Flood recovery funds still available — the Loveland Reporter-Herald

February 20, 2015
Plume of subtropical moisture streaming into Colorado September 2013 via Weather5280

Plume of subtropical moisture streaming into Colorado September 2013 via Weather5280

From the Loveland Reporter-Herald (Pamela Johnson):

Millions of dollars have been spent and thousands of hours donated to help residents throughout Larimer County affected by the 2013 floods.

But there is still a large pot of money, volunteers and a collaborative team available to help those who lost their homes to the raging waters.

“We’re still here, and there are still ways of getting help,” said Laura Levy with the Long Term Recovery Team, a collaborative of nonprofits that came together to assist residents in obtaining help and funding after the floods. She was part of a Larimer County commissioners work session Thursday about community flood recovery.

“We want to make sure the word gets out to as many people as possible that money is still available.”

The Long Term Recovery Group has distributed just over $1 million with the help of its partners and still has $1 million left to help other residents.

And through that same group, 3,100 volunteers from across the country have spent 84,000 hours cleaning up debris and helping residents rebuild. These include faith-based organizations, service groups, college students and scores of local residents…

Amy Irwin of the Loveland Housing Authority is managing Community Development Block Grand Disaster Funds to help residents with housing costs. This could be moving and storage expenses, rental assistance, repair of homes or finding new homes.

“We have $1 million in that pot, and we have not been able to assist as many families as we would like because the vacancy rates in Larimer County are less than 2 percent,” said Irwin.

Because of the tight market, residents cannot find rentals that are within their price range as well as the range allowed under the parameters of the grant money.

Money that has been committed to her office through that federal grant program totals $8.5 million. Of that, $1 million is to help families still recovering from the High Park Fire and the rest is split across home repairs and ownership, rental assistance and road and bridge repairs to allow access to homes.

Funding to keep the Long Term Recovery Group operating will be phasing out over the next year, but Levy said they are committed to finding other sources or grants so the nonprofit partners can continue helping at full steam through all of 2015.


A look at the art of water board governance from The Greeley Tribune #ColoradoRiver

February 15, 2015

Here’s an in-depth look at the Greeley Water and Sewer Board from Sherrie Peif writing for The Greeley Tribune. Click through to read the whole article and for the sidebar with the details about the current board along with some historic notes:

Most anyone who works closely with the water industry agrees the commodity is taken for granted by consumers, except for in a couple of instances.

“When water doesn’t come out of the faucet,” said Harold Evans with a laugh. “And when they get their bill.”

Evans, the chairman of the Greeley Water and Sewer Board, said it is unlikely that most know where their water comes from or how it gets to their faucets.

It is a complicated process involving more than a dozen lakes, ponds, rivers and reservoirs across Colorado. And in Greeley, seven men oversee it all.

It is so complicated, in fact, that fellow board member Robert Ruyle said it takes several years on the board before a member really understands it.

“Water board members serve 10-15 years before they really know what to do,” Ruyle said. “Even if they come to the board with water experience. Our system is unique, and it takes a while to understand it.”

It is also why, Evans said, the water board needs the absolute power it currently enjoys.

“The primary reason for establishing it this way was to provide for long-term needs in a non-political way,” Evans said.

Not everyone agrees, however, including a former top Greeley official who may take a proposal to the voters to put the power back into the hands of the Greeley City Council.

Many argue the Greeley water board has too much power, and its authority to set rates, development fees and the cost to bring raw water to a new development are all too high and there is no one that can reverse its decisions.

Members of the water board say what most don’t realize is how far ahead of the game Greeley is compared to other communities and water districts in northern Colorado.

And that — they say — is because of the way the Greeley Home Rule Charter is set up, giving board members the power to set rates and fees, acquire water and manage the system that cleans and transports it.

“When you think about what you pay for a cup of coffee, we supply a gallon of safe drinking water for four-tenths of one penny,” Evans said.

Board members all believe they are assuring many more generations to come plenty of the precious resource.

