After a wet spring, summer has been relatively dry, and drought conditions are creeping back into Colorado, particularly over the Rocky Mountains in the center of the state and the Rio Grande basin.
River flows have dropped, so Reclamation and Pueblo Water are running water from accounts in upper reservoirs to Lake Pueblo. This serves two purposes: Creating space for imports next spring and providing water for the voluntary flow program that extends the commercial rafting season.
Finding the additional space in Clear Creek, Twin Lakes and Turquoise reservoirs was problematic this year, because reservoirs still were full from a very wet 2015. Twin Lakes filled early with native water and delayed imports from the Western Slope.
The Fryingpan-Arkansas Project has delivered more than 58,760 acre-feet so far, about 90 percent of what had been expected when allocations were made in May.
The Southeastern District, which determines allocations, will adjust agricultural deliveries, because cities already had requested less water than they were entitled to receive.
Pueblo Water imported about 13,500 acre-feet of water, about 92 percent of normal. Part of the reason was the lack of free space at Twin Lakes, and part was due to maintaining long-term limits since storage space was scarce anyway, said Alan Ward, water resources manager.
Pueblo Water will lease more than 21,700 acre-feet of water this year because of the potential storage crunch earlier this year.
Even so, Pueblo Water had 49,133 acre-feet of water in storage at the end of June, which was down from last year, but 17,600 acre-feet more than was in storage at the end of May. Most of the gain came in the upper reservoirs, and is now being sent to Lake Pueblo, where it is needed for leases and to make space, Ward said.
“Those releases help keep the rafting industry afloat,” Ward said.
This is the first in a continuing series about how Colorado’s Water Plan will be put into action.
New sources of water are unlikely, so the Arkansas River basin’s focus should be on which crops or landscapes are irrigated, because irrigation is the largest use of water.
Pueblo Water plans to increase storage in key locations above, in and below Lake Pueblo.
Although we won’t find the water supply we want, wise use and efficient water management can stretch the supply we have.
That’s the outlook from Alan Ward, water resources manager for Pueblo Water.
Ward has been involved with filling municipal water needs during the severe drought of 2002 and the more prolonged drought of 2011-13.
He oversees a complex water leasing program that allows Pueblo to make the fullest use possible of its water portfolio.
Ward was part of Pueblo Water’s team that purchased more than one-quarter of the Bessemer Ditch water rights to secure future supply, and as a result is now a member of the canal company’s board of directors.
Colorado’s Water Plan was unveiled last year as an evolving way to meet water needs for the state for decades to come.
The process to develop the document was exhaustive, with hundreds of meetings, thousands of comments and 10 years of effort. It will take even more work to implement the plan and to focus activities that are in line with the plan’s objectives.
To gain a better understanding of how policymakers view the plan, The Pueblo Chieftain and Arkansas Basin Roundtable is asking key individuals three basic questions: How the gap will be filled, what projects are anticipated and what actions can be taken to prevent the gap from getting bigger.
Here are Ward’s answers:
How do we fill the gap in the Arkansas River basin within Colorado’s Water Plan and the Basin Implementation Plan?
“Since the water of the Arkansas River basin is already completely appropriated, the ‘gap’ is really the difference between the water supply we have and the water supply we’d like to have.
I am not optimistic about the prospects of increasing supply. There is no currently unused supply to develop locally within the Arkansas River basin, so an increased supply would have to be imported from elsewhere.
“I think that the expense along with the political and environmental hurdles make importation of new water supply into the Arkansas River basin very complicated and climate change may lead to even less supply on both the Eastern and Western slopes.
“As an alternative, I believe the focus in the Arkansas River basin should be on adapting to having less water than we would like. Storage is key to making the most efficient use of the available water supply.
Storage allows for some control of the timing and location of the limited water supply so that it can be used when and where it is most needed.
Storage also provides the flexibility to move water in ways that can enhance recreational opportunities and minimize environmental impacts.
