If climate change renders the Western Slope warmer and drier, and if historic growth rates keep up, then Aspen’s water utility could have trouble meeting consumer demand without depleting minimum in-stream flows in Castle and Maroon creeks over the next 50 years.
Aspen City Council on Monday heard a presentation from consultants hired to evaluate the adequacy of the municipal water supply. Wilson Water Group put together a report forecasting demand and available supply over a 50-year outlook, and found that in the worst-case climate change scenario, the city could miss in-stream flow targets on Castle and Maroon creeks by between 4 and 9 cubic feet per second during the “irrigation months” of June through September.
The city has committed to a 13 cfs minimum flow in Castle Creek, and 14 cfs in Maroon. Both creeks are tapped to feed municipal needs through diversion structures that send water to Thomas Reservoir, a holding bay for the city’s treatment plant.
Even if the worst-case scenario projections come to pass in terms of climate change and population growth — demands on the city’s water system historically have risen by about 1.2 percent a year, according to special projects utilities engineer Phil Overeynder — the city has other ways to shore up its water supply.
One project that has been on the drawing board for years would pump treated wastewater uphill from the sanitation plant to irrigate the city’s golf course.
The city also controls three wells in town drawing from the local aquifer. If irrigation for city parks increasingly relied on those wells, then more water could be left in Castle and Maroon creeks.
Combined with more water conservation, or restrictions in drought years, depletion of in-stream flows could be avoided, consultants report.
City council agreed to adopt the 2016 Water Supply Availability Study, and continue monitoring hydrologic conditions.
Council also heard a presentation on Monday from another consultant that analyzed threats to the water supply and water quality. Given that Aspen’s water originates in high mountain valleys, wildfire poses perhaps the most imminent and hazardous threat. A bad fire in the Castle or Maroon watersheds could be detrimental to water quality in those streams, and subsequent mudslides could also cause problems.
There is also the abandoned Pitkin Iron Mine above Ashcroft that drains into Copper Creek, a Castle Creek tributary.
The Colorado Rural Water Association conducted a study for the city assessing the best ways to mitigate these threats.
Creating a buffer zone against wildfire near the diversion structures on Castle and Maroon creeks, while continuing to develop plans to limit wildfire debris flow into Thomas Reservoir, were among the study’s top recommendations.
More work to control erosion at the Pitkin Iron Mine site was also recommended. However, the consultant noted that the Pitkin Iron Mine did not make the list of the state’s 200 most pressing mine cleanup needs.
A bill that includes $3 million for the Arkansas Valley Conduit passed the U.S. Senate today on a 90-8 vote, with both Colorado senators working to include funding for the conduit.
The Energy and Water Development Appropriations bill (HR2028) has passed the House and now will go to President Barack Obama to sign into law.
The $3 million for the conduit will continue work on planning and land acquisition for the conduit, which will provide clean drinking water from Pueblo Dam along a 120-mile route to Lamar and Eads. A total of 40 communities serving 50,000 people will benefit.
“Some of the pieces have finally started falling into place,” said Bill Long, president of the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, the sponsor of the conduit.
Long will travel to Washington, D.C., next week to testify on behalf of legislation (S2616) that would allow the district to use miscellaneous revenues from the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project to repay nonfederal loans. The legislation is key to making the cost of the conduit, which could be as high as $400 million, affordable to Arkansas Valley communities, he said.
The $3 million was included in the administration’s budget, and Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., said he fought to keep it in the bill.
“The Arkansas Valley Conduit is a critical project to deliver clean drinking water to dozens of communities in Southeast Colorado,” Bennet said. “The president’s budget included this crucial funding, and we fought to ensure it was included as the bill moved through the Senate.”
The conduit is part of the original Fryingpan- Arkansas Project, but was not built because of the expense. Now, the communities in the Lower Arkansas Valley are seeking its construction because of the escalated cost of other methods of treating water in order to reach state and federal water quality standards.
“The federal government made a commitment more than five decades ago, and this funding ensures Congress is doing its part to fulfill that promise,” Bennet said. “We will continue to pursue any avenue necessary to ensure this project is completed as promised.”
Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., applauded the vote because it assisted the conduit, as well as the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden.
“I’m proud to have secured the funding for two important provisions in this appropriations package that directly affect Colorado,” Gardner said. “The Arkansas Valley Conduit project will result in cleaner, safer water in Southeast Colorado, and this important funding was approved to assist in the cost of construction.”
Bennet and Gardner are co-sponsors of S2606, the bill Long is scheduled to testify about next week.
From @EcoFlight1 via the Glenwood Springs Post Independent:
EcoFlight’s student program took to the air again this week.
