Colorado Water: 2007 in Review
March 28, 2008
The year 2007 left many water watchers breathless. There was activity all over the state. New storage, new plans for storage, riparian habitat success and additions to whitewater recreation. 2007 saw progress on solving Colorado's long term water outlook through the basin roundtable process and tough negotiations coupled with a view towards statewide cooperation. Changes in weather patterns and runoff worried many.
There are many potential demands on Colorado's remaining water, unbridled growth in some communities, agriculture, renewable energy, potential oil shale development, recreation, oil and gas and the water requirements traditional from coal fired generation. All are contributing to future shortage forecasts. For farmers along the South Platte River and Republican River more well shutdowns loomed while the San Luis Valley hoped to avoid involuntary shutdowns with engineering and cooperation. Coloradans started planning for a possible call on the Colorado River from the lower basin states. Douglas County started looking at collecting rainwater for sprinkling needs. We mourned the passing of Anthony Williams, W.D. Farr, Bob Hite and John D. Brown. Nolan Doesken won a 2007 Environmental Hero award from the NOAA for founding the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network.
The Clean Water Act turned thirtyfive in 2007 with calls across the country to roll back recent decisions by the Bush administration regarding the act's enforcement and the realization that 25 percent of rivers and 43 percent of lakes still fail to meet water quality standards. Salinity levels however are declining across the Southwestern U.S. In March we celebrated World Water Day. A report from Colorado State University showed how the thousands of dams in the U.S. have had a detrimental effect on biodiversity, contributing to the ecological homogenization, of our waterways.
Commerce City opened their new Wetland Park. Water projects led to the first override of a President Bush veto in November after he decided that the Water Resources Development Act contained too much pork for his liking. In June state water watcher's eyes were on Southern Colorado when the House Water and Power subcommittee met in Pueblo. The meeting was a follow up a February meeting hosted by U.S Representative Grace Napolitano chair of the committee. CloudSAT celebrated it's first birthday and the 6 terabytes of data that has been sent back to earth for scientists to chew on. Glen Canyon Dam turned 50 with calls to decommission it.
Schools in Colorado continued their involvement in researching Colorado's water issues. The Colorado School of Mines set up AQWATEC to give their students research opportunities. CSU put their water resource archive online along with hosting a database on groundwater quality with the Colorado Department of Agriculture and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. In April Colorado College hosted their annual conference on the State of the Rockies.
In September Denver University released the findings of the DU Water Futures Panel. The panel was made up of movers and shakers from government and industry. The report included nine key proposals aimed at protecting the state's water resources: Embracing fairness, trust, respect and openness in water supply planning; Encouraging water conservation; Encouraging partnerships between urban and agricultural water users; Eradicating non-native phreatophytes (high water consuming plants, such as tamarisk and Russian Olive); Streamlining the Water Court; Encouraging statewide perspective on water storage and infrastructure projects; Facilitating cooperation between river basins; Planning for potential climate change and drought; Maintaining healthy rivers and in-stream flows. The panel maintains that Colorado will not meet its water needs in the coming decades without collaboration among groups that have historically fought.
A streamline of the state water courts is in the air. In addition to the DU Water Futures Panel Governor Ritter's South Platte River Task Force also recommend the change. Judge Maes, down in Pueblo, is opposed. Colorado Chief Justice Mary Mullarkey appointed a panel to review possible changes asking that they, "identify the issues most critical to the fairness and efficiency of the water court process and make recommendations."
The Interbasin Compact Committee launched a new website in September.
Snowpack early on was pretty good but evaporated for the second year in a row during a warm spring with runoff starting a month earlier that in the past. Reports from the West slope said that the snowmelt was disappearing, "faster than swag at the X games." Chris Treece from the Colorado River District summed up conditions as "crazy warm," echoing drought worries in the Grand Valley.
There was an unusual east-west distribution of snowfall through the winter with the Eastern slope getting most of the storms. The warm and dry spring led to drought conditions in Northeast Colorado in July. Mayor Hickelooper and Mayor Ed Tauer wisely kept up the push for conservation despite record snowfall and reservoir levels . In April the South Platte was a "free river" for a while. In June the Blue River was also declared "free" with stream flow the best in 10 years.
Once again the North American Monsoon bailed out streams and reservoirs. Some scientists maintain the climate change is effecting the monsoon making things wetter across the Southwest in late summer. Others see the possibility that drought will become the norm.