“Irrigation, whether for crops and livestock grazing or lawns and urban landscapes, is the primary consumptive use of water in the Arkansas Basin (and most of the western United States). I believe that there just isn’t the water capacity to increase the amount of irrigated land, so there needs to be some difficult discussions about what gets irrigated. If urban irrigation increases, then agricultural irrigation will have to decrease or vice versa. It is important to note that urban irrigation has been on a downward trend so there is probably room for some urban growth without an overall increase in the amount of urban irrigation.
“Determining where water should be used for irrigation is a complex problem.
Because water rights are a private property right that can be transferred to new uses, there can be tensions about what role government should play in shaping the free-market movement of water rights and what involvement local communities should have in the transfer of water rights. Finding the right balance between the rights of individuals to use their property as they wish and achieving the desired outcomes of the broader public will be difficult.
“Other water uses such as domestic (including indoor urban), environmental, recreational and industrial are extremely important, but they are so small relative to irrigation use that changes in these water uses will only have minor impacts on the ‘gap’ at a basinwide scale.”
What projects do you plan to fill the gap?
“Pueblo Water is looking to add storage capacity at three key locations for its operations.
“Clear Creek Reservoir can be enlarged to provide additional storage in the Upper Arkansas River basin, which may facilitate better management and optimization of Pueblo’s water imported from the Western Slope.
“Pueblo Reservoir is ideally located in that it is low enough in the basin that a significant amount of water flows into it from upstream.
Many of the largest water users can take delivery of water from the reservoir either by pipeline or by release down the Arkansas River. Enlargement of Lake Pueblo could provide flexibility and water management efficiencies to Pueblo Water and many other urban, rural and agricultural water users.
“Storage located a short distance downstream of the city of Pueblo would allow for more efficient reuse of Pueblo Water’s fully consumable water supplies while at the same time optimizing the timing of flow on the Arkansas River through Pueblo for recreational and environmental benefits.
“Pueblo Water has committed to partner with Colorado Springs, Aurora, Fountain, Pueblo West and the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District in developing this type of storage in order to recapture water that the parties could have captured at Lake Pueblo if not for the Pueblo Flow Management Program (recovery of yield storage).”
How do we keep the gaps for agriculture and municipalities from becoming bigger?
“Keep expectations for water supply in line with actual water supply, plus encourage wise use and efficient water management, including expansion of storage.”
The Pueblo Board of Water Works Tuesday approved two contracts with Colorado Mountain College to improve storage and collection facilities in the high country.
A $50,000 contract to take a bathymetric survey of Clear Creek Reservoir and an $85,000 payment over 10 years for a fen research project near Leadville were approved.
The bathymetric survey — basically underwater topography — will serve two purposes, said Steve Anselmo, water resources engineer. It will update the storage capacity of the reservoir by identifying areas that have silted in, and identify any sinkholes that could contribute to seepage paths into the dam’s foundation.
The study would be conducted in conjunction with the U.S. Geological Survey.
The last time the lake bed was surveyed was in 2007, when the reservoir was drained in order to repair the outlet works.
Pueblo Water has been participating in the fen research project since 2005, along with the Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, EPA and Colorado Mountain College. The purpose is to see if a fen can be relocated, said Alan Ward, water resources manager.
Fens are wetlands with certain soil characteristics that take thousands of years to develop.
The presence of fens was the major obstacle Pueblo Water faced when it determined that it was not feasible to build a reservoir at Tennessee Creek. Aurora also faces the challenge at its proposed Box Creek Reservoir in Lake County.
While relocation of fens is not realistic for Tennessee Creek because of the large number that are present, the research could help Pueblo Water in future projects, Ward said. That could include its Tennessee Creek Ranch as a receiving site for transplanted fens.
Pueblo’s payment of $85,000 would go toward a total project cost of $580,000. Aurora would pay $300,000 and Denver Water $150,000.
Full reservoirs in the Arkansas River basin point to the need for even more storage when dry years return, the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District learned Thursday.
“I don’t think people realize how close we were to spilling water this year,” said Jim Broderick, executive director. “This is the reason you need more storage. People think of storage only during drought and when it’s flooding. We need to get past that and look at additional storage to capture more water.”
The storage situation may not be entirely settled, because heavy rain in May could mean some water safely stored may be released.
“Unless we have another Miracle May, we’ll be all right,” said Phil Reynolds, of the Colorado Division of Water Resources.