But has the original intention of Greeley’s forefathers outlived its usefulness?

Should voters change the way water has been managed for nearly six decades?

It all depends on who you ask.

WHICH WAY DID IT GO?

From as far away as Lake Granby on the Western Slope, into the Colorado-Big Thompson system, and eventually the South Platte River; or from as far away as Cameron Pass and the Poudre River, spring snow melt from the mountains flows through 500 miles of pipeline into two water treatment plants and into homes and business in Greeley.

It didn’t take long after Greeley was founded in 1869 for its forefathers to realize they needed to secure the rights to the water coming out of the mountains.

W.D. Farr, known to many as Mr. Water, and former Greeley Tribune publisher Charles Hansen are credited for bringing water from the Colorado River across the Continental Divide and to the Front Range. The Greeley water system is among the most elaborate and most rich in the nation, everyone close to the situation says.

Many say that’s thanks to the authority granted the Greeley Water Board when it was formed in the 1958 charter to manage the system.

Norman Dean, who was a member of the charter committee and one of those responsible for the Water Board’s authority, said it was a battle over who to put in charge.

“It was a very contentious subject,” Dean said. “Some guys wanted it to be a department of the city.”

But in the end, a University of Northern Colorado professor convinced the majority, including Dean, that it needed to be separate.

“Water and sewer generates a lot of money,” Dean said. “He did not want it to flow into the general fund for city council to use it as they wanted.”

Technically, it is a department of the city, but it is run by the water board.

The other option, said Leonard Wiest, former Greeley city manager who is now a consultant, would be to make the board an advisory board. Let them continue to do what they do, but leave the final decision to the Greeley City Council.

“We get a chance to vote on the city council,” Wiest said. “If we don’t like what they do, we can vote them out. The only thing the council can do right now to the water board is cut the budget. But they never do that either.”

The seven members of the water board are appointed by city council to serve a five-year term and cannot be recalled by voters. At the end of that term, they must be reappointed to serve again. However, no one can recall a time when the council did not reappoint someone.

“If at anytime they came to one of us and said, ‘We don’t think you’re doing your job,’ we would step down,” Evans said. “We may make decisions that some may not like, but we have to do what is best for the whole big picture.”

Additionally, there are no limits to the number of terms a water board member can serve. New members are recommended to the city council by the current board, leaving some to refer to it as a “good ol’ boys club.”

Many members have served for decades. Dean, who served 15 years on the board from 1989-1994, said that, too, was thought out by the charter committee.

“It seemed a shame to put term limits on them,” Dean said. “They finally get to understand it all and then they have to leave the board.”

The board controls a $26 million budget. Although city council ultimately has to approve any loans the water board requests, the water board has the authority to borrow money and sell bonds without going to voters, Wiest said.

“It’s taxation without representation,” Wiest said. “The water and sewer board is entirely independent. They do whatever they want.”

The board is responsible for setting water and sewer rates, plant investment fees (which are fees paid by a developer when a new home or business is constructed) and cash-in-lieu charges to get water to a new development.

Council can raise the rates and fees, but has no authority to lower the rates below a minimum formula set by the charter, which includes things such as depreciation and maintenance.

City Manager Roy Otto equates it to buying a car. You have to pay a minimum amount for a basic car, but all the bells and whistles are additional. If the water and sewer board wanted to raise the rates above what the formula says is needed to pay the bills, council could deny that.

“I have never since I’ve been city manager had a disagreement over the budget,” Otto said of the recommended budget versus what the council wants. “We all understand the importance of our rate structure. We have a sound system, I would put our system up against any in the area because the charter language considers depreciation and maintenance.”

Developers, however, have recently threatened to stop building in Greeley because development fees, especially for water and sewer, are too high, they say.

Many developers in the area have asked Wiest to lead an effort to ask voters to amend the Home Rule Charter in November, to make it an advisory board.

Wiest isn’t sure yet if he will, but he’s leaning toward leading the effort.

WHO PAYS THE WAY FOR GROWTH?

