“It’s not agriculture, it’s food production that you’re losing” — Dennis Davidson #COWaterPlan

July 29, 2014

haymeadowsneargunnison

From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (John Stroud):

Agricultural interests are expressing concerns that the draft Colorado River Basin plan that will be part of a broader statewide water plan is lacking in explaining the importance of water needs for farming and ranching in the region, and especially the Roaring Fork Valley.

“There are over 30,000 acres of land irrigated in the Roaring Fork River [watershed], with over 1,100 active irrigation diversions and over 800 diversions of water out of the main rivers and other smaller tributaries,” the Mount Sopris Conservation District board states in a recent letter to Colorado Basin Roundtable Chairman Jim Pokrandt. “Most of these are for use on agriculture lands to produce hay and pasture.”

Yet, in reviewing the latest revisions to the draft basin plan that were released earlier this month, much of the agricultural input that has been provided during the planning effort is “notably absent,” especially as it relates to the Roaring Fork Valley, the district’s letter states.

Preservation of agriculture is one of the six key themes included in the basin plan, which is still being revised and will continue to be for the better part of the next nine months.

“It did open some eyes that agriculture is listed as being important in the [larger] basin, but not in the Roaring Fork,” rancher Jeff Nieslanik, who chairs the Mount Sopris District board, said at the Monday meeting of the basin roundtable in Glenwood Springs.

“We are in decreasing ag, but it is still going,” he said, adding the importance of food production within the Roaring Fork watershed should be better spelled out in the plan.

That should include some mention of specific projects that are being done to repair and bring efficiencies to agriculture irrigation infrastructure in the region, he said.

Agriculture water use was the focus of the regular monthly meeting of the basin roundtable, as it works to refine the basin plan and make sure Colorado River interests are reflected in the state plan that is due out next year.

“Ag is going to have a target on its back, because it does own a lot of the older water rights in the state,” said roundtable member Kim Albertson, who has ranching interests in Garfield, Eagle and Mesa counties.

That includes not only farm-to-market operations, but “production agriculture,” which exports a large percentage of its product outside the state, he said.

Agriculture accounts for 85 percent of water use in the state, meaning farmers and ranchers are coming under pressure to bring better efficiencies to their irrigation practices. But a significant portion of that water use is “non-consumptive,” meaning much of the water eventually makes its way back into the river system after it is used to irrigate crops. That should somehow be quantified in the basin plan, said several of those attending the Monday meeting who represented various agricultural interests.

When it comes to preserving agriculture within the water plan, it’s not just about protecting farms and ranches, it’s about food, said Dennis Davidson, irrigation water management specialist for the Mount Sopris, Bookcliff and Southside USDA conservation districts.

“As consumers we’re all as guilty of using this water as anyone,” Davidson said. “It’s not agriculture, it’s food production that you’re losing.”

Another concern being expressed in the statewide effort to draft a water plan is the practice of “buy-and-dry,” where ag lands and their accompanying water rights are bought up by nonagricultural interests, such as for residential or energy development, and taken out of production.

While ag lands on the eastern plains are a big target for metro area water interests, the same market pressures exist on the Western Slope, pointed out Martha Cochran, director of the Aspen Valley Land Trust, which works with agricultural land owners to place conservation easements on their land to protect it from non-ag-related development.

“We do need to balance out those market forces, when we’re trying to sustain agriculture and you have entities trying to buy [their water],” she said. “Either they are going to buy it, or we need to buy it.”

Louis Meyer of SGM Engineers, which is in charge of writing the basin plan, said the Colorado Basin is not alone in its struggle with how to preserve agricultural interests without infringing on private property rights.

He said his team will review the input received from agricultural users as the plan is revised. “But you have to be specific” when it comes to mention of projects and their relation to the goals of the basin plan, he added.

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


CWCB: Colorado Watershed Symposium Succeeds At Preparing Coalitions to Move Forward on Stream Recovery

July 26, 2014

From email from the Colorado Water Conservation Board (Kevin Houck):

More than 150 community leaders last week resolved to work together in strong coalitions to focus on rebuilding streams and watersheds damaged by last fall’s flooding.

The Colorado Watershed Symposium, a daylong event July 18 in Loveland with the theme “Working with Watersheds: It’s More Than Just the River”, included presentations on disaster-relief funding, watershed master-planning, and intergovernmental agreements. Most importantly, representatives from nine watershed coalitions met and developed joint plans for the “next steps” in restoring their watersheds.

The symposium was sponsored by the Colorado Recovery Office, the Department of Local Affairs, the Colorado Water Conservation Board, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and the Federal Emergency Management Administration.

Molly Urbina, Colorado’s Chief Recovery Officer, told participants: “Each of you have taken a collaborative approach to watershed planning, even though it may be easier to plan alone. If nothing else, this past year has taught us just how interdependent we are. Every action in the watershed impacts another point in that watershed, up or down stream. We are in this together.”

The nine watershed coalitions in attendance echoed Urbina’s call for continued collaboration. Representatives from each coalition shared best practices from their public outreach programs and emphasized the need to continue involving private stakeholders in the recovery process.

“Creek restoration cannot happen in a vacuum. It must be accomplished along with efforts to restore public and private infrastructure and floodplain management.” said Julie McKay, director of the Boulder, Left Hand, and St. Vrain coalitions. “It’s really great to be able to compare experiences and approaches of all the coalitions across the Front Range.”

“When you win the hearts and minds, you win the river,” said Gordan Gilstrap, of the Little Thompson Coalition. Dave Skuodas of the Urban Drainage and Flood Control District echoed Gilstrap’s sentiments. “Even though we have the power to dictate, we choose to facilitate. We want people down in the stream using it and recreating in it. We want people to take ownership in the creek.”

Carol Ekarius, director of the highly successful Coalition of the Upper South Platte, delivered the day’s keynote address, emphasizing the need for coalitions to consider a broad array of potential issues when they create master plans. “The flood doesn’t start in the corridor; the flood starts in the shed,” said Ekarius. “I tell people we’re a watershed collaborative, forest collaborative, and emergency response collaborative. It allows us to do all kinds of work.”

Each of the nine coalitions split into breakout sessions to coordinate next steps. In their informal discussions, many expressed interest in becoming formal non-profit organizations. They also agreed that Colorado’s watersheds are interconnected and that any successful recovery effort has to take into account both the upstream and downstream portions of the river.

“I was pleased at how the various coalitions came together and focused on how they can move forward,” said Chris Sturm of the Colorado Water Conservation Board. “This is very important, because the coalitions will be very well positioned for disaster relief funding as it becomes available.”

Representatives from the Big Thompson, Boulder Creek, Coal Creek, Fall River and Fish Creek, Left Hand, Little Thompson, St. Vrain, Upper Fountain and Cheyenne Creek, and South Platte all reported different challenges and expressed interest in continued coordination on recovery issues.

All stakeholders recognized the difficulties of the recovery process and emphasized the need for effective long-term recovery planning. The Symposium is part of a larger series of events that work toward achieving coordinated and efficient recovery planning. For those interested in attending the next event, the 2014 Sustaining

Colorado Watersheds Conference will be held in Avon on October 7-9 at the Westin Riverfront Resort.

The flooding affected 24 counties. It triggered nine small dam failures, damaged or destroyed nearly 225 water-diversion structures, damaged an estimated 32,000 acres of croplands and swept away $540,000 in state-owned stream-gauge equipment. During the floods, many northern Colorado waterways experienced 100-year or 500-year events.


East West Divide Apparent At Colorado Water Meeting #COWaterPlan

July 23, 2014

Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer's office

Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer’s office


From KUNC (Stephanie Paige Ogburn):

Water managers are taking the next steps in formulating a statewide water plan, following a meeting where representatives from Colorado’s eight water basins met and presented drafts of their individual plans.

There have been longstanding tensions between the state’s Western side and the Front Range over water transfers, and those differences came through in some of the presentations.

“We are already a major donor of water to the Front Range of Colorado,” said Jim Pokrandt, a representative from the Colorado River District, which manages water for six counties in that basin on the Western Slope.

Sean Cronin, executive director of the St. Vrain and Left Hand Water Conservancy District, represents the South Platte and Metro interests in the state water plan discussions. In his presentation, Cronin pointed out the Front Range will likely need additional sources of water from the Colorado River.

“The South Platte Basin is in favor of further development of Colorado’s [Colorado River] entitlement,” Cronin said.

The difference between Pokrandt’s western perspective and Cronin’s eastern one has been in existence for decades, say water experts…

The Western Slope’s Pokrandt said that while he appreciates existing conservation efforts from certain entities like Denver Water, Aurora, and Colorado Springs, the Front Range could do a lot more overall to use its water more efficiently.

“That’s going to include addressing your urban conservation, how we landscape, appliances and things that we have in our house. And Colorado hasn’t totally embraced that,” he said.

From the metropolitan side, Cronin said he saw the South Platte as a “model throughout the state” from a conservation standpoint.

“We agree, we feel there can be more done in the way of conservation. Where it starts to get controversial is to what degree.”

Cronin said the Metro/South Platte roundtable favored the preservation of local control over water, shying away from any measures that might force municipalities to use water in certain ways.

Another big focus for the South Platte is keeping water in agriculture, rather than doing what is called “buy and dry,” allowing farmland to go dry while the water is used in cities.

On the flip side, the desire to keep water in agriculture in the state’s eastern side is part of what drives the need for more transfers from the west, noted Pokrandt.

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


Grand Junction: Some history of the Kannah Creek diversion #COWaterPlan

July 22, 2014
Grand Junction back in the day with the Grand Mesa in background

Grand Junction back in the day with the Grand Mesa in background

From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Greg Trainor):

From the incorporation of the town of Grand Junction in 1882 until 1911, the prospect of a firm water supply for Grand Junction citizens was in doubt. For almost 30 years, numerous recall elections, battles between the town and private water purveyors, and municipal expeditions to find mountain “water at any price” took up most of the official business of Grand Junction aldermen.

See-sawing back and forth between municipal ownership of the town water system and franchises to private companies to operate the system, the source of the town water supply also see-sawed between locations on the Colorado River at Fifth Street and the Gunnison River near the Redlands Water and Power Company Diversion. In Spring, supply was up, but so was sediment and mud. In late summer and fall, flow was down and ability to keep pipes full of water for fire protection suffered.

In 1894 the citizens voted 88 percent to build and operate a municipal water system but it took 13 years for the town to finally file for a water right in Kannah Creek, 20 miles to the southeast. The town was desperate: Could they afford a municipal system, who would buy bonds to pay for a system, where were there year-round supplies of water?

After having looked at mountain water supplies on Pinon Mesa near Glade Park, Kruzen Springs above Palisade, Whitewater Creek (later acquired by the City in 1989), the city settled on Kannah Creek. Ironically with the help of engineers from the Denver Union Water Company (later to become the Denver Water Department), the city filed a petition in eminent domain in Mesa County District Court for the first 7.81 cubic feet per second of flow from Kannah Creek.

As owners of all of the direct flow water rights on Kannah Creek, ranchers and farmers in Kannah Creek were not long in joining together in their opposition to the city’s actions. Their water was in the cross hairs of the city. An action in eminent domain is not the same as a filing for a water right in Water Court. In the latter case, a filing is made for water and proof is presented to the court that shows the water being put to beneficial use. The Water Court then establishes a priority date for use of the water, insuring that no other water user with a more senior water right is damaged. On the contrary, the city’s action in condemnation allowed the city to act under its powers of eminent domain and secure (“take”) water for the use of its citizens, provided, however, that the city make full compensation or satisfaction for all damages incurred by the taking.

In 1911, four years later, a jury awarded $182,940 to all parties from whom the city had acquired the water. The District Court also decreed that the city to be the owner of “a first, superior and paramount right to a continuous flow of 7.81 cfs over and above all other water rights claimed in Kannah Creek.” The city had the water, now it needed a way to get the water from Kannah Creek to Reservoir Hill above the city cemeteries, near Fifth Street. After years of offerings, Colorado Fuel and Iron Company (Pueblo steel mills), purchased the water bonds which allowed Grand Junction to build a state-of-the-art wood stave water line from Kannah Creek to the water plant.

To this day, the city’s pre-1922, “paramount” water right is the backbone of the city’s water supply system. Since 1911, the city has continued to acquire additional water rights and ranch properties to insure that mountain water is available to its citizens.

These actions between 1907 and 1911 colored all relationships between the City of Grand Junction and the landowners in Kannah Creek. Storage of Kannah Creek water, easements and rights of way, water for livestock, treated water for safe drinking, reservoir ownership and maintenance, and administration of the Grand Mesa “Pool” were continuous issues that festered during the entire 20th century. Yes, the landowners in Kannah Creek have long memories.

Today, the efforts to affect a State Water Plan include ideas to share water between agriculture and municipal users. It is unlikely that municipal condemnation would be the first idea implemented, but rather a series of purchase options, water banking, water rentals, or payments for fallowing would be considered. However, when circumstances cause a municipal water provider to feel it has exhausted all methods to secure a safe and reliable water supply, condemnation remains as a tool that, at the direction of a water policy board, could be employed to acquire water “at any price.”

Note: Material for this article comes from “City of Grand Junction v. Kannah Creek Water Users Association, No. 27047, Supreme Court of Colorado, En Banc. December 20, 1976.

Greg Trainor is the recently retired Public Works and Utility Director for the City of Grand Junction. He is currently the Chair of the Advisory Committee for the Water Center at Colorado Mesa University and acting President of the Southwest Chapter of the River Management Society.

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


Can we conserve our way out of our supply gap in the #ColoradoRiver Basin? #COWaterPlan

July 19, 2014

thehardestworkingriverinthewestcolooradoriver

Update: I heard from the Western Resource Advocates and American Rivers media guy, Gil Rudawsky. Scroll down to read the update.

Western Resource Advocates and American Rivers attempt to answer that question with a new report. Here’s their release:

On July 17 2014, Western Resource Advocates joined with American Rivers to release a new report that identifies conservation, reuse and other innovative solutions that could eliminate Western water shortages stemming from the over-taxed and stressed Colorado River. The report defines five cost-effective and clearly defined solutions that – if implemented at a larger scale across the basin – could meet the water needs of the West’s business, agricultural and growing population through 2060.

The Hardest Working River in the West: Common-Sense Solutions for a Reliable Water Future for the Colorado River Basin provides a comprehensive package of proven methods to conserve water.

  • Download the Executive Summary
  • Download the Full Report
  • See the full press release
  • The new report estimates that 4.4 million acre-feet of water could be saved and made available for other uses if these proven methods are implemented throughout the basin – more than enough water to meet projected growth in water needs in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming, for the next half-century.

    This report comes at a critical time for Western States with record droughts, depleted reservoirs hitting all-time lows, and a growing population increasing water demands.

    “Our report showcases the ‘All-Star’ water solutions – actions that are proven, cost-effective and ready to meet our current and future water needs,” said Bart Miller, Water Program Director at Western Resource Advocates. “The fact is, there is a lot of concern about the Colorado River right now but these solutions will work and help everyone – from agriculture to growing cities –

    “There is a widening water gap creating 3.8 million acre-feet of additional water needed to meet the needs of the growing population of the West. This is an enormous amount which, if not carefully managed, could deplete the river and dramatically alter the landscape of the seven basin states,” said Matt Rice, Director of Colorado Basin Programs for American Rivers. “These solutions will ensure the river’s resources meet all future water needs for urban, rural, business and agricultural communities across all seven basin states, while still protecting the natural environment of the West.”

    The five critical steps for solving our current and future water shortages are:

  • Municipal conservation, saving 1.0 million acre-feet through such efforts as improved landscaping techniques, rebate programs that incentivize water-saving devices and standardized water audits
  • Municipal reuse, saving 1.2 million acre-feet through gray water treatment and re-use for irrigation, industrial uses and other purposes
  • Agricultural efficiency and water banking, saving 1.0 million acre-feet via voluntary, compensated improvements in irrigation efficiency and technology, crop shifting and other measures (while avoiding permanently taking agricultural lands out of production)
  • Renewable energy and energy efficiency, saving 160 thousand acre-feet using wind, solar PV, and geothermal energy solutions, and new water-efficient thermoelectric power plants
  • Innovative water opportunities, generating up to 1.1 million acre-feet through creative measures such as invasive plant removal, dust-on-snow mitigation and targeted inland desalinization.
  • I’ve got email into their media guy about the dust-on-snow savings in their plan. 400,000 acre-feet is a lot and I haven’t run across an estimate like that. I thought the only historical adjunct for dust mitigation was the Taylor Grazing Act of 1934 and we certainly didn’t have accurate measurement of snowpack back then. We do know that the act lowered dust levels.

    Update: Gil Rudawsky got back to me with a paragraph from their report, I believe, it’s unclear from his email. At any rate the text reads, “By implementing measures to reduce the accumulation of dust on snow, lower evaporative losses are anticipated.”

    I told him that it’s a long way from “anticipated” to wet water. No one even knows if we can successfully implement dust-on-snow mitigation to the extent needed to back up their number. It’s just a little careless on their part.

    As an aside they also have a weather modification number in their totals. I have not been apprised of solid data from cloud-seeding efforts. That being said many large water providers set aside substantial funds each year for projects.

    I think everyone nowadays agrees that river health should be right up there when setting policy so I think that is one good takeaway from the report.

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

    Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer's office

    Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer’s office

    The undefined transmountain diversion to be addressed by the Colorado Water plan would be unnecessary under conservation proposals that would keep more water in the Colorado River, two environmental organizations said.

    Five proposals listed by the organizations in “The Hardest Working River” could be of immediate and long-term benefit to the river, said Bart Miller of Boulder-based Western Resource Advocates, which issued the report along with American Rivers, which releases an annual report listing endangered rivers.

