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Managing Water with Data: Q&A with Lauren Ris

By Nevi Beatty

laurenrisprofileLauren Ris is the assistant director of water for the Colorado Department of Natural Resources (DNR), she served as interim director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board earlier this year, and has been serving as a member on the Colorado Foundation for Water Education’s board for the past two years. As the assistant director for water, Lauren develops and implements water policy. In this interview with former CFWE Intern, Nevi Beatty, Lauren describes how she and DNR use water data to manage water resources.

Nevi: How long have you been in your current job?

Lauren: About five years. I started out with DNR as the legislative liaison and I was in that position for a little over two years. I’ve been in my current role, assistant director for water, for about 2 1/2 years.

 

N: How does water data impact the decisions you make at the DNR?

L: I personally don’t work a lot with the actual data, but the DNR has a lot of smart, talented people whose expertise is collecting and analyzing water data. My job is more about making sure we make policy decisions based on the best data and science that is available.

I would say that what is even more important, or equally important, is how the data is collected. Specifically, making sure that the process we use to collect the data is inclusive of stakeholders and transparent about how we went about getting the information. Also making sure it is accessible so people can see how we are using the data and how it has informed our decisions. That way they do have access to that same information source.

The DNR does use water data directly when considering how to prepare for an expected issue with Colorado’s water. For example, planning for and managing a drought requires diligent monitoring of a variety of dynamic water availability and climate factors in order to gauge the severity of drought. I’m a couple steps removed from the actual data collection and analysis, but I certainly see the end product, help translate it to policy makers, and use it to guide the decisions we make at the DNR to a higher level.

N: What are some of the DNR’s recent decisions that have been influenced by water data?

L: Colorado’s Water Plan was founded on a data set that we referred to as SWSI (the Statewide Water Supply Initiative) and that really formed the technical foundation for the water plan. However, the process for that was super important.

We could have written Colorado’s Water Plan and had no stakeholder involvement, but it wouldn’t have been nearly as useful or reliable. We held over a thousand public meetings and over thirty thousand public comment on the data that formed the water plan. Therefore, it was super important that we had the quality data that we collected through SWSI, but it was the whole process of involving the round tables throughout the state, and making sure that the data was representative of all parts of Colorado.

A few years ago the CWCB adopted higher Statewide Floodplain Rules and Regulations, requiring all communities in Colorado to adopt the state’s higher standards. National data trends were used to support the policy decisions. Findings show that regulating floodplains to a higher standard than the minimum required by FEMA provides greater protection to life and property.

N: What are some ways that the experts at the DNR collect the data that you use?  

L: It’s so varied. At DNR we have several different divisions. The most obvious water divisions are the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) and the Division of Water Resources (DWR). DWR is in charge of administering all of the water rights through Colorado, they’re kind of like Colorado’s water police. So DWR uses a database called HydroBase that has all sorts of stream flow data, lake level data, and water rights data that you can overlay on top of each other and determine what water rights are in priority when. That forms the basis for when [DWR] puts a call on a, for example a river, whose water rights are a priority. So water data is used directly in making those types of decisions.

Another example is CWCB’s annual process where the CWCB board hears recommendations from the staff about instream flow acquisitions and protections. This is largely based on using a tool called R2Cross which, similarly to SWSI, models instream hydraulic parameters to develop instream flow recommendations in order to preserve or improve the environment.  So the board uses this data to construct their instream flow recommendations. And again, this data is reliable because the process we use is transparent and accessible so that people who are outside the State system can easily verify and check what the State is doing in regards to water use. Both the CWCB and DWR have a couple things in the works for improving our data’s accessibility.

N: How does the DNR ensure this data is accessible?

L: We make our data transparent and accessible so people have information available to them about what the state is doing. Currently, DWR and CWCB are developing water management systems called Decision Support Systems in each of the state’s major water basins.  The goal is to develop user-friendly databases that are helpful in the administration and allocation of water in Colorado while providing data and models to evaluate water administration strategies.

N: What audiences are using this water data and how are they applying it after you make it accessible?

