Water Lines: Colorado needs a better water plan — Jim Pokrandt #ColoradoRiver #COWaterPlan

July 16, 2014

From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Jim Pokrandt):

It’s almost time for football training camps, so here’s a gridiron analogy for Colorado River water policy watchers: Western Colorado is defending two end zones. One is the Colorado River. The other is agriculture. The West Slope team has to make a big defensive play. If water planning errs on the side of overdeveloping the Colorado River, the river loses, the West Slope economy loses and West Slope agriculture could be on the way out.

This is how the Colorado River Basin Roundtable is viewing its contribution to the Colorado Water Plan ordered up by Gov. John Hickenlooper. A draft plan will be submitted this December and a final plan in December 2015. The Roundtable is assessing local water supply needs and environmental concerns for inclusion into the plan and there is plenty of work to consider in the region. But the big play may very well be the keeping of powerful forces from scoring on our two goal lines.

Here’s why: Colorado’s population is slated to double by 2050. Most of it will be on the Front Range, but our region is growing too. Mother Nature is not making any new water. We still depend on the same hydrological cycle that goes back to Day 1. So where is the “new” water going to come from? Right now, there seems to be two top targets, the Colorado River and agriculture (where 85 percent of state water use lies in irrigated fields). Colorado needs a better plan.

The Colorado Basin Roundtable represents Mesa, Garfield, Summit, Eagle, Grand and Pitkin counties. This region already sends between 450,000 and 600,000 acre feet of water annually across the Continental Divide through transmountain diversions (TMDs) to support the Front Range and the Arkansas River Basin.

That water is 100 percent gone. There are no return flows, such as there are with West Slope water users. On top of that, this region could see another 140,000 acre feet go east. A number of Roundtable constituents have long-standing or prospective agreements with Front Range interests wrapped around smaller TMDs. Existing infrastructure can still take some more water. That’s the scorecard right now. We assert another big TMD threatens streamflows and thus the recreational and agricultural economies that define Western Colorado, not to mention the environment.

In the bigger picture, the Colorado River Compact of 1922 requires Colorado to bypass about 70 percent of the river system to the state line to comply with legal limits on depletions so six other states can have their legal share of the water. Failure to do so, by overdeveloping the river, threatens compact curtailments and chaos nobody wants to see. For one thing, that kind of bad water planning could result in a rush to buy or condemn West Slope agricultural water rights.

The Roundtable has heard these concerns loudly and clearly from its own members across the six counties as well as from citizens who have given voice to our section of the water plan, known as the Basin Implementation Plan (BIP). A draft of the BIP can be viewed and comments offered by going online to http://coloradobip.sgm‐inc.com/. It is under the “Resources” tab.

Jim Pokrandt is Colorado Basin Roundtable Chair.

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.

Lake Mead: “The last time the lake was this low, the town of St. Thomas still had a post office” — Las Vegas Review-Journal #ColoradoRiver

July 11, 2014

From the Las Vegas Review-Journal (Henry Brean @RefriedBrean):

Lake Mead sank to a record this week, its surface nudging downward a few tenths of an inch late Wednesday night to 1,081.82 feet above sea level.

The last time the lake was this low, the town of St. Thomas still had a post office. In late spring of 1937, water from the once-wild Colorado River was still rising steadily behind the new Hoover Dam, inundating empty desert as it pushed toward Moapa Valley. By June of the following year, St. Thomas would be under water, but Mother Nature and human thirst couldn’t keep it there.

In 1983, when the lake was as full as it’s ever been, the ruins of the town were under about 80 feet of water. Today, you can’t even see the lake from St. Thomas.

The past 15 years have been especially hard on the nation’s largest man-made reservoir. Lake Mead has seen its surface drop by more than 130 feet amid stubborn drought in the mountains that feed the Colorado River. The unusually dry conditions have exacerbated a fundamental math problem for the river, which now sustains 30 million people and several billion dollars worth of farm production across the West but has been over-appropriated since before Hoover Dam was built…

Wednesday’s record is unlikely to last. Forecasters expect Lake Mead to hit another new low today, then break that mark Saturday, and so on for the next several weeks.

The streak of all-time lows should end by late August, when current projections from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation call for the reservoir to tick up slightly. Then it should inch down again, bottoming out sometime in November before starting back up as downstream water users cut their orders heading into winter.

Bureau officials acknowledged this week’s milestone but said it won’t impact operations at Hoover Dam.

“We will meet our water orders this year, and we are not projecting a shortage condition in 2015,” said Terry Fulp, the Boulder City-based director for the Bureau’s Lower Colorado Region. “We continue to closely monitor the projections of declining lake levels and are working with stakeholders throughout the Lower Basin to keep as much water in Lake Mead as we can through various storage and conservation efforts.”[...]

Lake Powell, meanwhile, is expected to start next year 21 feet higher than it was at the beginning of 2014. Right now, the reservoir on the Utah-Arizona border is swelling by almost a foot a day as the last of the mountain snow melts into the Colorado River and its tributaries.

Forecasters are predicting another big drop at Lake Mead next spring, as the lake stair-steps its way down to elevation 1,069, and below. By June 2016, the reservoir could hit 1,064, just 14 feet away from shutting down one of two intake pipes the Southern Nevada Water Authority uses to deliver 90 percent of the Las Vegas Valley’s water supply.

With that in mind, the wholesale water agency is rushing to complete a new intake that will reach deeper into the lake. The $817 million project has seen its schedule slip by more than 2 years, but is on track to finish next summer.

“We feel confident the third intake will be complete before we lose Intake Number One,” said authority spokesman Bronson Mack…

Lake Mead’s decline has been a major headache for the National Park Service.

For every two-foot drop in the water level, the shoreline can recede 60 feet or more. Already the shrinking reservoir has left some boat ramps high and dry, and has pushed marinas into deeper water or closed them altogether.

A decade ago, Lake Mead was home to nine boat launch ramps and six marinas. Six ramps and three marinas remain open today…

While access to the lake has grown more difficult in recent years, she said, there is still more than 125 square miles of open water and roughly 400 miles of shoreline to explore.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.

“The more water you develop, the more risk you take on” — James Eklund #ColoradoRiver

July 7, 2014
Drought affected Lake Mead via the Mountain Town News

Drought affected Lake Mead via the Mountain Town News

From Circle of Blue (Brett Walton):

America’s largest reservoir, Las Vegas’ main water source, and an important indicator for water supplies in the Southwest — will fall this week to its lowest level since 1937 when the manmade lake was first being filled, according to forecasts from the federal Bureau of Reclamation.

The record-setting low water mark — a surface elevation of 1,081.8 feet above sea level — will not trigger any restrictions for the seven states in the Colorado River Basin. Restrictions will most likely come in 2016 when the lake is projected to drop below 1,075 feet, a threshold that forces cuts in water deliveries to Arizona and Nevada, states at the head of the line for rationing.

But the steadily draining lake does signal an era of new risks and urgency for an iconic and ebbing watershed that provides up to 40 million people in the U.S. and Mexico with a portion of their drinking water. The rules governing the river are complex, but the risk equation is straightforward: less supply due to a changing climate, plus increasing demands from new development, leads to greater odds of shortages…

Yet despite a shrinking lake, diminishing supplies, and ardent pleas from tour guides and environmental groups to preserve a canyon-cutting marvel, the four states in the basin upriver from Lake Mead intend to increase the amount of water they take out of the Colorado River. All of the states are updating or developing new state water strategies, most of which involve using more Colorado River water, not less.

“We have mapped out how the remainder of our allocation can be used,” Eric Millis, director of the Utah Division of Water Resources, told Circle of Blue. “It’s going to happen sooner rather than later. We have a place for every drop.”

Utah — like fellow upper basin states Colorado, New Mexico, and Wyoming — is not using all the Colorado River water it was granted by a 1922 interstate compact. The four states have the legal authority to increase their Colorado River diversions.

However, the water they seek may not be available. The calculations of availability stem from wetter hydrological conditions and supply forecasts made nearly a century ago. Under the 1922 compact, the upper basin is entitled to 7.5 million acre-feet. A later agreement apportioned each state a percentage of the available supply. The upper basin’s average annual use between 2007 and 2011, the most recent figures, was 4.6 million acre-feet.

The legal entitlement, granted at a time when the river’s hydrology was poorly understood, is surely too high. All the states acknowledge that fact. “We’re not pegging our hopes or analysis on the full 7.5,” said James Eklund, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, the state water planning agency…

The upper basin put forward a plan this spring to keep more water in Powell. The states would do this by paying farmers not to farm and by changing how smaller mountain reservoirs are managed. Three urban water utilities in the lower basin, along with Denver and the federal government, put up $US 11 million to develop a similar basin-wide program…

Though the lower basin is using its entire allocation, the four upper basin states are not. They desire more water from the Colorado, yet exactly how much water is available is uncertain.

The only concrete number to emerge so far is 5.8 million acre-feet of water available for the upper basin, or three-quarters of what was granted. That figure, called the hydrological determination, was developed by New Mexico and the Department of the Interior in 2007 as part of a water supply study.

New Mexico is the only state using 5.8 million acre-feet as a firm number. Millis said Utah is using 6.5 million acre-feet of upper basin supply for its planning, and Colorado and Wyoming are looking at a range of values.

Eklund told Circle of Blue there is “vigorous debate” both within and between states over what number should be used to assess water availability and what the acceptable levels of risk are as water use increases.

“There’s a sliding scale of risk,” Eklund said. “The more water you develop, the more risk you take on. But that doesn’t necessarily counsel against a project.”

More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.

Will The #ColoradoRiver Be Restored To Its Former Glory? — Jon Waterman

June 7, 2014
Jonathan Waterman paddling the ooze in the Colorado River Delta

Jonathan Waterman paddling the ooze in the Colorado River Delta

Here’s an in-depth look at the current state of the Colorado River Basin from Jon Waterman writing for Elevation Outdoors Magazine. Click through and read the whole thing. Here’s an excerpt:

In the arid Southwest we put a lot of faith into a century-old agreement. Created by skillful lawmakers in 1922, it’s called the Colorado River Compact and it has little bearing on the reality of the river in 2014, or most years as it turns out. The boosters of growth who wrote the 2,000 page document had no inkling that the two decades before 1922 were much wetter than the fossil record. They relied upon a single gauge to calculate the River’s past and future volume. And so the Colorado River Compact charted the future by mandating who could take how much water from the lifeline of the Southwest—and began the process of diverting it dry.

It’s impossible to understand the current state of the river witout looking at these actions of the past. Seven states blithely divided up the river and began planning dams as if the Colorado’s water would spring eternal. The Colorado River Compact became the foundation for legislation—collectively known as the Law of the River—that would extensively store and divert water partly to various industry and cities, but mostly to farms (eventually using 78 percent of the river).

Ecology, let alone science, was overruled when it came to taming the disruptive Colorado River—which was prone to unpredictable floods, reddened moods, and maddening droughts. The Law of the River, along with sorting out rights, would help control this unruly Force of Nature.

Central to this mindset was the prevailing Prior Appropriations Doctrine, defined as “use it or lose it,” which assigned highest priority water rights to the earliest users. It all began with miners who didn’t necessarily own land alongside rivers but were putting the water to what became known as “beneficial use.” The new doctrine first appeared in a Colorado court in 1872, then was adopted by other western states, citing that arid climates could not abide by the old Riparian Doctrine, which actually prevented river diversions that jeopardized downstream users.

Few foresaw that the population served by the Colorado River would grow to 36 million…

Among many well-regulated spigots controlled by the Law of the River was a 1944 treaty with Mexico. Our southern neighbors had no choice but to accept ten percent of the annual Colorado River flow, paving the way for large portions of the Mexican Delta to turn as dry and hard as the concrete slabs holding up thousands of well-plumbed Southwestern U.S. subdivisions. Not so across the border. As most of the world now works double-time to conserve and recycle, present-day water buffalos in the Southwest continue to sprinkle non-native lawns, revere cows (sustained by hay, drinking more river water than any other crop) and cling to outdated principles likely to remain on the books. Unless the West adopts more progressive policies, they will continue to use the river as if it were 1922.

The problem is this increasingly intricate plumbing system—to the chagrin of Earth Firsters everywhere—performed as planned, with the exception of a wet spell in 1983 that nearly popped the Glen Canyon Dam, penultimate cork of the Colorado River. Meanwhile, those who cared about the River, let alone those Mexican communities whose livelihood depended upon tourists and coastal fishing, were devastated…

When Mexico’s Morales Dam opened its river gates on March 23, 2014, a crowd cheered. Further downstream, the San Luis Rio Colorado community of Mexico spent weeks barbecuing and playing music out on the once dry river banks to celebrate, at long last, the Colorado River running past their town. From here, it flushed a soup of bottles and foam down into the Delta, a Rhode Island sized sprawl of ancient grains washed out of the Rockies and carved from the Grand Canyon. Even if the river can’t be restored to its “PreDambrian” glory, regularly flooding to the sea, regular pulses of water into the mid delta could at least support riparian shrubbery, small forests and habitat for various fauna, including 380 species of birds…

There is also hope to be found in Colorado River Basin states, where water trusts are being established to allow senior water rights holders to donate water back to the river, without losing their future water rights. If a basin-wide water trust could be established, along with healthier minimum stream flows that would assure the future of the river, America’s most renowned scenic wonder will have a fighting chance.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.

The Southern Delivery System has been a long time coming

May 12, 2014
Southern Delivery System route map -- Graphic / Reclamation

Southern Delivery System route map — Graphic / Reclamation

Here’s part one of an in-depth look at the Southern Delivery System from John Hazlehurst writing for the Colorado Springs Business Journal. Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

Contending that the denial [of Homestake II] had been arbitrary and capricious, the two cities [Aurora and Colorado Springs] appealed the decision to the courts. In a comprehensive description of the city’s water system and possible future sources of supply given to City Council in 1991, CSU managers said that “extensive litigation is expected to continue.”

Denied by the Colorado Court of Appeals and the Colorado Supreme Court, the cities appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which declined to hear the case.

City officials were stunned. They couldn’t believe that a coalition of Western Slope “enviros” and ski towns had prevented them from developing water to which the city had an undisputed right. They had believed the Environmental Protection Agency’s 1990 decision to scuttle Denver’s proposed Two Forks Dam near Deckers on the South Platte River was an outlier, not a sign of things to come…

Slow to recognize that mountain communities now had the power to kill their water development plans, Utilities officials looked at another alternative. Instead of taking water directly from the wilderness area, the city proposed to build a dam on the mainstem of the Arkansas at Elephant Rock, a few miles upstream of Buena Vista.

A grassroots rebellion against the project was soon evident, as hand-lettered signs appeared along U.S. Highway 24, which parallels the Arkansas. The signs carried a simple message: “Don’t Let Colorado Springs Dam this River!”

It soon became clear that Chaffee County commissioners would not issue a construction permit for any such project, dooming it before the first planning documents were created…

If trans-mountain diversions or dams on the Arkansas were no longer feasible, that left a single alternative for developing the city’s water rights. CSU would have to let its water flow down to Pueblo Reservoir, construct a diversion structure on the dam, and pump it uphill to Colorado Springs.

It would be, water managers believed, the easiest project to build and permit.

“It was just a pipeline,” said CSU water resources manager Gary Bostrom, who has worked 35 years for Utilities. “What could go wrong?”[...]

“We didn’t really understand the importance of partnering with and involving the public in decision-making,” said [Gary Bostrom], “until the Southern Water Project.”[...]

The plan for the Southern Delivery System was presented to City Council in 1992. Among the material submitted to councilmembers was a comprehensive description of the city’s existing water system. Water managers made sure Council was aware of the importance of the task before them.

“The massive scope of this project,” CSU staff noted, “requires a very long lead time to allow for complexities of numerous permitting processes, land acquisition, litigation, design, financing and construction.”

Of all the variables, CSU managers and elected officials gave the least weight to those that may have been the most significant…

“We weren’t worried about hydrology,” said Bostrom. “The years between 1980 and 2000 were some of the wettest years on record. The water was there for the taking. Shortages on the Colorado weren’t part of the discussion.

“We knew about the Colorado River Water Compact of 1922 (which allocated Colorado River water between Mexico and the upper and lower basin states), but it wasn’t something we worried about.”

Then as now, 70 percent of the city’s water supply came from the Colorado River. SDS would tap the city’s rights on the Arkansas, diversifying the portfolio.

“We have to plan for growth,” said Bostrom. “That’s what history tells us. We know that it will be expensive, but the cost of not building a system well in advance of need would be much greater. People complained about the cost of the Blue River (trans-mountain diversion) project in the 1950s, but we wouldn’t have a city without it — we wouldn’t have the Air Force Academy.”

But even as the project moved slowly forward, the comfortable assumptions of a wet, prosperous future began to unravel.

“Exactly 15 years ago today (April 29, 1999),” said Bostrom, “we were in the middle of a flood — remember? We didn’t know it, but that was the day the drought began.”

More Southern Delivery System coverage here and here.

Breckenridge: “We can’t just sit up here and say we have all the water, now we’ll use it” — Tim Gagen #ColoradoRiver

May 9, 2014
Breckenridge circa 1913 via Breckenridge Resort

Breckenridge circa 1913 via Breckenridge Resort

From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

The town council is considering legislation that would cap outdoor use at three days a week. It’s part of an effort to put a new emphasis on water conservation and efficiency, says Tim Gagen, the town manager.

“We have to walk the talk,” says Gagen. “We can’t just sit up here and say we have all the water, now we’ll use it.”

Breckenridge is not alone. Other mountains towns in Colorado are devoting more attention to water conservation and efficiency. A coalition in the Roaring Fork Valley is assembling plans for public outreach to elevate water efficiency. The Vail-based Eagle River Water and Sanitation District began crimping water use in 2003. Aspen’s water-efficiency measures go back even further, to the 1990s…

Colorado’s Front Range cities, where 85 percent of state residents live, have become more efficient with existing supplies. But they have also expanded supplies in recent decades by buying farms in the South Platte and Arkansas River valleys for their water rights, and allowing the farms to then dry up. They have also purchased mountain ranches in such buy-and-dry transactions.

Front Range water providers also want to retain the option of going to the Colorado River and its tributaries for one final, big diversion. Western Slope water leaders urge caution. But to have credibility, leaders in the mountain valleys realize they first must put their own houses in order.

“The Western Slope needs to be goosed,” says Chris Treese, director of external affairs for the Colorado River Water Conservation District. “Frankly, the Front Range has led most of the water-conservation efforts in Colorado to date.”[...]

Gagen says that Breckenridge has been nibbling at water conservation efforts for several years. Leaking segments of existing pipes, which can cause loss of 8 to 15 percent of all the municipal water supply, are being replaced. Sprinklers in parks are being changed out in favor of more efficient devices. And the town is now looking at narrowing irrigation at its golf course to avoid watering of the roughs.

Breckenridge, in its municipal operation, has also adopted more xeriscaping, using plants that don’t require irrigation, reducing irrigation of remaining turf, and, in some cases, installing artificial turf.

Still on the agenda is elevating rates for high-consumption users. The average water bill in Breckenridge is just $35 every two months, not much more than dinner at one of the town’s higher-end restaurants. As such, most people probably pay little, if any attention, to the idea of conserving water in order to reduce their costs. They just write the check, says Gagen.

While Breckenridge has broad goals of improved sustainability, Gagen says the plan to reduce outdoor lawn irrigation to three days a week was pushed by two council members who have been persuaded by books they’ve read: “Blue Revolution,” by Cynthia Barnett (2011), “Cadillac Desert,” by Marc Reisner (1986), and “Getting Green Done,” by Auden Schendler (2011)…

Eagle River Water and Sanitation District has achieved a 20 percent per capita reduction in use, according to Diane Johnson, communications director. That’s in line with the reduction in water use since 2000 by Denver Water’s 1.3 million direct and indirect customers.

However, Eagle River has not pushed indoor water savings. Because 95 percent of indoor water is treated and released into the Eagle River, explains Johnson, the impact is small on the valley’s creeks and rivers. This compares with just 15 to 40 percent of water returned to streams after outdoor irrigation. Given limited resources for messaging, the better return is to hammer home the message of reduced outdoor use.

“What we really try to work with local people to understand is that their outdoor use affects how much water is in the rivers,” says Johnson. “If you are using water indoors, save yourself some money and be efficient, but most of that water comes back to the treatment plant and returns to the river.”[...]

In adopting its regulations on outdoor lawn watering, Eagle River Water was motivated by the searing drought of 2002. But laws also provide incentives. When seeking permits for new or expanded reservoirs, county regulations ask about “efficient use” of existing resources. State and federal regulations approach it with different wording, but essentially the same intent. “Efficient use of resource is going to be a consideration in any of those permitting processes,” says Johnson.

Eagle River Water has also adopted tiered rates, charging higher rates per 1,000 gallons as consumers step up consumption. But what do you do about those pockets of consumers for whom money is no deterrent?

That’s an issue in the Vail Valley that water officials are starting to wrestle with. Aspen recognized years ago that price was no object to some homeowners—and charges nosebleed rates.

Aspen’s municipal utility, which delivers both electricity and water, uses the income from high-use water customers to pay for front-end renewable energy programs and demand-side energy efficiency, says Phil Overeynder, the former utilities director and now the utilities engineer for special projects.

Aspen in the early 1990s approached the forked paths of water use. But instead of continuing to build capacity for existing water demands, the city instead reined in use. Last year, Aspen used the same amount of water as it did in 1966, despite having three times as many residents. (See more detailed story).

Now, an effort has been launched to frame a broad water efficiency strategy for the Roaring Fork Valley. The seed was planted in 2010 by the Community Office for Resource Efficiency, or CORE, a non-profit founded in the mid-1990s. The effort has several motives—including energy.

Formation of the group was at least partly influenced by the writings of Amory Lovins, a resident of the area, who for decades talked about “negawatts”—the idea that efficiency in energy was as good as new supply. The group he co-founded, Rocky Mountain Institute, further applied this idea of a soft path to water efficiency.

CORE’s Jason Haber explains that saving water also saves energy in several ways. Developing water resources requires energy, but it also takes energy to pump water. Energy is also embedded in treatment of sewage, he points out. Typically, water and sewage are the largest components of any municipality’s energy budget…

Whether Colorado truly has any water to develop on the Western Slope is debatable—and has been debated frequently in state-wide water forums. The Colorado River Water Conservation District has suggested that major new diversions would be risky, simply because of the lack of certainty of legally entitled water in future years. Colorado’s use of the river that bears its name is tightly capped by two inter-state water compacts and one international treaty.

More conservation coverage here.

Reclamation will release 7.48 million acre-feet (lowest since first fill) from Lake Powell this season #ColoradoRiver

May 6, 2014
Lake Powell

Lake Powell

Here’s the release from Reclamation via the Lake Powell Chronicle:

As part of its ongoing management of Colorado River reservoirs, the Bureau of Reclamation has determined that, based on the best available data projections of Lake Powell and Lake Mead reservoir elevations, under the 2007 Colorado River Interim Guidelines for Lower Basin Shortages and Coordinated Operations for Lake Powell and Lake Mead (2007 Interim Guidelines) a release of 7.48 million acre-feet (maf) from Lake Powell is required in water year 2014 (Oct. 1, 2013 – Sept. 30, 2014).

An annual release of 7.48 maf is the lowest release since the filling of Lake Powell in the 1960s. Lake Mead is projected to decline an additional eight feet during 2014 as a result of the lower Lake Powell annual release; however, Lake Mead will operate under normal conditions in calendar year 2014, with water users in the Lower Colorado River Basin and Mexico receiving their full water orders in accordance with the 2007 Interim Guidelines and the 1944 Treaty with Mexico.

The 2007 Interim Guidelines Record of Decision was signed by the Secretary of the Interior after extensive consultation with the seven Colorado River Basin states, Native American tribes, federal agencies, environmental organizations, and other stakeholders and interested parties. The guidelines were adopted to coordinate reservoir management strategies and address annual operations of Lake Powell and Lake Mead, particularly under low reservoir conditions.

“This is the worst 14-year drought period in the last hundred years,” said Upper Colorado Regional Director Larry Walkoviak. “Reclamation’s collaboration with the seven Colorado River Basin states on the 2007 Interim Guidelines is proving to be invaluable in coordinating the operations of the reservoirs and helping protect future availability of Colorado River water supplies.”

Reclamation’s Lower Colorado Regional Director Terry Fulp also pointed to the variability in the system.

“With a good winter snowpack next year, the outlook could change significantly as it did in 2011, but we also need to be prepared for continuing drought,” he said. “Currently the longer-term projections from Reclamation’s hydrologic models show a very small chance of lower basin delivery shortages in 2015, with the first significant chance of reduced water deliveries in the lower basin in 2016. These projections will be updated monthly and will reflect changes in weather and the resulting hydrology.”

Updated monthly, Reclamation’s 24-Month Study is an operational report that provides projected reservoir operations for all major system reservoirs in the Colorado River Basin for the next two years. The August 24-Month Study is available on the Reclamation websites for the Upper and Lower Colorado regions:

Upper Colorado Region: http://www.usbr.gov/uc/water/crsp/studies/index.html

Lower Colorado Region: http://www.usbr.gov/lc/region/g4000/24mo/index.html

By planning ahead for varying reservoir levels, the 2007 Interim Guidelines provide Colorado River users, especially those in the lower basin states of Arizona, Nevada and California, with a greater degree of certainty about annual water deliveries. The 2007 Interim Guidelines also define the reservoir levels that would trigger delivery shortages and specify those reduced delivery amounts in the lower Colorado River Basin once Lake Mead reaches certain elevations. Information about the 2007 Interim Guidelines is available at http://www.usbr.gov/lc/region/programs/strategies.html.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.

The latest newsletter from the Colorado River District is hot off the presses #ColoradoRiver

April 30, 2014

Click on a thumbnail graphic for a gallery of US Drought Monitor maps for late April for the past three years.

Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:

While the 2014 water year is a bountiful one in most of Colorado and portends a 110 percent of average runoff into Lake Powell, Colorado and its sister Colorado River Basin states are continuing with contingency planning to address plunging levels at Powell and Lake Mead.

