#COWaterPlan The big water game (#cwcac2016) — state sees need for $14B worth of water projects — Aspen Journalism

Denver Water is seeking approvals from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the state of Colorado to expand Gross Reservoir, which is southwest of Boulder. The 77,000 acre-foot expansion would help forestall shortages in Denver Water’s water system and offer flood and drought protection, according to Denver Water.
Denver Water is seeking approvals from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the state of Colorado to expand Gross Reservoir, which is southwest of Boulder. The 77,000 acre-foot expansion would help forestall shortages in Denver Water’s water system and offer flood and drought protection, according to Denver Water.

From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith):

With the recently released Colorado Water Plan calling for 400,000 acre feet of new water storage facilities, many of the state’s water providers and users are eager to get an estimated $13 to $14 billion worth of projects underway.

But just which projects, built with exactly what money, is not yet clear.

“Welcome to the Super Bowl of water,” said James Eklund, the director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, which produced the water plan, in a Jan. 27 address to the members of the Colorado Water Congress in Denver. “To this one you all have a ticket. And you all bleed for our team, as we’re all Coloradoans.”

The water plan, put together in two years by the staff of the CWCB with the input of nine river-basin roundtables, does not include a prioritized list of projects, or, one could say, a detailed game plan.

Such a to-do list may emerge relatively soon, however, as the roundtables are now being asked by the CWCB to update their “basin implementation plans” and to identify, screen and recommend locally prioritized projects.

The roundtables have also now been tasked to work on a $1 million update of the 2010 Statewide Water Supply Initiative, or SWSI (“swahzi.”). It’s a more technical document than the Colorado Water Plan, which was weighted toward policy and process.

“Yes, the light at the end of the water plan tunnel turned out to be the oncoming SWSI train,” said Brent Newman, a program manager in the water supply planning division at CWCB.

In addition to sharpening its physical plans, the CWCB and the Interbasin Compact Committee, which includes members from each roundtable, are developing a funding plan.

“We know that the $14 to $16 billion of projects that we need, the state’s not going to pay for all that, water providers will find ways to finance that, but in order to provide a ten percent guarantee loan for those, we need to $1.4 to $1.6 billion between now and 2050,” Jacob Bornstein, a progam manager in CWCB’s water supply planning department, told the members of the Water Congress on Jan. 29. (Bornstein has since taken a position at the Spark Policy Institute in Denver).

And the real state funding need, adding in the cost of environmental restoration and public education programs, may be closer to $3 billion.

“So that’s really what we’re talking about,” he told the Water Congress. “It will probably take some type of initiative, or something like that,” Bornstein said, suggesting a statewide ballot initiative.

And so a current option being explored is to put a statewide funding question in front of voters that would raise $100 million a year, or $3 billion, by 2050.

The state then envisions creating a 10-percent guaranteed-loan fund of $1.3 to $1.4 billion to help spark projects ranging from piping irrigation ditches to building large dams.

“In order for us to achieve the goals of the water plan, which are the goals of the population of the state over the next 20 to 50 years, it’s going to take a lot of money,” Russ George, a member of the CWCB board of directors, said during a January meeting. “And there isn’t any other source of money. The federal government is not in the water business in the same way it had been in the last century. So it’s the state that has to take the lead, and lead always means we have to bring some money to the table.”

The Colorado Water Conservation Board, after unveiling the Colorado Water Plan in Denver in November 2015. The board includes eight voting members from river basins in Colorado and one voting member from the city and county of Denver. Russ George, far left, represents the Colorado River basin.
The Colorado Water Conservation Board, after unveiling the Colorado Water Plan in Denver in November 2015. The board includes eight voting members from river basins in Colorado and one voting member from the city and county of Denver. Russ George, far left, represents the Colorado River basin.

Project funding drops

The CWCB’s approach of using the basin roundtables to prioritize and promote projects, and help develop state plans, can be cumbersome and time-consuming. The Colorado River basin roundtable, for example, has 50 members with diverse views and meets every other month in Glenwood Springs for four hours.

And some roundtable members around the state were disheartened to find out in January, fresh off a frantic push to finish the Colorado Water Plan by December, that state funding for basin-specific project grants was going to drop sharply due to the downward swing in severance tax revenue.

The last two years the CWCB has received $10 million in revenue from taxes levied on oil and gas extraction, which is shared between a statewide account and nine basin roundtable accounts.

But the recent downturn in the gas patch, combined with a lagged property-tax deduction for gas producers, has state officials facing a 25 to 50 percent drop in funding for water projects over the next two years, at least.

“So while normally in January the Arkansas roundtable would get $120,000 in their basin account, it may be closer to between $60,000 and $100,000,” said Newman, during a presentation in January to the Arkansas roundtable in Pueblo.

Roundtable grants usually cover only a portion of the cost of a water project, but they are a stamp of approval and a recommendation to the CWCB for 
statewide funding.

“You better expect less money,” said Diane Hoppe, the chair of the CWCB board, told the Arkansas roundtable members on Jan. 13.

The day before, she told the South Platte basin roundtable, which meets in Longmont, “Be cautious about what you’re going to spend money on.”