Greeley City Council has long charged its staff with the directive that growth pays its own way. In other words, fees should be charged to handle improvements or expansions when new developments come in.

Water and sewer is no different. New developments require the developer to supply the water rights to service the area, and new residential and commercial development must pay plant investment fees to help with maintenance and expansion to the system when it is needed because of growth.

However, the fees set by the water board are the source of disagreement.

At several recent meetings held by the city to discuss increased development fees that go in effect March 1, real estate brokers and contractors expressed concern that development was about to stop in Greeley because they can’t afford to build here compared to other communities. In particular, many believe the water and sewer fees charged against developers are too excessive.

Their contention is the increased fees drive up the cost of new homes in an area continuing to battle with poverty.

A recent attempt to lower those fees failed on a 4-3 city council vote. The argument against lowering the fees is that it puts the burden of paying for growth in the water system on the current users.

“It’s a philosophical belief,” Evans said. “Because on the other hand, you can say new development benefits everyone.”

Wiest said the water and sewer board are more concerned about someone who may move here in 50 years than they are those who live here now.

“The growth factor flies in our face,” Wiest said. “The person who moves here in 50 years will still have to bring their own water. But we are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars for water for the future.”

WHAT THE FUTURE HOLDS

Water board members say they are only trying to continue the logic of Farr, which has made Greeley the envy of many in Colorado for its long-term planning and vision in acquiring water rights.

“When you think about the previous boards and what they’ve done, we have the chance to stand on the shoulders of giants,” Evans said.

He added the land around northern Colorado is drying up, and people need to remember where they live.

“We are an arid landscape, but we want to look like the Midwest,” Evans said. “We have had water restrictions in place since 1905 for a reason.”

Ruyle agreed, adding it is getting more and more difficult every day to acquire water.

“It is a challenge to be able to acquire enough raw water to supply new growth for the city,” Ruyle said. “It is a limited resource in the area we live.”

In fact, 80 percent to 85 percent of the water used in Colorado is still used for agricultural purposes. That is a real challenge, both men said, because changing water use from ag to domestic in water court is a complicated process.

So what happens when Greeley’s economy moves away from agriculture? Evans asked.

“It is predicted we will have more than double our population by 2050,” Evans said. “Where is the water going to come from? What is it going to look like in 2050? Who knows? We’ll figure it out, but it’s going to look different.

“But we are fortunate to have the system we have. It allows us to do things others can’t do. When 2100 rolls around, I hope people look back on us and say, ‘Those guys in 2015 did a great job for us.’ ”

More Greeley coverage here.


Judge rules that Adams County stormwater utility is exempt from TABOR

February 13, 2015
Adams County photo via CIG

Adams County photo via CIG

From The Denver Post (Anthony Cotton):

A judge in Adams County ruled Monday in favor of the county in a lawsuit filed by residents who opposed the stormwater utility fee that was approved by the county commissioners in 2012.

The lawsuit was filed in August 2013 by the Stop Stormwater Utility Association, which argued that the fee was really a tax and therefore a violation of the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights in the Colorado Constitution because the collection was not approved by voters.

“Throughout this process the county has maintained the belief that the stormwater utility is a fee, not a tax and is necessary to provide storm water related services and facilities,” Commissioner Chaz Tedesco said.

In his ruling, Judge Mark Warner said “The utility is a government-owned business that receives less than 10 percent of its funds from state and local authorities combined, and is therefore an “enterprise” that is exempted from TABOR. Further, defendant has not engaged in an unconstitutional “bait and switch” by imposing the fee and using it, in part, for administrative and personnel costs.

“Further, the Court concludes the stormwater utility fee is reasonably related to the overall cost of providing services related water drainage and water related activities in the service area. Thus, based upon the foregoing interpretation of Colorado law, the stormwater utility charge is a fee, not a tax and not subject to TABOR.”

More stormwater coverage here.


