Sunday, March 09, 2014

Red Arroyo Water Project: Clear as Mud


Two father son teams come to mind when water is mentioned in our area, Stephen Brown and Chuck Brown with the Upper Colorado River Authority and former San Angelo Water Chief Will Wilde and his son Blake.  The Brown team appeared before City Council last week to propose a water project involving the Red Arroyo.  UCRA Director Chuck Brown led the presentation.

Very early on we realized the Red Arroyo is a significant water producer.  Through Tarleton's modeling efforts and our on the ground monitoring stations, we realized that pretty much every time we had an inch rain in San Angelo the Red Arroyo produced about 500 acre feet of water. So, theoretically in our average rainfall year, which would be 20 inches of rain, the Red Arroyo could produce upwards of 10,000 acre feet of water, which is annually 2/3rd's of the City of San Angelo's municipal water usage.
I've only lived here since 1994 but I've never seen twenty one-inch rains in one of those twenty years. I instantly was curious as to how Red Arroyo water flows varied from the average.  What might they be in wet years vs. dry?


Brown and the UCRA recommended building a stormwater storage basin near the bottom of the Red Arroyo watershed.  Their slide stated:

Approximately 11,550 acre-feet will be captured by the basin in an average rainfall year. 
Yet the city only has water rights to 5,000 acre feet in any one year.  UCRA Consultant Stephen Brown said that 5,000 acre feet for the City is "guaranteed almost every year."  This assertion quickly came under challenge.

A respected consultant modeled the City's take from the Red Arroyo using San Angelo's sixty year rainfall record and the 5,000 acre feet restriction.  His projections showed the City's take varying from near zero to 4,900 acre feet in any given year.

Chuck said the project would cost roughly $20 million.  Yet his "Opinion of Probable Cost" slide mentioned a much higher figure (in the notes section):

The preliminary cost estimate to construct a storm water basin to provide a storage volume of 2860 acre-feet and the infrastructure for transferring the captured water to the treatment plant is $76.9 million. The cost estimate assumes that the high powered and low powered electrical lines running across the site will be relocated as part of the construction. The single largest contributing factor to the cost is the excavation cost at 60% of the total estimated cost. 

After hearing all the presentations, the situation is as clear as the Red Arroyo after a heavy rain.  City Council faces two studies on water, a deeper geotechnical/engineering study on the Red Arroyo project and a reclaimed water use study.

Reclaimed water brings to mind the other father-son team, Will and Blake Wilde.  Former Water Chief Will Wilde's hobby cotton farm benefits from reclaimed water, which is solely purposed for irrigation.  Wilde arranged the deal and successfully defended it in dry years.  Might the Red Arroyo save reclaimed water for hobby cotton farmers?  Time and rain will tell.

Correction:  I erred in giving Stephen Brown the moniker for his son Chuck in the original version of this piece.  My apology.

11 comments:

Jim Turner said...

Another point is that the basin would have to be used up as rapidly as possible so that the basin could used to catch the next run off. Using it that way would make very little difference by the time July and August rolled around. Even if held in reserve, the basin will only be about 1800 acre-ft, which is about 1.5 months worth of water. Throw in evaporation and you still wouldn't get much water when you needed it most.

Bottom line is this money would be better spent developing water resources that are less dependent on annual rainfall. Water reuse and reclamation should be at the top of the list. Get as much use as possible out of each gallon of water brought into the city. Next, look at ground water sources that have less fluctuation because of rainfall. They are still giant rain barrels but tend to spread out their recharge over several years.

All local water is limited and must be used intelligently. No water source is immune to over use and poor management practices.

Brian said...

What you are not considering is that this basin would be used with other sources of water; lakes, Hickory Aquifer wells, and normally lost run-off. This basin would provide San Angelo with flexibility in the future. The best benefit is that this project can be done in a relatively fast time frame.

Also, you can check the National Weather Service rain records.
http://www.srh.noaa.gov/sjt/?n=climate
San Angelo receives an average rainfall of 21" a year. Since 1994, the average was 20" a year.

Whatever water is captured and used by the water treatment plant from the basin, whether 2,500 acre-ft or 5,000 acre-ft, it is water not released from our lakes. Our city should have been capturing this water a decade ago. We need to move this project forward NOW instead of calling for two more years of engineering studies!