    Conservation measures “absolutely” could offset the need for new storage in the river, said Matt Rice, director of Colorado conservation for American Rivers, in a conference call with reporters.

    “We’re having a hard enough time keeping waters in the reservoirs as it is” without a new one, Rice said.

    Augmenting Colorado’s water supply from outside sources also wouldn’t help, Rice said, dismissing the idea of new pipes and water projects to deliver water into the state.

    The Colorado Water Conservation Board is moving ahead on the task of drafting a statewide water plan.

    Front Range water providers have floated the idea of a new transmountain diversion, but have offered no information as to where it might be located. One proposal calls for water to be diverted only during years with heavy runoff.

    Two dozen transmountain diversions now send as many as 600,000 acre feet of water to the east side of the Continental Divide.

    Colorado and the other upper Colorado River basin states are required to send at least 7.4 million acre feet of water per year to Arizona, Nevada and California. Five solutions that American Rivers and Western Resource Advocates are suggesting “would go a long ways toward meeting the needs in the future,” Miller said.

    Taken together, the proposals could keep 4.4 million acre feet in the river, Miller said.

    The proposals call for conservation and reuse of municipal water, with both more efficient fixtures and reduced irrigation of lawns and other outside uses; greater agricultural efficiency and water banking.

    Further, the proposal calls for more efficient water use by the energy industry and the use of rooftop solar and wind sources; and the removal of water-guzzling invasive plants such as tamarisk.

    Xeriscape landscape

    Xeriscape landscape

    From Colorado Public Radio (Ana Hanel):

    The goal is not to divert water from one area to another, said American Rivers’ Matt Rice.

    “We deliberately don’t address and don’t believe that the right approach is with new pipelines and new large-scale water projects, because they’re significantly more expensive,” Rice says.

    The report says millions of people’s drinking water is at risk over the next few decades if demand continues to outpace the Colorado River’s water supply.

    It’ll be important over the next few years for communities to continue to encourage water conservation, said Bart Miller of Boulder-based Western Resource Advocates.

    “We can look to having landscapes that use more native vegetation, that are smaller in size,” Miller says. “We can greatly decrease the amount of water that’s used outside, which is about half of the water use for most metropolitan areas.”

    Miller said it’ll be important to replicate successful conservation and water-reuse programs in cities throughout the southwest.

    More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.


    We must make sure Weld County’s voice is heard in water planning effort — The Greeley Tribune #COWaterPlan

    July 17, 2014

    lowersouthplatteriver

    The Greeley Tribune editorial staff weighs in on the Colorado Water Plan:

    We know that readers’ eyes tend to gloss over when we write about water issues in northern Colorado. One almost needs to go through four years of law school, with an emphasis on water law, to truly understand the complicated system that provides water throughout our state.

    But we would strongly suggest that readers should pay attention to the South Platte Basin Roundtable, which is a group of water officials and experts who meet regularly to address water issues and plan for the water future of northeastern Colorado.

    We won’t blame you for being bored by the topic. But the truth is, the availability of water — or the lack thereof — probably will have more to do with the future of our region than any other issue.

    The South Platte water plan is part of a statewide effort, coordinated by the Colorado Water Conservation Board, which is piecing together the South Platte Roundtables plans with seven other roundtables around the state, to create a comprehensive water plan by the end of 2015.

    The South Platte Roundtable’s work outlines how agriculture, cities and industries can coexist in the future. The plan for northeastern Colorado is nearing completion, and probably will be released to the public by late July.

    Once the draft plan is released, the Colorado Conservation Board wants the public’s input. That should be our cue to pay attention and participate.

    The South Platte Basin includes six of the state’s 10 top ag-producing counties, including Weld County, which ranks ninth nationally for its value of production. Three of the other top 10 are also in northeast Colorado in the nearby Republican River Basin, which is impacted by South Platte basin functions.

    Also, eight of the 10 largest cities in Colorado are in the South Platte basin, including Denver and Aurora. That’s why the South Platte and Metro roundtables are combining their implementation plans.

    Because of that, and continued growth along the northern Front Range and in the metro Denver area, the South Platte basin faces the biggest expected water shortages in the state.

    “With each basin having its own interests and each facing its respective challenges, it’s going to be a Herculean effort … to bring all of these together without something getting lost,” said Eric Wilkinson, general manager of the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District in Berthoud, which oversees the largest water-delivery system in northern Colorado and is working to put in place more water-storage projects. “Each basin has put in a lot of time and thought into their plans, and to see something get lost along the way going forward would be tough for any of us.”

    If you only pay attention to one water discussion this summer, make sure this is the one.

    We must make sure our eyes are clear and are voices are loud to help shape the future of Greeley, Weld County and northern Colorado in a real and direct way.

    More Colorado Water Plan 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‐inc.com/. It is under the “Resources” tab.

    Jim Pokrandt is Colorado Basin Roundtable Chair.

    More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


    CWCB: Basin implementation plan presentations will dominate today’s board meeting agenda #COWaterPlan

    July 16, 2014
    Basin roundtable boundaries

    Basin roundtable boundaries

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    Plans that detail the needs of water users in each of the state’s eight river basins and the Denver metro area will be studied today by the Colorado Water Conservation Board. The board, meeting in Rangely, will spend the entire day looking at the plans, beginning with the Arkansas River basin.

    The CWCB also will look at the Interbasin Compact Committee’s Conceptual Agreement.

    All of those reports feed into a state water plan that was ordered last year by Gov. John Hickenlooper. Hickenlooper has asked the CWCB to have a draft plan on the governor’s desk in December, whether he or Republican nominee Bob Beauprez is elected in November.

    The Arkansas Basin Roundtable held about 20 meetings during the last three months soliciting comments. It looks at how to meet the urban gap in the Arkansas River basin while preserving agricultural, recreational and environmental water interests.

    Most of the urban gap is driven by growth in El Paso County.

    More meetings on the state water plan also are planned by the Legislature’s Interim Water Resources Committee. It will have its public outreach meeting in Pueblo from 9 a.m.-noon Aug. 29 at the Robert Hoag Rawlings Public Library.

    More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


    County commissioners urge participation in developing the #COWaterPlan

    July 12, 2014
    Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer's office

    Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer’s office

    Rachel Richards and Karn Stiegelmeier have penned a guest column that’s running in The Aspen Times. Click through and read the whole thing. Here’s an excerpt:

    Colorado needs a State Water Plan for our water resources for many reasons. Colorado’s population is growing rapidly, with estimates that 4 million to 5 million more people will be living here by 2050. Not only do we need to ensure adequate amounts of drinking and municipal water in cities along the Front Range, but we also must maintain a secure supply for our state’s essential agricultural industry and the natural environment that our recreational and tourism economy depends upon, an industry that supports more than 80,000 Colorado jobs and contributes more than $9 billion to our economy.

    Water experts agree the plan must include a serious commitment to conservation as a key strategy to ensure the future of Colorado’s economy and natural resources. In addition to being less harmful to our natural environment, conservation is cost-effective and proven to work.

    With his pending State Water Plan, Hickenlooper has a chance to lead the entire Western region in implementing common-sense water conservation.

    We also hope more Coloradans will to get involved in the development of the State Water Plan. This is our chance to design a blueprint for intelligent growth, thriving economies and healthy rivers that are fundamental to our Rocky Mountain lifestyle. Let’s all agree to put politics aside because the reality is that everyone in both rural and urban Colorado owns this issue. The health of our rivers and streams equals the health of our state.

    To learn more about the State Water Plan, visit http://www.waterforcolorado.org and talk with your elected officials.

    Rachel Richards is a Pitkin County commissioner and former mayor of Aspen. Karn Stiegelmeier is a Summit County commissioner.

    Meanwhile, in other West Slope Colorado Water Plan news, the fight to prevent another transmountain diversion to the peopled side of Colorado is front and center. Here’s a report from Kattey Ortiz writing for KREXTV.com. Here’s an excerpt:

    According to the federal government, levels in Lake Mead are at their lowest since 1937. Lake Powell, a major source of hydro-power for a majority of the west, is less than half-empty.

    “It’s huge. It affects everybody, not just for water, but for the price of power,” said Ute Water General Manager Larry Clever.

    Clever is involved in a “roundtable” process for the Colorado Water Plan, specifically the Colorado River Basin, which serves Mesa County. The 9 roundtables of water basins throughout the state have approximately 30 members to represent the different aspects of their water use, including municipalities, recreational, agricultural and environmental.

    “All that work will be put together as part of the state water plan to look at the state as a whole and say, ‘Where are the big gaps and needs as far as water goes in the state?’” said Grand Junction Water Services Manager Rick Brinkman.

    The Front Range is asking for more water, and the Western Slope isn’t having it.

    “They think that we can build a project where we’ll take water only in our really good years. The problem with that is, it’s the really good years that help us in Lake Powell,” said Clever…

    Clever is also worried that since the west is already shipping enough water to the south, they won’t be able to meet their own needs for water if more is diverted to the east.

    According to Brinkman, the Bureau of Reclamation also uses the money generated from hydro-power at Lake Powell to run other reservoirs, including managing and hiring staff. This too, could be at risk.

    Still, there’s a chance the eastern half of Colorado will advocate for a trans-mountain diversion in the state water plan.

    “It’s going to end up as a fight at some point,” Clever said. “They’re going to say, ‘We’re going to build it.’ And we’re going to be sitting there saying, ‘No.'”

    Plans from all the basins will be submitted to the Water Conservation Board next week, and Governor Hickenlooper won’t see a plan on his desk until December of this year. Any sort of plan won’t be finalized until 2015, and permits to move forward with a trans-mountain diversion could take another 20-40 years.

    From the Vail Daily (Melanie Wong):

    …business owners should be concerned, say experts helping form the Colorado Water Plan, because how the state decides to manage its water has major economic consequences.

    “Consider the value of water,” said Linn Brooks, general manager of the Eagle River Water & Sanitation District. “Guests come here to enjoy our pristine natural environment, and water is really the centerpiece of that environment.”[...]

    As the experts explained, managing water in the West has always been a contentious topic. Before the past decade, there were no fruitful discussions on water policy, much less a consensus on future management, said James Eklund, of the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

    He said that changed about a decade ago when groups began to come together to represent a wide array of interests and all of Colorado’s geographical areas. The goal is to address “the gap” — the amount of water needed by growing communities both in Colorado and the downstream states that depend on Colorado water, and the shortfall in how much water is actually available.

    “The good news is that we’ve acknowledged that problem, and it’s a challenge we’re working on now,” said Chris Treese, of the Colorado River Water Conservation District. “(Our water sources are) not bankrupt. Our balance sheet is positive, but our income statement is bleeding red on an annual basis. We’re starting to look at solutions like reusing water. Other states have been doing this for awhile, but it’s still a new concept in Colorado.”

    In addition to the fact that many tourism industries directly depend on a good water supply — think ski resorts, raft and fishing guides and events like the GoPro Mountain Games — the cost of any business could rise if water becomes scarce.

    Treese explained that Colorado and the West has been in a 14-year drought (even with record snow years factored in). If Lake Powell and Lake Mead drop below certain levels, then the reservoirs will be unable to produce the same amount of hydropower. Also, the upper basins may have to cut its own water use in order to send the obligated amounts downstream to states such as California.

    “The estimates are that one year after the reservoirs stop producing electricity, power rates will quintuple,” Treese said. “Nobody wants to see that happen to any of their factors in their businesses and in their homes. Another factor is if we have to curtail our use here to meet our obligations to the lower basin. Both would be economically disastrous to the state.”[...]

    Some businesses are taking action by reducing their emissions and resources use across the board. Miller said that Alpine Bank was rated one of the “50 Greenest Businesses” in the state thanks to its energy reduction program. In 2006, the company aimed to reduce water use at its banks by 10 percent — to date, they’ve exceeded the goal and managed to reduce it by 30 percent.

    Larry Cavanaugh, president of Centennial Bank in Vail, said his bank is in the process of streamlining its resource use as well. As part of the local Actively Green 2015 program, the business is planning to focus on sustainability, an effort that includes reducing water use.

    “I think most people who live here recognize water as a limited resource, but I’m impressed that we appear to have a collaboration that recognizes a future problem. I’m glad we’re addressing this now instead of being reactionary. It bodes well for our state,” Cavanaugh said.

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

    Colorado’s water plan should look outside Colorado’s borders to meet fast-growing demands within, the head of the largest water supplier on the West Slope and the mayor of Grand Junction said Thursday.

    “There’s no water left to take to the Front Range,” said Larry Clever, general manager of the Ute Water Conservancy District, speaking at a discussion of the statewide water plan before an audience of about 30 people in the Grand Vista Hotel.

    The plan should take into account more than diversions of water to the east from the top of the Rocky Mountains, Clever said. It also should consider options such as diverting water from states that have a surplus, such as from spring flooding in the Midwest to helping fund desalination plants in California that would lessen demand there for Colorado River water, Clever said.

    The plan that Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper wants to see completed by the end of 2015 is “short-sighted” in that it envisions planning to meet the demands of 2050, Clever said. It could take decades to establish the kinds of relationships necessary to import water from other basins, such as the Mississippi and Missouri rivers, Clever said.

    “It’s going to take 30 years at least,” Clever said.

    “There are other places to get water” than the West Slope, Grand Junction Mayor Phyllis Norris said.

    “I think you need to look outside the box and try something else,” she said.

    Clever and Norris spoke during a session on the plan sponsored by the Grand Junction, Rifle and Montrose chambers of commerce, as well as the Colorado Competitive Council and Accelerate Colorado, which represents business and local governments before federal agencies.

    The plan as envisioned now doesn’t include importation of water or other efforts, which he referred to as “augmentation” of the state’s water supply, said James Eklund, who heads up the planning effort as director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

    “We’re not going to get bailed out by some basin that has water,” so Colorado has to look to better manage its own supplies, Eklund said.

    Colorado’s ability to manage its own water resources, however, is under pressure from other states dependent on the Colorado River, and the federal government.

    Federal efforts to acquire water rights from ski areas, control of groundwater and the extension of the Clean Water Act all show that the federal government is angling for a bigger role in water management in Colorado, Eklund said.

    “If we don’t have this conversation,” Eklund said, “then the feds or the lower-basin states are going to have it for us.”

    More Colorado Water Plan coverage here


    CWCB: Next Water Availability Task Force Meeting July 23 #COdrought

    July 10, 2014

    fogfilledblackcanyonofthegunnisonnps

    From email from the Colorado Water Conservation Board (Ben Wade):

    The next Water Availability Task Force meeting will be held on Wednesday, July 23, 2014 from 9:30a-11:00a at the Colorado Parks & Wildlife Headquarters, 6060 Broadway, Denver in the Bighorn Room.

    The agenda is posted at the CWCB website.

    More CWCB coverage here.


    Another transmountain diversion garners skepticism on the rainy side of Colorado #COWaterPlan

    July 10, 2014

    Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer's office

    Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer’s office


    From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (John Stroud):

    Though Colorado River Basin water users strongly urge against any new trans-mountain diversions to the East Slope as part of a draft plan for the basin released last week, a key part of the process to create a state water plan recognizes a need to eventually have that discussion. In addition to further refining the basin plan itself, the Colorado Basin Roundtable has been reviewing a conceptual inter-basin agreement that outlines parameters for negotiating new diversion projects.

    “We do take the position that another big trans-mountain diversion would have a major impact on the Western Slope,” said Jim Pokrandt, chairman of the Colorado Basin Roundtable.

    Skepticism about new diversions is shared by other Western Slope basin roundtables, he said. But the Colorado basin in particular has placed a strong emphasis on setting the bar high for water conservation and exhausting other resources within the eastern basins before new diversion projects are considered.

    Last month, the Inter-basin Compact Committee, which includes representation from each of the state’s nine basin roundtables, finalized a draft conceptual agreement to submit to the Colorado Water Conservation Board for inclusion in the draft state water plan, due out by the end of this year.

    Basin implementation plans from each of the roundtables are being submitted this month, all of which will go to create the comprehensive Colorado Water Plan that Gov. John Hickenlooper has requested be done by the end of 2015.

    East Slope water interests have been adamant that, in addition to water conservation measures, protecting agriculture and looking at more water storage within basins east of the Continental Divide, the state plan must keep open the possibility of diverting more water from the Western Slope.

    The draft agreement outlines seven “points of light,” as Pokrandt referred to them, that would have to be addressed collaboratively and agreed upon before a new diversion project could be OK’d. Those include concessions by eastern Colorado water users that they not seek a specific yield from a new trans-mountain diversion (TMD), and would accept hydrologic risk for any new projects.

    Also, any new TMD project would have to come with an agreement that it be in conjunction with existing eastern basin supply agreements, aquifer resources, reuse and other non-West Slope water sources, and that specific triggers be set for when diversions can occur.

    Future West Slope water needs, including for recreation and environmental protections, would have to be spelled out in the agreement.

    “There are lots of questions about hydrology, environmental concerns and compact considerations that would need to be addressed,” Pokrandt said. “Nevertheless, this is a way to talk about a project among the different groups and all the questions that have to be answered.”

    The state faces legal concerns to make sure compacts are fulfilled regarding how much water makes its way from the upper Colorado Basin to downstream users in other states, he emphasized.

    Each of the roundtable groups is scheduled to give a presentation on its basin implementation plan at a Colorado Water Conservation Board meeting in Rangely on July 16.

    Even after the draft basin plans are submitted, they are likely to be undergo further revisions as the process continues to draft the state plan, Pokrandt said.

    “Compared to where we were four months ago, we have made a lot of progress,” he said of the Colorado Basin plan, which was prepared by engineering consultants with SGM in Glenwood Springs.

