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


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

The latest thinking from the Gunnison River Basin Roundtable about a potential new transmountain diversion

January 14, 2015

Colorado transmountain diversions via the University of Colorado

Colorado transmountain diversions via the University of Colorado

Rio Grande now largest source of ABQ water — the Albuquerque Journal #RioGrande

January 13, 2015
New Mexico water projects map via Reclamation

New Mexico water projects map via Reclamation

From the Albuquerque Journal (John Fleck):

Albuquerque’s effort to wean itself from unsustainable groundwater pumping took a major step forward in 2014, with Rio Grande water for the first time in history meeting more than half the needs of the metro area’s largest water utility.

In a year-end report to the state, the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility reported that 60 percent of its water came from its diversion dam, which intercepts Rio Grande flows near Alameda at the north end of town. Groundwater, pumped from deep layers of sands and gravels beneath the city, made up the other 40 percent of supply. The water utility serves a population of more than 600,000 in Albuquerque and neighboring areas of Bernalillo County.

The shift from groundwater to river water is critical to maintaining the long-term viability of Albuquerque’s water supply, said University of New Mexico water expert Bruce Thomson. “The groundwater is our drought reserve, so we need to preserve that,” Thomson said in an interview Monday.

The shift to river water, bolstered by water imported from the Colorado River Basin via the San Juan-Chama Project, began in 2008. At the time, excess groundwater pumping over more than a century had dropped the water table beneath Albuquerque by as much as 120 feet in some places. The use of river water has shifted that balance, with the water table rising 4 to 8 feet in the years since across Albuquerque, more in some places, said John Stomp, chief operations officer for the water utility. “The groundwater levels are continuing to rise in Albuquerque,” Stomp said.

“The fact that we’ve reduced the stress on our groundwater reserves has allowed them to recover fairly substantially,” Thomson said.

The results suggest the San Juan-Chama Drinking Water Project, a $500 million effort that included a new dam, water treatment plant and distribution pipes throughout Bernalillo County, is achieving its primary goal, Thomson said.

More Rio Grande River Basin coverage here.

An interview with Doug Kenney (Colorado River Research Group) #ColoradoRiver

January 11, 2015
Colorado River Basin including out of basin demands -- Graphic/USBR

Colorado River Basin including out of basin demands — Graphic/USBR

From National Geographic (Brian Richter):

This week I had the opportunity to speak with Doug Kenney of the University of Colorado, who chairs the [Colorado River Research Group], about the purpose and aspirations of the group.

What motivated the CRRG to compile this set of Guiding Principles?

Kenney: We came together as the CRRG because we all believed that we could offer something that has been lacking in the discussion of Colorado River issues: an independent, science-based, and most importantly – a basin-wide perspective. But before we could begin to speak as a group, we had to make sure we all viewed the current problems and potential solutions in a consistent way. That prompted a group discussion about key CRRG messages, the product of which is our “Guiding Principles” document.

Who’s your audience?

Kenney: Our audience is everyone who cares about the future of the Colorado River. At a minimum, that’s the 40 million people who directly consume water from the river today. But also for those that recognize the river as more than a commodity to be divided up among competing factions. The river is truly a national and global asset. That’s a voice that needs to be heard.

If we are successful, the result will be a better-informed public, and that in turn will put pressure on decision makers that refuse to recognize modern realities. We also hope to provide political cover for leaders that understand the need to behave differently going forward but shy from political controversy.

Our website received over 1,000 different visitors in our first 3 weeks of existence. There’s clearly a demand for the type of information we are providing.

In your Summary Report, you state that “Water users consume too much water from the river and, moving forward, must strive to use less, not more. Any conversation about the river that does not explicitly acknowledge this reality cannot provide a basis for making sound public policy.” Yet you point out that the Basin Plan actually calls for more water consumption in every state. What do you think it will take to get the growth boosters of the basin to come to grips with reality?

Kenney: Even to a cancer, growth at some point becomes self-defeating. In water management that point becomes evident when new consumption undermines the reliability of existing uses. We already see that on the Colorado River. Every new diversion from the river makes it more difficult to satisfy existing needs and rights, to refill strained reservoirs, and to restore flows to depleted river reaches. Ultimately, unsustainable growth becomes a problem for everyone.

The real work can only begin when there is an understanding that an increase in consumption is counterproductive to a healthy river and economy. There are ways to grow without increasing consumption; most large western cities, for example, use the same or less water now than they did 25 years ago, despite significant population growth. That’s tremendously encouraging.

