Easing Aquifer Use

[synthesized notes from contemporary print media articles – living document]*

Color Code Legend:

BLUE = Water Authorities
PINK = Subject Matter Experts (SME)

ORANGE = Water Agreements

GREEN = Special Interests

RED = Team Notes

PURPLE = Team Key Paper Concepts

* all notes are either verbatim quotes or close reductions of reporters original articles.  Quotations are only used in reference to subjects interviewed by reporters or white paper “sound bytes” that we intend to use in our research publications

“Water plan recycles new idea (Bruce Finley), The Denver Post, October 5, 2011

(the cooperative deal maximizes resources and eases aquifer use)

Front Range water authorities have “floated” a deal to wean the south metro suburbs (SMS) off dwindling aquifers with billions of gallons of “painstaking purified surface water.”  The first of its kind in the nation, the deal would pay Denver and Aurora Water utilities $17.4mm per year and allow water agencies to share resources without merging and sustain more water users without diverting more water from “over-subscribed” Western Slope rivers.  Praised by environmentalists and state leaders, this type of water-sharing agreement is a critical first step towards a sustainable water management policy in the state. (Plan is not without critics – see summary of article entitled “Colorado Rivers are big losers at the end of this summary of contemporary articles) 

Denver and Aurora would funnel as much as 1.6bn gallons of “purified (treated)” water to the SMS by 2013, increasing to as much as 3.2bn gallons by 2020.  Engineers say improved infrastructure (pipelines & hook-ups) could eventually supply as much as 19.5bn gallons (60,000 acre-feet) to the SMS.

Denver and Aurora Water and 13 participating suburbs would have to “replumb” before the first “purified” water could be delivered, which could lead to increased costs for residents of Castle Rock, Parker, and other communities who already need more than the maximum amount of water deliverable under current agreements (Peak Water). 

For about five (5) years Denver, Aurora Water, and the South Metro Water Supply Authority have been hashing out the proposed agreement, and the SMS must now decide whether to approve the agreement, which was submitted on Tuesday, October 4, 2011.  We’re talking about an “incremental step” according to Aurora Water director Mark Pifher, this could evolve further.  Money from the SMS would help to pay down the $532mn Aurora owes for building  “state-of-the-art” water treatment system.  Denver Water planning director Dave Little said his utility’s 1.3mn customers would gain anew source of purified water from Aurora – extra protection from emergencies and droughts – and make it easier to comply with the new agreement with Western Slope communities (Colorado River Cooperative Agreement) that limits Denver’s ability to divert more water from Colorado rivers.

The proposed “Water Infrastructure and Supply Efficiency (WISE)” agreement would use water drawn from the South Platte River just downstream from where Denver’s treated wastewater flows back into the Platte.  That water would be piped 34 miles through Aurora’s $653mn Prairie Water Systems. To a purification plant north of Aurora Reservoir.  The replumbing would include a $412K hookup between Aurora and a East Cherry Creek Valley (ECCV) pipeline and storage of water at Parker’s new Rueter-Hess Reservoir.  To receive water, SMS would have to install additional pipelines to “hook-up” at a cost of $80mn and would have to agree to stop diverting water from Colorado’s Western Slope.

(TEAM – SMS are still looking into Million’s pipeline project, but said if the WISE project help them to meet their demand that Million’s RWSP may not make sense)

“Elbert Freezes Water-District Plans (Karen E. Crummy),” Denver Post September 15, 2011

Elbert County commissioners (3 member board) approved a one-year moratorium (2 to 1)

on reviewing any new or amended plans from districts seeking to provide water services in response to the Elbert County Water District (ECWD) seeking to expand its power statewide –  The ECWD suddenly withdrew its request for expanded powers.  The Elbert Highway 86 Commercial Metropolitan District and a private company has proposed a 150 mile pipeline from Lamar to Elbert.  The plan included exporting water from the County (Elbert) from the County’s underground aquifers to other counties and angered County residents.

“Water Pipeline Under Review (Bruce Finley),” Denver Post September 15, 2011

Colorado water authorities (?) trying to prevent projected shortages have resolved to look further into a proposed multi-billion dollar “Flaming Gorge Pipeline Concept (FGPC)” to import water from Wyoming.  A private developer (Aaron Million of Ft. Collins) has proposed the 570 mile pipeline to move water from the Upper Colorado River Basin to expanding Front Range suburbs has applied to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for a license to build the pipeline.  A new poll shows that Wyoming residents heavily oppose (79%) the pipeline.

The Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) – charged with protecting and developing water resources for the state – voted unanimously to fund a $72K (6 month) study to explore legal, cost, and environmental aspects of the FGPC plan plus an additional $100K more if the first study finds the project to be promising.  A previous CWCB commissioned study estimated that the pipeline would cost $9bn and would make the delivered water the most expensive in Colorado history.

“A new water supply is needed to alleviate environmental issues on our rivers and protect our agricultural base, and, otherwise, we would be letting California and Arizona benefit because the Colorado River System has always been over-delivering to those lower basin states.  This isn’t about the upper basin states – Colorado, Wyoming, and New Mexico – versus California and Arizona.  We need to use the water resources we’ve been allocated under the “Interstate Compact.”  — Aaron Million, Ft Collins entrepreneur and developer of the “Flaming Gorge Reservoir on Green River.

Denver Water to vote on rate hikes (Karen E. Crummy),” Denver Post, September 15, 2011

Denver Water is looking to vote on a 5.5% rate hike in October to pay for infrastructure repairs and improvements.  If approved, rates will increase for the 21st year in a row.  Last year the rate went up 5%.   Mark Wagge (DW) said that Suburban customers pay more – WHY?

(RT – graph DW’s rate hikes over last 25/50 years to correlate to metropolitan growth)

“Green with envy over brown (Juan Carlos Lioerea),” Associated Press), August 8, 2011

El Paso (Texas) decades of water saving gives it a lush future amid drought.”

For decades El Paso (West Texas) defined the look of most desert communities with neighborhoods with lush green lawns and residents freely running sprinklers.  A 1979 study showed how close the city was to a crisis (Peak Water Event – Project Team) at its then present rate of consumption.  The city would run out of water in 36 years.  The city took drastic action over the next couple of decades to stabilize its water supply, undergoing a philosophical (Cultural – Project Team) and physical face-lift that involved ripping up grass from many public places, installing rock and cacti, and offering financial incentives for residents to do the same. 

Today, El Paso is among the few cities in the drought-stricken state not worrying about water – civic leaders attribute this to a conservation plan.  But even in El Paso, the changes have been a tough sell.  In school, when they told us to draw a house, you would draw a house that had grass said Fred Fierro (75) who wakes up early to water his turf.  The Fierros moved into their home in the Cielo Vista neighborhood and fell in love with the grass, but now its (neighborhood) is all rocks said Fred’s wife Soledad. 

Over the past 20 years El Paso has paid its residents a combined $11 million – $1/Square Foot – to remove their grass and replace it with gravel, concrete, or desert plants (DS – ask Martha to help us identify a Colorado landscape architect that we can interview as an SME about desert plant options in Colorado).  The city has permanent restrictions on watering days and reduced water consumption by offering special showerheads and rebates for water-efficient toilets.  The conservation plan helped the city avoid a water crisis that other towns across West Texas now face.  The city averages less than 10 inches of rain annually (What’s average rainfall for Front Range Cities?).  The city’s “Hueco Bolso” aquifer (city’s main water source) has stabilized since the plan was implemented in 1991 and according to the El Paso water utility, the city will have a steady water source for the next century.  The city’s annual consumption has dropped by 1.6% since 1990 while its population has increased by 36%.  The El Paso utility claims that the city saved more than $460 million that would have been needed for more pumping and treatment plants to accommodate higher water useage.

Team – Western States (horizontal growth patterns) versus Easterm/Coastal metropolises (vertical growth pattern).  Do Western cities have unique, higher water distribution costs over their higher-density urban counter-parts in that water needs to be distributed over greater distances while higher-density cities distribute vertically requiring higher pressures.  That is , is there a cost differential between the two city profiles (Check with hydrologist Rick Hirsch).