And George, her fellow CWCB board member, re-emphasized that point during the CWCB board meeting on Jan. 25 in Denver, just as the board was in the process of approving a series of roundtable-recommended water project grants.

“We have put in a tremendous effort to create a window into Colorado’s water future, that proposes solutions instead of fighting,” George said, referring to the Colorado Water Plan. “And just as we launch it, we are told ‘Oh, and by the way, never mind, there is nothing to use to pay for anything.”

George, from Rifle, has been the director of both the state’s Department of Natural Resources and Department of Transportation, and he served as speaker of the Colorado House of Representatives.

“In all the years I’ve been in state government, what we heard today (at a finance committee meeting) is the worst it has ever been,” he said. “And so here we are, with our hands absolutely shackled. The ground has shifted under us for awhile, and it will cause us to be a little creative about how we do these things, but everybody’s budget is going to be less.”

The grate in place on Sawyer Creek, a headwaters stream in the upper Fryingpan River basin, that captures water and sends it under the Continental Divide through the Fry-Ark project. There are several streams in the upper Fryingpan basin that could still be diverted via Fry-Ark.
The grate in place on Sawyer Creek, a headwaters stream in the upper Fryingpan River basin, that captures water and sends it under the Continental Divide through the Fry-Ark project. There are several streams in the upper Fryingpan basin that could still be diverted via Fry-Ark.

Less money, less pressure?

For some stakeholders in the Roaring Fork River watershed, uncertainty about statewide funding resources might be a relief.

Most of the new or expanded reservoirs and new underground storage facilities envisioned east of the Continental Divide will be able to store Western Slope water.

And more Front Range storage capacity is expected to increase the pressure on the Roaring Fork and the Fryingpan rivers, which already have about 40 percent of their headwaters sent east through existing tunnels. And the heavily used Colorado River is under constant stress.

“The acceptance of the final Water Plan should not be the precipitating event in a race to see who can establish the biggest entitlements and take the last drop of available or theoretically available water out of the Colorado watershed leaving the West Slope to be whipsawed between Front Range dependence and Colorado compact obligations,” Pitkin County told the CWCB in a Sept. 17 letter.

And the county’s Health Rivers and Streams Board offered the state a similar sentiment.

“It is unacceptable for the growing population of the Front Range to look to the Colorado basin or our drainage as a resource to be exploited rather than a resource to be preserved,” the rivers board wrote in a Sept. 17 letter.

On the other hand, the state’s water plan does include goals that could benefit Western Slope rivers and streams.

For example, it calls for “stream management plans” to be developed for 80 percent of the state’s rivers. Those plans, to be developed locally, could show how current diversions are affecting rivers and lead to alternative approaches.

The plan calls for a collaborative “multi-purpose” approach to water projects that could bring benefits to water-starved streams and rivers, albeit benefits tied to new water-management infrastructure.

And it sets goals of finding 400,000 acre-feet of municipal water conservation savings by 2050 and developing effective alternatives to the ongoing “buying and drying” of farm land.

From left, Russ George, a CWCB board member, Andrew Gorgey, then Garfield County manager, Peter Fleming, general counsel for the Colorado River District, and James Eklund, director of the CWCB, talking about the potential for new transmountain diversions outside of the Garfield County building in Glenwood Springs in 2015.
From left, Russ George, a CWCB board member, Andrew Gorgey, then Garfield County manager, Peter Fleming, general counsel for the Colorado River District, and James Eklund, director of the CWCB, talking about the potential for new transmountain diversions outside of the Garfield County building in Glenwood Springs in 2015.

Is there the will?

An outstanding question facing the Colorado water industry is whether it can develop the “political will” to gain funding for, and approval of, big water projects.

And it was the topic of a high-level panel discussion at the Water Congress meeting called “The Political Will To Get Things Done,” moderated by Jim Lochhead, head of Denver Water.

“I really want to see the state step up,” said Mike Applegate, the president of the board of Northern Water and the CEO of Applegate Group, an engineering firm specializing in water projects.

“I would ask the governor to take this document (the water plan) that he asked us to put together and take it on the road. He needs to talk to all of the federal agencies that get involved in our projects. This is going to be purely political, but hand it to them and say, ‘This is our road map to the future, we really think this is a good idea, we like what’s in here, you guys to need to help us make it happen,’” he said.

Northern has been working for years to gain federal approval for its NISP project, which stands for Northern Integrated Supply Project. It includes two new reservoirs near Fort Collins, Glade and Galeton, which would hold 170,000 and 45,000 acre feet of water, respectively.

Northern also wants to build Chimney Hollow Reservoir, as part of the Windy Gap Firming Project, to add 90,000 acre-feet of storage near Loveland.

Meanwhile, Denver Water is working to enlarge Gross Reservoir, southwest of Boulder, to hold 77,000 more acre-feet of water, as part of the Moffat Collection System.

“A lot of times we’ve been asked by some of the federal agencies, ‘Where does the state stand on these things,’” Applegate said. “And the answer we’ve gotten in the past is that the state can’t take a position yet, because they need to see what the outcome of the federal documents are, the studies. I think we’re past that. I think we really need to get some leadership here to stand up and say, ‘This is a good idea, let’s start doing this.”