“Don’t Frack Denver” asks city leaders to prohibit exploration and production in the city limits

February 11, 2015
Denver City Park sunrise

Denver City Park sunrise

From TheDenverChannel.com (Alan Gathright, Jennifer Kovaleski):

A coalition including conservationists and neighborhood activists is asking Denver’s mayor and City Council to block fracking in the city and the river valleys that supply its drinking water.

The “Don’t Frack Denver” alliance on Tuesday called for elected leaders to impose an immediate moratorium on fracking in the city.

Opponents want to prevent “fracking wells being sunk into an area where Denver draws nearly 40 percent of its drinking water supply,” Sam Schabacker, regional director of Food & Water Watch, told an afternoon rally outside Denver’s City and County Building.

He’s talking about the Platte River Basin, a watershed that also “supplies thousands of jobs and an immense about of economic activity for the recreation industry.”

“Out in northeast Denver, residents that live in communities like Montbello and Green Valley Ranch are faced with the risk of having fracking wells put next to their homes or [where] they send their children to school,” Schabacker said. He asserted that contamination from fracking chemicals could place people at “increased risk of things like cancer, birth defects, lower birth rates.

Whether local governments can regulate fracking is the subject of debate. A task force appointed by Gov. John Hickenlooper is considering how much control local governments should have.

Hickenlooper, a geologist and the former mayor of Denver, has argued the state should regulate drilling.

In response to the alliance’s call for a fracking moratorium, Mayor Michael B. Hancock’s spokeswoman Amber Miller issued this statement:

“Mayor Hancock hears their concerns loud and clear and will continue to work toward a shared goal of preserving our environment and quality of life here in Denver. The Mayor is keeping a keen eye on this issue, and eagerly anticipates the recommendations from the Governor’s Oil and Gas Task Force before any action would be considered on a municipal level. Understanding the Task Force is working on a responsible balance, the Mayor asks for the community and stakeholders to remain patient and allow a thoughtful process to take place.”

Backers of the new campaign include nature photographer John Fielder, local affiliates of Food & Water Watch and the Sierra Club, three microbreweries and others.

At the rally, Fielder expressed concern about potential oil spills and protecting Colorado’s beauty.

“We want to make sure that they hear us, and hear our voices and that is that South Park is the last place we want to see oil and gas exploration in Colorado,” Fielder said of the high plain where the Platte River flows through Platte County. It’s a popular area for trout fishing and other outdoor recreation.

The Bureau of Land Management issued this statement about the South Park drilling site:

“The Bureau of Land Management Royal Gorge Field Office will be conducting a Master Leasing Plan for South Park as part of its upcoming Resource Management Plan revision. The purpose of a Master Leasing Plan is to provide BLM managers a way to strategically plan for oil and gas leasing and development and address potential resource conflicts. The BLM anticipates starting the public planning process this summer, in which public participation plays a vital role. “

From The Denver Post (Jon Murray):

Oil and gas representatives Tuesday assailed a campaign to ban new fracking operations in the state capital, with one pro-industry group equating the effort to “declaring war on Denver’s economy.”

Activists behind “Don’t Frack Denver” countered that they want to ward off the threat of expanded fracking in a city where oil extraction near homes is much less common than in some suburbs.

The push by environmental and community groups, activists and businesses received no immediate commitment from Denver Mayor Michael Hancock or the City Council.

It spurred Vital for Colorado, a pro-industry business advocacy group, to issue a blistering statement that referred to the activists as “anti-science extremists.”

“Groups that peddle fear, instead of facts, are out to hurt Colorado’s economy and out to reduce the tax base that supports our schools, parks and libraries,” said Peter Moore, the group’s board chairman.

But with fracking operations planned or setting up just outside far northeast Denver, the activists say they’re right to worry. Environmental group Food & Water Watch is coordinating the effort, The Denver Post reported in Tuesday’s print editions.

A Hancock spokeswoman said he understood the activist coalition’s concerns, but she said he wouldn’t consider backing any local action until a state oil and gas task force looking at regulatory issues publishes its recommendations. Those are due Feb. 27.

