News and Updates

News and Updates

How A 'Perfect Storm' Cut Off Water To This Colorado Town

The western Colorado town of Paonia ran out of water for a combined 13 days this winter. Luke Runyon/KUNC

One morning in mid-February, David Herz went to turn on the faucet in his farmhouse outside the small western Colorado town of Paonia, and nothing came out.

Herz is the president of a small water company that purchases treated drinking water from the town for him and a few of his rural neighbors. Small outages are common enough not to raise alarm. Herz started calling around to see what was happening.

"We usually average about one [outage] a year on the line," he said. "Something breaks, and you have to turn the water off. So it's not uncommon."

He quickly found he wasn't the only person with a dry tap who relies on Paonia's water. What he didn't know at that point was how long the shortage would last. From mid-February to early March, most of the town's about 1,600 water customers were issued boil notices and eventually saw their water turned off for a combined 13 days.

Conversations in the Colorado River Basin about impending wide-ranging water shortages have created an anxiety in pockets of the West. It's akin to a modern folk tale, a story passed from one person to the next, that one day water will be so scarce, whole communities will see their faucets turned off. That hasn't happened on a wide scale, but this winter Paonia got a taste of that possible future.

"There are certain things that we take for granted but you use all the time," Herz said. "We had these expectations about the water and then when you don't have it, it's this huge crisis."

"It was incredible the kind of psychic effect it had on the community."

'A perfect storm'

In his office in downtown Paonia, Ken Knight unfurled a map and laid it out on a conference table.

On the map, a sprawling network of colored lines criss-cross the agricultural valley a four-hour drive west of Denver. Knight is the town administrator, meaning he's in charge of making sure the water system works.

The first problem cropped up on Valentine's Day. A 2-million-gallon tank that stores Paonia's drinking water was dropping. The town's utility workers were unable to locate the leak draining the tank. Water pressure throughout town started to diminish. Four days later, on President's Day, pressure was so low, the state of Colorado instituted a boil order. With demand outstripping supply, it was a real possibility the town could run out of water. Knight and Paonia Mayor Charles Stewart declared a local emergency, tapping into state and county emergency management resources.A few days later they found the first leak. A pipe leading to a fire hydrant had burst near the banks of the North Fork of the Gunnison River that flows through town.

Living Farm Cafe in downtown Paonia was forced to close for several days during the town's ongoing water shortage.Luke Runyon/KUNC

"The water was going straight through the river rock into the river. So it was not bubbling to the surface," Knight said.

Workers fixed the pipes, and officials urged residents to conserve their water use to let the storage tank refill. But the town's water problems were just beginning. Because of 2018's record-breaking hot, dry weather, the network of natural snow-fed springs the town uses as its raw water supply were running at about half their average flow.

"This point of time in February when this incident happened is always when our springs are running at their absolute lowest," Knight said. "This was a perfect storm."

Knight and his public works crew monitored the storage tank, waiting for it to refill, only to see it drop further.

"A lot of people were furious. I mean we were without one of the basic necessities," he said. "Something like this could happen again and personally I feel like there should be more reassurance and more infrastructure put into repairing the water systems to a point where they are going to last.

"And when the water got to 2 feet I said, 'O.K., we're shutting off,' " Knight said.

The rural water districts were the first to see their supplies cut. Neighborhoods in town were also cut, in order to maintain water service in the town's downtown core, schools, an apartment complex for seniors and a care and rehab center.

The town's decision to shut off the water led to a county emergency declaration, and an even wider response to the ongoing shortage. A state-led incident management team arrived in Paonia. The National Park Service hauled in a potable water tank for residents to fill jugs. Town officials set up a series of community meetings to brief frustrated residents on the situation. A leak detection team went into the field in search of more burst pipes.

Near the elementary school they found another large leak. A pipe was spilling hundreds of thousands of gallons of treated drinking water, keeping the storage tank from filling back up.

"If we had had only one of the things happen at each time, we would not have had a crisis. We had all three things happen, and we had a crisis," Knight said.

