Coyote Gulch Outage

September 20, 2014


I’m on the road today heading back over to the South Platte River basin and home.

The Colorado River District’s annual seminar yesterday was a hoot. Check out all the Tweets at #ColoradoWater.

Colorado River District Annual Seminar #ColoradoRiver

September 19, 2014
Colorado River Basin including out of basin demands -- Graphic/USBR

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

I’ll be live-Tweeting the Colorado River District Annual Seminar today assuming that I can find Two Rivers Convention Center from the bike trail from my camp spot in Fruita. I don’t know what hash tag we’ll be using yet so follow along (@CoyoteGulch).

Water Lines: Learn H20 facts from experts this fall in western Colorado — Grand Junction Free Press

September 4, 2014

From the Grand Junction Free Press (Hannah Holm):

Fall is full of water events in western Colorado, from opportunities for “experts” to trade ideas and information to seminars primarily intended for the general public. Here’s a sampling of what’s coming up.

Colorado Mesa University’s fall “Natural Resources of the West” Monday evening seminar series is focusing on the role of natural and social sciences in natural resource management. Upcoming seminars on water-related topics include a Sept. 8 presentation on resource economics and the Grand Canyon; a Sept. 15 presentation on agricultural research stations; an Oct. 6 presentation on climate change and agricultural economics; an Oct. 13 presentation on riparian restoration and the tamarisk beetle; and an Oct. 20 presentation on the uranium mill tailings clean-up along the Colorado River near Moab. All seminars are free, open to the public and are held in Room 141 of the Wubben Science Building from 4-5:15 p.m. Live web-streaming will also be available at Additional details will soon be available at

The Colorado River District’s annual seminar will take place on Friday, Sept. 19, from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. in the Two Rivers Convention Center in Grand Junction. This seminar is always a big draw for water managers and elected officials, as well as interested members of the public. This year’s theme is “Growing the River: Is it All About Ag?” The featured speaker will be author Kevin Fedarko, whose book titled “The Emerald Mile” tells the story of the 1984 flood on the Colorado River from the perspectives of both dam operators and river runners, three of whom use the high water for a record-setting speed run through the Grand Canyon. Other topics will include how the Colorado River became over-allocated; the pluses and minuses of irrigation efficiency; how to sustain agriculture; and what kind of future agriculture wants (commentary — there are likely multiple answers to this); and the “pulse flow” release that sent water back to the Colorado River Delta last spring. For more details or to register, go to or call 970-945-8522.

Southwest Colorado’s annual “Water 101” seminar will be held Monday, Sept. 22, in Telluride Town Council Chambers from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. As in the past, the keynote speaker will be Colorado Supreme Court Justice Gregory Hobbs, always a crowd pleaser. Federal, state and local agency representatives will also provide information on water law and administration, local water sources and environmental concerns. For more details or to register, go to or call 970-247-1302.

The annual “Sustaining Colorado Watersheds” conference will take place in Avon from Oct. 7-9. This year’s conference, themed “Come Hell or High Water!” will explore community resiliency in the wake of the 2013 floods, wildfires, and other risks to Colorado watersheds. This conference tends to focus less on issues of water supply than other water meetings in the state, and more on stream and riparian health. Many participants are energetic, young staffers of watershed protection and restoration organizations. For more information, go to

The Water Center at Colorado Mesa University’s 4th annual Upper Colorado River Basin Water Forum will be held Nov. 5-6 on CMU’s campus, with pre-conference workshops on Nov. 4. This year’s theme is “Seeking a Resilient Future.” The conference keynote speakers will be Pat Mulroy, former head of the water authority serving Las Vegas, and William Hasencamp, manager of Colorado River Water Resources for the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California. Conference sessions will include scientific and policy perspectives on topics such as the management of Lakes Powell and Mead, the “pulse flow” release to the Colorado River delta, Grand County water challenges related to transmountain diversions, and climate change. Additional sessions will focus on state water plans, tribal water rights claims and settlements, innovations in agricultural irrigation, and water history. For more information, go to or call 970-248-1968.