Councilman Chris Herndon, who represents northeast Denver, echoed Hancock’s comments.

A moratorium also could be in murky legal territory, given recent state court rulings that have overturned other cities’ fracking bans. Those are on appeal.

The most noticeable fracking in Denver occurs at Denver International Airport, which has 70 active wells leased out to oil and gas companies.

The activists also asked Hancock and the council to voice opposition to potential fracking leases on federal land in South Park near the headwaters of the South Platte River, a major source of drinking water for the metro area. Those could be years from winning approval, though, since the Bureau of Land Management has hit the pause button while it begins extensive studies that it says will consider environmental safety.

About three dozen activists Tuesday delivered letters to the mayor’s office and to City Councilwoman Susan Shepherd.

The signatories included environmental, community and social justice groups, businesses — including two microbreweries concerned about water quality — and nature photographer John Fielder.

Pro- and anti-fracking forces sparred over science, safety, air quality and water quality.

Fracking involves injecting water, sand and chemicals to break up underground rocks, releasing oil and gas. The industry says it has been safe for six decades and is subject to intense federal and state regulations that keep it from harming the environment.

But Rossina Schroeer-Santiago and other residents of Greenwood Valley Ranch, where Hancock lives, have watched oil companies lease ground nearby in Aurora.

“I want protection from these airborne hazards — not just for myself, but as a mother, for my children and for the other families in the community,” Schroeer-Santiago said. “Don’t frack my community.”

A spokeswoman for Green Valley Ranch’s developer, Oakwood Homes, told The Post this week that it has no plans for mineral exploration in the neighborhood.

From the Denver Business Journal (Cathy Proctor):

Colorado’s fracking wars arrived at Denver city hall Tuesday, with a coalition of 25 groups that included some of the standard bearers of the anti-fracking movement in the state delivering a statement calling for Mayor Michael Hancock and the City Council to ban the use of hydraulic fracturing within the city limits.

“We think it’s just a matter of time before they start fracking in Denver,” Sam Schabacker, the western region director for Food & Water Watch, who’s been working on the fracking issue in Colorado for the last few years, told the Denver Business Journal.

The Don’t Frack Denver coalition includes photographer John Fielder, Food & Water Watch; Greenpeace, Kids Against Fracking, Mercury Café, MM Local, Mo’ Betta Green Marketplace, Padres & Jóvenes Unidos, Rosenberg’s Bagels, Sierra Club – Denver Metro Network, Slow Food Denver; and the WildEarth Guardians.
And if the coalition is looking for a fight, the chairman of Vital for Colorado, a coalition of more than 35,000 Coloradans, businesses, civic leaders and trade organizations that support the oil and gas industry, says the organization is ready.

“We cannot let anti-science extremists destroy Denver’s economy over hype and environmental hysteria,” said Peter Moore, a Denver attorney and Vital’s board chairman, noting that fracking has been done in Colorado for decades and fracking fluid has never been discovered in underground water supplies.
“Groups that peddle fear, instead of facts, are out to hurt Colorado’s economy and out to reduce the tax base that supports our schools, parks and libraries. Extreme environmentalists are declaring war on Denver’s economy and thousands of Coloradans are ready for the fight,” Moore said…

On the one hand, fracking already has occurred in Denver. Denver International Airport owns 76 oil and gas wells, all of which have been fracked, a spokesman said.

The 76 wells have generated between $5 million and $7 million a year in revenue for the airport since 2010, money that’s used to pay for airport operations, according to the airport’s figures.

On the other hand, the group’s concerns Tuesday focused on Green Valley Ranch in northeast Denver, the home of Mayor Michael Hancock.

No drilling has taken place and no drilling is planned on the Denver side of that community, according to Wendy Aiello, a spokeswoman for the Oakwood Homes developer of the community.
ConocoPhillips (NYSE: COP) owns mineral rights near Green Valley Ranch, but they’re on the Aurora side of the Denver-Aurora border.