L: Similar to CFWE, at the state we have a variety of audiences that use that data such as water engineers and water attorneys that are involved in water court cases that need a robust data set to do their work. We have legislators, as another audience, who need a much higher-level, bigger-picture data set and they’re looking for recommendations on policy problems that are based on a sound summary of data from us. The general public would be a broader audience—for example it was news to my mom that we get water from the West Slope—she’s a very different audience from our water engineers interacting with the water resources. Environmental organizations also partner with us on a variety of different efforts: water utilities, local governments, etc.

N: Why do you serve on the CFWE Board?

L: I serve on the board for one because DNR holds a seat on the board. Aside from that, I think the work that the foundation does to educate and help inform the public, so we can make better and more informed decisions about water and our water future, is really important and so complimentary to the work we do at the state level.

I also really appreciate the perspective of the foundation. One thing that, I think, offers a lot of credibility is the fact that the CFWE really makes it a number one priority to be a balanced, nonpartisan, fair source of reliable information. Because you can have the best data, the best scientists, the best staff but if you’re known for having that influenced perspective then your credibility is invalid.

N: What is DNR’s mission and why is it important for CO?

L: Generally, the mission of the DNR is to safeguard the natural resources of CO, make sure we are making balanced decisions for future generations, and that we are inclusive of all interests, water interests specifically, and making sure that we are heading toward a sustainable water future.

N: How does the water data you collect tie into this mission and achieving the goals you have for the future?

L: It’s really important that the policy decisions you are making are backed by the best available data and science. There are always improvements to be made about how we collect data and how it is analyzed.

There’s a lot of room for innovation, but I think the decisions we are making today are narrowing the scope of available options to future generations. It’s important that we use the best data and information we have, but we aren’t going to be able to move forward and take action on that information if we don’t have buy-in on that information and if we don’t have a well-informed public. I think that ties into your question about how important the foundation is. The mission of CFWE is to help facilitate getting that information out and translating information that is super technical, and I think that’s been one of the real values of the foundation. Water is so complicated from a scientific stand point, but also water law and water policy is so multi-faceted and there are so many competing interests that are so unique in Colorado. Having an organization that is devoted to breaking down and making information surrounding water accessible and understandable to the general public is so important if we are to be able to move forward and use the data that we collect to make well-informed decisions.

N: Do you have any wisdom you have gained to share with the CFWE audience?

L: I hesitate because I am relatively new to this field. In Colorado there are people who have worked in this field for 30 years and they have built their whole careers around this so as someone who has just come into this in the last few years or so I’m hesitant to offer words of wisdom because I still have so much to learn.

However, being relatively new to this field, I would say it is so important to keep an open mind, not be afraid to step out of old paradigms, and move past this East Slope West Slope divide that is separating Colorado. I hope that in the future we are able to see past the regional differences in Colorado and we can think more holistically about how to create balanced solutions for the state as a whole moving forward. And the water plan takes us one step down the road but there is still so much to do.

N: Have you noticed or learned anything new about CFWE before you came on the board?

L: Yes. Before I came on the board, I primarily knew of CFWE through the basin water tours and through Headwaters magazine. Since becoming a board member, I was really surprised and impressed with the size of the board and all the different interests that are represented in Colorado. I think it is so important to have that diversity of voices on the board.

The other thing I was surprised to learn is the variety of programs that the foundation offers with such a small staff.  Maybe that is the big take away for me that with such a small staff they are able to accomplish so much not to mention managing the huge board which is a task in itself.

Find further coverage of water data in the Summer 2017 Data Issue of Headwaters magazine and check out the latest episode of our radio series, Connecting the Drops Using Real-Time Data to Encourage Water-Wise Habits.

Not a Headwaters subscriber? Visit yourwatercolorado.org for the digital version. Headwaters is the flagship publication of the Colorado Foundation for Water Education and covers current events, trends and opportunities in Colorado water.

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What I learned at Water Fluency: Part 1

By Rebecca Callahan
Originally Published on Currents: Water Sage’s Blog on Water Rights and Water Data

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The 2017 Water Fluency Class had a barbecue outside the Colorado River District offices in Glenwood Springs with participants, speakers, as well as other experts and friends nearby.