To get to “all right,” however, water users have cooperatively released water from Lake Pueblo to meet flood control requirements.
Capacity in Lake Pueblo was decreased by 11,000 acre-feet, to a total of 245,000 acre-feet, this year because of sedimentation. Space for 93,000 acre-feet is reserved for flood control after April 15. That was complicated this year because of high residual storage from 2015.
Aurora, whose water would be first to spill, leased its stored water to farmers last year. The Pueblo Board of Water Works used early leases to move some of its water out of storage, but still has higher than usual levels in reserve.
The Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District moved about 1,500 acre-feet into the permanent pool at John Martin. Colorado Parks and Wildlife moved 5,000 acre-feet of water it leased into Trinidad Reservoir.
But the valley may be running out of places to store water.
“Moving forward in how we move and manage water, storage is a key component,” said Alan Hamel, who was president of the Southeastern district board when the Preferred Storage Option Plan was developed and now represents the basin on the Colorado Water Conservation Board. “This basin needs water storage in the upper basin, more in Pueblo and below Pueblo.”
PSOP, which developed in the late 1990s, was abandoned by the district after multiparty negotiations broke down in 2007, but certain elements moved ahead. One of those was how excess capacity in Lake Pueblo could be better used.
Right now, there are about 27,000 acre-feet of water in the so-called if-and-when accounts that might be vulnerable to spills. Another 57,000 acre-feet of winter water likely would not spill this year, unless more water than expected is collected through the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project.
About 65,000 acrefeet of Fry-Ark water is expected to be brought into Turquoise Lake through the Boustead Tunnel, if conditions remain average, said Roy Vaughan, manager of the project for the Bureau of Reclamation.
The City Council committed Colorado Springs on Wednesday to spend more than $460 million over 20 years on a stormwater projects pact with Pueblo County.
The intergovernmental agreement, negotiated chiefly by Mayor John Suthers, is expected to resolve Fountain Creek stormwater problems for downstream residents and avert lawsuits threatened by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency through the Department of Justice and by Pueblo County.
Further, the accord would allow Colorado Springs Utilities’ Southern Delivery System to start pumping water as scheduled on April 27.
Pueblo County officials threatened to rescind that $825 million project’s 1041 permit, which they issued in April 2009, if the city didn’t ante up enough guaranteed funding for stormwater projects.
The deal now hinges on a vote by Pueblo County’s three commissioners, set for 9 a.m. Monday.
Any delay of the SDS would reduce the worth of warrants on equipment and work while leaving four partner communities – Colorado Springs, Pueblo West, Fountain and Security – without the water deliveries they expect.
The council, meeting in special session Wednesday, didn’t hesitate to approve the pact. Only Councilwoman Helen Collins, a steadfast foe of government spending, dissented in the 8-1 vote.
The agreement calls for 71 stormwater projects to be completed by 2035. Engineers for Pueblo County and Colorado Springs chose the projects and will review them each year to allow for fluctuating priorities.
The money will be spent in five-year increments, at a rate of $100 million the first five years followed by $110 million, $120 million and $130 million. Any private developers’ projects or other efforts would be in addition to the promised amounts.
If the projects aren’t completed in time, the accord will be extended five years. And if Colorado Springs can’t come up with the money required, the city-owned Utilities will have to do so.
The agreement was tweaked slightly Wednesday, on request of the Pueblo County commissioners, to increase one miscalculated payment to a water district by $332, to add the word “dam” to references to a study of water-control options, and to add “and vegetation” to a clause about removing debris from Pueblo’s city levees. A clause was added to note that after the agreement expires, both sides agree to coordinate and cooperate with one another, as they always will be upstream-downstream neighbors.
“This is basically an investment in this city,” said water attorney David Robbins, a consulting lawyer for the council. “The stormwater facilities would have ultimately had to be built anyway. They benefit your citizens, not just the people downstream.”
Asked about the option for a dam, Robbins said, “It has been studied, studied again, and another study may add to our knowledge, but doesn’t require this city to contribute any more money. The dam would require moving two railroads and an interstate highway. Just the facility relocation costs make it quite expensive.”