Israel’s water plan creates a stir (Ben Edwards),” Bloomberg News, August, 16, 2011

(Big name investors get behind developments aimed to save energy and treat sewage)

Israel’s water industry is attracting funds from GE and Conoco Phillips (Conoco Phillips is developing or has developed it’s international R&D and training facility in Louisville, and we should make some effort to contact them given their Colorado presence and find out what they are doing relative to energy saving technology, water purification research, etc.)  to develop energy saving technology to treat sewage as part of a $5bn program to clean up water supplies by 2016.  Emefcy, Ltd. is building a “fuel cell” that uses bacteria to break-down waste in water, and has raised more than $10mm from investors including GE, NRG Energy, and Conoco Phillips.  Emercy CEO Eytan Levy thinks the industry will grow to $100mm by 2017. 

The bacteria project is a small part of Israel’s effort to alleviate a water shortage (Peak-Water Event) without straining limited energy supplies.  The Country’s dry climate and lack of desalinization capacity has put it at the forefront of a global increase in water scarcity, which the UN says will extend to 30 countries by 2025, a gain of more than 50% from 1990.

“Water Power added to plan (Bruce Finely),” Denver Post June 27, 2011

(Colorado officials review a 560 mile pipeline that has both kinks and rivals)

The architect (Aaron Million) of a plan to pipe water 560 miles from southwest Wyoming to Colorado’s booming Front Range is expanding his vision to encompass hydo-power ($3bn project).  (We need to pin down cost.  Is this just for the power or does it include pipeline too?  CWCB study estimated total project cost (?) at $9bn).  Skepticism, environmental issues, and uncertainty surround the project.  A south-metro group is simultaneously pursuing a rival effort to sustain future growth through a proposed diversion project from the Green River fed Flaming Gorger in Wyoming before the water flows into the heavily subscribed Colorado River Basin.  This effort is being led by the South Metro Water Supply Authority led by Frank Jaeger (SMWSA board member) who heads the Parker Water & Sanitation District(Team – We see a trend whereby the individual municipal and county water authorities join forces to pursue water supply acquisition efforts – strength in numbers/jockeying for control.  Also, what are the legal differences in obtaining approvals between piping water from the Flaming Gorge (Million’s plan) and diverting water flows before they enter the Colorado River Basin (Jaeger’s Plan)?)  Colorado government officials have called for a “stakeholder dialogue” to explore the overall concept more carefully.  “New supply is certainly one of the legs of the stool” for meeting the state’s water needs said John Stulp, Governor Hickenlooper’s senior water advisor. 

Aaron Miller said, “when we started the project nobody had ever considered the Flaming Gorge options … we’ll do everything we can to facilitate discussions.  Million Conservation Resources Group (MCRG), founded by Aaron Million says he has received offers of several 100 millions of dollars of equity capital in support of the project, and that he wants to assist state municipalities and the agricultural industry sector by generating new sources of water for Colorado.  He also believes that by moving water he could help to generate electricity for the nation’s power grid.  He has asked the Army Corp of Engineers to “suspend” their work on environmental review (which they have agreed to do until July 5, 2011) of the project initiated by the agency (Rena Brand, Army Corp of Engineers) .  He wants to pursue “permitting” of the project through the Federal Regulatory Commission instead because it’s (FRC) is more “structured.”  (TEAM – Is this true?  If so, why?  So he could meet the 2.5 year permitting time table?  Seems that one recommendation in our paper could be to find ways to “streamline approval process that involve multiple levels of government and bureaucratic regulatory agencies – can we find a graphic flow chart that explains process for reservoir and pipeline approval process and timeline?).  Million said that elevation changes between Wyoming and Colorado enable generation of 70 megawatts of power that could be increased to 500 to 1,000 megwatts.  (Cadillac Desert – elevation changes worked for LA allowing them to build a 250 aqueduct from the Otis River Basin in the 1940’s?).  Opponents, (Boulder based Western Resource Advocates – WRA) to Million’s plan have raised concerns that proposals to divert 250K acre-feet (by comparison, Cherry Creek Reservoir is about 900 acre-feet) would hurt fish and other aquatic life in the upper river basin (we need to contact Trout Unlimited and Colorado Division of Wildlife for specific SME input).  As an entire pipeline, the project would be a “net” consumer of energy because diverted water would have to be pumped across the Continental Divide, said Stacy Tellinghuisen of the WRA. (we need to check back with Rich Hirsh – SME Hydrologist to confirm this assumption). 

Million said further that “collaboration on a project like this is critical” (TEAM – because political    power struggles to control water and the amount of money involved in these projects is overwhelming)  And both the Parker Water & Sanitation District and the South Metro Water Group has been meeting with municipal authorities in Wyoming and Colorado in their competitive effort to get their diversion concept plan approved.  Among major water providers, Northern Water Conservation District Mangers (TEAM – I’ve noticed that all these special interest stakeholder groups pick really attractive names for their organizations like “Conservation,” but that’s not really what they are about – it’s always about their own agenda and serving their constituency.  How can politics be overcome for the “greater and balanced good?”  What is the greater and balanced good when it comes to Colorado and Front Range water Management?  “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try some time, you get what you need”)  A delayed state study intended to find out how much water may be available for diversion (from where?) under the “Interstate Compact” that governs use of the Colorado River, California, Utah, and Nevada count on it.  Strikingly, current estimates for Colorado’s unused allocation range from zero to 800,000 acre-feet.  (TEAM – how much you want to bet that the zero estimate comes from the environmental stakeholder analysis and the 800K estimate comes from Million’s group analysis?)  Million’s closing quote in the article is, “the reality is that we’ve over-delivered to the lower basin since 1922 (what’s CadillacDesert have to say about this – “Interstate Compact” agreement?) Those surplus waters that actually belong to the upper basin have been used to generate economic development in the lower-basin states.”  (TEAM – as a side note to economic development, all high-tech chip development and telcom hotels require massive “cooling” and water is a significant component of cooling.  Therefore, without water, it would seem that significant high-tech production and data facilities cannot be “grown” in Colorado (Boulder corridor and Ft Collins) without more water.  What are the economic development implications if we can’t source or recycle more water?) 

(TEAM– as much as I’m loath to say it, but should the Governor’s office  and state legislature create a single authority with legal powers to consolidate these individual water authorities and sort out concept plans as one single voice at state levels or allow the free market to competitively negotiate solutions on their own?  What does history tell us about this via CadillacDesert?). 

Briefs (Washington), No Source Quoted (WH Press Release?), June 29, 2011

Obama administration officials defended their plan for studying how drinking water may be affected by the hydraulic fracturing process used to extract natural gas from underground rock formations.  The EPA’s congressionally mandated probe is set to conclude with a final report in 2014 and an interim one at the end of 2012.  John Deutch (MIT Professor) heading the Energy Dept. Task Force studying natural gas drilling said that the EPA is taking too long.  EPA officials said they were examining ways to speed up the process, but insist it would be impossible to move more quickly to wrap up such a study.  (RT – in engineering there is a concept known as “Design-build or Build Design,”  Kewit Construction used it in the I-25 highway expansion under former Governor Bill Owens to accelerate the construction project – they actually designed the project as they were building it.  Could this concept play into paper recommendation to streamline and compress these approval and development timeline hurdles.  Water solutions simply appear to take too long and be thwarted by fragmented political stakeholder disputes and may cause solutions to be developed too late – Peak Water)

“Planes, cold clouds can trigger rain, snow (Randolph E. Schmid),” Associated Press, July 1, 2011

Airiplanes flying through super-cooled clouds around airports can cause condensation that results in more snow and rain nearby, according to a new study.  The current conditions for this study occur about 5% of the time – but 10% to 15% of the time in winter according to Andrew Heymsfield of the NationalCenter for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, the lead author of the story, which appeared in a recent edition of the Journal of Science.  (TEAM – implications for improving “cloud seeding” to increase rainfalls?)

“Water Pipeline still on tap (Karen E. Crummy),” Denver Post, July 28, 2011

Elbert County plan put off to allow public meetings.  County resident’s concern focuses on lack of info on project and “fear” that the district intends to use water for oil & gas companies that use millions of gallons of water for exploration.