In my experience, all of these events are great opportunities to both learn and make connections with the movers and shakers in Colorado’s dynamic water community.

This is part of a series of articles coordinated by the Water Center at Colorado Mesa University in cooperation with the Colorado and Gunnison Basin Roundtables to raise awareness about water needs, uses and policies in our region. To learn more about the basin roundtables and statewide water planning, and to let the roundtables know what you think, go to You can also find the Water Center on Facebook at or Twitter at

More education coverage here.

Grand Junction: The Colorado River District Annual Seminar is September 19 #ColoradoRiver

August 26, 2014


Click here for the registration form.

For more info please contact: Meredith Spyker, 970-945-8522, ext. 221,

More Colorado River Water Conservancy District coverage here.

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

August 9, 2014

Historical Colorado River between Granby and Hot Sulphur Springs

Historical Colorado River between Granby and Hot Sulphur Springs

Click here to read the newsletter from the Colorado River Water Conservancy District. Here’s an excerpt:

The Colorado River District is working with partners on a new regional program to study agricultural conservation projects involving fallowing or deficit irrigation and is advocating the focus be larger than just Western Colorado agriculture, that Front Range agriculture and all municipal users also “share the pain.”

In discussing the subject at the July quarterly meeting of the Board of Directors, General Counsel Peter Fleming said that some degree of temporary fallowing and deficit irrigation may be required to manage the Colorado River Basin under a future dry scenario.

The River District would need to monitor closely and participate in pilot project proposals to ensure that West Slope agriculture and its related economies are best protected, he said.

General Manager Eric Kuhn said that as regional efforts focus on work in Colorado, they need to reach out more broadly than just Western Colorado agriculture. A successful program needs to explore methods to reduce Colorado River demands among all use sectors in the state: municipal, industrial, East Slope agriculture, as well as West Slope agriculture.

A program focused solely on West Slope agriculture will not be successful, he said.

More Colorado River Water Conservancy District coverage here.

“It was a complete defeat for the Western Slope” — Pitkin County Attorney John Ely

August 3, 2014

Busk-Ivanhoe system diversions

Busk-Ivanhoe system diversions

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

Pitkin County and the Colorado River District are planning to appeal a judge’s ruling that gives the city of Aurora the right to use water from the upper Fryingpan River basin for municipal purposes, without a penalty for 23 years of “unlawful” water use.

“It was a complete defeat for the Western Slope,” Pitkin County Attorney John Ely said of the order issued on May 27 by Larry C. Schwartz, a state water court judge in Pueblo.

As it stands today, the court’s ruling means Aurora can retain the 1928 priority date on its full right to divert 2,400 acre-feet a year through the Busk-Ivanhoe tunnel for municipal instead of irrigation purposes. Over 60 years, Aurora can divert 144,960 acre-feet under the right.

Pitkin County and other Western Slope entities wanted the court to reduce the scope of Aurora’s water right, as the Front Range city has been using the water from the Busk-Ivanhoe system for municipal purposes, without a decree, since 1987.

The “West Slope Opposers,” as the court called them, also argued that the court should consider that Aurora was also storing water on the East Slope without an explicit right to do so, which they felt constituted an “expansion” of its water rights.

The board of the River District agreed on July 15 to appeal the judge’s ruling, while the Pitkin County commissioners agreed shortly after the May ruling. Ely said he understands the Colorado State Engineer’s Office also plans to appeal.

Pitkin County has spent $247,500 on the Busk-Ivanhoe water case so far, and using money from the county’s Healthy Rivers and Streams fund to pay for outside water attorneys.

Other parties from the Western Slope in the case are Eagle County, Basalt Water Conservancy District, Grand Valley Water Users Association, Orchard Mesa Irrigation District and the Ute Water Conservancy District. Trout Unlimited is also a party to the case, which is 09CW142 in Water Division 2.

Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer's office

Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer’s office

Transbasin water

Since 1928, about 5,000 acre-feet of water a year has been diverted from Ivanhoe, Lyle, Hidden Lake and Pan creeks, headwater streams of the Fryingpan River.

The water is sent from Ivanhoe Reservoir to Busk Creek through a pipe in the Busk-Ivanhoe tunnel, first built as a railroad tunnel in the late 1880s. From Busk Creek, the water flows to Turquoise Reservoir and the Arkansas River, and eventually reaches Aurora and Pueblo.

The Pueblo Board of Water Works owns the right to half of the water diverted through Busk-Ivanhoe tunnel, and in 1993 it changed the use of its water right from irrigation to municipal.

In 1987, Aurora bought the other half of Busk-Ivanhoe water and started using its half of the water for municipal purposes. But it didn’t come in for a change-of-use decree from water court until 2009.

Aurora’s 2009 application received 35 statements of opposition and as is common in water court, opponents were winnowed down to a core group. Many cases are settled before trial, but this case went to a five-day trial in July 2013.

Judge Schwartz’s subsequent ruling in May established the parameters of how a new decree for Aurora’s water should read, and the draft decree is now being prepared, Ely said. Once the proposed decree is filed with the court, it will trigger the appeal period in the case. Appeals in water court cases go directly to the Colorado Supreme Court.

Greg Baker, the manager of public relations for Aurora Water, was contacted early Friday afternoon for comment. He said officials were in various meetings throughout the day, and they couldn’t be reached by deadline.

Busk-Ivanhoe tunnel entrance

Busk-Ivanhoe tunnel entrance

“Zero” years

Ely said Pitkin County is primarily concerned about the judge’s decision not to take into account the 23 years that Aurora used water for undecreed purposes, i.e.,, municipal instead of irrigation.

Ely said it is a “fundamental” part of Colorado water law that non-use diminishes the scope of your water right when you go to change it, and it appears Aurora is getting “special treatment” because the water right is a transmountain diversion.

He said that when determining the “historic consumptive use” of a water right — which is what can legally be changed to another use — it is common practice for the court to reduce the scope of a water right by averaging in any years of “zero” or non-use. And undecreed uses typically count as “zero” years.

“But what the court said in this case said was, ‘We’re just not going to look at those years’ of zero use,” Ely said.

Judge Schwartz decided that the period from 1928 to 1986 — before Aurora started using the water — was the best “representative period” to use to determine how much water Aurora had been putting to proper use.

“The representative study period to be utilized should be based on a period of time that properly measures actual decreed beneficial use, and that excludes undecreed uses,” Schwartz concluded.

“The use of zeros during the years of undecreed use would permanently punish (Aurora) for the undecreed use after 1987,” Schwartz also wrote. “This court does not view a change application case as a means to permanently punish a water user for undecreed use.”

In regard to the issue of undecreed storage, the judge looked at the history of the water right, and found that while the original decree from 1928 may have been silent on the subject of East Slope storage, it was always part of the plan by the water developers to store water in a reservoir on the East Slope.

“West Slope Opposers assert that the storage of the Busk-Ivanhoe water in the Arkansas River Basin is an ‘expansion’ of use,” Schwartz wrote. “Storage of the Busk-Ivanhoe water in the Arkansas River Basin is not an expansion. Said storage has always been a part of the water right.”

Ely said the Colorado River District is more concerned about the storage issue than Pitkin County is. However, the county does feel the judge’s overall response to Aurora’s request to change its water right was faulty.

“We knew they were going to be able to change their use, it was just a question of how much,” Ely said. “And it was a question if the Front Range would be held to the same standard as everybody else, in terms of using their water consistent with a decree, or if they get some kind of special treatment for being a transbasin diversion. The judge, and his order, found that they should get some kind of special treatment, and we think that runs contrary to the law.”

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism and the Aspen Daily News are collaborating on the coverage of land and water in Pitkin County. More at http://www.aspen

More water law coverage here.

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‐ It is under the “Resources” tab.

Jim Pokrandt is Colorado Basin Roundtable Chair.

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


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