'The whole town behind'

Downtown Paonia is lined with brightly colored shops and restaurants to cater to farm-to-table tourists. The surrounding land grows pears, peaches, cherries, wine grapes and vegetables. It's a hub of agri-tourism in the state.

The first boil order had caused restaurants in town to temporarily shut down.

"I'd say we probably lost about five or six $1,200 days in our off season," said Tyler Timbrel, manager at Paonia's Living Farm Cafe.

That would've been enough money to cover a month's worth of utilities, Timbrel said. Servers and cooks who count on hours and tips were told to stay home.

"Kind of just put the whole town behind it feels like," Timbrel said.

Residents criticized town officials for not responding fast enough, or for being tight-lipped about the incident itself and the response to it. Timbrel said it was heartening to see neighbors helping each other and volunteers taking water to homebound residents, but the whole situation left a bad taste.

"This shouldn't be something where we're dealing with a break in a different spot every couple of years."

'There isn't a playbook to open'

Paonia's water shortage caught the people in charge of managing the crisis off guard as well.

Kris Stewart, Delta County emergency management coordinator, was one of the first to respond to the call for additional support. He said communities in the West often have plans in place for what to do if wildfires or landslides damage water infrastructure. But a combination of drought and leaky pipes was a blind spot.

"This hadn't really been on a lot of people's radar, but it is now," Stewart said. "It was all new to the town, the county, to everybody. We worked through it as a community and partners because there isn't a playbook to open."An after action report issued by both Delta County and the town of Paonia in late May said there was room for improvement in how the community responded. The report said despite limited resources, the town was able to manage some aspects of the crisis well.

But it also said that in the future officials should call in local and state help earlier, better coordinate notices issued to residents, and establish clear lines of communication within the town and among all the partner agencies who respond.

"I think the Paonia incident brings to light a need for cities and water districts to look at their plans," Stewart said.

Town administrator Ken Knight said the focus now is on continuing education of water conservation, and taking concrete steps toward making the town more water-resilient. He said creating a new digital map of the town's water infrastructure is top of his list.

Ken Knight says the water shortage forced Paonia to have tough conversations about growth and resiliency. Luke Runyon/KUNC

Because the incident affected the entire community in such an intimate way, Knight said the water shortage has forced Paonia into having some tense conversations that had otherwise bubbled under the surface. Like many Western communities, he said Paonia is wondering how it will grow. When resources run tight, anxieties about growth can grow more intense.

"I really don't think we're out of water," Knight said. "I think this was just an event that pointed out some shortcomings we had. But at some point in time we're either going to have to find another water, right, or we're going to have to say 'This is it.'

"What do we want growth to look like? Do we at some point in time put up the barricades and say 'Not here'?"

Those questions led to even tougher ones, such as whose water use is more important? And with projections for a hotter, drier Southwest, is a town like Paonia ready for climate change?

Knight said they don't yet have all the answers, but he's committed to taking steps to prepare for future shortages.

"Water is the oil of the 21st century. People don't quite understand how difficult it is to run a water system so you have clean drinking water," he said.

If other small towns in the West aren't prepared to handle a combination of drought and leaky infrastructure, he said Paonia's story is a warning of things to come.

This story is part of a project covering the Colorado River, produced by KUNC and supported through a Walton Family Foundation grant. KUNC is solely responsible for its editorial content.


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“We are thrilled to announce the addition of three new executive staff who have recently joined CFH”, says Wally Beecroft, COO of Cox Family Holdings. “Phil Kuk and Verlyn Suderman are seasoned professionals and bring tremendous capabilities to CFH in the financial and legal arenas to support the growth of our portfolio. In addition, Ryan Teksten's joining the Tria Global Solutions Advisory Council is a big win considering his success in advising, investing in, and scaling new AgTech ventures”.