[In early May], I had the distinct pleasure of spending time with more than 30 other Coloradans who, whether for work or for fun, felt the need to learn more about water in our State. The Colorado Foundation for Water Education’s Water Fluency course is in its third year. It’s a 3-month education program complete with in-person lectures, site visits, homework assignments, online lectures, quizzes, and group discussions. Attendees run the gamut of the water resources community: engineers, fly fishermen, city/town officials, regional board members, “river-huggers” and me, a corporate marketer. Attendees were there for as many reasons as there are ways that water flows. We were there to learn from the experts; to better understand the state of water in the State of Colorado; to better understand different points of view from different walks of life so we could go back to our personal and professional lives and make informed decisions.

And, wow, what a success it has been so far. Several of us even joked it should be a pre-requisite for the 1,000-new people moving to Colorado each month. Below is a quick snapshot of what I’ve learned so far. I have 2 more in-person events to attend and lots of homework to do between now and the end of July. I’m surprisingly excited about that, having been out of school for over 15 years.

#1: Onions are our friend

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The 2017 Water Fluency class met in Grand Junction in early May.

Walking in the first morning, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Would I understand what people were talking about? Was I going to be bored? Overwhelmed? Given my background in marketing in the travel industry, switching to the water resources industry has been a big leap. It’s been a vertical ramp up and while I’ve learned an enormous amount in the past 6 months, I wasn’t sure how much I’d like talking about water for two days. And, when I looked at the class roster, I got concerned—public servants and engineers and conservationists? Would I have anything in common with them?

But then we did an ice breaker where we went around the room and introduced ourselves. And I kept hearing analogies of peeling onions—even those who were water resource professionals felt the same as I did—that every time we learned something, we realized how little we knew. And throughout the two days, I realized it wasn’t just talk. Folks were as engaged and questioning as I was. I’m confident when I say everyone came away learning something.

Oh, and my concern about talking about water for two days? Not a problem. There were a few times where things got a little too technical for me, but overall I was riveted because of the amazing speakers with incredible insight and historical knowledge.

#2: Colorado is the best
wf_2We had a chance to do site visits to rivers and water sanitation stations in the Roaring Fork Valley. It’s an area I’ve gone to since I was a kid but I’ve never looked at it the way I did that day. And it wasn’t just that it was a bluebird day with Mt. Sopris in the background. It was getting up close and personal with the Crystal River and the surrounding habitat and seeing how it directly impacts the farm lands it irrigates. It was listening to the Roaring Fork Conservancy discuss how it’s trying to define what a “healthy” river is while trying to bring other stakeholders (recreation, agriculture and municipalities) to the table to discuss the best way to manage this finite natural resource. It was visiting Carbondale and learning that their open ditch system provides free water for landscaping for anyone who lives by the system and wants to build a pump. And how much money that system is saving the town. And that the ditch system was built over 100 years ago to supply the agricultural community that first settled there. There is so much history and ingenuity in this state, all with the goal of ensuring stakeholders get their fair share of water.

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Justice Hobbs speaks to the Water Fluency Class.

We had the opportunity to listen to Justice Hobbs speak about the history of Colorado. He described the way water shaped the development of this state that people are flocking to. He made history come to life. Amy Beatie from Colorado Water Trust did the same with water law and instream flows. Never have I thought law was so interesting … she brought it to life because she is passionate about what she’s doing. I have a newfound respect for the forethought on how water is managed in Colorado.  All the experts in the room agreed that while it may not be perfect, the government regulations for managing water and the legal procedures for how water conflicts are resolved are well thought out, fair, usable and flexible. These are all things you hope for in your government and legal system. It’s a structure other states in the West can look to as a model to follow.

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Colorado Water Trust’s Amy Beatie speaks about instream flows.

#3: The struggle is real
As a layman, I’ve heard about the push/pull between the Front Range and the Western Slope of Colorado. I’d heard the 80/20 rule – 80 percent of the population is in the Front Range with only 20 percent of the water. I’ve heard the phrase, “Whiskey’s for drinking, water’s for fighting.” And, I learned of a new phrase, “You can mess with another man’s wife but you can’t mess with his water.”

While all of this is said with a smile and a wink, there’s a lot of truth in it. We’ve come a long way from the wild west of sabotaging diversion points and headgates but people are still passionate about ensuring they get their fair share of water.