“Water Rights ruling upheld (Bruce Finely),” Denver Post, June 1, 2011

(State Supreme Court sets limits on transfer of water use from farmers to suburbs)

Colorado’s Supreme Court upheld a state water court’s ruling limiting the amount of water   that the East Cherry Creek Valley Water Authority & Sanitation District (ECCVWA) can deliver from the South Platte River Drainage to the southeast Denver suburbs.  The case reflects increasing scrutiny – driven by scarcity and increasing water prices – given to deals that transfer ownership of water rights from farmers to the expanding suburbs.  The ruling (Judge Gregory J. Hobbs) emphasized that agricultural water rights purchased by suburban water providers must be limited to the “200 feet/second” historically diverted from the South Platte River and used for irrigation above Barr Lake.  The suburbs are applying in water court (Colorado has a specific water court?  Research further; identify water SME at Sturm) to “convert” agricultural water to “municipal use designation” must show that their use of water will not hurt other users’ water rights.

Once a water provider acquires water from farmers, the utility “runs a real risk of re-quantification of water right based on historic use (Hobbs).” Hobbs case arose from a 2003 deal between ECCV, the Farmers Reservoir & Irrigation Company, Henrylynn Irrigation Districtunder a deal where United was to acquire agricultural water from Burlington and Frisco and then petition the court to convert it for municipal use by the ECCV’s suburban clients.  The ECCV planned to move as much as 6,000 acre feet/year through a 31 mile pipeline it built to move the water.  The decision limited its use of 6,000 acre feet by 800 acre feet/year.  Sources at the ECCV would have liked to have seen a better (more favorable decision).

The case consolidated several disputes and resolved an appeal that followed the trial in 2008.  The “state water court” sharply reduced the “historical consumptive use” used to calculate the amount of previously agricultural water that the municipalities can use (this appears to be a landmark ruling that will significantly impact such agriculture conversions of water use moving forward, and we need to identify an SME at Sturm for a better understanding of this legal precedent).  Transfers of agricultural water rights – dating back 150 years – are the “primary way” growing cities acquire water, said University of Colorado (CU) Law School professor David Getches, “old decrees were imprecise; measurement was imprecise .  As the value of water increases, the challenge of finding just how much a person’s or districts water right in the past may have been is more difficult. 

“Water Project Backed,” The Denver Post (Bruce Finely), August 13, 2011

(The plan to divert treated wastewater from Denver & Aurora gets a Federal Nod)

Federal water authorities gave initial approval to the “Wastewater Infrastructure Supply Efficiency Project,” which would divert treated wastewater from Denver and Aurora to supply the south metro suburbs through 2030.  Suburban water authorities said the project designed to reduce reliance on dwindling underground water, will cost about $558mm.  US Bureau of Reclamation (spokesperson Peter Soeth) officials said “rural water supply funds” may be available for the project, if it survives a detailed feasibility review.  Meanwhile, a crucial wastewater purchase deal with Denver and Aurora has yet to be done.  How much; how often? 

The “Wise Project” would deliver 5,000 to 11,000 acre-feet a year for the first 5 years, then as much as 37,000 acre-feet/year.  Fed officials appraisal report describes a complex system for rerouting wastewater drawn from the South Platte river by Denver and Aurora, then treating it to drinkable levels.  Federal funds can be used because suburbs with under 50,000 in population according to Mark Shively, executive director of Douglas County Water Resources Authority, and they (DCWRA) are aggressively pursuing this opportunity and are about 20%   into the feasibility study.  A previous South Metro Water Supply Authority study estimated that “shifting” 11 suburbs from wells to renewable surface water would cost at least $2bn.  Dave Little, Denver Water’s chief negotiator said “current talks contemplate delivery of 10,000 acre-feet/year for ten years, with Denver and Aurora able to keep their treated wastewater in dry years.  We want to ameliorate groundwater over-drafting in the south metro area that’s in the best interest of the state.”  Price is still being negotiated.  Beyond pipeline construction, the proposed project involves new storage of treated wastewater in surface reservoirs and by injecting into depleted aquifers.  Shively says they are looking at Chatfield and Rueter Hess reservoirs  (but not building new surface water facilities?)

(Team – buzzword is that in water parlance “sustainable” = “renewable water sources”)

“Developers pull plug on Penley Reservoir (Carlos Illesecas),” Denver Post, July 29, 2011

(no reason offered for scrubbing Douglas County project)

Developers of a proposed $105mm reservoir for which they had no water (supply) have pulled their application to build it according to Douglas County officials.  Penley reservoir was planned to inundate 306 acres southwest of Sedalia and hold up to 22,500 acre feet of water.  18 pipeline companies formed to move water from the reservoir to Colorado Springs, Castle Rock, Highlands Ranch, and other cities.  (RT- linear acreage to acre-feet storage, what is considered cost-effective in terms of price?  Contact hydrologist Rick Hirsh?)  The withdraw of the application ends the “review process,” and if developers decide to resume work, it will require a new application.  (what does is cost on average for due diligence to gain approval for a new dam?).  (Is it possible that the project was pulled as a result of NIMBY pressure from the Indian Creek homeowners who opposed the project?  Could it not be financed given that they had no source of water?  S the SME’s what they think the reason was for project being pulled.)

“Abundant snowpack a small blip (Joey Bunch),” Denver Post, June 10, 2011

Rocky Mountain winter snow is gradually being replaced by spring rain and it’s likely to get worse in the decades to come according to a recent government survey found Rocky Mtn. snowpacks have declined 3 % to 60% over in parts of the Rockies over the past three decades, bucking a century long trend.  This year’s gains (2011) are only a “small blip” a century long snowpack decline according to the United States Geological Survey (USGS).  It’s too early to say if it means less water overall – we could be compensating for snowpack with rain according to Mark Wagge of Denver Water.  Denver Water supplies 1.3 million people in the Denver metro area. (Mark – what do you think about cloud seding as a legitimate science and drought mitigation tactic?)

In most western states snowpack provides 60% to 80% of the year round water supplies.  Ken Salazar (US Interior Secretary) provides a “guide to deal with climate change (KC to order guide).  While snowpack has fallen since the 1980’s, forest fires have grown more frequent and difficult to fight according to Gregory Pederson, Lead author of the USGS study who works at the Bozeman, Montana office.

“Rain spurs huge cuts, (Colleen O’Connor)” Denver Post, July 22, 2011

(Turning off sprinklers in July slashed Denver usage by 34%)

Severe thunderstorms in July resulted in Front Range water customers turning off outdoor taps cutting consumption by as much as 50%.  Denver Water customers tightened spigots by 34%, dropping daily usage to 242 million gallons from the July average of 368 million.

Water consumption dropped by nearly half in Aurora, where consumers typically run through 80 million to 85 million gallons a day, in July, Aurora water use ran at about 45 million gallons.

It’s the lowest July we’ve had in the past 5 years according to Aurora Water spokesman         Greg Baker.  This week last year, Boulder used about 28mm gallons/day compared with 19mm/day this year.

“Water leaders float accord, Bruce Finely, Denver Post _________, 2011

(If ratified, the deal would resolve age-old disputes, but more challenges loom)

Colorado water authorities turn attention to another looming challenge, storing more mountain water before it flows out of the state.  But rather than a massive new reservoir, like the I’ll fated Two-Forks Dam decades ago, they (water authorities) are leaning toward a strategy of enlarging existing reservoirs.  Governor John Hickenlooper said that a strategy of expanding existing reservoirs is less expensive and less controversial.  “Inundating a large area as Two-Forks would have been a 25 year battle that really ends up with no winners,” he said.

(TEAM – paper sizzle (add color) might be to somehow parallel the failed Two-Forks Dam effort to the movie “Deliverance” that ends with the inundation of such an area in the creation of a dam – just a thought.  Additionally, even though as Gov. Hick suggests, that getting large projects like this approved is a tedious, prolonged and difficult process, let’s check with our SME’s because it may really be one of the only L-T  solutions in western states.  Would Chatfield, Cherry Creek, Dillion, Boulder, Pueblo, and Halligan & Seaman (Ft Collis) dam projects get approved today? What does Mark Wagge of Denver Water think?)