    Gov. John Hickenlooper, during an interview with the Post Independent last week, said one of the main goals in asking for a state water plan was to get East Slope and West Slope interests talking.

    “The most important thing that can come out of this is to establish relationships, and to get to know each other … and each other’s habits and behaviors,” the governor said.

    In any case, conservation will be a key emphasis, Hickenlooper said.

    “What we’ve always said is that any conversation in the state about water has to start with conservation,” he said. “We will have to work out some compromises, and there will be some ruckus, but we will work it out.”

    The Colorado Basin Roundtable meets again from noon to 4 p.m. July 28 at the Glenwood Springs Community Center to further discuss and refine the basin implementation plan.

    Also, the interim Water Resources Committee of the Colorado General Assembly is coming to Glenwood Springs on Aug. 21 to take testimony from citizens on the Colorado Water Plan process.

    That meeting will take place from 5 to 7 p.m. at the Glenwood Springs Branch Library at 8th and Cooper.

    For more information on the Colorado Water Plan process, visit http://1.usa.gov/1oIyjb0.

    Meanwhile, the South Platte and Metro Roundtables are ready to submit their basin implementation plan. Here’s a report from Eric Brown writing for The Greeley Tribune:

    After years of discussion, the river basin that faces the “biggest challenges” is nearing completion of its first draft of a long-term water plan. That outline of how agriculture, cities and industries will coexist in the future — while minimizing expected water shortages — will be available to the public next week.

    Sean Cronin, chairman of the South Platte Basin Roundtable, a group of water officials and experts who meet regularly to address water issues in northeast Colorado, said the combined draft plan from the South Platte and Metro roundtables is expected to be approved at a meeting Monday.

    After that, it will go to the Colorado Water Conservation Board, which will begin piecing it together with the implementation plans of the seven other roundtables in the state, to create the comprehensive Colorado Water Plan that Gov. John Hickenlooper has requested be done by the end of 2015.

    It’s been a long time coming, according to South Platte and Metro roundtable members, some of whom met Tuesday to finalize the language in its draft plan. The basin roundtables across Colorado have been meeting since 2005.

    In the draft that will be completed soon are the major points northeast Colorado water officials and users have been driving home during the past nine years — protecting agriculture, water conservation, more water storage and keeping open the possibility of diverting more water from the West Slope, among other key points.

    While the group has reached consensus on those issues, there remains some dispute on others, such as how groundwater management might be addressed in the plan, and how municipal land use — which has impacts on water functions — might factor in.

    That’s why the South Platte and Metro roundtables want public input once the draft plan is available next week, possibly as early as Monday evening.

    All basin implementation plans are due by July 16. The South Platte and Metro roundtables pushed the deadline, likely because of the complexity and unique challenges in the basin — perhaps the biggest “challenges in the state,” roundtable members say.

    The South Platte Basin includes six of the state’s 10 top ag-producing counties, including Weld County, which ranks ninth in the nation for its value of production. Three of the other top 10 are also in northeast Colorado in the nearby Republican River Basin, which is impacted by South Platte basin functions.

    Also, eight of the 10 largest cities in Colorado are in the South Platte basin, including Denver and Aurora (which is why the South Platte and Metro roundtables are combining their implementation plans).

    Because of that and continued growth, the South Platte basin, which stretches across northeast Colorado from southwest of Denver to the Nebraska stateline, faces the biggest expected water shortages in the state. According to projections, there will be a municipal and industrial water-supply gap of as many as 190,000 acre feet (about 60 billion gallons) annually by 2050, with as many as 267,000 acres of irrigated farmground dried up by then.

    How will it all fit together?

    In addition to the challenges within the basin, members of the South Platte and Metro roundtables are concerned about how their plan will mesh with others and are worried that in trying to make all eight plans come together, some of the South Platte’s priorities could get lost.

    “With each basin having its own interests and each facing its respective challenges, it’s going to be a Herculean effort … to bring all of these together without something getting lost,” said Eric Wilkinson, general manager of the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District in Berthoud, which oversees the largest water-delivery system in northern Colorado and is working to put in place more water-storage projects. “Each basin has put in a lot of time and thought into their plans, and to see something get lost along the way going forward would be tough for any of us.”

    South Platte Basin water officials have been particularly concerned all along that, because of its controversial nature, talks of bringing more West Slope water across the Continental Divide could take a backseat to other aspects of the Colorado Water Plan.

    The disagreement over trans-mountain water diversions between East Slope and West Slope water officials and users goes way back.

    About 80 percent of the state’s population lives on the East Slope ,but about 80 percent of the state’s water supplies — primarily snowmelt in the mountains — sits on the West Slope.

    To meet the needs of the growing Front Range and northeast Colorado’s robust ag industry, East Slope water providers have long built projects that bring water across the Continental Divide. There are now more than 30 such projects bringing about 450,000 to 500,000 acre feet of water each year from the West Slope to the East Slope. Many have stressed that without more water going to the East Slope, the ag industry, which uses about 85 percent of the state’s water, will especially suffer.

    But many on the West Slope have expressed concern and want the East Slope to stop diverting more of its water. The West Slope has its own water demands to meet, mainly its legal obligation to make sure several Western states downstream from Colorado receive certain amounts of water.

    Meeting those needs, while also contributing to those of Colorado’s East Slope, is stretching the West Slope thin, water officials from that part of the state say.

    More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


    Basin Roundtables will present their Basin Implementation Plans to the CWCB next week #COWaterPlan

    July 9, 2014
    Basin roundtable boundaries

    Basin roundtable boundaries

    From the Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

    Per governor order, local water leaders and their professional consulting team are preparing to present a basin-wide water plan next week to the state agency that will compile plans from all of the basins into a statewide plan to address Colorado’s future water needs.

    At the same time the Rio Grande Roundtable, which is taking the lead on the basin-wide plan, is reviewing potential requests for funding and potential water threats and challenges.

    During its monthly meeting on Tuesday, the roundtable members, who represent various water interests throughout the San Luis Valley, reviewed the status of the local plan that will fit into the governor’s statewide plan; heard about a project that will come before the group for funding next month to study soil health practices in relationship to potential water savings; received a report on post-West Fork Complex Fire actions and heard a presentation on instream flows.

    What the group did not do was take a position on a water export project, proposed by Saguache County rancher Gary Boyce, that recently came to light. Rio Grande Roundtable Chairman Mike Gibson said it was premature to take a position on the proposal at this point.

    “It seems to be a balloon that’s been floated ,” he said. “Who knows if it will pop or land?”

    He added, “If as a water community we need to mobilize , it’s been done before. We are in a better position to mobilize again if we have to.”

    Travis Smith, who sits on the statewide Interbasin Compact Committee, said, “You are going to have projects like this that will show up in spite of all the work that’s gone on.”

    He said water projects in the Valley should go through the roundtable and should fit within the water plan the Valley-wide roundtable has worked so hard to develop, but the plan does not prevent someone from going outside it. Tom Spezze with DiNatale Water Consultants, who is putting the Rio Grande Basin’s water plan together, told the roundtable members the plan would go to the Colorado Water Conservation Board next week during the CWCB’s meeting in Rangely. The water plan is currently 267 pages but is going through refinements and edits, Spezze said.

    The short version that will be presented to the CWCB board next week will consist of about 25 “slides” outlining the process the plan went through, particularly the amount of public outreach and involvement, and highlighting the 14 goals of the local plan such as meeting agricultural, environmental, municipal and recreational needs. This basin’s plan will be compiled, along with plans from the other basins in the state, into a statewide plan to be presented to the governor.

    Spezze also told the roundtable about the various activities of the Rio Grande Watershed Emergency Action Coordination Team that was set up after the fire in the western end of the Valley last summer. For example, the team is monitoring drainages with potential for flash flooding and has an audible alarm and evacuation plan in place for resorts and residences near the danger zones. Water quality is also being monitored, and Doppler Radar will be positioned again on Bristol Head from August to October so residents can be notified of storm events.

    Kip Canty, from the Colorado Division of Water Resources Division 3 office, said the weather service’s three-month forecast for precipitation for this region shows better-than-average chance for above normal precipitation.

    The roundtable did not The study would look at a variety of crops potato, barley and alfalfa encompassing a minimum of four growers of each crop. The study would include growers in different parts of the Valley because the soils vary across the Valley, Lopez explained.

    “Farmers can only implement the things they can truly afford to do,” Lopez added.

    That is why this will be a practical study of soil health practices farmers could afford to implement that would save them costs in the long run. Some of the money requested from the roundtable would offset producers’ costs to implement these practices, Lopez said. have any funding requests before it requiring action on Tuesday but heard an initial presentation from Judy Lopez regarding a request that will be formally presented to the roundtable next month. Lopez said the Rio Grande Watershed Conservation and Education Initiative will serve as the applicant requesting $25,000 for the first of a three-year soil health study and $40,000 each for two years afterwards. She explained that data is lacking on how different conservation practices affect water savings. It would take more than one year to see results, she added.

    “It takes a while to establish soil health and see gains from that,” she said. Also on Tuesday the roundtable heard a presentation from Linda Bassi of CWCB on in-stream flows . She encouraged the roundtable to utilize the CWCB in-stream program. The legislature established the in-stream program in 1973 and gave the CWCB legal authority over it. These water rights are designed to preserve water in stream channels or lakes for purposes such as maintaining fisheries . These are junior water rights that can be appropriated or acquired, Bassi explained.

    Typically the requests for in-stream water rights have come from entities such as the Colorado Parks & Wildlife, Bureau of Land Management and Trout Unlimited, Bassi added. She and her staff accept requests, review them and make recommendations to the CWCB, which may decide to file an in-stream application in court. Public input is part of the process.

    CWCB will only pursue an in-stream application if the natural environment exists, water is available for appropriation and no material injury to water rights will occur if the in-stream right is granted, Bassi explained. In-stream flows exist around the state for fisheries , waterfowl habitat, glacial ponds, bird species and aquatic macroinvertebrates.

    More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


    DARCA to host four workshops to develop input for the #COWaterPlan

    July 9, 2014
    Flood irrigation in the Arkansas Valley via Greg Hobbs

    Flood irrigation in the Arkansas Valley via Greg Hobbs

    From the Ag Journal:

    Ditch and Reservoir Company Alliance is involving ditch and reservoir companies in Colorado’s Water Plan by hosting four free workshops across Colorado during July.

    Colorado’s Water Plan is a state driven effort to help find solutions to the ever increasing demand for water. With the vision of prosperous ditch companies, DARCA’s workshops will involve presentations on the state water plan and also ditch company planning. The workshops have the focus of soliciting input concerning the state water plan from ditch and reservoir companies and their farmer/rancher shareholders. The workshops also have the purpose of informing ditch companies on the importance of their own internal planning so that they can do well in an uncertain future.

    Schedule of DARCA workshops

    Brighton – July 12, Saturday, 8 a.m. to noon
    Brighton Recreation Center
    555 N. 11th Ave.
    Brighton, CO 80601

    Grand Junction, July 18, Friday, 8 a.m. to noon
    Ute Water Conservancy District
    2190 H.25 Rd.
    Grand Junction, CO 81505

    Durango – July 19, Saturday, 8 a.m. to noon
    Florida Grange
    656 Hwy 172
    Durango, CO 81303

    Pueblo – July 26, Saturday, 8 a.m. to noon
    Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District
    31717 United Avenue
    Pueblo, CO 81001

    The Ditch and Reservoir Company Alliance, a nonprofit organization, established in 2001, is dedicated to serving the needs of mutual ditch and reservoir companies, irrigation districts and lateral companies. DARCA’s efforts include advocacy, education, and networking.

    For information about the workshops and to register please visit http://www.darca.org or contact John McKenzie at (970) 412-1960 or john.mckenzie@darca.org.

    More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


    Water policy briefing Thursday at Donovan Pavilion in Vail, RSVP by July 8 #COWaterPlan

    July 7, 2014

    eagleriver
    From email from the Eagle River Water & Sanitation District (Diane Johnson):

    Business community invited to discuss water policy principles

    Contacts:

    Diane Johnson, Eagle River Water & Sanitation District, 970-477-5457
    Alison Wadey, Vail Chamber & Business Association, 970-477-0075

    Join the Eagle River Water & Sanitation District and the Vail Chamber & Business Association for a business briefing on the Colorado Water Plan from noon to 1:30 p.m., Thursday (7/10) at Donovan Pavilion in Vail. A complimentary lunch will be served.

    Gov. John Hickenlooper ordered work to begin on the statewide water plan in May 2013; a draft is due to the Governor’s Office no later than Dec. 10, 2014, with the final plan complete by December 2015.

    Business leaders have developed statewide business community water policy principles to be part of Colorado’s Water Plan and are seeking regional input to finalize the principles. Working through local business chambers, this statewide initiative seeks local feedback on the principles, which address the business and economic development needs of Colorado.

    Thursday’s speakers include:

  • Tom Binnings of Summit Economics will discuss the economics of water from a statewide perspective.
  • Linn Brooks of Eagle River Water & Sanitation District will share local water operations and policy, and discuss needs in the Eagle and Colorado River basins.
  • James Eklund, executive director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board – the state agency tasked with drafting the Colorado Water Plan.
  • Bryan Blakely of Accelerate Colorado and Mizraim Cordero of the Colorado Competitive Council will discuss the business community water policy principles.
  • To ensure enough food for attendees, please RSVP to the Vail Chamber & Business Association at info@vailchamber.org or 970-477-0075 by tomorrow (7/8).

    More Colorado Water Plan 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.


    #COWaterPlan Pueblo meeting recap: “I feel like I have a bull’s-eye on my back” — farmer Doug Wiley

    July 2, 2014
    Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013

    Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    The ideal state water plan: Don’t destroy the farms; keep the faucets flowing; be prepared for emergencies; leave some water in the river for fish; and teach future generations why water is so important. At least according to the crowd of 60 people who showed up Tuesday at Pueblo Community College for the final public outreach meeting of the Arkansas Valley Roundtable.

    The most poignant moment of the evening came when farmer Doug Wiley spoke, quite eloquently, about the importance of agriculture to the Arkansas River basin: “My family has been putting water to good use near Avondale for 100 years, but I feel like I have a bull’s-eye on my back. . . . We call it a water plan, but it’s broader than that. It’s a free-for-all, but there’s not much farmland. We have to preserve it. . . . I think we should be talking about how we fallow parts of the cities in a drought.”

    It was the one comment that drew applause from a group that grazed freely on a verdant field of topics.

    A state water plan is being written by the Colorado Water Conservation Board on the order of Gov. John Hickenlooper. It’s due by the end of the year. The Arkansas Basin plank of that document is due by the end of this month. The primary purpose is dealing with a shortfall of water, which for the Arkansas Valley means supplying enough water each year by the year 2030 to serve a city the size of Pueblo. Most of that need will be in El Paso County. But filling that need means working with other needs.

    Pueblo Chieftain Assistant Publisher Jane Rawlings and Pueblo City Councilwoman Eva Montoya talked about the need to control flooding on Fountain Creek caused by that growth.

    Ben Wurster of the local Trout Unlimited chapter said water providers need to provide more water and operate Pueblo Dam more efficiently in order to preserve the Arkansas River fishery below the dam.

    And perhaps most unexpectedly, Donna Stinchcomb, curator of the Buell Children’s Museum spoke on the need to reach out to the next generation in connection with an upcoming fall program on how artists view water: “We’re looking for children’s programs that connect them to water.”

    Betty Konarski, the chairwoman of the roundtable, summed it up: “It’s a precious resource, the basis for life, and we have to make sure we will have enough.”

    Meanwhile, here’s a report about the Colorado Water Plan from Marianne Goodland writing for The Fort Morgan Times. Here’s an excerpt:

    The Colorado Water Plan draws upon a decade of work by the state’s eight basin roundtables, the Interbasin Compact Committee and the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB). It also incorporates information from the 2010 Statewide Water Supply Initiative, which predicted the state will have a gap between water supply and demand of about 500,000 acre feet of water by 2050, with the largest gap projected for the South Platte River Basin.

    During the past year, the basin roundtables and the CWCB have held dozens of town meetings on the water plan, seeking input from citizens and organizations interested in the state’s water future. Those meetings wrapped up in April, and then the basin roundtable members went to work to develop their basin implementation plans (BIPS), that will be submitted to the CWCB at the end of July. Those plans will be incorporated into the draft Colorado Water Plan, which is due to the Governor at the end of the year. The plan is to be finalized by December, 2015.

    In addition to the basin implementation plans, the state water plan will include a “framework” document that outlines the issues to be addressed. The CWCB has already released eight draft chapters of this framework document this year, with four coming out in the last month. The most recent drafts covered water quality, conservation and re-use, and alternative agriculture to urban transfers. The drafts will be updated based on input from the BIPs.

    The draft on agricultural transfers focused on alternative agricultural transfer methods (ATMS) and current efforts to develop more creative solutions to “buy and dry.” The draft noted several ATMs are already in place and more are on the way. These include deficit irrigation, water co-ops, water banks, water conservation easements; and flexible water markets, which was proposed in the 2014 legislative session but failed to clear the Senate. Another ATM, farrowing-leasing, which would allow for farrowing of irrigated farmland with temporary leasing of water to municipalities, is being studied under legislation passed in 2013.

    More than 1,000 emails and documents have come in to the CWCB, addressing the draft chapters. Almost half of the responses came from stakeholders in the South Platte River and Metro Denver districts.

    Most of the comments received by the CWCB have come either through emails to cowaterplan@state.co.us or through a webform on the water plan website, coloradowaterplan.com. CWCB staff responded to all of the comments, even those that might not be financially or technically feasible. One such comment said the state should cover its reservoirs with a thin membrane “similar to bubble wrap” to slow evaporation. Another suggested that the state halt all housing development along the Front Range.