There’s a push/pull for different water uses. Land owners, ranchers and farmers want water to support their livelihood. Municipalities and utilities want water to support growing populations. Conservation organizations want to protect the environment and wildlife that depend on water. Tourism is a thriving industry for our state and relies on snowpack and instream flows.

wf_8This push/pull isn’t only limited to Colorado. Between the Upper Colorado River Basin (Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming) and Lower Colorado River Basin (Arizona, California and Nevada) interstate compacts had to be created to ensure each state (and Mexico!) received their fair share. Colorado is a headwaters state and everyone downstream from us also relies on that water for their livelihood. So, how do you ensure everyone has enough and no one has too much? It is possible, but it requires all stakeholders to agree to listen and discuss collaboratively. Colorado has become a model for how to manage this natural resource.

#4: Can’t we all just get along?
So, what brings people to the table to discuss these issues? In my mind, there are two uniting forces. 1) Passion: we all love where we live and want to sustain it 2) Necessity: water management and scarcity are here to stay. We live, work and play in “the Great American Desert.” We must come to the table. Enter Water Sage. We’ve developed this platform to be accessible, transparent and efficient to allow data-driven decisions to be the driver in water resource management for all stakeholders.

#5: Education is key
I’m only half joking about this course being a prerequisite for new Colorado residents. But, there is a lot of truth in it. The more people aware of all the issues and onion peeling that goes into water resource management, the better. The more we come to the table with creative solutions and open minds, the better.  That’s the goal of the Colorado Foundation for Water Education and I’m grateful to have the opportunity to attend this class.

rebeccacallahanRebecca comes to Water Sage with almost 20 years of strategic marketing expertise. She received her MBA from Ross School of Business at University of Michigan in 2003. In her spare time, Rebecca can be found taking full advantage of everything Colorado has to offer with her husband, two kids and fur baby.

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Water Education Colorado 2017 President’s Award Reception

We had an exciting evening last night at our 2017 President’s Reception. Thanks to all who attended in support of water education and water leadership. And congratulations to Eric Kuhn and Drew Beckwith, the deserving recipients of this year’s awards.

Coyote Gulch

The Denver Art Museum was the location for The Colorado Foundation for Water Education’s President’s Award Reception yesterday evening.

Eric Kuhn received the Dianne Hoppe Leadership Award and Drew Beckwith was honored as an Emerging Leader.

Each year when I attend this event I am struck by the camaraderie shown by the water folks here in Colorado. Water really does bring us together to find solutions, and at the end of the day we have so much to agree on. Water for Ag, water to drive the economy, water for the fish and bugs. It takes a great number of people to meet the water needs of the Headwaters State, collaboration is key, and this event helps us to connect.

Jim Lochhead introduced Eric Kuhn and detailed his accomplishments while leading the Colorado River District. The Colorado River Cooperative Agreement and the Windy Gap Firming agreement were at the top of…

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by | May 13, 2017 · 10:17 am

Grand Valley Farmers Participate in Drought Planning Effort

Drought conditions in the Colorado River Basin will continue to be a focus at the Colorado River Water Users Association Annual Conference which runs tomorrow through Friday, Dec. 14-16, 2016 in Las Vegas. The conference will feature expert speakers, panelists and discussions and is regularly attended by key decision makers from Colorado River Basin states. Review the agenda and learn more here.

By Hannah Holm, Coordinator, Hutchins Water Center at Colorado Mesa University

It’s been very dry in Colorado’s mountains this fall.  It’s still early, and the snowpack could catch up to “normal,” but when I flew over those mountains on November 15, they were brown. Just the barest dusting of white covered the highest ridges and north-facing slopes.

This delayed onset of winter has provided a sobering backdrop to ongoing discussions about what to do if the Colorado River Basin slips back into severe drought with Lakes Powell and Mead, the two largest reservoirs in the basin, already half-empty.

Efforts to protect the Colorado River system and those who depend on it

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Water intakes on Lake Mead. Credit: Bureau of Reclamation

If Lake Mead drops too low, farms and cities in the lower basin that have become accustomed to steady water supplies will have to drastically cut back. If Powell drops too low, Glen Canyon Dam will be unable to keep generating power or maintain sufficient releases to honor the 1922 agreement between the states that share the river. No one knows exactly how upstream water users would be affected in that scenario, but if it’s a crisis reaction, it’s unlikely to be pretty. The environment could take a hit as well: low lake levels would make it impossible to conduct periodic high releases designed to mimic historical floods in order to benefit habitat conditions in the Grand Canyon.