Hickenlooper also suggested that aquifers depleted by the South Denver Suburbs also could serve as a reservoir if “recharged.”  (Better idea but requires a lot of energy/power and is costly to achieve.  Check with Rick Hirsch regarding practicality and cost benefit versus surface water storage w/ “time-to-fill” and “evaporation issues).

“Colorado River Cooperative Agreement” (34 parties?), if approved, would push Colorado away from “Traqns Basin” water diversions to “sustain growth and compel reuse of Denver’s treated wastewater.”  The deal is designed to settle stalemated legal disputes that pit Western Slope “environmental” (agricultural interests were not named in article – why?) against “utility behemoth Denver Water.”  Denver would need approval from Colorado River Basin Counties and River managers in order to draw more water through its diversion tunnels under the Continental Divide except for Gran County, would stop opposing Denver’s proposed “Moffat Project” to move 18K acre-feet of river water to an expanded “Gross Reservoir” west of Boulder.  Denver would agree to share its treated wastewater with “ground water dependent” South Metro Suburbs (SMS) on the condition that they abstain from diverting Colorado River Basin water on their own.  (How do they currently do this?  Mark Wagge & Rick Hirsch SME’s)  Denver would impose a 12.5% surcharge on wastewater sales and use of some of the proceeds  (vague comment – what’s this really mean?)  to increase an overall $25mm contribution to Western Slope communities for water facilities and “environmental restoration (specifically – what is environmental restoration – ID Colorado Division of Wildlife SME and find out).

(TEAM – after 150 years of competitive adversity for water between Western Slope interests and Front Range interests why are we able to possibly reach agreement now.  Is it because the Western Slopes infrastructure is deteriorating and without selling some of their water they can’t finance the need facilities repairs and improvements?  Check with Gov. Hickinloopers senior water advisor for an informed SME opinion)

Western Colorado leaders recognize that “politically powerful SMS” likely will turn to Denver Water to help reduce their dependency on groundwater.  (one thing seems certain in all of this dialogue and that’s that the SMS cannot meet future demand from groundwater sources alone and risk draining/depleting their aquifers in the near to intermediate term – we need to get a timeline on this potential “PEAK WATER” event as it relates to groundwater depletion – Mark Wagge Denver Water SME?)  “Denver (is Bruce Finely referring to Denver Water) becoming the SMS water supply rebounds all the way to the Western Slope according to Eric Kuhn, manager of the “Colorado River District.”  Colorado’s water calculus is complicated by “climate change.”  Warmer temperatures “will lead to earlier runoff and more water loss from evaporation according to Marty Hoerling of the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration.

Sportsman groups question a reservoir expansion strategy

The agreement refers to potential cooperative water projects between the Front Range and Western Slope parties, though storage projects aren’t specified, Denver Water manager Jim Lochhead said.  Any reservoir expansion would have to be reconciled with Colorado’s obligations to deliver water downriver to states such as California (Interstate Compact agreement).  “Moving ahead to address looming water shortages could not be done without a new “collaborative framework,” according to Governor Hickenlooper.  (Is the Governor talking about Metro/Western Slope or Colorado/California – downriver states?)

“Water District soon could reach across Colorado, (Karen E. Crummy)”  Denver Post, July 27, 2011

A controversial proposal to expand the reach of a small local water district (Elbert & Hwy. 86 Commercial Metro District – Karl Nyquist District Director) to the entire state (How is this possible – check with Mark Wagge and/or legal/Colorado water court SME’s to see how a given Water Authority can usurp such control?) – a move potentially benefiting the oil & gas industry and changing the regions (water management) landscape to be voted on by Elbert County commissioners (we know this vote has since been postponed).  The county has recommended that the commission approve the expansion without gathering info about the project’s impacts on its citizens or specifically how the water will be used.  Elbert County lacks renewable water resources and it relies on underground aquifers (just to be clear, check with Mark Wagge/Rick Hirsch SME’s to be clear that “underground aquifers” are not considered a “renewable resource).  The decision to put this to a vote has stirred controversy with the perceived speed and secrecy at which the district and commissioners are trying to accomplish this (check with Karen E. Crummy Denver Post reporter on who exactly is behind this and what she believes they are trying to accomplish).

In the past 15 months, gas & oil companies have paid out $25mm for mineral leases and are expected to pay out an additional $25mm by the end of 2011 as the industry (specifically natural gas?) expands in the county.  Oil & gas exploration requires millions of gallons of water. (ID and oil & gas SME to determine if the water used in these processes including fracking drain back into the aquifers and whether or not they are a clean renewable water source or require increased treatment)   Because the water district asked to expand its service rather than create a new entity (the district currently provides both residential and commercial service – is this common for water authority districts; is it relevant?) the proposal is not “legally” required to go through the county’s planning department (where it would require public review/input and approval?)  This is not the first time that Elbert County has tried to create and approve a “statewide” water district.  The County tried this once before in 2002 when it endeavored to create the “United Water & Sanitation District” that owned a one-acre patch of land.

The current plan involves the construction of 150 mile pipeline to pump water (divert) from the Arkansas River that would be financed through bonds, mil levies, and (special district) fees.  The plan could result in private property owners having water pumped out of the aquifer (ElbertCounty’s?) that supplies their wells.

“Western Slope water deal surfaces (Bruce Finley),” April 23, 2011

(plan hashed out with Denver Water embraces partnership with statewide benefits)

Denver (DenverCity or Denver Water – ask Mark Wagge) is proposing a deal with Western Slope communities to try to allay concerns about increased diversion of water to “sustain Front Range growth.”

The emerging deal, “Colorado River Cooperative Agreement (CRCA),” requires Denver Water to:

  • Leave sufficient water in Dillon Reservoir for recreation in SummitCounty
  • Reuse and share mountain water by metro area suburbs supplied from the Western Slope
  • Limit future diversions of water by metro area suburbs from the Western Slope
  • Contribute about $22mm for water plants (treatment?) and to maintain ecosystems (what exactly is involved in maintain ecosystems – Colo Dept. of Wildlife SME’s and ID DU environmental ecology SME)

The proposed CRCA establishes a new approach Mark Wagge – how?  What was old approach?) to managing water in Colorado.  The most important part of the agreement is “that it looks at the Colorado River Basin from the “headwaters” to the state line as a whole,” according to Colorado River District general manager Eric Kuhn.  The deal is a great, innovative, and the way of the future,” said Drew Peternell, director of Trout Unlimited Colorado Water Project.

Fracking disclosure to rise (Ben Casselman), Wall Street Journal, June 20, 2011

(Gas drillers begin supporting laws requiring them to list chemical they use)

The natural gas industry bowing to longtime pressure will disclose more info about the chemicals it uses in the controversial process of hydraulic fracturing.

Governor Rick Perry signed a bill into law requiring disclosure.  A handful of other states (Does Colorado?  ID a local Colorado oil & gas SME).  Environmental groups say the law doesn’t go far enough.  The industry resisted disclosure arguing that the chemicals they use are “trade secrets.”    

Hydraulic fracturing (a.k.a. “fracking”) involves blasting millions of gallons of water, sand, and chemicals into the ground to break up oil & gas bearing rocks.  The process has been used for decades but has been used more frequently in recent years to open huge new gas fields in Texas, Louisiana, Pennsylvania, and other states (how much has the industry grown in Colorado since the price of oil has risen significantly?).  Environmental groups and residents in drilling areas fear that the chemicals from the process are seeping into drinking water supplies (aquifers).  They want oil & gas companies to disclose chemical used in the process so that they can test wells underground for contamination.

The industry argues that contamination is impossible if the wells are constructed properly (really? I don’t think most older wells were ever designed to contemplate the kinds of pressures that fracking invlovles, but we need an expert’s opinion on well design and best practives).  Oil & gas firms say that the chemicals compose one percent of the volume of most fracking jobs and are “mostly benign.” Environmental groups say the law doesn’t go far enough and have called for a mandatory, national chemical database.