Long-term drought and overuse of the river by the Lower Basin states of California, Arizona and Nevada, coupled with low flows, are threatening to take Lake Mead below the drinking water intake pipes for the Las Vegas area and drop Lake Powell below the levels where the turbines in Glen Canyon Dam can generate power.

Both possibilities would be disastrous. This is viewed as an operational emergency, not a compact issue, but it puts into play the planning and collaboration necessary for either across the seven-state region.

More Colorado River District coverage here.

“We want to plan for extreme hydrology the likes of which we have never seen” — Don Ostler #ColoradoRiver

April 16, 2014
Glen Canyon Dam -- Photo / Brad Udall

Glen Canyon Dam — Photo / Brad Udall

From Circle of Blue (Brett Walton):

Still in the earliest stages of negotiation, two remedies have emerged, both of which seek to fortify Lake Powell, the nation’s second largest reservoir, and preserve its capacity to generate electricity and supply water to the 40 million people who live in the watershed.

One strategy is an operational revision: release more water from upper-basin reservoirs during drought emergencies. The other option would cut demand: ask – or perhaps pay – farmers to stop growing crops in order to save water. Both approaches are technically and legally feasible, according to those involved in the discussions and outside experts.

“We’ve never had to do this before because we never planned for this degree of low water storage,” Don Ostler, executive director of the Upper Colorado River Commission, an administrative body, told Circle of Blue. “We want to plan for extreme hydrology the likes of which we have never seen.”[...]

… in the iconic Colorado River, flows have been above average in only three of the last 14 years. If the rest of the decade follows a similar hydrological trajectory, “dramatic problems emerge rather quickly,” said John McClow, Colorado’s representative to the Upper Colorado River Commission. McClow told Circle of Blue that the basin states used computer simulations last June to replicate the 2001 to 2007 river flows, a rather dry period, from 2014 until the end of the decade…

The upper basin wants to prevent a call on the river, a circumstance in which the four states are unable to meet their legal obligations to send water downstream to Arizona, California, and Nevada. A call has never happened.

The upper basin also wants to keep Lake Powell’s surface elevation from dropping below 3,490 feet, the point at which hydropower generation from Glen Canyon Dam, which forms the reservoir, would probably stop. Lake Powell has never tested that limit, a theoretical threshold. Today, Powell’s surface elevation is 3,574 feet, having fallen 60 feet in two years.

Glen Canyon provides as many as 5.8 million people with a portion of their electricity. Revenue from electricity sales helps pay to operate the dams. It also underwrites measures to reduce salt in the Colorado River and revive fish habitat.

To keep Powell from draining, one option is to release more water from reservoirs located higher in the basin: Flaming Gorge, in Wyoming; Navajo, in New Mexico; and a Colorado cluster known as the Aspinall Unit. These Rocky Mountain reservoirs evaporate less water than Powell, located in Utah’s arid canyon country, said Malcolm Wilson, chief of the Bureau of Reclamation’s water resources group, which operates the reservoirs. But that does not preclude a shift in operations.

“There’s nothing to say we couldn’t release more water than we have to sustain Powell,” Wilson told Circle of Blue, stating that the interests of the upper basin and Reclamation align, both wanting to keep the dam’s cash register ringing…

McClow noted that recreation and environmental constraints would need to be respected. Each of the higher-elevation reservoirs has an endangered species in its watershed, he said.

Along with the reservoir shuffle, upper basin negotiators are debating what a farmland fallowing program would look like. More questions – Who pays for it? Which lands are targeted? – than answers exist now, McClow said.

Doug Kenney, a water policy expert at the University of Colorado’s Natural Resources Law Center, said he saw no obvious legal problems with the two options.

“As long as they don’t try to be too picky about who owns that water, then I think it’s entirely realistic,” Kenney told Circle of Blue. “If they want to be picky, then all sorts of legal issues and potential problems come forward.”

Kenney said that ascribing ownership to the water begins to resemble the selling or transfer of water rights across state lines, a bête noire for the basin. Better, he said, if the water is not earmarked and simply flows downstream.

Ostler, the river commission’s executive director, said that the upper basin would like to have a plan finalized by the end of the year…

…none of the [Lower Basin] representatives that Circle of Blue contacted offered many details about their drought planning.

“We’re certainly having discussions about existing drought and contingency planning for an ongoing sustained drought,” said Colby Pellegrino, who handles Colorado River issues for Southern Nevada Water Authority, the state’s largest water utility. “But we’re not to a point where we can say what those options will be.”

Tanya Trujillo, executive director of the Colorado River Board of California, also demurred and declined to comment.

Pellegrino did say that the lower basin states are using hydrology models used in the Bureau of Reclamation’s Colorado River Basin study, a comprehensive supply and demand assessment published in December 2012.

That study assessed water use through 2060, but the current drought discussions take a narrower view. Pellegrino said the lower basin interests are looking at options through 2026, the year that the shortage sharing agreement expires.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.

“…nobody is digging a new tunnel tomorrow” — Jim Pokrandt #ColoradoRiver #COWaterPlan

April 13, 2014
Colorado River Basin including out of basin demands -- Graphic/USBR

Colorado River Basin including out of basin demands — Graphic/USBR

From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (John Stroud):

…it’s important to note that “nobody is digging a new tunnel tomorrow,” and organizations like the Glenwood Springs-based River District are active at the table in working to protect Western Colorado interests in the face of growing Front Range water needs, [Jim Pokrandt] said.

“There are a lot of top-10 lists when it comes to rivers and water conservation,” Pokrandt said in reaction to the listing last Wednesday by the nonprofit conservation group American Rivers. “It’s a good way to generate publicity for these various causes.”

American Rivers calls on Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper to prevent new water diversions and instead prioritize protection of Western Slope rivers and water conservation measures in the Colorado Water Plan, which remains in discussions through a roundtable process that involves stakeholders from across the state.

Already, about 450,000 to 600,000 acre-feet of water per year is diverted from the Colorado basin to the Front Range, Pokrandt noted.

The prospect of more diversions “is definitely being advocated in some quarters from those who say a new project is not a question of if, but when and how soon,” he said.

“We’re saying that’s a big ‘if,’ because there are a lot of big issues around that.”

Pokrandt said any new trans-mountain diversions are “questionable, if it’s even possible.” That’s primarily because of the Colorado River Compact with down-river states that guarantees their share of river water.

“It’s important that we don’t overdevelop the river, and any more transmountain diversions should be the last option out of the box [for Front Range needs],” said. “First and foremost, it behooves all of Colorado to be more efficient in our water use.”[...]

Pokrandt notes that many municipalities across the state, not just the Front Range, are scrambling to find water to take care of projected population growth. That means more water demand on both sides of the Continental Divide.

“But there’s a big question about how much water is really left to develop,” he said. “There’s also an economic benefit to leaving water in the river without developing it, so there’s that issue as well.”[...]

Another Colorado river on the American Rivers endangered list this year is the White River, which was No. 7 due to the threat of oil and gas development and the risk to fish and wildlife habitat, clean water and recreation opportunities.

The White River flows from the northern reaches of the Flat Tops through Rio Blanco County and into the Green River in northeastern Utah.

“Major decisions this year will determine whether we can safeguard the White River’s unique wild values for future generations,” said Matt Rice of American Rivers in their Wednesday news release.

From the Vail Daily (Melanie Wong):

The conservation group American Rivers releases the annual list, and rivers that are threatened include sections of the Colorado that run through Eagle County, including headwater rivers, which include the Eagle River.

According to the group, the river is threatened as many Front Range cities look for future water sources to meet growing municipal and industrial needs. Some of those communities are eyeing various parts of the Colorado for diversion.

Advocates hope the list garners some national awareness and spurs lawmakers to prevent new water diversions and prioritize river protection and water conservation measures in the state water plan.

“The America’s Most Endangered Rivers report is a call to action to save rivers that are at a critical tipping point,” said Ken Neubecker, of American Rivers. “We cannot afford more outdated, expensive and harmful water development schemes that drain and divert rivers and streams across the Upper Colorado Basin. If we want these rivers to continue to support fish, wildlife, agriculture and a multi-billion dollar tourism industry, we must ensure the rivers have enough water.”[...]

For decades, Front Range growth has been fed by Western Slope rivers. Around a half million acres of water is already being diverted east from the Upper Colorado and growing cities need more. The problem with diversions, said Neubecker, is that the water leaves the Western Slope forever, citing a proposed project to tap into Summit County’s Blue Mountain Reservoir and divert water from the Blue River.

“Grand and Summit counties are justifiably worried about a Green Mountain pumpback, and so should Eagle County, because that project isn’t possible without a Wolcott reservoir,” he said. “With water diverted to the Front Range, we never see it again. It has serious impacts on us as far as drought and growth. It’s a finite resource.”

Historically, there have been agreements that have benefited both the Western and Eastern slopes, and river advocates said they want to see more such projects. The Colorado Cooperative Agreement, announced in 2011, involved the cooperation of many Eagle County entities. The Eagle River Memorandum of Understanding, signed in 1998, was also a major victory for mountain communities, significantly capping the amount of water that could be taken at the Homestake Reservoir and keeping some water in Eagle County.

Another settlement with Denver Water in 2007 was a big win for the local water community, said Diane Johnson, of Eagle River Water and Sanitation. “Denver Water gave up a huge amount of water rights, pretty much everything leading into Gore Creek, and as for a Wolcott Reservoir, it could only be developed with local entities in control,” she said. “Things are done more collaboratively now. It’s not the 1960s and ’70s anymore, where the Front Range developed the rivers without thought of how it affected local communities.”[...]

A new Colorado State University report commissioned by the Eagle River Watershed Council studied the state of the Eagle River.

“It’s clearly showing that the biggest threat to this portion of the Upper Colorado is reduced flows. It’s impacting wildlife for sure, most notably the fish,” said the council’s executive director Holly Loff.

With less water, the average river temperature is rising, and many cold-water fish have either been pushed out or killed as a result. Less water also means less riparian (riverside) habitat, an ecosystem that supports 250 species of animals. Of course, less water also affects river recreation and means there’s less water to drink.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.

Southwestern Water Conservation District Annual Water Seminar recap #COWaterPlan #ColoradoRiver

April 11, 2014


From the Pine River Times (Carole McWilliams):

With continuing population growth in Southwestern states and ongoing drought, water issues are becoming more and more about who has to cut back their use when there isn’t enough to meet demand.

That thread ran through presentations at the annual Water Seminar on April 4 in Durango, sponsored by the Southwest Water Conservation District.

“How will we handle the water and other needs of 10 million people,” asked John Stulp, a former state agriculture commissioner and current chair of the Interbasin Compact Committee (IBCC) which is developing a State Water Plan along with nine basin water roundtables…

Harris cited a statewide statistic that with municipal water use, half is used inside and half outside. Ninety percent of the inside use returns to the stream. With outside use, 70 to 80 percent is “consumed” and does not return to the stream. The Southwest Roundtable has approved a goal to shift the percentage of municipal use to indoor, especially where the water comes from ag dry-up or trans-mountain diversion, he said.

Harris initiated the idea of legislation to limit lawn sizes in residential developments after 2016 where the water would come from a permanent transfer from ag. It didn’t get through the State Senate but will be a study topic by an interim committee on water resources during the off-session.

“The lawn bill, this is just the first time, not the last,” Harris asserted. “Reduction of lawn size is a significant conservation measure to help meet 2050 water supply.”

State Rep. Don Coram from Montrose commented “On the Front Range, they haven’t addressed storage or depleting the aquifer. They are more interested in trans-mountain diversion.”[...]

John McGlow from the Upper Colorado River Commission said curtailment such as this will affect water rights decreed after the 1922 Colorado River Compact. The Upper Basin is western Colorado, eastern Utah, southwest Wyoming, and northwest New Mexico. They have begun discussions on how cutbacks would be shared, or how to avoid getting to that point with things like fallowing fields and reducing frequency of irrigation.

“Lake Powell is our bank account for complying with the compact,” he said. It’s the cushion for the Upper Basin states to deliver mandated quantities of water to the Lower Basin states (California, Arizona and Nevada) and Mexico over a 10-year average. Navajo Reservoir also is part of that.

McGlow said 1999 was the last year that Powell was full. The goal is to get enough water into Lake Powell each year to avoid curtailment or the possibility of the water level getting too low for hydropower generation, which he said would have its own serious impacts.

The good news is there’s enough snowpack in northwest and north central Colorado that these won’t be issues this year, McGlow said…

Panelist Dan Birch from the Colorado River Conservation District said most pre-compact rights on the Western Slope are in the Grand Valley and Uncompaghre Valley. There is around 1 million AF of pre-compact irrigation on the West Slope, he said. Most of that land is in pasture or hay. Pasture can’t be fallowed, he said.

With a target to make up for 350,000 AF of post-compact use, Birch said, “I don’t think we want one-third of ag to go away. What we’re talking about is interruptible voluntary market-based contracts” for pre-compact users to reduce their water use. “This has to work for the farmers and the ditch companies,” he said.

Birch said power plants in Northwest Colorado are significant post-compact water users. “In the event of a (water) shortage, it will be important to keep critical uses going,” including power generation, he said.

Demand management is a key to avoiding Upper Basin curtailment or loss of hydro generation. “We are way behind on actual implementation of demand management,” including agricultural fallowing and reducing municipal demands, McGlow said. “It’s still a concept. It’s in its infancy.”

Fallowing and reduced irrigation are part of what’s called water banking. Panelist Aaron Derwingson said, “Pretty much everyone supports water banking in concept. It gets a lot more complex actually doing it.”

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.

CWC Webcast: Adapting the Law of the Colorado River, April 16

April 3, 2014
Colorado River Basin including out of basin demands -- Graphic/USBR

Colorado River Basin including out of basin demands — Graphic/USBR

Click here to register.

From email from the Colorado Water Congress:

John McClow, Colorado’s Commissioner on the Upper Colorado River Commission, will provide a brief summary of the Law of the Colorado River: the Colorado River Compact, the Upper Colorado River Basin Compact, and the Mexican Treaty of 1944. This will be followed by a description of collaborative efforts among the seven Colorado River Basin states, the Department of the Interior, and Mexico to adapt the law to changing conditions on the river.

From 1999 through 2013, the Colorado River Basin has experienced serious drought. Policy makers have responded to this drought with the development of new management strategies for the major storage reservoirs in the system (Lake Powell and Lake Mead) to prevent them from reaching critical storage levels. These strategies could affect all Colorado River stakeholders.

This is a “not-to-be-missed” presentation for all professionals interested in management of the Colorado River and the effects of long-term drought in the Colorado River Basin. Tune in for recent updates from the Upper Colorado River Commission.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.

Water bank for Western Slope irrigators? #ColoradoRiver

March 5, 2014


From KREXTV.com (Emily Fredrick):

he Colorado River District traveled to Montrose and Palisade Tuesday to speak with irrigators about the possibility of a water bank on the Western Slope.

The new concept would increase security for the Upper Colorado River Basin water supplies and reduce the potential negative impacts of persisting drought conditions.

“We live in a desert and all the fruit and actually all the houses and lawns and everything that are here in the Valley are here because of the water in the Colorado River essentially,” said Palisade farmer, Guy Parker.

“If Colorado is ever in a situation where we have to curtail our water usage in order to meet our obligations to our downstream neighbors under the compact, under our existing agreements that we could use those pre-compact water rights for post compact critical uses, health and human safety uses,” said Colorado River District’s Chris Treese, “When we go to them and say it’s time, we’d really like you to consider, and we’d like to compensate you, how much compensation will that take what does that market look like and will we have enough water if we put a marketplace out there. We’d like to sign people up on an option basis that you are willing to forgo either in complete or in part your historical irrigation in order to prevent a less attractive situation,” said Treese.

“I think it’s a really good idea to be very proactive because we do live in a desert and there’s not enough water to go around, we really have to be proactive and really have to be creative in our solutions to what we’re going to do,” said Parker.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.

California plans to drop their total banked storage in Lake Mead this year #ColoradoRiver

March 2, 2014
Drought Affected Lake Mead via the Mountain Town News

Drought Affected Lake Mead via the Mountain Town News

From the Las Vegas Review-Journal (Henry Brean):

California’s largest municipal water supply agency, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, took about 80,000 acre-feet from its water savings account in the lake last year. Now the agency is contemplating a withdrawal at least twice that size, enough to cause the surface of the massive reservoir to drop two feet and the shoreline to recede by as much as 60 feet.

“Things are so bad in California, unless it starts raining like crazy we are probably going to take another 150,000 to 200,000 acre-feet this year,” said Bill Hasencamp, Metropolitan’s manager of Colorado River resources.

The withdrawal is on top of the roughly 1 million acre-feet of water the agency already gets each year from California’s total annual allotment of 4.4 million acre-feet from the Colorado River…

Metropolitan deposited the water, so Metropolitan has every right to withdraw it, said J.C. Davis, spokesman for the Southern Nevada Water Authority.

“The people making an issue of this only see the negative, because water is being taken out,” he said. “But if Met hadn’t banked it in the first place, that water wouldn’t be there.”

Without the water stored in Lake Mead so far by California, Nevada, Arizona and Mexico, Davis said, the surface of the reservoir formed by Hoover Dam would be at least 10 feet lower than it is right now…

Nevada, California and Arizona won the right to store unused Colorado River water in Lake Mead as part of an interstate agreement enacted in 2007.

Mexico started banking water in the lake a few years later, after a major earthquake in April 2010 damaged canals and pipelines that country uses to divert water from the Colorado south of the border. A treaty amendment struck in 2012 expanded Mexico’s ability to store water in the reservoir.

There are restrictions on how much of the banked water, officially known as Intentionally Created Surplus, can be taken out in a single year. California’s annual withdrawals are capped at 400,000 acre-feet, Nevada’s at 300,000 acre-feet. The bank cannot be tapped during a declared shortage on the river or if federal officials determine that a withdrawal would tip the river into shortage.

All Intentionally Created Surplus accounts are subject to a 3 percent reduction each year — call it a bank fee — to account for evaporation.

Since the program began, the Southern Nevada Water Authority has socked away some 540,000 acre-feet and used about 16,000 acre-feet, leaving it with the largest bank account right now. Metropolitan has stored more water than the authority, but Southern California has withdrawn more of its water…

The surface of the lake has fallen more than 100 feet over the past 12 years amid persistent drought on the overtaxed Colorado River. If the lake level drops another 35 feet, it will trigger the first federal shortage declaration and force Arizona and Nevada to trim their use of river water. If the lake drops 60 feet, the authority will lose the use of one of two intake pipes that supply the Las Vegas Valley with nearly all of its water.

Current projections by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation call for Lake Mead to shrink by 20 feet by the end of the year and 30 feet by April 2015, when it could hit a record low. For now, though, the lake is expected to hover just above the trigger point for a federal shortage at least through January 2016.

In other words, just a few extra feet of water in Lake Mead could make a big difference.

Even so, Davis said Southern Nevada officials have made no effort to dissuade their counterparts in California from making a withdrawal from the water bank.

“It’s for a rainy day, or rather a non-rainy day,” he said. “If you want to create a banking system and you want people to participate in it, you can’t admonish them every time they make a withdrawal. That’s the whole point of a banking system: to give people the flexibility to take the water when they need it.”[...]

Gov. Jerry Brown declared a statewide drought emergency in January, and Met’s board of directors followed that last month by issuing a water supply alert to spur conservation ahead of possible mandatory water-use restrictions.

Conditions have been so bad that Met won’t be allowed to take any water this year from the State Water Project that links Southern California to rivers and lakes some 500 miles to the north.

“We are relying heavily on the Colorado River,” Hasencamp said.

Met, as his agency is commonly known, supplies about half of the water used by 19 million Southern California residents. It serves 26 member utilities in six counties spanning an area that stretches from the Mexican border to Oxnard, north of Los Angeles, and from the coast to the Inland Empire.

Agency spokesman Bob Muir said Met currently has about 2.4 million acre-feet of water stored in “various accounts,” enough to meet its demand for a little more than one year.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.

Conversation with James Newberry (Colorado River District @ColoradoWater) via Sky-Hi Daily News #ColoradoRiver

February 23, 2014
Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013

Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013

From the Sky-Hi Daily News (Leia Larsen):

James Newberry is starting his second year as the Colorado River District board president, and has represented Grand County on the board since 2004. Through his time on the board and serving as a county commissioner, Newberry has made protecting the area’s valuable water resources a high priority.

Chief among water concerns are developing Colorado’s first water plan, which is currently being drafted, and obligations from the 1922 Colorado River Compact. As drought menaces water supplies in downstream states, those obligations could spell trouble for those living at the Colorado River’s headwaters in Grand County. Newberry spoke about the challenges facing the state’s water supply and thoughts about our water future.

What are you goals as president of the Colorado River District board for the coming year?

I don’t know it’s a goal, but what’s been laid out in front of us is the Colorado water plan, and we as a district have been involved in formulation of that plan. We’re also looking into compact calls to lower basin states, and how that integrates into the Colorado water plan. For example, how do we match up being able to divide up water on the East and West slopes within Colorado, while still managing those compact agreements? I think the Colorado River District will be a leader in advocating for different methods, such as water banking and risk-management in the different river basins. Statewide, we’re looking at what it means to develop a water plan while meeting a compact call, should it go into place. As a river district, we don’t believe it’s just a West Slope issue.

Explain the problems Grand County could face from drought issues farther downstream.

That truly is the problem with a compact call. The only water rights that wouldn’t be subjected to a compact call are those made before 1922, the very senior water rights. Some people say if we get compact calls it’s great for Grand County, because not as much water will go to the Front Range as we send it down river to meet our obligations. But there are going to be a lot of junior rights that people wouldn’t be able to use.

The bottom line is, it works in all water users’ interests to work on a water plan. That way if there is a call, we’ll have water stored up or credited, and we can work out those preexisting diversions.

One thing the Colorado River District is fighting for is to make sure whatever the risk of that future that call is, it’s not just going to be the West Slope bearing the brunt of meeting compact obligations downstream.

The West’s water future is looking grim. Is there anything that makes you feel optimistic?

We’re now taking a hard look at the water situation we’ll have in the future. When they decided the Colorado River Compact, it was one of the wettest periods in the history of the Colorado River. I don’t think that model is viable. Whether you believe in climate change and its effects or not, maybe this is making us aware of the amount of water we really do have, and it’s getting us to do a better job of managing it. Is that optimism? Maybe not, but it’s the reality we’re facing.

What projects are you advocating to increase conservation of Colorado River water?

We’re always looking at ways of conservation. In the next 30 years or so, the state projects we’re going to have a 500,000-acre-foot water shortage. One of our engineers looked at the study (the Statewide Water Supply Initiative 2010), then turned around and said we could address that gap without further diversions from the West Slope, some of that through conservation. There is no ‘new water,’ and we’ll have to go back to conservation, like installing low-flow faucets and lining irrigating ditches. We’re always backing ways to better use water we have.

Are there any accomplishments you’re proud of during your time on the Colorado River District board?

I think the involvement with the Windy Gap firming project in Grand County. Without the river district, I don’t know how far we would’ve gotten back at the federal level and the Bureau of Reclamation, the heavy hitters, without their help.

The Colorado River District has also been heavily involved in Vail Ditch water shares and trying to move water to the upper Fraser River. And they’ve done a huge amount of work on the Colorado River here. The river district basically came into existence to be a watchdog on the Colorado-Big Thompson project. That’s truly the root of their existence, and we have held true to that. For example, we’re working on water clarity in Grand Lake, and the river district is helping hand-in-hand.

More Colorado River Water Conservancy District coverage here.

‘But the train is going down the track pretty fast here’ — Doug Monger #COWaterPlan

February 15, 2014

Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer's office

Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer’s office

From Steamboat Today (Tom Ross):

If December 2015 sounds like it’s in the distant future, consider that the first deadline for the combined Yampa, White and Green river basins to produce their initial draft is July. A final draft plan is due by December, allowing another full year before the final plan must be on the governor’s desk. So the work is underway, and the clock is ticking on a plan that will affect future generations of Coloradans.

“The deadlines are a little disconcerting for us,” Routt County Commissioner Doug Monger told an audience of about 100 people Thursday night in Steamboat Springs. “We’ve been in the process for eight years. We’ve plotted out sections of rivers and streams and what characteristics they have. But the train is going down the track pretty fast here.”

When Monger uses the pronoun “we,” he is referring to government leaders and citizens serving on the Yampa, White and Green River Basin Roundtable. He also is a member of the roundtable and recently filled a seat on the board of directors of the Colorado River District.

Steamboat Springs attorney Tom Sharp previously was on that board.

This week’s meeting was one of several more to come seeking public input about the complex challenge of how to provide enough water in an era of declining precipitation and reservoir levels across the semi-arid West even as population projections are on the rise…

Gallagher said it’s not unlikely that basins will identify what he called “low regret water projects” that will boost available water supply in the future as Colorado learns to do more with less water.

It’s also likely that a variety of basins will be covetous of unappropriated water in the Yampa River Basin.

“The real questions is how we would cover a shortfall if we don’t have enough water supply,” even with new water projects and processes in place, Gallagher said.

He observed that in recent years, Colorado’s urban corridor has addressed shortfalls by purchasing water transfers from agricultural rights holders. The resulting reduction in ag land under production is sure to become a topic of discussion between now and December 2015, he said…

And that is the the challenge that faces Colorado together with Wyoming, Utah, Nevada, California and parts of New Mexico and Arizona in the next few years.

“We have a burden and the necessity to develop the water,” Monger said. “Not only are we a highly at-risk (basin) because we are probably the least populated, but we’re the last to settle. We’re the last in appropriations. We have very few pre (1922) compact rights versus a lot of the other areas” of Colorado.

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.

Drought news: Many Colorado eyes are watching the southwestern US drought #COdrought #ColoradoRiver

February 14, 2014

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Colorado officials are worried that declining levels in reservoirs on the Colorado River could have an impact within the state.

“The storage in Lake Powell is going down, after 2012-13, two of the driest years on record,” said John McClow, a Gunnison attorney who represents the state on compact matters.