In the lower Colorado River Basin, discussions among Arizona, California and Nevada have centered around who will cut their water use, by how much, and at what “trigger” levels in Lake Mead. This is necessary even without an intensified drought, because lake levels keep falling even with normal water deliveries from Lake Powell. The degree of drought just ratchets the urgency up or down.

In the upper Colorado River Basin, which straddles Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and New Mexico, there is no single outlet at the top of the system that can be cranked up or down. Instead, there are thousands of drainages feeding into the Colorado River, with widely dispersed ranches, farms and communities taking sips and gulps along the way, including some sizeable straws pulling water across the Continental Divide to Colorado’s Front Range.

A recent modeling effort coordinated by the Colorado River District concluded that if we were to experience another drought like the one of the early 2000’s, with reservoir levels as low as they are now and without any additional conservation, Lake Powell could essentially be drained in just a few years.

Efforts are underway to figure out how to craft a demand management system that can entice upper basin water users to voluntarily dial back their consumption, and get paid for it, in order to keep Powell from falling to critically low levels.

As it turns out, that’s complicated. For an agricultural demand management system to work for farmers, it needs to provide adequate compensation, not impede long-term operations, have simple paperwork, and not put water rights at risk. For irrigation providers, it needs to pay its own way, be easy to manage, and not put water rights at risk. And for such a system to work for communities, you can’t have large swaths of fields left brown and unkempt, supply dealers left without customers, and farmworkers left jobless.

Grand Valley activities

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Credit: Grand Valley Water Users Association

A pilot project in Western Colorado’s Grand Valley is testing an approach to cutting back agricultural water use that seeks to work for everyone.

The location, just east of the Utah state line, is significant. About half of the water that flows into Lake Powell flows through Colorado’s Grand Valley first, some of it flowing through the river, and some detouring through irrigation ditches and farm fields before returning. Much of the water diverted does not return, of course, instead getting transpired through leaves of alfalfa, corn, or grass, or plumping up peaches and wine grapes.

The Grand Valley Water Users Association (GVWUA), the biggest irrigation provider in the valley, is managing the pilot project to reduce that water consumption. At an October meeting to explain the pilot program to other regional water managers and irrigators, GVWUA manager Mark Harris said that the potential for future water shortages is driving the organization’s participation in the pilot.

For the 2017 irrigation season, GVWUA will conduct the $1 million pilot with funding from the Colorado Water Conservation Board, The Nature Conservancy, and the Water Bank Work Group. The Water Bank Work Group is conducting long-term research on the viability of various demand management options and includes the Colorado River Water Conservation District, the Southwestern Water Conservation District, The Nature Conservancy, Tri-State Generation and Transmission, and the Front Range Water Council.

In 2017, 10 farm operators dispersed across the valley, each with 120 or more acres under irrigated cultivation, will participate in the GVWUA program. There are several options: full fallow, fallow until October, fallow until September, and fallow until August. The option of fallowing until October is popular because it allows establishing a winter wheat crop for the next year. This is particularly important when there isn’t certainty about whether the program will continue the following year. Full fallowing, if continued for multiple years, could provide the opportunity for farmers to transition fields to certified organic production and sell their products for higher prices.

The total reduction in water consumption achieved by the GVWUA pilot is predicted to be 3,200 acre feet: only a drop, but an important first drop to test the system. So far, the project appears to be on course to work well for the participating farmers and the GVWUA. There is adequate compensation, management isn’t too complicated, and water rights are protected. Research indicates that temporary fallowing is more likely to benefit soil fertility than harm it. And in order to ensure that producers renting land won’t be pushed off by landowners choosing program payments over farmers’ rental payments, the program was limited to people who were actively working the land.

Making the program acceptable for the rest of the community isn’t too complicated at this small scale, although some eyebrows may be raised at the odd brown field in the spring. If brought to sufficient scale to meaningfully benefit Lake Powell, however, this would become a more significant consideration.  Harris believes that the program would have to limit participation to no more than 25 percent of the acreage GVWUA irrigates in order to avoid unacceptable impacts to the community.