Phil Kuk joined CFH as Corporate Director of Finance in February. Directing all financial operations for Cox Family Holdings and also provides oversight and targeted leadership with our portfolio of businesses. As a member of the CFH Executive Team, he serves as the Vice Chairman of the Financial Review Committee. Phil brings to CFH 20 years finance and accounting experience with middle-market and Fortune 100 companies. A large part of his experience is in manufacturing and operating environments. Most recently, Phil was the finance and accounting lead for a $500M retail business segment at Walgreens. Prior to that, he provided financial expertise and analysis support to a $900M business unit at Sears Holdings. He has a BS in Accounting from Northern Illinois University, and an MBA from NIU. He is a Certified Public Accountant.

Verlyn Suderman joined the Cox Family Holdings staff as Corporate General Counsel in late May. Since 2017, Verlyn has served as a member to the CFH Board of Directors. He is the Chairman of CFH's ESG Committee. Verlyn specializes in transportation and logistics and is also Of Counsel with Benesch, Friedlander, Coplan & Aronoff, LLP on a limited basis. Previously, he served for almost 20 years as in-house counsel for two prominent third-party logistics providers, and as General Counsel for most of those years. He provided strategic direction and guidance as a key member of senior management. Verlyn has a BS in Economics from Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, an MBA from Northwestern University Kellogg School of Management and a JD from DePaul University College of Law. Verlyn's family owns a small farm in Hillsboro, KS, where they farm soybeans and wheat. The original 160 acres was parceled out as part of President Lincoln's Homestead Act of the 1860s.

CFH is pleased to announce that Ryan Teksten has joined Tria Global Solutions' Advisory Council. Ryan is Founder and General Partner at Tabard Venture Capital, LLC where he backs founders with unique insights into remote sensing, enterprise infrastructure, and small to large-scale agriculture. Prior to founding Tabard Venture Capital, he was a Vice President at Fidelity Investments where he spent 7 years scouting new technology ranging from IT infrastructure companies, to disruptive Cloud-based processing, Artificial Intelligence, FinTech, and Security Solutions to enable key data stores. Ryan graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point with a B.S. in Mathematical Economics with an emphasis on Systems Engineering. He also graduated from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University with an MA in Law and Diplomacy, International Finance, Trade, and International Business.

Tria Global Solutions Joins Field to Market®

Tria Pledges to Catalyze Opportunities to Improve Sustainability in Commodity Crop Production

Tria Global Solutions announced today that it has joined Field to Market: The Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture, a leading multi-stakeholder initiative working to unite the agricultural supply chain in defining, measuring and advancing the sustainability of food, fiber and fuel production in the United States.

Tria Global Solutions is excited to join Field to Market and we look forward to collaborating with other members to build upon the work the organization has accomplished scaling sustainability within the agricultural supply chain. Tria is committed to helping farmers improve water use, energy use and input efficiency results, and we look forward to collaborating with Field to Market to advance continuous improvement in these areas of agricultural sustainability.
- Ned Bentley, General Manager.

As an active member of Field to Market, Tria will work together with grower organizations, academia, conservation groups, public sector partners and leading companies to help to catalyze opportunities for continuous improvement in productivity, environmental quality and human well-being across the agricultural value chain.

Field to Market engages in broad communication and collaboration with stakeholders to ensure a coordinated, outcomes-based approach to sustainable agriculture that is grounded in science. By providing useful measurement tools and resources, Field to Market helps growers and the supply chain track and promote continuous improvement at the field and landscape levels.

"We are pleased to welcome Tria as a new member of the Alliance," said Rod Snyder, president of Field to Market. "We look forward to collaborating with them to support farmers and the value chain to advance sustainable outcomes for agriculture."