Memories of the recent drought and the continued draw down of the Denver Basin Aquifer System nudged some El Paso water providers to create the Pikes Peak Regional Water Authority. They're looking at solutions, including water from the Arkansas River via Colorado Springs' Southern Delivery System or contracting for water from the proposed Super Ditch, a project designed to fallow irrigated farmland on a rotational basis to prevent the permanent dry up of farms in the valley. Another potential source could be the Stonewall Springs project which includes the Phantom Canyon Project. The promoters are looking to store water and generate electricity.
At the end of the water year reservoir levels across Colorado were sitting at about average but snowpack was low across the state after a dry November. It looked like Colorado was setting up for a typical dry La Niña winter. Forecasters expected the event to last into 2008. There was a big turnaround in December with good snowfall with high moisture content across Colorado. It turned out to be a pretty good water year in the San Luis Valley.
There were three centennial celebrations of note in 2007. The ditch company that brought North Sterling Reservoir into being turned 100 this year. The Greeley Water District celebrated the 100th anniversary of their water works with reservoir tours and other activities, including the "Colorado Water, Liguid Gold," exhibit. The San Luis Valley celebrated 100 Years of San Luis Valley Reservoirs. Events included a daily symposium at Adams State College. Speakers related the history of irrigation in the Valley while also elaborating on the challenges the lie ahead.
Cutthroat recovery in Trappers Lake and Hermosa Creek made the news. A new fish friendly diversion structure was placed on the Gunnison River while construction started on a diversion for the Colorado Pike Minnow at the Price-Stubb Dam on the Colorado River. Turquoise Lake got trout from the Leaville hatchery after the hatchery was declared free of whirling disease. Cheesman Reservoir opened for fishing for the first time since the Hayman Fire in 2002. Antero Reservoir, a victim of drought re-opened on July 17th. Officials finished a habitat enhancement project at the Coller State Wildlife Area.
Demands on wastewater treatment and water facilities caused many local organizations to raise rates, upgrade and build new facilities. Estimates are as high as $2.3 billion for infrastructure needs in the state. Aurora continued building Prairie Waters stirring up residents with hikes in water rates to cover costs. Reuse was in the news as Colorado Springs brought their J.D. Phillips Water Reclamation Facility online and the first timid steps towards using gray water took hold up in Boulder County. Western Resource Advocates issued a report about municipal water consumption along the Front Range.
Reclamation welcomed a new area manager, Mike Collins. He gets to deal with the Aurora Long-Term Contract lawsuit along with another lawsuit filed by the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District over payments for municipal deliveries.
Water was on the ballot in 2007. Eastern Fremont County voted to be included in the Upper Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District. At the end of the year the vote was being challenged in court. Up in Aspen the ballot issues were about hydroelectric power and funding stormwater improvements.
Read the rest of this post on Coyote Gulch.
Arsenic Mitigation in India
March 27, 2008
In rural West Bengal, India, life is tenuous for millions of people. Desperate poverty, hunger, and disease are a daily reality. To make matters worse, their water is killing them. With every drink of water and every meal they eat, hundreds of thousands of people are being slowly poisoned by the very water they need to survive.
Residents in eight of this region’s 19 districts are drinking and cooking with groundwater contaminated with naturally occurring, highly toxic arsenic. Tasteless and colorless, the arsenic has slowly seeped into their water sources and then into their bodies. The result: chronic arsenic poisoning of hundreds of thousands of West Bengalis, with many more at risk.
Thankfully, village-by-village, simple, locally developed solutions are making a change for the better. These solutions are providing much more than safe water. They are empowering communities and contributing to local economies by creating new business and job opportunities.
Where did the arsenic come from?
Arsenic is a naturally occurring semi-metallic compound found in groundwater around the world—including those in Bangladesh, Taiwan, Japan, Mexico, parts of the United States and India. Some argue that the increasing occurrence of arsenic in groundwater might be the result of the rapid and significant drawdown of aquifers as we struggle to meet our water demands.
While arsenic may be tasteless and odorless, the human impact is deadly evident. Early indications appear in the form of dark spots on the chest, back, limbs and gums; then in the more advanced stages, wart-like skin eruptions on the hands, feet, and torso. Continuing exposure can result in enlargement of the liver, kidneys, and spleen, developing into malignant tumors and even disorders of the gastrointestinal, circulatory, and nervous systems.
