return to it in our lifetimes. (Scripps/UC San Diego)

    Ralph Keeling, the custodian of the CO2 record, made his prediction last week in a blog post on the Keeling Curve website.

    The Keeling curve was started in 1958 under the direction of Keeling’s father, Charles David “Dave” Keeling. Today it’s the longest series of such measurements in the world. It was named a National Historic Chemical Landmark this year.

    The Keeling curve is an icon of climate change. What does it show?

    In the 1960s, Dave Keeling’s measurements showed that the CO2 level in the air was rising steadily. That long-term increase is the mark of human influence. It comes overwhelmingly from the fossil fuels we burn — largely to generate electricity, but also to smelt metals, produce cement, run motors and so on. Other smaller sources of CO2 are from humans cutting down forests and from large-scale mechanical farming, which removes most of the carbon-rich humus contained in soil.

    Since the 1960s, the long-term increase in CO2 has sped up. A little over half of the CO2 we produce is absorbed by the ocean and by growing plants. The rest stays in the air and acts as a greenhouse gas.

    #ColoradoRiver: Rising temperatures explain drop in reservoirs better than drought

    From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

    The Colorado River originates in Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, gathering water from tributary rivers that arise near Winter Park and Breckenridge, Vail and Crested Butte.

    A little more than halfway on its 1,450-mile route to the Pacific Ocean, the Colorado River gets blocked by a giant slab of concrete called Hoover Dam. This dam creates Lake Mead, the primary water source for Las Vegas.

    Lake Mead in December 2012. Photo/Allen Best
    Lake Mead in December 2012. Photo/Allen Best

    Since 2000, water levels have declined in Lake Mead and the other major Colorado River impoundment, Lake Powell. The usual explanation is drought. Certainly, there have been some very snow-deficient winters, and at one point the Southern Nevada Water Authority decided that its two tunnels into Lake Mead might not be enough if the reservoir declined further. So, a 3-mile tunnel was engineered to come in at the very bottom of the reservoir.

    That tunnel, completed at a cost of $817 million, was unplugged in late September, giving Las Vegas a resource in case the reservoir empties. Engineers compared the challenge of the work to construction of the Eisenhower-Johnson Tunnels for Interstate 70 in Colorado. Those two-mile-long tunnels are at over 11,000 feet in elevation.

    Speaking at a recent conference sponsored by the Colorado Mesa University Water Center, Doug Kenney warned against thinking that the drought will end.

    “There’s a lot of thinking that when the drought ends, the reservoirs will come back,” observed Kenney, a research fellow in western water policy at the University of Colorado-Boulder’s Getches-Wilkinson Natural Resources Law Center.

    Kenney also pointed out that over the last 15 years, the good years and bad years of snow have more or less evened out. The total precipitation has declined only a few percentage points from the longer-term average.

    Drought is only third on the list of what explains the declining reservoir levels in the Colorado River Basin, he observed. The larger story is that demand has now outstripped supply. Las Vegas, for example, exceeded the population of Manhattan about a decade ago and now has two million people.

    But there’s also a second reason why the levels have been declining, said Kenney. Temperatures in the Colorado River Basin have already been rising, causing greater evaporative losses, both in the soil and from reservoirs.

    These rising temperatures have broad implications: hay, corn, and cotton crops need more water, and soils dry out more readily. “The warming climate affects the water cycle in ways that are problematic for the basin,” he said.

    Dagmar Llewellyn, of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, said that rising temperatures predicted by climate models will increase demands for water used by agriculture and municipal lawn watering.

    But hotter temperatures will also increase evaporation of existing reservoirs, such as Elephant Butte, on the Rio Grande in New Mexico, which already loses a quarter of its annual storage to evaporation.

    Better storage mechanisms will be needed as the climate warms, she said, and suggested that recharge of a partially depleted aquifer underlying Albuquerque might be one answer.

    Ute Water customers to pay more for 4th year in a row — The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Charles Ashby):

    Rates for Ute Water customers are headed higher for the fourth year in a row.

    The water conservancy district’s board of directors announced Tuesday that starting Jan. 1 the minimum charge for the first 3,000 gallons of water used in a month will go from $20 to $22, while residential tap fees will increase 3 percent, from $6,800 per tap to $7,000.

    That’s double the rate increases the district imposed this year. In 2012, the district’s rate was $15 for the first 3,000 gallons.

    The increase is needed to replenish reserve funds the district used when it bought water in Ruedi Reservoir near Basalt from the Bureau of Land Management, which the district did in 2013, said Joe Burtard, external affairs manager for the district. The additional money from the latest increase is for the district’s next major project, expanding Monument Reservoir on Grand Mesa, he said.