McClow gave an overview of the Colorado River Compact to the Arkansas Basin Roundtable Thursday, saying that good snowpack could provide much-needed moisture to stop the decline of Lake Powell levels at least for a year. Under the compact, upper basin states — Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming — have an obligation to deliver a certain amount of water to lower basin states — Arizona, California and Nevada. While the compact is open to interpretation, the upper basin state has never failed to deliver the required amount. But if the drought of the last decade continues, there is a danger that there could be a shortfall sometime in the next decade.

“That’s not a prediction, but a worst-case scenario,” McClow said.

To prepare for that, the upper basin states have held strategy meetings that would use either coordinate releases from Flaming Gorge, Navajo and Blue Mesa reservoirs to provide water to Lake Powell, as intended under congressional laws surrounding the compact, or curtail use within the states.

While the amount of water delivered remains a numbers game, the political reality could be that Congress would not turn off water to California or Las Vegas.

In 2007, all seven states agreed to a plan to share shortages. It requires balancing Lake Powell and Lake Mead. However, the two lakes’ combined storage is at its lowest point since 1968.

The water level in Lake Mead is approaching the point where it will drop below its second intake, which could trigger releases from Lake Powell.

Las Vegas is spending $800 million to tunnel under Lake Mead to build its third intake, but that won’t be completed until at least 2015.

If Lake Powell levels drop, Colorado and the other basin states could be affected by the loss of hydropower generation. While 5.8 million people receive power from Lake Powell, the revenues from that power also help fund endangered fish programs, McClow said.

‘A Year of Threats Looms for Western Rivers’ — Doug Pflugh #ColoradoRiver

January 26, 2014
Western US

Western US

From EarthJustice.org (Doug Pflugh):

We’re less than a month in, but 2014 is already shaping up to be a tough year for rivers. Across the nation, from West Virginia to California, the headlines have been bleak. In the Rocky Mountain region, we’re gearing up for a long year defending the Colorado and San Pedro rivers.

Following recognition as America’s most endangered river in 2013, the Colorado River has become known nationwide for the unsustainable balance that exists between increasing diversions and declining flows. Much of the West has been built on a foundation of Colorado River water and millions of people in communities throughout the region depend on it on a daily basis. On-going regional drought and continued growth are now finally forcing water supply managers to accept that business as usual is no longer tenable and changes are coming to the basin.

This year will see the first mandated reduction in flows from Lake Powell (upper basin) downstream to Lake Mead (lower basin). The Bureau of Reclamation, the federal agency that oversees the Colorado River “system,” now reports that there are even odds that water from Lake Mead will be rationed by 2015—an outcome that may be predicated on this year’s snowfall.

Under the byzantine mechanism that is the Colorado River water supply system, water providers have grown accustomed to taking what they want, when they want. And even though the agreement that underlies the system, the Colorado River Compact, is based on a fundamental mistake—it allocated far more water than is actually available, even before considering what climate change will do to the river’s flows—making these minor changes has required historic and traumatic efforts.

In the face of the ongoing wrestling match over who gets what water from the Colorado River, Earthjustice and our conservation partners are working to keep water in the Colorado source-to-sea. It is imperative that we remember that the river is more than a sponge that can be wrung dry to meet our municipal, industrial and agricultural needs. The Colorado River is home to endangered species and the linchpin of a complex regional ecosystem supporting irreplaceable wildlife and natural communities. Arising in the mountains of Wyoming and Colorado and cutting across an arid region to the Gulf of California, this river is the lifeblood of its region like no other. The Colorado is also host to numerous recreational and economic opportunities, a vital element of our region, but only as long as it flows.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.

#ColoradoRiver Drought Forces a Painful Reckoning for States — New York Times

January 6, 2014
Glen Canyon Dam -- Photo / Brad Udall

Glen Canyon Dam — Photo / Brad Udall

From The New York Times (Michael Wines):

The once broad and blue river has in many places dwindled to a murky brown trickle. Reservoirs have shrunk to less than half their capacities, the canyon walls around them ringed with white mineral deposits where water once lapped. Seeking to stretch their allotments of the river, regional water agencies are recycling sewage effluent, offering rebates to tear up grass lawns and subsidizing less thirsty appliances from dishwashers to shower heads.

But many experts believe the current drought is only the harbinger of a new, drier era in which the Colorado’s flow will be substantially and permanently diminished.

Faced with the shortage, federal authorities this year will for the first time decrease the amount of water that flows into Lake Mead, the nation’s largest reservoir, from Lake Powell 180 miles upstream. That will reduce even more the level of Lake Mead, a crucial source of water for cities from Las Vegas to Los Angeles and for millions of acres of farmland.

Reclamation officials say there is a 50-50 chance that by 2015, Lake Mead’s water will be rationed to states downstream. That, too, has never happened before.

“If Lake Mead goes below elevation 1,000” — 1,000 feet above sea level — “we lose any capacity to pump water to serve the municipal needs of seven in 10 people in the state of Nevada,” said John Entsminger, the senior deputy general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority.

Since 2008, Mr. Entsminger’s agency has been drilling an $817 million tunnel under Lake Mead — a third attempt to capture more water as two higher tunnels have become threatened by the lake’s falling level. In September, faced with the prospect that one of the tunnels could run dry before the third one was completed, the authority took emergency measures: still another tunnel, this one to stretch the life of the most threatened intake until construction of the third one is finished.

These new realities are forcing a profound reassessment of how the 1,450-mile Colorado, the Southwest’s only major river, can continue to slake the thirst of one of the nation’s fastest-growing regions. Agriculture, from California’s Imperial Valley to Wyoming’s cattle herds, soaks up about three-quarters of its water, and produces 15 percent of the nation’s food. But 40 million people also depend on the river and its tributaries, and their numbers are rising rapidly…

The Colorado basin states tried in the 1920s to stave off future fights over water by splitting it, 50-50, between the upper-basin states of Utah, New Mexico, Colorado and Wyoming and the lower-basin states of Arizona, Nevada and California.

In fact, the deal underestimated how much water the fast-growing lower-basin states would need. During most of the wet 20th century, however, the river usually produced more than enough water to offset any shortage.

Now, the gap between need and supply is becoming untenable.

Lake Mead currently stands about 1,106 feet above sea level, and is expected to drop 20 feet in 2014. A continued decline would introduce a new set of problems: At 1,075 feet, rationing begins; at 1,050 feet, a more drastic rationing regime kicks in, and the uppermost water intake for Las Vegas shuts down. At 1,025 feet, rationing grows more draconian; at 1,000 feet, a second Las Vegas intake runs dry.

Lake Powell is another story. There, a 100-foot drop would shut down generators that supply enough electricity to power 350,000 homes.

The federal Bureau of Reclamation’s 24-month forecasts of water levels at Powell and Mead do not contemplate such steep declines. But neither did they foresee the current drought.

“We can’t depend on history to project the future anymore,” Carly Jerla, a geological hydrologist and the reclamation bureau’s Colorado River expert, said in an interview. The drought could end tomorrow, she said — or it could drag on for seven more years…

Should Mead continue to fall, Arizona would lose more than half of its Colorado River water before California lost so much as a drop.

That would have a cascading effect. The Central Arizona Project would lose revenue it gets from selling water, which would raise the price of water to remaining customers, leading farmers to return to pumping groundwater for irrigation — exactly what the Central Arizona Project was supposed to prevent.

“By going back to the pumps, you’ll have made the decision that agriculture will no longer be an industry in central Arizona,” David Modeer, the project’s general manager, said in an interview.

Even Californians doubt Arizona would stand for that, but no successor to the 1960s agreement is in place. And California has a vital interest in holding on to its full allotment of water. The Southern California region using Colorado water is expected to add six million people to the existing 19 million in the next 45 years, and its other water source — the Sierra Nevada to the north — is suffering the same drought and climate problems as the Colorado basin…

That leaves conservation, a tack the lower-basin states already are pursuing. Arizona farmers reduce runoff, for example, by using laser technology to ensure that their fields are table flat. The state consumes essentially as much water today as in 1955, even as its population has grown nearly twelvefold.

Working to reduce water consumption by 20 percent per person from 2010 to 2020, Southern California’s Metropolitan Water District is recycling sewage effluent, giving away high-efficiency water nozzles and subsidizing items like artificial turf and zero-water urinals.

Southern Nevada’s water-saving measures are in some ways most impressive of all: Virtually all water used indoors, from home dishwashers to the toilets and bathtubs used by the 40 million tourists who visit Las Vegas each year, is treated and returned to Lake Mead. Officials here boast that everyone could take a 20-minute shower every day without increasing the city’s water consumption by a drop.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.

#ColoradoRiver Basin: “The definition of adequate supply is changing” — Harry Saltzgaver

December 21, 2013
Colorado River Basin including out of basin demands -- Graphic/USBR

Colorado River Basin including out of basin demands — Graphic/USBR

From Gazzettes.com (Harry Saltzgaver):

I took a few days off last week to attend the Colorado River Water Users Association’s annual meeting. Yes, this is my idea of a vacation…

The upper Colorado Basin, where all that liquid life starts as snow and mountain springs, is suffering a long-term drought similar to, and in ways exceeding, what we’ve experienced in California. Lake Powell and Lake Mead, the two primary water storage reservoirs on the river, look like half-empty bathtubs. They have been slowly drained over the last two decades as users tried to keep land and cities from drying up.

Things are getting critical now, 15 years into a long-term drought. The powers that be are spending hundreds of millions on a three-mile-long tunnel under Lake Mead to get to a spot where water can still be taken out of the reservoir when it’s less than half full.

The Law of The River, called the Colorado River Compact, calls for limiting the amount of water released from Powell and Mead when they get below certain levels. Those levels likely will be reached in 2016.

Moreover, Mead will continue to drop even if “normal” amounts of water are released from Lake Powell. Users are taking out almost 10% more than is coming in, year in and year out.

Except for cloud seeding or rain dances (about equally effective), there is no way to increase the amount of water in the Colorado River. The only solution is to use less — conservation, in other words.

The folks who rely solely on the Colorado have accepted that reality. Farmers talk more about new irrigation techniques than the price of hay. In Nevada and Arizona, desert metropolises have permanent water restrictions, from landscape use to water served at restaurants, and recycling water is an art form. You didn’t think all those Las Vegas fountains really just used water once, did you?

As I mentioned, California and Long Beach are blessed with multiple sources of water. But the concept — and the reality — is the same. We have a finite amount of water, and an ever-increasing population looking for its share. The only long-term solution to limited supply is reducing demand — increasing conservation. We need to learn how to live with less water than we use today.

Long Beach Water is committed to providing an adequate supply of safe water to all of our residents, now and in the future. But be prepared — the definition of adequate supply is changing.

That’s the lesson of the Colorado, and one we need to embrace sooner rather than later.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.

‘Denver-West Slope water agreement finally final’ — Glenwood Springs Post Independent #ColoradoRiver

December 4, 2013
Moffat Collection System Project/Windy Gap Firming Project via the Boulder Daily Camera

Moffat Collection System Project/Windy Gap Firming Project via the Boulder Daily Camera

From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Hannah Holm):

Denver can take a little more water from the Colorado River’s headwaters to increase the reliability of its system, but won’t develop any new transmountain diversions without West Slope agreement and will help repair damage from past diversions.

Those are some of the key provisions in the Colorado Cooperative Agreement between Denver Water and 42 West Slope water providers and local governments from the Grand Valley to Grand County.

The Colorado Cooperative Agreement covers a whole suite of issues related to Denver’s diversion of water from the Fraser and Blue River drainages, tributaries to the Colorado River. In October, with little fanfare, this historic agreement received its final signatures and was fully executed. It took five years of mediation and nearly two years of ironing out the details with state and federal agencies, against a backdrop of decades of litigation, to get to this point.

According to material from the Colorado River District’s latest quarterly meeting, the agreement, “is the direct result of Denver Water’s desire to expand its Moffat Tunnel transmountain water supply from the Fraser River in Grand County and to enlarge Gross Reservoir in Boulder County.” This project is expected to divert, on average, approximately 18,000 acre feet/year of water beyond the average of 58,000 acre feet/year it already diverts, which amounts to about 60% of the natural flow in the Fraser River at Winter Park.

Under the agreement, the West Slope parties agreed not to oppose the increased Moffat Collection System diversions, and Denver Water agreed not to expand its service area and not to develop new water projects on the West Slope without the agreement of the resident counties and the Colorado River District. The agreement also includes dozens of other provisions designed to limit water demands in Denver and address water quality and flow conditions in the Colorado River and its tributaries. Here’s a sampling:

Denver will contribute both water releases and several million dollars for a “learning by doing” project to improve aquatic habitat in Grand County. The project will be managed by representatives from Denver Water, Grand County, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, Trout Unlimited and other water users.

Denver will not exercise its rights to reduce bypass flows from Dillon Reservoir and its collection system in Grand County during droughts unless it has banned residential lawn watering in its service area.

Diversions and reservoirs operated by both Denver Water and West Slope parties will be operated as if the Shoshone hydroelectric power plant in Glenwood Canyon were calling for its (very senior) water right, even at times when the plant is down. This is important for recreational and environmental flows in the river, as well as for junior water users downstream from plant.

Denver Water will pay $1.5 million for water supply, water quality or water infrastructure projects benefiting the Grand Valley, and $500,000 to offset additional costs for water treatment in Garfield County when the Shoshone call is relaxed due to drought conditions.

A similar agreement is under development between West Slope entities and Northern Water, which currently diverts about 220,000 acre feet/year of water from the Upper Colorado River to the Front Range through the Colorado Big Thompson Project. Like the Colorado Cooperative Agreement, the Windy Gap Firming Project Intergovernmental Agreement trades West Slope non-opposition to increased transmountain diversions for mitigations to address the impacts of both past and future stream depletions.

Both the Colorado Cooperative Agreement and the Windy Gap Firming Project Intergovernmental Agreement have been hailed as models of cooperation. Meanwhile, East Slope – West Slope tensions continue to mount over how the Colorado Water Plan, currently under development, should address the possibility of additional diversions of water from the West Slope to meet growing urban demands on the Front Range. These agreements demonstrate that such tensions can be overcome, but also that it could take more time than allowed by the 2015 deadline Gov. Hickenlooper has set for completion of the Colorado Water Plan.

Full details on the Colorado Cooperative Agreement can be found on the River District’s website, under “features” at http://www.crwcd.org/. More information on the Colorado Water Plan can be found at http://coloradowaterplan.com/.

More Colorado River Cooperative Agreement coverage here.

Text of the Colorado Basin Roundtable white paper for the IBCC and Colorado Water Plan

December 3, 2013
New supply development concepts via the Front Range roundtables

New supply development concepts via the Front Range roundtables

Here’s the text from the recently approved draft of the white paper:

The Colorado River Basin is the “heart” of Colorado. The basin holds the headwaters of the Colorado River that form the mainstem of the river, some of the state’s most significant agriculture, the largest West Slope city and a large, expanding energy industry. The Colorado Basin is home to the most-visited national forest and much of Colorado’s recreation-based economy, including significant river-based recreation.

Colorado’s population is projected by the State Demographer’s Office to nearly double by 2050, from the five million people we have today to nearly ten million. Most of the growth is expected to be along the Front Range urban corridor; however the fastest growth is expected to occur along the I-70 corridor within the Colorado Basin.

Read the rest of this entry »

‘Don’t goddamn come here [#ColoradoRiver Basin] any more’ — Lurline Curran

December 3, 2013
Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer's office

Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer’s office

Here’s an article about the white paper approved last week by the Colorado Basin Roundtable, from Brent Gardner-Smith writing for Aspen Journalism. Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

“Don’t goddamn come here any more,” was the way Lurline Curran, county manager of Grand County, summed up the roundtable’s position just before the group voted to approve a white paper it has been working on for months.

“We’re trying to tell you, Front Range: Don’t count on us,” Curran said. “Don’t be counting on us to make up all the shortages.”

The actual paper crafted by the Colorado roundtable states its case in a more diplomatic fashion, but it is still blunt.

“The notion that increasing demands on the Front Range can always be met with a new supply from the Colorado River, or any other river, (is) no longer valid,” the position paper states…

“There is going to have to be a discussion and plan for developing a new West Slope water supply,” the South Platte roundtable stated in a June memo directed to Committee.

Together, the South Platte, Metro and Arkansas roundtables are pushing that discussion. They’re asking the state to preserve the option to build “several” 100,000 to 250,000 acre-foot projects on the Green River at Flaming Gorge Reservoir, the lower Yampa River, and/or the Gunnison River at Blue Mesa Reservoir…

On Nov. 25, the members of the Colorado River roundtable clearly wanted to inform the Committee that they don’t support the idea of new Western Slope projects.

Jim Pokrandt, a communications executive at the Colorado River District who chairs the Colorado roundtable, said the group’s paper, directed to the Committee, was “an answer to position statements put out by other basin roundtables.”

The Committee’s eventual analysis is expected to shape a draft statewide Colorado Water Plan, which is supposed to be on the governor’s desk via the Committee and the Colorado Water Conservation Board in 12 months.

And while there has been a decades-long discussion in Colorado about the merits of moving water from the Western Slope to the Front Range, the language in the position papers, and the roundtable meetings, is getting sharper as the state water plan now takes shape.

“It’s not ‘don’t take one more drop,’ but it is as close as we can get,” said Ken Neubecker, the environmental representative on the Colorado roundtable, about the group’s current position.

The paper itself advises, “the scenic nature and recreational uses of our rivers are as important to the West Slope as suburban development and service industry businesses are to the Front Range. They are not and should not be seen as second-class water rights, which Colorado can preserve the option of removing at the behest of Front Range indulgences.”

That’s certainly in contrast to the vision of the South Platte, Metro and Arkansas basin roundtables, which in a draft joint statement in July said that the way to meet the “east slope municipal supply gap” is to develop “state water projects using Colorado River water for municipal uses on the East and West slopes.”[...]

The white paper from the Colorado roundtable states that “new supply” is a euphemism for “a new transmountain diversion from the Colorado River system.”

“This option must be the last option,” the paper notes.

Instead of new expensive Western Slope water projects, the paper calls for more water conservation and “intelligent land use” on the Front Range.

It goes on to note that Front Range interests are actively pursuing the expansion of existing transmountain diversions — many of which are likely to be blessed by the Committee because they are already in the works.

It says the Western Slope has its own water gap, as the growing demands of agriculture, energy development, population growth and river ecosystems are coming together in the face of climate change.

It calls for reform to the state’s water laws, so it is easier to leave water in Western Slope rivers for environmental reasons, and it rejects the Front Range’s call to streamline the review process for new water projects.

“Streamlining as a means of forcing West Slope acquiescence to any new supply project ‘for the good of the state’ is unacceptable,” the paper states.

Finally, the document advises the state not to endorse or get behind a Western Slope water project unless it “has been agreed to by the impacted counties, conservancy districts and conservation districts from which water would be diverted.”

More IBCC — basin roundtables coverage here. More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.

‘Keeping the last wild river in the [#ColoradoRiver] Basin intact is important to a healthy environment’ — Susan Bruce

December 2, 2013
Yampa River Basin via the Colorado Geological Survey

Yampa River Basin via the Colorado Geological Survey

Here’s a post arguing to keep the Yampa River riparian system as a baseline for a healthy river from Susan Bruce writing for the Earth Island Journal. Here’s an excerpt:

Governor John Hickenlooper’s directive to the Colorado Water Conservation Board earlier this year to create a Colorado Water Plan by 2015 has put the Yampa, which has the second largest watershed in the state, under the spotlight.

Efforts to dam the Yampa go back to the proposed construction of Echo Park Dam, which Congress vetoed in 1952, bowing to a groundswell of public outcry led by David Brower, then with the Sierra Club. But in a compromise he later regretted, Brower supported the construction of two other dams: Glen Canyon on the Colorado River and Flaming Gorge on the Green River. The Green and Yampa rivers used to have similar flows and ecosystems. The construction of the Flaming Gorge Dam in 1962 modified the Green’s hydrograph, reducing sediment flow by half and tapering its seasonal fluctuations to a slower, more consistent flow, opening the way for invasive species like the tamarisk tree to crowd out native ones.

More recently, in 2006, there was a proposal to build a reservoir near Maybell, CO, and pump water from the Yampa to a reservoir about 230 miles away for municipal and agricultural use on the Front Range. But the plan was scrapped due to environmental and cost concerns; the reservoir would have cost between $3 billion and $5 billion.

The oil and gas industry is also eyeing the Yampa. Shell Oil had plans to pump about 8 percent of the Yampa’s high-water flow to fill a 1,000-acre reservoir, but it shelved the proposal in 2010, citing a slowdown of its oil-shale development program. Still, oil production in Colorado is at its highest level since 1957 and gas production at an all-time high. While industrial and municipal water needs are projected to increase with population growth, the largest water user, agriculture, will continue to divert the lion’s share of Colorado’s water, around 80 percent. All of which mean the pressure to suck up Yampa’s water is only going to grow.

The most unique characteristic of the Yampa is its wild and unimpeded flow, in particular the extensive spring flooding that washes away sediment, giving the river its brownish hue. This “river dance” helps establish new streamside forests, wetlands, and sandy beaches, as well as shallows that support species like the endangered Colorado pikeminnow and razorback sucker. By late fall, the water barely covers the riverbed in some stretches…

The rafting industry, which contributes more than $150 million to Colorado’s economy, has a strong voice when it comes to the Yampa’s future. Although damming the Yampa would provide a more consistent flow over a longer season, George Wendt – founder of OARS, the largest rafting company in the world – speaks for most outfitters when he says he would rather see the Yampa retain its natural state.

Conservationists also argue that the Yampa’s full flow helps meet Colorado’s legal obligation to provide water to the seven states within the Colorado Basin and Mexico. Measures being considered to protect the Yampa include an instream flow appropriation by the Colorado Water Conservation Board that would reserve Yampa’s water for the natural function of rivers, and a Wild and Scenic River designation by Congress.

Many proponents of keeping the Yampa wild point to its value as a baseline – an ecosystem naturally in balance. “If things go awry on dammed rivers, which they do, we have a control river, so to speak,” says Kent Vertrees of The Friends of the Yampa. “Keeping the last wild river in the Colorado Basin intact is important to a healthy environment and so future generations can experience in situ millions of years of history little changed by man.”

More Yampa River Basin coverage here and here.

Ed Quillen: Water principles of the West begin with blaming California

November 27, 2013
Upper Basin States vs. Lower Basin circa 1925 via CSU Water Resources Archives

Upper Basin States vs. Lower Basin circa 1925 via CSU Water Resources Archives

Coyote Gulch reader Greg sent this link to an Ed Quillen column from the High Country News from April 28, 2003. Greg writes, “Ten years past and its more valid today, than the day Ed wrote it.” Here’s an excerpt:

The new water principles, codified earlier this year after lengthy discussion, contain all the proper modern buzzwords, like “consensus” and “respect.” Who could find fault with “the implementation of consensus-based water resource solutions that respect local authorities”? Or with “maintaining the proper stewardship of the land”? Or with “earnest efforts to find water supply answers that benefit all Coloradans, for this and future generations”?

In other words, these principles are about as controversial as safe streets and neighborhood schools. But there is a problem, and that is that they ignore the traditional principles that have, for the last century or so, pretty well defined water policy in the West.

Thus it only seems proper, if we’re going to adopt some New Water Principles, to remember our Traditional Western Water Principles:

Whenever there’s a water problem, it is always the fault of California. When mountain streams are flooding, it’s because California won’t let new dams be built in the Rockies. When the mountain reservoirs are shrinking, it’s because California keeps taking water it is supposed to get under the 1922 Colorado River Compact. California is a safe party to blame, because it’s so big and rich that nobody there needs to care what we say about it. Besides, it’s a Democratic domain, and our Republican officials need to blame somebody.

In all water development, the federal government should cover most of the cost, and preferably the entire tab. After all, the Winning of the West has been a national priority since about 1777, and there’s no reason to stop now.

No water project is ever built to assist developers and subdividers. Even if they’re the ones who will benefit the most, the official purpose will be to benefit hardscrabble farmers, struggling ranchers or Native Americans.

If there’s not enough water to serve new developments, then current users should make sacrifices. In other words, the more water you conserve, the more water that will be available for big-box stores, shopping malls and sprawling suburbs. These developments generally increase your cost of living and reduce your quality of life, but you will be told that “we’re all in this together” and you’ll be seen as rather churlish and mean-spirited if you object to killing your last tree so that Vista Heights Gated Golf Course Community can continue selling lots.

Any solutions to water-supply problems should feature new structures (dams and reservoirs are best, but canals and tunnels are acceptable) which can be named after their political sponsors — i.e., Hoover Dam in Nevada, Alva Adams Tunnel in Colorado, Theodore Roosevelt Dam in Arizona. Water projects need political support, and it’s easier to get it with the imposing Sen. Josiah R. Claghorn Dam and Reservoir than with the Claghorn-Smith Instream Flow Protection Act of 2003. Construction can confer a degree of immortality on a public servant. It also shows the constituents that they’re getting their fair share from the pork barrel, and that’s important, especially in election years.

These are the principal principles that have guided Western water development over the years, and it seems odd that they were not addressed by the people who came up with the new and improved water principles.

But on the other hand, that could be because no one has ever figured out how to repeal the supreme law of our hydrology, first articulated by John A. Love, a Republican who served as governor of Colorado from 1963 to 1973: “Water flows uphill to money.”

We’re at it again: More Colorado Water Plan coverage here. And so it goes.

‘The [Colorado Water Plan] needs your input’ — Hannah Holm #ColoradoRiver

November 26, 2013
Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013

Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013

From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Hannah Holm):

How will Colorado share the Colorado River? How much irrigated land will be dried up to slake the thirst of growing cities? How far should the state and local governments go in requiring residents to conserve?

These are some of the questions that will be addressed in Colorado’s statewide water plan, which is currently under development. Back in May, Gov. Hickenlooper ordered the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) to develop a draft plan by Dec. 10, 2014, which is to be finalized by Dec. 10, 2015…

Both the CWCB and the Basin Roundtables are now seeking public input on the plan. There’s a survey link at the end of this article for you to provide general input, and future articles and surveys will address more specific issues.

First, though, let’s consider this basic question – why does Colorado need a water plan?