Colorado Springs has failed to properly enforce drainage regulations, conduct adequate inspections, require enough infrastructure from developers or properly maintain and operate its stormwater controls, the EPA found during inspections in August.
The downstream victim has been Pueblo County, which saw Fountain Creek sediment increase at least 278-fold since the Waldo Canyon fire in 2012, degrading water quality and pushing water levels higher, Wright Water Engineers Inc. found during a study for the county last year.
Sediment increased from 90 to 25,075 tons a year, while water yields rose from 2,500 to 4,822 acre-feet, the engineers found.
As Colorado Springs development sprawls, the amount of impermeable pavement grows. So the city also is beefing up its long-underfunded Stormwater Division, increasing the staff of 28 to 58 full-time employees, mostly inspectors, and more than doubling the $3 million budget for compliance to about $7.1 million.
The city and Utilities negotiated for nearly a year with Pueblo County, as Colorado Springs has beefed up its stormwater program to fix the problems and fend off the threats of lawsuits.
The Pueblo Board of Water Works would like to see up-front bonding and longer term for an intergovernmental agreement between Pueblo County and Colorado Springs.
Still, it’s probably the best deal possible, the board agreed during comments on the proposed deal at Tuesday’s monthly meeting.
In February, the board provided its input with a resolution recommending certain actions to Pueblo County commissioners.
Colorado Springs City Council approved the deal Wednesday, while Pueblo County commissioners will meet on it Monday. It provides $460 million for stormwater projects over the next 20 years, triggers $50 million in payments over five years for Fountain Creek dams and adds $3 million to help dredge and maintain levees in Pueblo.
“One of the things we encouraged Colorado Springs to do was bond the projects up front,” said Nick Gradisar, president of the water board. “It would be to everyone’s advantage to do the projects sooner rather than later.”
Board member Tom Autobee said the agreement is comprehensive, but was uncertain about the 20-year timeline for improvements.
“What I’d like to see is to extend it beyond 20 years for the life of the project,” Autobee said. “We need to look at that.”
Board member Jim Gardner was assured by Gradisar that Pueblo County is guaranteed a voice in which projects are completed.
“They have a priority list and can’t switch unless both sides agree, as I understand it,” Gradisar said.
“This is a great opportunity to correct the issues,” said Mike Cafasso.
“What we said got listened to,” added Kevin McCarthy. “I think this is the best deal we’re going to get.”
Colorado Springs won’t need the full use of the Southern Delivery System for years, but some can’t wait for the $825 million water pipeline to be turned on.
Pueblo County commissioners heard testimony supporting a proposed agreement with Colorado Springs designed to settle issues surrounding the City Council’s decision to abolish its stormwater enterprise after the county had incorporated it into conditions for a 1041 permit in 2009.
“One in five people in Pueblo County live in Pueblo West and are impacted by SDS,” said Jerry Martin, chairman of the Pueblo West metro board. “With the newest break, we will depend on SDS for a very long time.”
Pueblo West joined the SDS project as a costsaving alternative to a direct intake on the Arkansas River downstream of Pueblo Dam. It shared in the cost of permitting and building the pipeline.
Last summer, it used SDS when its own pipeline broke.
Pueblo West’s main supply comes from the South Outlet Works and crosses under the river. The new break is more severe, Martin explained.
An agreement reached last summer allows Pueblo West to use SDS before it is fully operational, and settled some lingering legal issues related to Pueblo West’s partnership in SDS.
Security Water and Sanitation District, located south of Colorado Springs, also needs SDS to go online before summer, said Roy Heald, general manager of the district.
“Security has an immediate need for water because there are emerging contaminant in our wells,” Heald said.
Seven of the district’s 25 wells into the Fountain Creek aquifer were found to be contaminated earlier this year. The solution is to blend water from the Arkansas River with the well water to dilute contaminants. Right now, Security gets enough water from the Fountain Valley Conduit to make its supply safe. But in summer, water demands will increase, Heald explained.
Larry Small, the executive director of the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District, said the agreement paves the way for flood control projects seven years after the district was formed.