    A handful of comments addressed agricultural use, including responses that encourage more efficient irrigation systems and pointing out that agriculture is far and away the biggest user of water. But one commenter suggested a new form of “buy and dry.” Kristen Martinez of Metropolitan State University of Denver said the city of Denver could pay for businesses and residents to xeriscape their lawns, similar to a plan implemented by the city of Las Vegas. She also recommended the city of Denver invest in more efficient irrigation systems for farmers, as a trade-off for buying up agricultural water rights.

    “…agriculture stands as the biggest water user, but farmers should not be the only ones to feel the pain of supply and demand,” Martinez wrote. “Most Denverites don’t give heed to the serious task of stewarding their water — not as a farmer must. Why aren’t local industries or municipal users being asked to sacrifice their lifestyle or adjust their operations?…can Colorado’s water plan please ask urban users to take ownership of their consumption, in addition to solving it by diverting farm water?”

    Sean Cronin, director of the St. Vrain & Left Hand Water Conservancy District, chairs the South Platte River Basin roundtable, and pointed out that the South Platte and Metro Denver basin are collaborating on a joint BIP.

    Cronin noted that although they are submitting a joint BIP, the two districts are quite diverse and one size will not fit all. “Water is very local!” he said recently. Feedback in the town meetings has been very different throughout the two districts. In Sterling, for example, he said the focus was on agriculture. In Longmont, people spoke about groundwater because of the well issues in the area. Denver’s focus was more on municipal conservation and recreational/environmental concerns.

    So how will the two roundtables come up with one BIP, given the divergent views? Cronin said that they knew going into the process it would be difficult to address all of the different interests and cultures surrounding water. “It’s incredibly challenging to par it down to one solution that will make everyone happy,” he said. Cronin believes the draft BIP will instead reflect the diverse interests of the basin districts.

    From KKTV (Gina Esposito):

    Residents talked about flooding conditions around Fountain Creek and ways to store water during the hot and dry months. This includes ways to improve forest health and conditions after a wildfire. They also talked about they can improve the quality of delivering water to small towns.

    “If we’re going to remain a vital community and economic secure, we are going to have to look how water impacts our water, our food,” the chair of the Arkansas Basin Roundtable, Betty Konarski, said.

    Their input, as well as the input from similar meetings across the state, will help craft a state water plan that Governor Hickenlooper requested to improve water conditions. The governor issued an executive order last year to develop a statewide water plan. Each water basin in the state is in charge of creating a Basin Implementation Plan (BIP).

    More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


    Governor Hickenlooper pow wows with Club 20

    July 1, 2014
    Governor Hickenlooper, John Salazar and John Stulp at the 2012 Drought Conference

    Governor Hickenlooper, John Salazar and John Stulp at the 2012 Drought Conference

    From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Will Grandbois):

    Many talking points touched on the need for the rural mountain West to have a seat at the table, particularly on issues relating to public lands and the economy. Major talking points included regulations on gas and coal development, water usage and diversion, and the need to attract business on this side of the Continental Divide.

    The scale of the conversation ranged from the hyper-local to the global. When the discussion touched on oil and gas development in the Thompson Divide, Hickenlooper, who has a geology background, expressed doubt about the area’s production potential, but acknowledged he wasn’t an expert.

    When it came to global climate change, he was more vehement.

    “Climate change is serious. Colorado has a lot at risk,” Hickenlooper asserted. “Half our water storage is in snowpack, and we don’t have clear places for reservoirs if we have to make up for that.”

    The issue of water is a fraught one, with growing resentment for ongoing diversion of Western Slope water to the more populated Front Range. Hickenlooper was sympathetic, but challenged the idea that litigation is the best means of combatting further diversion.

    “If you want to change a culture, you can’t just sit there and throw stones at each other,” he said. “Every discussion, whether it’s on the West Slope or the Front Range, needs to start at conservation.”[...]

    In the end, nothing was decided at the meeting. The governor has little direct authority to implement programs that pull from the state coffers. Still, the assembled roundtable seemed gratified at the dialogue.

    Rep. Coram even ventured a lighthearted comment before they adjourned.

    “Empty your bladder before you go,” he quipped. “No water leaves the Western Slope.”

    From KREX (Travis Khachatoorian):

    Governor Hickenlooper was receptive to finding solutions to the problems. He said he’s been working to combat federal control of lands, is a proponent of exploring energy development in the potential Bookcliff Coal Mine north of Fruita and will continue urging various water basins throughout the state to come together and hash out a sensible water plan.

    “I think we’re all seeing that people of goodwill can sit down and listen to the other side and say ‘all right, let me think about how we can get you what you need’,” Hickenlooper said about a Colorado water plan.


    “Local entities can also derail projects more readily now than in the past” — Candace Krebs #COWaterPlan

    June 30, 2014

    organicdairycows

    From the Bent County Democrat (Candace Krebs):

    During the third annual Protein Producer Summit, a joint summer business meeting of the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association and the Colorado Livestock Association, four panelists shared a wish list of items they think could improve the state’s ability to fully capture and utilize its water resources…

    Last fall’s historic northern Colorado flood sent water surging downstream to Nebraska and Kansas, much of it technically Colorado’s water, although the state could neither capture it nor use it for credit toward meeting compact obligations.

    Developing storage to bank that water isn’t as straightforward as it was a generation ago. Conflicting definitions and rules between multiple state and federal agencies have made it increasingly costly and time-consuming to build new reservoirs or refurbish old ones.

    Eric Wilkinson, general manager of the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, has spent the last 14 years leading an effort to build two more reservoirs in Northern Colorado at a cost so far of at least $13 million. The Northern Integrated Supply Project has yet to move beyond the permitting stage. Wilkinson wants to see federal agencies grant permits on a parallel basis. He also said better communication is needed between federal agencies and between federal and state agencies.

    Chris Treese, manager of external affairs for the Colorado River District — the oldest in the state — recalled that in the early 1980s a special division of state government existed solely to facilitate coordination between state and federal agencies.

    “I think that was a real benefit,” he said. “I think that’s a role the state could assume again.”

    Local entities can also derail projects more readily now than in the past. Several groups are currently gathering signatures for a local control ballot initiative that Wilkinson said would be like “1041 on steroids,” referring to the act passed in 1974 that gives local land use interests more say in the development of large-scale water projects. The ballot initiative is primarily targeted at oil and gas development but would likely stall future water projects as well, he said…

    How to develop more water without overdeveloping is another issue. Joking that he hailed from the “wetter, better side of the mountains,” Treese said the recent compact calls along the Arkansas and Republican rivers had been a wake-up call for everyone. More water capture on the western slope would also lead to more demands on the system…

    Farming directly downstream from 3 million hungry (and thirsty) consumers is both a blessing and a curse, said Robert Sakata, a produce farmer from Brighton who is active on water issues. Sakata is the only ag producer to serve on the Denver metro water roundtable but he called it a valuable experience at a time when farming’s long-term sustainability is pitted against the growth of municipalities.

    Sakata said at one point he joked with Aurora officials that instead of buying his water, they should buy his farm and then hire him to farm it. That way the city could have locally grown produce with the option of growing less in dry years when the municipality needs more water. “I was only half-joking,” he said during the panel.

    Better water conservation by cities won’t address shortages without causing new problems, he added. “As cities become more efficient, there’s less water downstream,” he said.

    That puts pressure on water rights holders at the end of the line to sell now “while there’s still some value” in those rights, added Sakata, who is on the board of two ditch companies. His water rights only convey about a third of the water they once did.

    Currier said he wrestled with whether it was possible to stem the “buy and dry” scenario that permanently transfers water from farms to cities without infringing on private property rights.

    “Should we make it harder to sell ag water rights? Should there be incentives to keep water in agriculture?” he wondered aloud.

    More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


    South Platte and Metro roundtables #COWaterPlan update

    June 30, 2014
    Basin roundtable boundaries

    Basin roundtable boundaries

    From The Fort Morgan Times (Marianne Goodland):

    The Colorado Water Plan draws upon a decade of work by the state’s eight basin roundtables, the Interbasin Compact Committee and the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB). It also incorporates information from the 2010 Statewide Water Supply Initiative, which predicted the state will have a gap between water supply and demand of about 500,000 acre feet of water by 2050, with the largest gap projected for the South Platte River Basin.

    During the past year, the basin roundtables and the CWCB have held dozens of town meetings on the water plan, seeking input from citizens and organizations interested in the state’s water future. Those meetings wrapped up in April, and then the basin roundtable members went to work to develop their basin implementation plans (BIPS), that will be submitted to the CWCB at the end of July. Those plans will be incorporated into the draft Colorado Water Plan, which is due to the Governor at the end of the year. The plan is to be finalized by December, 2015.

    In addition to the basin implementation plans, the state water plan will include a “framework” document that outlines the issues to be addressed. The CWCB has already released eight draft chapters of this framework document this year, with four coming out in the last month. The most recent drafts covered water quality, conservation and re-use, and alternative agriculture to urban transfers. The drafts will be updated based on input from the BIPs.

    The draft on agricultural transfers focused on alternative agricultural transfer methods (ATMS) and current efforts to develop more creative solutions to “buy and dry.” The draft noted several ATMs are already in place and more are on the way. These include deficit irrigation, water co-ops, water banks, water conservation easements; and flexible water markets, which was proposed in the 2014 legislative session but failed to clear the Senate. Another ATM, farrowing-leasing, which would allow for farrowing of irrigated farmland with temporary leasing of water to municipalities, is being studied under legislation passed in 2013.

    More than 1,000 emails and documents have come in to the CWCB, addressing the draft chapters. Almost half of the responses came from stakeholders in the South Platte River and Metro Denver districts.

    Most of the comments received by the CWCB have come either through emails to cowaterplan@state.co.us or through a webform on the water plan website, coloradowaterplan.com. CWCB staff responded to all of the comments, even those that might not be financially or technically feasible. One such comment said the state should cover its reservoirs with a thin membrane “similar to bubble wrap” to slow evaporation. Another suggested that the state halt all housing development along the Front Range.

    A handful of comments addressed agricultural use, including responses that encourage more efficient irrigation systems and pointing out that agriculture is far and away the biggest user of water. But one commenter suggested a new form of “buy and dry.” Kristen Martinez of Metropolitan State University of Denver said the city of Denver could pay for businesses and residents to xeriscape their lawns, similar to a plan implemented by the city of Las Vegas. She also recommended the city of Denver invest in more efficient irrigation systems for farmers, as a trade-off for buying up agricultural water rights.

    “…agriculture stands as the biggest water user, but farmers should not be the only ones to feel the pain of supply and demand,” Martinez wrote. “Most Denverites don’t give heed to the serious task of stewarding their water — not as a farmer must. Why aren’t local industries or municipal users being asked to sacrifice their lifestyle or adjust their operations?…can Colorado’s water plan please ask urban users to take ownership of their consumption, in addition to solving it by diverting farm water?”

    Sean Cronin, director of the St. Vrain & Left Hand Water Conservancy District, chairs the South Platte River Basin roundtable, and pointed out that the South Platte and Metro Denver basin are collaborating on a joint BIP.

    Cronin noted that although they are submitting a joint BIP, the two districts are quite diverse and one size will not fit all. “Water is very local!” he said recently. Feedback in the town meetings has been very different throughout the two districts. In Sterling, for example, he said the focus was on agriculture. In Longmont, people spoke about groundwater because of the well issues in the area. Denver’s focus was more on municipal conservation and recreational/environmental concerns.

    So how will the two roundtables come up with one BIP, given the divergent views? Cronin said that they knew going into the process it would be difficult to address all of the different interests and cultures surrounding water. “It’s incredibly challenging to par it down to one solution that will make everyone happy,” he said. Cronin believes the draft BIP will instead reflect the diverse interests of the basin districts…

    A recent presentation on the BIP by the roundtable to Colorado Counties Inc. laid out the plan’s major premise: “You can’t have conservation without storage, and you can’t have storage without conservation.” Even with the “Identified Projects and Processes” already in discussion (which came out of the 2010 SWSI), the gap in the South Platte would at best be reduced to about 100,000 acre feet of water, and many of those solutions are years, and maybe decades, away.

    And that raised red flags for environmental groups, with one warning Coloradans that the BIP will further endanger the rivers of the South Platte basin…

    Cronin encourages people to continue to submit comments through the South Platte Basin Roundtable website (http://cwcb.state.co.us/water-management/basin-roundtables). Public comments also will be accepted on draft versions of the plan through September, 2015, and can be submitted through the Colorado Water Plan website noted earlier.

    More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


    “Coors and skiing commercials worked. People came and some of them stayed.” — Jim Pokrandt #ColoradoRiver #COWaterPlan

    June 29, 2014
    The Glenwood Wave

    The Glenwood Wave

    From the Vail Daily (Randy Wyrick):

    We live in a semi-arid environment, but we love to play in the water.

    Take the massive wave park in Glenwood Springs. Surfers love it, but it hasn’t run like this for a few years, says Jim Pokrandt, communications and education director with the Colorado River District.

    “The bigger the snowpack the bigger the runoff and the bigger the wave at Glenwood Springs. It gets this big when the river is running 20,000 cfs,” Pokrandt said, pointing to the picture with this story.

    Pokrandt chairs the Colorado River Basin Roundtable. Every month, 50 to 60 people come together from Summit and Grand counties where the river begins, down to the state line below Grand Junction. The roundtable has been meeting for eight years.

    Here’s what they know: There’s already not enough water to do everything that everyone wants to do, and some people want more.

    “Coors and skiing commercials worked. People came and some of them stayed,” Pokrandt said.

    They get together and have kids, and the population grows. By 2050 Colorado’s population could hit 10 million people, Pokrandt said. It’s around 5 million people right now…

    Much of that growth will remain along the Front Range, where officials euphemistically talk about “new supply,” which basically means transmountain diversions, said John McClow, general counsel of the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District and one of the West’s foremost water experts.

    “How can that be when the river is so dangerously close to being overdeveloped?” McClow asked.

    The Front Range already pulls 650,000 acre feet every year from the Colorado River, McClow said.

    Another 150,000 acre foot diversion is already planned, Pokrandt said.

    “We don’t think there’s enough water for another big diversion project,” Pokrandt said.

    Transmountain diversions to the Front Range would be a junior water right. That means if there’s not enough water to go around, they’re the first to go without.

    “Denver and Aurora are acutely aware of all that,” McClow said.

    Douglas County, however, is a “black hole,” McClow said.

    “They say water must be provided for farms and that it has to come from somewhere,” McClow said.

    More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


    Roundtable meeting Tuesday at Pueblo Community College for comments on the basin implementation plan #COWaterPlan

    June 29, 2014
    Arkansas River Basin -- Graphic via the Colorado Geological Survey

    Arkansas River Basin — Graphic via the Colorado Geological Survey

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    Pueblo-area residents will have the opportunity to offer their comments on the Arkansas River basin’s portion of the state water plan next week.

    The Arkansas Basin Roundtable will host the meeting at 5 p.m. Tuesday in the Fortino Ballroom at Pueblo Community College. The roundtable has been discussing how to stretch limited water supplies for municipal, industrial, agricultural, recreational and environmental uses since 2005. Its primary purpose is to identify ways to meet the water resources gap identified in the Statewide Water Supply Initiative, which originally was completed in 2004, and updated in 2010.

    Gov. John Hickenlooper has asked the Colorado Water Conservation Board to develop a draft state water plan by the end of 2014. As part of that, nine basin roundtables throughout Colorado are developing basin implementation plans.

    To learn more about the plan and the process, go to the roundtable’s website (http://arkansasbasin.com).

    More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


    Arkansas Basin Roundtable is soliciting public input for their basin implementation plan #COWaterPlan

    June 24, 2014
    Arkansas River Basin -- Graphic via the Colorado Geological Survey

    Arkansas River Basin — Graphic via the Colorado Geological Survey

    From the Cañon City Daily Record (Carie Canterbury):

    Each of Colorado’s nine roundtables, including the Arkansas Basin Roundtable, is working to develop its own plan that identifies challenges to a secure water future, strategies to address those challenges and projects and methods the basin may implement to meet its water needs. The Basin Implementation Plans will be incorporated into the CWP.

    The Arkansas Basin Roundtable is seeking public input to add to the Basin Implementation Plan .

    Kyle Hamilton, principal project manager for CH2M HILL, consulting, design, and program management company, said one of the constraints on the water plan is the Colorado/Kansas Compact, which places constraints on moving water down the Arkansas River.

    “The state of Colorado has to deliver to the State of Kansas at certain times, in certain volumes, based on this compact,” he said. “There are similar compacts for all the major rivers leaving Colorado.”

    Hamilton said John Martin Reservoir was constructed to provide a pool of water to help Colorado comply with those compact requirements.

    “As we develop the basin implementation plan, and those roll up to the state water plan, the plans will have to comply with all these compacts that we have with adjoining states,” he said. The compacts date back to the 1940s.

    He said Colorado must work together to manage its water, because other states are trying to position to get their water, too.

    “Colorado needs to protect its water as a a whole, against Arizona and New Mexico and others who are competing for that same water that comes down the Colorado River,” he said. “We take a lot of that water from the west slope to the east slope.”[...]

    A draft plan is due to the CWCB on July 31 and to the governor’s office December 2014. The final is due December 2015, after public comment periods and input.