The Governor’s Executive Order notes that the gap between the state’s developed water supplies and growing urban demands could exceed 500,000 acre feet by 2050 (an acre foot is about enough for 2-3 families for a year at current usage rates). The biggest gap is anticipated in the South Platte River Basin, home to Colorado’s largest cities. A central challenge for the water plan is to fill the gap in a way that matches Colorado’s values. That’s a tough nut to crack.

The easiest way for cities to fill that gap is by taking it from agriculture, which currently accounts for about 85% of the water consumed in the state. But there’s a heavy price to pay for continuing to rely on that approach. A state water supply study released in 2010 projected a 15-20% decline in irrigated acreage statewide by 2050, with a 22-32% decline in the South Platte Basin over the same period. “Buying and drying” of agricultural water rights has already devastated some rural communities, and most stakeholders agree that this should be minimized in the future.

If not from agriculture, then where? East Slope Roundtables have been arguing for the need to preserve the option to develop additional West Slope water supplies. West Slope Roundtables point to environmental and economic impacts already felt from the roughly 500,000 acre-feet/year already transferred across the divide each year. More than 60% of the natural flows of the Upper Colorado River above Kremmling, for example, are diverted to the Front Range, impacting both Grand County building permits and gold medal trout streams.

Another concern is that increased depletions from the Colorado River and its tributaries would increase the risk of failing to meet legal obligations to downstream states. If downstream flow obligations are not met, water rights junior to the 1922 Compact between Upper Colorado River Basin states (Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and Wyoming) and Lower Colorado River Basin States (Arizona, Nevada and California) on how to share the river could be curtailed. If that means cutting off urban taps, it could set off a mad scramble for senior agricultural water rights on the West Slope.

Of course, neither drying up irrigated agriculture nor putting another straw into the Colorado Basin would be necessary if urban users reduced their consumption sufficiently. But how to achieve that isn’t easy either. Updated fixtures and education campaigns are a good start, but conserving enough to eliminate the need for other water sources would likely be impossible without the broad application of land-use and landscaping restrictions that may not be politically palatable.

There are no easy answers to the state’s large-scale water challenges. Creative solutions are needed to find more “win-win” solutions, with less of a need for losers – but hard choices may still need to be made. The more people that contribute their insights and opinions, the better the chances are that the final plan will fully reflect Colorado’s water values.

To begin contributing your insights to your Basin Roundtable and the CWCB, fill out this quick survey: https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/ColoBasinPlanValues.

If you want to get a little more background first, check out the new Colorado Water Plan website at http://www.coloradowaterplan.com/.

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.

Bureau of Reclamation: On this day in 1922, the Colorado River Compact was signed

November 24, 2013

More Colorado River Compact coverage here and here. More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.

‘Simon Rifkind’s great mistake and the shortfall on the #ColoradoRiver’ — John Fleck

November 18, 2013
Colorado River Aqueduct via Wikipedia

Colorado River Aqueduct via Wikipedia

Here’s an in-depth look at Special Master Simon Rifkind’s decision about Colorado River streamflow back in the early 1960s from John Fleck posted on instain. Click through and read the whole post for all the gory detail. Here’s an excerpt:

In 1960, U.S. Supreme Court Special Master Simon Rifkind made a fundamental mistake in calculating how much water was then available in the Colorado River Basin, and how much might be available in the future. The court, in its ruling in the case of Arizona v. California, accepted Rifkind’s math. The consequence is a shortage on the Colorado River relative to the expectations of the nine states (seven in the U.S., two in Mexico) that share it.

But it also was a fundamental mistake for the water users in the Lower Colorado River Basin to not recognize the flaw in Rifkind’s math and act accordingly. That second mistake, more than Rifkind’s, is the cause of our current troubles…

So right off the bat, according to [Lawrence MacDonnell's] analysis, you’ve got what a “losing reach” between Lee Ferry and the users of Nevada, Arizona and California. That whole 7.5 million acre feet will not be available for the downstream users. But it gets worse. You’ve also got to add in water needed to meet the 1.5 million acre foot U.S. obligation to Mexico. Once all the puts and takes are added in (I encourage you to read MacDonnell’s paper (pdf), pp 395-396 for the full details).

More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.

Statewide Water Plan: ‘We’ve been punched in the face repeatedly [In water fights]‘ — Steve Acquafresca

November 8, 2013

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

Colorado can get some of the best of two water worlds, the head of the state agency in charge of water said Thursday. A state water plan can protect private property rights and make it possible for state action, said James Eklund, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, at the Upper Colorado River Basin Water Conference at Colorado Mesa University.

West Slope water agencies, however, are likely to be skeptical about any effort ostensibly aimed at a statewide approach to water planning, Mesa County Commissioner Steve Acquafresca responded.

“We’ve been punched in the face repeatedly” in water fights, Acquafresca said.

Even now, the phrase “state water plan” is being interpreted on the Front Range to mean another transmountain diversion and West Slope water agencies will keep that in mind as they join in talks on a water plan, Acquafresca said,

Eklund, whose family settled in Mesa County in the late-1800s, conceded that skepticism is to be expected.

“I totally get that,” Eklund said. “But we don’t want to have the Bureau (of Reclamation) try to write a statewide plan for us” as it tried to do in 1974, Eklund said.

A statewide water plan, Eklund said, will be a flexible document, able to be adjusted every three to five years reflecting the changing dynamics of water in the state.

In any case, Colorado needs to get its house in order before it can confront the challenges of the other states whose water use is governed by the 1922 compact that outlined management of the Colorado River from Colorado high country to the Sea of Cortez.

Any water-plan mandate from Denver would be “anathema” to the rest of the state, Eklund said, calling for both sides of the Continental Divide to work cooperatively.

“We have to align our efforts to achieve the Colorado we want to see in 20 years,” Eklund said.

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.

Lake Powell: ‘It can’t be considered a reliable source of water anymore’ — John Weisheit #ColoradoRiver

October 15, 2013
Monkey Wrench Gang cover via The Tattered Cover Denver

Monkey Wrench Gang

Ken Sleight the original Monkey Wrencher photo via Salon

Ken Sleight the original Monkey Wrencher photo via Salon

Here’s an in-depth look at the movement to decommission Glen Canyon Dam from Brandon Loomis writing for Arizona Central. Click through and read the whole article and check out the photos. Here’s an excerpt:

Two men sat beside the Colorado River at Lees Ferry slugging Coors and stoking a “probably illegal” fire into the morning, cooking up a dream that would infuse both their lives’ quixotic work.

The new friends shared a brainstorm for a bold plan, which a sly smile from one of them 4-1/2 decades later indicates was only half-bluster:

Let’s get rid of Glen Canyon Dam.

It was a radical idea that got them proudly labeled as “kooky.” Today, for everyone from government water managers to university professors to wakeboarders, the concept is at least as wild now that the thirsty Southwest has grown up. But some people still sit around dreaming of draining Lake Powell, and a few think science is on their side…

If this sounds like the plot of a suspense novel, it kind of is. [Ken Sleight’s] campfire companion was Edward Abbey, who had by then written his “Desert Solitaire” memoir but not “The Monkey Wrench Gang.” That 1975 novel envisioned a handful of saboteurs battling the West’s creeping industrialism and working for Glen Canyon Dam’s demise. Abbey died in 1989…

Sleight became the inspiration for the book’s big-eared, Jack Mormon river runner, “Seldom Seen Smith,” and to this day, he remains committed to the cause. He has filed lawsuits and staged rallies, and he still believes. Maybe, he said, the current drought will persuade water managers to drain Powell so they can fill Lake Mead, the critical trough for big population centers downstream of the Grand Canyon.

“I’m on the threshold of going,” he said of his mortality. “But I always wanted to see that water flowing freely.”[...]

For technical expertise, Sleight defers to John Weisheit, a fellow Moab environmentalist with the Living Rivers group. Weisheit notes that Powell is less than half-full, its water level is dropping, and it is projected to have larger swings in water level as climate change takes hold. The government could restore the river’s — and the Grand Canyon’s — ecological health by draining Powell and still could fill Lake Mead, he said.

“It can’t be considered a reliable source of water anymore,” Weisheit said of Lake Powell. “Send (the water) down to the place it’s been going for 6 million years, which is the Gulf of California,” he said of excess water that Mead could not hold…

To some grappling with the Southwest’s water future, dam removal is inconceivable.

“It’s a non-starter,” said Dave White, co-director of Arizona State University’s Decision Center for a Desert City, which studies water-sustainability options to deal with climate change. “(There is) zero probability of removing either Glen Canyon or Hoover.”

The reason is that those dams, after a wet-weather cycle, can capture and store four years of river flows to dole out during drought.

“(Dam removal) would be fairly catastrophic,” White said. “We have too much demand on an annual basis to be met by the natural in-flow of the river.”

Even without accounting for climate change, he said, the Bureau of Reclamation’s water-supply study found that population growth in coming decades would suck Lake Mead to below 1,000feet in elevation in 7percent of the years. That elevation is low enough to trigger a water shortage and rationing among the states — something that has never happened. The lake’s current elevation is about 1,107feet. Farm fields across the Sonoran Desert, which currently use the majority of Arizona’s Colorado River water, could go fallow…

Floods that could destroy Glen Canyon Dam have occurred more commonly than was assumed 50 years ago. “Nature will decide when this is a problem and how much of a problem it is, but there are data that were not available when Glen Canyon was designed,” Baker said. “Dams are things that last for 100 years, but they don’t last forever.”[...]

…activist Sleight said much of the area can be as beautiful as he remembers. Some of the side canyons already have responded to the lower water level. He remembered a trip to Davis Gulch in the 1990s, the last time the water neared this low point. New cottonwoods were growing.

“The main canyon is going to take years and years — 100years — to come back,” Sleight said. “Maybe it’ll never come back. But the side canyons, they will come back. They’re flushed out by floods.”

Paul Ostapuk, a reservoir booster with the group Friends of Lake Powell, hopes it never comes to that. He imagines dredging, sediment bypasses and other fixes keeping the dam functional for 1,500 years. Even then, he said, the mud piling up behind the dam may have built up to become prime soil for a farming boom.

“I see Lake Powell never really going away,” Ostapuk said.

From USA Today (Brandon Loomis):

Paul Ostapuk of Page and a Friends of Lake Powell member sees it differently. Pacific Ocean patterns dictate snowfall cycles that feed the Colorado River, and they have swung wildly before. Ostapuk finds it ironic that those who swore high water would topple the dam in the early 1980s when huge releases of water dangerously ripped rock from dam-bypass tunnels now are saying drought spells doom.

“It’s hard for me to believe that right at 2000, when (Lake Powell was) basically full, that a permanent climate switch happened,” he said. “Don’t give up on the Colorado River. It could come roaring back, and I think people will be surprised how much water comes down.”

The river is erratic, draining anywhere from 5 million acre-feet in a drought year to 20 million after an epic winter. Each acre-foot supplies roughly enough water for two households for a year. Without both Lake Mead and Lake Powell, Ostapuk said a water shortage already would be drying up Arizona farms. California has older, superior rights to Colorado River water that would trump Arizona’s during a crisis.

“You have to have the ability to catch the wet years, so you can ration it out in the lean times,” he said. “If you’d only had Lake Mead (during the current drought), it would be totally empty. Lake Powell’s what’s getting us through this.”

The Bureau of Reclamation concurs. It calls Lake Powell critical to the mix of water-supply options already projected to fall short — barring extensive conservation and reuse efforts — during the coming half century.

“Drawing down Lake Powell would result in reduced yield to the system,” bureau spokeswoman Lisa Iams said in an e-mail. “Losses due to evaporation would increase if additional water currently stored in Lake Powell were released to Mead,” because Mead is at a lower, hotter elevation.”[...]

Below the dam, the aquatic legacy is mixed. Water gushing through the hydropower turbines comes from deep in the reservoir is colder than native fishes such as the endangered humpback chub evolved to withstand. As chubs and other species declined downstream in the Grand Canyon, non-native cold-water trout thrived and created Arizona’s finest trophy rainbow fishery at Lees Ferry.

The dam also blocked the sand that had flowed through the canyon for ages, altering fish and wildlife habitat while depleting beaches river rafters use. Smaller beaches support less windblown sand to root mesquites and other vegetation, or to cover and preserve archaeological sites from erosion.

“The Colorado River Storage Project Act passed in ’56, and the big dam-building era was on us,” said Jan Balsom, Grand Canyon National Park’s deputy chief of resource management. “It wasn’t until years later that we realized what was happening environmentally.”[...]

Visitors to Glen Canyon National Recreation Area pump some $400 million into northern Arizona and southern Utah, according to Friends of Lake Powell. That figure is similar to a $380 million estimate that Northern Arizona University researchers made in 1999.

The dam generates hydropower to supply cooperatives that have 4 million customers spread from Arizona to Wyoming. It generates less power now when the water is low.

The dam has eight turbine units, each capable of producing 165 megawatts. A single megawatt is enough to power 250 homes at a given moment.

But that capacity is available only when the reservoir is full. Plant supervisor Roger Williams said the water pressure now yields 135 megawatts per unit. Another water-level drop of 100 feet and the dam would have to cease hydropower production or risk damage to the turbines. By that time, the units would be producing just 75 megawatts apiece.

These economic drivers are apart from the development and crops grown through the reservoir’s water deliveries, or its cooling of the nearby Navajo Generating Station, the West’s largest coal-fired power plant.

Growing awareness of the damage to the Grand Canyon led to an environmental-protection act in 1992, mandating dam releases that take river ecology into account.

Since then, the Interior Department has sought to restore something of the river’s past characteristics. Since 1996, and most recently last fall, the department has loosed four huge water flushes from the dam to mimic historic floods and churn up sandbars…

Rafters who don’t mind starting below the dam have an argument for corralling the Colorado. The dam evens out the peak flows each spring and keeps the river a little higher through fall, said Korey Seyler of Colorado River Discovery tours in Page. He has paying customers March through November.

Without the dam? He figures he would close shop in September when river rocks emerged.

Ostapuk, the Friends of Lake Powell member, said Glen Canyon remains wild, with uncrowded side canyons requiring no permit to explore.

“It’s just pure, raw adventure out there,” Ostapuk said.

Fifty years after that last bucket of concrete, when Page Mayor Diak stops to look at the dam and the high-voltage lines spreading from it across the Colorado Plateau, he still sees the future. Whether building a dam here was ideal is now pointless to argue, he said.

“You can’t live in the 15th century and expect to have the things that we have now,” Diak said.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.

‘I don’t intend to sit back and watch the daisies grow’ — Pat Mulroy #ColoradoRiver

October 11, 2013

Pat Mulroy via The Earth Institute at Columbia University

Pat Mulroy photo via The Earth Institute at Columbia University

From the Las Vegas Sun (Conor Shine):

In the early months of the new century, life was good for Pat Mulroy.

A years-long and often contentious battle over Nevada’s right to excess water that roared down the Colorado River, through Lake Mead and into California, was nearing a resolution. Mulroy’s tenacious negotiating and relentless politicking, traits that would come to define her career, had her and all of Southern Nevada poised for a momentous victory that would allow the region a share of the river surplus and the fuel for continued growth.

“There was probably a four-month window in 2000 when I could have said: ‘OK. The world is wonderful. I’m putting on my rose-colored glasses and I’m done,’” Mulroy said. “I miss those four months.”

In the nine years since 1991, when she became general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority, Mulroy already had made more progress raising the region’s stature among Colorado River players than any Las Vegas water official had in the previous 60 years.

But unknown to Mulroy and other water officials along the Colorado River, a drought of unprecedented severity was taking hold in the western United States.

“We were happily overusing the Colorado River in 2000 and 2001. I took a resource plan to the board that showed we had a reliable 50-year water supply and then … whammo,” she said…

There’s still more to be written about the future of water in a region besieged by drought, but Mulroy’s days as a central character are numbered. After 24 years at the helm of the Las Vegas Valley Water District and then SNWA, Mulroy, 60, announced last month her retirement…

Her prowess helped Nevada earn respect among Colorado River states and transformed once-wasteful local water districts into a unified organization recognized nationally for its conservation efforts.

“We may only have only 2 or 3 million people in Nevada, but she has an equal voice on the Colorado River as the 37 million people in California,” said Sen. Harry Reid, a longtime Mulroy ally. “They have to respect us because of her.”

Mulroy’s legacy will be tied to the success of the sprawling metropolis she helped water, the billions the authority spent doing it and the environmental costs of a controversial grab for groundwater in rural Nevada.

“Mulroy was not here when they first pumped water out of Lake Mead and into Las Vegas. It wasn’t supposed to be our main water supply, and now of course we are utterly dependent on it. That’s not her fault; her job is to make the water flow, and she’s done that,” said historian Michael Green, a professor at College of Southern Nevada. He places Mulroy in a category alongside Reid, casino magnate Steve Wynn and others for their impact on Southern Nevada. “You can argue about what she did, but you can’t argue that she did it.”[...]

From its founding in 1991 until 1999, the authority’s budget grew from $600,000 to roughly $150 million. Today, its operating budget is $454 million. New pipelines, pumping stations and treatment facilities were needed to keep up with the constant influx of new residents.

Mulroy successfully persuaded voters in 1998 to approve a 0.25 percent increase in the county sales tax to pay for construction. With Reid’s help, Mulroy got a portion of the millions made each year from federal land sales around Las Vegas diverted to SNWA. The funds helped fuel a $2.1 billion expansion of water treatment and delivery systems, a spending binge that 15 years later residents are just starting to feel through rate hikes.

Like many critical decisions throughout her career, Mulroy insists necessity forced the water system expansion…

Her efforts put California on notice and positioned the Golden State as a water-hogging, water-wasting villain.

“The beginnings were pretty rocky. We were the ones with the most to lose,” said Jeff Kightlinger, general manager of Southern California’s Metropolitan Water District. “She was tough and she was calling us out, saying that we were not being responsible players on the river. I remember pushing back on her: ‘You’re a city in the desert; you don’t need to be telling Southern California what we should do.’”

Mulroy found an ally in Bruce Babbitt, interior secretary under President Bill Clinton and a former Arizona governor. Babbitt had once represented the rural Nevada counties opposing Mulroy’s groundwater grab, but the two found common ground in reining in California.

Negotiations on the river dragged in the late 1990s. Concerns were addressed, compromises were made.

“Pat is a very strong-willed person. She’s very upfront and very outspoken. Some people would say a little bit over the top at times,” said David Modeer, general manager of the Central Arizona Project, which provides water to large portions of Arizona, including Phoenix. “The bottom line with Pat is she is always willing to reach an equitable compromise.”

Deliberations resulted in a pair of landmark deals formalized in 2001 — one requiring California to share surpluses as long as the Colorado was flush and another allowing Nevada to bank part of its unused allocation in Arizona, building up a savings for a non-rainy day…

Dire circumstances called for drastic, expensive measures that Mulroy again said were the only available choices. Among the most visible was the authority’s “cash for grass” program, which provided $165 million worth of rebates to consumers who replaced their water-thirsty lawns with efficient xeriscaping. More than 130 million square feet of turf were ripped up, forever altering the suburban landscape but saving 7 billion gallons of water each year.

Consumption fell from an annual high of 330,000 acre-feet of water to 234,000 acre-feet — even while the valley’s population grew by 400,000 people…

With the Colorado’s ability to meet Southern Nevada’s water needs in question, the authority restarted its plans to build a pipeline to siphon groundwater from four rural counties, this time reducing its scope to target five valleys.

Ranchers, environmentalists and rural elected leaders objected.

“She’s really been hard to nail down on exactly what is she going to do up here. How much is the project going to cost? It’s been difficult to get into a real discussion with them,” said Gary Perea, a former White Pine County commissioner. “We are going to have all of the negative effects and none of the positives.”

Mulroy plowed ahead, driven again by what she saw as necessity.

“It’s not a matter of right or wrong, it’s the only solution. The one thing I’ve said over and over again is give me another solution that works,” Mulroy said.

She had her supporters, too.

“It wasn’t as if she has had a royal flush and she could pick whatever cards she wanted. She had very few hands,” Reid said. “She did the best she could. When it’s all over and done with, it will be good for the whole state.”

If the project clears legal battles, the debt-strapped agency still would need to find a way to pay for the pipeline, which is estimated to cost at least $3.2 billion…

Rapidly dropping levels at Lake Mead forced construction of a third intake straw to ensure the authority can draw from its biggest water source.

The project has since gone $200 million over budget, to $800 million. Paying for it wouldn’t have been a problem had the recession not halted the valley’s growth and, with it, the continuous stream of connection fees that had fueled the previous decade’s boom.

Over four years, the authority’s connection fee revenue, its main way of paying for new construction, dropped 98 percent from a high of $188 million to a recession low of just $3 million.

This pinch forced the authority to draw down reserves and delay projects. With the economy still sputtering and debt payments set to ratchet up, the authority turned to a rate hike in 2012. Mulroy describes the increase as the biggest, if not the only, regret of her career.

“We tried so hard to protect the community in 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011. We refinanced debt. We lived off our reserves. We probably pushed it too far.”

Included in the rate increase was a surcharge on rarely used fire lines — special dedicated water lines that provide more water pressure in case of a fire. Businesses previously hadn’t paid for those lines, and the surcharge led to the tripling of some customers’ water bills — several thousand dollars in some cases.

After community outcry, the authority cut the surcharge in half. A citizens committee’s subsequent review and endorsement of the reduced surcharge was proof, Mulroy said, it was the right and necessary course of action, even if it could have been handled better…

“If we hadn’t have had to go out and essentially spend almost another $1 billion on the third intake that has no growth component to it, we would have had a slight rate increase but never what we had in 2012,” she said. “We’re not the only water utility in the country that’s building facilities that we never thought we’d have to in order to adapt.”[...]

It’s in the international forum that Mulroy hopes to write her next chapter.

She said she’s developed a deep compassion for the social and humanitarian impacts of global water access.

“I took a job and found a passion,” she said. “I am convinced that one of society’s primary challenges over the course of the next 60 or 70 years is going to be water resources. The struggle is we have 19th-century infrastructure and 19th-century attitudes that aren’t equipped to deal with what’s ahead. I don’t intend to sit back and watch the daisies grow.”

More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.

Statewide water plan: ‘We need to find outside water. Actually, we do not. They do’ — Max Schmidt

September 2, 2013


State Water Plan, meet the “not-one-more-drop-club” from the Grand Valley. Here’s a report from Gary Harmon, writing for The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel:

Colorado should import water to meet burgeoning Front Range demands — and lessen the pressure on the Western Slope to slake that thirst, Grand Valley water officials suggest.

Managers of 10 Grand Valley water agencies and municipalities are preparing to ask their bosses to insist that bringing water into the state [ed. emphasis mine] — which would be known as augmentation — is a needed step in the development of a statewide water plan.

The problem, the water managers have concluded, is that there simply isn’t enough water in the state to meet the demands of growth, particularly on the Front Range, and the demands of millions of downstream Colorado River water users in Arizona, California and Nevada.

“Reallocation of state water resources is not going to do the job,” Larry Clever, general manager of Ute Water Conservancy District, said.

Managers of the agencies sat down together to draft a Grand Valley response to Gov. John Hickenlooper’s call for a statewide water plan, and they began the process as a “not-one-more-drop club,” Clever said, in reference to any further diversion of water from the Western Slope over the mountains to the east. So any additional drops will have to come from elsewhere, Max Schmidt, general manager of the Orchard Mesa Irrigation District, said.

“Our problem is that we’re the cheapest source of good clean water to the Eastern Slope, and there’s no other way around it,” Schmidt said. “We need to find outside water. Actually, we do not. They do.”

The concerns by Grand Valley water managers center on the possibility that the lower basin states will place a call on the Colorado River under the 1922 compact governing the river. “Every time that (the East Slope) takes water from the West Slope, that enhances the chance of a compact call,” that in theory would hit hardest on the Eastern Slope, Schmidt said.

Hickenlooper in May directed the drafting of a statewide water plan, to be complete by December 2014.

The proposed position acknowledges that the Colorado Water Conservation Board estimates that there could be as many as 800,000 acre feet of water available for diversion and storage, but notes there is “considerable doubt” that additional development won’t result in a compact call.

The Grand Valley response would set out nine goals that such a plan would have to include, one of them being “implementation of a long-term, regional water-augmentation plan.” Other goals include protecting the “cornerstones of our economy,” agriculture, resource extraction, recreation and tourism; preparation for the possibility of a compact call; protecting the health and quality of the state’s river basins; and preparing for the effects of climate change.

Other goals include protecting and promoting the area’s agricultural heritage; preserving local control of planning for development; ensuring federal agencies operate within state water law; and ensuring that upstream diversions protect and maintain water quality for downstream users.

Ultimately, “it is imperative for state officials to engage officials from the federal government and other basin states in developing, implementing and paying for an augmentation plan” that will benefit all the states dependent on the Colorado River, the proposed position says.

The proposed position will go before the governing boards of Fruita, Grand Junction and Palisade, as well as Clifton Water District, Grand Valley Irrigation Co., Grand Valley Water Users Association, Mesa County Irrigation District, Orchard Mesa Irrigation District, Palisade Irrigation District and Ute Water.

Statewide Water Plan coverage here.

North Colorado secession: Rio Blanco County commissioners rightly question the disposition of water rights

August 27, 2013


From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

Rio Blanco County commissioners on Monday said they share the concerns of rural counties wanting to secede from Colorado, but they fear if they pursued the idea it could jeopardize water rights in the county. County Commissioner Shawn Bolton said it’s his understanding that if a county such as Rio Blanco left the state, it might no longer be a part of the 1922 Colorado River Compact and the door could be opened to local water rights being taken away. “That’s a breaking point for me. The water is too critical,” Bolton said.

Western Slope counties considering secession would be hit the hardest, he said. Most of the state’s surface water comes from the Western Slope.

Despite the water concern, the commissioners said during their meeting and in an interview that they agree in principle with the movement among northeast Colorado counties and now Moffat County to secede. Like them, the Rio Blanco commissioners take issue with the actions of the state legislature earlier this year. “It was a pretty blatant attack on rural communities,” Commissioner Jeff Eskelson said.