That drew a response from Dave Merritt, an engineer who sits on the board of the Colorado River District and is a former Glenwood Springs city councilor.

“From a West Slope perspective, I never thought I’d be in situation where I felt sorry for Denver and Northern,” Merritt said. “But I do. I feel that we are long past the decision process in both Moffat and Windy Gap. The governor needs to make a statement. Are you going to support it? Or are you not going to support at it at this point?

“When you are in a political leadership position, you are not an agency making a determination, you are the governor of the state of Colorado,” Merritt added. “As a state, we’ve done enormous amount of work on those projects, and I think that we need to more forward on them.”

The majority of the members of the Colorado basin roundtable, however, do not share Merritt’s view.

In its September comment letter on the water plan, the roundtable’s position was that it is “adamantly opposed to the concept of state endorsement of a project … before the completion of the final federal EIS.

“The sole purpose of this endorsement is to apply political pressure on federal permitting agencies. The state should not assume a role as a proponent of a water project until the state regulatory process has been completed and the project has been agreed to by the impacted counties, conservancy districts and conservation districts in the area which would be impacted by the project,” the roundtable stated.

James Eklund, the director of the CWCB, hails from a Western Slope ranching family. He often works to add a touch of levity to otherwise serious-minded state-level water meetings.
James Eklund, the director of the CWCB, hails from a Western Slope ranching family. He often works to add a touch of levity to otherwise serious-minded state-level water meetings.

Get a little plan, Stan

In the face of still-uneasy Front Range-West Slope relations, Eklund, the head of CWCB, tried to bring a little levity to the Water Congress convention, which brings together water owners, developers and managers from all the basins in the state.

“Storage, as I said, needs 400,000 acre-feet more/where and how much, that’s our chore,” he rhymed, moving from his earlier Super Bowl analogies.

“Now these things cost money above our existing abilities/but the low hanging fruit is ground water storage and existing facilities.

“Governor Hickenlooper gave ag a shout-out in the state of the state/buy and dry is happening at too high a rate.

“For us to get 50,000 acre-feet in alternatives by 2030/we water lawyers and community have to get out hands dirty.

“The doctrine of prior appropriation is only as strong as we make it/so if we stop innovating I’m afraid they, public trust, will take it.”

The last line is a reference to two citizen initiatives that have been submitted for possible inclusion on the November ballot which would weaken Colorado’s “first in time, first in right” water laws and move the state’s approach to water administration toward a “public trust” system.

It’s fair to say the Colorado water industry sees the questions, and the threat of a public trust doctrine, as the equivalent of nuclear bombs. Or fourth-quarter interceptions run back for touchdowns.

And the Colorado Water Congress is working to tackle the questions before they reach the ballot in the first place, or to defeat them if they get put in front of voters.

In other words, welcome to the big game.

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism is collaborating with the Aspen Daily News and Coyote Gulch on water and rivers in Colorado and the West. The Daily News published this story on Super Bowl Sunday, Feb. 7, 2015.

SDS: Water treatment plant nearly finished — the Colorado Springs Independent

From the Colorado Springs Independent (Pam Zebeck):

It won’t be long before the new Edward W. Bailey Water Treatment cranks up to filter water coming from Pueblo Reservoir through the Southern Delivery System pipeline…

…a few weeks ago, we got the royal tour of the water treatment facility on Marksheffel Road from two operators — Chad Sell and Jay Hardison — who are as excited as little kids who just got new bicycles for Christmas. They’re happy because a redesign of the project placed most treatment processes under one roof, making it not only more efficient but much more convenient to be monitored by Colorado Springs Utilities staff.

SDS project manager John Fredell explains how Utilities got a good deal from bidders: “What we said is, ‘We want to see your value engineering ideas right up front.’ One said, ‘We can shrink this way down, put it all under the same roof and still deliver the same quantity and same quality of water, and we can do this with four miles less piping.’ Four miles!”

[…]

There’s nothing extraordinary really about the Bailey treatment plant, named for a former long-time Utilities water division employee. The plant uses a traditional processes of flocculation, sedimentation and ozone to filter water and deal with any taste and odor problems.

But there are certain design features that take the operators into account. For one thing, the plant can be controlled off-site by an operator using a mobile device. Also, access to the pipes below the various stages of treatment are readily accessible for maintenance and repairs. And, the plant will require only six employees on duty at any given time. It has a 10-million-gallon holding tank.

The plant is built so that it can be easily expanded from 50 million gallons a day to 100 million gallons, Hardison notes. “Here’s a pad for a future generator,” he says. “We can add another generator and go to 100, like for our great grandkids.”

While the whole system could become operational within just a few months, for now, operators are running it through the rinse cycle to be sure all is in working order. “So we’re currently testing all the processes out,” Hardison says. “We’re stopping and starting the plant, trying to get it fine-tuned. Plants run really well when they’re run all the time, continuously. If you stop and start, they’re not very good. We’re almost to the point where we will run it continuously.”

He adds that one thing operators will learn during the testing is the “bookends of the low end and high end” of what the plant is capable of.