In the meeting about the GVWUA program, several people voiced concern that agriculture was being expected to shoulder the burden of bringing supply and demand back into balance in the Colorado River Basin. Some cities are, in fact, also participating in programs to cut diversions to protect the reservoirs, and most have made large strides in conservation in recent decades. However, there is still a feeling that they can do more, particularly in the area of integrating land use and water planning.

If snow piles up in the mountains at reasonable levels over the next few years, it will buy time to fine tune and gradually scale up programs like the one GVWUA is testing, as well as experiments underway in other settings and on other crops, like high mountain hay meadows. Bolstering administrative capacity to coordinate a broad suite of such programs and developing legal mechanisms to ensure that conserved water reaches Lake Powell without being intercepted by other users must occur before such programs can be effective at a large scale.

If a moderate amount of conserved water is sent to Lake Powell each year, or retained in upstream reservoirs, it will reduce the chances that more drastic cuts will be needed in any one year—avoiding the deepest impacts to agriculture and communities.

If the mountains keep staying brown late into the fall, however, the upper basin’s demand management efforts will have to accelerate significantly. Under that scenario, it will be harder to keep everyone happy.

 
hannahheadshot1-28-15Hannah Holm is the coordinator and co-founder of the Water Center at Colorado Mesa University, which promotes research, education and dialogue to address the water challenges facing the Upper Colorado River Basin.  Colorado Mesa University is located in Grand Junction, CO.

Hannah previously facilitated the Grand Valley and Lower Gunnison Wise Water Use Council, advocated for stronger drinking water protections with Western Colorado Congress, and served on her local watershed group board in Pennsylvania. In the late 1990’s, Hannah worked for North Carolina General Assembly, where she staffed committees on the Environment, Natural Resources, Sustainable Agriculture and Smart Growth.

Hannah has a joint Master’s degree in Community & Regional Planning and Latin American Studies from the University of Texas at Austin and a Bachelor’s degree in Anthropology from Macalester College in St. Paul, MN.

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CFWE Board Member Lisa Darling to Head South Metro Water Supply Authority

lisa-darling-headshotColorado Foundation for Water Education board member Lisa Darling, a leader with 25 years of experience in Colorado water resources, is the new executive director of the South Metro Water Supply Authority. Darling has served on the CFWE board since 2012.

Darling will work with SMWSA’s 13 water provider members to continue the region’s progress toward securing a sustainable water future for its residents. Together, SMWSA members provide water to 80 percent of Douglas County and 10 percent of Arapahoe County.

“Lisa is a highly respected leader on Colorado water resources with a proven ability to advance our agenda for meeting the water needs of generations to come in the South Denver Metro area,” said Dave Kaunisto, president of the SMWSA board of directors. “She will be a tremendous advocate for our members as we continue to implement our strategic plan.”

Darling served 18 years with Aurora Water, the state’s third-largest water utility. For the past 10 years she managed the South Platte River Program. In that role she worked closely with SMWSA on the Water Infrastructure and Supply Efficiency Partnership (WISE), a key component of the south metro region’s plan to transition to a renewable water supply. She also played a key leadership role in the Prairie Waters Project, a major component of Aurora’s plan to secure additional renewable supplies.

“I am honored and excited to work with South Metro Water Supply Authority’s members to advance their vision and continue the remarkable progress the region has made toward a sustainable water future,” Darling said. “I look forward to continuing the organization’s collaboration and partnership with leaders across the region and state.”

As part of her role, Darling will also lead the South Metro WISE Authority, which is responsible for completing the construction of and operating WISE.

The WISE project is a key component to the region’s plans to secure new sustainable sources of water. With collaboration among 10 SMWSA members, Denver Water, Aurora Water and East Cherry Creek Valley Water and Sanitation District (ECCV), the project represents the largest partnership in the region’s history to invest in water infrastructure. When complete, WISE will create a significant new renewable supply for participating South Metro members. In turn, Denver will receive a new backup supply, and Aurora will get funds to offset costs of the Prairie Waters Project.

The South Denver Metro region has made tremendous progress toward its strategic goals over the past 12 years thanks to aggressive efforts to conserve water, maximize efficiency and invest in renewable water supplies. The region is on track to meet projected demand for the region as far out as 2065, though more work is needed to ensure that happens, according to a recent update to the region’s master plan.