“However, we do not have any plans to drill there in 2015,” a company spokeswoman said Tuesday…

Food & Water Watch, based in Washington, D.C., wants the nation to shift to greener, renewable energy sources, Schabacker said.

“We think we need to move away from these forms of extreme energy extraction and need to be moving toward renewable energy,” he said.

“This ‘Don’t Frack Denver’ is asking for a moratorium on fracking in the Denver city limits to protect Denver’s residents, and also asking for Denver to ask the BLM {Bureau of Land Management] to not allow fracking in the water shed,” he said.

The group wants the BLM to halt plans to explore a master plan for leasing and drilling in the South Park area, a project the federal agency launched in response to environmental groups’ criticisms of previous efforts to explore the area for oil and gas.

Schabacker said the coalition worries that if the BLM finishes its plan and leases the South Park area for oil and gas operations, and if oil and gas companies drill for oil, then a spill could happen that contaminates the South Platte River, which supplies water to Denver.

“There will be an accident and spills into Denver’s water supply,” Schabacker said. “The question is what will it cost, and what are the implications for Denver’s residents and businesses who rely on that water.”
Karen Crummy, spokeswoman for an oil and gas advocacy group called Protecting Colorado’s Environment, Economy, and Energy Independence, said the new Denver anti-fracking group is “looking for a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist.”

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency “has never found a case where fracking has contaminated groundwater, but this shows what happens when extreme, Washington-D.C. groups come into Colorado: they scare the heck out of people by peddling propaganda to further their agenda,” Crummy said.

More oil and gas coverage here.


“Conservation has been successful and will be an integral part of meeting our future water needs” — Jim Lochhead

February 10, 2015
Cheesman Dam spilling June 2014 via Tim O'Hara

Cheesman Dam spilling June 2014 via Tim O’Hara

From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

Maybe it is projects such as replacing 10,000 toilets in Denver Public Schools. Maybe it is Denver Water’s ceaseless “Use Only What You Need” campaign. Or maybe residents seeing scarcity are self-motivated. Whatever the reasons, water use in metro Denver has dipped to 40-year lows.

The total amount residents used in December decreased to 3.19 billion gallons, and in January to 3.36 billion gallons — down from previous winter highs topping 4 billion gallons, utility officials said.

The last time December use dropped this low was in 1973 when Denver had 350,000 fewer people.

“Our customers are responding. … Conservation has been successful and will be an integral part of meeting our future water needs — along with reuse and new supply,” Denver Water manager Jim Lochhead said.

The low use this winter continues a trend of declining water use despite a growing population. Denver residents use 82 gallons a day per person for all indoor and outdoor purposes, utility data show. That’s down from 104 gallons in 2001 and puts Denver ahead of other Western cities that are counting on conservation to avoid running dry.

Water supply has become more of a challenge around the West, with population growth and droughts projected to be more frequent and severe. The crisis in California, where mountain snowpack lags at 25 percent of normal, prompted Interior Secretary Sally Jewell to meet with Gov. Jerry Brown last week to hash out relief.

Farmers use the most water, by far, for food production — an 85 percent share in Colorado. Yet it is city dwellers who are making the greatest strides in water conservation.

Denver Water leaders last week declared a new target for 1.3 million customers: 30 gallons a day for indoor use.

The overall water conservation effort relies on a widening strategy: rebates for those who switch to water-saving appliances, tiered water rates that encourage using less, summer lawn-watering restrictions, and a rule that all new development must include soil “amendments” so that soil retains more water.

Water bills still are relatively low. Denver Water charges about $455 a year for households using less than 115,000 gallons, compared with $1,283 in Arapahoe County and $890 in Colorado Springs.

The recent low use likely resulted partly from citywide conservation projects, utility officials said — including the replacement of toilets in 140 public schools with low-flow models designed in Japan.

Denver Public Schools field supervisor Jeff Lane said current toilets use 3.5 gallons per flush while the Toto toilets use 1.25 gallons. That’s expected to save the city 65.9 million gallons a year.

So far, district crews have replaced 3,200 toilets, Lane said this week at Colfax Elementary. The rest should be done by 2018.

