CWC Summer Conference recap, day 3: Exempt Colorado water storage projects from NEPA? #COWaterRally #ColoradoRiver

August 23, 2014

From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith) via the Aspen Daily News:

Colorado gubernatorial candidate Bob Beauprez told the Colorado Water Congress Friday that as governor he would be the “lead cheerleader” for new water storage projects in the state. He also drew a distinction between himself and Gov. Hickenlooper on the potential of a major new dam and reservoir project being built in the state.

The governor answered a question on Thursday at the Water Congress meeting in Snowmass Village by saying it was “unlikely” that public opinion in the state had shifted in favor of building a major new water storage project.

“I submit to you that’s not leadership,” said Beauprez. “I think we need a governor that stands up and says we’ve got to build new storage and I’m going to lead the way to make sure it happens. I’ll promote worthy projects. I’ll be your lead cheerleader on that.”

The Water Congress is an advocacy organization whose mission includes the “protection of water rights” and “infrastructure investment.”

Beauprez said he would seek to streamline the approval process for new water projects by asking Congress to pass a resolution exempting Colorado projects from NEPA, which often requires producing an extensive environmental impact statement.

“I’ll seek NEPA waivers for any project that meets the stringent Colorado standards, with the help of our Congressional delegation,” said Beauprez [ed. emphasis mine], a Republican who represented Colorado’s 7th District on the Front Range from 2003 to 2007.

Beauprez also told the Water Congress crowd that he supported approval of the Northern Integrated Supply Project, or NISP. The project’s proponent, the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, is seeking federal approval for two new reservoirs near Fort Collins.

The water for NISP will come from the Poudre and South Platte rivers on Colorado’s East Slope, but Northern Water’s existing system also uses water diverted from the Colorado River basin on the West Slope, and some of that water could be used in a system expanded by NISP. The Army Corps of Engineers has been leading the review of the project since 2004 and expects to release a decision document in 2016.

“Frankly, you’ve got a governor who can’t seem to decide if he’s for it [or] against it,” Beauprez said about NISP. “I’m for it. And I’ll do everything to make sure it gets approved and built.”

Given his enthusiasm for new reservoirs, Beauprez was asked by an audience member if he was proposing new transmountain diversions to augment the Front Range’s water supply.

“No,” Beauprez said emphatically.

“Where are you going to get the water from?” the questioner asked, noting that 80 percent of water in Colorado is on the Western Slope.

“What I’m proposing is the same kind of thing that NISP is doing — taking advantage of the opportunity to store East Slope water on the East Slope. I think until we’ve demonstrated that we’ve stored all the water we possibly can on the East Slope, transbasin diversions shouldn’t even be on the table.

“We know we can move water,” Beauprez continued. “And sometimes we’ve moved it because it’s been convenient, or because there’s the money, or because there’s the votes, or because of whatever. But the West Slope of Colorado is Colorado, too. And I understand that. And I want to protect that. And I know that you’ve got a whole lot of people downstream from you on the West Slope that covet that water as well.”

Beauprez, who grew up on a dairy farm in Lafayette and now diverts water to grow alfalfa and raise buffalo in Jackson County, said he has a keen appreciation for Colorado water law and will defend the state’s priority system, which is based on “first in time, first in right.”

“I know what Colorado’s time-honored water laws are for,” he said “I know that our prior appropriations doctrine has worked, and worked very, very well. And I know that there’s a lot of people that would like to gnaw away, erode, and destroy that. I’m not one of them. Our prior appropriations doctrine, our water law, and our right to own and utilize our water needs to be protected every day at all costs.”

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Like a bolt of lightning, climate change clearly divides candidates in the Third Congressional District.U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, a Republican, and his Democratic challenger from Pueblo, Abel Tapia were asked about it at the Colorado Water Congress summer convention.

“We all agree that climate will change,” Tipton said, quickly launching into campaign talking points on all-of-the-above energy policy.

But Tipton criticized the way some have politicized the issue and complained of governmental overreach by the Environmental Protection Agency and other federal departments.

“Anyone who doesn’t believe in climate change is fooling themselves,” Tapia said later in the day. “When you look at the forest fires and floods we have experienced, something has added to that.”

Tapia said the country has the ability and obligation to discover ways to overcome the effects of climate change to keep the county and world secure.