    For more information, or to download an offer input, visit http://arkansasbasin.com

    More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


    CWCB: June 2014 Drought update, June MTD precipitation = 33% #COdrought

    June 23, 2014


    Click here to read the update from the Colorado Water Conservation Board:

    May was wet and cool across most of the state resulting in improvements to drought conditions throughout eastern Colorado. However, June, to-date, has seen just 33% of average precipitation; with portions of southern Colorado also seeing above average temperatures. Warm and dry conditions, such as these, can counteract gains from precipitation quickly. Reservoir storage remains high in the north but below average in the southern half of the state. Southeastern Colorado continues to struggle with blowing dust due to high winds and dry soil moisture. The hope that a strong El Nino event would bring significant moisture to the plains has largely dissipated with stagnant ENSO conditions. Water providers in attendance indicated that storage levels are strong, with many reservoirs near or at capacity (and some spilling), and they are not imposing watering restrictions beyond normal operating procedures.

  • Currently, 49% of the state is in some level of drought classification according to the US drought monitor. 23% of that is characterized as “abnormally dry” or D0, while an additional 9% is experiencing D1, moderate drought conditions. 8% is classified as severe, 7% as extreme and 2% of the state remains in exceptional drought (D4). These conditions are slightly improved over last month.
  • Current streamflow forecasts statewide range from greater than 150% of average in the South Platte to below 50% of average in parts of the southwest. The northern portion of the state has forecasts that are near to above normal, while the southern portion of the state has forecasts below normal.
  • Snowpack statewide is at 197% of median. All basins are experiencing normal seasonal decline, but significant amounts of snow remain. By this time of year many basins have reached melt-out, making those with snow still on the ground appear greater than conditions actually reflect. As of June 17, the basins in the northern portion of the state are all above the median while the southwest, Rio Grande and Upper Arkansas are below the median.
  • Reservoir Storage statewide is at 95% of average at the end of May 2014, slightly higher than last month. The lowest reservoir storage statewide is in the Arkansas & Upper Rio Grande basins, with 56% and 63% of average storage, respectively. The Yampa/White and the South Platte have the highest storage level at 114% and 113% of average.
  • The Surface Water Supply Index (SWSI) for the state, which takes into account both reservoir storage and streamflow forecasts, is near normal across much of the state, with an “abundant” index in the northern basins of the South Platte, North Platte, and Colorado. The lowest values in the state are in the Southwest and Rio Grande Basins and indicate moderate drought.
  • El-Nino conditions have begun, but are not yet firmly established and appear to have stalled resulting in a weak event for the time being. The stronger an El Nino event is the more likely we are to see a wetter growing season. Long term forecasts indicate dry conditions along the Colorado Front Range and eastern plains through September, which is consistent with a weak El Nino scenario. Western Colorado can hope for a near normal monsoon season.
  • The short term forecast anticipates near normal rainfall at best throughout the state over the next 14 days. June in Colorado is typically driest in the mountains and on the western slope.
  • From the Associated Press via The Pueblo Chieftain:

    State officials say about half of Colorado remains in some level of drought.

    The Department of Natural Resources said Monday that more than 15 percent of the state is in a severe to exceptional drought. The hardest-hit area is in southeastern Colorado, while less extreme drought conditions are spread across the southern and eastern parts of the state.

    About a quarter of the state is classified as abnormally dry and 10 percent is in a moderate drought.

    Conditions vary widely, with the South Platte River in northeastern Colorado forecast to run 150 percent or higher of average because of heavy mountain snow last winter. Rivers in the southwest are predicted to be below 50 percent of average.

    Statewide, June precipitation has been 33 percent of average.


    The Arkansas Basin Roundtable is still requesting input for the #COWaterPlan

    June 16, 2014
    Basin roundtable boundaries

    Basin roundtable boundaries

    From the Fowler Tribune (Lacy McCuisiton):

    The Arkansas Basin Roundtable, formed in 2005, consists of about 40 active, voting members today. Each county has two representatives, plus conservancy and conservation districts as well as 10 at-large members from the fields of agriculture, recreation and environment, and industry and small municipal water providers. With the purpose or legislative charge of the Rountable to “propose projects and methods to meet the needs of the Arkansas Basin.” By executive order Colorado’s Water Plan draft is due to the governor Dec. 10, 2014, allowing for a final decision to be made by December 2015.


    The Roundtable has been working on solutions, ideas and projects to include in the State Water Plan. Some identified include increased storage, imported water (transfer mountain diversions), aquifer storage, recharge ponds, conservation (to reduce municipal demand), lease/fallow, and conservation easements with municipal component. As the Arkansas Basin Roundtable has been working closely with Colorado Parks and Wildlife, they seem to have the same goals in mind. It is Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s goal is to be able to develop relationships and be a partner with other water users as there are things that can be accomplished better together. More importantly, however, is that the Roundtable is asking for “YOUR” suggestions and input.


    “Where is the water going to come from if we do build more water storage?” “What plans do we have to stop municipality raids?” were a couple of the concerns brought forth by the citizens of Fowler, as well as that Fowler does have a gap including a water shortage, although not defined in the previous plan. Again, as the Colorado Water Plan is “our” plan, the Arkansas Basin Implementation Plan needs your input. They are asking you to contact your local representatives, visit http://www.coloradowaterplan.com, cowaterplan@state.co.us, http://www.dola.colorado.gov.lgis, and to complete an input form obtained from these websites.

    More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


    Arkansas Basin Roundtable: “…we’re still beating our heads over rotational fallowing” — Gary Barber #COWaterPlan #COleg

    June 13, 2014
    Basin roundtable boundaries

    Basin roundtable boundaries

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    The Arkansas Basin Roundtable is compiling a reservoir of ideas that could go into making the Colorado Water Plan. The main difficulty will be putting them all to beneficial use: First in the Arkansas River basin’s implementation plan, then translating those into the state plan — all under conditions that still appear to be changing.

    “It does appear to be a flood,” quipped Alan Hamel, who represents the basin on the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

    Last month, Gov. John Hickenlooper signed legislation (SB115) that instructs the CWCB to have hearings in each basin and for the draft plan to be presented to the Legislature’s interim committee on water resources.

    Meanwhile, the roundtable has received 60 written comments, some with multiple suggestions, on what needs to be in its basin implementation plan. The group has no organized way of incorporating comments into the volumes of information already compiled. There has been little time for point-by-point discussions.

    The CWCB will review basin plans in July.

    And the state plan being developed is in a different format than the basin plan.

    “How do we integrate all this?” asked Reed Dils, a retired Buena Vista outfitter and former CWCB member.

    “The timeline was a tough, tight timeline even before the legislation,” Hamel added.

    Hickenlooper ordered the CWCB to produce a draft plan by December. For the past few months, the roundtable has expanded its meeting time and talked extensively about its own basin plan, the product of nine years of meetings. Some of that time has been devoted to providing new members background on past actions of the roundtable.

    “Dozens of people have presented information to us,” said Bud Elliott of Leadville, one of the original roundtable members. “The public has been well represented.”

    Gary Barber, who chaired the roundtable for several years and is now under contract to help write the basin plan, said some findings of the roundtable have stalled.

    “I tell you, five years later, we’re still beating our heads over rotational fallowing, based on the experience of Fowler,” he said at one point.

    A deal by Super Ditch to supply water to Fowler under a state pilot program this year fell through when farmers pulled out. It’s the third year the group has tried, but failed, to demonstrate a new method for agricultural transfers that leaves ownership in the hands of farmers.

    More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


    CWCB: Next Water Availability Task Force Meeting June 18

    June 11, 2014
    Bessermer Ditch via The Pueblo Chieftain

    Bessermer Ditch via The Pueblo Chieftain

    From email from the Colorado Water Conservation Board (Rob Viehl):

    The next Water Availability Task Force meeting will be held on Wednesday, June 18, 2014 from 9:30a-11:15a at the Colorado Parks & Wildlife Headquarters, 6060 Broadway, Denver in the Bighorn Room.


    The countdown clock is ticking for #COWaterPlan Basin Implementation Plans

    June 10, 2014
    Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013

    Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013

    From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (John Stroud):

    The daunting task for members of the Colorado River Roundtable to reach some consensus in developing recommendations as part of a statewide water plan took a couple of key steps forward Monday.

    The roundtable, made up of water users including municipalities, counties, conservation districts, ranchers and other representatives from a six-county area within the Colorado River Basin, decided at a meeting Monday to adopt a “high conservation standard” as part of its Basin Implementation Plan.

    That means water conservation, both on the Western Slope and on the Front Range, to where a significant portion of the Colorado Basin’s water is being diverted, should be the primary emphasis in meeting the state’s water needs into the future, said Jim Pokrandt of the Colorado River District, who chairs the roundtable.

    “Even if another transmountain diversion is possible, we’re saying that it has to be the last tool out of the box [to meet future water demands],” Pokrandt said. “And there are a lot of questions around whether it is possible.”[...]

    Pitkin County Commissioner Rachel Richards also suggested that, if additional water storage to serve Front Range needs is necessary, more storage projects should be built on the Eastern Slope.

    “Especially in years like this, they should be capturing some of these floodwaters and store it when they have that ability,” she said.

    If additional Western Slope projects are built, they should be for Western Slope needs first, other members of the roundtable said.

    Much of the debate around Gov. John Hickenlooper’s directive to develop a state water plan has centered on the potential need for new Front Range water diversions from the Western Slope to accommodate growth demands over the next 40 to 50 years.

    Front Range water planners say those diversions will likely be needed regardless of successful conservation efforts, and that the water plan should contain assurances for new water projects in addition to ones already on the drawing board.

    Also Monday, initial approval was given to the draft Colorado Basin Implementation Plan (BIP) being prepared for the roundtable’s consideration by a team of water planning consultants from SGM.

    Monday was the deadline for the first round of comments on the basin plan, which is to be presented to the Colorado Water Conservation Board by mid-July to weigh alongside recommendations from other parts of the state.

    “We still have a lot of work to do in the next 30 days to get all of your comments into the document,” said Louis Meyer, president and CEO of SGM, who is heading up the BIP project. “We realize there are a lot of holes and a lot of editing to be done before this is ready.”

    The draft action plan covers six key themes, including specifics on how to:

    • Cultivate healthy streams, rivers, lakes and riparian areas.

    • Implement smart growth strategies while emphasizing local control.

    • Assure dependable administration of water resources.

    • Sustain agriculture.

    • Secure safe drinking water.

    • Encourage basinwide conservation.

    Meyer gave a summary of the comments received by the Monday deadline, which will be incorporated into the basin plan.

    Many of the comments followed the “not one more drop” mantra against new trans-mountain diversions. Although the basin plan does not use those specific words, it does emphasize the belief that there is not sufficient water left in the Colorado Basin to develop for Front Range needs without causing serious harm on the Western Slope and for downstream water users, Meyer said.

    Other comments centered around coming up with better definitions for what constitutes a “healthy river” and “smart growth,” he said.

    There’s also disagreement about whether the state water plan should guide local land-use decisions at all, including feedback from the Garfield County commissioners after a presentation of the BIP during their Monday meeting in Parachute, Meyer said…

    Meyer said the commissioners also expressed support for improving the permitting process for water projects, protecting agricultural interests and protecting the Shoshone water right on the Colorado River.


    2014 Colorado legislation: Governor Hickenlooper wields veto pen, SB14-023 is history #COleg #COWaterPlan

    June 6, 2014

    Colorado instream flow program map via the Colorado Water Conservation Board

    Colorado instream flow program map via the Colorado Water Conservation Board


    Here’s the release from Governor Hickenlooper’s office:

    Gov. John Hickenlooper today vetoed Senate Bill 14-023 because of unresolved concerns about its potential impact to water rights. At the same time, the Governor voiced support for a targeted pilot program that would encourage conservation of water resources and keep more water in streams and rivers for water quality purposes.

    “This decision was not easy; it was a close call,” the governor wrote in a letter to the Colorado Senate. “That is because the bill’s goals are important for our water future and we appreciate and honor the thousands of hours that went into crafting this legislation. Despite these efforts, there was a breakdown in consensus toward the end of the legislative session that divided the water community and, in our view, would make implementation of the policy more difficult.”

    The governor told lawmakers his veto is not designed to stop this legislation from ever becoming law; rather, it allows more time to work with stakeholders to address concerns and build broader consensus for experimentation involving the instream flow program.

    “This bill already has a good cross section of support from various interests, including sportsmen, conservationists, and some in the agricultural community,” the governor wrote. “Unfortunately, and despite the best efforts of the bill’s sponsors, important questions remain about how best to expand the state’s instream flow program without creating injury or cost to downstream users, principally in agriculture.”

    The governor directed the Colorado Department of Natural Resources and the Colorado Water Conservation Board to work with lawmakers on a pilot concept in preparation for the next legislative session that addresses concerns raised by opponents of SB 14-023.

    “Making the topic of this legislation an administration priority next year would give us an opportunity to re-engage stakeholders who have concerns about SB 14-023, and build a broader base of support for passage next year,” the governor wrote. “If I am re-elected by Colorado’s voters to a second term, my administration will be committed to pursuing bipartisan resolution of this important issue.”

    Click here to read a copy of the governor’s veto letter.

    From the Summit County Citizens Voice (Bob Berwyn):

    Bowing to pressure from agricultural users, Gov. John Hickenlooper this week vetoed a bill that would have encouraged voluntary conservation measures and given incentives for private investment in conservation.

    Hickenlooper tried to downplay the veto by saying that he would pursue similar legislation if re-elected, but that’s not nearly enough in a state that is now in a perpetual struggle to find enough water to sustain the economy and a healthy environment. As usual, the environment got the short end of the stick.

    From Conservation Colorado:

    Governor Hickenlooper today vetoed Senate Bill 14-023 (SB 23), an important water conservation bill crafted over the course of a year in close partnership with diverse water interests, including the Governor’s own water policy experts. SB 23 had support from many rural Coloradans, major water providers, Colorado’s leading conservation organizations and Colorado Water Congress, the state’s leading voice for water policy.

    The bill was designed to bring investment to rural western Colorado to incentivize the implementation of irrigation efficiency improvements that would ultimately benefit agricultural operations and Colorado’s rivers and streams. Under the bill’s provisions, ranchers, farmers and other agricultural water users in western Colorado could voluntarily implement irrigation and water efficiency measures and ensure that water they save can benefit Colorado’s rivers without risking abandonment of their water rights or harming other users. The result would have been increased private investment in upgrades to and modernization of irrigation infrastructure, healthier rivers and streams, and more resilient farms and ranches.

    “SB 23 was a chance for Colorado to demonstrate leadership among all western states struggling with a limited water supply and the balance between all-important human uses of water and the needs of our rivers and streams,” said Russ Schnitzer, agriculture policy adviser, Trout Unlimited. “This sends a signal that despite the Governor’s expressed commitment to water conservation, he is willing to bow to those who oppose change in any form. With this veto, innovative, common sense water efficiency solutions benefitting Colorado farms and ranches have been cast aside in favor of perpetuating the status quo locked in 19th management concepts. As an organization, we are committed to forging win-win solutions for agriculture and conservation, and SB 23 was just that. For the Governor to veto such a tool after his own water policy experts testified in support and following passage by the General Assembly is baffling and disappointing.”

    According to a 2013 Colorado College poll, the vast majority of Coloradans agree that using the state’s existing water resources more efficiently is a priority. In fact, low water levels in rivers is a major concern of Coloradans, second only to unemployment. In addition, water managers agree that Colorado’s growing population is driving an imbalance between water supply and demand, which is jeopardizing the $9 billion recreational economy and Colorado’s natural mountain environment.

    “Faced with a dry future and growing water use, Colorado needs innovative, collaborative policies to reverse the imbalance between water supply and demand and the increasing strain on our rivers and streams,” said Pete Maysmith, executive director, Conservation Colorado. “This legislation is precisely the type of collaborative innovative policy Colorado century water needs, so the Governor’s action today is a disappointing set back. Given the opportunity to lead on conservation, the Governor instead chose to enforce the status quo. This flies in the face of his stated commitment to water conservation and ensuring water resources for Colorado’s fish, wildlife and outdoor recreation are protected in the developing state water plan.”

    More 2014 Colorado legislation coverage here.


    More storage on the horizon? #COWaterPlan

    May 30, 2014

    smithreservoir
    From the Valley Courier (Travis Smith):

    Colorado’s water history also involves the development of reservoirs. It was quickly recognized by irrigators and municipal users that having the ability to capture and control available water during times of plenty for a reliable water supply during times of shortage was very important.

    The Colorado high country provides the best natural reservoir storage in the form of snow pack. The state’s snow pack accumulates during late fall and continues thru early spring, waiting for warm temperatures . As the spring runoff begins, the available water supply to rivers and creeks continues to increase. Approximately 70 percent of the annual water supply runs off during May, June and early July. Irrigators quickly recognized that the water supply from the natural reservoir did not provide a reliable water supply in late summer, which is much needed to finish crops. Flooding and drought also became a concern in the arid west. The worst flood ever experienced in Alamosa took place in 1884, with approximately 20,000 CFS recorded. The Valley also endured a severe drought between 1890 and 1902.

    The water development era in the San Luis Valley began in the late 1880’s to early 1990’s. Major canal systems had been developed and began diverting all available water. The Rio Grande was quickly over appropriated by the late 1880’s. The discussion began around approved suitable reservoir sites and the ability to finance a storage project caused much concern with Valley neighbors to the south, New Mexico and Texas. San Luis Valley water users were prevented from developing any further depletion to the Rio Grande by an order from the Secretary of the Interior in 1896. This Federal Embargo meant no reservoir construction in Colorado and was viewed as “arbitrary and unjust” (an excerpt from the valley water attorney George Corlett).

    In the meantime, the people of New Mexico and Texas decided to build the Elephant Butte Dam. The Federal Embargo was partially lifted in 1907, which allowed storage projects on the upper Rio Grande. Reservoir sites had been selected and funding services were secured for Rio Grande Reservoir and Santa Maria Reservoir . With the construction of these reservoirs, the irrigators would have a late season water supply to finish crops. These reservoirs were primary used for agriculture, and at times for flood control. The Rio Grande Compact negotiations contemplated additional storage projects that never came to be due to a variety issues. Terrace and Sanchez reservoirs were also constructed around the same time period. Rio Grande Reservoir, also known as the Farmers Union Reservoir, was primarily built for irrigation use, but was used many times for flood control. In 1952, Platoro Reservoir on the Conejos River was completed.