Southern Delivery System map via Colorado Springs Utilities
Southern Delivery System map via Colorado Springs Utilities

SDS: Mayor Suthers tries to calm Pueblo councilor/commissioner complaints

Last section of pipe for Southern Delivery System photo via The Colorado Springs Gazette
Last section of pipe for Southern Delivery System photo via The Colorado Springs Gazette

From KOAA.com (Jessi Mitchell):

A Colorado Springs delegation, headed by Mayor John Suthers, took a trip to Pueblo Monday, and stormwater was the topic of discussion with both Pueblo County commissioners and city councilors.

Commissioners talked with the Springs leaders at length about a new inter-governmental agreement that will make sure stormwater management is a priority for years to come. They are working quickly to finalize the details before turning on the Southern Delivery System…

So Colorado Springs and Pueblo County are talking it out. On Monday, Suthers showed off all his city’s progress towards stormwater management since he was elected last year, with a new $19 million a year mitigation plan. He says unlike broken promises in the past, an additional inter-governmental agreement will ensure those measures continue beyond his tenure, with assurances to spend more than $200 million on stormwater in the first decade.

Suthers says, “Rather than having the voters say, ‘no we don’t want to pay this,’ we will be contractually, and by court order, obligated to have a sustainable, appropriately funded stormwater system.”

Pueblo County commissioners still want more input in which stormwater mitigation projects come first, namely the ones that directly impact their constituents, but the governments say they are working together better now than ever before. “Hopefully reasonable people can find reasonable solutions without having to go to court,” says McFadyen, “and likely that will be an inter-governmental agreement with enforceability clauses that both parties can agree on.”

“These are tough problems,” admits Suthers, “but they need to be resolved and I think both sides definitely want to resolve them.”

The Colorado Springs group also presented to Pueblo city councilors Monday evening, talking specifically about Fountain Creek and the funds they have given to help dredge the sediment built up over the past year.

From the Colorado Springs Independent (Pam Zebeck):

Mayor John Suthers got an earful from Pueblo County commissioners Monday after laying out the city’s plan to deal with its stormwater problem.

The city is in a tiz, because Pueblo County now has leverage to force the city of Colorado Springs to make good on past promises to control storm runoff, which empties into Fountain Creek and brings sediment rushing down to Pueblo. The creek, overwhelmed by flood waters, already has claimed hundreds of acres of farmland.

Now, as Colorado Springs gets ready to activate the Southern Delivery System pipeline from Pueblo Reservoir, it must meet requirements of a construction permit, commonly called a 1041 permit, granted by Pueblo County in 2009.

On top of that, the city is facing a federal consent degree or court order to comply with federal Clean Water Act requirements for its stormwater system due to years of noncompliance.

“We’re going to solve this problem and not kick the can down the road,” Suthers told commissioners Monday afternoon at a meeting in Pueblo. “A federal consent decree or judgment cannot be ignored, and neither can an IGA [intergovernmental agreement] with Pueblo.”

Pueblo County Commissioner Terry Hart noted the Springs has “breached” promises to deal with stormwater in the past, most notably by doing away with the Stormwater Enterprise in late 2009. Suthers noted that came after a ballot measure was approved by voters, which essentially required the city deep-six the enterprise. He said the city’s new scheme, to carve out $16 million a year from the general fund with another $3 million a year contributed by Colorado Springs Utilities for 10 years, doesn’t rely on voter approval.

But Hart wants the IGA to extend well beyond 10 years. In fact, he proposed the IGA last for the life of the SDS project, which could be 30 to 40 years.

He also asked if Colorado Springs was willing to suspend activation of the SDS pipeline until the IGA is worked out. Not likely, Suthers said, due to warranties on the components of SDS.

Hart also suggested the city pump more money into Fountain Creek restoration beyond $50 million agreed to as part of the 1041 permit.

Suthers said he’s “nervous” committing the city “into perpetuity” but said an IGA could be hammered out that allowed for additional terms beyond 10 years if certain triggers are met.

Pueblo County Commissioner Sal Pace asked if Colorado Springs could commit a substantially greater amount per year than the $19 million now identified under the IGA, to which Suthers said the amount could go up to $25 million per year based on inflation. But he noted that huge increases, such as up to $50 million a year, aren’t likely.

On one thing everyone seemed to agree: The solution doesn’t lie in another court battle. Hart noted Colorado Springs could outspend Pueblo in court, and Suthers later told media that a lawsuit isn’t the answer. That said, Hart said he wants an “enforcement mechanism,” should Colorado Springs yet again fail to meet its promises, such as the authority of Pueblo to stop flows through SDS for noncompliance. That idea seemed to be a non-starter, although Suthers was willing to discuss another demand by Hart — to allow Pueblo County officials to participate in negotiations with the Environmental Protection Agency and the Justice Department regarding its noncompliance with stormwater discharges.

Suthers said he hopes to iron out an IGA within the next 30 days.

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Billie Stanton Anleu):

Pueblo County commissioners were gracious but appeared unappeased Monday by Colorado Springs leaders’ promises to resolve stormwater issues that have hit downstream communities hard.