    “Our board has been really aggressive and proactive in establishing a reserve fund for projects like Ruedi,” he said. “What we don’t want to do is, go into the construction of Monument Reservoir and take out loans and bonds to pay for that because that increases the construction costs, and that cost is then passed on to our consumers.”

    Burtard said the increase is expected to generate about $800,000 a year toward that project, he said.

    He said the increases stem from a Raw Water Study the district did back in 2011, which identified the need for more water storage, as much as 21,400 acre-feet, to handle the anticipated population growth in the Grand Valley.

    That population is expected to increase the district’s customers to about 197,000 residents by 2045, more than double the 80,000 people it serves now.

    To address that potential demand, the district has been working in recent years to expand its water supplies, including purchasing more acre-feet at Ruedi and expanding Monument Reservoir.

    The Monument project, which is expected to cost about $21 million, would provide another 4,700 acre-feet of water. The district is nearing the end of getting a permit for the project, Burtard said.

    This summer, the district also spent about $450,000 on a hydropower electric project, which is designed to power its water-treatment plant and help it save operating costs in the long term.

    The district also is expanding pipelines on Orchard Mesa and in the Redlands areas, expanding its water pumping capabilities and upgrading or replacing some of its vehicles, he said.

    It has about $6 million budgeted for capital projects for next year. “Water providers are having to become really creative in thinking outside of the box in how they’re going to develop additional water resources,” Burtard said. “One of ours was the purchase of Ruedi Reservoir, which I think anyone can say that’s probably the most significant that Ute Water’s ever made in its history.”

    He said the district’s board of directors prefers to build its cash reserves to pay for large projects rather than go into debt or sell bonds for such projects.

    Burtard said the board opted for an increase in its 3,000-gallon minimum rather than implement a different tiered payment structure because it doesn’t want to penalize people who conserve water by staying under that threshold.

    The board also didn’t like the idea of increasing tap fees because of fears it might hinder growth, but felt it was better to put a greater burden on future development rather than existing customers, he said.

    Grand Junction back in the day with the Grand Mesa in background
    Grand Junction back in the day with the Grand Mesa in background

    USGS: Flooding in the South Platte River and Fountain Creek Basins in eastern Colorado, September 9–18, 2013


    Here’s the abstract from the United States Geological Survey:

    On September 9, 2013, rain began to fall in eastern Colorado as a large low-pressure system pulled plumes of tropical moisture northward from the Pacific Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. By September 16, 2013, as much as 12 to 20 inches of rain had fallen in the foothills of the Front Range of the Southern Rocky Mountains and adjacent plains near Colorado Springs, Colorado, north to the Colorado-Wyoming border. The rain caused major flooding during September 9–18, 2013, in a large part of the South Platte River Basin and in the Fountain Creek Basin. The floods resulted in several fatalities, more than 31,000 damaged or destroyed structures, and an estimated 3 billion dollars in damages. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) documented peak stage, streamflow, or both from the flood event for 80 sites located on selected rivers and streams in the South Platte River and Fountain Creek Basins and on the Platte River in Nebraska. The majority of flood-peak streamflows occurred on September 12 or 13, 2013, coinciding with the period of maximum rainfall. The flood resulted in new record peak streamflows at 17 streamgages having at least 10 years of record; 13 in the South Platte River Basin and 4 in the Fountain Creek Basin.