Tipton also stressed his record in Congress on water issues, citing his efforts to stop the National Forest Service from tying up water rights in federal contracts for ski areas and ranch land.

He said the EPA’s Waters of the [U.S.] policies are dangerous to agriculture.

“If the EPA can come in and tell us how to use water, we’re going to be stripping our farmers of their ability to make a living,” he said. “We need common sense in federal regulations.”

Tapia said his own life experiences as an engineer, school board member and state lawmaker give him a unique perspective that would serve the state in Congress.

“I’m a problem solver,” he told the Water Congress. “I know that when you need to know something you go to the experts. You are the experts on water.”

More 2014 Colorado November election coverage here.

Tweets from the conference were tagged with the hash tag #COWaterRally.


Colorado Water Congress Summer Conference recap, day 2

August 22, 2014


From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith) via the Aspen Daily News:

Gov. John Hickenlooper told members of the Colorado Water Congress on Thursday that he thinks it’s “unlikely” that public opinion in the state has shifted in favor of a new major dam project being built in the state, even in the face of population growth and drought. He said he has found more support around the state for the idea of increasing the height of existing dams by 5 or 10 feet, which he said can dramatically increase the amount of water stored in a reservoir.

“I think we have a lot of opportunity in those projects, many of which are underway,” Hickenlooper said.

But, he added, “I’m not sure we have enough capacity just doing those projects for all the water we’re going to need.”

He also called for increased water conservation in both the state’s cities and its fields.

The governor spoke on the second day of the Colorado Water Congress’ annual summer convention, which is being held at the Westin hotel in Snowmass Village through today.

Former Congressman Bob Beauprez, who is running against Hickenlooper for governor, is slated to speak this morning at the water conference.

Hickenlooper had the full attention of the members of the water congress on Thursday, as his call for a draft Colorado Water Plan to address the state’s future water needs is supposed to be on his desk by Dec. 10, and the planning process has kept many in the state’s water community busy. The governor noted that the nine different river-basin roundtables have held over 850 meetings to discuss water policy and projects. The Colorado River Basin Roundtable meets monthly in Glenwood Springs, and its next meeting is Monday, Aug. 25 from noon until 4 p.m. Those individual basin plans are now being sifted and sorted to create the draft statewide plan, which Hickenlooper said was met with skepticism when he first proposed it.

“What we kept trying to say is, the most important part of this water plan is the process we use to create it,” Hickenlooper said. “It’s not going to be a small group of people in Denver trying to make decisions on how water should be allocated for the rest of the state. And I think what we’ve seen is that this plan is going to be created by a broad cross section of people from across the state.”

Hickenlooper also called for cooperation among often-warring factions in Colorado’s water world, be they Front Range water providers trying to deliver water to a growing urban population, Western Slope ranchers and farmers working to preserve their rural way of life and the future value of their private water rights, or river-lovers on both sides of the divide fighting to keep water in rivers for fishing, boating or nature’s sake.

“Water can either divide us, or unite us,” Hickenlooper said. “In the end, it’s our choice. I think in this state, we generally choose to collaborate and work together to try and find compromises and make sure that it doesn’t divide us.”

He said that by working together and taking a “calculated and conservative” approach to water planning, the state’s various water factions are, in fact, moving forward.

“While this collaboration isn’t as sexy or glamorous as the bare-knuckled water brawling that we see sometimes in our neighboring states, and sometimes here in the past, this cooperation is effective and I think very productive,” Hickenlooper said. “Collaboration can bear fruit that otherwise would be unobtainable.”

Jim Pokrandt, the director of communications at the Colorado River District in Glenwood Springs and the chair of the Colorado River Basin Roundtable, said it was hard to say if the roundtable members around the state had faith in the emerging water plan.

“Some won’t be happy unless it calls out a project,” Pokrandt said. “Others will always think it is a stalking horse for a project no matter how it handles that issue.”

Pokrandt said the draft plan will at least identify many local water projects and statewide needs. Then, he said, “the real work begins.”

A final water plan is to be complete by December 2015.

And it remains to be seen how well the governor and the Colorado Water Conservation Board, which is in charge of developing the draft water plan, will collaborate with the state legislature.