Representing all facets of the U.S. agricultural supply chain, Field to Market provides an unparalleled platform that helps the food and agricultural supply chain benchmark sustainability performance, catalyze continuous improvement and enable supply chain sustainability claims. For more information, visit

About Tria Global Solutions, LLC

Tria Global Solutions is an innovative sustainability solutions provider for agriculture. Launched in late 2018, Tria’s focus has been to meet the growing demand for eco-friendly, cost-effective solutions to water scarcity and other environmental concerns. Tria has been developing transformative technologies, like AquiMax®, to rapidly move the needle on sustainability and ESG goals for key stakeholders in the value chain. Visit

There's a Water 'Time Bomb' Lurking Beneath The Planet's Surface, Scientists Warn

image by: (Wynand Uys/Unsplash)

Groundwater – fresh water cached underground in soil and between rocks – takes much longer to respond to temperature changes than surface water, the researchers point out.

We rely on rain to keep groundwater stocked up, which means areas seeing hotter weather and less rainfall are going to be lighting the fuse for a future 'timebomb' in which water supplies can't keep up with demand. The time delay potentially makes these 'hidden' shortages even more dangerous.

"Our research shows that groundwater systems take a lot longer to respond to climate change than surface water, with only half of the world's groundwater flows responding fully within 'human' timescales of 100 years," says one of the team, Mark Cuthbert from Cardiff University in the UK.

"This means that in many parts of the world, changes in groundwater flows due to climate change could have a very long legacy. This could be described as an environmental time bomb because any climate change impacts on recharge occurring now, will only fully impact the baseflow to rivers and wetlands a long time later."

In areas more sensitive to climate change – so wet and humid spots like the Amazon and central Africa – the effects on groundwater could be seen within just 10 years, the new study says. In dry and arid regions it could take much longer.

Using readings taken in the field as well as data models, the team estimated that for nearly half the groundwater supplies on the planet, it might take 100 years or more to for levels to replenish or become balanced again.

In some places – such as under the Sahara – we know that groundwater supplies are still responding to climate change 10,000 years ago, when the area was much wetter.

"Groundwater is out of sight and out of mind, this massive hidden resource that people don't think about much, yet it underpins global food production," Cuthbert told AFP.

"The effect we are having now is going to have this really long lag-time in terms of climate change. There's a memory in the system – and the memory is very large in some places."

More than two billion people currently rely on groundwater for drinking and irrigation, and as rain slowly tops it up, water is also discharged through lakes, rivers and streams. If one part of the process (like rainfall) shifts, everything else is pushed out of balance.

And pinpointing exactly how climate change might take its toll on water supplies is crucial, if we're to prepare for and adapt to it. We don't want future generations suddenly and unexpectedly feeling the effects of weather patterns happening over a century earlier.

We know that these groundwater reserves are already feeling the pinch as our demands increase. Even without the impact of climate change, we need to be conserving water better than we're doing at the moment.

"It is essential that the potential for these initially hidden impacts is recognised when developing water management policies, or climate change adaptation strategies for future generations," says Cuthbert.

The research has been published in Nature Climate Change.

Article written by DAVID NIELD originally published on January 23, 2019, appearing on

Cox Family Holdings Announces New Company: Tria Global Solutions

Cox Family Holdings, LLC (CFH) is excited to announce Tria Global Solutions, LLC as a new member of its portfolio of companies. Tria was launched as a spin-out from its sister company, Exacto, Inc. to meet the rapidly growing need for sustainable sourcing solutions in agricultural and horticultural markets.

Tria Global Solutions’ portfolio starts with the products branded as AquiMax® - a patented revolutionary soil moisture management technology achieving substantial water, energy and input efficiency results. AquiMax® is in use on five continents. In addition, Tria provides product innovation, agronomic expertise and thought leadership in the management of soil health, plant health, and water quality.

“CFH launched Tria to meet the growing demand for eco-friendly, cost-effective solutions to water scarcity and other environmental concerns. AquiMax®, and other technologies we are investing in, are transformative and rapidly move the needle on sustainability and ESG goals for key stakeholders in the value chain,” says Wally Beecroft, COO of Cox Family Holdings and interim-CEO of Tria. “Tria’s staff members are already working with major growers, processors, and brands to implement solutions,” adds Ned Bentley, General Manager.

Visit Tria at

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