Think if we had built this basin 10 years ago. We would have caught and used 25,000 - 50,000 acre-ft of water. That is enough to fill up Lake Nasworthy twice!

Brian said...

What we need to consider is that the basin would provide additional water that would normally be lost. The basin would provide flexibility for the future. Lakes, Hickory Aquifer, and storm water run-off would combine different sources. Along with conservation and reuse, this will provide long term water security to San Angelo for generations.
This basin project should have been built a decade ago. Whatever engineering estimate one would use, the city could have been capturing 2,500 to 5,000 acre-ft of water a year. In ten years, that would be enough to fill Lake Nasworthy at least twice! We need to move this project forward NOW and not waste our time on two more years of engineering studies.
Also, check the National Weather Service rainfall database. San Angelo averages 21 inches of rain a year. And since 1994, the annual average has been 20 inches a year.

Paul Alexander said...

Readers, listen up! I have checked this article and I feel it is incumbent on me that I balance it. I really, really like Jim Turner. I consider him to have valuable insight. He has a talent for assimilating many thoughts and ideas into a simple-to-understand expressions that sum up the essence of the problem along with well thought-out possible solutions and recommendations. While I admire Turner for this ability as well as his ability to be sensible and balanced, in this particular article, I do not see any of it. It’s only fair that you are presented what is truly true, as I put it. “Truly true” is more than the truth; It is every major piece of the puzzle needed to understand the entire big picture. Through my years on the City Council, I spent much of my time telling the public the pieces of the story that other council members left out. Notably, much of the time I was filling in the gaps left by then Councilman, Dwain Morrison. He never lied! He absolutely told the truth. It’s just that he did not always tell us all the details that were pertinent. So, while it was the truth, it was not truly true. Same goes here regarding the Red Arroyo.

I have never known a person from anywhere in and around San Angelo to ever like living in drought conditions in which we are forced to ration water. Not only is it depressing to see vegetation dying all over, we have begun to wonder how San Angelo is going to grow, given our water problems. It creates uncertainty and discourages investments into our economic environment. As a city leader- past, present and perhaps future- my most ambitious aspiration is to put our water worries behind us. I recognize that most citizens are seeing a very different picture, one that envisions massive xeriscaping and desert-like conditions, but I see this differently, and I would hope that all of our City leaders see it differently, as well. It is our job to envision what is possible and turn those visions into reality to all of our benefit. Unfortunately, that is not the case as of lately (my opinion). What I know is that we can quadruple our water supply, in some cases by utilizing what we have more efficiently, and in some cases by finding additional sources. The Red Arroyo project is one of the array of projects that can get us there. The reuse of effluent water is another project that would bolster our supply, as well. So, we have our current lake/river system. Add the Hickory, Red Arroyo and the effluent water to that, and we would have 4 times the water as we have available to us at this moment. It’s completely possible!

Continued...

Paul Alexander said...

The Concho Valley water basin is complicated, filled with intricacies that factor into the overall ecosystem of water. To say the least, it is difficult to understand and takes years to grasp if constantly learning how it works. Not only that, the ecology has a forth dimension: Time. Everything either flows at certain volumes per time unit, evaporates at certain volumes per time unit or percolates (seeps into the ground) at certain volumes per time unit. Evaporation directly correlates to surface area, which is a plane, but the result of evaporation is less water, a volume. It’s confusing for most, but luckily, the complexity does not matter since we have a limited group of passionate people that do get it. To infer somehow that a father-son team of water experts is somehow not working to the benefit of all San Angelo, is striking, considering the massive importance of the subject at hand. When we run low on water or run out completely, we all go down with this ship, as they say. Inserting artificial drama into this story does no good for any of us. Let’s stick to the important subject at hand: How do we secure our future? I’m not a part of the Brown or Wilde team. If they fall out of line for some reason, I’ll be the first to call them out, just like I do anyone else that overtly deceives those who are not knowledgeable to know truth from fiction, especially regarding critical subjects like water. So, there are checks and balances in place. It would be a complete shame if our council made the wrong choices based on misguiding commentary to please citizens who are persuaded by non-sense that they do not know is not plausible. I can say with absolute certainty, this Red Arroyo Storm Water Capture project significantly bolsters our water supply and is absolutely crucial to the longevity of San Angelo.