Last year, state Sen. Gail Schwartz, formerly of Snowmass Village and who now lives in Crested Butte, co-sponsored a bill that would require the Colorado Water Plan to be approved by the legislature, and not just the governor. However, the bill was watered down to require the state’s interim legislative committee on water to hold nine public hearings in the state on the plan this summer. The hearing in the Colorado River basin was held Thursday evening at the Glenwood Springs library, with 10 state legislators who sit on the interim water committee in attendance, along with over 50 citizens.

Pokrandt, as chair of the Colorado basin roundtable, gave an overview of the group’s draft plan. He said a key finding was that another transmountain diversion was not in the best interest of the state at this time, especially as pending projects are already likely to divert an additional 140,000 acre-feet of water from the Colorado basin to the Front Range.

Today, between 450,000 and 600,000 acre feet of water is sent from the basin to the east each year.

A chief finding of the basin’s plan is that “high conservation, (water) reuse and linking water supply to land use” are in the best options for the state.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

One candidate evoked the strong connection of water to Colorado’s past and the need to preserve more of it for the future. The other talked about a coming global crisis and the need for America to become an international leader for water development. This particular stop on the campaign trail was the summer convention of the Colorado Water Congress. U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, a Democrat, is facing Republican challenger U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner in the November election. Both are perennial favorites of the state’s leading water group, but took different approaches to argue how they would best serve the state’s water interests.

“How are we going to meet the needs of our people, our farmers and our communities if we don’t build storage,” Gardner said.

The federal government impedes water development in Colorado and represents a danger to water rights within the state, Gardner said.

Gardner talked about his family’s five generations as store owners and implement dealers in Yuma, and said federal policies endanger that way of life.

“Will our children have the same type of opportunity if we don’t change the way we’re doing things?” he asked.

Udall countered that it’s not enough for Colorado or the United States to look after just its own needs. Instead, the country has the opportunity to provide global leadership in confronting future shortages.

“When it comes to water, we are living beyond our means and that is a dangerous situation,” Udall said.

Climate is changing because of human activities at the same time world population is increasing, creating new stress on water supplies. As shortages grow, stability in foreign governments diminishes, he said. While that’s a threat to U.S. interests, it’s also an opportunity for American companies to be innovative while reaching out to help solve the problem. In the process, there would be goodwill toward the U.S., Udall said.

Closer to home, he said Colorado must protect its interests on the Colorado River and to resist federal attempts to tie up state water rights.

“I’ve made it one of my top priorities to protect Colorado water,” Udall said. “We have to make sure liquid gold is always available.” cwoodka@chieftain.com Will our children have the same type of opportunity if we don’t change the way we’re doing things?

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A bill that would allow water saved from farm efficiencies to support instream flows — vetoed this year by Gov. John Hickenlooper — could be resurrected in the next legislative session. The interim water resources review committee heard testimony Wednesday from some who opposed the measure and said a pilot program might be workable. There is still opposition to the bill, however.

“I think we got an idea of why they’re opposing the bill,” said state Sen. Gail Schwartz, D-Snowmass Village, after the hearing.

The bill, SB14-023, proposed allowing water savings from agricultural improvements to be donated on a temporary basis to the Colorado Water Conservation Board for instream flows, without diminishing the water rights of those who contribute water. It was an attempt to encourage conservation while not penalizing farmers under the state’s “use it or lose it” system. The law applied only to the Colorado River and its tributaries, but could affect junior water rights, including transmountain diversions, such as those used by the Pueblo Board of Water Works or Fryingpan-Arkansas Project.

John Stulp, Hickenlooper’s water adviser, said a scaled-back pilot program to see the impact of such donations of water rights is now being considered.

“Our concern is of possible damages to intervening diverters,” said Carlyle Currier, vice president of the Colorado Farm Bureau. “They could spend a lot of time and money trying to defend themselves in water court.” In overappropriated basins, such as the Arkansas and South Platte rivers, the concept would not work, but there are conditions where senior water rights would not be harmed and junior rights even improved in the Colorado River basin.

Terry Fankhauser, executive vice president of the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association, was more supportive of the bill, saying it is a tool that could help keep farmers and ranchers in business. The group’s membership is split over the costs of water court, but argued costs could be reduced if the CWCB picked up the tab for engineering costs.