“Water plans skirt studies (Karen E. Crummy),” Denver Post, April 25, 2011

(Specifics – cost, needs and even designs – for a flow-project reservoir are lacking)

Arapahoe County water officials are paying $4mm for a reservoir now under construction but didin’t do the customary studies showing it was needed (Team – Is here any doubt that more facilities are needed?  If you can build it; build it.  They will come is my thought.  Given the economy, the cost of construction must be very competitive these days.  Additionally, given NIMBYism resistance, is there value in building surface water storage facilities on a speculative basis if you can get it approved?  I think so!  What say you guys?)

Gary Atkin, GM of Arapahoe County Water & Wastewater Authority (ACWWA) has not yet generated plans or cost estimates on how and where the water will leave the reservoir and be delivered.  Nor was there an analysis on what sources of water will be stored there or how they will be used.  The article suggests that water could be stored a few miles south of the current site (under construction) for half the price, but the ACWWA doesn’t have documents showing any comparisons were made.  The effort is criticized by Dick Wolfe, state engineer and director of Colorado’s Water Resources Department. 

The reservoir under construction at South Chambers Road and E-470 in Douglas County is a component of the ACWWA “Flow Project,” a $153mm renewable H20 and infrastructure endeavor.  The Denver Post reports that there are significant problems with the project including that ACWWA paid the going market rate for “municipal water” but has only received “agricultural rights.”  (there must be a reason for this. i.e. they need to have some verifiable source of water to get the permit and whomever they acquired the agricultural water from was the only game in town – check with Mark Wagge Denver Water) Additionally, the ACWWA is paying $14mm to United Water & Sanitation District (governmental entity or competing water authority?) to build the reservoir and after completion United will hand over ownership to ACWWA.  District taxpayers are on the hook for the bonds.  (TEAM – as mentioned in prior article notes, there seems to be a trend toward water authority “teaming” and in this case some sort of incestuous relationship)

The Denver Post found in a review of this reservoir planning process (doers this new ArapahoeCounty reservoir have a name yet?) that:

  • ACWWA never formally studied the need for the reservoir – initial needs analysis done by Cherry Creek Project Water Authority (ACWWA is one of four members)
  • ACWWA has no records showing a comparison of its reservoir to Rueter- Hess reservoir a few miles south in Parker.  ACWWA is paying $10,000 an acre-foot for storage, while Rueter-Hess pays $5,000/acre-foot according to Frank Jaeger, Director for Parker Water & Sanitation District
  • Robert Lembke, head of United Water & Sanitation District, appears to have done well on the deal.  In addition to the contract with the ACWWA, Lembke’s private company, Chambers Reservoir Equities, LLC, which he says is an “enterprise” of United, has contracted to receive $2mm from another company for the dirt dug up for the reservoir.  Atkin told the Denver Post in an email that “review comparisons of Chambers to R-H including the price of constructing pipelines to R-H, additional evaporative loss due to R-H’s larger footprint, and advantage of ownership and operational flexibility, made the decision for a vessel such as Chambers a good one.”  (TEAM – seems that municipalities/water districts are like hospitals in that they want their own water storage facilities much like many hospitals want their own MRI’s.  The question is whether or not such “redundancies” are good.  I’m inclined to think that they are in the Front Range but at what cost?  What say you?)
  • ACWWA hasn’t determined what water is going into the reservoir.  Some from junior rights on the Cherry Creek.  Water from the South Platte (part of the Flow Project) may also be stored after being treated to drinking water standards.

Water experts say that it’s typical that “raw water” is stored in open reservoirs, but it’s “unusual” to store treated water in open reservoirs where it will get dirty.  I cannot recall seeing that (treated water) in an open reservoir – Jerry Pena, VP at the Denver office of MWH – a worldwide engineering company.  Atkin said that one reason not to use R-H was because the Army Corp of Engineers requires that the agency review renewable sources of H20 stored in R-H to determine the impacts of transferring and storing it (water).  (We need to find a flow chart that explains all the bureaucratic agency levels of the aggregate approval project as they relate to water storage and pipeline projects in the state).

“Big water users get flak in drought (Arian Campos-Flores), Wall Street Journal, July 11, 2011

(calls for surcharges as vast amounts consumed by wealthy Palm Beach residents draw ire of neighbors)

A record dry season left West Palm Beach, Florida with just 22 days worth of fresh water in June (2011) prompting new rules restricting residents to once-a-week watering schedules for lawns and plants.  But with a 2.6 acre estate in neighboring Palm Beach featuring a 37,000 square foot home, pool, and lush landscaping, the homeowner is using more than 120 times the amount of water consumed by the average water customer in the region.  Some of the owner’s neighbors in this tiny island enclave – whose water is supplied by West Palm Beach – use more than one million gallons of water/month to keep their properties green.  This has led to calls for water pricing structures that include surcharges during droughts and spurred “class tension” between tract-homeowners and the affluent.

People living on a 19 acre estate can afford to pay a lot more for water said Drew Martin, who has seat on the Palm Beach Soil & Water Conservation District.  If they were paying a significantly more for water that might encourage them to be more efficient (conservation).  The excess water usage is not just for grass said a theater producer and heiress, I do have guests.  I do have 19 bathrooms.  Though her property consumed more than 13mm gallons of water from June 2010 through may of 2011, the most of any Palm Beach resident, she said she didn’t plan to reduce her usage.  “The town should invest in a desalination plant which would ensure enough water for everyone,” she said.

Palm Beach county has endured the most parched dry season on record (climate change again?) and parts of Eastern Palm Beach county are suffering “exceptional” draught conditions – the highest classification to the NationalDroughtMitigationCenterAs a result, WPB officials tapped an emergency well field, bought water from the county, and obtained permission to draw off a reservoir owned by the South Florida Water Management District.  They also limited landscape irrigation, which accounts for almost half of total water consumption, to a day a week for all utility customers including those in Palm Beach.  Yet there is no “cap” on the volume of water a resident can consume and “no surcharge” for excessive use (TEAM/DS – Culture of Excessive Use).

Given the need to conserve, some residents ask why the owners of large estates are allowed to continue “soaking up” as much water as they want.  It’s appalling, said one Palm Beach resident who has kept her water use in check by cutting back on laundry and planting native species in her garden.  “They should be fined.”

Code enforcers in Palm Beach have been cracking down on violators since the water restrictions were put in place.  The town has issued 283 written warnings and 116 violations including to the former president of Goldman Sachs and co-founder of The Blackstone Group.  Some residents argue that officials should crack down more vigorously – but WPB leaders say there are no plans to change the pricing scheme.  The PB civic association has been encouraging homeowners to invest in more efficient systems.

Drought damaging Southern Colorado wheat (Justin T. Hilley), The Denver Post, July 22, 2011

(months of little moisture has farmers preparing for reduced harvest)

Farmers in Southern Colorado are bracing for a diminished winter-wheat harvest as of July as a nearly year-long drought squeezes the region.  Conditions are as bad as the last drought in 2002 according to Jim Miller, of the Colorado Department of Agriculture in Colorado’s SanLuisValleyWater flows in Colorado in 2002 were the lowest on record according to the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).  While Southern Colorado hurts, more than average rainfall in Northern Colorado makes up for the water loss.  In July, the US Department of Agriculture (identify SME) raised Colorado’s “winter-wheat” estimated yield to a total production of 72mm bushels, above the ten year average of 67mm bushels.

Governor Hickenlooper said that the drought has resulted in the loss of up to 75% of the “cool-season grass (raw stock of wheat)” throughout the San Luis Valley.

“Conservation Innovations (Bruce Finley), The Denver Post, June 25, 2011

(State makes gains, rushes to sustain them with projects, policing)

Colorado’s latest tactic in the struggle to forestall water shortages: retrofitting suburban lawns with high efficiency sprinklers.  Government backed installation of special nozzles at 1,000 Douglas County homes is part of a broadening campaign that also includes intensified water policing of neighborhoods, a shift toward denser development (TEAM RT – here is one of the key elements where we can introduce our case study The Sterling Ranch Development), and the recruiting of neighborhood kids as water conservation ambassadors (TEAM DS – example of cultural behavioral approaches to change).