Particularly upsetting to Rio Blanco commissioners was the passage of a requirement that rural electric cooperatives get 20 percent of their power from renewable sources. That has implications for coal mining and coal-fired power generation in northwest Colorado and for electric customers’ bills. Commissioner Jon Hill said what made it worse is that legislators rejected the idea of considering sources such as hydropower as renewable.

Eskelson said while secession might not be the answer, he likes an idea that’s circulating that would require one of the chambers of the state legislature to have one representative from each Colorado county. “To me that would give rural Colorado more of a voice,” he said.

Bolton said Rio Blanco commissioners have been approached about the secession idea and have looked into it a bit but not gone further with it because the water issue raises such a red flag. He said the issue is far from clear, but he’s hearing water rights would remain in the state of Colorado and those in a 51st state couldn’t file for a historical use and keep them. “It’s a huge bunch of questions,” he said.

The Colorado River Compact addresses allocation of river basin water between seven states within the basin. If a county seceded, it’s possible that it “wouldn’t even be at the table at that point,” Bolton said.

Hill said that might be avoided if a county joined another state such as Utah or Wyoming that also has signed the compact.

From The Denver Post (Matthew Patane):

Not far over the county line, the first of thousands of natural gas wellheads and crude oil collection tanks that define Weld County and helped inflame the secession movement come into focus. County commissioners riled by laws to more tightly regulate the industry that pays many of the bills, the passage of stricter gun laws and worry over the quality of rural roads, floated the notion of secession at the end of the legislative session. They cited a disconnect between the wants and needs of rural areas of Colorado and the governing being done in Denver, and recruited other northeastern counties to the idea that something had to change. “The level of frustration and the level of disconnect that people feel is pretty high,” said Chad Auer, mayor of Firestone, in southwest Weld County. “I think there’s something to be said for why this process is taking place in the first place.”

The vast Pawnee National Grassland consumes much of Weld’s northern reaches, along the Wyoming border, which keeps most of the county’s population in the southwestern half. Some of Weld’s towns — such as Roggen, Keenesburg, Ault — might be missed on a high-speed highway trip. Others closer to Interstate 25 — Firestone, Windsor, Severance — show signs of growth as new neighborhoods spring up around historic old towns within commuting distance of good jobs.

But the county remains mostly rural, with Greeley, the county seat, an urban island in the sea of farmland.

Although Weld is leading the movement for a 51st state, support for secession has not permeated the entire county.

Many people said they unfamiliar with the 51st state movement or knew little about it. Others said attempts to secede from the state are the wrong move, even if there is a rural-urban divide.

Greg Polese, 27, and Sam Harvey, 26, said they don’t support creating a 51st state and don’t think the urban-rural conflict is as divisive as others have suggested. Polese and Harvey work in Fort Collins, but moved to Severance for cheaper housing. On an issue they care about — the condition of roads — they had few complaints. Some of Weld’s roads could use maintenance, Harvey said, but every county has its share of poor roads that are fixed when they need to be.

After agriculture, energy dominates Weld’s economy. Rigs and wellheads dot the countryside, often placed next to or in farmland and residential neighborhoods. Ongoing attempts to more strictly regulate oil and gas, especially chafes county politicians. Of the more than 51,000 oil and gas wells in Colorado, more than 20,000 are in Weld County, making it the top oil and gas county in the state. So far this year, 952 oil and gas wells were drilled in Colorado, 607 of which were in Weld, according to the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.

“All your oil, gas and agriculture is up here. But when it comes time to vote, we don’t have representation down there.” said Gerald Haffner, 53, while attending the South East Weld County Fair & Rodeo in Keenesburg. Haffner, a Weld County telephone technician, said he would not vote for secession. Instead, he said, the counties should focus on gaining more representation at the state house. “Making us a new state, to me, is not the right answer,” Haffner said. “Fixing what we have is.”

By the numbers

Weld County

2012 population 263,691

2010 population 252,825

Percent change 4.3 percent

Median household income $55.825

Persons below poverty level, percent 2007-11 13.8 percent

Private non-farm employment 2011 66,594

Non-farm employment percentage change from 2010 3.1 percent

Land area, in square miles 3,987.24

People per square mile 63.4

From the Boulder Daily Camera (John Aguilar) via the Loveland Reporter-Herald:

For Erie, the burgeoning secession movement in northeast Colorado is doubly troublesome as half the town lies in Boulder County while the other half is in Weld County, which last week referred to the November ballot a measure that will ask voters whether they want to break away from Colorado and form a new state, dubbed North Colorado…

Erie Trustee Jonathan Hager doesn’t think the 51st state initiative will get very far — it would need the approval of the state Legislature and the U.S. Congress to become a reality — but he said it does raise some interesting issues about the town he represents and its peculiar geography. If Erie broke into two, Hager said, the Boulder County side would be at a distinct disadvantage in terms of municipal services and civic identity.

“Everything we own as a municipality is on the Weld County side,” he said. “If the state was formed and Erie was forced to split up, maybe those of us on the Boulder County side would become part of Lafayette, or Longmont or Broomfield.”[...]

Aside from the November vote, he said, both the U.S. Congress and the Colorado Legislature would have to agree on the formation of North Colorado — a very unlikely scenario given the fact that it would be a heavily Republican state. “Colorado would have to concur with the loss of territory and Congress would have to agree,” he said. “You’re not going to get broad agreement to create a new state that is dripping red.”[...]

Feelings on a possible secession right down the middle of Erie ranged from intrigue to good riddance during a quick survey of townspeople this week. Theresa Williams, a Democrat who has lived on the Boulder County side of town for nearly 15 years in the Country Meadows neighborhood, said the whole notion of secession is “ridiculous.” “I think they’re throwing a temper tantrum because they don’t believe in sensible gun laws,” she said of those pushing for the measure. “I don’t think it will happen but if it does — bye.”

From The Denver Post (Kiki Turner):

Nestled between a Colorado Rockies poster and a calendar of pinup girls was a small green bumper sticker that read “No Farms, No Food.” The sticker stood out among hundreds of posters and pictures plastered on the walls of R.D’s Bar in Sedgwick, a town of roughly 180 people in extreme northeast Colorado. Three-year-old Jennifer Toyne swung on a bar stool while her father sipped a beer during a break from his 12-hour workday. “How many baby moo cows do you have?” Jason Toyne asked as his daughter climbed into his lap. Jennifer held up three small fingers, nails painted with sparkly polish.

Like many people who live in Sedgwick County, Toyne has farmed all his life. And like many farmers, he worries the disconnect between government in Denver and the work being done in rural Colorado will be disastrous for his corn, sugar beet and soy bean operation. He’s concerned, especially, about the thirsty Front Range cities buying up water rights he would otherwise lease to irrigate his crops. “If farms don’t get water, there won’t be food,” his friend Kyle McConnell said. “But I guess people like having green lawns.”

McConnell, who also farms in northeastern Colorado, is all for the proposed creation of a 51st state, but said “it’s not going to happen.” He’d settle for what he described as more equitable representation in the statehouse. “That would be a step.” McConnell said votes in the statehouse this session worked against rural areas financially and fundamentally. “They need to quit making laws for us when they don’t have a damn clue how we live,” he said. “A lot of people don’t understand what it takes to farm. Our costs are astronomical.” McConnell estimates to earn $20,000, it takes an investment, on the high end, of $10 million in land and equipment .

R.D’s co-owner Gena Kinoshita said in-town business costs also are rising, including the cost of water, which recently quadrupled. “We barely make it with what we have now,” said Kinoshita, whose bar is one of five businesses still open along Main Street, a dirt road marked with wooden street signs. Small farming towns like Sedgwick have languished over the years, she said.

Bob Blach runs a New York Life office in Sterling, the Logan County seat, where people who don’t work in agriculture can find jobs at a state prison, a college or other government agencies. He said agricultural areas are withering, despite their importance. “We’re one of the largest industries in Colorado, and we don’t get any attention,” Blach said.

A lack of representation, along with social issues like the approval of new gun laws and civil unions, helped fueled secession talk. But many said they the real trouble is rooted in differences between country and city living. “The mud, manure, the flies, in a weird way, we like it,” said 18-year-old Drew Carlson. “It’s just a part of home.” Home for the Carlsons is a 120-acre farm in Atwood, just south of Sterling. Atwood has no skyscrapers, only rounded tops of corn silos and metal roofs of grain elevators break the skyline.

While the town is troubled by an occasional traffic jam, the clogs are caused by swine, not cars. “We take our pigs for a walk every morning,” said Drew, as she and her 6-year-old brother Beau ushered a herd of 250-pound hogs down a dirt road. The hogs were five times the size of Beau, but using only a flimsy pig whip, the boy directed the animals back to the family’s barn, where his 12-year-old brother, Cooper, concocted breakfast for dozens of animals. The Carlson children fed, watered, and walked their animals all before the sun had risen above the corn tassels in their farm fields.

At the Logan County fair, Jay Hill was watching two of his sons show their steers. Most days, he works with beef cattle ranchers, selling semen to help improve their herds. He said the early-to-rise tendencies common among country kids, may be foreign to city folk. Hill said there has always been a chasm between urban and rural worlds, but despite the differences, each lifestyle depends on the other. “Urban doesn’t know rural, and rural doesn’t know urban. Nobody wants to look beyond their own front gate,” Hill said. “But it takes both. The country lifestyle wouldn’t succeed without the urban — who would we feed?”

Kiki Turner: 303-954-1221, kturner@denverpost.com

By the numbers

Logan County

2012 population 22,631

2010 population 22,709

Percent change -0.3 percent

Median houshold income $42,324

Persons below poverty level, percent 2007-11 15 percent

Private non-farm employment 2011 5,286

Non-farm percentage change from 2010 -1.1 percent

Land area, in square miles 1,838. 55

People per square mile 12.4

Sedgwick County

2012 population 2,383

2010 population 2,379

Percent change 0.2 percent

Median household income $36,797

Persons below poverty level, percent 1007-11 14.9 percent

Private non-farm employment 2011 371

Non-farm employment percentage change from 2010 -9.55 percent

Land area, in square miles 548.04

People per square mile 4.3

From The Denver Post (Matt Phillips):

Rolling east on Colorado 86, housing tracts give way to cattle and horse ranches outside Castle Rock. A few miles farther, crossing into Elbert County, the landscape steadily becomes more rural. In Elizabeth, Elbert County’s largest town, there isn’t much talk about the 51st state initiative — if any talk at all.

Larisa Coonce, 25, who works at a liquor store in town, said she hadn’t heard about the initiative. Coonce, though, said there is a disconnect between Elizabeth residents and urbanites in Denver. She said Elbert County residents take pride in being self-sufficient. “If we can’t make it, we don’t need it,” said Coonce, who also runs a baking business on the side called Reesa’s Pieces . The issue people are most vocal about, she said, is gun control.

Kiowa , the county seat, is 7miles east. It’s a quintessential, small American town. At Patty Ann’s Cafe smiling waitresses greet customers and everybody gets a one-of-a-kind coffee mug. Conversations about children, grandchildren and good food float across the cafe.

An August county commissioners’ meeting in Kiowa began with a prayer — “my heart is heavy with the many, many things that are wrong in our nation,” said a local pastor — and a hearty pledge of allegiance to the American flag.

Commissioner Robert Rowland said that the 51st state initiative could be on Elbert County’s November ballot. But commissioners haven’t made any decisions about that or any other ballot initiatives. The bigger issue is Elbert County’s lack of cash. “At some point we will have to increase revenues in this county,” Rowland said.

The oil and gas industry is poised to enter the region, according to residents, but there is dissension about how much — or how little — the industry should be regulated.

Rick Blotter, a retired teacher who owns 60 acres in the county, said giving drillers unregulated access would have a negative environmental and economic impact. The money that comes in, he said, would be concentrated in the hands of a few landowners and wouldn’t benefit the entire county. “What does that do to the cost of living in that community — it goes up,” he said.

Past Kiowa, the highway unravels across the rest of the county — a picturesque landscape of rolling plains dotted with livestock. The two-lane highway is pockmarked and weather-worn in places.

Neighboring Lincoln County , too, is absent overt support for the 51st state initiative. In Limon , the county’s most populous town, people had only heard about it through news outlets.

Brittin Keenan, 37, is a librarian at the Limon Memorial Library. She’s lived in the region for nine years and thinks Lincoln County, a large ranching region, is very conservative. But that doesn’t mean people want to form another state. “I haven’t heard of it (the initiative) here,” Keenan said. “The only reason I heard is I saw it on the news.”

Keenan said gun rights are an issue for many people in the county. She doesn’t vote along party lines herself, but she implied that many people do and it’s partially because of that issue.

Lincoln County administrator Roxie Devers said there are no plans for the county to throw its lot in with the 51st state initiative. “The commissioners have only had a handful of citizens approach them,” Devers said. “They’ll wait to see if it (the initiative) gets on the state ballot and people can vote on it that way.”

By the numbers

Lincoln County

2012 population 5,453

2010 population 5,467

Percent change -0.3 percent

Median household income $43,375

Persons below poverty level, percent 1007-11 11.1 percent

Private non-farm employment 2011 1,229

Non-farm employment percentage change from 2010 0.1 percent

Land area, in square miles 2,577.63

People per square mile 2.1

Elbert County

2012 population 23,383

2010 population 23,086

Percent change 1.3

Median household income $79,367

Persons below poverty level, percent 1007-11 5.8 percent

Private non-farm employment 2011 1,933

Non-farm employment percentage change from 2010 -3.8 percent

Land area, in square miles 1,850.85

People per square mile 12.5

From The Denver Post (Ally Marotti):

Children often lose track of summer days biking and playing in Cheyenne Wells, but parents aren’t worried if they’re not home by dusk. There are no “Children At Play” signs, no speed bumps in the streets — Cheyenne Wells just doesn’t need them. “Kids go out to play ’til the lights go dark,” said Sherrie Nestor, as she simultaneously watched over her three grandsons and volunteered at the Mountain States Telephone & Telegraph Museum.

She pointed out people in historical pictures on the walls who still live in town, and consulted a 1972 phone book — change doesn’t come often in Cheyenne Wells.

No matter where you are in the largest town in Cheyenne County, you can see the other end of town. Strangers only come through in big rigs to pick up oil or crops and are soon on their way, leaving down one of the roads that quickly turns to a dirt ribbon winding across the vast prairie. “Out here, it’s a different economy. Whatever happens up there (in Denver) doesn’t happen here,” said Marilynn Jacobson, a reporter at the town’s weekly paper, The Range Ledger. “We try to remain independent. We like our freedom and we like open spaces. And we like to feel safe.”

The nearest grocery store is almost an hour away. The closest mall is in Colorado Springs.

“The only thing you got out here besides good people is tumbleweeds, fence posts and barbed wire,” said local contractor Danny Donnelly.

Most of the town’s 800 residents were born there, and if they do leave, they’re not gone long.

The town shut down one rainy day in August for a funeral. Even the afternoon coffee crowd at Nan’s Convenience and Liquor Store — a mix ranging from retired farmers to oil drillers — was sparse that day.

People know their neighbors in Cheyenne Wells. They know the town’s history, and it’s riddled with hard work.

Most are up before the sun to work in the oil fields or farm. Many go straight to the local bar after work, oil smeared from head to toe as a trophy of the day’s accomplishments.

But some feel Cheyenne County is forgotten among state lawmakers. “Rural life is not understood,” said Gerald Keefe, the city and county judge, former superintendent of the Kit Carson School District and a hospital board member.

New laws require the town’s 10-bed Keefe Memorial Hospital — named for Gerald’s father — to hire more nurses, which would exceed budget. Keefe is fighting to keep the hospital operational, as the next nearest facility is in Burlington, about 40 miles north. “It’s like we’re in an episode of ‘Horton Hears a Who,’ ” Keefe said, suggesting people in the city forget the small town exists. “We are really here.”

But 45 miles to the north, Interstate 70 slices through Kit Carson County, bringing visitors and business at a level unheard of in Cheyenne Wells.

Burlington, the county seat, has fast food, hotel chains and roadside attractions, including a 108-year-old carousel. The Colorado Junior Rodeo finals drew 120 contestants and their families to town Aug. 9-11, said CJR president Cade Spitz. But at its core, Burlington is a rural farming community. “I’ve lived here all my life,” said Darwin “Dog” Stolz as he repaired windows one afternoon. A coach nicknamed him Dog, and now that’s how he’s listed in the phone book.

Stolz said he loves small-town life, but most young people leave Burlington unless they help on family farms. “I told my kids, ‘I’m not a farmer, you’ve got to get out of here,’ ” said Stolz, whose two children live in Washington, D.C . “They’ll never come back. They got the night life there.”

Ally Marotti: 303-954-1223, amarotti@denverpost.com or twitter.com/AllyMarotti

By the numbers

Kit Carson County

2012 population 8,094

2010 population 8,270

Percent change -2.1 percent

Median household income $43,194

Persons below poverty level percent 2007-11 11.3 percent

Private non-farm employment 2011 1,860

Non-farm employment percentage change from 2010 -6.3 percent

Land area, in square miles 2,160.82

People per square mile 3.8

Cheyenne County

2012 population 1,874

2010 population 1,836

Percent change 2.1 percent

Median household income $47,188

Persons below poverty level percent 2007-11 9 percent

Private non-farm employment 2011 929

Non-farm employment percentage change from 2010 9.7 percent

Land area, in square miles 1,778.28

People per square mile 1

From The Denver Post (Adrian D. Garcia):

Political thoughts are usually far from the minds of residents of Morgan and Washington counties. With children to rear and crops to raise, fighting to have rural needs better met in the statehouse is not typically at the top of most people’s to-do list.

Local elected officials will make the right decisions for the counties’ larger picture needs, said Dave Baugh as he sat eating a cheeseburger and fries at a tavern in Weldona, northwest of the Morgan County seat, Fort Morgan.

Leaders are considering changes to the way the region is represented in the state Senate and House, as well as, discussing secession from Colorado. “(Seceding) seems like a good idea but I have enough stuff to worry about,” Baugh said as farmers nearby joked and discussed when they were next going to cut and bail hay. The tavern had two beers on tap, Coors Light and Bud Light. “It hasn’t hit close enough to home yet.”

Baugh lives in Morgan County and drives to work at the oil and gas company DCP Midstream in Weld County. He said the bumps on Interstates 70 and 76 and Democratic led initiatives like SB 252 — that doubles the amount of renewable energy rural electric cooperatives must use to 20 percent by 2020 — haven’t yet dramatically altered his day-to-day life.

But the mood of Washington County ranchers Don and Linda Cullip got hot as they ate strawberry ice cream at Cornerstone Coffee in Akron. They said they are passionate about seceding from the state. Linda said that’s partly because legislators in Denver don’t take into account what consequences new regulations and laws have on a farm. “They don’t really care what we need out here,” she said. “The people in the city don’t have a clue what life is like in rural areas. They just think that their hamburgers just show up at McDonald’s and they don’t realize it comes from cattle like ours.”

Even though modern farming equipment is highly sophisticated and costs thousands of dollars, Don said, residents in metro areas view rural residents as dumb and behind the times.

Fort Morgan’s Lee Mills, 82, said there are few options for young adults in the area, even with businesses like the Great Western sugar factory, Cargill Meat Solutions and Leprino Foods Company.

About 665 20-somethings left Morgan County between 2000 and 2010. In the same period, nearly 245 people in their 20s left Washington County, according to data from the Colorado Department of Local Affairs.

It’s hard to make a living wage and some have to “rely on food stamps especially if they have a family,” said Mills, who retired from concrete work in Denver and moved to Morgan County more than a decade ago.

Life is easier for the older people, he said. “You get your social security and pension check and live laid back.”

Adrian D. Garcia: 303-954-1729, agarcia@denverpost.com, Twitter/ adriandgarcia

By the numbers

Washington County

2012 population 4,766

2010 population 4,814

Percent change -1.0 percent

Median household income $43,945

Persons below poverty level percent 2007-11 2.19 percent

Private non-farm employment 2011 488

Non-farm employment percentage change from 2010 2.5 percent

Land area, in square miles 2,518.03

People per square mile 1.9

Morgan County

2012 population 28,472

2010 population 28,159

Percent change 1.1 percent

Median household income $42,792

Persons below poverty level percent 2007-11 14.9 percent

Private non-farm employment 2011 8,815

Non-farm employment percentage change from 2010 4.2 percent

Land area, in square miles 1,280.43

People per square mile 22

From The Denver Post (Monte Whaley):

If it’s attention the northeastern Colorado counties threatening secession wanted, they’ve got it. Weld County officials irked by action during the Democrat-dominated legislative session recruited 10 other counties to the idea of leaving the state to form their own.

They said their interests were ill-represented by metro-centric lawmakers who ignored rural sensibilities when they voted for tighter gun laws and threatened the livelihood of farmers and ranchers with new renewable energy standards that may hike the cost of doing business. “They feel they have been ignored. That’s what this is all about,” said state Sen. Greg Brophy, R-Wray, who is running for governor against incumbent Democrat John Hickenlooper. His district includes all or part of all 11 dissident counties. “People need to be heard.”

But as elected officials publicly debated formation of North Colorado, circulated petitions and surveyed citizens deciding to put question the fall ballot in eight counties so far, the message was received — loud and clear — in Hickenlooper’s office. “If this talk of a 51st state is about politics designed to divide us, it’s destructive,” Hickenlooper said. “But if it is about sending a message, then I see our responsibility to lean in and do a better job of listening.”

However, he said, the hurt being felt in rural counties is not due to background checks on gun sales, civil unions for gays or expanded renewable energy. “In fact, these are popular proposals across communities large and small,” Hickenlooper said. “The same is true of our efforts to protect water for agricultural issues, expand broadband into rural areas and promote tourism and economic diversity across the state.”

The notion of breaking up with Colorado has evolved into an almost heroic calling for some supporters. “I would argue that this is not radical, but is something that our framers envisioned,” said Jeffrey Hare, a Weld County man who founded the 51st State Initiative Facebook page, which has attracted more than 11,000 likes.

Critics, however, say the North Colorado proposal is short on detail and long on petulance. “I think some people in northern Colorado are frustrated that the party they are usually aligned with (the GOP) does not dominate the state legislature nor the governor’s office,” said long-time Colorado State University political science professor John Straayer. “It’s mostly about blowing off steam. A lot of sound and fury but not much else.”

If the secession effort is successful, there will be a lot of expensive infrastructure to purchase from the state of Colorado, including a prison system and maybe even a state university — which presumably would be the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley. “There would be a whole host of things they would have to work through,” said said University of Colorado political science professor Kenneth Bickers.

But if the counties do depart, North Colorado would pack a mighty economic punch. The secessionist counties contain much of Colorado’s breadbasket and a good chunk of its oil and gas production. Four of the top five ag-producing counties in the state, at least in terms of dollar value, could be within North Colorado’s borders. Weld County alone is the top producer of grain, beef cattle, dairy product and sugar beets.

Weld is also home to more than 20,000 active oil and gas wells, the largest number of active wells of any county in the U.S. and producing 81 percent of the state’s oil and and 18 percent of Colorado’s natural gas. All that production helped contribute $1.6 billion to the state and local governments, school districts and special districts in 2012.

The new state could also become a philosophical nirvana to those now chafing within the confines of the Centennial State. They could frame new laws and policies that discourage gun control and abortion while encouraging more tax breaks for oil and gas companies.

The new state of North Colorado could even raise the speed limit if it wanted, Bickers said.

“There are a whole lot of things and policies that could be adopted that would likely be more in tune with the preferences of people living in those counties,” he said.

But the 51st state would lack political might as the least-populous state in the Union, with about 60 percent the population of Wyoming. And secession might not work out to break-even for the rogue counties — including Moffat, which this week said it will put a secession question on the ballot with the intention of joining Wyoming.

Together, the counties collected $106 million in state and other government funding in 2009, the last time the figures were tabulated by the Colorado Department of Local Affairs.

Those same counties — whose main commerce depends on an adequate and certain supply of water — would probably find access to that resource even more difficult to come by, said state Rep. Dave Young, a Democrat, whose district includes Greeley. “We depend on water that comes from other places other than Weld County,” Young said. “How much is it going to cost us to get that water?”

From The Denver Post (Dana Coffield):

Can it happen? Voters in secessionist counties may signal they wish to proceed with creating a 51st state, but completing the process will take some serious political might and will. The U.S. Constitution allows Congress to admit new states to the union. However, new states may be formed from within the boundaries of another state or by joining two or more states or parts of states only with consent of the concerned state legislatures and Congress.

Prof. Richard Collins, a Constitutional law expert at the University of Colorado law school, said the last time a state consented to the loss of territory was when Maine split from Massachusetts in 1820 and slavery was at the heart of the conflict.

Colorado’s consent would come by a bill voted on by both chambers of the legislature, or by citizen initiative — akin to what happened in 1998 when voters OK’d a constitutional amendment to allow the city of Broomfield to secede from Adams, Weld, Boulder and Jefferson counties to form its own county. “You can speculate on the state politics that would generate, but any way you slice it, it is hard to imagine state consent,” Collins said.

Getting the blessing of the U.S. Congress presents its own political hurdles, chiefly changing the balance of party power with the addition of the two senators guaranteed all states by the U.S. Constitution. U.S. representatives are allocated based on population. Wyoming, with about 576,000 residents, has one. The 11 proposed North Colorado counties have about 375,000. “The problem in Congress would be opposition to giving a new state two senators certain to be conservative Republicans,” Collins said. “As we know, it is very easy to stop Congress from acting.”

From The Denver Post (Katharina Buchholz):

Greg Larson wants Gov. John Hickenlooper to think of him when he eats his popcorn. “We should get him some,” Larson said, “so he can think of us out here.” Larson, 40, farms 1,300 irrigated acres of feed corn, wheat, millet and popcorn in Logan, Phillips, Sedgwick and Yuma counties in Colorado’s northeastern corner. He doesn’t like that the rural renewable-energy bill, which mandates rural energy cooperatives to double their renewable energy use, will drive up his operating cost. But that doesn’t mean Larson supports secession from Colorado under the 51st state initiative, like some of his commissioners, who cite a recent tightening of energy and gun laws as reasons to attempt the split from Colorado. Surrounded by high corn stalks, Larson was checking one of his eight wells, where more than 800 gallons of water churn from the ground every minute. During the 4-month growing season, the wells run 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

While there is no official estimate, David Churchwell of the Highline Electric Association, where Larson buys his power, said the increase could be significant. “It could cause someone to go out of business,” Churchwell said.