Less water coursing through 4-inch iron and clay sewer lines could complicate the effort, Lane said. “It could get caught up.” But Denver Water officials said they’ve investigated and that, as long as lines are in good condition, there shouldn’t be a problem.

Denver Water pays DPS rebates of $90 per toilet. DPS officials said they’ll also sell old brass parts, $2 a pound, to help finance the switch.

The reduced water use also is attributed to Denver Water “messaging” using billboards, television and utility bills. Last month, bills contained blurbs touting the 30-gallon target. “Each person in an average single-family house should use roughly 30 gallons inside per day, or better yet, shoot for less!”

This is “something to aspire to,” Lochhead said.

Water bill blurbs also exhorted residents to “rethink your fixtures,” consult with neighbors because “understanding how others conserve will help you, too,” and replace portions of lawns with low-water shrubs.

A widening awareness of water supply challenges also appeared to be motivating residents to use less. “Whether it is a drought in Colorado or the West,” Lochhead said, “water availability is becoming a more familiar topic for many people.”

More conservation coverage here.


Upward is the only recent direction for C-BT share prices

February 9, 2015

Colorado-Big Thompson Project east slope facilities

Colorado-Big Thompson Project east slope facilities


From BizWest (Steve Lynn):

Prices of Colorado-Big Thompson water have reached an all-time high, selling for nearly three times more than just two years ago.

Shares of the water went for more than $26,000 apiece at an auction Jan. 23, according to Berthoud-based Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, the equivalent of $52,000 an acre foot. An acre foot equals 326,000 gallons, enough water to serve 2.5 households annually.

The water was bought for industrial and municipal uses, said Brian Werner, spokesman for the district. The identity of the buyer has not yet been disclosed.

The high prices are likely to cause concern in the agricultural world, where farm water traditionally has been lower priced. Residential homebuilders also are likely to feel the squeeze, as fees for new water taps rise.

“It’s fairly expensive water these days, if you can find it,” Werner said. “Some people can’t even find it.”[…]

Built originally in the 1930s to serve the region’s massive irrigated agriculture economy, shares in the C-BT gradually have been acquired by fast-growing cities and energy companies. Now the water is largely owned by cities, and leased back to farmers or others who seek to use it on a temporary annual basis.

How much water is associated with each share in the system changes each year and is based on how much water is derived from snowpacks and precipitation. This year, a share of water equals six-tenths of an acre foot since the Northern Water Board of Directors declared a 60 percent quota last April, meaning water-rights owners can use only 60 percent of the resource they own.

The high prices for water come despite record levels of water storage in October in the district’s reservoirs, which span Northern Colorado and the Boulder Valley.

“Storage remained high throughout this year and through the winter,” Werner said.

As of Jan. 1, Colorado-Big Thompson had 665,000 acre feet of water in storage, 45 percent above normal, Werner said.

The higher levels stemmed from above-average snowpack, increased precipitation and less water delivered to water users. Flooding in September 2013 also replenished groundwater supplies in many areas.

Higher water storage may mean more water available to rent, but it may not affect water-rights prices, said Tom Cech, director of One World One Water at Metropolitan State University.

“The price of (Colorado-Big Thompson) water and other water rights in the region are directly tied to demand such as from energy development, water for fracking purposes, and then urban development,” Cech said. “Those are the two big drivers.”

Fracking involves pumping millions of gallons of water under high pressure deep underground to free oil and gas from dense shale formations. As energy companies benefit from the water, Cech said, agriculture has faced increasing challenges because of the high water prices.

“Irrigated agriculture is generally short of adequate water supplies,” he said. “In the wet years, there’s enough, but you always have the dry years around the corner.”

Slowing energy development because of lower oil prices could temper high water prices in the next year or so, he said. Oil and natural-gas drilling permits approved in Weld County remained flat during the third and fourth quarters amid falling oil prices, according to the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.

Urban development, however, has shown no signs of abating. The population of Weld and Larimer counties is expected to grow from 580,000 to more than 1 million people by 2040.

