We spent the day at the Children's Water Festival. Check out photos from this awesome event for 4th Grade students. https://t.co/UNzeAoagGV
— Greeley Water Dept. (@greeleywater) April 29, 2015
From the National Geographic (Sandra Postel):
A few years ago, the town of Westminster, Colorado, just north of Denver, came eye-to-eye with an issue many water-conserving cities face when a resident posed this question at a public meeting, “Why do you ask me to conserve, and then raise my rates?”
With droughts dotting the country and a growing number of areas facing water shortages in the years ahead, conservation is a core strategy for meeting present and future water demands.
Yet water utilities often find themselves in a conundrum: how to encourage households to reduce their water use without (1) losing vital revenue to maintain their water systems or (2) facing a public outcry over the raising of water rates.
Much of the money needed to expand and upgrade water infrastructure – from pipes and pumps to treatment plants – comes from selling water. By some estimates, fixing and expanding the nation’s water infrastructure will require at least $1 trillion over the next 25 years.
It seems like a catch-22. Rivers are running dry and groundwater is being depleted, so conservation is an imperative. But conservation means a drop in the volume of water sold, which can cause a utility’s revenue to drop.
The obvious answer is to lift water rates, the price charged per gallon used. But that’s not always easy. Even though U.S. residents typically pay a lot less for water than they do for their cell phones or cable television, raising water rates by even a small amount can risk a public backlash…
So, to provide a satisfactory answer to the customer’s question at the public meeting, two of Westminster’s analysts, Stuart Feinglas and Christine Gray, along with water conservation consultant Peter Mayer, dug in and undertook some research. They presented their results last fall at the WaterSmart Innovations conference in Las Vegas, as well as in a report published by the Chicago-based Alliance for Water Efficiency.
The results were illuminating — and a resounding endorsement of the economic benefits of water conservation.
Between 1980 and 2010, water use person in Westminster had dropped from 180 gallons per person per day to 149 gallons, a decline of 21 percent.
The staff attribute the drop in part to the national plumbing codes passed in 1992, which reduced the water used by new toilets, faucets and showerheads, and effectively built conservation into new homes and offices. The utility’s own conservation efforts also played an important role. Inclining block and seasonal water rate structures, for example, motivated conservation and discouraged high water use at peak times, such as hot summer days.
The research team then asked, what would water rates be today if that 21 percent reduction in per capita water use hadn’t occurred?
The answer: without conservation, water rates would have nearly doubled.
That’s because the city would have had to find and deliver an additional 7,295 acre-feet (2.38 million gallons) of water a day, necessitating a capital investment of nearly $219 million.
It would also have had to satisfy a much higher peak demand. Back in 1980, before the conservation efforts began, peak water use was 3 times higher than average use. Conservation measures, including effective pricing, brought that ratio down to 2 to 1.
Building the additional water treatment and other infrastructure to meet that higher peak demand would have required an additional capital investment of $130 million.
Since water used indoors for showering, flushing toilets, other uses then goes to a wastewater treatment plant, using less indoors means less water to treat. Conservation saved the city an additional $20 million in avoided capital costs for wastewater treatment.
Adding in avoided debt financing expenses, the conservation program saved Westminster a total of $591,850,000 in new infrastructure costs. It also reduced water and wastewater operating costs by more than $1.2 million per year.
Bottom line: single family rates and fees in 2012 would have been 91 percent higher without conservation than they were after all the conservation efforts– $1,251 per household versus $655.
More conservation coverage here.
From The Greeley Tribune (Trenton Sperry):
At its regular meeting this week, the council introduced an ordinance allowing the city to sell $7.5 million in bonds in May. The bond revenues would be used to fund improvements to the city’s sewer system, marking Greeley’s first issuance of sewer debt since 1994.
Greeley’s annual debt payments — estimated at $550,000 for the next 20 years — would be funded by current sewer user fees, according to the ordinance.