But Larson, whose home is in Logan County, is also the vice-president of the local Republican River Conservation District and knows that lawsuits about excessive water use have been brought against the state by Kansas in the past. “All the money, all the legal fees, the time engineers put into it, we would lose all that,” Larson said. “They would come after our little state.”

Steve Deaver, 52, supports secession. Deaver is the locksmith and gun dealer of Holyoke in Phillips County, a town with a population of about 2,300 located 13 miles from the Nebraska border. “The gun laws are the straw that broke the camel’s back,” Deaver said while his four grandsons fooled around on his front porch. Deaver said the laws were unnecessary, but also acknowledged that sleepy Holyoke wasn’t a place that had to deal with problems of gun violence. “The lifestyle out on the plains is so different in all capacities from the metropolitan lifestyle,” he said.

Yuma County Commissioner Trent Bushner said his county put secession on the ballot after collecting 706 signatures, equalling about 15 percent of the county’s voters in the 2012 election. “We wanted to hear from our constituents to see if it stuck, and it did,” Bushner said.

In neighboring Phillips County, frustrations were obvious during a recent county commissioners meeting. “I’m just ashamed to say that I live in this state,” commissioner Joe Kinnie said.

County Administrator Randy Schafer would like to see every representative in the state House assigned to a Colorado county. The so-called Phillips Plan is similar to the system of representation in the U.S. Senate. “When we lost population, we also lost representation,” he said.

In Phillips County, efficient agriculture practices produce high yields with few farmers.

Larson said he has tripled his acreage in the last 16 years by renting land from neighbors who moved away. He said he will continue his farm — secession or not. “Farmers,” Larson said, “have learned how to deal with what’s put in front of them.”

By the numbers

Phillips County

2012 population 4,367

2010 population 4,442

Percent change -1.7 percent

Median household income $44.717

Persons below poverty level, percent 2007-11 14.9 percent

Private non-farm employment 2011 966

Non-farm employment percentage change from 2010 0.3 percent

Land area, in square miles 687.93

People per square mile 6.5

Yuma County

2012 population 10,119

2010 population 10,043

Percent change 0.8 percent

Median household income $44,991

Persons below poverty level, percent 1007-11 8 percent

Private non-farm employment 2011 2,556

Non-farm employment percentage change from 2010 -2.8 percent

Land area, in square miles 2,364.41

People per square mile 4.2

More North Colorado Secession coverage here.

Bureau of Reclamation Forecasts Lower Water Release from Lake Powell to Lake Mead for 2014 #ColoradoRiver

August 17, 2013


Here’s the release from the US Bureau of Reclamation (Lisa Iams/Rose Davis):

As part of its ongoing management of Colorado River reservoirs, the Bureau of Reclamation has determined that, based on the best available data projections of Lake Powell and Lake Mead reservoir elevations, under the 2007 Colorado River Interim Guidelines for Lower Basin Shortages and Coordinated Operations for Lake Powell and Lake Mead (2007 Interim Guidelines) a release of 7.48 million acre-feet (maf) from Lake Powell is required in water year 2014 (Oct. 1, 2013 – Sept. 30, 2014).

An annual release of 7.48 maf is the lowest release since the filling of Lake Powell in the 1960s. Lake Mead is projected to decline an additional eight feet during 2014 as a result of the lower Lake Powell annual release; however, Lake Mead will operate under normal conditions in calendar year 2014, with water users in the Lower Colorado River Basin and Mexico receiving their full water orders in accordance with the 2007 Interim Guidelines and the 1944 Treaty with Mexico.

The 2007 Interim Guidelines Record of Decision was signed by the Secretary of the Interior after extensive consultation with the seven Colorado River Basin states, Native American tribes, federal agencies, environmental organizations, and other stakeholders and interested parties. The guidelines were adopted to coordinate reservoir management strategies and address annual operations of Lake Powell and Lake Mead, particularly under low reservoir conditions.

“This is the worst 14-year drought period in the last hundred years,” said Upper Colorado Regional Director Larry Walkoviak. “Reclamation’s collaboration with the seven Colorado River Basin states on the 2007 Interim Guidelines is proving to be invaluable in coordinating the operations of the reservoirs and helping protect future availability of Colorado River water supplies,” added Walkoviak.

Reclamation’s Lower Colorado Regional Director Terry Fulp also pointed to the variability in the system. “With a good winter snowpack next year, the outlook could change significantly as it did in 2011, but we also need to be prepared for continuing drought. Currently the longer-term projections from Reclamation’s hydrologic models show a very small chance of lower basin delivery shortages in 2015, with the first significant chance of reduced water deliveries in the lower basin in 2016. These projections will be updated monthly and will reflect changes in weather and the resulting hydrology,” said Fulp.

Updated monthly, Reclamation’s 24-Month Study is an operational report that provides projected reservoir operations for all major system reservoirs in the Colorado River Basin for the next two years. The August 24-Month Study is available on the Reclamation websites for the Upper and Lower Colorado regions:

Upper Colorado Region: http://www.usbr.gov/uc/water/crsp/studies/index.html
Lower Colorado Region: http://www.usbr.gov/lc/region/g4000/24mo/index.html

By planning ahead for varying reservoir levels, the 2007 Interim Guidelines provide Colorado River users, especially those in the lower basin states of Arizona, Nevada and California, with a greater degree of certainty about annual water deliveries. The 2007 Interim Guidelines also define the reservoir levels that would trigger delivery shortages and specify those reduced delivery amounts in the lower Colorado River Basin once Lake Mead reaches certain elevations. Information about the 2007 Interim Guidelines is available at http://www.usbr.gov/lc/region/programs/strategies.html.

Click here to go to an article from Sally Deneen writing for the National Geographic. They’re running an interactive graphic comprised of aerial photos with a slider so the reader can see the effects of the drought on Lake Powell from 1999 to 2013. Here’s an excerpt:

For days and weeks, water officials fretted that the federal Bureau of Reclamation’s anticipated 24-month study would deliver bad news, and it did. The agency—a division of the Department of Interior that provides water and power in the West—announced today it would cut water released from Lake Powell’s Glen Canyon Dam by 750,000 acre-feet next year. That’s about enough water to serve 1.5 million homes.

“Unprecedented,” said Scott Huntley, spokesperson for the Las Vegas-based Southern Nevada Water Authority, whose chief, Pat Mulroy, has mentioned the idea of seeking federal aid…

Las Vegas effectively has two straws into Lake Mead, which is roughly 300 miles (480 kilometers) downstream of Lake Powell, to get its water. One of those straws could stop working once the lake drops too far—somewhere between 1,050 feet (320 meters) and 1,075 feet (328 meters) above sea level, it’s thought. Perhaps as early as autumn 2014, Lake Mead is expected to drop to 1,075 feet (down 25 feet from the current level).

Anticipating trouble earlier, the city’s water authority has been busy installing a third straw to reach a deeper part of Lake Mead. “It’s essentially a race for us,” Huntley said, as the lake “is going to drop more precipitously than seen in the past.”

From the Northern Colorado Business Report:

The Colorado River supplies roughly half the water used by residents of the Front Range. The river, which begins in the Never Summer Mountains high in Rocky Mountain National Park, serves millions of people from Denver to Las Vegas and Los Angeles.

The decision by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which manages the two giant storage reservoirs, is an effort to equalize storage in the two lakes and to stave off the need to curtail use farther up the river in states such as Colorado, said Eric Wilkinson, manager of the Berthoud-based Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District. The district diverts hundreds of thousands of acre feet of water from the river for use in Northern Colorado. The river serves seven states: Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, Wyoming, Nevada, Arizona and California.

“Powell and Mead are as low as they have been in a number of years,” have been in a number of years,” Wilkinson said Friday.

Under the Colorado River Compact of 1922, if lower basin states don’t receive their legal share of the river, they can force states such as Colorado, to cut back their use. But Wilkinson said there is no immediate threat of a forced cutback or curtailment because water deliveries are calculated on a running 10-year-average. “Our 10-year running total (delivery) is at 85 million acre feet right now,” he said. “By law we’re only required to deliver 75 maf. So we still have some cushion.”[...]

Jim Lochhead, manager of Denver Water, said the decision is a reflection of the ongoing pressures on the western water supplies. Denver Water derives roughly half of its supplies from the Colorado River…

U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, who recently led a Senate hearing on the future of the Colorado River basin, urged Coloradans to conserve water following the Bureau of Reclamation’s announcement.

“The Colorado River made our state what it is today: It irrigates our crops, sustains a robust recreation industry and supports cities throughout Colorado,” Udall said in a statement. “The Bureau of Reclamation’s announcement today is a reminder that every Coloradan has a role to play in keeping the Colorado River strong.”

From The Albuquerque Journal (John Fleck):

“What we’re facing here is a truly historic drought,” said Assistant Secretary of the Interior Anne Castle, speaking at a meeting of Colorado River managers at which the shortage declaration was a major topic of discussion.

The last 14 years are the driest in a century of record keeping, Castle said, and among the driest such periods in more than a thousand years of tree ring records.

Castle said natural drought, made worse by climate change, requires “new thinking” to deal with the region’s water problems.

New Mexico uses Colorado Basin water for farming and cities in the San Juan Basin in the northwest corner of the state. In addition, Albuquerque, Santa Fe and other New Mexico communities use Colorado water imported via the San Juan-Chama project.

Friday’s announcement is the result of a historic deal among the seven Colorado River Basin states signed in 2007 that allowed the federal government to hold back water if Lake Powell drops too low.

That has the practical effect of protecting New Mexico’s supplies for the foreseeable future, because Lake Powell acts as a sort of savings bank for states in the Colorado’s Upper Basin, said Estevan López, head of the state’s Interstate Stream Commission.

Under the 2007 deal, the Upper Basin states agreed to share extra water with the downstream states of Arizona, Nevada and California during wet years in exchange for an agreement to hold water back in Lake Powell during dry years like this one.

“It’s playing out just the way it was supposed to,” López said.

From The Deseret News (Amy Joi O’Donoghue):

The action by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation led Pat Mulroy, head of the water district that serves the Las Vegas metropolitan area, to call for federal disaster relief, arguing the potential for damage is comparable to East Coast hurricanes…

Mulroy’s Southern Nevada Water Authority is in a race against Mother Nature, rushing to put in a third intake in a deeper part of the reservoir from which to withdraw water. The fear is the reservoir could drop to levels low enough that the other intakes would not work…

Gary Wockner, campaign coordinator for Save the Colorado, said the federal action should be a signal that the Colorado River cannot support any more diversions.

“There’s no more extra water in the system. If you take water out upstream, then someone downstream is going dry,” Wockner said. “So we can’t divert any more water out of the Colorado River or build any new water supply projects.”[...]

Shortages of water deliveries to Nevada, in particular, may further stoke the Southern Nevada Water Authority’s pursuit of a groundwater pumping project in the eastern basins of Nevada…

If the drying trends continue, groups worry that a nightmarish scenario could play out for the West. Those possibilities include:

  • Lower water levels could cut off power production at Glen Canyon Dam as soon as the winter of 2015, affecting power supply and pricing in six states.
  • Less water coming into Lake Mead may bring the level below an intake pipe that delivers water to Las Vegas by the spring of 2015.
  • By the winter of 2015, Lake Mead may also dip to a level that will result in a major decline in power generation at Hoover Dam, affecting supply and cost of power for consumers in three states, including California.
  • The bureau’s Lower Colorado Regional Director Terry Fulp did point to the unpredictability and variability in the Colorado River system. “With a good winter snowpack next year, the outlook could change significantly as it did in 2011, but we also need to be prepared for continuing drought,” he said.

    From the Summit County Citizens Voice (Bob Berwyn):

    July inflow into Lake Powell was just 13 percent of average, following a spring runoff season during whic the river delivered only about a third of the average amount of water.

    The cutback comes as no surprise, and won’t have an immediate impact on water users in California, Arizona and Nevada. In 2007, states that depend on the river agreed to a set of guidelines for reduced flows to the Lower Basin states when Lake Powell dips to a certain level. The giant reservoir holds about 24.3 million acre feet but is currently only about half full, nearing a level that triggers the agreed-upon cuts.

    From the Arizona Central (Dennis Wagner):

    A Bureau of Reclamation study released Friday says the Colorado River’s worst drought in a century will force reduced water releases from Lake Powell that could affect agriculture, downstream business and hydroelectric power production.

    Groups urging conservation warned of drastic cutbacks and severe economic implications while state officials and the Central Arizona Project sought to downplay the alarm…

    CAP officials emphasized that water delivery to towns and cities will not be affected. However, based on the bureau projections, they said shortages could trigger a 20 percent decrease in Arizona deliveries to agriculture…

    CAP stressed that, if the drought triggers a shortage and cutbacks in two years, it will not have an impact on municipalities, residential water users or Native American tribes.

    From The Christian Science Monitor (Pete Spotts):

    The bureau formally announced the cut Friday. The amount of water that the bureau will release from the lake starting Oct. 1 will be some 10 percent less than the amount released in the prior 12 months – some 7.48 million acre-feet of water during the 2014 water year, compared with 8.23 million acre-feet during the current water year, which ends Sept. 30…

    “We’re in an unparalleled – at least in recorded history – period of droughts on the Colorado River system,” says Michael Cohen, a senior research associate who specializes in Colorado River water issues at the Pacific Institute in Oakland, Calif.

    “It seems that this is the new normal,” he says, noting that climate scientists studying the potential effects of global warming have been predicting these conditions in the region for more than a decade…

    The bureau’s move “is truly historic,” adds Taylor Hawes, director of the Nature Conservancy’s Colorado River Program. “The bureau has never released less than 7.5 million acre-feet” of water since the Glen Canyon Dam, which formed Lake Powell, was built.

    The bureau took the action under an interim allocation agreement hammered out in 2007 between states in the upper Colorado River Basin and the lower basin. The upper-basin states include Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, New Mexico. The lower-basin states include Arizona, Nevada, and California…

    Flows for the past two months give a sense of the magnitude of the problem. Data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Colorado Basin River Forecast Center in Salt Lake City show that flows in June were 35 percent below average, while July’s flows were 13 percent of normal. August looks a bit better, with stream flows projected at 32 percent below normal.

    Under the 2007 allocation agreement, the bureau tries to strike a balance in water levels between Lake Mead and Lake Powell, Dr. Fulp explains.

    “We try to get a better balance during high-flow years between the two basins,” he says. “We’re trying to balance the pain of low-flow years between the two basins.”

    Although Lake Mead is drawing the short straw this time around, it received about 800,000 additional acre-feet of water from Lake Powell last year, Mr. Cohen adds. This was preceded by a bigger release from Powell to Mead in 2008, he adds. “So in some ways, it’s a wash,” he says.

    Even so, the cost of Friday’s announcement to Lake Mead is a waterline eight feet lower than it is today – a falling level that Las Vegas is desperately trying to beat as it installs a new intake system at the lake to provide water for the city…

    The supply-demand study that the bureau released in December was a call to action for more-aggressive efforts to improve water-use efficiency and for other approaches to adapting to a future where climate and populations continue to put the squeeze on water resources, Ms. Hawes says. But looking at the bureau’s historic reduction in water to be released from Lake Powell, she adds, “Nobody expected it to happen so quickly.”

    From The Salt Lake Tribune (Brian Maffly):

    Reclamation operates Glen Canyon in tandem with its downstream partner Hoover Dam, which impounds Lake Mead, a key water source for Las Vegas and other lower Colorado River Basin users. The two reservoirs, which sit on each side of the Grand Canyon, are both less than half full, putting their ability to generate hydropower at risk.

    From The Wall Street Journal (Jim Carlton):

    More than a decade into a drought that has plagued the Southwest, federal officials for the first time plan a sharp cut in the amount of Colorado River water that flows 360 miles from Lake Powell into Lake Mead. In the year starting Oct. 1, officials at the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation said Friday, that supply will drop by nearly 10%—roughly equivalent to the annual water usage of about 700,000 families.

    The cut will translate into a reduction in hydroelectric power generation in some areas served by the reservoir—Nevada, Arizona and California—and brings the reservoir level close to a federal declaration of a water shortage. Such a declaration would mean that Nevada and Arizona would face having their water allocations cut…

    The effect on Lake Mead will be a drop in water level of eight feet, which will come on top of receding water levels that already have totaled about 100 feet since the drought took hold in 2000. Water levels at Lake Mead now stand at an elevation of 1105 feet. The new cutback will bring the level perilously close to a federal trigger point of 1075 feet—the measure at which the Interior Department would declare a water shortage. Mr. Fulp said in an interview that there is a 50% chance such a shortage would be declared in 2016; a probability he added has been increased this year as the drought has intensified. The reduction will result in an 8% decrease in electricity production at Glen Canyon Dam, requiring a federal power agency to spend about $10 million to buy electricity on the open market to meet customer demands, said Lisa Iams, a Bureau of Reclamation spokeswoman in Salt Lake City…

    In Arizona, a reduction of 320,000 acre-feet, or one fifth its supply, would prompt the Central Arizona Project to cut supplies for farming and other lower-priority uses such as banking water underground to guard against a future emergency, said Chuck Cullom, Colorado River programs manager for the big water agency.

    Here’s a release from US Senator Mark Udall’s office (Mike Saccone):

    Following the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s decision today to release a historically low amount of water from Lake Powell, Mark Udall urged Coloradans to do their part by responsibly using water and making every drop count. Udall, who recently led a U.S. Senate hearing on the future of the Colorado River Basin, said every Coloradan has an obligation to conserve water. He also urged the groups involved in the Colorado River Supply and Demand Study to keep moving forward to implement the strategies identified in the study, which include reducing demand through innovation, conservation and better management of supply.

    “The Colorado River made our state what it is today: It irrigates our crops, sustains a robust recreation industry, and supports cities throughout Colorado,” Udall said. “The Bureau of Reclamation’s announcement today is a reminder that every Coloradan has a role to play in keeping the Colorado River strong. Make every drop count: Only use what you need and make water conservation a priority.”

    Udall has been an unwavering advocate for the Colorado River and the interstate and international compacts that keep it strong. He heralded a recent agreement between the United States and Mexico, in cooperation with the seven Colorado River Basin states, to better manage the Colorado River. He also has been a strong proponent of finding innovative ways to better manage water to meet the rising demand throughout the West.

    Udall also has fought to protect Colorado’s waterways and reservoirs from threats like wildfire. He welcomed a federal, state and local partnership the U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of the Interior formed in July to reduce the threat wildfires pose to Colorado’s drinking-water supplies. Udall also led the recent fight to secure recovery funds for Colorado’s watersheds damaged by 2012’s High Park and Waldo Canyon wildfires.

    From the Associated Press (Ken Ritter and Paul Foy) via The Sacramento Bee:

    The bureau that controls the levers at the Glen Canyon and Hoover dams said cities, states, farmers and Indian tribes will get their full Colorado River water deliveries next year — and probably in 2015. [Terry] Fulp said a 2 percent chance of the Lake Mead level dropping in 2015 to the trigger point for a shortage declaration increases to 50 percent in 2016…

    Utah Division of Water Resources chief Dennis Strong said his state doesn’t currently draw its full 1.4-million acre-foot allotment of river water. He said his concern was for states in the Colorado River’s lower basin. “We’ve spent 14 years in a drought situation — with only three above-average years — and Lake Powell and Lake Mead are below half full,” Strong said. “It’s hard not to worry about the future when you’re below 50 percent.”

    From inkstain (John Fleck):

    The shortfall out of Lake Powell in 2014 is not all that large compared to the recent over-deliveries. Or maybe this really makes the case that the Lower Basin is not living within its means, where “its means” are defined as 8.23 maf per year.

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

    More water will be stored in Lake Powell in 2014 as the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation anticipates the likelihood of continued drought.

    “This is the worst 14-year drought period in the last hundred years,” Upper Colorado Regional Director Larry Walkoviak said, noting that low water levels will require increased coordination in the operations of reservoirs upstream from Lake Powell.

    Storing more water in Lake Powell will protect the ability of the bureau to generate electricity at Glen Canyon Dam.

    “Should Powell fall below powerhead (the level at which water can spin the turbines) there’s a whole revenue stream that’s at stake,” Colorado River Water Conservation District spokesman Jim Pokrandt said.

    That revenue stream includes funding from Powell’s power revenues for selenium- and salinity-control programs, Pokrandt said.

    Additional storage in Powell can insulate the upper-basin states of Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and Wyoming from an immediate demand by downstream states for water guaranteed them under a 1922 agreement, but that possibility is not immediate, said Terry Fulp, the Bureau of Reclamation’s Lower Colorado Region director.

    “With a good winter snowpack next year, the outlook could change significantly, as it did in 2011, but we also need to be prepared for continuing drought,” Fulp said.

    Longer-term projections in the bureau’s longer-term models show a “very small chance of lower-basin delivery shortages in 2015,” Fulp said.

    The first significant chance of reduced water deliveries to the lower basin is in 2016, Fulp said, noting that projections will be updated monthly to reflect changes in weather and hydrology.

    Bureau officials and environmentalists have been raising alarms in recent months about demand outstripping supply on the river serving some 40 million people in seven states and cities including Los Angeles, Phoenix, Denver and Las Vegas.

    “The problem isn’t drought, and a big rain storm or a heavy winter snow season won’t fix this,” said Bob Irvin, president of American Rivers in Washington. D.C. The advocacy group in April labeled the Colorado River the most endangered waterway in the U.S.

    “What we need are fundamental changes in how we manage water in the Colorado basin,” Irvin said. “This is the loudest wake-up call so far.”

    Fulp pointed to a federal report issued in December that concluded that the river may not meet the needs of a growing regional population by 2060.

    “The study showed very clearly that demand and supply curves are crossing and demand is exceeding supply,” he said.

    Fulp compares managing the two largest reservoirs on the Colorado River to pouring tea from one cup to another. He said the usual annual delivery of 8.23 million acre-feet of water from Lake Powell to Lake Mead will be cut next year about 9 percent, to 7.48 million acre-feet. Officials say one acre-foot is enough to serve two Nevada families for a year.

    Lake Powell, near the Utah-Arizona state line, would decrease from 45 percent this year to 42 percent next year.

    Lake Mead, on the Nevada-Arizona state line, is currently at 47 percent capacity and could drop to 39 percent capacity next year.

    Lake Mead on Friday was at 1,106 feet. The low level next year would be about 10 feet above a 1,075-foot elevation trigger point agreed upon in 2007 by the seven U.S. states that share river water under a 1928 allocation agreement. Native American tribes and Mexico also get shares of Colorado River water.

    A shortage declaration would mean Arizona would get 11.4 percent less than its 2.8 million acre-foot allocation. Nevada would get 4.3 percent less than its 300,000 acre-foot allotment — a loss equivalent of the amount serving 26,000 homes.

    Southern Nevada Water Authority chief Pat Mulroy last week floated the idea of a federal disaster declaration due to drought in the Southwest. Meanwhile, local officials stress conservation, and note that iconic dancing fountains on the Las Vegas Strip use recycled water.

    From the Las Vegas Review Journal (Henry Brean):

    Lake Mead will receive its smallest water delivery ever in the coming year, thanks to a sudden dip in Lake Powell fueled by the second- driest year since drought hit the Colorado River in 2000. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation made it official Friday with the release of its August forecast that sets the annual water delivery from Lake Powell and predicts reservoir levels along the river through July 2015. The document calls for Lake Powell to release 7.48 million acre-feet of water in the coming year, 750,000 acre-feet less than in any year since the reservoir on the Arizona-Utah border was created.

    The move will speed the decline of Lake Mead, which is expected to drop almost 25 feet to a record low by November 2014. By April 2015, the surface of Lake Mead could sink to 1,075 feet above sea level, triggering the first federal shortage declaration on the river and prompting water supply cuts for Nevada and Arizona.

    Should the lake keep dropping from there, it eventually will shut down one of the two intakes the Southern Nevada Water Authority uses to draw about 90 percent of the Las Vegas Valley’s water supply. According to the federal projections released Friday, that could happen sometime in late summer 2015…

    “Conditions on the Colorado River continue to deteriorate,” she said. “Weathering this storm will require an exceptional level of cooperation among all of us who rely upon the Colorado River, whether for municipal water supplies or agricultural irrigation.”

    Conservation groups are expressing alarm. One group called what is happening to the river “The Great Depletion.” “This is like the ‘check engine’ light coming on in your car,” said Bart Miller of the Boulder, Colo.-based Western Resource Advocates. “It’s a message from the Colorado River telling us that something is wrong, and we need to fix it soon.”

    Back in Southern Nevada, critics of the water authority argue the agency isn’t behaving as though there is a crisis. No major new water restrictions have been adopted or even proposed since 2009, and no real effort has been made to curb indoor water use or set limits on future residential and commercial development. If this is such an emergency, why aren’t Mulroy and company screaming for the community to cut its water use as much as possible?

    For one thing, said authority spokesman J.C. Davis, this is not a problem that can be solved by people in Southern Nevada using less water. Nevada gets 300,000 acre-feet, or about 2 percent, of the 16.5 million acre-feet of Colorado River water that is parceled out each year among seven western states and Mexico. If the Las Vegas Valley went one year without using any water from Lake Mead, the impact on the reservoir would be a rise of about 3 feet…

    The agency still hasn’t figured out how to pay for what figures to be one of the most expensive public works projects in Nevada history: a network of wells, pipelines and pumps stretching several hundred miles to bring groundwater to Las Vegas from across rural Clark, Lincoln and White Pine counties. By the authority’s own estimates, the in-state water project could wind up costing as much as $15 billion, including financing costs.

    Authority board members have yet to cast a final vote authorizing the design and construction of the controversial pipeline, but a decision could come by the end of next year.

    Under rules adopted by the authority in 2009, the vote will be taken as soon as Lake Mead drops to the 1,075-foot level.

    It seems the only thing that can stop that now is a Rocky Mountain winter choked with heavy snow.

