Maybe it is projects such as replacing 10,000 toilets in Denver Public Schools. Maybe it is Denver Water’s ceaseless “Use Only What You Need” campaign. Or maybe residents seeing scarcity are self-motivated. Whatever the reasons, water use in metro Denver has dipped to 40-year lows.
The total amount residents used in December decreased to 3.19 billion gallons, and in January to 3.36 billion gallons — down from previous winter highs topping 4 billion gallons, utility officials said.
Water conservationists are calling on Colorado leaders to set a clear target in the state’s first water plan: reduce use by 1 percent a year through 2050.
But state officials crafting the plan to address a 163 billion gallon projected shortfall are reluctant to commit — even though Gov. John Hickenlooper has called conservation a priority.
An aggressive water-saving goal, if it spurred action, could put Colorado on course to closing its growing gap between water supply and demand, which looms as a barrier to future economic and population growth.
Colorado water providers facing a shortfall of 163 billion gallons are turning to a long-ignored resource: wastewater.
They’re calculating that, if even the worst sewage could be cleaned to the point it is safe to drink — filtered through super-fine membranes or constructed wetlands, treated with chemicals, zapped with ultraviolet rays — then the state’s dwindling aquifers and rivers could be saved.
Colorado officials at work on the first statewide water plan to sustain population and industrial growth recognize reuse as an option.
Suncor oil refinery operators responsible for a toxic spill that contaminated Sand Creek and the South Platte River have agreed to pay $1.9 million to settle a lawsuit by federal and state authorities.
A consent decree filed in U.S. District Court says the government authorities agree to drop further legal action unless the spill worsens. This settlement requires court approval after at least 30 days for public notice and comment.
Colorado is looking for 163 billion gallons of water, and a long-awaited state plan for finding it calls for increased conservation, reusing treated wastewater and diverting more water from the Western Slope.
The plan, ordered by Gov. John Hickenlooper to deal with a massive projected water shortfall, is about to be unveiled. Rising demand from population growth and industry, if continued through 2050, threatens to leave 2.5 million people parched.
But water suppliers east and west of the Continental Divide are clashing over details that the draft plan does not specify.
Those on the water-poor east side, where Colorado’s 5.3 million population is concentrated, prioritize diverting more western water under the mountains to sustain Front Range growth. Those on the west side oppose new diversions — and want this reflected in the plan.
Twice a month, Metropolitan State University student biologists David Watson and Stephen Aderholdt have been slogging through contaminated Bear Creek testing the water, at work on a mystery of how its once-pure currents turned foul.
They’ve documented E. coli bacteria levels up to 19 times higher than the state health limit. “Why is there so much E. coli? Where is it coming from?” Aderholdt, 31, said on the banks on a recent Saturday.
While government agencies have done their own testing and in 2008 deemed Bear Creek officially “impaired,” expanding data gathered by the students — trained by the Environmental Protection Agency and a community group called Groundwork Denver — may be crucial in crafting a cleanup plan.
Federal water engineers on Thursday launched the long-planned and controversial Chatfield Reservoir water supply project, closing a deal with Colorado sponsors.
Audubon Society opponents filed a lawsuit in federal court trying to block construction.
A reallocation of the South Platte River water that is captured in the reservoir, created in 1975 for flood control, is expected to add 2.8 billion gallons a year to water supplies.
But the project will inundate 10 percent of the premier state park.
Oil and gas spills are happening more often in Colorado — at a rate of two a day this year — and usually without anyone telling residents.
Colorado has seen nearly as many spills so far this year as were recorded in all of 2013 — a reflection of greater drilling activity, new reporting requirements and, the state says, tougher enforcement.
While the American Petroleum Institute industry trade group recently announced new standards encouraging companies to communicate more robustly with communities, API says this doesn’t include conveying details of spills — a task left to government.
State rules require companies to report spills to a Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission database, the owner of land where a spill happens, state health authorities if contaminants reach water, and a local government designee. But government officials generally don’t announce spills or otherwise notify nearby residents.
Colorado’s effort to replenish its aquifers by cracking down on pumping groundwater threatens to leave the thousands of sandhill cranes that arrive here each February without the water they need.
“This certainly has the potential for changing the dynamics of what we have witnessed for the last 50 years,” said Michael Blenden, federal manager of the San Luis Valley complex of three national wildlife refuges and the Sangre de Cristo Conservation Area.
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Denver Water and Western Slope leaders have reached a deal to try to save the Fraser River and its trout while letting Denver siphon 11 percent more water across the Continental Divide.
The deal obligates city, state and Grand County watershed experts to monitor temperatures in the Fraser and tributaries, count stone flies and other aquatic insects crucial for trout, and document how water flows affect vegetation.
Federal authorities still must approve Denver Water’s $360 million Moffat project, which would put 18,000 acre-feet more water a year into an enlarged Gross Reservoir southwest of Boulder.