“We believe the full range of issues was addressed in the bill,” said Doug Robotham, Colorado water project director for the Nature Conservancy. He also voiced support for the pilot program.

Montrose farmer Mark Catlin said he considers the bill a “jaundiced” attempt to change state water law. He disagreed with other speakers about whether farm efficiencies decrease consumptive use, because all water in a system is reused many times.

“A water right is how much water you can divert, and it’s dangerous to go into ag and change the way it works,” he said. “The calling right is at the headgate. Is the state of Colorado going to be a partner?”

More 2014 Colorado November election coverage here. More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


Roaring Fork Watershed Stream Flow Report for August 21, 2014

August 22, 2014

GPS is Tracking West’s Vanishing Water, Scientists Surprised to Learn — National Geographic

August 22, 2014
Western US

Western US

From National Geographic (Michelle Nijhuis):

Throughout the western United States, a network of Global Positioning System (GPS) stations has been monitoring tiny movements in the Earth’s crust, collecting data that can warn of developing earthquakes.

To their surprise, researchers have discovered that the GPS network has also been recording an entirely different phenomenon: the massive drying of the landscape caused by the drought that has intensified over much of the region since last year.

Geophysicist Adrian Borsa of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and his colleagues report in this week’s Science that, based on the GPS measurements, the loss of water from lakes, streams, snowpack, and groundwater totals some 240 billion metric tons—equivalent, they say, to a four-inch-deep layer of water covering the entire western U.S. from the Rockies to the Pacific. (Related: “Water’s Hidden Crisis”

The principle behind the new measurements is simple. The weight of surface water and groundwater deforms Earth’s elastic crust, much as a sleeper’s body deforms a mattress. Remove the water, and the crust rebounds.

As the amount of water varies cyclically with the seasons, the crust moves up and down imperceptibly, by fractions of an inch—but GPS can measure such small shifts.

Borsa knew all this when he started to study the GPS data. He wasn’t interested in the water cycle at first, and for him the seasonal fluctuations it produced in the data were just noise: They obscured the much longer-term geological changes he wanted to study, such as the rise of mountain ranges.

When he removed that noise from some recent station data, however, he noticed what he describes as a “tremendous uplift signal”—a distinct rise in the crust—since the beginning of 2013. He showed his findings to his Scripps colleague Duncan Agnew.

“I told him, ‘I think we’re looking at the effect of drought,'” Borsa remembers. “He didn’t believe me.”

But Borsa was right. As he, Agnew, and Daniel Cayan of Scripps report in Science, the recent uplift spike is consistent across the U.S. West, and consistent with recent declines in precipitation, streamflow, and groundwater levels. With a great weight of water removed, the crust is rebounding elastically across the whole region.

The median rise across all the western GPS stations has been four millimeters, just under a sixth of an inch. But the Sierra Nevada mountains, which have lost most of their snowpack, have risen 15 millimeters—nearly six-tenths of an inch.


BLM signs decision approving whitewater park at Pumphouse #ColoradoRiver

August 22, 2014
Pumphouse, Radium campgrounds via the Bureau of Land Management

Pumphouse, Radium campgrounds via the Bureau of Land Management

From the Bureau of Land Management:

The Bureau of Land Management signed a Decision Record Aug. 15 authorizing the proposed Gore Canyon Whitewater Park at the Pumphouse Recreation Site on the upper Colorado River.

Grand County submitted a right-of-way application to build the feature across the full width of the river upstream of the Pumphouse boat launch 2. The county was recently awarded historic water rights for constructing this waterpark.

The feature consists of engineer-designed boulders and block-like concrete objects placed across the stream channel that would not be visible at normal flows and would allow for fish passage at all flow rates. Construction is scheduled to begin in November.

“The project will provide a unique recreational experience for the 60,000-70,000 people that visit the area each year,” said BLM Kremmling Field Manager Stephanie Odell. “It will also provide permanent protection for water flows supporting fishing and recreational floatboating.”

Developing a recreational in-channel diversion below Gore Canyon implements part of the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement among Denver Water and more than 30 Western Slope entities.

The Decision Record, Finding of No Significant Impact and Environmental Assessment are available on-line at: http://www.blm.gov/co/kfo.

More whitewater coverage here.