“The South Metro Water Supply Authority has established itself as a leader in a number of important areas, including maximizing efficiency, developing strategic partnerships to bring online new renewable supplies and expanding storage,” Darling said. “Together with our leadership and members, we will continue to lead with an eye toward protecting and enhancing the quality of life of our region and the state.”

Darling will work with members to continue that progress with a focus on four key areas:

  • Securing additional renewable supplies
  • Developing additional storage
  • Managing water quality
  • Conserving and maximizing water efficiency

About South Metro Water Supply Authority (SMWSA)

The South Metro Water Supply Authority is a regional water authority comprised of 13 water provider members that collectively serve about 80 percent of the population of Douglas County and 10 percent of Arapahoe County. SMWSA was established in 2004 to develop and execute a plan to provide a secure and sustainable water future for the region.

Through increased negotiating power and collaborative support for new projects, SMWSA is transforming the region’s water supply and creating a sustainable future for generations to come. For more information, visit: southmetrowater.org.

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Solutions for Drinking Water Contamination Issues in Colorado Springs Area

The Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) has ensured the safety of public drinking water supplies throughout the nation. As part of the federal program, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sets standards for drinking water quality, and periodically requires the testing of public drinking water systems that serve more than 10,000 people to examine potential emerging contaminants to determine the need for future regulation.

In October 2015, water samples taken from public water sources in Security, Widefield and Fountain, Colorado, showed elevated quantities of Perfluorinated Compounds (PFCs). PFCs are manmade compounds that can be found in non-stick cookware, stain-resistant sofas and carpets, food packaging, as well as Aqueous Film-Forming Foam, used to fight petroleum fires. The military airfields at Peterson Air Force Base, in Colorado Springs, are the suspected source of PFC contamination; however, further water and soil testing is necessary to determine the definitive origin.

PFCs are not currently regulated by the SDWA; however, according to the El Paso County Health Department, prolonged exposure to PFCs is linked to potential health hazards, such as developmental damage to fetuses during pregnancy, low birth weight, accelerated puberty, kidney and testicular cancer, and liver tissue damage. It is suggested that pregnant women, nursing mothers and young children may be at higher risk due to exposure to PFCs.

An EPA press release from February 22 indicated that, according to the October samples, some of the public water sources in Security, Fountain, and Widefield, had concentrations of PFCs above the health advisory level set by the EPA in 2009. It recommended that residents consider testing their well water or installing a reverse osmosis under-the-sink treatment option.

After the initial testing by the EPA, Security began to manage PFC levels in area wells by blending the water to lower levels, as well as using low-level wells, according to Roy Heald, general manager of Security Water and Sanitation Districts. They suspected that PFC levels in their well water would be on the high side when the new levels were announced just months later; however, it was difficult to prepare for the unknown standards that the EPA would set.

“We did not know how stringent the new EPA concentration allowances would be,” Heald says. “We could only estimate based on rumors.”

Local officials had no direct contact with the EPA until 24 hours before the agency issued a new health advisory announcement on May 19. They were caught off-guard when the EPA announced that acceptable levels of PFCs needed to be below 70 parts per trillion (ppt); the prior level was 0.4 parts per billion (ppb) for PFOA (Perfluorooctanoic Acid) and 0.02 ppb for PFOS (Perfluorooctane Sulfonate), or a combined total of 400 ppt. Areas where both PFOA and PFOS are found are meant to adhere to the new standard of 70 ppt. Concentrations of PFCs in all 32 of Security’s wells were considerably higher than the EPA’s newest health advisory level, with one well reaching 1,370 ppt, nearly 20 times higher than the new limit.

People were concerned for their safety, health and the future of their water. You can learn more about this situation via these Denver Post articles: “Water contamination issues grip Colorado Springs-area residents” and “Drinking water in three Colorado cities contaminated with toxic chemicals above EPA limits.”

Needless to say, communities affected by high levels of PFCs in their water supply have been through a lot in the last 10 months. Local water and sanitation districts scrambled to find short-term solutions that would allow citizens to have safe water as quickly as possible. They have also been working to develop long-term solutions that will ensure the future welfare of well water in the Security, Widefield and Fountain areas, all while simultaneously continuing to run regular business operations. As of September 9, all wells in Security have been shut down. None of the wells are being used, and none of them will be used until treatment is implemented. The three zones that make up the total community are now receiving 100 percent surface water, which is being transported from Pueblo Reservoir through the Southern Delivery System (SDS), and there are no PFCs in the water, according to Heald.