To understand the Red Arroyo project, one has to envision volumes of water dispersed over time to gain a general understanding of how things work. In that specifically envisioning all of this is very difficult, I very often experience misinterpretations of data, and many of the points stated in Turner’s article are no exception. For example, I’m not sure who the “respected consultant” is mentioned in the article, but either his projections are ridiculously incorrect, or Turner did not interpret his conclusions correctly. I’m referring to the statement: “His projections showed the City’s take varying from near zero to 4,900 acre feet in any given year.” That is as close to impossible as one can get without it being impossible. I’d be shocked if the Red Arroyo has not flowed at least 1 acre foot of water in any given year in the past 1000 years. I would be willing to bet it has not happened in 5000 years. Additionally, as Turner mentioned, I would agree that a 21 inch rain in San Angelo is beyond exceptional and is not even worth consideration in regard to this project. The problem here is that the time-dimension is not being factored into the statement, “…I’ve never seen twenty one-inch rains in one of those twenty years. I instantly was curious as to how Red Arroyo water flows varied from the average. What might they be in wet years vs. dry?” Two things are crucial here. Spacing between events (how often we get significant runoff) and how much volume we would expect to see in the driest year. Rainier, wetter years are not a concern if the arroyo can supply our needs in the driest years. So, what does happen?

Continued...

Paul Alexander said...

During our worst drought of record, 2011, the Red Arroyo channeled 7000 acre feet past the proposed storm water capture basin. Months with significant rains were January with .67”, May with 1.36”, June with .46”, August with 1.64”, September with .43” and December with 5.0”. The engineered calculations for determining how much water would be captured are too complex to go through here, and we have not chosen whether to use one or two diversion points to capture water, which makes a difference. So, its hard to be accurate as to how much water we would catch. Roughly, though, we can count on 500 acre-feet per inch of rain. I’m pretty sure we would have captured at least 2000 acre-feet in that horribly dry year, excluding December’s 5” rains, which would have caught 1800 additional acre-feet. Those are low estimates and that’s as bad as it gets. That 2000 acre feet captured towards the end of summer looks dismal in the middle of a drought, but let us not overlook calculating water savings from previous years. Estimations based on historical rainfall over 30+ years show that we can expect closer to 7000 acre-feet per year (I’m guessing that the 11,000 acre feet average is associated with the larger Basin 1 proposal). Had we captured 7000 acre-feet in 2010, that represents water that we would not have had to release from Lake Nasworthy or use from O.H. Ivey. Water savings from 2010 thus cary over to 2011, netting us much more than the 2000 acre feet captured in 2011 through September. If we were able to retain half of the 2010 waters left in Nasworthy, the cumulative Red Arroyo conservation savings would have netted us 5500 acre feet when we needed it most.

All of these calculations use the second proposed model (Basin 2) presented by the UCRA, which is the smaller of the two proposed storm water capture basins with a designed capacity of 1839 acre-feet at an estimated probable cost of $20.4 million. Basin 1 is the larger of the two basin, and holds 2861acre-feet at a probable cost of $70.6 million. With the huge difference in cost relative to their capacities, Basin 1 was thrown out. Bluntly asking, what is the benefit of referencing the higher $70.6mm figure when we are only considering the smaller basin? Here’s the statement, "Chuck said the project would cost roughly $20 million. Yet his “ pinion of Probable Cost” slide mentioned a much higher figure (in the notes section):”, then it went on to quote the higher priced basin. There is either some confusion on behalf of the reporter, or there is a deliberate attempt to confuse the readers into thinking there is a higher cost associated with the project that the presenter does not want the public to recognize. I’m going to go with confusion on this one, although it alludes to Brown as being pretty darn sneaky. Is it me, or does it sound like Turner has it out for the Browns? I guess my original point remains: Don’t inject the artificial drama into these important subjects. If one wants drama, I’ll tell you how to get it at the end.

Still continued...

Paul Alexander said...