Victoria Runkle, Greeley’s finance director and assistant city manager, said rate increases for Greeley’s sewer customers may be on the horizon, but they would adhere to the city’s current rate schedule, which raises rates by about 2 percent to 3 percent each year.
“We assume we will have to raise rates over time,” Runkle said. “Will that actually come to pass? That will depend on if revenues continue as they are. There have been years when we didn’t raise rates.”
In a draft of the bond project’s official statement, the city claims Greeley’s single-family residential customers paid less for sewer services than 17 of 24 Front Range municipalities surveyed in fall 2014. However, the city will be required to raise rates, fees or charges to balance debt payments as needed.
The bonds are being considered to help Greeley make needed upgrades to the sewer system more quickly, Runkle said.
“We’re not earning enough interest on the money we have in cash funds,” she said. “Interest rates are very low. We’re only able to make about 2 percent on cash reserves, but construction costs are up to 4 or 5 percent.”
Portions of Greeley’s sewer system date to 1889, according to the ordinance, and about 4 percent of the current system is more than 100 years old.
More infrastructure coverage here.
From The Denver Post (Joe Vaccarelli):
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the city of Denver and other local agencies will be spending the next few years exploring ways to improve the South Platte River, Harvard Gulch and Weir Gulch as part of a comprehensive plan for the waterways.
The Urban Waterways Restoration Study will look into improving the ecosystem, reduce flood risk and adding recreational opportunities at all three sites. The South Platte will be studied between Sixth and 58th avenues.
“It’s a huge coordinated effort,” said Selena Klosowski, project manager for the Urban Waterways Restoration Study with Denver Public Works.
Weir Gulch runs into the South Platte River and generally ranges from 10th Avenue to Jewell Avenue and west to Alameda Parkway. The Harvard Gulch watershed is bounded by the South Platte to the west, Interstate 25 to the east and Evans Avenue to Mansfield Avenue.
Other local entities involved with the study include the Colorado Water Conservation Board and the Urban Drainage and Flood Control District.
Residents will have an opportunity to learn more about the study and give feedback at three upcoming meetings. Three more meetings are coming in the fall, and another one in the spring of 2016. All meetings will have translators present for non-English speakers. The study should be complete by spring or early summer 2017.
More restoration/reclamation coverage here.
From the Broomfield Enterprise (Megan Quinn):
Despite a dry March, Broomfield will not impose summer water restrictions this year after learning it will receive its typical allocation from its main water supplier.
The Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District last week announced it would provide users their typical amount of water from the Colorado-Big Thompson Project, because the storage reservoir is more full than normal. The district typically allocates about 70 percent of its supply for water users unless resources are limited. Last year, the allocation was 60 percent.
That means Broomfield residents won’t have to scrimp on water this summer, but officials are still asking residents to use only what they need…
Broomfield gets more than half of its water supply from the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, and the rest from Denver Water and the Windy Gap project. All three rely on mountain snowpack.
Water runoff from snowpack is a major indicator of how much water there will be for cities in the coming year.
Even though precipitation was just 21 percent of average in March, Northern Water’s overall water supplies are much higher than normal, said spokesman Brian Werner.
C-BT, which provides water for Broomfield and 32 other cities and towns, was “at an all-time high” for April 1, and other local storage reservoirs were above normal, Werner said.
On top of that, a large snowstorm on Thursday dumped more moisture in the high country, which “will help slow down the melt and keep us in good shape,” he said…
In Broomfield, single-family residential users account for 56 percent of total water use, according to the city’s 2013 water rate study.
Park Services Superintendent Gary Schnoor said Broomfield also is monitoring its water use. Conserving water is just as important for Broomfield as it is for its residents, especially because the parks department uses the most water of any department in Broomfield.
To conserve and reuse that water, about half of Broomfield’s parks, about 553 acres, are watered with reclaimed water.
“We pay per 1,000 gallons, just like you do at home. It’s one of our big budget items,” he said.