    The Colorado Water Conservation Board’s 2004 Statewide Water Initiative identified the need to rehabilitate existing reservoirs, and where possible investigate the opportunity for multi use or multipurpose reservoirs. This concept of multipurpose projects is developing for the San Luis Valley’s reservoirs. By rethinking, retiming and reoperation of the Valley’s reservoirs multiple needs could be met. By timing reservoir releases and storage when possible, wet water is available to the Rio Grande for irrigation, municipal augmentation , stream health, recreation and environmental uses. This multi use idea is built around cooperation and partnership opportunities that meet multiple wet water needs with the same amount of water.

    The Rio Grande Cooperative Project is the model of the multi-use project concept. A public/private partnership with the rehabilitation of Beaver Park Reservoir, owned by Colorado Parks and Wildlife, and the Rio Grande Reservoir; the Cooperative Project’s primary objectives are to store and regulate water rights to better meet water demands in the San Luis Valley. The development of the Colorado Water Plan and Basin Water Plan encourage multiuse projects that address the needs of irrigation, municipal, management, augmentation, recreation, and environmental needs. The Colorado Water Plan and the Colorado Water Conservation’s strategic framework recognize the need for multiuse projects, policies and partnerships.

    The Rio Grande Basin Water Plan is being developed by members of the Rio Grande Roundtable and other interested citizens. This basin plan supports the continued rehabilitation of the Valley’s reservoirs and encourages the multipurpose objective thru partnerships and cooperation. The Basin Water Plan also recognizes the need for groundwater regulation to manage and sustain the Valley’s aquifers and agriculture economy, as well as the tenet to remain compliant with the Rio Grande Compact. The Valley’s reservoirs offer a bucket in times of plenty and a source of water in times of need. San Luis Valley residents are encouraged to get involved in the water plan by attending the Rio Grande Basin Roundtable monthly meetings held the second Tuesday of each month at the San Luis Valley Water Conservancy District office at 623 Fourth Street in Alamosa. The lead consultant and local liaison from DiNatale Water Consultants is Tom Spezze. Tom can be contacted at tom@dinatalewater.com.

    More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


    In addition to Colorado’s water gap we have that pesky old solutions gap, East Slope vs. West Slope

    May 30, 2014

    Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013

    Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013


    From the Boulder Weekly (Bob Berwyn):

    When Colorado’s earth cracked open in the great drought of 2002, it may have also cracked open a new corner of consciousness about the finite nature of the state’s water supplies. Spurred by the drought, Gov. Bill Owens and Department of Natural Resources chief Russ George created a series of grassroots river-basin-based roundtables around Colorado and started crafting a statewide vision of how the state will allocate river flows in the 21st century.

    Ten years later, the process will culminate with completion of a formal state water plan, ordered by Gov. John Hickenlooper — but there will have to be some serious compromise on the “last 10 percent,” says longtime Colorado River advocate Ken Neubecker, an associate director of American Rivers.

    But a round of draft documents posted in recent weeks once again raises concern about a host of transmountain water diversion projects that would require huge amounts of energy and disrupt communities and agriculture in the Colorado River Basin.

    Some of the projects have been floating around for decades, representing a Rube Goldberg view of the world, where every problem has an over-engineered technical solution: The Big Straw, which would slurp billions of gallons of water from the Colorado River just before it crosses into Utah; the 500-mile Green River pipeline from Wyoming that supposedly would generate hydropower along the way; the Yampa pumpback, the Blue River pumpback and a new Wolcott Reservoir in Eagle County.

    “Keeping the idea of these zombie water projects, when there just isn’t any more water to fill those [new] reservoirs doesn’t make sense. … There’s not enough to fill the reservoirs that are here now,” says Save the Colorado campaign coordinator Gary Wockner. The water bosses are missing the big picture by ignoring the fact that Lake Powell and Lake Mead are near or at their lowest levels ever (since filling), Wockner says.

    The downstream demand from Arizona, Nevada and especially California throws a huge political monkey wrench into the works that could someday result in a regional showdown, as the Lower Basin cashes in its water chips under the rules of the 1922 Law of the River. Such a so-called Compact Call would require many Colorado water users to curtail their uses.

    Developing any new major Colorado River diversions would only worsen the situation, and all of the zombie projects revive visions of the old-school water wars that got Neubecker involved in river conservation back in the 1980s, when Aurora sought to siphon even more of the Eagle River’s flows across the Continental Divide…

    The statewide planning push is designed to seek consensus. There’s no question that the basin roundtable configuration has been an improvement over previous tactics, which consisted mainly of “throwing lawyers at each other,” Neubecker says. All in all, the process has been smooth. Each basin — nine, in all — carved out its own vision for Colorado’s water future.

    The regional groups have publicly posted “Basin Implementation Plans” for public comment. It’s a key step for the plan, because the final versions should reflect public concerns. In the spirit of the longterm planning initiative, there’s a user-friendly online portal that, for once, doesn’t look like a government website: https://www.colorado.gov/cowaterplan, literally begging for comment.

    Now that it’s time to put it all together, cracks are starting to show along traditional fault lines. Some of the big Front Range communities say the plan must include provisions to shunt more water from the Colorado River Basin to the Front Range.

    “They’re looking for certainty that there will be another transmountain diversion,” says Colorado River Water Conservation District spokesman Jim Pokrandt. “The Colorado River Basin Roundtable position is, to the degree that there ever could be one, it’s the last tool out of the box.”

    Neubecker goes further to say there simply is no water left to divert in the Colorado River Basin…

    The pending showdown over the state water plan (a draft is due in about three months, with a fall 2015 deadline for the final version) shows once again the need to connect the dots between water planning, land-use planning and social, economic and cultural values associated with agriculture — not to mention the ecological values of healthy streams and rivers.


    “The Colorado Water Plan is not a Blackhawk helicopter landing and taking control” — Jay Winner #COWaterPlan

    May 28, 2014
    Arkansas River Basin -- Graphic via the Colorado Geological Survey

    Arkansas River Basin — Graphic via the Colorado Geological Survey

    From the La Junta Tribune-Democrat (Bette McFarren):

    Two of the most important issues to this region are control of selenium and radionuclides in rural drinking water without driving municipal and private water companies out of business or sending water prices sky high and how to import water to serve a booming population growth and agriculture needs in Colorado. The apparent solution to the first problem is the Arkansas Valley Conduit, which Stulp assured the group is coming along nicely. John Knapp commented that the cost of meeting state regulations is prohibitive, and may we hope the conduit will be in time. Nicole Rowan, the water quality expert on the panel, gave hope the cost of regulation problem is being heard at the state level.

    Otero County Commissioner Kevin Karney was in charge of telling about water storage, an essential component to fulfill all of Colorado’s consumptive and nonconsumptive water needs. Pueblo Reservoir and Turquoise Lake have been valuable contributors to helping with the water shortage in the Arkansas Basin. In order to prevent the effect of a call on the water in the upper storage areas, it will be necessary to increase the height of the Pueblo Dam and store more water in Turquoise Lake. He is also looking to Blue Mesa for storage of an additional 100,000 acre feet to counteract a call on the water (imminent from drought-stricken California). Also, attention should be paid to the dam infrastructure in the state, which in some cases, such as Two Buttes, is dangerous at the present time. “We need to be able to store excess water to be used when we need it.”

    Better use of agricultural water was commented upon by Dan Henrich, lower Arkansas Valley farmer. He sees conversion to sprinklers a no-brainer, in that it provides better coverage for the farmer and a more efficient use of water resources.

    John Tonko of the Colorado State Parks and Wildlife Department had interesting comments on how the storage of water for the benefit of tourism and wildlife has the effect of also helping agriculture. He pointed out several helpful projects for wildlife and fishing which have been created with the cooperation of gravel pit owners in Lamar and other locations in the lower Arkansas Valley. He pointed out that no project can succeed without a united effort from local stakeholders, but it is possible: fishermen and rafters have come to a compromise agreement concerning water flow in the Arkansas River.

    Winner summed up the water quality issue: “The Colorado Water Plan is not a Blackhawk helicopter landing and taking control. … We want a cooperative effort to try to address the selenium problem. … Here and in Grand Junction, we have made no significant headway and it is beyond our economic ability to do much about it. … We are tired of studies and want action.”

    Comments and suggestions for action are welcomed. For further information, Stulp suggests going to http://www.coloradowaterplan.com, which has the draft of the plan so far on display.

    More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


    Fountain Creek dam study funding source up in the air

    May 27, 2014
    Fountain Creek Watershed

    Fountain Creek Watershed

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    Faced with silence so far from Colorado Springs City Council, the Fountain Creek district will seek another direction on funding an evaluation of flood-control strategies. The Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District board Friday voted to seek $135,000 in state funds to launch the $205,000 study.

    Other funds would be: $30,000 from Colorado Springs Utilities and its partners in the Southern Delivery System; $25,000 in district money redirected from another grant; and $15,000 in in-kind engineering services from Utilities.

    The board wants to look at whether it makes more sense to build a large dam on Fountain Creek or several detention ponds. The money being sought would be sufficient to both identify and evaluate sites along Fountain Creek where structures could be built.

    “This gets us started, but one of the drawbacks is timing,” said Pueblo County Commissioner Terry Hart, a Fountain Creek board member.

    The commissioners last month approved a resolution to use interest money from Colorado Springs’ upcoming $50 million payment to the district under Pueblo County’s 1041 agreement on SDS.

    The commissioners sent a letter to Colorado Springs Council President Keith King, who has not brought up the issue with other council members.

    “It’s council’s decision,” Hart said.

    The state money could take longer to arrive because the $135,000 is being sought through the Water Supply Reserve Account. The application would be heard by the Arkansas Basin Roundtable as soon as June, then forwarded to the Colorado Water Conservation Board for consideration in September. After that, it could take several months to get a contract in place, meaning nothing will happen before the end of the year.

    “I think Utilities is saying, ‘Try it this way,’ ” Hart said. “But we’ve lost all of 2014.”

    More Fountain Creek coverage here.


    CWCB approves dough for projects in the South Platte River Basin

    May 26, 2014
    Proposed Chatfield Reservoir reallocation pool -- Graphic/USACE

    Proposed Chatfield Reservoir reallocation pool — Graphic/USACE

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    The bull’s-eye for the state’s municipal water gap is centered over the Denver south metro area, which continues to boom in population.

    Last week in Pueblo, the Colorado Water Conservation Board took a couple of actions that could keep that growth from sucking up water supplies from the rest of the state. The CWCB approved more than $100 million in loans to help water districts and some farmers in the area increase storage in Chatfield Reservoir and to expand a pipeline that will make their systems more efficient.

    “There is a significant commitment to moving forward,” South Metro Water Authority Executive Director Eric Hecox told the CWCB Thursday. Representatives of various member districts filled the meeting room at the Pueblo Convention Center. The South Metro group includes 14 water districts that primarily rely on non-renewable Denver Basin groundwater to serve 300,000 people.

    In a 2007 study, the group identified the Arkansas and Colorado river basins as areas where future pipelines might bring more water to the communities south of Denver. In recent years, other efforts to consolidate and boost resources have been identified, at least delaying more costly plans to import water.

    One of those ways is a $145 million plan to add 20,600 acre-feet of storage accounts in Chatfield. The reallocation project to use the flood-control reservoir for supply storage has been in the works 20 years.

    The CWCB approved $84 million in loans to the Centennial, Castle Pines and the Castle Pines North water and sanitation districts, as well as the Center of Colorado (Park County) and the Central Colorado (agricultural wells between Denver and Fort Morgan) water conservancy districts. For the urban users, the new accounts will allow greater ability to stretch existing supplies. For the agricultural users, it could mean turning on some of the wells that were shut off nearly a year ago.

    The CWCB also approved $25 million to help four districts buy and expand the East Cherry Creek Valley Pipeline. Those districts are Cottonwood, Inverness, Parker and Pinery. The ECCV pipeline is a $147 million project to improve distribution for 10 districts in Douglas and Arapahoe counties, and is part of the Water Infrastructure and Supply Efficiency Project. That project also allows the districts to use excess capacity in Aurora’s Prairie Waters Project to capture and redistribute return flows from Denver water and Aurora.

    One of the components also includes Parker Reservoir, which provides additional storage for some WISE participants.

    More CWCB coverage here.


    2014 Legislature was hip deep in water bills — Glenwood Springs Post Independent #COleg

    May 25, 2014
    Colorado Capitol building

    Colorado Capitol building

    From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Hannah Holm):

    The legislative session that just wrapped up featured more significant water bills than the Colorado General Assembly has considered for several years. They ranged from a proposal to limit lawn sizes in new developments relying on agricultural water to technical tweaks to Colorado’s complex system of administering water rights.

    Promoting efficiency and flexibility were common themes in bills introduced, along with programs to help repair infrastructure damaged by last fall’s floods. Some were passed and some weren’t, and the water gossip network is buzzing with rumors that Gov. John Hickenlooper is being lobbied to veto some of the measures. Here’s a quick summary of some of the more high-profile bills that were considered and their fates.

    Lawn limits: Senate Bill 14-017, in its original form, sought to limit the replacement of irrigated farmland with irrigated lawns. The bill would have prohibited approval of new subdivisions that buy agricultural water rights unless lawns are limited to 15 percent or less of the total area of the residential lots. The bill was passed after being converted into a study of ways to limit municipal outdoor water use.

    Agricultural savings to benefit streams: Senate Bill 14-023 sought to remove “use it or lose it” disincentives for irrigation efficiency improvements that could benefit streams. The bill would allow irrigators west of the Continental Divide who reduce water diversions through increased efficiency to transfer or lend the rights to the “saved” water to the state to benefit streams. It would also ensure that those rights are not legally abandoned. This would apply only to water that was not consumed under pre-efficiency practices, but rather lost in transit, and would be allowed only if it wouldn’t damage someone else’s water right.

    Senate Bill 14-023 had a similar intent but ran into trouble in the 2013 session. The 2014 measure won much broader support. It was crafted through an extensive process of stakeholder consultations between environmental and agricultural interests, and it was ultimately passed by both the House and Senate. The bill remains controversial, however, due to concerns that it could deprive upstream junior water users of access to water no longer needed by downstream senior users, as well as concern that it would increase the amount of time and money water users have to spend defending their interests in water court. As of this writing, the bill had not yet been signed by Hickenlooper, and rumors were swirling that he was being lobbied to veto it.

    Phase out inefficient plumbing fixtures: Senate Bill 14-103 would phase out the sale of plumbing fixtures that don’t meet the “WaterSense” standards for efficiency developed by the federal Environmental Protection Agency. It passed, but is still waiting for Hickenlooper’s signature. Opponents say the bill inappropriately calls for a “one-size-fits-all” approach to conservation, wouldn’t be effective and would limit consumer choice.

    Flood Relief bills: These offered both money and regulatory streamlining. HB 14-1002 sought to appropriate $12 million for a new grant program to repair water infrastructure damaged by a natural disaster. After bumping the amount up to $17 million, the General Assembly passed the bill. HB 14-1005 sought to reduce legal hurdles for rebuilding irrigation diversions in cases where flooding changed the stream in such a way that the original diversion point would no longer work. The bill allows water-right holders to relocate a ditch headgate without filing for a change in water court, as would normally be required, as long as the change won’t damage someone else’s water right. The General Assembly passed the bill.

    Flexible Water Markets: A bill seeking to make it easier for agricultural users to lease some of their water right to other users as an alternative to permanent “buy and dry” did not fare well. HB 14-1026 would have allowed irrigators who free up water through fallowing some land, deficit irrigation (giving crops less water than they really want) or planting less-thirsty crops to ask the state engineer for permission to change the use of that water without having to designate exactly what the new use will be. Water court wouldn’t have been involved unless there was an appeal. The bill passed the House, but got hung up in the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Natural Resources, & Energy.

    You can trace the history of bills through the Legislature and see whether the governor has acted on them at http://www.leg.state.co.us/.


    Draft plan for state’s water future released — Aspen Journalism #COWaterPlan #ColoradoRiver

    May 25, 2014


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

    The Colorado River Basin Roundtable has released its draft Basin Implementation Plan.

    I know, I can hear you going “Yawn. What-ev-er.”

    But, I can also hear you saying something today like, “Honey, the lawn looks a little brown, could you turn the sprinklers on and bring me some ice water before we go fishing? Oh, and remind me to pick up some local grass-fed beef for dinner.”

    In other words, you may not care about water, but you probably should, given that your Colorado lifestyle largely depends on it.

    But given that the plan laboriously prepared by consultants at SGM in Glenwood Springs for the Colorado roundtable includes 89 dense pages in an unwieldy 11-by-17 inch format, and that it takes a day to fully decipher and absorb, it’s hard to blame someone for not digging into it.

    On the other hand, the plan could well be the key to whether your grandchildren, should they live in Colorado, have clean water to drink, healthy rivers to fish in or float on, and scenic working ranches to gaze upon.

    As the plan notes, “water = tourism, recreation, sustainable ecosystem, agriculture and resource development.”

    At a minimum, the draft “basin implementation plan,” or BIP, is full of compelling facts, figures, projections and projects. It also explores and explains broader themes and lists important projects in the Roaring Fork River watershed, including potential dams on upper Castle and Maroon creeks.

    On the defining-factoid front, consider that 80 percent of the water in Colorado originates on the Western Slope, while 80 percent of the state’s population lives east of the Continental Divide, mainly in cities on the Front Range.