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Just one last question that anyone should ask themselves: Why would the City of San Angelo send our storm water capture water to the farmers east of the city? I’m stumped on this one. I can’t think of a reason, but if there is, you can bet it will be to the benefit of all. To imagine that the Wilde’s can pull strings and bribe our city leaders into delivering water to them, then actually put it into print seems to be another way of igniting and misleading the reader, who for many reasons, may not know how previous arrangements like that work. Again, as I mentioned earlier, there are checks and balances in place to make sure every agreement is beneficial to the citizens of San Angelo. Delivering water to the farmers east of town in the driest years that we would otherwise disperse on open fields at the City Farm came with a trade. In 1997, the farmers agreed to swap the effluent water they received with water that they had rights to in Nasworthy/Twin Buttes, which was 25,000 acre feet per year. Thus we saved water by subtracting around 9000 acre-feet per year from the annual water release from Twin Buttes to the farmers. But it did not stop there (and Councilman Wardlaw should pay attention here because he did not see this second part.) In 2007, the city removed that provision and replaced it with a graduating scale. If there is over 110,000 acre feet in Twin Buttes as of June 1st of any given year, the city must release 12,000 acre feet of water to the farmers. The scale graduates all the way to when there is 40,000 acre feet in Twin Buttes, at which point the farmers get nothing except the effluent water. They traded volume for consistency, feeling it was better to get 9000 acre feet of effluent water in droughts than nothing at all. It was a good deal for them and a good deal for the City, at the time. It had nothing to do with Will Wilde manipulating the City. Mayor Johnny Fender signed the agreement.

Back to subjects that really matter. The strategy of capturing this water is not only viable, it is extremely efficient. Our residents are asked to save every gallon of water possible. Some are turning off their showers while scrubbing their hair, and all the while our city is allowing a minimum of 650,000,000 gallons of water to escape down the Red Arroyo. I’m not seeing how we can have the mindset to save a few gallons of water at every possible opportunity, yet just let many hundreds of millions of gallons go down the arroyo in a few surges each year. By capturing that water, we can manage it in a variety of ways to maximize our efficiency and even provide more water to our neighbors downstream. Keep in mind, when we run out of water, so do they. We are in this together. Also, realize I am not expanding on the plethora of laws that dictate our downstream responsibilities. The principle remains: If we capture the water, we can manage the water, which benefits all of us.


Oh, one last thing. I promised to reveal how to create drama. Find a subject that nearly everybody is aware of and passionate about, then make a comment that incites a reaction. Ask Joe Hyde, sometime, he knows. Just mention in passing by saying “And guess what?”, then follow that with a factual statement relating to a suspect that happens to work in the oil field by saying, “He came from the oil fields!”. That should do it! You’ll get a tremendous response! I just don’t think the name Brown or Wilde are going to be as effective.

Paul Alexander,
Former Council Member, SMD-1
2010-2013

PEU Report/State of the Division said...

The Red Arroyo's annual 10,000 acre feet promise rang like a prior promise that pumping the South Pool would raise the North Pool at Twin Buttes by five feet. As you said Paul, things are a bit more complex than that and citizens deserve presentations with reasonable assumptions.

The Father-son power players can work for the good of all or the benefit of a few. Citizens are free to judge based on what they see.

Paul Alexander said...

Thanks, Jim! you're a sport for approving that. It says a lot about your character.

Amoeba said...

Has anyone checked to ensure this water can be successfully treated in our current water treatment plant and will meet current TCEQ/EPA drinking water standards?

Mike Bailey said...

I don't pretend to know all the political ins and outs that have went on before. I do know that we have about 7 dry or nearly dry reservoirs in our region. Why not consider the real culprit of West Texas water scarcity? Land owners who refuse to combat infestation of invasive mesquite, salt cedar and juniper. Why? Because they can get an agricultural tax break for "wildlife management" and lease the land for deer hunting without bothering to TOIL as the farmers/ranchers before them did.
Yes, we are in a drought. Yes, San Angeloans STUPIDLY use water to maintain landscapes that have no business in West Texas. But, 40 years ago and before, this was ranching country and people who had to make a living off the land took care of it. Not so anymore.