Students from science classes at Yampah, Roaring Fork and Glenwood Springs high schools on Wednesday got a look at the big picture of what a watershed looks like from the cockpit of small airplanes as they flew over the Roaring Fork River watershed.
Christina Medved, watershed education director from Roaring Fork Conservancy, joined EcoFlight’s educational discussion with the students about snowpack in the Elk Mountains, and how 30 million people downstream depend on water from the Colorado River for agriculture, recreation and domestic use.
“We saw so many little lakes and ponds, and where our water comes from.” Carl Wright, a junior at Yampah High.
“We were surprised to see how much agriculture we have here, and how close it is. I didn’t realize how much we had around here,” said Bella Reiley, senior at Roaring Fork High.
EcoFlight uses small airplanes to educate students, scientists and stakeholders about conservation issues, and to inspire students to have a voice for their environment. The organization’s mission overlaps with that of the Roaring Fork Conservancy, as Medved said: “Our mission is to inspire people to explore, value and protect our watershed. These are the next generation of decision-makers who will have to deal with these issues — water and growth — in the future, so why not educate them and show them firsthand how important this watershed is to us and those downstream?”
“This is an amazing opportunity that the students have been looking forward to all year. They talked about watershed and conservation issues in their public lands management unit earlier in the year, and this is a great way for them to connect what they learned in the classroom with the bigger picture,” said Brooke Bockelman, experiential programs manager at the Buddy Program.
Snowmass Village water district residents approved a tax increase to pay for a new wastewater treatment plant Tuesday.
Four hundred twenty-eight residents voted in favor of the mill levy increase that will cover the almost $20 million cost of the project, according to unofficial results from Tuesday’s election.
The increase means property owners in the district will pay an additional $1.89 per $100,000 of assessed property value each month. The water district is required to overhaul its wastewater treatment facility in order to comply with new standards handed down by the Environmental Protection Agency.
Sixty-nine residents voted against ballot measure 5A. All residents of the district, including rental tenants, who are registered to vote could participate in the election as well as any property owners or their spouses who are registered to vote in the state of Colorado.
Snowmass Villagers also elected Shawn Gleason and David Spence to fill two vacancies on the district’s board.
Here’s the release from Colorado Springs Utilities:
One of the largest water infrastructure projects completed in the U.S. this century started delivering water today to homes and businesses in Colorado Springs, Colo. The commencement of the Southern Delivery System (SDS) culminates decades of planning and nearly six years of construction.
“The Southern Delivery System is a critical water project that will enable the continued quality of life southern Coloradans enjoy. The water provided through SDS means future economic growth for our community,” said Jerry Forte, Chief Executive Officer of Colorado Springs Utilities.
Not only does SDS meet the immediate and future water needs of Colorado Springs and its project partners Fountain, Security and Pueblo West through 2040, it also increases system reliability should other parts of the water system need maintenance or repairs. The project will also help provide drought protection, a significant benefit in the arid west.
Construction started in 2010 and concluded in 2016. Originally forecast to cost just under $1 billion, SDS is started on time and more than $160 million under budget costing $825 million.
“On time and under budget are words rarely used to describe large infrastructure projects,” said John Fredell, SDS Program Director. “We adopted a philosophy that ‘these are ratepayer dollars’ and managed the project with exceptional rigor. It was the responsible approach to spending hundreds of millions of dollars of public money.”
Components of SDS
SDS is a regional project that includes 50 miles of pipeline, three raw water pump stations, a water treatment plant (pictured above), and a finished water pump station. It will be capable, in its first phase, of delivering 50 million gallons of water per day and serving residents and businesses through 2040.
Key permits and approvals for SDS required $50 million in mitigation payments to the Fountain Creek Watershed District, funding for sediment control, habitat improvements and other environmental mitigation measures. Additionally, Colorado Springs and Pueblo County, just this week, both approved an intergovernmental agreement requiring Colorado Springs to invest $460 million over 20 years to improve the management of stormwater that makes its way into Fountain Creek.
Early on in the project, SDS program leaders agreed to spend at least 30 percent of construction dollars on local contractors. More than $585 million, or about 70 percent of the SDS budget, went to Colorado businesses.
“SDS is one of the most important projects many of us will ever work on,” said Forte. “This is a legacy project – one that benefits so many people today, tomorrow and for generations to come. This is an amazing day for our organization and for southern Colorado.”
From the Associated Press via The Aurora Sentinel:
Water has begun flowing into Colorado Springs through a new 50-mile pipeline from the Arkansas River.
The city says the $825 million Southern Delivery System started operating Thursday.