    This explains much of the underlying tension in the plan between shipping more water to the Front Range versus leaving it in rivers, or using it, on the Western Slope.

    The Colorado River originates in Rocky Mountain National Park and it, or its tributaries, run through Grand, Summit, Eagle, Pitkin, Garfield and Mesa counties on the river’s journey out of the state and onto Utah, Arizona, California and Mexico.

    Before the river reaches Glenwood Springs, though, there are more than a dozen tunnels under the Continental Divide that take between 400,000 to 600,000 acre-feet of water each year from the Colorado River and its tributaries to cities and farms on Colorado’s Front Range.

    An acre-foot of water, by the way, is equal to an acre of land covered by a foot of water. Ruedi Reservoir holds about 100,000 acre-feet. Paonia Reservoir holds about 15,000 acre-feet. The abbreviation “AFY” means acre-feet-per-year.

    When people water their lawns in Denver or Colorado Springs, they are likely using water from the Fraser, Blue, Roaring Fork or Fryingpan rivers, all tributaries to the Colorado River.

    Folks on the Western Slope are diverting plenty of water out of Western Slope rivers, too, mainly to grow hay.

    Agriculture uses 85 percent of the water diverted from rivers in Colorado, and the most senior water rights are usually tied to ag land.

    The Colorado River Basin has 268,000 acres of land under irrigation, or 8 percent of the irrigated land in Colorado, resulting in a consumptive use of 584,000 acre-feet-per-year of water.

    So, in rough terms, of all the water diverted from rivers and streams in the Colorado River Basin, almost half goes to Front Range cities and farms and almost half goes to irrigate fields and crops in the basin.

    Some of the water goes toward “municipal and industrial” uses, which includes residential use.

    There are 54 water-providing utilities and organizations in the Colorado Basin.

    In 2008, those providers delivered 68,480 acre-feet to houses, factories and ski areas.

    That demand for “municipal and industrial” water is expected to double, or more, to between 129,940 to 179,440 AFY by 2050, according to the draft plan from the Colorado roundtable.

    Local water, state water

    While it may not be obvious, the development of a basin-wide and a state-wide water plan is indeed a local story, as the Roaring Fork River valley is in the thick of the debate over the future supply of water for the state’s growing population.

    Water from the Roaring Fork River watershed, which includes the Fryingpan River, is diverted east each year to Colorado Springs, Aurora and Pueblo through the Fryingpan-Arkansas and Twin Lakes projects.

    “On average, 37 percent of the upper Roaring Fork watershed (40,600 AFY) and 41 percent of the upper Fryingpan watershed (61,500 AFY) is currently diverted annually to the Front Range,” the plan notes. “These are the 5th and 3rd largest transmountain diversions, respectively, in the state.”

    These diversions mean that about 100,000 AFY of water does not flow each year down to the confluence of the Roaring Fork and Colorado rivers in Glenwood Springs as nature intended, but instead flows east, as water managers intend.

    There are eight other river basins in Colorado, and the appointed roundtables in each basin, meeting under the auspices of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, are also developing their own BIPs.

    Each plan is supposed to inform the state of the needs and potential water projects in each basin, and the basin plans will be incorporated into a statewide Colorado Water Plan.

    The roundtable in the South Platte River Basin on the Front Range, and another roundtable representing metro Denver, are both likely to mention in their plans that new supplies of Western Slope water — meaning more dams and reservoirs — must be developed to meet the water needs of the state’s growing population.

    Colorado’s population is expected to grow from 5.1 million today to between 8.6 and 10 million by 2050, according to state estimates, with most of that growth happening on the Front Range.

    But the population on the Western Slope and in the Colorado River Basin is also expected to grow significantly, especially along the Interstate 70 corridor. The population in the Colorado River Basin was 307,000 in 2008. It is expected to climb to 661,000 to 832,000 by 2050.

    The state has estimated that by 2050 there could be a “gap” between water demand and water supply of some 500,000 acre-feet in the state. Many members of the Colorado Basin Roundtable, which meets monthly in Glenwood Springs, question the validity of the size of the gap.

    Even without a big new water-supply project being developed, the plan from the Colorado roundtable points out that many other smaller projects already in the works will divert even more water from the Colorado Basin. Many existing diversions could take more water, and may do so in the future, in a process known as “firming up yields.”

    “It is currently estimated that an additional 150,000 AFY will be diverted in the future as Front Range diverters firm up yields in the future,” the plan states. “These additional planned firming projects include: the Moffat Collection System Project, Windy Gap Firming, Eagle River memorandum of understanding, Future Dillon Reservoir diversions, firming in the upper Roaring Fork and Fryingpan Rivers, and Colorado Springs Utilities expanded diversions from the Upper Blue River.”

    Both the Fry-Ark project and the Twin Lakes project own conditional water rights that could be developed in the future, meaning more water could be diverted from the Roaring Fork and Fryingpan headwaters.

    And yet, the Colorado Basin Roundtable’s plan is adamant that there is no more water to divert from the basin.

    Tapped out?

    “The Colorado Basin has played more of a role in solving Colorado’s water shortage than any other basin in the state,” the plan states. “These transmountain diversions have had a dramatic impact on the health of our ecosystems, economy and culture of the headwater counties of the Colorado Basin. The headwaters are tapped out.”

    The plan, in another section, also plainly says that “there is no more additional water to support other basins into the future.”

    The basin roundtable has also articulated a set of “Western Slope Principles,” chief among them is that “Colorado Water Plan solutions should originate first in the basin in which the problem exists.”

    In other words, if the Front Range wants to keep growing, it has to find water in its own basin, not look to the Western Slope.

    But throughout this planning process, Front Range interests have generally said it would not be a good idea to take any long-term options off the table.

    The Colorado Basin plan also calls for the state of Colorado to remain neutral in the grand east-west fight over water.

    “The state should act as a facilitator — not an advocate — in inter-basin conversations surrounding transmountain diversions,” the plan states.

    The plan also makes a strong call for growth control in the Colorado Basin and the state.

    “A strong link should be made between land use patterns and water use together in a meaningful and binding way,” the plan states. “Land use and growth should be directed within urban growth boundaries where water supply plans are currently in place. Land use planning across the basin should recognize the shortage and limits of water supply.”

    It also notes, in an apparent dig at Front Range lawns, that “the land use policies of the future must recognize that preserving water for streams and rivers and maintaining agriculture is more important than watering outdoor landscapes.”

    New reservoirs?

    The Roundtable’s “basin implementation plan” clearly recognizes the need for new reservoirs to meet the needs of both agricultural and municipal needs, and it provides a list of potential new dams and reservoirs, albeit relatively small ones, across the sub-regions in the basin.

    It also recognizes that building new reservoirs is going to be challenging, especially for municipal water utilities.

    “Many of these water providers’ long term water supplies are based on conditional storage rights for on-stream reservoirs,” the plan states. “Today’s regulatory and permitting climate makes the construction of channel reservoirs virtually impossible.

    “Even if they can be permitted as an off-channel reservoir, the expense for any one small utility is cost prohibitive,” the plan states. “Therefore many utilities are discontinuing the diligence filings on these on-channel reservoirs.”

    The city of Aspen’s water utility, however, is not walking away from its conditional water rights for dams and reservoirs on upper Castle and Maroon creeks.

    In fact, the city has been advocating for the two potential dams and reservoirs to be included in the basin’s draft plans and it has stated in the past it intends to keep the option open to build the reservoirs.

    The dams on Castle and Maroon creeks are indeed mentioned in the draft basin plan, which was released by SGM on May 16.

    The dams are listed in regional tables that SGM describes as “examples of projects that each region identified from the full list as being a top candidate for the Colorado Basin Roundtable.”

    The table for the Roaring Fork region is on page 71 of the plan.

    Under the column entitled “themes and supporting vulnerabilities,” it lists “Storage for supply assurance during low flow periods” under the subhead of “Secure Safe Drinking Water.”

    The next column over is called “methods,” and here the plan recommends that the city should “investigate the development of storage reservoirs in both Maroon and Castle creeks if no better alternative is discovered.”

    And under the column heading of “Projects,” it recommends the city “continue due diligence for the preservation of the 1972 storage rights on Maroon and Castle creeks by giving true consideration to all other potential options.”

    Aspen is required in 2015 to file a diligence report with the state showing it is making progress toward building the dams and reservoirs.

    While the statements in the draft basin plan would seem to give support for the idea of building a dam within view of the Maroon Bells, the plan also throws plenty of cold water on the idea of new dams in the high country to meet municipal needs.

    “Water providers in the upper reaches of the basin are dependent upon direct flow stream intakes and are susceptible to extended drought periods,” the plan notes about water utilities in the Roaring Fork River watershed.

    “Because the watersheds above these intakes are primarily located on U.S. Forest Service lands and because of the strong environmental ethics present, the likelihood of construction of reservoirs above intakes is small.

    “These water providers should seek redundancy through other means including: enlargement of existing reservoirs, interconnects between regional water providers, development of well supplies and reliance upon multiple stream water supplies,” the plan states.

    While the Castle and Maroon creek dams are mentioned in the section of the report that focuses on the Roaring Fork watershed, the primary emphasis in that section is about the lack of water in certain sections of local rivers.

    “The primary need of the Roaring Fork watershed is to protect, maintain, and restore healthy rivers and streams,” the plan states. “Almost 140 of 185 miles of streams surveyed in the Roaring Fork watershed have moderately modified to severely degraded riparian habitat.”

    The plan further notes that “there are three critical reaches of main streams that have been targeted for restoration 1) the Roaring Fork River below the Salvation Ditch through the city of Aspen; 2) the Roaring Fork River upstream of the confluence of the Fryingpan River, and 3) the Crystal River upstream from Carbondale.

    “These three main reaches do not include all the smaller tributaries in the upper Fryingpan and the upper Roaring Fork that have been dried up due to transmountain diversions,” the plan states.

    The plan then lists many water projects, some physical and some policy oriented, for the Roaring Fork basin and the five other sub-basins in the Colorado Basin.

    The next step for the BIP is for the members of the Roundtable to review it at meetings in June. Then the draft is to be sent in July to the Colorado Water Conservation Board for its review.

    In the meantime, if you want to dig deeper into your water future, go to SGM’s website at http://coloradobip.sgm-inc.com/ and look for the plan under the “Resources” tab.

    More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


    Just 15 years ago, it was unthinkable that the [CWCB] would be in the fire business — @ChrisWoodka @CO_H2O

    May 24, 2014


    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    Just 15 years ago, it was unthinkable that the Colorado Water Conservation Board would be in the fire business. But the wildfires that have broken out since 2000 have been larger and more destructive than any in Colorado’s history — including their impact on watersheds the state’s 5 million people depend on.

    “Prior to 2000, the largest fire had been 26,000 acres, and that happened in 1879,” said Kevin Houck, watershed and flood protection chief for the CWCB said Thursday at the board’s Pueblo meeting.

    Since then, the state has witnessed the Hayman Fire (southwest of Denver), 2002, 137,760 acres; West Fork complex (near Creede) 2013, 110,405 acres; and High Park (west of Fort Collins) 2012, 87,284 acres.

    In fact, 28 of the 30 largest wildfires have occurred since 2000.

    In addition, 14 of the 15 most destructive fires have been since 2000. These include the Black Forest Fire (509 homes) in 2013, near Colorado Springs; Waldo Canyon (346 homes) in 2012, near Colorado Springs; the High Park Fire (259 homes); and the Fourmile Fire (169 homes) in 2010 north of Boulder.

    Many of the fires impact watersheds, including Waldo Canyon, which sent sheets of mud into Fountain Creek last September, and the Hayman Fire, which has caused debris flows for years into Denver and Aurora reservoirs.

    Houck praised Canon City officials for the quick response to the aftermath of the Royal Gorge Fire. Last year, the CWCB provided a $485,000 grant for mulching and planting to reduce the impact on Canon City’s water supply.

    “The city only used about two-thirds of the grant, so we may get some back,” Houck said. He provided a list of more than $1 million in watershed restoration grants just to deal with fires in 2012-13.

    After the East Peak Fire, Huerfano County continues to worry about dry conditions.

    Tom Spezze, of the Rio Grand Watershed Emergency Action Coordination Team, gave the board an update on its actives to deal with water quality issues associated with the West Fork Complex and to prevent future fires.

    Such fires not only affect water supply, but local economies as well, Spezze said. Creede lost 75 percent of its tourism revenue last July and was 40 percent off for the year.

    The fire has left uncertainty in a private tourist camp that operates on federal land near a canyon now prone to flooding.

    But the debris and silt after a fire is immense.

    “We’re not sure what’s going to happen,” Spezze said. “The debris in one year filled Humphreys Reservoir. It had just been dredged for 25 years’ worth — all for naught.”


    CWCB: May 2014 Drought Update

    May 23, 2014

    Click here to read the May 2014 update from the Colorado Water Conservation Board. Here’s an excerpt:

    Drought conditions remain in southern Colorado, but have abated in much of the northern portion of the state. While April was slightly warmer than normal, May to date has been cool and wet helping to slow melt off, and in some instances improve, snowpack. Reservoir storage is high in the north but well below average in the southern half of Colorado. Agriculture in this region is also struggling to establish a good crop due to lack of soil moisture. Relief is possible as ENSO conditions favor the return of El Nino conditions, which historically has meant increased moisture for Colorado. Water providers indicated that storage levels are decent, and they are not imposing above normal watering restrictions, yet they will continue to closely monitor conditions.

  • Currently, 55% of the state is in some level of drought classification according to the US drought monitor. 22% of that is characterized as “abnormally dry” or D0, while an additional 14% is experiencing D1, moderate drought conditions. 6% is classified as severe, 11% as extreme and 2% of the state remains in exceptional drought (D4). In comparison, this time last year 100% of the state was experiencing some level of classification (D0-D4).
  • Snowpack statewide is at 105% of median. All basins saw some decline in April due to seasonal melt off and below average precipitation. As of May 15, the basin with the highest snowpack is in the North Platte Basin at 126% of median. The Rio Grande has the lowest snowpack in the state at 84% of normal. The snowpack in the San Miguel/Dolores/San Juan Basin is also below average at 88%. The South Platte, Colorado, Yampa/ White, Gunnison and Arkansas are near or above normal at 120, 112, 113, 102 and 97 % respectively.
  • Current streamflow forecasts statewide range from well below to well above average, with the northern portion of the state showing higher forecasts than the south.
  • Reservoir Storage statewide is at 93% of average at the end of April 2014. The lowest reservoir storage statewide is in the Arkansas & Upper Rio Grande basins, with 59% and 67% of average storage, respectively. The South Platte has the highest storage level at 110%.
  • ENSO conditions are likely to transition El-Nino in the coming weeks and are forecast to bring more moisture to the lower elevations during the growing season. The forecast through June indicates that the mountains are less likely to benefit from wet conditions, with the exception of the western San Juan Mountains.
  • The Surface Water Supply Index (SWSI) for the state, which takes into account both reservoir storage and streamflow forecasts, is near normal across much of the state, with an “abundant” index in the northern basins of the South Platte, North Platte, Yampa/ White and Colorado. The lowest values in the state are in the Arkansas and are the result of poor reservoir and streamflow conditions for the Cucharas and Huerfano rivers.
  • Southern portions of the state continue to deal with the effects of a multi-year drought, including low soil moisture and blowing dust. Producers in southeastern Colorado are concerned about how another year of below average precipitation may impact their operations.
  • More CWCB coverage here.


    Aspen Journalism: What people are saying about the #COWaterPlan so far?

    May 23, 2014

    CWCB: Does the draft #COWaterPlan rely too much on unproven alternative ag transfers?

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

    Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    A state water plan may be putting too much weight on alternative transfer programs that seek to temporarily provide water to cities from farm lands. While the goal of such programs is to reduce the possibility of permanent dry-up of agriculture, there is little evidence to prove they would work, said Patricia Wells, a member of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, meeting in Pueblo this week.

    “Has any transfer method actually happened with rotational fallowing?” Wells, general counsel for Denver Water, asked during Wednesday’s CWCB meeting at the Pueblo Convention Center.

    The board was reviewing draft chapters of the state water plan being developed by CWCB staff. Other topics included conservation, water quality and project permitting.

    “This chapter paints a rosy picture of alternative transfers,” Wells added. “This doesn’t mean alternative transfer methods can’t be done, but they haven’t been done.”

    The Arkansas Valley Super Ditch formed in 2008, but has had difficulty launching pilot programs because drought reduced water availability, permit complications and farmer participation.

    In 2013, the Legislature passed HB1130, which set up a framework for long-term lease arrangements, and HB1248, which allowed for 10 pilot programs that have not materialized.

    Super Ditch attempted to run a pilot program under HB1248 with the town of Fowler this year, but plans fell through.

    This year, a proposal to create a flex marketing water right failed because opponents said it amounted to legalizing speculation.

    In 2004-05, Aurora and the Rocky Ford High Line Canal engineered a temporary transfer program that was successful, although it raised questions of moving water from one river basin to another.

    Since then, the state has spent millions of dollars on grants to study alternative transfer methods, but large metro providers are reluctant to enter long-term deals without more certainty.

    “Unless we find some way to do this, there are barriers,” Wells said.

    Board member John McClow, a Gunnison attorney, questioned CWCB staff for using language from the Interbasin Compact Committee’s report rather than taking a fresh approach.

    Travis Smith, a board member of both the CWCB and IBCC, responded that the IBCC reached agreement on using alternative transfers several years ago, and thought that should be reflected in the state water plan.

    Meanwhile the Arkansas Valley Conduit was also a topic at yesterday’s CWCB meeting in Pueblo. Here’s a report from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain:

    The state showed more support for the Arkansas Valley Conduit Thursday, pledging cooperation in helping to obtain federal funding for the $400 million project.