Denver water authorities this week revealed that they are considering paying residents to rip-out lawns and replace them with landscapes better suited to the semi-arid environment (El Paso Model adopted by DC 20 years later!).  All efforts aim at making “blue grass” watering-as-usual more difficult for homeowners including those who do so in violation of city imposed water budget restrictions and pay monthly fines of $150/violation, but continue to violate restrictions nonetheless.  Compounding the problem is that most homeowners associations (HOA’s) require that lawns be kept green and impose fines if they are not – often putting homeowners between a rock and a hard place (modifications of HOA watering guidelines should definitely be a recommendation of our paper).  The Douglas County Water Resource Authority (Douglas Shively) officials have outfitted neighborhood teenagers under a state-financed $250,000 nozzle initiative (TEAM – excellent example of a State program to encourage Front-Range conservation – let’s find out when this program was created and who introduced it.  Contact Hickenlooper’s senior water management advisor).  Teen workers have retrofitted about 180 sprinkler systems per week in the state thus far and have set a long-term target of 107,000 lawns.

Douglas County is also teaching High School and Elementary School students to be “water-ambassadors” through special school seminars that address water scarcity, culminating in the signing of a “family water commitment” contracts that obligate student’s families to adopt water saving measures (TEAM DS – cultural behavior modification – socialization techniques – to foster positive change.  Do we believe that in the final analysis this is a critical component of paper in that more responsible water-management will have the most impact at the individual level?  I think so, what say you?)  The result (thus far) is that Castle Rock residents use 84 gallons today down 8% from the 92 gallon average in 2003.  Water use in Douglas County overall has decreased by 32% from 215 gallons per person per day to 146 according to state data.  Castle Rock is ahead of Denver in water saving measures where utility officials have said that residents decreased water use to 86 gallons/person/day from 114 gallons in 2000.

By comparison, Europe and Australia municipal water use is down to 40 gallons/person/day. (TEAM DS – good statistic for your review of American water consumption culture – let’s get sources from reporter for these statistics).

The Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB)financed the South Metro nozzle retrofits because “water dilemmas” (interesting term – is this a specific term used in water management circles – nomenclature?)  in that area are urgent according to Veva Dehaza, CWCB’s chief for conservation and drought planning.  Along the Front Range, water cops with mobile access to databases search for water-use violators and some utilities have set-up hotlines for for neighbors to report violators.  Denver Water deploys 15 monitors who patrol in trucks and by bicycle.  Denver’s enforcers detect about 4,000 violations per year – yet have only given 17 fines of up to $100 since 2008.  Denver Water (DW) believes that the greatest water savings will come from “Denser Development,” (TEAM RT – Sterling Ranch reference) and not water enforcement according to Greg Fisher, manager of demand planning at DW.

Castle Rock (CR) water authorities are more aggressive avout water enforcement and collected $12,800 in fines in 2010.  CR water cops place “gray flags” near leaky sprinklers, advising homeowners to “repair” them immediately to avoid penalties.  CR officials believe that the flags create a “social stigma/embarrassment” and result in timely repairs and grater self-awareness (TEAM DS – cultural behavior modification).  In CR, homeowners who attend a half-day seminar called “water-wise” can choose their watering day.  Watering past 10 AM is illegal.  Exemptions can be obtained for “new sod” and “seeding” and goes into a database that the water cops use to check on violations.

The Big Losers: Colorado Rivers (Kendrick Neubecker), The Denver Post, May 21, 2011

The rivers of the Western Slope, especially the Colorado and Yampa basins, look like they will flow this spring like they haven’t since 1984 – more than 25 years ago!

The snowpack water levels from the Roaring Fork up are near record levels throughout the northern mountains, this year’s snowpack has been well above normal.  Periodic high flows like this year (2011) can scour the river beds, flush away accumulated sediment and flood the adjacent riparian areas and are essential to the river ecosystem.

The other big water event this year is the historic agreement being forged this year between Denver Water and Western state stakeholders that is intended to benefit water users on both sides of the Continental Divide.

But the agreement falls short: the river(s) are the losers in this agreement according to the author of this article, Kendrick Neubecker, director of the Western Rivers Institute.  Why?

  • Agreement doesn’t address or acknowledge that more than 60% of the Fraser and Upper Colorado are already being diverted to the Front Range
  • The “Moffat Expansion” will take an additional 15% from western slope rivers and divert water flows to the Front Range.  The total amount of “flows” removed from the Western Slope rivers leaves about 1% available for “environmental enhancement.” Contact Kendrick to get a better understand of what he means by this term)  This agreement won’t go far to help the much less improve it
  • The agreement does not deal with the impacts from the Moffat and Windy Gap expansion.  Future diversions are not ruled out. Even with cooperation, the Upper Colorado and Fraser Rivers could still be drained of their last drop
  • The agreement nor the mitigations proposed by the Division of Wildlife (contact DOW to find out what the mitigations specifically are) deal with the ecological damage already done from more than 100 years of diversion

Kendrick claims that the “environmental enhancements” are nothing more than “River Hospice” – making us more comfortable with the advanced stages of ecological decay.  Kendrick does believe that the agreement is historic in that both sides of the Continental Divide stakeholders are working as partners instead of throwing lawyers at each other.

There’s more to a healthy river than that it just flows with water.  (l;et’s get a short list of examples from an SME)

Coloradoans and much of mainstream media assume all is in good order and that the “water wars are over.”  We think we have negotiated a fair truce balancing healthy rivers, farms, and growing cities.  The “Colorado River Cooperative Agreement (CRCA), is historic in many ways (ask Mark Wagge of DW how?), but not in our ability to manage or see rivers as rivers (what does Kendrick mean by this?).  Until we do that, the rivers will continue to lose.  So will the people of Colorado on both sides of the divide.

“Million water pipeline plan sets wrong precedent (John Berggren), The Denver Post, May 21, 2011

Colorado is still one of the fastest growing states in the country.  With growth comes increased demands for secure, reliable freshwater supplies.  As water budgets tighten, municipalities and developers look to water supply projects and agreements that were once considered impossible.   For example:

  • A $2.8bn pipeline that can potentially over 250,000 acre-feet of water annually for 578 miles across state lines that at one time would have been deemed logistically and financially impossible is currently being reviewed under a National Environmental Policy Act (Aaron Million’s Regional Watershed Supply Project (RWSP – if approved expected to be “flowing” by 2020)
  • A cooperative agreement between Eastern & Western Slopes that both parties tout as beneficial with compromises made by Denver Water and Western Slope entities seems like a longshot at best

According to a CU environmental studies PhD. Student Million’s RWSP plan sets the wrong precedent while the “Colorado River Basin Agreement (CRBA)” does.  Million’s plan suggests that water can be secured at a price, while the CRBA says that water sources are finite and we must share. 

Diversion projects in the Colorado basin are nothing new.  Development in the southwest would not be where it is today without numerous canals, ditches, pipelines, dams, and reservoirs. 

Agriculture in southern California would not be able to supply a majority of the country’s wintertime produce without the “All American Canal” transporting Colorado river water to the Imperial Valley.

Front Range cities such as Boulder, Denver, and Colorado Springs would not thrive without The Big Thompson project piping Colorado river water under the Continental Divide.  Few would argue that these developers were not acting in the best interests of southwest citizens when they were designed and built.  

What has changed and why the RWSP proposal is flawed is that there is no more Colorado River water left to develop.  Looking at the “Basin’s budget” as a whole, and taking into account average supply and demand – including reservoir evaporation and treaty obligations to Mexico – there is only a 400,000 acre-feet difference between water that’s available and water that is consumed every year.  Taking an additional 250,000 acre-feet out of the “Colorado River Basin” for consumptive use in Colorado like the RWSP proposes, takes the water budget from being on “a knife’s edge” to all but breaking down.