The system is designed to handle growth in the state’s second-largest city until 2040 and provide a backup for its current aging system.
Pueblo West, Fountain and Security also get water from the pipeline.
The project includes modifications to Pueblo Dam on the Arkansas River, three pumping stations and a treatment plant.
Separately, Colorado Springs had to commit $460 million to reduce sediment in Fountain Creek. The sediment harms downstream communities in Pueblo County, and the county threatened to revoke a required permit for the pipeline if the issue wasn’t addressed.
The $825 million Southern Delivery System’s treatment plant was ready to serve drinking water Wednesday, as a project 20 years in the making finally made its debut.
The distribution system will be turned on Thursday to deliver water to Colorado Springs, Security and Fountain, and water will begin reaching those customers Friday. The SDS already supplies water to Pueblo West, which needed early assistance after a major water pipe in its system broke.
“Things are going great, just like we’ve always planned,” SDS Project Manager John Fredell said Wednesday. “We’ve worked on a lot of these issues a long time to get ready.”
The project hit a snag last year when Pueblo County, which had issued the essential SDS 1041 permit, began seriously pressuring Colorado Springs leaders.
The county insisted on more city stormwater projects to protect downstream residents from excessive flows, sediment buildup and water quality degradation in Fountain Creek.
The City Council signed an intergovernmental agreement April 20. It promises, among other things, to spend $460 million on 71 mutually beneficial stormwater projects over the next 20 years, with Colorado Springs Utilities guaranteeing any funds the city can’t provide.
Pueblo County commissioners approved that pact Monday, enabling SDS to kick off its operations on Wednesday, the target date set years ago.
“It has been a lot to get this Pueblo County agreement out of the way and taken care of successfully,” Fredell acknowledged. “But I really did not fear that it wasn’t going to happen. It was just a matter of timing.”
Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers has spent much of his first year in office negotiating with Pueblo County and with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on the city’s long-time stormwater program deficiencies.
Dan Higgins, chief water services officer for Utilities, called it “a great day.”
“I look back at all the things we’ve seen our team experience,” Higgins said. “We’ve been through so much together. It’s just a fantastic experience for everybody that’s been involved.”
As usual, Fredell credits his project team for a job well done.
“I’m telling you, without all these great people putting out every ounce of energy they have, we couldn’t have done it,” Fredell said. “And to me that’s just so cool, to bring all these people together and they’re all pulling in the same direction.
“To me, that’s the coolest thing. I feel like the whole team, we have stronger friendships now than when we started. How many teams can say that? To me, that’s absolutely incredible.”
The project team determined in July 2009 that the SDS would start operating in April 2016.
“I’ll feel better Friday,” admitted Kim Mutchler, who has worked on SDS for Utilities’ government and corporate affairs team. “There’s a lot going on between now and then.
“I’m happy for these guys who have been on this project for so long. It’s just exciting to see (Utilities) board members and previous council members. We had a couple out there yesterday seeing (the plant) for the first time. It’s nice to see them excited.”
The need for Colorado Springs to control stormwater on Fountain Creek was always tied to the Southern Delivery System, and the new agreement with Pueblo County is designed to cement the relationship.
During the permitting process for SDS, stormwater control was mentioned in both the Bureau of Reclamation environmental impact statement and Pueblo County’s 1041 permit.
Ever since Colorado Springs City Council abolished its stormwater enterprise in 2009, the city engaged in political gymnastics to assure Pueblo County it was doing enough.
Monday’s completion of an intergovernmental agreement should represent an end to political bickering over stormwater, because it spells out very clearly what has to be done over the next 20 years.
Commissioners were quick to point out Monday that the items contained in the agreement are not the only things Colorado Springs must do in relation to SDS under the 1041 permit. But they have to do these things:
Fund stormwater control with at least $460 million over the next 20 years.
The funding will go toward 71 projects on a set schedule that can be adjusted only if both parties agree.
The amount of funding steps up from at least $20 million per year in the first five years to at least $26 million per year in the last five.
While the money can be matched with other funds, Colorado Springs must come up with the minimum amount, but the sources are not specified. Annual reports are required.
Colorado Springs also is required to resolve any conflicts with the IGA that might result from action by the Department of Justice, EPA and Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment over the city’s failure to meet the terms of its municipal stormwater permit from 2013-15.
A provision of the IGA requires Colorado Springs to notify Pueblo County of any variance to its drainage criteria manual. The failure to apply the document to new development was among deficiencies identified by the EPA in its audit of Colorado Springs’ stormwater permit.
Regional cooperation on Fountain Creek.