    More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.

    ‘We’ve seen…the worst consecutive years of inflow in the last 100 years’ — Terry Fulp #ColoradoRiver

    August 16, 2013


    From the Associated Press via the Albuquerque Journal:

    After back-to-back driest years in a century on the Colorado River, federal water managers are giving Arizona and Nevada a 50-50 chance of having their water deliveries cut in 2016, unless the Rocky Mountains get more winter snow than in recent years. A U.S. Bureau of Reclamation operations plan being made public Friday will for the first time ever slow the flow of water from the Lake Powell reservoir upstream of the Grand Canyon to the huge Lake Mead reservoir that provides almost all of Las Vegas’ water.

    But a bureau official said Lake Mead won’t reach a low point next year that would trigger cuts to Sin City’s main drinking water supply.

    “What we’ve seen in the last two years are the worst consecutive years of inflow in the last 100 years,” bureau Lower Colorado Regional Director Terry Fulp said in an interview in advance of the report.

    “We’re going to slow Powell’s decline. That will hasten Mead’s decline,” he said. “But next year, we can adjust again.”

    The bureau that controls the levers at the Glen Canyon and Hoover dams said cities, states, farmers and Indian tribes will get their full Colorado River water deliveries next year — and probably in 2015.

    Fulp said a 2 percent chance of the Lake Mead level dropping in 2015 to the trigger point for a shortage declaration increases to 50 percent in 2016…

    Fulp compares managing the two largest reservoirs on the Colorado River to pouring tea from one cup to another. He said the usual annual delivery of 8.23 million acre-feet of water from Lake Powell to Lake Mead will be cut next year to 7.48 million acre-feet. Officials say one acre-foot is enough to serve two Nevada families for a year.

    Lake Powell, near the Utah-Arizona state line, would decrease from 45 percent this year to 42 percent next year.

    Lake Mead, on the Nevada-Arizona state line, is currently at 47 percent capacity and could drop to 39 percent capacity next year.

    Lake Mead on Thursday was at nearly 1,106 feet. The low level next year would be about 10 feet above a 1,075-foot elevation trigger point agreed upon in 2007 by the seven U.S. states that share river water under a 1928 allocation agreement. Native American tribes and Mexico also get shares of Colorado River water…

    California, Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and Wyoming wouldn’t see direct cuts in their share of river water in 2016 depending on the Lake Mead water level. But officials acknowledged there would be ripple effects.

    “Denver Water has a direct interest in these issues because half our supply comes from the Colorado River,” said Jim Lochhead, chief executive of the water agency serving Denver and its suburbs. “Issues like compact curtailment or political or legal confrontation along the river will affect that supply.”[...]

    Utah Division of Water Resources chief Dennis Strong said his state doesn’t currently draw its full 1.4-million acre-foot allotment of river water. He said his concern was for states in the Colorado River’s lower basin.

    “We’ve spent 14 years in a drought situation — with only three above-average years — and Lake Powell and Lake Mead are below half full,” Strong said. “It’s hard not to worry about the future when you’re below 50 percent.”

    More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.

    ‘There’s no reason to run around like your hair’s on fire’ — John Fleck #ColoradoRiver

    August 15, 2013


    From inkstain (John Fleck):

    The Bureau of Reclamation is going to tell us Friday that there’s not very much water in Lake Powell, and that as a result releases from Powell will be curtailed in the coming year, which sets off a cascading set of effects downstream. I took a crack at explaining this here, but Brett Walton has really done the journalistic heavy lifting to explain what it all means. I don’t have much to add to Brett’s analysis, which is rich and detailed, except for this simple takeaway message: You’ll hear from and see a lot of people in coming days running around like their hair is on fire about this. Chill. As Brett’s piece explains, this is an orderly process.

    Here’s the post that Mr. Fleck cites above from Circle of Blue (Brett Walton). Click through and read the whole thing. Here’s an excerpt:

    Every month, officials at the federal Bureau of Reclamation, the dam-master for the river, run some hydrological assumptions and observations through a computer, peer into the crystal screen, and see a rough outline of the system’s health for the following two years. The 24-month study, as it is called, has taken on greater significance since 2007, when the seven U.S. states that share the Colorado River signed an agreement that declared the study as the guidepost for how to operate the Basin’s two big reservoirs, Mead and Powell, in times of water surplus and water deficit. (The 2007 shortage-sharing agreement, known formally as the Colorado River Interim Guidelines for Lower Basin Shortages, did not include Mexico, which is guaranteed water from the river under a 1944 treaty. Mexico’s obligations during a shortage were worked out in an amendment called Minute 319, signed last November.)

    Every year since the shortage-sharing agreement was signed, the August study — the 2013 version of which will be released this Friday — has been the standard-setter. Its projections determine how much water the Bureau will send downstream in the next year. If the results from last month hold, as is likely, the amount of water released from Lake Powell in 2014 will be the lowest since the reservoir was being filled during the 1960s. The resulting 9 percent cut would set the table for the first-ever shortage declaration on the Lower Colorado River, either in 2015 or 2016. By then, the water level in Lake Mead, downstream from Powell, is projected to drop below a trigger point that sets off a round of restrictions on water withdrawals for Arizona, California, Nevada, and now Mexico…

    Yet, if Lake Mead were to fall below 327.7 meters (1,075 feet) in elevation, thus breaching the first of three shortage levels named in the 24-month study, the short-term effects would not be devastating: there would be a belt-tightening by a small group of users in Arizona and Nevada, a price increase for a larger group in Arizona, and a firm cap on withdrawals in California. In practice, water use would likely remain constant, because groundwater pumping — itself an unsustainable safety net — would rise to offset the restriction on surface diversions…

    The first number to watch for is 1,089.7 meters (3,575 feet). If Friday’s study projects that Lake Powell’s elevation will fall below the 3,575-feet barrier in January of 2014 — as the July study showed — then a shortage for the Lower Basin is all the more likely by 2016, because of the smaller slug of water that the Bureau would release from Powell. Shortages, however, are declared based on Lake Mead’s elevation and would affect only Arizona, California, and Nevada.

    Bruce Williams, who works for the Bureau’s river operations group, says that dry soils and below-average rainfall for 2013 point to a similar forecast for this month’s study as was predicted last month.

    “Based on everything going on in the Basin, the odds are that July is close to what we’ll see in August,” Williams told Circle of Blue.

    If that happens, then attention turns to Lake Mead. The 2007 shortage-sharing agreement sets three reservoir elevations under which water restrictions are imposed on the Lower Basin: 1,075 feet, 1,050 feet, and 1,025 feet. Under the first shortage level, total water use is cut by 4.4 percent in the three Lower Basin states: Arizona would take an 11 percent cut and Nevada 4 percent, while California’s allocation would not be reduced. Mexico’s deliveries would be take a 3.3 percent hit.

    From The Imperial Valley Press (Antoine Abou-Diwan):

    Under standard conditions, the BOR releases 8.23 million acre-feet of water from Lake Powell to Lake Mead to keep the two reservoirs operating in harmony. However, this year’s annual release volume could be less than standard. Fourteen consecutive years of drought, reduced inflows to the Colorado River and urban population growth have squeezed water supplies. Diversions from the Colorado River deliver water to California, six other western states and parts of Mexico. “If on Friday the 24-month study puts us in operational mid-release tier, it could mean that this year’s annual release volume could be less than standard. It would be 7.48 million acre-feet,” said Lisa Iams, Upper Colorado Region public affairs officer.

    Lake Powell and Lake Mead are BOR’s two storage reservoirs on the Colorado River. The BOR tries to maintain a balance in the water level between the two reservoirs, and reduced inflows to Lake Powell generally mean lower releases to Lake Mead, which lies downstream of Lake Powell. While a lower release does not necessarily correspond with a declaration of a water shortage, the likelihood of such an occurrence will increase if conditions on the river remain the same.

    The water level on Lake Mead will drop four to eight feet more than it would under standard releases, bringing the lake within 31 feet of its shortage trigger, said Tina Shields, Imperial Irrigation District assistant water manager. “It’s not a shortage until Lake Mead reaches an elevation of 1,075 (feet),” Shields said.

    A shortage declaration on the lower Colorado River Basin would not directly impact California, Shields said. Arizona, Nevada and Mexico would be first to feel the pinch. However, California’s inadvertent overrun policy would be suspended, putting a hard cap on California’s allocation. Under the Colorado River Compact, California has an entitlement of 4.4 million acre-feet of water per year.

    From the Oakland Press (Brian Maffly):

    July’s actual flow into the reservoir separating the Colorado River’s upper and lower basin turned out be about 100,000 acre feet less than forecast, or 13 percent of July’s normal inflows, according to Michelle Stokes of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “That was the huge shocker. The month before was 35 percent of normal,” said Stokes, the hydrologist in charge of NOAA’s Colorado Basin River Forecast Center. And the outlook for the next several months is not much better.

    It is widely expected that this new data will prompt the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to reduce Glen Canyon releases next year by 750,000 acre feet, enough water to supply 1.5 million homes. “We had very low years the past two years, almost record lows for the upper basin,” Stokes said. “We are starting with relatively dry soils and low flows. Our forecast is for below normal, 80 percent. We are thinking 33 percent in August and 44 percent in September, 60 to 70 in October.”

    From Colorado River Setting the Course:

    Water policy experts convening at the annual Clyde Martz Summer Water Conference in Boulder, Colo. (Aug. 15-16), are abuzz about an unprecedented alarm in the Colorado River Basin. Amidst the driest 14 years on record in the Southwest, for the first time in history the Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) will likely reduce the amount of water that Lake Powell releases to Lake Mead – an alarm that could be the first indication of serious water shortages ahead.

    Western Resource Advocates (WRA) and Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) have prepared a fact sheet to help explain the significance of the Lake Powell release reduction. [Download the Fact Sheet here (PDF)]

    “This is like the ‘check engine’ light coming on in your car—it’s a message from the Colorado River telling us that something is wrong and we need to fix it soon,” said Bart Miller, Water Program Director at Western Resource Advocates. “If we don’t take action to fix this ‘Great Depletion,’ we will face serious consequences within a matter of just a few years.”

    More Colorado River Basin coverage here.

    Colorado River Basin: ‘You can’t go to court…you don’t have time to go to court’ — Pat Mulroy #ColoradoRiver

    August 8, 2013


    From the Las Vegas Review Journal (Henry Brean):

    “This is as much an extreme weather event as Sandy was on the East Coast,” she said, referring to the deadly and destructive storm that hit the United States in fall 2012. “Does a drought not rise to the same level as a storm? The potential damage is just as bad.”

    Mulroy’s comments come as the Colorado wraps up another disappointing water year and approaches another grim milestone: By the end of August, the total amount of water stored on the river is expected to reach its lowest point since Glen Canyon Dam was finished and Lake Powell began to fill in 1966.

    In the coming days, federal regulators are expected to announce plans to slash the annual release of water from Powell, a move that will accelerate the decline of Lake Mead.

    The reservoir east of Las Vegas is now expected to shrink almost 25 feet over the next year to a record low, with Lake Powell not far behind. By fall 2014, the surface of Lake Mead could drop to 1,075 feet above sea level, triggering the first federal shortage declaration on the river and prompting water supply cuts for Nevada and Arizona.

    At this point, Mulroy said, it will take “a major, Noah’s Ark-type event in the next week” to change the upcoming announcement by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which oversees the coordinated operation of the two reservoirs. “I’m very worried. I’m expecting the worst,” she said…

    Under normal conditions, Lake Powell releases at least 8.23 million acre-feet of water a year downstream to Lake Mead for use by Nevada, Arizona, California and Mexico. This year’s release is almost sure to be cut to 7.48 million acre-feet to slow the decline of the upstream reservoir.

    “This is the first time ever that has happened,” Mulroy said…

    The Las Vegas Valley depends on the river for 90 percent of its drinking water supply. That water is drawn from Lake Mead using two intake pipes that could stop working if the reservoir drops far enough.

    The surface of Lake Mead already has fallen more than 100 feet since the current drought descended on the Colorado River in 2000.

    But even in an average year, the river does not carry enough water to fill the allocations parceled out decades ago to the seven states and Mexico.

    The expected cut to Lake Powell’s release for the coming year creates a 1.5 million acre-foot math problem for Mead, which is supposed to deliver 9 million acre-feet of water each year to Nevada, Arizona, California and Mexico.

    The dire situation is forcing Mulroy and other water managers along the river to consider entirely new strategies to protect lake levels and squeeze more water out of the stricken river.

    One short-term option is to pay farms in Arizona and California to temporarily fallow fields and use water that would normally go for irrigation to prop up Lake Mead.

    Already, California, Nevada and Mexico are banking as much unused water as they can in Mead, adding about 10 vertical feet to the reservoir so far that wouldn’t otherwise be there…

    Almost anything they do will require money, and that’s where the federal government can lend a hand, Mulroy said. After all, the Colorado supplies water to more than 30 million people across a region that produces roughly a quarter of the nation’s gross domestic product, she said. “This isn’t just a Las Vegas problem.”[...]

    Meanwhile, the authority is rushing to complete a new third intake capable of drawing water from one of the deepest parts of the lake. Mulroy said she expects the $817 million project to be finished and online by the end of 2014 — because it has to be. If conditions on the river worsen, Intake No. 1 could be out of commission by spring of 2015…

    One thing is clear, Mulroy said: It will take the creativity, cooperation and shared sacrifice of all Colorado River water users to make it through this crisis. All the old divisions must be set aside.

    “You can’t go to court. You don’t have time to go to court. You’ll be sucking air (through your intakes) before that gets done,” she said. “Now is not the time to rattle sabers. It’s a time to roll up your sleeves and work as collaboratively as you can.”

    More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.

    Yampa River Watershed: Yampa River Awareness Project float trip recap

    July 15, 2013


    Here’s a report from Tom Ross writing for Steamboat Today. Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

    The float trip was part of the Yampa River Awareness Project and was hosted by the national conservation organization American Rivers, Friends of the Yampa and OARS river outfitters. The intent was to bring attention to the Yampa as the last free-flowing tributary of the Colorado River.

    American Rivers Senior Communications Director Amy Kober posed the question: “What is the value of the Yampa?”

    “On the Yampa, you see the river as it should be,” Kober said. “At every scale, there is something interesting going on. For endangered fish like the Colorado pikeminnow, the Yampa may be our best chance to save species that are thousands of years old from being lost forever.”

    Expedition videographer and former longtime river guide Michael Bye, of Steamboat Springs, spoke about the values that humans draw from wild rivers.

    “If you can go down this river, you can shake the outside world off” if only temporarily, Bye said. “The difference between Yampa Canyon and other river trips is that it is wilderness, and there are almost no signs of civilization. So many other rivers have railroad tracks and roads” running alongside of them.

    Members of the expedition that took place just after high water June 7 to 11 included conservationists, water policy makers and scientists from the Colorado Water Conservation Board, The Nature Conservancy, Colorado Water Trust, the Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District and the Colorado River Water Conservation District…

    What makes the Yampa special is the fact it is largely undammed, allowing it to behave the way it has for millennia. But it’s that same fact that suggests the river will become a target for water interests from Colorado’s Eastern Plains to Nevada. More and more, water users are looking at the Yampa as human demand for water to build cities, extract energy and feed the world in an era of climate change has begun to exceed supply.

    From Steamboat Today (Tom Ross):

    Less than a month before we launched our rafts at Deer Lodge Park, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper issued an executive order calling on the Colorado Water Conservation Board to act on the state’s grass-roots Basin Roundtables process to draft a statewide water plan by December 2014 and finalize that plan by December 2015. Hickenlooper’s executive order issued in May takes note of the fact that the past two decades have been the warmest on record since the 1890s and that the state is faced with a gap between water supply and demand that could grow to 500,000 acre-feet by 2050. To put that number in perspective, Dillon Reservoir’s capacity is a little more than half that amount at 257,304 acre-feet. And the capacity of Stagecoach Reservoir in South Routt County is just 33,275 acre-feet…

    Ken Brenner, of Steamboat Springs and a board member of Friends of the Yampa and the Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District, pointed out that basing the upper basin states’ obligation to the lower basin states on a 10-year average creates opportunity for filling reservoirs. “On a year where there is 10 (million acre-feet), they get their 7.5,” and the upper basin can store water. “We’ll never renegotiate it better,” Brenner said…

    “Most of us accept that the [Colorado River Compact] is here to stay,” he said…

    The implications of Hickenlooper’s order for the Yampa aren’t clear, but the question of the week could be boiled down to: “Will the new plan result in new water storage projects or the expansion of existing storage projects on the Yampa River system?”

    Seven years ago, two water developers were looking at hugely expensive plans to pump unappropriated Yampa River water hundreds of miles eastward to the hungry Front Range of Colorado. Matt Rice, director of Colorado conservation for American Rivers, said in the midst of last month’s float trip that those proposals are not the immediate threat that they once appeared to be. “Right now, the Yampa pumpback project is not (economically) feasible, and there is no proponent,” Rice said.

    More Yampa River Basin coverage here and here.

    ‘The lower basin is done with its compact allocation, and on occasion they use some of ours’ — Jennifer Gimbel #coriver

    March 26, 2013


    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    State water officials say that results of a Colorado River basin study do not support the conclusion that there is no more water in the river to develop. After the Bureau oyf Reclamation released the study last year, environmental groups have portrayed it as meaning the Colorado River is out of water, but that’s not the case, said Jennifer Gimbel, executive director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

    “What’s important about it is that it’s a planning study that’s meant to be a tool for folks as they look at the river,” Gimbel told the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District board last week. “You can play it any way you want it, and some have. They say, ‘a pipeline is impossible,’ or ‘we’re running out of water.’ ” In reality, the lower basin states in the Colorado River Compact (Arizona, California and Nevada) have used their full allocation of water, while upper basin states (Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming) still could claim water from the river.

    “The lower basin is done with its compact allocation, and on occasion they use some of ours,” she said.

    Ted Kowalski, who specializes in Colorado River issues for the CWCB, pointed to Colorado’s own studies which found that up to 900,000 acre-feet annually within Colorado could be allocated. The states have been working cooperatively to manage the risk of shortages, which have never occurred under the compact, Kowalski said. “Strategies like water banking would reduce the likelihood of shortages,” he added.

    Gimbel added that the study did not take into account that cities that export water from the Colorado River like Los Angeles, Denver and Salt Lake City might find other sources of water to better manage the risks.

    “We have a variable climate in Colorado,” said Alan Hamel, the CWCB representative from the Arkansas River basin. “We shouldn’t give up on developing our Colorado River entitlement.”

    More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.

    ‘To rewrite or amend the Law of the River was a place we were not willing to go at this time’ — Ted Kowalski #coriver

    March 20, 2013


    Back in 2008 a weary John McCain forgot he was in the Denver airport talking to a journalist from The Pueblo Chieftain instead of in Phoenix talking to local media there when he said that the Colorado River Compact should be renegotiated. Here’s a piece I wrote about the incident for the Colorado Independent. John McCain didn’t win Colorado that year.

    Renegotiation of the Colorado River Compact (The Law of the River) is rearing its ugly head again. Here’s an article from the Water Law & Policy Monitor (Tripp Baltz) via Bloomberg that looks at the implications from the Colorado River Basin Water Supply & Demand Study released on December 12, 2012 which did not take up the legal issues in the basin. Here’s an excerpt:

    …the study, known formally as The Colorado River Basin Water Supply and Demand Study, did not assess one set of ideas: proposals calling for legal and policy changes, many of which concerned the Law of the River, a collection of compacts, treaties, statutes, and court rulings that governs how water in the basin has been allocated for more than 90 years.

    From the beginning of the study–completed in December 2012 and funded by the Bureau of Reclamation and the basin states of Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming–the participants agreed it would be taking on too much to give serious consideration to changing the Law of the River.

    “To rewrite or amend the Law of the River was a place we were not willing to go at this time and in the context of the study,” said Ted Kowalski, chief of the interstate, federal, and water information section for the Colorado Water Conservation Board, part of the state’s Department of Natural Resources. Kowalski was a member of the options and strategies sub-team that helped write the study.

    Carly Jerla, operations research analyst for the Bureau of Reclamation in Boulder, and the bureau’s manager for the study, told BNA that officials believed it would not be productive “to start taking apart the Law of the River just for the sake of taking it apart.”

    “We were all in agreement from the get-go that we were going to reflect on and consider the policy options, but that they were not going to go through a rigorous assessment,” Jerla said. “We all knew that if we started going down that road, we would get sidelined and never get the report done.”[...]

    When asked if members of the sub-team were reluctant to analyze legal and policy ideas because they respect the Law of the River, fear changing it, or view changing it as too difficult, sub-team member Don Gross told BNA, “All of the above.”

    “I don’t think the states want to go there,” added Gross, a civil engineer with the Arizona Department of Water Resources.

    Opening up the Law of the River would have risked altering its core purpose–setting the water allocations to which each state is entitled. States worry that doing so could result in changes to their current shares.

    That fear is more pervasive in the upper basin states of Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming, which do not use up their full apportionment over a 10-year average, relative to those in the lower basin states of Arizona, California, and Nevada, which have used up their allotments as defined under various compacts, agreements, and court orders dating back to 1922…

    It is likely all three lower basin states would see advantages to changing allocations as defined under the Law of the River, with Nevada “perhaps having the most to gain by some kind of reallocation scheme,” Kowalski acknowledged…

    The legal implications of the report were indeed sensitive, Kenney said. In addition to declining to assess the legal and policy options, the study included a page-long disclaimer stating that nothing in the study report is intended for use against any of the main basin partners to “evidence legal interpretations of the law of the river.”

    Even the negotiations over the disclaimer became prickly, he said. In June 2011 the Bureau and the seven states released an interim report on the study, coming right up against the release deadline because of last minute debate over the disclaimer’s wording, Kenney said.

    It is the job of the Law of the River, a complex body of laws, court cases, and regulations, to determine how Colorado River water meets the needs of the various agricultural, industrial, and municipal users. The Law of the River also controls how dams and reservoirs are operated in the basin.

    Over the history of the Law of the River, water managers have described it in contradictory terms, at times endowing it with a near-reverent, written-in-stone quality, while at other times touting its flexibility and evolving nature…

    Ignoring the legal issues could ultimately put the upper basin states at the biggest risk, Kenney said.

    “If you avoid having this conversation and you wait until the system crashes, that’s when the lower basin states will use their political muscle to go to Congress, and Congress will impose a solution to their liking,” he said.

    “My money’s more in California than on Wyoming,” he added.

    Supply and demand solutions must be accompanied by legal solutions, he said. “Even if you start bringing in icebergs and building pipelines, the legal issues are still there,” he said. “You put new water in the system, and you still have to decide: Whose water is it?”

    More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.

    ‘The median of a bunch of model runs does not equal a prediction’ — Hannah Holm #coriver

    February 8, 2013


    From the Grand Junction Free Press (Hannah Holm):

    [Last] week, at the Colorado Water Congress annual convention in Denver, water providers and stakeholders from around the state had the opportunity to hear presentations and commentary on some of the study’s finer points and limitations. Here are a few of the key messages that came through in that discussion.

    Lower basin water users, those that pull water from the Colorado River downstream from Lake Powell, are already using more water each year than they have a right to expect under the terms of the 1922 compact that divided the river between upstream and downstream users.

    That’s because the upper basin states, including Colorado, have grown more slowly than California and Arizona, and have consequently allowed more water to flow downstream than is legally required. That’s why there’s still a debate in Colorado about how much more water can be taken out of the Colorado up here, despite the fact that basin-wide, uses are already exceeding supplies.

    The study included modeling different supply and demand scenarios and management actions to see how they would affect the likelihood of hitting key indicators of shortages, both for human water users (levels in Lake Mead, for example), and the environment (low flows at key points). Projecting out toward 2060, the models indicate increasing numbers of years when fish are likely to be in trouble. Some of the management tools appear to have promise for reducing this vulnerability, but no actions would eliminate it. The study also showed that flows too low for enjoyable (and profitable) whitewater recreation were also likely to become more frequent.

    Several panelists made the point that climate change models, downscaled to fit the Colorado Basin, produce many different projections of water supply. The median of all the outputs shows water inflows to the basin reduced by 9% by 2060, but that doesn’t mean that this is what will actually happen.

    More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.

    The CWCB plans to roll Flaming Gorge Pipeline analysis in with other IBCC reviews for transmountain diversions #coriver

    February 4, 2013


    Here’s an article from last week that deals with the demise of the Flaming Gorge Task Force. It ran in the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel and was written by Gary Harmon.

    From The River Blog (Jessie Thomas-Blate):

    Last year, American Rivers listed the Green River as #2 on our annual list of America’s Most Endangered Rivers®, due to the potential impact of this pipeline on the river, the recreation economy, and the water supply for the lower Colorado River Basin…

    Recently, a coalition of 700 business owners called Protect the Flows commissioned a poll that found 84% of West Slope residents and 52% of metro Denver-area residents oppose building additional water pipelines across the mountains. In fact, 76% of Colorado residents think that the solution lies in using water in smarter and more efficient ways, with less waste…

    The Green River is a paddler’s paradise. In May 2012, Steve Markle with O.A.R.S. told us why paddlers love the Green River so much. Then in August, Matt Rice, our Director of Colorado Conservation, told us about his trip fishing the Green, and the big trout, beautiful scenery, and solitude he found there. Finally, Scott Willoughby with the Denver Post gives a description of the river that makes you jealous if you don’t have easy access to this trout oasis (even if you aren’t an avid fisherman!).

    It is no wonder so many people care about preserving adequate water flows in the Green River. It not only provides essential water and cash flow for West Slope towns, but also a great adventure for the citizens of Colorado and beyond.

    More Flaming Gorge Pipeline coverage here and here.