Caleb Davis, an irrigation systems coordinator for the city, said the dry March weather meant employees had to start watering parks a little earlier than usual.
Rain and snow can help save the city’s water supply. Last year, Broomfield used 380 million gallons of water on the parks and landscape.
Worst case, the parks department could use up to 500 million gallons during the driest years, Davis said.
From 9News.com (Maya Rodriguez):
“Prairie Waters was born from the drought of 2002-2004, and is a way of fully utilizing Aurora’s water,” Aurora Water spokesperson Greg Baker said.
The Aurora Prairie Waters project is a large-scale effort to reuse water for a growing city.
“You have to think of sustainability,” Baker said. “How are you going to support a community like Aurora, which will probably double its population in the next 50 years? And where is that water going to come from?” Baker asked.
Most of Aurora’s water comes down from the mountains. Snow melt flows into the Colorado and Arkansas River basins. However, one third of Aurora’s water comes from the South Platte River. Its water that is, in effect, reused.
“If you use water in the shower, you wash your car, you take a bath – that water ends up back in the South Platte,” Baker explained. “We retreat down here, put it back in our system, and it ends up back in the South Platte again. We get to use it over and over again. So, it is the ultimate water cycle.”
The cycle involves piping that water underground into a man-made basin, through sand and gravel and then treating the water, including using UV light to get impurities out.
“The things we can remove out of the water now, compared to 10 or 20 years ago, is just staggering,” treatment plant supervisor Kevin Linder said.
Right now, it’s the low season. The plant is processing 14-million gallons of water a day. In the high season, the summer months, it can do more than twice that: 30 million gallons.
“This treatment plant is one of the most advanced plants in North America,” Linder said.
Part of the reason the system isn’t used everywhere is that it is expensive to build. Prairie Waters cost $638-million. However, water managers there see it as a way of protecting the city from the effects of future droughts while protecting Colorado’s overall water supply.
“We’re asking a lot of Colorado to let us use this water for our residents,” Baker said. “And, so, if you’re going to do that, you have to honor that commitment.”
There are plans to expand Aurora Prairie Waters by adding more filters and providing some water to places in Douglas County.
Here’s the release from the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District (Brian Werner):
Northern Water’s Board increased the Colorado-Big Thompson Project quota allocation to 70 percent today. With C-BT Project storage at an all-time high for April 1, local storage reservoirs above normal and with mountain snowpacks declining, the Board chose to make available an average supplemental quota for 2015.
The approval increased available C-BT water supplies by 20 percent, or 62,000 acre feet, from the initial 50 percent quota made available in November.
The Board considered input from farmers and municipal water providers, demonstrating the varying demands and complex circumstances directors must consider when setting the quota. C-BT supplements other sources of water for 33 cities and towns, 120 agricultural irrigation companies, various industries and other water users within Northern Water’s 1.6 million-acre service area.
Directors carefully considered streamflow forecasts, which have declined since the beginning of March to below average in all C-BT related watersheds. Snowpack in watersheds contributing to C-BT inflow have gone from above average on March 1 to approximately 15 percent below average in April. In addition, March precipitation throughout Northern Water’s boundaries was just 21 percent of average.
Directors also took into consideration the drought throughout much of the American West and the potential for a dry spring or summer. Board Vice-President Kenton Brunner emphasized, “The Board always has the option to increase the quota in future months if conditions warrant.”
“We’re in good shape storage-wise and better prepared to have a down snowpack year than in many other years,” said Andy Pineda, Water Resources Department Manager. “The weather changes from year-to-year and we never know how much precipitation the mountains will receive, so having storage reservoirs this full is very beneficial for water users.”
Directors based their decision on the need for supplemental water for the coming year, while balancing project operations and maintaining water in storage for future dry years.
To learn more about Northern Water and the C-BT quota, visit http://www.northernwater.org.
More Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District coverage here.