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.


Southern Delivery System update: Damages awarded to rancher vacated by Colorado Supreme Court

February 12, 2015
Southern Delivery System route map -- Graphic / Reclamation

Southern Delivery System route map — Graphic / Reclamation

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The Colorado Supreme Court vacated a Pueblo District Court order that would have required Colorado Springs to pay Pueblo County rancher Gary Walker more than $500,000 in costs in a legal dispute over Southern Delivery System.

The order, issued last week, throws out former District Judge Victor Reyes’ Dec. 4 decision to award Walker Ranches $387,000 plus 8 percent annual interest since 2011 for costs leading up to a trial that has been postponed several times. That amounted to about $509,000.

Reyes retired at the end of last year.

Reyes issued a supplemental order that the payment was binding because of Colorado Springs’ 1041 land-use agreement with Pueblo County that prevents “undue financial burdens” for Pueblo County residents affected by SDS.

The state Supreme Court directed Pueblo District Court to determine costs after a trial to determine the value of the easement for SDS across Walker Ranches. The trial is scheduled to begin in April.

Colorado Springs had argued legal costs should not be negotiated until after the trial concluded, while Walker’s lawyers said costs were incurred even as Colorado Springs sought delays for trial.

Walker has not made a request for payment under the 1041 agreement from Pueblo County commissioners, and the county is not a party to the dispute over payment, said Ray Petros, special counsel for Pueblo County.

Walker and Colorado Springs are miles apart on the value of the SDS pipeline easement. Colorado Springs contends it is worth $100,000, while Walker’s attorneys filed documents indicating damage to the ranches as a whole from the pipeline is $25 million.


Aspinall Unit operations update

January 23, 2015


From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

Releases from Crystal Dam will be decreased from 1100 cfs to 800 cfs on the morning of Monday, January 26th. This release decrease is in response to the declining runoff forecast for Blue Mesa Reservoir. The current forecast for April-July unregulated inflow to Blue Mesa Reservoir is 660,000 acre-feet which is 98% of average.

Flows in the lower Gunnison River are currently above the baseflow target of 1050 cfs. River flows are expected to stay above the baseflow target for the foreseeable future.

Pursuant to the Aspinall Unit Operations Record of Decision (ROD), the baseflow target in the lower Gunnison River, as measured at the Whitewater gage, is 1050 cfs for January through March.

Currently, diversions into the Gunnison Tunnel are zero and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon are around 1150 cfs. After this release change Gunnison Tunnel diversions will still be zero and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon should be around 850 cfs. Current flow information is obtained from provisional data that may undergo revision subsequent to review.

More Aspinall Unit coverage here.


“I believe the Western Slope will sabotage any attempt to develop more water” — Jeris Danielson #ColoradoRiver #COWaterPlan

January 19, 2015
Fryingpan-Arkansas Project western and upper eastern slope facilities

Fryingpan-Arkansas Project western and upper eastern slope facilities

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Can the Western Slope ever come to terms with a future proposal to move water across the Continental Divide?

That’s one question that is emerging as the state water plan moves into its sophomore year.

Part of the draft water plan presented to Gov. John Hickenlooper in December includes principles for Colorado River Development.

The issue has been a stumbling block in the quest to get agreement from all water basins in the state about how to provide new water supplies. It stymied a task force formed several years ago to look at whether a pipeline from Flaming Gorge Reservoir in Wyoming could be built. Denver Water went its own way in obtaining a cooperative agreement with diverse Western Slope interests.

“I had hoped we could get away from the Western Slope position of not one damn more drop,” said Jeris Danielson, a former state engineer who now manages the Purgatoire Water Conservancy District. “I believe the Western Slope will sabotage any attempt to develop more water.”

Danielson made his comments at the Arkansas Basin Roundtable meeting last week. He represents the roundtable on the Interbasin Compact Committee. Both were created in 2005, partly for the reason of ironing out disputes between basins.

The groups formed in a period of statewide drought when the Legislature was looking for an alternative to the long-standing practice of agricultural dry-up to slake urban thirst. The issue of maintaining or increasing water imports is vital to Front Range communities, including Pueblo, as water supplies in the Arkansas and South Platte river basins are fully spoken for and being used.

The Colorado River basin has conditional water rights in place for more water than is available, but much of that is by oil shale companies that have never developed the water rights. Danielson said excess water is available much of the time and Colorado has a right to use it under the Colorado River Compact.

One of the things the IBCC managed to accomplish in the first 10 years of meetings was a draft conceptual agreement. The key points of the agreements boil down to:

  • Making the Front Range and Eastern Colorado projects.
  • Development of compensatory projects for the Western Slope.
  • Establish triggers for times when water could be moved, because of compact calls.
  • Accommodating future Western Slope needs.
  • Improving urban and agricultural conservation and reuse.
  • Incorporating environmental and recreation needs for water.
  • The Roundtable touched the surface of only one or two of those points at its meeting last week, but accepted those points as a starting place for IBCC discussions, which are expected to continue when it meets in Denver next week.

    Jay Winner, the roundtable’s other IBCC representative, said more talk about the principles is not the way to go. He noted that a recent Gunnison Basin “white paper” appears poised to set the process back.

