Carbondale is water secure, but the West is not

Sopris Sun, July 27, 2022, by Olivia Emmer

On Tuesday, July 19, the town of Carbondale trustees held a work session on water. Mayor Ben Bohmfalk wanted to know whether the town has enough water to service growth, particularly in light of the desire to add housing. He also asked if the town should be doing more to reduce water demand and whether climate change factored into the town’s water plans.

Crystal River
Around 8 a.m. on July 27, the Crystal River at the Carbondale Fish Hatchery gage was reading approximately 73 cubic feet per second — about 28% of the historical average flow for this date. Photo by Olivia Emmer

The discussion of the town’s water supplies, rights and infrastructure was held in the context of a more than 20-year drought, which many climate scientists say is actually a pattern of aridification in the West. Earlier this summer, the federal government issued a warning to the seven states that use water from the Colorado River that they need to cut back usage by an unprecedented amount, and with speed, to protect the nation’s largest reservoirs and their power plants. If the seven basin states cannot make a plan themselves, the Bureau of Reclamation has asserted that it will make the cutbacks for them.

Despite the specter of federal involvement in state water law, Town Attorney Mark Hamilton, who summarized the town’s water rights at the meeting, thinks that Carbondale should still feel confident about its water portfolio. Since many of the town’s water rights are older than the 1922 Colorado Compact — which governs the sharing of Colorado River water between the basin states — he thinks they are protected from changes to the Compact, which are slated to be renegotiated over the next several years.

Public Works Director Kevin Schorzman walked the trustees through the town’s water system and concluded, “I think we have the ability to produce the water the town needs for the foreseeable future.”

The town of Carbondale has a treated-water system and a raw water system. The treated water largely comes from Nettle Creek, a tributary to the Crystal River, with supplemental supplies from wells along the Crystal River and the Roaring Fork River.

The raw water, which is diverted from the Crystal River through a network of ditches, is used for irrigation by about 70% of the town. Since most residents don’t use treated water on their landscaping, the town doesn’t have to run as much water through their treatment plants. According to a report by Schorzman, the three treatment plants have a 5 million gallons per day capacity, but current peak demand is around 1.4 million gallons per day.

Several trustees expressed an interest in providing more information to the community to clarify the town’s role in ditch diversions on the Crystal River. A report by trustee Lani Kitching stated that Carbondale’s percentage of the senior water rights on the Crystal River below Redstone ranges from 15% to about 25% depending on river flows. According to the 2016 Crystal River Management Plan, the majority of water rights on the Crystal River support local agriculture.

Based on Schorzman’s calculations, 2021 per capita demand for treated water was 116 gallons of water per day, but, if you subtract the amount of water that returns to the river via the wastewater treatment plant, water consumption was 46 gallons per day per person.

One area of concern for the mayor was the impact of climate change on future water supplies. Based on the town’s water rights, the ability to draw water from both the Crystal River and Roaring Fork River watersheds and the town’s contract for some Ruedi Reservoir water, he feels comforted. Mayor Bohmfalk said, “My takeaway was that, from both a water rights on paper and a production of wet water, as they called it, point of view, we are prepared for severe droughts and we’re prepared for the growth that we’ve planned for.”

While Mayor Bohmfalk feels confident about Carbondale’s water security, he thinks that water conservation is “something we don’t have to do, but we should do.” Both the mayor and town staff pointed to outdoor water use as having the greatest potential for water savings.

“Our general usage, even though we’re growing, is actually trending downward a little bit and that’s thanks to the efficiency measures that we have in our building code. So when we’re adding new buildings, we’re not actually adding much more water use for the new people that are using those buildings,” said Mayor Bohmfalk. “It seems like where we could definitely take some strides is with outdoor water use.”

Mayor Bohmfalk expressed interest in newly passed state legislation, House Bill 1151, that appropriated $2 million for a turf replacement fund, to be run by the state’s Colorado Water Conservation Board.

April Long, executive director of the Ruedi Water and Power Authority, attended the work session and provided comments to the trustees. “While Carbondale is water secure, the West is not. We are in a drought and we should begin to look like we are in drought.” Long suggested the Town consider collaborating with the Colorado Water Trust on agreements that would aim to keep water in the Crystal River during environmentally fragile seasons.

Mayor Bohmfalk expressed openness to water agreements for environmental protection, saying, “It’s something we should look into. I would be interested in learning more about that.”

Sopris Sun
by Olivia Emmer
Original Article