And the Pueblo City Council, in a symbolic gesture, unanimously passed a resolution Monday night to support county efforts to hold Colorado Springs accountable for stormwater problems along Fountain Creek and recommend a 10-year plan in exchange for allowing Colorado Springs Utilities to keep its 1041 permit and commence with the Southern Delivery System…

Work on the first priority project, a detention pond on Sand Creek, starts next week. Colorado Springs has hired Richard Mulledy, a professional engineer who previously worked for the City of Pueblo and most recently has been deputy director of water resources for Matrix Design Group in Colorado Springs, as Stormwater Division manager. He starts work Feb. 22.

While Colorado Springs leaders outlined a long list of measures being undertaken to address the stormwater issue, officials with Colorado Springs Utilities and the city remained baffled by the intertwining of what they see as two separate measures.

Utilities has met every condition of its 1041 project, said SDS Director John Fredell. On April 27, the project is to start pumping 5 million gallons of Arkansas River water a day initially from Pueblo Reservoir to Pueblo West, Colorado Springs, Security and Fountain.

Colorado Springs, meanwhile, is negotiating with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which accused the city in October of neglecting stormwater needs for years. A two-day EPA inspection turned up deteriorating infrastructure, inadequate inspections and excessive sedimentation, among other problems.

At stake is the city’s own water permit.

The effort to hold Utilities’ 1041 permit ransom because of municipal stormwater failures by Colorado Springs is mixing apples and oranges, Suthers and Fredell noted. But Pueblo city and county leaders see the permit for the $825 million SDS as the best bargaining chip to get what they want.

When Suthers assured Pueblo city leaders that more than $250 million worth of stormwater work would be done in 10 years, newly elected Pueblo City Councilwoman Lori Winner cited a CH2M Hill engineering study from 2013 saying the stormwater needs amounted to more than $500 million.

“It’s really a wish list,” Suthers said. “The voters are not going to give me $50 million a year. I don’t want to make any agreement contingent on whether (local anti-tax activist) Doug Bruce likes it or not.”

Because Colorado Springs voters repeatedly voted down stormwater measures in recent years, as Bruce exhorted them to oppose the “rain tax” in 2014, Suthers and the council decided to pay for that need directly from the city budget. The fire and police departments were squeezed and raises frozen in the 2016 budget to find the money.

“I’ll never come up with $500 million,” Suthers said in a rare show of exasperation. “There’s just no way in hell.”

The Pueblo commissioners repeatedly intoned the need for solid enforcement measures in any intergovernmental agreement.

“We as a community have heard a lot of promises from your community for a very long time,” Commissioner Terry A. Hart said. ” . Whatever we do going forward, we can’t base it on mere promises.”

The only “silver lining” in the city’s problems with the EPA is that any resulting federal decree will serve as a mandate, ensuring that the pact with Pueblo County is enforced, Suthers said.

Another enforceable provision would be to designate Utilities, as a long-time city enterprise, to meet the financial requirements through its annual “excess revenue” returns to the city if Colorado Springs failed to meet its stormwater obligation.

Hart questioned whether a fifth branch of Utilities couldn’t be created to handle stormwater. But that would require a change in the City Charter, approval by Colorado Springs voters, who have opposed all recent stormwater measures, and other complex machinations involving ratepayers who don’t live in the city, said Andres Pico, chairman of the Utilities board.

Commissioner Sal Pace questioned whether the SDS couldn’t be turned off if sufficient stormwater work isn’t done, or whether the project could be delayed while a new agreement is drafted.

Neither idea is feasible, however. The SDS is a sprawling system with water treatment plants, pumping stations and precise chemical requirements that cannot be stopped once it gets started. And the notion of delaying it would cause Utilities to lose time on its warranties, some on millions of dollars worth of work and equipment, Suthers said.

Asked what would happen after a 10-year agreement, the mayor said language could be added to renegotiate the pact every 10 years, with a clause for inflationary increases.

“We’re going to continue our negotiations with the county and everybody else involved and try to resolve this issue,” Suthers said Monday evening.

As for the commissioners’ questions earlier in the day, he said, “I thought they brought up good points that can be the basis for more negotiations.”

Pueblo West official tells Pueblo County to renegotiate the SDS 1041 permit

Pueblo West
Pueblo West

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A Pueblo West Metropolitan District board member wants Pueblo County commissioners to renegotiate the 1041 agreement for the Southern Delivery System.

“There are numerous, fatal flaws in the present 1041 agreement; too many to mention,” Pueblo West board member Mark Carmel told the Pueblo Board of Water Works this week. “I respectfully suggest that the 1041 permit must be renegotiated to create a true agreement.”

It’s a significant development because Pueblo West is a partner in the SDS water pipeline project, and has already benefited from an emergency use of SDS last summer.

The metro board took a position on Jan. 12 that its water should not be held hostage during the current SDS discussions, but Carmel made it clear that he was speaking as an individual at Tuesday’s water board meeting. The metro board will meet with Colorado Springs Utilities at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday to address Carmel’s concerns.

Both the water board and Pueblo City Council are pondering resolutions requiring more action on stormwater in relation to SDS. Pueblo County commissioners are in the process of determining 1041 compliance on stormwater and other issues in the permit.

The Lower Arkansas Water Conservancy District has requested action by the Bureau of Reclamation under the federal SDS contract and by the Pueblo County commissioners under the 1041 permit to delay SDS until a stable source of stormwater funding is found.