    “It took us a year to get to this point,” Winner said. “I’m tired of white papers. We need a project.”


    Stormwater hangs up SDS request — The Pueblo Chieftain

    January 17, 2015
    Southern Delivery System route map -- Graphic / Reclamation

    Southern Delivery System route map — Graphic / Reclamation

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    Controlling stormwater on Fountain Creek has surfaced as a key issue for use of the Southern Delivery System in light of the rejection of the Pikes Peak Drainage Authority by El Paso County voters in November.

    A proposal to use the SDS pipeline to deliver water to a system just north of Colorado Springs could be a test of Pueblo County’s 1041 regulations for SDS.

    Donala Water and Sanitation District has asked for an exemption or finding of no significant impact from Pueblo County 1041 conditions on its plan to move water from rights it purchased in 2009 on the Willow Creek Ranch south of Leadville.

    A Pueblo County analysis of votes in the Donala district shows its residents rejected stormwater control by a 60-40 margin.

    “Serious concerns over compliance with (1041 conditions) are raised by the failed efforts in El Paso County, including within the city of Colorado Springs and Donala, at establishing, financing and maintaining stormwater controls,” Pueblo County Planner Joan Armstrong wrote in a letter to Donala last week.

    “The recent failure of the November ballot pro­posal in El Paso County on stormwater fees only heightened those concerns.”

    Donala plans to use excess capacity in the SDS pipeline from Pueblo Dam to Colorado Springs and a conveyance agreement with Colorado Springs Utilities to move an average of about 436 acre-feet (143 million gallons).

    SDS is not expected to come on line until at least 2016, and Donala is not the only community interested in using it. Colorado Springs has the majority of capacity in the line, which won’t reach its full volume of 78 million gallons daily for several decades.

    The move would provide about one-third of the water for 2,600 taps serving 8,000 people in the Donala district. It also would reduce Donala’s dependence on non-renewable groundwater from the Denver Basin aquifer.

    Donala asked for the exemption because the amount of water falls short of the 500-acrefoot threshold that normally would trigger a 1041 permit review.

    Armstrong asked Donala to address the question of whether larger amounts of water could be moved through the pipeline.

    She also explained that the county also is interested in the maximum — not just the average — flows that could be moved to Donala through SDS, and in complying with certain conditions of the 1041 permit for SDS, including stormwater control.

    The county asked Donala if it still intends to amend its service plan to control stormwater, as manager Kip Peterson indicated in a 2013 interview with The Pueblo Chieftain.

    The county also wants to know which of the projects identified in the 2013 El Paso County Stormwater Needs Assessment by CH2MHill would serve Donala and whether the district intends to fund or construct any of those projects.

    More Arkansas River Basin coverage here.


    Arizona State University study: Drought and the economic impact ($1.4 trillion) of the #ColoradoRiver

    January 15, 2015

    asucovercoloradoriverbasineconomicimpact

    Here’s the release from Protect the Flows:

    A first-ever comprehensive report by noted economist Tim James at W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University, commissioned by business coalition Protect the Flows, identifies the economic value and number of jobs dependent on the river for all the basin states and major economic sectors that use water from the river.

    The study reveals that hanging in the balance of the health of the Colorado River system are more than $1.4 trillion in economic activity, $871 billion in wages, and 16 million jobs. Put into perspective, an estimated 64.4 percent of the combined value of each basin state’s output of goods and services – could be lost if Colorado River water is no longer available to residents, businesses, industry, and agriculture. Read the Executive Summary here.

    From The Wall Street Journal (Jim Carlton):

    A new study for the first time quantifies the economic importance of Colorado River water to seven Western states—and the dire outcome should ongoing droughts dry up even a portion of it.

    The river’s water fuels $1.4 trillion in annual economic activity in California, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Wyoming, says the research by economists at Arizona State University. With just a 10% reduction in the water available for human use the gross economic product of those states would fall by $143 billion and cost 1.6 million jobs.

    At a 20% drop, those numbers would shoot up to $287 billion in lost economic activity and 3.2 million jobs, according to the study.

    The study assumes that no increase in water from other sources would be available. Those states, all of which have contractual rights to water from the Colorado, so far have managed to largely offset reductions in river flow brought on by a 15-year drought by drawing from underground reserves and stepping up conservation, among other measures.

    The researchers warn that real economic pain could occur when shortfalls no longer can be made up as population continues to grow and climate change affects rainfall.

    “We are getting to the crunch now,” said Timothy James, an Arizona State economics professor who led the study. “The Colorado River is the lifeblood of the entire region.”

    California’s drought, for example, has forced municipalities to draw so much more water from underground that some wells have gone dry. The state relies on the Colorado River, along with the snowpack in the Sierra Nevada, to meet much of its water needs.

    The river’s troubles are well documented elsewhere. The water level at Lake Mead—the largest reservoir for the Colorado River—has fallen more than 100 feet over the past decade to an elevation of 1,089 this week, according to Bureau of Reclamation figures.

    So far, the declining flows haven’t significantly affected the region’s economy, though farmers have suffered cutbacks and boating and other river-related businesses have taken a hit.

    More Colorado River Basin coverage here.


    The latest edition of Northern Water’s “Waternews” is hot off the presses

    January 14, 2015


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