The IGA triggers the first two payments of $10 million each that were negotiated under the 1041 permit. Five annual payments of $10 million are required. The money must be used for a dam, detention ponds or other flood control structures that protect Pueblo from flows on Fountain Creek that have increased because of growth in Colorado Springs and El Paso County.
The first payment is actually $9,578,817, because of credits for payments already made and an “index” fee, which amounts to interest payments. It will come within 30 days.
The second $10 million payment will be made Jan. 15.
The payments go to the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District, which was created by the state Legislature to improve Fountain Creek.
Formed in 2009, the district grew out of discussions between the two counties. Pueblo County Commissioner Sal Pace sponsored the legislation when he served as a state representative.
The IGA also provides $125,000 to the district, which will be used in part to help fund a state study of a dam or detention ponds on Fountain Creek. The money is in addition to the $50 million required under the 1041 permit. The Fountain Creek board will determine exactly how the money is spent.
Both Pueblo County and Colorado Springs agree to work with other governments to find a permanent source of funding for the Fountain Creek district.
Colorado Springs also will pay $3 million over three years to the city of Pueblo for repairs to levees, dredging and removal of debris or vegetation in Fountain Creek.
Pueblo is required to match the money, but can use about $1.8 million that Pueblo County is still holding from $2.2 million Colorado Springs was made to pay for dredging in Pueblo. Some of the money was spent on demonstration projects.
The agreement also specifies that any disputes will be handled in the same way as disagreements in the 1041 permit. If not successful, legal action over the IGA would be handled in Pueblo District Court.
Colorado Springs Utilities plans to begin using the Southern Delivery System today, more than seven years after getting the green light from Pueblo County and the Bureau of Reclamation to build it. “We plan on 5 million gallons a day initially, but we may go less. It depends on how we use it,” said John Fredell, SDS project director. “On Thursday, the water we pump will be turned into our system.”
SDS will be able to operate after an agreement was reached on Fountain Creek stormwater control on issues not explicitly covered in Pueblo County’s 1041 permit. The new agreement contains funding benchmarks that were not originally in place.
Over the next 40 years, the amount of water pumped through SDS could increase to as much as 75 million gallons a day. Another 18 million gallons a day could be pumped to Pueblo West, which through a special agreement already is using SDS for its water supply.
The treatment plant as built can treat up to 50 million gallons per day, but eventually could be expanded to treat up to 100 million gallons per day.
As part of SDS, the city of Fountain can receive more of its water through the Fountain Valley Conduit, a line built from Pueblo Dam in the early 1980s as part of the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project.
The other partner in SDS is Security Water and Sanitation, which serves an unincorporated area south of Colorado Springs and has an immediate need for a new water source because of well contamination.
Construction on the $825 million project began in 2011, one year after the Bureau of Reclamation approved the final contract for the use of Lake Pueblo as part of the project. In 2009, Reclamation issued a record of decision that allowed the project to be built.
Also in 2009, Pueblo County commissioners approved a land-use permit under the 1974 HB1041, which lets cities or counties regulate projects that cross their boundaries.
SDS includes a new connection built at Pueblo Dam, three pump stations, a water treatment plant and a treated water pump station. The North Outlet Works, Juniper Pump Station just northeast of Pueblo Dam and about 17 miles of buried 66inch diameter pipeline are the features of SDS in Pueblo County.
The project grew out of water resources plans that began in the late 1980s, when Colorado Springs purchased controlling interest in the Colorado Canal system in Crowley County.
In order to use the water, as well as provide redundancy for its other sources of water, Colorado Springs developed a Water Resource Plan in 1996. That plan identified other alternatives to bring water to Colorado Springs, including a route from a new reservoir at Buena Vista, a Fremont County pipeline and a line from Crowley County.
By the early 2000s, the Buena Vista reservoir was eliminated by environmental protests, and Utilities ruled out Crowley County because of the expense of overcoming water quality issues. By 2008, Fremont County and Pueblo Dam were being seriously considered.
The Pueblo Dam option was chosen in Reclamation’s record of decision as the route.
In the second phase of SDS, which is anticipated to begin between 2020-25, two reservoirs would be built on Williams Creek east of Fountain. The upper reservoir would be terminal storage for the pipeline from Pueblo Dam, while the lower one would regulate return flows from Colorado Springs’ wastewater treatment plant into Fountain Creek.
SDS is designed to serve a population of 900,000, about twice the current number living in Colorado Springs.
The 1996 water resources plan came at a time when Colorado Springs’ population had increased from 70,000 in 1960 to 330,000 in 1996. Utilities already is working on a 50-year plan to meet its future water resource needs.
More Coyote Gulch Southern Delivery System coverage here and here.