Small was on City Council when the stormwater enterprise was abolished on a 5-4 vote. He voted against eliminating the fee that was then in place. He was hired to run the Fountain Creek district two years later. The district has representatives from both Pueblo and El Paso counties.
The district was formed by the state Legislature out of concerns about the effect of El Paso County’s growth on Fountain Creek and the danger that is posed to Pueblo.
The $460 million for Colorado Springs stormwater projects over the next 20 years is needed to slow down Fountain Creek, but that doesn’t mean Pueblo would be protected. There are at least 18 projects south of Colorado Springs involving either detention ponds or dams that the district wants to get started on.
That process would get a kick start with $20 million in the next nine months if the agreement is approved by commissioners and Colorado Springs City Council in the next week. Three more payments of $10 million over the next three years would follow under terms of the 1041 agreement.
“This agreement says that we’re not just going to put something in place, but that we’re going to monitor it,” Small told commissioners. “It’s a cooperative, collaborative process. We don’t have to rely on rumors and innuendo.”
The city of Pueblo also would benefit from a potential $6 million in Fountain Creek dredging or levee maintenance projects that would cost the city only $1.2 million over the next three years. Pueblo Stormwater Director Jeff Bailey last week told The Pueblo Chieftain that the city has projects lined up, depending on how the funds are structured.
A separate $255,000 project to dredge between Colorado 47 and the Eighth Street bridge already is in the works. It would be funded by Pueblo County, the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District, the Fountain Creek district and the state.
For Colorado Springs, SDS is a 40-year solution to provide water both for future growth and redundancy for the major water infrastructure it already has in place. Earlier comments to commissioners from Colorado Springs officials indicated only about 5 million gallons per day initially would flow through the SDS pipeline to El Paso County. It has a capacity of 75 million gallons per day.
Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers said warranties on the project kick in when testing on SDS is completed at the end of this month, however, so Colorado Springs also would like to see the pipeline up and running by next week.
Fountain Creek erosion via The Pueblo Chieftain
Fountain Creek swollen by stormwater November 2011 via The Pueblo Chieftain
Fountain Creek flooding 1999 via the CWCB
Fountain Creek Watershed
The confluence of Fountain Creek and the Arkansas River in Pueblo County — photo via the Colorado Springs Business Journal
The new north outlet works at Pueblo Dam — Photo/MWH Global
A contract for a pilot program that would leave some of Pueblo’s water on the Western Slope was approved Tuesday by the Pueblo Board of Water Works.
Pueblo Water will leave 200 acre-feet (65 million gallons) of water from the Ewing Ditch for a fee of about $134,000 as part of an $11 million pilot project to test tools to manage drought in the Colorado River basin.
The program is paid for by the Upper Colorado River Commission, Bureau of Reclamation, Southern Nevada Water Authority, Denver Water, Central Arizona Water Conservation District and the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.
It will test methods to maintain levels in Lake Powell and Mead through conservation techniques in all seven states in the Colorado River basin.
“How is it tracked?” water board member Kevin McCarthy asked.
“It’s going to be hard to watch 200 acre-feet from the top of Tennessee Pass to Lake Powell,” said Alan Ward, water resources manager. “But in theory, it gets there.”
Pueblo Water only has to bypass the flows, Ward explained.
The board approved the concept last summer, and the bypass is only about one-third of what originally was proposed.
The Ewing Ditch was purchased by Pueblo Water from Otero Canal in 1954 after it was dug in 1880 to bring Colorado River basin water over Tennessee Pass into the Arkansas River basin. It typically yields about 900-1,000 acrefeet per year, although the amount can vary. In some years, such as 2015, there might not be places to store the water.
The water board also passed a resolution supporting HB1005, which would legalize rain barrels in Colorado. Board President Nick Gradisar requested the resolution after already offering his personal support to the bill’s co-sponsor, Rep. Daneya Esgar, D-Pueblo.
A contract of $275,000 to Black & Veatch to study water distribution was also approved.
Just 40 years ago, Pueblo Water would track complaints from customers about “red water” coming out of the faucets.
It stained clothes so badly that cases of heavyduty laundry cleaner were part of the utility’s routine supplies.