In an era of “constrained water supplies and climate change,” the precedent should not be more diversions via pipelines, but more prudent water governance.  Limitless water supply is a thing of the past.  The Colorado Basin Agreement is a “step in the right direction.”  It includes increased conservation and reuse by Denver Water and water planning that includes “environmental needs” (such as – have not heard any environmentalist expound on these variables in detail – check with appropriate ecological and wildlife SME’s) and collaboration on both sides of the divide.

The agreement is not perfect:

  • It leaves the possibility for additional development of “trans-basin” diversions across the divide
  • Parts of Gunnison and the YampaRivers are still available for diversion
  • It leaves the Green River and Flaming Gorge Reservoir in Wyoming open for additional development – what the RWSP proposes

Rejecting the RWSP would promote the water planning model and set the right precedent for Colorado Water.

Global War for Water

(synthesized notes from “Ellen McGirt’s  journalistic piece featured in FastCompany Magazine entitled, “Matt Damon and his global war for water,” July/August edition)*

Color Code Legend:

BLUE = Water Authorities
PINK = Subject Matter Experts (SME)

ORANGE = Water Agreements

GREEN = Special Interests/stakeholder

RED = Team Notes

PURPLE = Team Key Paper Concepts

* all notes are either verbatim quotes or close reductions of Ellen McGirt’s original article.  Quotations are only used in reference to subjects interviewed by reporters or white paper “sound bytes” that we may reference in our research publications

Once upon a time Matt Damon went for a long walk in rural Zambia, he was accompanying a 14-year old Zambian girl who had no idea who he was.  The walk came at the end of a 10-day African journey, a systematic primer on the complexities of the continent’s extreme poverty that had been organized for Damon by staffers from his friend Bono’s “One” campaign.  Damon was on a quest to understand what it’s like to be really, really poor.  “It was like a mini-course in college.  Every day brought a different subject on urban aids, microfinance, education, and finally water.”  (TEAM – one takeaway/aspect of this piece should be to put into perspective what a “Peak Water “ event would be like and these impoverished African communities seem in many ways to resemble what such an event would be comparable to)

While walking with the young teen on her hour-long trudge to collect water for her family something “clicked” for Damon.  He talked to the girl the whole time through a translater and asked her what she wanted to be when she grew up – “do you want to stay here.”  She got shy all of a sudden and as they walked back from the well carrying two, 5 gallon jugs of water pulled from the well, she said her dream was to go to the big city (Lusaka), and become a nurse.  Damon recalled his dreams at the same age, when he and his friend Ben Affleck were plotting their way from Boston to NYC to meet with casting agents.  The connection opened the door for Damon – “he remembered so well the feeling of being young, when that whole world of possibility was open to you.”

But while Damon’s dream was made possible by Amtrack, the girl’s was only possible because someone drilled a bore well near her home – and yes, an hour’s walk for water is good news in lots of places in the world.  Nearly one billion souls lack access to clean water, and three times that number lack access to proper sanitation.  “This is not something that most 14 year olds have to go through.”  Without access to water, Damon’s teen companion would not be able to go to school and would likely have been forced into a precarious “fight-for-life,” spending her days scavenging for often-filthy water in unhealthy and unsafe environments,” Damon said.  “Now, she can hope to be a nurse and contribute to the economic engine of Zambia.”    

“Of all the different things that keep people in the kind of death-spiral of extreme poverty, water kust seemed to be so huge, and it doesn’t have to be that way,” according to Damon.

Damon co-founded a charity (water.org) in 2009, three years after his Zambia trip with longtime water expert and “now friend” Gary White.  His vision is “clean water and sanitation for everyone in our lifetime (Is it White’s, Damon’s, or both? That is, who’s credited with the quote?).”  Damon has since turned himself into a water expert – unusual for a celebrity to dive into the technical side of a chosen philanthropy.  Whether talking microfinance with rural bankers, giving detailed reports from the field at the annual Clinton Global Initiative, or personally thanking donors like Pepsi CEO Indra Nooyi, Damon quietly developed the creed of program geek.  “If you understand how it works,” Damon says sounding more like an anthropologist than a celebrity spokesperson, “there’s no substitute for going there and talking to people in their homes (TEAM – DS, this has to factor into your cultural behavior analyses).


Water.org is the merger of Damon’s “Water Africa,” which he founded as a way to funnel money to well-managed Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO’s) in Africa, and Gary White’s “Water Partner,” a two decade old group that had developed a series of highly “innovative and counter-intuitive” approaches to water access. 

Water Partners strategy had less to do with digging wells – which, if maintained poorly, can break down and leave a place in worse shape than before – and more to do with encouraging communities in the creation and ownership of water and sanitation systems that function as mini-utilities.  These issues known as “WASH” in philanthropic circles – “Water – Sanitation – Hygiene (WASH).”  These are the least glamorous of all supportive efforts, yet are the most likely to lift a community out of poverty.  (TEAM – if true, then it stands to reason that in the U.S., that lack of a quality water and wastewater treatment capabilities will be the largest factor to negatively impact economic development in the Western states.  What say you?)

Damon and White’s long collaboration ended in partnership and both took (intangible?)     risk’s.  White in that a Damon (celebrity) PR “faus paux” via “TMZ” could negatively impact his philanthropic venture, and Damon because most philanthropic ventures come under fire  for spending a lot of money and doing very little.  White was a grant recipient of Damon    before they merged organizations.  Damon had studied White’s innovations, particularly, a “microfinance” instrument know as “Water Credit.” (Research the term and origin).

Water.org is on track to raise $10mn, up from $4mn in 2010.  The primary use of the money is not to handout to well drillers, but to negotiate deals between micro-financial institutions and (impoverished) communities.  The organization provides the community with access to a local banker, who will then lend money to build systems that tap into a well, or a previously inaccessible water or sanitation grid.  Water.org may guarantee the loan, but repayment falls to the villagers, who work together to manage the water supply and organize credit payments. 

“By using local capital markets to develop projects, people get access to the credit system,“ White says.  “The villagers own the project at the end of the exercise.  They’re proud of it, and they have done it themselves”  WWer.org claims that this approach has allowed more than 315,000 people to gain access to clean water systems that are reliable and maintained. 

That leveraged success, combined with Damon’s celebrity explains why donations to Water.org are on the rise and why it has earned the attention of Institutional quality” funders.  (TEAM – Relative to public awareness, the public does not really seem to be aware of the real potential for a Front Range “Peak Water” event.  One of our cultural behavioral modification recommendations should be to suggest that local celebrities be engaged in a “state-sponsored” advertising campaign to promote water conservation in conjunction with local businesses that depend on water supply.  Additionally, those local water-supply dependent businesses could endorse and promote “best conservation practices through their employee force and other public awareness programs.  Such candidate companies could include soft drink bottling firms, deep rock water, Denver & Aurora water, regional water & sanitation management authorities, local breweries, etc. We should research what these candidate companies currently do relative to promoting PR water conservation best practicesGary White keeps a plastic bottle of dirty water (in his Kansa City office) from his last trip to Ethiopia and shakes it into a chocolate-milk froth.  This is what they were drinking.  He then shows pictures of water projects, happy children near wells, each a story of heartbreak and redemption.  Behind Gary is a white board where he sketching out the future of Water.org – we are looking for the next “Water Credit” he explains.

History of Water Credit:  

White’s long path began over a meal with good friends in the 1980’s while he was working for Catholic Relief Services (CRS) as an emergency specialist on projects in Latin America and the Caribbean.  Someone said, “your life should be about finding the intersection of the world’s greatest need and your greatest passion.  But, in order to sit for his professional engineering exam, he had to give up his relief work and join a stateside engineering firm.  The day after Thanksgiving in 1990, he invited a 100 friends to a local Knights of Columbus hall in Kansas City to enjoy a donated dinner and show the group a slide show of the work he had done at CRS and they raised $4,000.  That money seeded the project that he started in the Honduras.  The next year, another dinner and another project – a series of annual dinners grow into a fledgling enterprise called Water Partners, which became big enough to attract institutional quality investment.  One of the first grants was for $100,000 from the Susan Del Foundation.