Carmel, a former Pueblo County engineer, said he has seen firsthand the damage Fountain Creek causes in Pueblo. He wants to make sure Colorado Springs has adequate stormwater control measures in place.

“As Colorado Springs’ partner in the SDS project, I believe perhaps Pueblo West bears the most local responsibility to ensure SDS is implemented in such a way that the city of Pueblo does not get wiped out by floodwaters, in our name, if we stand by and do nothing,” Carmel said.

He said politicians’ current assurance of $19 million in annual funding for stormwater improvements in Colorado Springs is not adequate because future councils could easily reverse the action.

“A 10-year intergovernmental agreement is not worth the paper it is written on under the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, because it may be canceled at any budget cycle,” he said.

Carmel said the 1041 agreement should be renegotiated to avoid future misunderstandings.

“Now is the time to ask Colorado Springs to cooperatively renegotiate the terms of the SDS 1041 permit to ensure that it is a win-win deal for both communities,” Carmel said. “Any deal that fails to prevent flooding in Pueblo — through a permanent funding mechanism that cannot change with each election — is not a win for Pueblo.”

LAWCD board meeting recap: Shut down SDS

Fountain Creek Watershed
Fountain Creek Watershed

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Colorado Springs Utilities claims that violations of federal stormwater standards are not related to permits for the Southern Delivery System being contested by the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District.

“Documents for the (Bureau of Reclamation’s) Record of Decision refer to the stormwater enterprise numerous times, so to me there’s a tie,” Lower Ark General Manager Jay Winner told the board Wednesday.

The Lower Ark board agreed, and fired off two letters to regulatory agencies requesting to delay SDS until stormwater issues are solved. They ask for protection for Pueblo and other downstream communities from Fountain Creek flows that have been increased by decades of growth in Colorado Springs.

The first — brought to the board by Winner and Pueblo County board members Melissa Esquibel and Anthony Nunez — asks Reclamation to review its contract for SDS and suspend it until Colorado Springs proves it has a stormwater control plan in place.

The second letter — drafted by attorney Peter Nichols at Winner’s request — is to Pueblo County commissioners and cites provisions in the Record of Decision and Pueblo County’s 1041 permit for SDS that require Colorado Springs to meet all federal, state and local permits, regulations and laws. John Fredell, the director of the SDS project, tried to make the case Tuesday to the Pueblo Board of Water Works that the enforcement action by the Environmental Protection Agency against Colorado Springs has nothing to do with SDS.

That viewpoint was echoed Wednesday by Mark Pifher, a Colorado Springs consultant, at the same time as he enumerated renewed efforts by Colorado Springs to beef up stormwater control.

Pifher touted that new leadership in Colorado Springs is committed to correcting the errors that led up to the EPA action.

Winner wasn’t buying it.

“We listened to ‘there is a real commitment’ in 2005, when (water chief) Gary Bostrom, (council members) Lionel Rivera, Larry Small and Richard Skorman came here and told us the same thing,” Winner said. “We tried to get an IGA so there would be an enforceable document.”

Winner said the commitment appears to come and go depending on who is elected, and doubted whether the current plan to fix stormwater control would stay in place after the next cycle.

Nichols questioned whether the $19 million Colorado Springs has committed to stormwater control would come close to the $600 million in needs identified by one study.

Pifher tried to deflect that by saying many of the projects identified fall into the category of a “wish list,” while the action plan now under consideration addresses the most critical projects.

“We’re skeptical,” Nichols said.

Both letters tie the current EPA enforcement action to the Record of Decision and 1041 permit, saying the violation of the federal stormwater permit alone should trigger denial of use of SDS by Colorado Springs.
Winner added that there is no acknowledgement by Colorado Springs that flooding on Fountain Creek is a result of unchecked growth upstream.

#ClimateChange: Carbondale carbon tax — The Mountain Town News

Carbondale is a town of 6,500 people located 30 miles west of Aspen. That’s Mt. Sopris, Colorado’s loveliest mountain, in the background. Photo source/Wikipedia - See more at: http://mountaintownnews.net/2016/01/15/carbondale-carbon-tax/#sthash.tUbLVIZh.dpuf
Carbondale is a town of 6,500 people located 30 miles west of Aspen. That’s Mt. Sopris, Colorado’s loveliest mountain, in the background. Photo source/Wikipedia – See more at: http://mountaintownnews.net/2016/01/15/carbondale-carbon-tax/#sthash.tUbLVIZh.dpuf

From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

Carbondale proposes to levy tax on carbon in electric, heat bills

Although one resident has called it ridiculous, residents in Carbondale in April will decide whether to adopt a carbon tax. If approved by voters in the town of 6,500 people, it would be among just a handful of municipal carbon taxes in the United States.

Proponents estimate that the tax would add an estimated $5 to $7 per month to the utility bill of an average home and $20 to $40 for an average business. It would not apply to sale of gasoline.

Under the plan approved by town trustees on Wednesday, revenue would be used to continue and expand programs to improve energy efficiency in homes and businesses and incentivize renewable energy. Funding has ranged from $65,000 to $100,000 for such programs, but the source of that funding—the town’s share of proceeds from natural gas and oil extraction in Garfield County—is expected to diminish in future years.