“The water wasn’t harmful to customers, but it had an iron taste,” said Terry Book, executive director. “We have very few complaints now.”
“And most of the time, it’s the smell coming from the pea trap (on sinks), that they mistake for coming from the waterlines,” adds Matt Trujillo, director of operations.
Pueblo is not remotely in danger of seeing the same types of problems that Flint, Mich., has experienced recently despite demographic similarities.
Flint experienced increased lead and other contaminants in its water after switching its source of supply from Lake Huron to the Flint River in April 2014 to save money. Within six months, bacteria was found in the water and a boil order was issued. General Motors stopped using municipal water in October 2014 because it corroded car parts.
The Environmental Protection Agency found high levels of lead in the water in February 2015, and elevated levels of lead in blood tests of children in August.
Under state and federal orders, Flint optimized corrosion controls, then switched back to using Detroit’s water supply.
Finally, in December, the city declared a state of emergency, confirmed by President Barack Obama in January.
Like Pueblo, Flint is a relatively poor community of about 100,000 people with aging infrastructure.
Unlike Flint, Pueblo recognized the need to upgrade old waterlines decades ago.
“Since 1978, we’ve concentrated on removing undersized or unlined pipes,” Book said. “Problems like Flint’s have occurred elsewhere. Older communities haven’t had the money to fix problems.”
The Pueblo Board of Water Works anticipated the need back in the 1960s, when it revised its rate structure to include repairs and maintenance.
By the time Book came to work for Pueblo Water in the late 1970s, a waterline replacement program had started. Each year, about $1.5 million is spent on replacing or repairing lines.
At one time most Pueblo waterlines were cast iron, and some dated back to the late 1800s.
There were a few asbestos- cement pipe installations in the mid-1900s.
There were even some wooden waterlines up until a few years ago.
Today, almost all of the delivery lines in Pueblo are PVC or at least ductile iron lined with cement to prevent leaching metals. The exception is an area around North Greenwood Street, with unlined pipes that will be addressed in the near future, Book said.
Pueblo has had relatively little trouble with lead in water because there aren’t many
lead pipes in Pueblo. Only 32 service lines, which connect to individual customers from the mains, are known.
“With the service line repair program (started last year), we’ve replaced one already,” Book said. “They aren’t a big problem because we have hard water, and the calcium coats the inside of the pipes.”
Copper and lead are also monitored each year for the Consumer Confidence Report that is posted on Pueblo Water’s website. The numbers are derived from testing of 50 households — the 32 which have lead pipes leading into the homes and 18 others that have brass fittings that contain lead (no longer allowed under building codes), explained Don Colalancia, water quality manager.
The number reported is the 90th percentile, which is the fifth highest household in the sample. In 2014, 9.3 parts per billion were found, compared with more than 300 parts per billion in Flint.
The report, which is scheduled to be updated next week for 2015 measurements, also provides information about other contaminants, how Pueblo’s water is treated and how facilities such as water tanks are maintained to prevent contamination.
Another factor in water quality safety is the source of supply. Pueblo gets nearly all of its water from Lake Pueblo, completed in 1975 as part of the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project.
“The raw water from a reservoir is generally of better quality and less expensive than taking it from a river,” Colalancia said. “Pueblo Reservoir has high-quality water.”
By using the South Outlet Works at Lake Pueblo, Pueblo Water can take advantage of a manifold that is capable of drawing water from four elevations.
“The reservoir will ‘turn’ at certain times and that affects water quality,” Book explained.
Finally, politics play a minor role when it comes to Pueblo’s water.
In Flint, state and local politics reportedly played a big part in the city’s decision to attempt to save money by switching sources. That led to ineffective efforts to use chemicals to correct the problem, and ultimately more expense to deal with the outcome.
In Pueblo, the Pueblo Board of Water Works consists of five members who are elected for staggered six-year terms. The board makeup has been more consistent than other Pueblo County governments, with most members serving multiple terms. Mike Cafasso, the junior member of the board, has served since 2007. Kevin McCarthy, the senior member, was first elected in 1988.
“It’s a dedicated board,” Book said. “And they’ve always supported the staff.”