“You have to have water supplies for the new residents, so developers and municipalities have to go out and acquire more water rights,” he said. “That should drive the price of water up.”

Developers in Northern Colorado cities such as Greeley already face higher tap fees when they have to rely on Colorado-Big Thompson water.

\If developers do not have water to supply their developments, they instead pay cash to use Greeley’s supply. Here also, rates have skyrocketed, with Greeley charging $25,000 per share in recent months, nearly triple the $9,000 per share it was charging in October 2012, according to Eric Reckentine, the city of Greeley’s deputy director of water resources.

Mike DiTullio, district manager for the Fort Collins-Loveland Water District, said the higher prices are making new homes increasingly expensive. He said he closed a deal in January for 200 units of Colorado-Big Thompson water – for about $5 million, at $25,000 per share.

The higher water prices will not affect rates of existing residential customers, DiTullio said. Instead, new homeowners and developers will foot the bill. The water district serves about 16,000 customers in Larimer County.

“That increase in raw water costs is paid for by new houses,” he said. “There’s no such thing as affordable housing in Larimer and Weld counties.”


Sterling: New RO water plant online and slowly winning over rate payers

February 6, 2015
Reverse Osmosis Water Plant

Reverse Osmosis Water Plant

From Radio Colorado College (Maeve Conran):

Coloradans pride themselves on the quality of their drinking water, most of which originates high up in the Rocky Mountains. But many communities on the Eastern plains have water that not only tastes bad, it’s out of compliance with federal drinking water standards.

Many diners at the J and L Cafe in downtown Sterling are sipping on glasses of tap water as they enjoy lunch on this December morning. That was not the case just a year ago.

“You couldn’t hardly drink it,” says Kathy Orchid, who says she never used to drink the tap water. “You could hardly drink it. It’s much better.”

The difference lies in the new multi-million dollar water treatment plant, less than a mile from the diner.

“The EPA…put the city on an enforcement order where we were basically told we had to fix the problem,” says Jeff Reeves, Sterling’s utilities superintendent, who supervises operations.

The city and the state had long been aware of problems with the drinking water, specifically that it contained radium and uranium, contaminants that can lead to kidney problems and bone cancer.

“All of these problems are naturally occurring,” says Ron Falco, who manages the Safe Drinking Water Program for the State of Colorado. “So this problem happens in the ground water as it’s moving through formations that may just have naturally high levels of radium or uranium.”

Falco says dozens of other communities, all on the Eastern Plains, are also struggling with water quality because like Sterling, they rely on ground water.

The EPA issued new drinking water standards in 2008, which meant those locations were now out of compliance with federal standards. Falco and other state health officials started working with the communities to improve the water systems.

“Historically, about 55 systems in the state of Colorado serving about 32000 people have struggled with uranium and radium in their drinking water,” says Falco. “By 2008, that number was at about 37 systems and about 21000 people.”

Sterling’s new water treatment plant is about a year old, and has put a dent in those numbers. This town of about 15,000 people in the South Platte River Basin was the largest municipality in the state facing this water quality issue.

The plant uses reverse osmosis to remove the uranium and radium. Reverse osmosis forces the water through a membrane, trapping contaminants which then form a concentrated brine.

But there are a couple of challenges. One is a 15% loss in usable water due to the treatment process, a significant figure for a region grappling with water quantity AND quality. The other problem is what to do with that wastewater.

Deep injection well

Deep injection well

Utilities manager Jeff Reeves says they’re storing that wastewater in an underground reservoir. “That’s down below an impermeable layer so it can’t get back up into the drinking water.”

Despite those two challenges, Reeves says the city of Sterling now has water that is well within federal standards. In addition, the reverse osmosis process has also improved the taste.

“We thought that we might as well make the water much more aesthetically pleasing,” says Reeves. “If you’re going to produce a product that people are going to have to pay for it’s a lot easier to get along with the customers if the water is good.”

More water treatment coverage here.


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