    Flooding in the South Platte River Basin was primarily contained to select streams in Aurora and the Denver metropolitan area, most of the mountain tributaries joining the main stem South Platte River from Denver to Greeley, and in the main stem South Platte River from Denver to the Colorado-Nebraska State line. In Aurora, where about 15 inches of rain fell, streamflow peaked at 5,470 cubic feet per second (ft3/s) in Toll Gate Creek, a tributary to Sand Creek. Downstream from Aurora near the confluence with the South Platte River, Sand Creek peaked at 14,900 ft3/s, which was the highest streamflow since at least 1992, but less than the peak of 25,500 ft3/s in 1957 that occurred 4 miles upstream from the mouth. Flood-peak streamflows in the Denver metropolitan area were generally below historic records. The peak of 3,930 ft3/s on September 12 at the State of Colorado streamgage South Platte River at Denver ranked 59 out of 116 peaks and was less than the 1965 peak of 40,300 ft3/s. Ten of the 13 streamgages in the South Platte River Basin with new record peak streamflows were located on the mountain tributaries; Bear Creek, Fourmile Creek, Boulder Creek, St. Vrain Creek, the Big Thompson River, and the Cache la Poudre River. A daily average streamflow of 8,910 ft3/s on September 13 in Boulder Creek at the confluence with St. Vrain Creek was more than twice the previous instantaneous peak of 4,410 ft3/s from 1938. The USGS calculated a peak streamflow of 23,800 ft3/s for the St. Vrain Creek at Lyons; the highest streamflow on record at this State of Colorado streamgage (122 years of record) is 10,500 ft3/s from 1941. A peak streamflow of 16,200 ft3/s was calculated for the Big Thompson River at mouth of canyon near Drake streamgage, which is the second highest peak in 90 years of record and about one-half the magnitude of the peak of 31,200 ft3/s from July 31, 1976. A streamflow of 60,000 ft3/s in the South Platte River at Fort Morgan (September 15, 2013) suggests that a new record streamflow occurred in the main stem in the Greeley area, about 45 miles upstream from Fort Morgan. The current peak of record at a State of Colorado streamgage at Kersey, about 6.5 miles downstream from Greeley, is 31,500 ft3/s from 1973. Given that there was minimal inflow between Kersey and Fort Morgan, the USGS estimates there was probably at least 60,000 ft3/s at Kersey, which would be almost double the peak streamflow of record from 1973.

    Flooding in the Fountain Creek Basin was primarily contained to Fountain Creek from southern Colorado Springs to its confluence with the Arkansas River in Pueblo, in lower Monument Creek, and in several mountain tributaries. New record peak streamflows occurred at four mountain tributary streamgages having at least 10 years of record; Bear Creek, Cheyenne Creek, Rock Creek, and Little Fountain Creek. Five streamgages with at least 10 years of record in a 32-mile reach of Fountain Creek extending from Colorado Springs to Piñon had peak streamflows in the top five for the period of record. A peak of 15,300 ft3/s at Fountain Creek near Fountain was the highest streamflow recorded in the Fountain Creek Basin during the September 2013 event and ranks the third highest peak in 46 years. Near the mouth of the basin, a peak of 11,800 ft3/s in Pueblo was only the thirteenth highest annual peak in 74 years. A new Colorado record for daily rainfall of 11.85 inches was recorded at a USGS rain gage in the Little Fountain Creek Basin on September 12, 2013.

    Mt. Emmons treatment plant deal in the works — The Crested Butte News

    Mount Emmons
    Mount Emmons

    From The Crested Butte News (Mark Reaman):

    In what has been described as a “serendipitous” and “interconnected” moment, there could be real headway in a permanent solution to the Mt. Emmons water treatment plant and overall molybdenum mine situation.

    While very preliminary, the signals are good that this new path with new players, in part spurred by last summer’s dramatic Gold King Mine release into the Animas River, could bring about substantial changes to the Red Lady situation.

    Gunnison County, the town of Crested Butte, several departments in the state, mining giant Freeport-McMoRan and U.S. Energy, the company with rights to the local molybdenum deposit, appear to be headed toward a collaborative deal to upgrade and permanently fund the water treatment plant on Coal Creek and address the idea of a potential mine.

    This most recent chapter in a very long story started late last August when the county and the town sent a letter to the state and feds expressing serious concern over U.S. Energy’s ability to maintain the water treatment plant, especially if an accident occurred at the plant. U.S. Energy had been taking a giant financial hit with the decrease in energy prices and it has only gotten worse, with its stock selling this week for under 30 cents a share.

    The two local governments sent a letter saying that the environmental and human health consequences of any release of untreated mine drainage are beyond the governments’ response capacity. They asked the Colorado Water Quality Control Division to reopen a permit renewal process for the mine’s discharge permit, which regulates the water treatment plant.

    Several state agencies, including the Department of Natural Resources, the Colorado Water Quality Control Division, the State Attorney General’s Office and the Colorado Division of Reclamation Mining and Safety, set up a meeting in October. Crested Butte town attorney John Belkin, Gunnison County attorney David Baumgarten and special counsel for the town, Barbara Green, met with them to discuss concerns about U.S. Energy and its financial ability to continue operating the plant. By all accounts, it was a positive meeting.

    Shortly after that, Freeport-McMoRan, a renowned international copper, gold and molybdenum miner that operates the Climax and Henderson moly mines in Colorado, also came into the picture. While it never had an interest in the molybdenum beneath Mt. Emmons, the company bought Phelps Dodge in 2007. That mining corporation had acquired the company that originally built the water treatment plant. Freeport in essence became tied to the site through a connection of mergers and acquisitions.