The arsenic problem hasn’t always been present in West Bengal. It is actually the result of efforts to solve microbiological contamination of surface water during the 1970s and 1980s when tube wells were installed throughout the region. The switch to groundwater came with a deadly price and awareness of the issue was slow to come. Because of the extreme poverty of the region, affected people often hesitated to seek medical care. By then, the damage was done. It was in the late 1980s that scientists began to find evidence of arsenic contamination in the groundwater, and by the 1990s the extent of the health impact became widely known.
Partnering for simple, locally developed sustainable solutions
Water For People began working in India in 1996. Its initial effort was a small pilot program designed to help eliminate the health threats of arsenic in rural village water supplies. Soon Water For People partnered with Bengal Engineering & Science University to develop a local, sustainable solution.
After pursuing a number of options, the university developed a simple arsenic-removal filter for use at community wellheads, incorporating activated alumina.
The wellhead unit consists of a 12-inch diameter, seven-foot, two-inch-tall stainless steel column. Water flows through a 51-inch layer of activated alumina and then through an eight-inch layer of gravel. Every eight to 12 months the filter media is regenerated and the waste safely contained. One wellhead unit can serve up to 300 families and is expected to last for 10 to 15 years, with little maintenance required.
The filter incorporates a simple, highly effective technology, is locally manufactured, easy to operate (no electricity required), easy to maintain, and relatively inexpensive—approximately $2,000 for each wellhead unit. Most important, the technology is sustainable, offering effective protection for years to come.
Working with the local villages, water committees were formed to help implement the installations and encourage ongoing local input and control. To date, Water For People has helped finance the installation of 110 of these units providing safe, arsenic-free water for more than 33,000 people in multiple villages across West Bengal.
In villages where wellhead units have been installed, the incidence of arsenic poisoning has dropped dramatically. People are reporting living healthier and more productive lives.
The difference according to one woman indicates a variety of positive changes. “I used to have indigestion and chronic dysentery. Now all these problems are gone, and I have an appetite. I used to spend 150 rupees (US$3.43) each month on medicine, and now I save this money.”
Sustainable solutions that provide safe water and economic opportunity.
Dipak Das churns the pedals of his three-wheeled bike earnestly, eyes straight ahead. He’s focused on safely navigating the endless maze of bumps, holes, oncoming traffic, pedestrians, and blowing dust. Immediately behind him packed tightly on the flat platform that’s wedged between the two rear wheels rest 20-or-so jiggling jugs of his most precious cargo—safe, filtered arsenic-free drinking water from the wellhead.
Dipak delivers filtered water to 45 families that depend on the arsenic-free water he delivers. The 2,800 rupees (US $70) he earns each month is a good living by Indian standards. Before, he ran a roadside tea shop, worked longer hours and made less money. Now, his deliveries require only four hours a day giving him time to pursue other business opportunities.
For Nirmal De and his family, their sole source of income is work that is related to the arsenic filter in Daharthuba Village, where they live. He used to work in a plastic toy factory that has since closed. He started out by delivering water to three families. Now that has grown to 50. On every delivery he attempts to sell the service to other families along his route.
Sumitra, his wife, is the paid caretaker for the filter. She spends four hours every morning and three hours every evening operating the pump. She must periodically backwash the filter to ensure its effectiveness. She also keeps the platform clean throughout the day. The pump station has become the center of the community and even has a television to entertain women as they wait. Sumitra tries to make sure that women don’t get too absorbed in their television viewing and lose their place in line. Their older son, Sudip, also helps out at the filtration station and with deliveries.
Besides the water delivery, a variety of other business enterprises often emerge around the arsenic filters. There are vendors who sell jerry cans for carrying the water. Others sell food and snacks at the wellhead. And at every station, an individual—like Sumitra—earns a salary to collect and record water payments from villagers.
Water For People makes it a point to support our partners in West Bengal, who in turn work closely with communities. The goal is to obtain commitment to each project from community members, enabling them to take ownership of its long-term operation. In 2006, Water for People opened an office in Kolkata with a full-time country coordinator, Rajashi Mukherjee, to facilitate the work in the region.
In the second most populous country in the world, Water For People is committed to help meet the most basic water and sanitation needs of thousands of India’s poorest. By partnering with local government entities, nongovernmental organizations, the local private sector and others, success will come, day-by-day, village-by-village.
by David Stevenson
About Water For People
Founded in 1991, Water For People is a Denver-based private, nonprofit international development organization that supports safe drinking water and sanitation projects in developing countries. Water For People partners with communities and other nongovernmental organizations to help people improve their quality of life by supporting sustainable drinking water, sanitation, and health and hygiene projects.
More information is available at http://www.waterforpeople.org/