The Widefield and Fountain areas have also transitioned from using well water to water piped in from north of Pueblo. Widefield set up free bottled water distribution at the onset of the situation and installed water dispensers in schools. All eight of Fountain’s municipal wells have PFC levels above the new EPA limit. In an attempt to lower these elevated levels, an engineering firm has been hired by the city.

Heald is quick to note that this is a short-term solution, at a higher cost; the diverted water costs three times more than local well water. However, money spent on the urgent situation has not affected customer rates. Yet. Currently, Security residents pay about $25 a month for their water service, but Heald insists that even if customers see an increase in their bills, the Security Water and Sanitation District will continue to have competitive rates for the area.

“The $3 million dollars that we have spent was, thankfully, from our reserves,” says Heald. “This district has been well-managed for 60 years and we had the reserves that enabled us to take emergency action; however, it was earmarked for other projects that, now, cannot be completed—like improving infrastructure. Continuing to spend money in this way is simply unsustainable.”

This short-term fix will carry the community through the winter. Additional infrastructure, in the form of a $825 million treatment plant and pipeline that will transport water 45 miles from Pueblo Reservoir in Colorado Springs, is being built to meet summer 2017 water demands. Beyond next summer, long-term treatment solutions for the wells will be employed in order to return to the use of groundwater wells.

“Rates are low in this area because the infrastructure is bought and paid for. The water rights are also bought and paid for,” Heald explains. “Long-term solutions involve treatment on our wells so that we can get back to using groundwater.”

A self-described eternal optimist, Heald praises the “phenomenal cooperative effort” of the surrounding communities, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and local health departments for their quick action and the success of applied solutions. “There are people who deserve more credit than they will ever get for getting us through this. We’ve done things that I didn’t know were possible.”

Learn more from Roy Heald about how Security plans to provide water that is PFC free:  Ron Heald Speaks on Security Water Supply.

And watch for related coverage in the upcoming issue of Headwaters magazine, focused on protecting public health through drinking water supplies, which will hit mailboxes the second week of December. Not a Headwaters subscriber? Sign up here, or visit yourwatercolorado.org in December for the digital version. Headwaters is the flagship publication of the Colorado Foundation for Water Education and covers current events, trends and opportunities in Colorado water.

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Filed under groundwater, Headwaters Magazine, Uncategorized, Water Quality

Colorado River District Annual Seminar Proceedings Now Available on Web

By Jim Pokrandt

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Pictured left to right at this year’s seminar: Anne Castle, Fellow at the Getches-Wilkinson Center for Natural Resources, Energy and the Environment; Don Coram, Colorado State Representative; James Eklund, Colorado Water Conservation Board Director; Jim Pokrandt, Colorado River District Director of Community Affairs

 

Videos and speaker summaries from the Colorado River District’s Annual Seminar held in September are now online and can be found at www.coloradoriverdistrict.org. The seminar’s theme was “Colorado River Waves of the Future: Fitting the West to the River’s New Normal.”

More than 200 people attended the event, held in Grand Junction. Save the date for next year’s seminar: Friday, September 15, 2017, also in Grand Junction.

Viewers will be able to see presentations on funding issues for Colorado’s Water Plan; the effects of rising temperatures on the West; details of how the Lower Basin is trying to shrink its “structural deficit” between water supply and use; and Upper Basin State efforts to employ demand management in agriculture in response to low reservoir levels in Lake Powell.

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Retired Justice Greg Hobbs presented at this year’s seminar. 

Not to be missed is retired Justice Greg Hobbs’ spirited defense of Colorado water law and his views on “use it or lose it” and agricultural use of water. Hobbs’ energetic presentation was spurred by the lunchtime keynote by ProPublica reporter Abrahm Lustgarten, who detailed his observations from covering water use in the West.

The website includes a written synopsis of each presentation, as well as PowerPoints and video recordings for each speaker.

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Jim Pokrandt is the Community Affairs Director for the Colorado River District. 

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Filed under Climate and Drought, Colorado River, Colorado's Water Plan, Uncategorized