Going forward, any new consumption will have to be offset by reduced consumption elsewhere. That can happen in a planned and strategic matter that protects economic and environmental values, or it can happen in a manner that is inefficient, confrontational, and inequitable. Obviously, we advocate for the former, but that requires viewing the problems through a basin-wide lens, and it necessitates a greater use of markets or policy incentives to reward creative problem-solving.

Why do you think the states have been so slow to invest in conservation at the needed level?

Kenney: Historically, the role of the states has been to promote and assist local governments and water districts in their efforts to develop and consume water. Population growth, increased water consumption, and economic vitality were viewed as self-reinforcing. Similarly, the underlying goal of the federal reclamation movement was to promote population growth and economic expansion in the West, and for a long while, it worked.

But this model has generated many indirect costs, especially on the environment, and now that the available water supplies are nearly exhausted, it’s no longer viable. That’s the new reality in most basins of the West. Yet some water managers still don’t acknowledge this new reality. I’ve spoken to many water managers that argue that the prudent strategy for meeting their local water needs is to expand as fast as possible until all the water is gone. They know that they’ll eventually need to get aggressive with water conservation, but they figure that conservation will be easier when they have a large population base using a lot of water, as compared to being restrained or frugal from the beginning.

That’s an entirely logical philosophy when viewed from the standpoint of individual, local water systems. But when viewed as a system, it is a recipe for disaster—a classic ‘tragedy of the commons’ situation. Unfortunately, most decisions about water development and conservation are made locally, and are driven by an assessment of local costs and benefits.

Water conservation is the key to our future. But it cannot continue to be used solely for the purpose of enabling an expansion of consumption by more people. And conservation faces strong headwinds. For starters, conservation has an image problem. To many, it is viewed as an acknowledgement of failure, a call for sacrifice, a symptom of a stagnating society. It’s un-American. Conversely, growth, of almost any kind, generally has a positive connotation. Conservation is also woefully unexciting. Low-flow toilets will never inspire the awe and respect of giant dams and pumping stations, especially among the engineers that lead many water agencies. Furthermore, conservation can become a fiscal nightmare for projects that were financed on the assumption that water sales would generate the revenues to pay bond obligations. And so on.

Water conservation, sadly, is something that is only embraced when there’s no other obvious solution available. But when that time comes, the merits of conservation are undeniable: it can alleviate shortages, enhance environmental resources, and save ratepayers money. So at some point, the image of water conservation becomes the positive, and the image of water consumption becomes the negative. I’ve seen that in some places, such as Tucson. But at the scale of the Colorado River basin, we just aren’t there yet.

Lake Nighthorse: “This water would really help our future” — Manuel Heart

January 7, 2015
Lake Nighthorse via the USBR

Lake Nighthorse via the USBR

From The Durango Herald (Mary Shinn):

The Durango City Council signed a resolution Tuesday supporting the delivery of water from Lake Nighthorse to the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe.

“This water would really help our future,” Chairman Manuel Heart said.

The resolution stemmed from a series of recent meetings between city officials and the tribe about the potential recreational use of Lake Nighthorse, City Manager Ron LeBlanc said.

The city likely will send the resolution to Colorado’s U.S. senators and House members to help support the tribe as it seeks funding for infrastructure to deliver water.

Lake Nighthorse was built to provide Native American tribes, including the Southern Ute Indian Tribe, the Navajo Nation and the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, with water they are entitled to receive, said Justyn Hoch, a spokeswoman for the Bureau of Reclamation.

The Ute Mountain Ute Tribe has water rights to about 31 percent of the water stored in the lake, but Congress has not funded infrastructure to bring it to the reservation, she said.

Congress has funded a pipeline to the Navajo Nation, which is nearing completion. It will deliver water to the Shiprock area. In addition, the Southern Utes could access water from Lake Nighthorse by releasing it back into the Animas and taking it out of a river diversion, she said.

However, the infrastructure for the Ute Mountain Utes was dropped from federal legislation in 2000, Heart said.

The tribal leadership already has met with U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R.-Cortez, and has plans to meet with U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, R.-Colorado, this year to talk about the need to fund a delivery system.

The additional water would allow for greater economic development on the reservation, Heart said. The reservation covers about 600,000 acres southwest of Cortez and has one of the largest farms in Montezuma County.

Ute Mountain Ute Councilor Regina Lopez-Whiteskunk also voiced her appreciation of the resolution because the reservation currently has limited water resources. While securing water delivery is a priority for the tribe, she expects it to be years before the tribe receives an appropriation.

More Animas-La Plata Project coverage here.


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