Still, even after White had led dozens of projects – were failing at a really high rate.  Communities had broken wells or faucets that villagers were unable to repair, or the wells produced water too dangerous than that of the filthy rivers that flowed nearby.  There were also few, if any, sanitation projects.  In the 1980’s to 1990’s, the approach was really about supply driven, White said.  “ig a well, put up a plaque, take a picture, and scram.  People were designing projects for people, not with them.”  White came to understand that community engagement (a term rendered almost no meaningless by politicians, major brands, and social –networking companies) is a life-or-death strategy in the developing world.  (TEAM – SME’s say things like “denser development” is the answer and not “water-enforcement,” but denser development is a “moving forward strategy.”  So how does that help with the 95% of older projects and current housing stock relative to suburban sprawl?  White’s findings and understanding from his “global” property lessons in the under-developed world seems to imply that the real solution is at the individual and community level.  Celebrity PR campaigns that promote conservation best practices at the daily behavioral level would seem to offer the highest “return-on-investment (ROI) in my opinion.  For example, bath every other day, think about laundry efficiencies, at the community level modify HOA rules regarding green lawns, socialize children in schools to NOT draw pictures of homes with green lawns, promote family- water agreements to adopt more water conservation like they are doing in Douglas County, adopt best practices at the individual level like not leaving the water running when you brush your teeth, etc.  What say you?) “There needs to be a water committee and at least 80% of the community needs to sign up and raise money for the project and participate in its construction and upkeep, “ White says.  That’s how a project turns from “top-down” to “bottom-up” and “sustainability.”  (TEAM – PR campaign concept is how to change water consumer behavior from the “bottom-up.”)

This led to an important insight – an “orthogonal” insight (Orthogonal – pertaining to right angles, a pair of vectors having a defined scalor product equal to zero, a pair of functions having a defined product equal to zero) White’s geeky term for the kind of thinking in which forces that appear unrelated or irrelevant help solve a problem in an unexpected way.  Extremely poor people do have some monies, and millions of them spend an inordinate amount of money on water from the equivalent of loan sharks and hucksters – opportunists with a faucet, according to White.  “We knew they (impoverished villagers) were getting water form somewhere because they were still alive,” Said White.  For many of these poor communities, particularly those in “quasi-urban settings,” water infrastructures might be a few kilometers away. 

White put all of this together and came up with the basic thought behind Water Credit.  What if communities “self-organized” to get a loan to create their own wells or buy heir way into existing water access infrastructure?  “We began to work with micro-finance institutions (MFI’s) instead of “Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO’s) (NGO – legally constituted organizations that operates independent from any government – originated from the United Nations – not part of government and a non-for-profit business.  Usually a “civil social organization.”  When funded by governments, they exclude govt. reps from membership),  infrastructure had never lent to anything that didn’t have a built-in revenue source or collateral.

Convincing a local lender to take a risk means demonstrating demand, training communities to run a project, and making a case that the poor can afford to repay the loan.  A tough sell according to White, “but not impossible.”

Water Credit is a micro-finance (MFI) tool that tries to leave nothing to chance. 

Let’ suppose Water.org identifies an urban Indian community it might be able to help build a public toilet.  They rally local people into a committee to run the project, and then persuade the local utility to risk a construction project in a neighborhood that seems too poor to pay its bills.  An MFI works with a local lender to loan the committee the necessary money.  After the toilet is built, educators teach people how to pay their loan – as well as why they should use their new toilets., and for that matter wash their hands/  All this for people in a “hardened cast system.” 

It’s especially important for women, because research shows that projects that ultimately succeed are designed with them (women) in mind, as well as mostly maintained by them.  A woman of low status might then be in charge of collecting maintenance fees – just a few pennies – at the now “public” toilet.  That’s a woman who now has a job and dignity, and no dysentery.

When Damon was filming “Invictus” in South Africa in 2009, he and White visited some Water Credit beneficiaries.  They would go into a slum and talk to people who had taken out a loan, had water taps or toilets in their house and already repaid the loan.  Their lives were changed.

Damon then met with some Water Credit bankers who were also excited in that many of these impoverished customers had returns for basic banking services after the experience.  Shortly after his trip to Zambia, Damon used his own production company to film a documentary film entitled, “Running the Sahara.”  The film was about three “Ultra- Marathoners” and he used the film to highlight the water issue.  (TEAM – this is an example of how a celebrity such as Damon can use their influence and artistic skills to bring a given cause to the forefront of social dialogue and thought – what say you?)

Fund raising is also a challenge for those like Damon who try to lever their celebrity.  “Basically, there’s the Sally Struther’s  approach,” he says, “where you guilt the shit out of people and they end up turning the TV off,” and most star-studded mega-events “that end up netting little to the organization.”     

Where Damon has seen “Star-Studed” mega-events work. Referring to a recent “Robin-Hood” foundation event, is where “you’re doing what those Goldman (Goldman Sachs) guys do and getting Lady Gaga to raise $47mn because they’re all drunk and they’re trying to impress each other and they’re calling out numbers from tables.”  He (Damon) pauses, and laughs, “of course that’s the kind of fundraiser we’d entertain for Water,org, but it’s the exception, not the rule.”

Water Credit has brought White to the pinnacle of the philanthropic world, whne in 2009 he won the “Skoll Award” for social entrepreneurship and a $765,000 grant including access to an unparalleled network of entrepreneurial thinkers.”  Water Credit is now well beyond “proof-of -concept,” says Skoll’s Rothchild.   Financial institutions, and other people are doing it now too.  It’s a “shift” in the way that these systems operate. (White)”

In today’s digital world, charitable engagement for Water.org is being marketed in more viral and granular ways.

Sure, Damon can talk up the organization on Letterman, but Mike Cameron (Chief Community Officer for Water.org) is using the web to promote “on-the-ground, real-time,” windows into the process by which these projects and communities sustainable water projects evolve so viewers can follow the progress of town hall meetings. Training sessions, negotiations, and public debates,” according to White.  White added that 13% of those who sign –up (on the web site), donate and 65% get a friend to visit the site.

Beyond the obvious credit owed both Damon and White, the two have come to see that turning the poor into paying customers of a utility of their own creation spawns a “consumer consciousness” that can be harnessed.  “There are development monies allocated to these communities all the time (via municipalities, NGO’s, and International Aid Agencies) that often never arrive,” says White.  “What mobile service could keep them in the loop, like 311 for the poor?”  “If they knew what was coming their way, they could hold others accountable,” he adds.

In some communities, a water truck shows up daily (TEAM – we talked about his in a prior team meeting whereby in the future via Peak-Water Event, we potentially foresaw a scenario whereby homes would have storage tanks, and water would be trucked in for distribution much like heating fuel oil in the northeast).  But since the women never know the time of delivery, they can waste hours waiting with their water jugs for a truck to show up empty.

“What if there was a text messaging system,” asks Damon, “That let’s people know when the truck will show up and how full it was?

To explore possibilities such as these, the Water.org board has approved the creation of a new innovation fund that Damon kicked off with a one million dollar donation, and the Hult International Business Scholl matched.  The fund’s goal is to serve as a catalyst in the creation of new products and services specific to the “bottom-of-the-pyramid” water consumer.  “It’s a very Sillicon Valley approach,” said White.  “Invent, test, innovate.”

White and Damon agree on their movement’s future.  The new big thing will probably be the result of “orthogonal” thinking.

“We want to support people in demanding the services and aid they’ve got coming to them while having an easier life in the process,” White says.  What can make the lives of people at the bottom of the pyramid, the people who form their customer base, better?”  Mobile phone applications?  A new financing scheme?  An unconventional alliance?  A technology yet to be born?  Whatever it is, the story to be told will require more than a plastic bottle of dirty water.


Facts from McGirt’s Article:

  • Every 20 seconds a child dies froma water related disease
  • About 80% of sewage in developing countries is discharged untreated
  • More people have cell phones than access to a decent toilet
  • 3.6mn people die each year from water-related diseases
  • Less than one percent of the world’s fresh water is readily accessable for direct human use
  • The average American uses 100 gallons of water per day
  • Nearly 1 billion people lack access to safe water
  • Millions of women & children spend several hours per day collecting water from distant, often polluted sources