“It actually started with the trustees,” says Erica Sparhawk, of the non-profit advocacy group Clean Energy Economy for the Region, or CLEER. “This is a very educated group of trustees, dedicated to sustainability, and they take their clean energy goals seriously. So they asked us to help them research and analyze different potential funding sources, so that these kinds of programs without the town having to tap their general funds.”

With just a modest business and industrial sector, 60 percent of Carbondale’s greenhouse gases come from the town’s 2,400 homes. The town’s climate action plan envisions upgrades to those homes so that they use less energy and, coincidentally, are more comfortable to live in. The program being envisioned would address 1,000 homes in the next five years.

Trustees, as the elected members of the town board are called, believe it’s important to create n income-qualifying program, so that lower-incomer residents can benefit from the carbon tax.

Other potential use of revenues could include a large solar farm and a local micro-grid with battery storage.

Once a coal-mining town

The irony of Carbondale adopting a carbon tax is obvious. Mid-Continent Resource’s coal mine was a major payroll in the town for decades. The mine closed in 1991.

“What better place than a town called Carbondale to implement a local carbon fee and put talk into action?” asks Mayor Stacey Bernot, a native, who grew up in Carbondale when it was still a mining town.

But the demographics of the town have changed dramatically in the last 25 years, and Carbondale is now home to wide variety of innovators, creators and activists but also to a large population of immigrants who work in the construction and service sector of the Aspen-area economy. Latinos, mostly immigrants, compose 30 to 40 percent of the town’s population, and they tend to live in trailers and other lower-end housing.

Lately, carbon of another sort has concerned town residents, because of the potential for drilling for natural gas in nearby Thompson Creek Valley. It’s part of the broad swathe of the mineral-rich Piceance Basin that arcs across west-central Colorado.

Town residents have loudly opposed drilling, as they generally see drilling incompatible with the hunting and recreational uses of the valley. by one study, the Thompson Divide provides 300 jobs in the Carbondale-area economy.

Sparhawk says trustees recognize what some—including this writer—called out as an inconsistency: How can you oppose drilling in your backyard while using natural gas to heat your homes and, increasingly, to produce your electricity?

Trustees recognize the need to walk their talk, says Sparhawk. “If we are going to oppose drilling in the Thompson Divide, then we in the community need to lessen our demand for natural gas.”

Six funding mechanisms were evaluated as dedicated revenue sources for energy efficiency and renewable energy improvements in Carbondale, but after a series of work sessions with town trustees, efforts narrowed to the tax on carbon used for home heating and that proportionate of the electricity that comes from carbon sources.

Trustees are scheduled to finalize the ballot proposal at their Jan. 13 meeting.

Modeled on Boulder

Carbondale’s plan is modeled on the tax adopted in 2007 by the municipality of Boulder, Colo.. It is described on the Boulder’s website as the “nation’s first voter-approved tax dedicated to addressing climate change.”

The tax costs the average household about $1.33 a month and now generates $1.8 million a year. The tax is administered through Xcel Energy, which also provides electricity to Carbondale.

Boulder sustainability officials claim to that use of the tax money has been used to stop the growth of greenhouse gas emissions.

“What’s really interesting about Boulder’s carbon tax,” says Will Toor, a former mayor, “is just how popular it has been.” Boulder is deeply divided about whether to get a divorce from electrical provider Xcel Energy, but the 77 percent of voters last November decided to extend the tax through March 2023.

The tax applies only to electricity, and it exempts any energy produced without burning fossil fuels.

Other jurisdictions also have carbon taxes. In Arcata, Calif., a college town two hours north of San Francisco, voters in 2012 passed, by a margin of 68 percent to 32 percent, what they call an excessive electricity use tax. According to the city’s website, the 45 percent tax is assessed on residential household meters that use more than 600 percent of baseline electricity or more than an average of three residential households from one meter.

Washington D.C. also has a carbon tax levied on natural gas and electric bills. The tax in 2014 delivered $20 million to the Sustainable Energy Trust Fund, which is used to improve energy efficiency and expand renewable energy.

Just one mountain town in Colorado has flirted with a carbon tax. Joan May, an elected commissioner in San Miguel County, proposed a carbon tax on electricity and natural gas that would have generated $100,000 a year. Few towns are as liberal as Telluride, but the tax lost badly at the polls.

May says she failed to do her work in advance, leaving voters confused about the administration and use of the money. “I would solicit more support before we put it on the ballot,” she says. “It was basically ready, fire, aim.”

She says she wouldn’t change the proposal itself, though. Similar to Boulder and other programs, the money would have gone into a fund that could be tapped for energy efficiency improvements.

Argument against

In Carbondale, CLEER avoided May’s mistake in Telluride by holding community meetings. Still, there’s a bit of pushback. In a letter published in the Sopris Sun, Carl Ted Stude, a retired environmental engineer and a 10-year resident of the town, dismissed the idea as impractical.

It’s not the idea of a carbon tax that dismays him. He supports phasing in of a carbon tax at the national level. “I believe the preponderance of scientific evidence that emissions of carbon dioxide are contributing to global warming that will have long-term consequences that are more catastrophic than, say, a reduced ski season at Aspen.”

