While some communities are considering water restrictions this summer, there's really no incentive — or need — for the City of Delta to encourage conservation.
The city has plenty of water to serve the needs of residents, as well as a contractual commitment to purchase that water as a member of the Project 7 Water Authority.
Aaron Clay, an attorney with expertise in water law, outlined the city's sources of water at a recent council work session.
Prior to the formation of the Project 7 Water Authority in the 1970s, the City of Delta obtained its water from city-owned reservoirs on the west edge of Grand Mesa.
But when the Clean Water Act passed in 1972, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) started adopting tighter and tighter rules for water treatment plants. The city's water treatment plant in North Delta did not meet the stricter federal standards.
Because of the cost of building individual water treatment plants, and because the EPA wanted to be able to monitor one regional treatment plant, as opposed to 15 individual units, Delta and Montrose began looking at a regional solution.
The Project 7 Water Authority was the result. The regional treatment plant serves 45,000 residents of the City of Montrose, City of Delta, Tri-County Water Conservancy District, Town of Olathe, Menoken Water District and Chipeta Water District.
From the regional treatment plant just east of Montrose on Highway 50, water flows all the way to North Delta through a gravity feed. Tri-County, a member of Project 7, also pumps water up to Ridgway. "So there's one treatment plant to cover the whole valley instead of a hodgepodge of water treatment plants with all the attendant issues that go with that," Clay explained.
Project 7 gets its water out of the Gunnison River via the Gunnison Tunnel, Clay explained. The Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association (UVWUA) owns and operates the Gunnison Tunnel. The UVWUA, which also owns and operates Taylor Reservoir on the Taylor River, bypasses some of the water they would otherwise catch in the Taylor River, which enhances recreational use on the river as well as the Gunnison Gorge. UVWUA gets credit for that water in Blue Mesa Reservoir, just as if it had stored water there. The water that is released out of Blue Mesa goes through the tunnel to the water treatment plant.
"There's another contract between Tri-County Water Conservancy District, which operates Ridgway Reservoir, UVWUA and Project 7, that provides for every acre-foot of water that's delivered through the tunnel to Project 7. The UVWUA gets credit from Ridgway Reservoir," Clay continued. "When UVWUA calls for water, it comes down Uncompahgre River. That works out well for Project 7, because the water from the Gunnison River is easier to treat. UVWUA doesn't care about the water quality of the Uncompahgre because it's used for irrigation."
While Ridgway Reservoir is operated by Tri-County, the reservoir was a cooperative venture of the six members of Project 7.
Clay explained Ridgway Reservoir was authorized in the '50s as an Upper Colorado River storage project. However, the cost could not be justified for agriculture alone. But when Project 7 came along in the '70s with the need for more valuable municipal water, the cost-benefit numbers worked out.
Members of Project 7 committed to paying the $38 million cost of the project over 50 years, at an interest rate of 2%. Congressional approval was received and construction began. The reservoir was finished in 1990 and started filling in 1992.
Ridgway Reservoir holds 23,000 acre feet, and the city is committed to purchasing 3,700 acre feet of water annually. The city pays a proportionate share of the debt, plus its share of operations and maintenance.
"You don't take the water down the Uncompahgre River; you do it through the exchange," Clay told council members. "Whenever Project 7 needs water, it's taken out of the Gunnison Tunnel."
Historically, the city has used less than half its allocation. Utilities director Steve Glammeyer says since 2000 — as far back as his records go — the city has averaged 1,600 acre-feet a year.
"We're in a great position. For the foreseeable future, we have plenty of water. To conserve it means to keep it in the reservoir, and then what do you do with it?"
"Conservation in your case doesn't do much for the system," Clay said. Ridgway Reservoir has filled every year since 2002 (although it's on the brink this year).
The balance can be leased to someone else, but Clay believes the only party likely to be interested would be the Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association.
"Of course if you treat it through Project 7, you'd still have to pay treatment costs," Clay said.
The city's reservoirs on Grand Mesa are still an important source of water for Delta. Those reservoirs, located primarily in good drainage areas on the west end of Grand Mesa, fill just about every year. "You have really good water rights — early season priority with reservoir storage. The challenge to the city is getting the water off the Mesa to where you want to use it," Clay said.
Prior to Project 7, the water was transported to a treatment facility in North Delta. Now it's used to keep the golf course green.
The water is decreed for municipal use, which is a bonus, Clay said, because it can be used for a wide range of purposes — industrial, commercial, landscape, irrigation, recreation.
Glammeyer said Project 7 authorities have discussed building a water treatment plant near the city-owned reservoirs for a secondary water treatment system. But since that would be an expensive proposition, and it's unlikely the Gunnison Tunnel will fail, it's doubtful that project will ever get off the ground.
In response to a question from councilmembers, Glammeyer said that water can be, and has been, leased. Last year the North Delta Canal purchased a large quantity of water while repairs were being made to its irrigation system.blog comments powered by Disqus