    Flaming Gorge Task Force’s phase one report is hot off the press

    January 24, 2013


    Click here to view the report and appendices A through F. Click here for appendices G through I. Thanks to Heather Bergman for sending them along in email. Here’s an excerpt from the report:


    In the course of its work, the Committee has come to more fully understand and appreciate the gravity and risks of the status quo and the need to develop new supply1 solutions that balance the current and future consumptive and nonconsumptive needs of both slopes and all basins. The municipal gap on the Front Range is immediate, the dry-up of agriculture is real and certain, and the environmental and economic concerns are serious and numerous. In the process of becoming informed about and discussing the benefits and costs of a specific new supply project focused around Flaming Gorge, the Committee has identified a key threshold step that must happen in order to move beyond the status quo in developing any significant new supply solution: an immediate and focused conversation with each roundtable and state leaders at the table must begin, aimed at developing an agreement or agreements around how water supply needs around the state can be met. Our conclusion and consensus is that the conversation needs to be transparent and inclusive in order to arrive at consensus agreements that can lead to meaningful statewide-level water supply solutions. The immediate need for this robust, focused, transparent, and balanced conversation is at the heart of each of our recommendations.

    The Committee has developed a consensus flow chart that identifies threshold steps and a process framework for moving forward with major new supply allocation from the Colorado River. The flow chart and the process it outlines suggests a pathway to achieving statewide consensus for a new supply project, based on roundtables defining the scope of a project, the IBCC and CWCB providing insight and approval, and project proponents or participants designing a project based on statewide consensus about the criteria of what characteristics and components are needed to be included into the design, implementation, and operation of a water project for that project to be considered a “good” project for Colorado. The flow chart is based on several assumptions:

  • The goal is to minimize the risk of a Compact call.
  • An M&I gap exists and needs to be filled. Some of the water needed to fill that gap may come from the Colorado River. That portion of the gap that is not satisfied by identified projects or processes, conservation, or new supply will likely come from the change of agricultural water to municipal and industrial use.
  • The current legal framework will apply.
  • All roundtables are affected by a new supply project.
  • This process would be voluntary. An inability to complete the process (all STOP signs in the complete framework) means that proponents revert to “business-as-usual” for building a new project.
  • More coverage from KUGR News:

    A task force studying issues related to proposals to divert water from the Flaming Gorge Reservoir in Wyoming to Colorado says state leaders first need to agree on how Colorado’s water needs can be met. In a report to be presented to the Colorado Water Conservation Board, the Basin Roundtable Exploration Committee says questions that should be addressed include how Colorado can maximize its entitlements to Colorado River water without overdeveloping the river and who would finance a new water supply project. It also lists characteristics of “good” water supply projects, which it says shouldn’t reduce supplies to existing water users, for one. The report, released Wednesday, says there is an immediate gap between the Front Range demand for water and the supply and mentions “risks of the status quo.”

    More Flaming Gorge Task Force coverage here.

    ‘We are living beyond our means, and the gap is greatest in the Lower Basin’ — said David Kanzer #coriver

    January 16, 2013


    From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Heather McGregor) via The Aspen Times:

    “The bottom line is demand is ahead of supply. We are living beyond our means, and the gap is greatest in the Lower Basin,” said David Kanzer, senior water resources engineer for the Colorado River District.

    Kanzer presented a summary of the Colorado River Basin Water Supply and Demand Study to the Colorado River District’s 15-member board during the board’s quarterly meeting held Tuesday in Glenwood Springs. The 1,500-page study was first released Dec. 12 at a multi-state water users meeting in Las Vegas.

    After Kanzer’s presentation, the board convened a closed-door session to discuss the state of Colorado’s negotiation strategy prior to a seven-state meeting next week. Sitting in on the session were Jennifer Gimbel, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board and the state’s chief water official, and Ted Kowalski, chief of the state water agency’s interstate division.

    “We’ll be meeting in Las Vegas next week with the other basin states to figure out what do we do with this study,” Gimbel said.

    The basin study was funded by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the seven Colorado River Basin states: the upper basin states of Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico, and the lower basin states of Nevada, Arizona and California…

    River flows from 1991 to 2010 past Lee’s Ferry, which is just downstream of Glen Canyon Dam in northern Arizona, averaged 13.7 million acre-feet per year…

    Current water use in the basin is 16 million to 17.5 million acre-feet per year, Kanzer said, which includes water from tributaries that drain into the Colorado River below Lee’s Ferry.

    The basin study shows that water use has overtopped supply for the past 10 years, and the gap is forecast to continue.

    “By 2060, the gap is 3.2 million acre-feet a year, and possibly as much as 8 million acre-feet a year,” Kanzer said.

    Lee’s Ferry flows are critical for the upper basin states, as the four states must first send enough water downstream to meet the lower basin’s allocations — 75 million acre-feet in any 10-year period — and can only use water over that amount. So as snowpack and rainfall declines, it will be upper basin users, and western Colorado in particular, that will face limits in water use…

    The study evaluates many ways to increase water supply, such as importing water from other basins, cloudseeding, desalinization of seawater, water banking, land use management in watersheds, and changes in reservoir operations. It also looks at options for reducing demand through stepped up urban and agricultural conservation.

    “Even with all these scenarios, there will still be times we cannot meet 75 in 10,” Kanzer said, referring to the downstream allocations. “The upper basin shortage risk is real. The Lee’s Ferry deficit is real.”

    Moreover, he said, models that assume rising temperatures and changing weather patterns from climate change also forecast the year-to-year variability in streamflow to increase. In other words, there will still be very wet years, such as 2011, and very dry years such as 2002 and 2012, but the very dry years will occur more often in the future.

    With the study now published following years of work, water officials are now focused on educating the wider public about the water supply shortfall that Western states will face in the coming decades.

    Gimbel said the Colorado Water Conservation Board is planning a “road show” to present study findings in communities around the state, particularly in western Colorado, and on the Front Range, which is heavily dependent on water diversions from Western Slope rivers.

    More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.

    BLM Approves Southern Nevada Water Authority Water Pipeline Project

    January 4, 2013


    Water providers along the Front Range that rely on transmountain water from the Colorado River Basin are looking closely at the possibility of a future call on the river from the lower basin states as most transmountain diversions are junior in priority to the Colorado River Compact.

    A recent study released by the Bureau of Reclamation predicts future supply shortfalls some 3.2 million acre-feet.

    Southern Nevada is planning to mine groundwater in the Great Basin to bolster their supplies. For Colorado that might be a good thing since it should help decrease demand on suface supplies from the Colorado River.

    On December 27 the Bureau of Land Management gave the go ahead for the 234 mile pipeline and collection system. Here’s their release:

    The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) will publish a notice in the Federal Register on Friday, Dec. 28, announcing the availability of the Record of Decision (ROD) for the Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA) Clark, Lincoln, and White Pine Counties Groundwater Development Project. The notice is available on the Federal Register electronic desk on Thursday, Dec. 27. The purpose of the project is to construct a groundwater delivery system to the Las Vegas Valley.

    The Lincoln County Conservation, Recreation and Development Act of 2004 (Public Law 108-424), directed the Secretary of the Interior to issue a right-of-way grant on Federal land in Lincoln and Clark counties, Nev., to construct a groundwater delivery system.

    After extensive environmental analysis, consideration of public comments, and application of pertinent Federal laws and policies, the Department of the Interior has decided to grant the SNWA a right-of-way for the construction, operation, maintenance, and termination of the mainline water pipeline, main power lines, pump stations, regulating tanks, water treatment facility and other ancillary facilities of the project.

    The decision authorizes the BLM to issue a right-of-way grant to the SNWA for the preferred alternative as analyzed in the Final Environmental Impact Statement issued in August 2012. The BLM will conduct subsequent environmental analyses for the future facilities and groundwater development.

    The Nevada State Engineer is the authority for approving or denying water right applications. Up to 83,988 acre-feet per year (afy) of groundwater could be transported through the proposed facilities from the SNWA’s water rights in Spring, Delamar, Dry Lake, and Cave valleys, and up to 41,000 afy of water rights from the SNWA’s private ranches and agreements with Lincoln County. No water would be developed in Snake Valley.

    The ROD, signed by Deputy Secretary of the Interior David Hayes, constitutes the final decision of the Department of the Interior. Any challenge to the decision must be brought in Federal district court.

    Click here to go to the BLM webpage for the EIS. You can download a copy of the ROD there.

    From the Associated Press (Sandra Chereb) via MSNBC.com:

    “This is a huge milestone for southern Nevada,” said Patricia Mulroy, the water authority’s general manager. She said being able to “draw upon a portion of our own state’s renewable groundwater supplies reduces our dependence on the drought-prone Colorado River and provides a critical safety net.”

    The Colorado River flows into Lake Mead, southern Nevada’s main water source. A recent study projected moderate to severe water shortages over the next several decades. Lake Mead’s surface level has dropped about 100 feet since 2000 because of ongoing drought and increasing demand from the seven states and more than 25 million people sharing Colorado River water rights. “What the study really told us was that we must prepare for a much drier future and that we can’t count on the Colorado River to sustain our community in the way it once did,” Mulroy said.

    Environmentalists decried the decision, which comes two decades after the concept began to take shape and after years of litigation. More lawsuits are expected to follow.

    Nevada’s state engineer, Jason King, granted the water authority permission in March to pump up to 84,000 acre-feet of groundwater a year from four rural valleys in Lincoln and White Pine counties. An acre-foot is the volume of water needed to cover an acre of land with water 12 inches deep — about 326,000 gallons. King’s rulings are being challenged in state court.

    The pipeline approved by the BLM Thursday is needed to deliver that water to the southern Nevada’s population center.

    Simeon Herskovits, an attorney in Taos, N.M., representing a coalition of ranchers, farmers, rural local governments and environmentalists, said the BLM decision was being reviewed but added that unless “serious deficiencies” in an earlier environmental study have been corrected, the decision to approve the pipeline cannot “be scientifically, economically or legally sound.”

    The BLM’s decision follows findings made in November by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that the project would not significantly affect about a dozen threatened or endangered species. Environmentalists say otherwise. “Some of Nevada’s rarest, most unique species rely on wetlands and springs,” said Rob Mrowka with the Center for Biological Diversity. “The Las Vegas water grab could undo all that and drive them extinct in the blink of any eye.”

    BLM spokeswoman JoLynn Worley said the decision authorizes the “main conveyance and support facilities” to be built on federally owned land. It’s the last administrative ruling by the federal agency, and further challenges will be handled by the courts.

    From Chance of Rain (Emily Green):

    WHAT western water managers preach and what western water managers do is often contradictory. This much can be relied on: inconsistency starts at the top. Only this month a long-awaited report issued by the federal Bureau of Reclamation emphasized the need for conservation over big infrastructure projects. And we can trust its conclusions in that pointlessly hyped McGuffin projects such as diverting the Mississippi to the dry West or towing Alaskan icebergs to San Diego will not happen any time soon. However, only weeks after the release of the Colorado River Basin Water Supply and Demand Study, during the dead time between Christmas and New Year, Reclamation’s parent agency, the US Department of Interior, green-lighted the driving of a massive pipeline from Las Vegas hundreds of miles north into the Great Basin. This is the opposite of conservation over big infrastructure and its approval comes in spite of clearly devastating implications for thousands of square miles across the Great Basin.

    Where, you might wonder, were our vaunted environmental regulations in all this? The short answer is that these laws and the agencies meant to enforce them are every bit as successful protecting our natural resources as the Securities and Exchange Commission is policing Wall Street. The Southern Nevada Water Authority deputy general manager who for many years fronted the Vegas pipeline once bragged to a local television reporter that she could get anything permitted. To judge by this week’s Record of Decision, she appears to be right. Watch enough projects go through environmental impact review and it’s hard not to conclude that this notionally protective scrutiny is nothing more than a line item on an infrastructure project budget. While reviews too rarely protect the environment, the expense turns out to be valuable to prospectors such as Las Vegas. Feigning diligence proves a useful inoculant against liability.

    From the Las Vegas Review-Journal editorial staff:

    Although the plan has been in the works ifor 25 years, congratulations may still be premature. Ms. Mulroy has little doubt more anti-development lawsuits are on the way.

    In fact, the water authority would just as soon not build this project, which comes with a price tag variously estimated from $2 billion to $15 billion. Unfortunately, changing the law of the Colorado to allow interstate water purchases at market rates – the best solution – is still not politically feasible. Though certainly, if that day ever comes, it will help Nevada’s case to be able to say everything else has been tried.

    From the Las Vegas Sun (Cy Ryan):

    Initial briefs are scheduled to be filed Jan. 31 in lawsuits attempting to block the Southern Nevada Water Authority from building a pipeline to siphon water from Northern Nevada to Las Vegas.

    The lawsuits seek to overturn a decision by state Engineer Jason King to allow pumping 83,988 acre feet of water a year from four rural Nevada valleys.

    The Bureau of Land Management last week permitted the Water Authority to build the $15 million proposed pipeline on federal lands.

    Scott Huntley, a spokesman for the authority, said a vote to start construction won’t be taken until conditions on the Colorado River dictate it. He said earlier that 90 percent of Southern Nevada’s water supply comes from the river, which is subject to drought.

    The state Attorney General’s Office, which is defending the decision to allow the pipeline, says oral arguments in the lawsuits are scheduled for June 13-14 in District Court in Ely.

    The suits say the pipeline will interfere with existing water rights and damage the environment.

    From the Summit County Citizens Voice (Bob Berwyn):

    The Southern Nevada Water Authority’s groundwater development project would siphon more than 27.4 billion gallons of groundwater per year from at least four valleys in central Nevada. According to environmental groups, the project would imperil dozens of species dependent on precious surface and groundwater in the driest state in the U.S.

    “The federal government’s own scientists are confirming this Las Vegas water project would be an epic environmental disaster,” said Rob Mrowka, a Nevada-based ecologist with the Center for Biological Diversity.

    “It’s really no exaggeration to say that the natural, cultural and social heritage of central Nevada is at grave risk from this project.”

    Mrowka said the Center for Biological Diversity and other organizations will challenge the approval in court, claiming it violates the Endangered Species Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, Federal Land Policy and Management Act and Clean Air Act.

    The BLM’s environmental study for the project discloses that more than 137,000 acres of wildlife habitat would be permanently destroyed or changed as the diversions lowers groundwater levels by up to 200 feet in some areas.

    According to Mrowka, the loss of water will result in declines of species like mule deer, Rocky Mountain elk, sage grouse and Bonneville cutthroat trout. At most urgent risk will be species associated with the springs and wetlands that will dry up as the water beneath them is sucked away.

    “Some of Nevada’s rarest, most unique species rely on wetlands and springs,” said Mrowka. “They’ve evolved over tens of thousands of years in response to isolation and fragmentation of habitat that occurred after ice ages. The Las Vegas water grab could undo all that and drive them extinct in the blink of an eye.”
    Many of these species are often found in only one or two springs on Earth. As the springs are dewatered and flows are altered and eventually stopped, at least 25 species of Great Basin springsnails will be pushed to, or over, the brink of extinction. Also affected will be 14 species of desert fish, including the Moapa dace and White River springfish; frogs and toads will fare little better, with four species severely threatened by the dewatering.

    Other impacts from the project, disclosed in the BLM’s impact statement today, include ground-level subsidence in excess of five feet on more than 240 square miles, as well as tens of thousands of tons of new dust generated from de-watered and denuded lands.

    Thanks to Coyote Gulch reader Kara for the heads up and the reminder that all the Colorado River Basin states have a stake in solving supply problems in the basin. As Wayne Aspinall famously said, “In the west, when you touch water, you touch everything.”

    More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.

    ‘The calamity we are facing is our potential inability to balance supply and demand in an orderly way’ — Hannah Holm #CORiver

    November 16, 2012


    Here’s a recap of the Upper Colorado River Basin Water Conference hosted by the Water Center at Colorado Mesa University Nov. 8-9, from Hannah Holm running in the Grand Junction Free Press. Here’s an excerpt:

    The heavy train [heading towards a cliff] is our collective use of Colorado River water, and the calamity we are facing is our potential inability to balance supply and demand in an orderly way. According to a nearly complete study on Colorado River Basin water supply and demand coordinated by the US Bureau of Reclamation, we’ve passed the point where use of the basin’s water resources exceeds the quantity provided by Mother Nature. The fact that the train wreck isn’t here yet is because of big reservoirs that store water from year to year. Climate change shows no sign of helping: The mean of all the models used in the bureau study indicates higher variability from year to year and a decline in average natural flows at Lee Ferry of 9% by 2060…

    Top water officials from Colorado, Utah and New Mexico who spoke at the conference said that while we need to help the Lower Basin states solve their water problems, the solutions most definitely do not include eating into the Upper Basin’s share of the river. On that score, the Upper Basin officials were united. The Lower Basin train can wreck without us.

    However, under the terms of the 1922 compact, if hydrology and increased use in the Upper Basin conspire to drop flows past Lee Ferry below 7.5 million acre feet in any 10-year period, we could be required to curtail uses until those flows are restored. This, a “compact call,” is the Upper Basin’s own train wreck scenario. It appears to be farther off than the Lower Basin’s train wreck, but it’s likely enough and close enough to be taken seriously…

    Fortunately, the [Bureau of Reclamation's] study, recent history and presentations by other conference participants do show encouraging signs that the principal players can work together to identify options. The bureau study itself is an example of cooperation among numerous stakeholders. It is subjecting numerous options for adding to supply and curtailing demand to rigorous analysis on their reliability, financial cost and environmental cost. The options include desalination, re-use, and importation of water from elsewhere. The seven basin states have also cooperated recently to coordinate reservoir operations between Lake Powell and Lake Mead, and a new proposed agreement with Mexico would allow for releases to recharge wetlands in Mexico. Work is also underway to figure out how to temporarily transfer water from farms to cities in times of drought, rather than permanently dry up farmland.

    As the parties continue to work together, with input from the public, we may be able to curve the tracks so our various train cars skirt the edge of the cliff, instead of going over it. Or something like that. To find out more about the study, go to http://www.usbr.gov/lc/region/programs/crbstudy.html.

    More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.

    ‘Water Wranglers’ is George Sibley’s new book about the Colorado River District #coriver

    October 10, 2012



    Here’s the link to the web page where you can order a copy. Here’s the pitch:

    Water Wranglers
    The 75-Year History of the Colorado River District:
    A Story About the Embattled Colorado River and the Growth of the West

    The Colorado River is one of America’s wildest rivers in terms of terrain and natural attributes, but is actually modest in terms of water quantity – the Mississippi surpasses the Colorado’s annual flow in a matter of days. Yet the Colorado provides some or all of the domestic water for some 35 million Southwesterners, most of whom live outside of the river’s natural course in rapidly growing desert cities. It fully or partially irrigates four-million acres of desert land that produces much of America’s winter fruits and vegetables. It also provides hundreds of thousands of people with recreational opportunities. To put a relatively small river like the Colorado to work, however, has resulted in both miracles and messes: highly controlled use and distribution systems with multiplying problems and conflicts to work out, historically and into the future.

    Water Wranglers is the story of the Colorado River District’s first seventy-five years, using imagination, political shrewdness, legal facility, and appeals to moral rightness beyond legal correctness to find balance among the various entities competing for the use of the river’s water. It is ultimately the story of a minority seeking equity, justice, and respect under democratic majority rule – and willing to give quite a lot to retain what it needs.

    The Colorado River District was created in 1937 with a dual mission: to protect the interests of the state of Colorado in the river’s basin and to defend local water interests in Western Colorado – a region that produces 70 percent of the river’s total water but only contains 10 percent of the state’s population.

    To order the book, visit the Wolverine Publishing website at http://wolverinepublishing.com/water-wranglers. It can also be found at the online bookseller Amazon.

    More Colorado River District coverage here.

    Colorado River Basin: Is a Colorado River Compact call imminent?

    August 24, 2012


    Here’s an article about the potential for a call on the Colorado River by the Lower Basin States, written by John McClow running in the Grand Junction Free Press. Here’s an excerpt:

    A glance at a map discloses that the sources of the Colorado River lie in the mountains of the Upper Basin, with about 70% of the river’s total flow originating in Colorado. The Upper Basin is currently experiencing a protracted drought that began in 2000 and has continued through 2012 (despite a very wet year in 2011). Because of the drought, attention has become focused on the language in the compact directing that the Upper Basin states “will not cause the flow of the river at Lee Ferry to be depleted below an aggregate of 75 million acre-feet for any period of 10 consecutive years.” That averages out to the 7.5 million acre-feet per year apportioned to the Lower Basin. In addition, the Upper Basin provides one-half of the 1.5 million acre-feet per year promised to Mexico in a 1944 treaty. How does the Upper Basin accomplish that, given the variability in river flows?[...]

    The drought of the past 12 years has raised concern that a compact call is a real possibility. Presently, the 30-year average inflow into Lake Powell is 10.83 million acre-feet per year. Since 1999, when the reservoir was full, inflows to Lake Powell have met or exceeded that average only in 2005 (105%), 2008 (102%), and 2011 (142%). The 2002 inflow totaled only 25% of the average and in 2005, storage fell below 9 million acre-feet. As the Colorado River Basin continues to experience the worst drought in over a century, with low inflows and depleted reservoirs, is a compact call imminent?

    Probably not. In May 2005, the Secretary of the Interior initiated a process to develop strategies to address the drought. Many stakeholders participated, led by representatives of the seven Colorado River Basin states. The result was the adoption of interim guidelines for the operation of Lake Powell and Lake Mead that coordinate operations to minimize shortages in the Lower Basin and avoid the risk of curtailment in the Upper Basin.

    From Tuscon News Now:

    In the Southwest, the drought is most noticeable in reservoir levels…

    Even though Arizona has experience a fairly wet monsoon this year CLIMAS says “One reason for these {ongoing drought} classifications is that many of the region’s important reservoirs are low. The most probable inflow volume into Lake Powell for the 2012 water year is projected to be 5.15 million acre-feet, or 48 percent of average. If this comes to pass, Colorado River streamflows will go down as the third lowest on record.”

    More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.

    Western Slope interests are, ‘better off at the table than on the menu’ — Bill Trampe

    August 13, 2012


    Here’s a profile of Rancher and water wonk, Bill Trampe, written by Jennifer Bock running in the Grand Junction Free Press. From the article:

    Although water is probably more essential to his livelihood than many of us in the Gunnison Basin, Trampe admits that his philosophy on keeping water in the Gunnison Basin has changed over the years.

    When Arapahoe County proposed the Union Park project, Trampe recalls that the local sentiment was “not one drop” and no one dared stray from that strict line in the sand.

    Today, Trampe thinks that Western Slope interests are “better off at the table than on the menu” when it comes to talking to the Front Range and others about West Slope water. Trampe’s philosophy is tied to real life experience: He has spent the last seven years negotiating with the Front Range to develop the Colorado River Water Cooperative Agreement.

    Perhaps characteristic of a rancher’s outlook, Trampe is both hopeful and frustrated when it comes to resolving Colorado’s water disputes.

    He believes, as many do, that big, transmountain water projects simply won’t be able to provide enough firm yield to satisfy Front Range interests. In statewide water planning discussions, Trampe has been a proponent of addressing this problem through risk management — the idea that the state must have a comprehensive way to evaluate and guard against the potential consequences of failing to meet water delivery obligations to downstream states as it considers new diversions out of the Colorado River Basin.

    More Gunnison River Basin coverage here and here.

    Colorado, Wyoming and Utah and the remaining water under the Upper Colorado River Basin Compact

    August 8, 2012


    Back in 1925 the Upper Colorado River Basin States united to fight the lower basin states over Colorado River projects like Boulder Dam unless the Colorado River Compact was signed. (Click on the thumbnail graphic for a graphic of The Denver Post front page from that time.) Fast forward to 1948 and the upper basin states inked the Upper Colorado River Basin Compact. With both compacts signed everyone would be buddy-buddy for all time, right?

    Maybe not, here’s a report from Bart Taylor writing for the Planet Profit Report. Here’s an excerpt:

    The Bureau of Reclamation estimates that demand on the Colorado River will significantly exceed supply in the coming years, and likely already has. This, along with drought and some rather dire climate change-related impacts, have forced state planners to reassess their Colorado River water supply and demand metrics. The Upper Basin has never fully utilized its full allocation of river water, either collectively or by individual state…

    It’s also begun to analyze its options to develop this remaining Colorado River allocation, and to the dismay of some in Wyoming and Utah (and Colorado, as I’ve written), one option involves a pipeline that taps the Colorado from its primary tributary, the Green River, at Flaming Gorge reservoir in southwest Wyoming and northeast Utah.

    For its part, Wyoming has also awakened to the tenuous future of its water resources. The Green has increasingly been identified as a river “at risk” – to the effects of drought, climate-change and a competition for water that’s reaching a fever-pitch throughout the region. Wyoming’s residents and politicians are therefore pushing back on what’s perceived by many here to be a water grab by Colorado – reminiscent of the threat posed by Lower Basin interest’s decades ago.

    According to my contacts, Wyoming water officials, including the state engineer, were initially neutral on the Flaming Gorge pipeline. Colorado is legally entitled to Green River water, and Flaming Gorge, like lakes Powell, Mead, Navajo and others, was built to implement the terms of the Colorado River Compact. To over-simplify greatly, the huge impoundments make it possible to even-out the distribution of water from wet years to dry for all parties to the agreement. Wyoming administrators initially had little reason (or recourse) to get worked up about the project, though from its source in Flaming Gorge, the pipeline would traverse the I-80 corridor west through Wyoming, then south to Colorado’s Front Range.

    Also, since Aaron Million conceived of a Flaming Gorge pipeline and reminded Colorado officials of the state’s right to file on the Green, most, but not all, water observers gave the project little chance of success. Building any water project, let alone a multi-state, multi-jurisdictional, trans-basin project, is daunting.

    Now, the political winds in Wyoming seem to blow hard against Flaming Gorge, the state engineer’s (yet unpublished) opinion notwithstanding. Ironically, Colorado water planners may be warming to the idea, again, driven by self-interest motivating all parties to the Compact. Colorado’s the fast-grower in the region and requires more water, even as it is entitled to more than its Upper Basin brethren. The state may simply not be able to turn its back on a huge, new source of water. (More on Colorado’s Flaming Gorge deliberations next time.)

    Utah’s perspective may also be changing. Within the last year, the state engineer approved water-transfer that will result in a new and fairly substantial appropriation, also from the Green River. As I outlined before, the premise is similar to that which may also drive Colorado to the Green – an unused portion of its Colorado River allocation.

    More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.


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