Glenwood Springs: Interim Water Resources Committee public meeting recap #COleg

August 22, 2014
Glenwood Springs via Wikipedia

Glenwood Springs via Wikipedia

From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (John Stroud):

Protection of the river ecology and preservation of recreation and agricultural interests was the consistent message heard by a panel of Colorado legislators who convened here Thursday to gather public comments on the new state water plan.

And the best way to ensure that is through better statewide water conservation practices and no more trans-mountain water diversions from the Western Slope to the Front Range, those who testified before the state Legislature’s Interim Water Resources Review Committee concurred.

“What’s healthy for recreation is healthy for rivers and streams,” said Aimee Henderson, co-founder of the Upper Colorado Private Boaters, an affiliate of American Whitewater based in Glenwood Springs.

“Additional diversions are not an acceptable solution,” she said, adding there should be a statewide conservation agreement to decrease water consumption.

Pitkin County Commissioner Rachel Richards, who sits on the Colorado River Basin Roundtable, one of nine roundtables that is weighing in on the water plan, said it’s important to “truly acknowledge the value of the environmental and recreation economy in the state.”

Tourism promoters across the state, whether on the Front Range or the Western Slope, almost always showcase some type of high country water recreation in their attempt to attract visitors, Richards noted…

The Thursday meeting at the Glenwood Springs Branch Library attracted about 100 people, many of whom are members of the Colorado Basin Roundtable or have been involved in those discussions over the past several months.

The meeting was the second of nine sponsored by the 10-member legislative committee as it holds hearings within each of the major river basins as part of process to develop the state water plan…

The Glenwood Springs meeting focused on concerns within the main stem of the Colorado River, including the Roaring Fork, Eagle and Blue river valleys.

Many of the comments echoed those contained in the draft Colorado Basin Implementation Plan, which emphasizes a high conservation standard statewide and discourages further water diversions.

The draft basin plan concludes that any more water diversions would severely damage the state’s recreation-based economy, agriculture and the environment, and would jeopardize upper basin users should there be an interstate compact call by down-river water users.

It also includes specific recommendations, such as preserving the Shoshone water right for Western Slope needs rather than allowing it to be sold to Front Range water interests, and encouraging small water projects in western Colorado to meet agricultural needs…

[Ken Neubecker] summarized the comments of one of nine separate tables that engaged in small-group discussions with members of the legislative committee before the floor was opened up to general testimony.

“If you’re going to take a new supply for the Front Range, it’s going to come from someone else who is already using it,” Neubecker said.

Suggestion that any new diversions would come with an agreement that they occur only during peak runoff years “simply condemns the Western Slope to a permanent drought condition,” he said. “We need to educate everyone, especially the Front Range, about where their water comes from.”

Another concern expressed at the hearing included that the water plan is only intended to address water needs through 2050, even as growth pressures are likely to continue beyond that time. Others who spoke said it’s important to factor climate change models and predictions into the water plan.

From the Pagosa Sun (Ellen Roberts):

The water committee has started its deep dive into conservation issues, especially as it relates to the transfer of water used in agricultural production to urban municipalities along the Front Range. This conversation was triggered by a controversial bill I carried last year. I’m determined that we’ll keep at this until we reach best practices that make sense and reflect the precious nature of water in our state.

I appreciate the active engagement of several of my constituents in bringing ideas and zeal to this topic and as I travel the state with the water committee as we hold hearings over the next two months on what should be in the state water plan, I’ll be sure that the topic of water conservation gets brought up and vetted in all areas of the state.

My principal concern with municipalities failing to do everything they can to conserve water is that the urban corridor on the Front Range, including, but certainly not limited to, Denver, seek to transfer more water from the Western Slope to satisfy their residents’ needs and desires. I don’t need to inform my constituents of the impacts this would have on our way of life, on our viable agricultural production, and on our environment.

Also breathing down our necks is the impact of a potential “call” on the Colorado River from downstream states legally entitled to a share of that water for their own uses. If such a call is made, we won’t be getting water shipped back from the Front Range to satisfy the call.

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


Climate Predication Center 90-day outlooks from August 21, 2014 (sorry California)

August 21, 2014


Click on a thumbnail to view a gallery of 90-day predication from the Climate Predication Center. Click here to go the NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center website.


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