Stude sees a national tax being phased in

while subsidies and mandates for ethanol, wind turbines and cultured algae are phased out. But a municipal carbon tax in a small town like Carbondale makes no sense, he argues.

“A carbon tax at the local level would involve substantial administrative effort (read ‘economic waste’) in calculating and assessing the tax.”

Allyn Harvey, a trustee in Carbondale, doesn’t think administration will be inefficient. CLER has met with Xcel Energy, Holy Cross Electric and Source Gas, the three energy utilities, and it’s not a difficult process. A greater concern, he says, is the impact on Latino and other poor families, especially if nobody speaks English. “They may be leery of people knocking on their odors to talk about energy,” he says,.

But Harvey sees this as a major opportunities, not just for poor people to ultimately benefit from more comfortable, energy efficient homes, but for Carbondale to take control of its own destiny.

“If we wait for the federal government to take action and for partisanship to end so that we can enact a carbon tax nationwide, ti will be generations form now,” he sways. “I think there’s an opportunity for the local community tot take actions and do something about a problem that we all recognize.”

Aspen to develop river management plan for upper Fork — The Aspen Times

Roaring Fork River in early July 2012 via Aspen Journalism
Roaring Fork River in early July 2012 via Aspen Journalism

From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith) via The Aspen Times:

The city of Aspen is seeking consultants to help it prepare a river management plan for the upper Roaring Fork River, which has been plagued in drought years by low flows as it winds through central Aspen.

“The city of Aspen plans to study the upper Roaring Fork River, from its headwaters to a point just below the confluence with Maroon Creek,” the city’s request for proposals, or RFP, says.

April Long, the city’s stormwater manager, said the development of a river management plan was one of the Aspen city council’s top ten goals in 2015. Long said she expects regional engineering firms specializing in water to put together teams of consultants and submit proposals to the city, which are due by Jan. 15.

“Since 2008, the city has focused on improving the quality of water discharged through its outfalls. The city now feels it is important to focus its attention on one of the other probable causes for impairment – inadequate flows during periods of drought,” the RFP says.

The city’s RFP also says it expects proposed consulting teams “to include members with experience and expertise in water resources engineering, river science, hydrology, water quality, stream geomorphology, Colorado water rights and water law, and group facilitation.”

Long said the city’s river management plan will be similar to the ‘”stream management plans” that are called for in the recently released Colorado Water Plan, and that ongoing work being done by the Colorado Water Trust for Pitkin County on ways to add more water to the river will be looked at when formulating the city’s river plan.

“Our ultimate goal for the project is to develop a plan that outlines operational, management, and physical options that improve the health of the river while respecting each stakeholder’s rights and interests,” the city’s RFP says.

The Roaring Fork River flows into the city’s boundaries at Stillwater Drive east of downtown Aspen.

The stretch of the river between there and the confluence with Castle Creek has been known to drop below 32 cubic feet per second, which the Colorado Water Conservation Board considers the minimum amount of water necessary to protect the river’s environment “to a reasonable degree.”

“In the early 2000s several studies investigated the health of the Roaring Fork River and reported a severely degraded or impaired stretch of river within the city,” the RFP says. “The instream flow determined for this stretch in the 1970s is 32 cubic feet per second. During the droughts of 2002 and 2012, the river in this stretch dropped to only 5 cfs – only 15 percent of the instream flow.”

One big factor in the amount of water in the Roaring Fork River through Aspen is the Salvation Ditch, an irrigation ditch that diverts water from the river at Stillwater Drive.

The ditch has a senior 1902 water right that allows up to 58 cfs of water to be diverted and sent across lower Red Mountain to Woody Creek.

During the drought of 2012 there were days when there was more water flowing down the Salvation Ditch than was flowing down the Roaring Fork as it winds through town.

For example, according to a study done by S.K. Mason Environmental LLC, on July 27, 2012 there was 17.4 cfs flowing in the Salvation Ditch and 7.6 cfs of water flowing down the Fork below the ditch.

However, Tom Moore, the president of the Salvation Ditch Company, said the shareholders who own land along the ditch company also need the water in dry years, they have made significant investments in the water system, and they are concerned about weakening their water right by not diverting the water.

He also pointed out that the Salvation Ditch water right is senior to the 1930s era water rights held by the Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co., which diverts water under Independence Pass. As such, the Salvation Ditch plays a role in keeping water in the Roaring Fork River, he said.

The city’s Long said talking with the Salvation Ditch Co. will be an important part of the river management plan, which is why the city is seeking proposals that include consultants with an expertise in working with various stakeholders.

The city’s RFP says “we hope that by determining valuable attributes of the river, we can work together as a community to lessen impairment and improve water quality, river health, ecological health, recreational opportunities, and riparian habitat in ways that closer meet the community’s goals.”

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism is covering rivers and water in collaboration with the Glenwood Springs Post Independent and The Aspen Times. More at http://www.aspenjournalism.org.

A view of the Salvation Ditch diversion dam and head gate, just of off Stillwater Drive, east of Aspen. Smith / Aspen Journalism
A view of the Salvation Ditch diversion dam and head gate, just of off Stillwater Drive, east of Aspen. Smith / Aspen Journalism