    “This is the last piece of the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project,” said Jim Broderick, executive director of the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District. “It’s been a long wait for something that was promised 50 years ago.”

    Broderick gave an update of the conduit to the Colorado Water Conservation Board, which met Thursday at the Pueblo Convention Center.

    Contract negotiations will begin later this year for the conduit and two associated federal contracts to provide a master storage lease in Lake Pueblo and a cross-connection between south and north outlets on Pueblo Dam.

    More Colorado Water Plan coverage here. More Arkansas Valley Conduit coverage here. More CWCB coverage here.


    Business in Colorado? Just add water. #COWaterPlan

    May 22, 2014

    From the Public News Service (Stephanie Carroll Carson):

    If the Colorado economy were a glass, water makes the glass half full. That was the message heard on Wednesday by the Colorado Water Conservation Board in Pueblo. Business leaders across the state spoke on behalf of the state’s water plan and its importance to business development.

    John Le Coq, co-founder and co-owner of the Denver-based companies Fishpond and Lilypond, said water has everything to do with his business plan.

    “I see it as more of an economic driver that’s pulling people to the state because of the playground we have in our backyard,” he said. “It’s bringing quality people. “

    Le Coq delivered a letter on Wednesday to the Water Conservation Board signed by more than 100 Colorado companies that share his opinion. They want to make sure the state and the governor prioritize Colorado’s rivers and streams because of their economic benefits.

    According to the business coalition, Protect the Flows, the Colorado River supports $26 billion in recreation and 240,000 jobs in six states.

    Craig Mackey, Protect the Flow’s co-director, said with the state’s population projected to double by 2050, Colorado should commit to reducing municipal water usage by 35 percent in that time period.

    “If we want to have a healthy, diverse economy in the state of Colorado, we need to make sure that we have ample, healthy, natural resources, including water and rivers,” he stressed.

    Mackey said because more than 80 percent of water diverted from area rivers goes to farms and ranches, an investment in agricultural infrastructure is key.

    “We certainly don’t want to see our farms dry up and go away,” he explained. “We certainly don’t want to see that part of the ranching and farming tradition of Colorado dry up and blow away, and we need that part of our economy.”

    Maximizing water storage systems is also seen as important to protect water supplies when record snowfall – as seen this season – creates an excess of the precious resource.

    More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


    Solving the supply gap problem #COWaterPlan

    May 22, 2014
    Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer's office

    Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer’s office

    From The Colorado Springs Gazette (James Hagadorn):

    There is cause for concern because Colorado is growing. A lot. Which means more baths, more grass and more thirsty crops. Yet the Rockies’ runoff-capturing system is nearly all claimed. In some years there is some water left untapped in the system, but in drought years there isn’t enough.

    Sometimes heavy floods help the system catch up by filling reservoirs that buffer demand. But multiple dry years or less-than-average snowpack years, coupled with steady population growth, means that the system is at its tipping point.

    The days of prospecting for more Rocky Mountain water are essentially over. Thus, viable solutions include improving efficiency or “buy and dry” – a strategy employed by cities such as Aurora where water is taken from farmland and used to slake suburbs.

    Within our water distribution system, there are minor efficiencies to be gained, including reducing evaporative water losses in canals and reservoirs and fixing leaking pipelines and tunnels. But these losses are not sizeable enough to satisfy future demand.

    Fortunately, there are opportunities to improve our individual water usage efficiency. This is illustrated by the great variation in the amount of water used by like-kind Coloradans. For example, over the course of a year, Colorado Springs residents use about 100 gallons/day, whereas Denverites use about 85 and Fort Lovely residents use about 130. Yet in the same cities, there are folks with similar homes and lifestyles who use much less water.

    Pumping, cleaning and maintaining water consumes lots of energy. And this costs money. To put things into perspective, our family uses between 4,000 gallons per month in the winter and 11,000 gallons per month in the summer. We pay as little as $2.58 per 1,000 gallons. In contrast, Colorado Springs and other Front Range communities pay more – $4 to $5 per 1,000 gallons. It could be worse, though. Los Angeles residents, who divert mountain and agricultural water just like we do, pay $6.31 per 1,000 gallons.

    So as we look to the future, perhaps we ought to think about water in the context of energy and with an eye toward balancing economic and population growth with needs for water for farming, forests, wildlife, recreation and tourism.

    More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


    Arkansas Basin Roundtable: “You really changed the conversation for the good” — Russell George #COWaterPlan

    May 22, 2014
    Basin roundtable boundaries

    Basin roundtable boundaries

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    Just as a big river is a collection of smaller streams, a state water plan will be made up of many smaller efforts. The Colorado Water Conservation Board got a taste of that at its meeting Wednesday at the Pueblo Convention Center.

    It reviewed the activities of roundtables which are contributing to the plan. “From Hugo to Trinidad, all over this part of the state, we’re listening to what people are saying about water in their region,” said Betty Konarski, chairman of the Arkansas Basin Roundtable.

    The roundtable has been the most active in the state at gathering input, according to a CWCB staff report.

    About a dozen meetings have been held so far, with a few more planned in coming weeks.

    The roundtable has been a pacesetter for the rest of the state since its inception in 2005, conducting numerous studies about water needs and collaborative methods to complete projects. Like other roundtables, it also has found ways to help fund projects that reduce the coming gap in municipal supplies. At the same time, the Arkansas River basin group has focused statewide attention on addressing the need for agricultural water supplies.

    “What I’ve noticed in the last six to eight months is a new energy and a new commitment,” said Alan Hamel, the Arkansas Basin representative on the CWCB.

    CWCB board member Russell George, who was the architect for the roundtable process as state director of the Department of Natural Resources, recalled the mood when the roundtable first met at the convention center nine years ago.

    “I was apprehensive. No one was smiling. The room was full,” George said. “But there was energy and interest. Everyone spoke their minds, and listened. I’m stunned by the amount of time, effort, thinking and reading this group has done.

    “You really changed the conversation for the good.”


    2014 Colorado legislation: Governor signs SB14-115 in Salida #COleg #COWaterPlan

    May 18, 2014
    Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013

    Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013

    From The Mountain Mail (J.D. Thomas):

    Gov. John Hickenlooper visited Salida Thursday to sign into law a bill sponsored by Sen. Gail Schwartz (D-Snowmass). The governor signed the bill, named State Water Plan Public Review & General Assembly, at 9:42 a.m. at Salida SteamPlant.

    According to a summary of the bill, the legislation requires the Colorado Water Conservation Board to hold a hearing within each basin roundtable on a draft to develop a state water plan, update the plan based on public comments and present the draft plan to the Water Resources Review Committee. The committee must vote on whether to introduce legislation that would approve the plan. A state water plan does not have the force of law unless the General Assembly approves the plan, the summary states.

    Getting input from more interest groups, other than just agricultural and urban water interests, was the goal of the bill, said Hickenlooper. He said he welcomed environmental and recreational interests to be recognized in the state water plan.
    Schwartz said the bill is meant to open the conversation between the eastern part of the state, which she said has 80 percent of the population, and the Western Slope, which has 80 percent of the water.

    Rep. Don Coram (R-District 58), a co-sponsor of the bill, attended the signing. Other co-sponsors, Sen. Ellen S. Roberts (R-District 6) and Rep. Randolph Fischer (D-District 53), were unable to attend.

    Hickenlooper said it was a treat to come back to Salida, and he welcomes any excuse to visit again. Visiting Salida was part of a tour of the southern part of the state, he said.


    Lake Powell power pool affected by drawdown and drought #ColoradoRiver

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

    Glen Canyon Dam — Photo / Brad Udall

    From the Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga) via The Dolores Star:

    The problem is a looming concern for reservoirs in the Colorado River basin upstream from Lake Powell. Those reservoir managers face the possibility of having to deliver water downstream to boost levels and avert a shutdown of the plant. Local reservoirs, including McPhee, Lake Nighthorse, Navajo, and Blue Mesa, could potentially be tapped for additional water under the “call” system if conditions don’t improve in the next one to two years, water officials report. Now is the time to have the discussion of how to deal with the situation unfolding at Lake Powell, said Mike Preston, general manager for the Dolores Water Conservancy District, which operates McPhee Reservoir at Dolores.

    “If Powell becomes too low to operate, it would trigger a crisis, so we need to decide early on how we would deal with that,” Preston said during a meeting about reservoir operations in Dolores last week.

    According to a February memorandum from the Colorado Water Conservation Board, Lake Powell (of the Upper Colorado Basin) and Lake Mead (of the Lower Colorado Basin) could soon become too low to operate their hydropower plants if conditions don’t improve…

    According to the simulation, as early as 2015, Lake Powell could drop to, or below, the minimum power-pool level required to operate the hydroelectric generators. If the pattern materializes, the level would stay below the power pool for years and by 2020 still not have recovered to power-producing levels.

    Allowing Lake Powell to fall below the minimum power pool has numerous dire consequences, according to the CWCB memo:

    It would result in dramatically higher electric costs for cities, towns and farms throughout much of Colorado, increasing rates two to four times. The Dolores Project relies on power generated from Glen Canyon sold at a discounted rate.

    Funding for irrigation projects derived from power-plant revenues would dry up.

    Reduced capacity to make releases from Glen Canyon Dam threatens compliance with Colorado River Compact obligations. The result could be litigation and curtailment of water use within the Upper Basin states, which includes Colorado.

    “In light of these real and immediate threats, the governor’s Colorado River representative directed a group of Colorado water advisers to engage six Colorado River Basin states in confidential brainstorming and system modeling for the purpose of developing an emergency response plan,” the memo states.

    Solutions to prevent a shutdown of power plants at Lake Mead and Lake Powell may involve delivering more water downstream, the memo states. That could impact storage yields from upstream reservoirs on the Green, Gunnison, San Juan, Animas and Dolores Rivers, among others. Implementing demand-management programs to bolster Lake Powell could also involve voluntary lease-fallowing or deficit irrigation.

    “The water-management world cannot be in denial about drought, and we have to be mindful and adaptable,” Preston said. “There is already talk about making contributions to bring Powell up. It could be sooner rather than later where we are forced to confront demands larger than our basin.”

    More Colorado River Basin coverage here.


    Arkansas Basin Roundtable meeting recap #COWaterPlan

    May 15, 2014
    Arkansas River Basin -- Graphic via the Colorado Geological Survey

    Arkansas River Basin — Graphic via the Colorado Geological Survey

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    A series of community meetings on the development of a state water plan appears to be raising some lingering water issues. The Arkansas Basin Roundtable is sponsoring the meetings throughout the area in an effort to encourage more people to participate in a statewide water planning process.

    Although the roundtable has met nearly every month since 2005, with ample opportunities to participate, there has been concern from the state Legislature that meetings have not been inclusive enough statewide. More than 20 non-members typically attend the Arkansas Basin Roundtable meetings.

    In March, the roundtable redoubled its efforts to reach out, and already has held a dozen meetings, including the Arkansas River Basin Water Forum in April. At least six more meetings are planned, including one in Pueblo — no date or place have been set. Information can be found at the website, http://arkansasbasin.com.

    Meetings so far have attracted anywhere from a handful to 60 people. The largest was at Primero during a snowstorm. Reactions have ranged from acceptance to resistance by some who believe the water plan will mean more regulations.

    In Lamar, the biggest issue seemed to be the impact of a dam on Fountain Creek on downstream water rights, said Henry Schnabel, Prowers County commissioner. The dam is favored by some in Pueblo to contain increased flood flows caused by development in Colorado Springs. Farmers in the eastern part of the state fear that would change the timing of flows that reach the Arkansas River and reduce the amount of water they receive from Fountain Creek storms.

    “A lot of times, we feel like we’re left out,” Schnabel said. “If you stop the water on Fountain Creek, we need to come up with a solution.”

    Roundtable members were grateful for the turnout witnessed so far.

    “It’s good to see the level of involvement, because we’ve reached out,” said Alan Hamel, former chairman of the roundtable and the basin’s representative on the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    Urban water conservation measures could be difficult to measure in the Arkansas River basin, where size and scope matter. The Arkansas Basin Roundtable confronted the issue Wednesday as it continues toward developing a basin implementation plan by July. The basin plan is part of a broader effort to develop a state water plan.

    Most roundtable members resisted a preliminary approach by consultant Mark Shively that sought to create a “point system” that would identify best practices to save water.

    The only part of the proposal that truly resonated was the statement: “One size does not fit all.”

    “The conservation plan does not take into account things like our wise use campaign or economic forces within communities,” said Terry Book, executive director of the Pueblo Board of Water Works. “Demographics make a difference. I believe each community has the obligation to define good, better or best.”

    Pueblo’s per capita water use has dropped as much as other Colorado communities with aggressive conservation campaigns since 2002. Some of that is because of the downturn in the economy, but a 2007 survey found customers’ habits have changed as well.

    In Crowley County, the per capita use is higher because domestic water supplies overlap with water for horses or other livestock, said Rick Kidd, who represents the county on the roundtable.

    Communities that already have lowered water use could be penalized under a point system, said Dave Taussig, who represents Lincoln County.

    The danger of voluntary guidelines is that they could, over time, become mandatory, said Joe Kelley, superintendent of La Junta water.

    “The first thing you know, everybody’s regulated,” Kelley said. “Then you have to spend money you don’t have to get money for grants.”


    May 2014 CWCB Board packet is now online for review including several new draft chapters/sections of #COWaterPlan

    May 13, 2014

    More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


    April Montgomery elected chair of CWCB

    May 11, 2014
    April Montgomery via Southwestern Water

    April Montgomery via Southwestern Water

    From The Telluride Daily Planet (Collin McRann):

    San Miguel County resident April Montgomery is the newest chair of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, a 77-year-old agency that provides policy direction on water in Colorado.

    Montgomery, a longtime Telluride and Norwood resident, was elected to the position in March. She will serve one term. She has served on the board since 2009, helping to protect the state’s water resources by working on watershed protection, stream restoration, drought planning and water project financing.

    Montgomery also served as the San Miguel County representative on the Southwestern Water Conservation District for more than 12 years before becoming the representative for the Southwest Basin Roundtable on the CWCB. Though the chair position will only last for one year, Montgomery’s board position is a three-year term, and she said there are many water issues that need to be addressed.

    “The Dolores River is something that I think is of interest to people in our region,” Montgomery said. “There’s a lot of work right now trying to figure out how to provide enough water to protect threatened species that are in the Dolores River, and we are looking at in-stream flows for that protection.”[...]

    Montgomery said a number of issues will be facing the board this year, including water distribution across the state and developing a draft Colorado Water Plan — part of the state’s effort to create its first-ever comprehensive water strategy.

    “The draft plan is due by the end of November, and the full plan will be completed in 2015,” Montgomery said. “This is an unprecedented effort and it requires a lot of effort, from the ground up, on what’s going to be incorporated in the plan with each of the basin roundtables.”

    She said everything from future water needs to where the state’s populations are expected to grow will all need to be studied for the plan.

    “The plan will provide a road map for Coloradans to use and protect limited water supplies, as well as balance Colorado’s water priorities, including healthy watersheds and the environment, recreation and tourism, municipal water supplies and drinking water, as well as productive agriculture,” she said.

    Montgomery was first appointed to the CWCB by former governor Bill Ritter, and later reappointed by Gov. John Hickenlooper. She currently lives on Wright’s Mesa and she has lived in the Telluride area for 23 years.

    Montgomery works as programs director for the Telluride Foundation. She has a bachelor’s degree in government from the University of Virginia and received her law degree from the University of Virginia in 1989, and she is currently a member of the Colorado Bar.

    More CWCB coverage here.


    CWCB: The next Water Availability Task Force May 16 #COdrought

    May 11, 2014

    droughtmonitorcolorado

    From email from the Colorado Water Conservation Board (Ben Wade):

    The next Water Availability Task Force meeting will be held on Friday, May 16, 2014 from 9:30-11:30a at the Colorado Parks & Wildlife Headquarters, 6060 Broadway, Denver in the Bighorn Room.

    More CWCB coverage here.


    Grand County “State of the Rivers” meeting May 13 #ColoradoRiver

    May 11, 2014
    Historical Colorado River between Granby and Hot Sulphur Springs

    Historical Colorado River between Granby and Hot Sulphur Springs

    From the Sky-Hi Daily News:

    Many claim that we are now living in a “new normal.” In fact, there is no “normal” when it comes to our rivers. In the last 12 months we have gone from heavy autumn rains, enjoyed abundant late-season snow and are now faced with earlier record river flows.

    How are water managers reacting to this incredible variability? And what might we anticipate in the near future? There may seem to be plenty of water to satisfy for now, but how does this year’s supply affect longer-term needs? These questions will be the subject of a public outreach and education meeting sponsored by Grand County and the Colorado River District.

    The public can learn more about this season’s outlook for river flows, reservoir levels, overall water yields and the status of the longer-term drought at this annual “State of the River” meeting set for 6 p.m. on Tuesday, May 13, at Mountain Parks Electric, 321 W. Agate Ave., Granby.

    Water experts from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, Northern Water, Denver Water and the Colorado River District will present detailed information related to operations of area reservoirs and how they may affect river flows.

    Lastly, Eric Kuhn, General Manager of the Colorado River District, will talk about Colorado’s effort to create a statewide water plan and western Colorado’s perspective on the questions of supply versus demand, the future of the Colorado River basin and other regional river basin issues.

    More Colorado River Basin coverage here.


    #COWaterPlan: “We’ve gotten awfully good at taking water away from agriculture” — Eric Wilkinson #ColoradoRiver

    May 11, 2014
    Flood irrigation in the Arkansas Valley via Greg Hobbs

    Flood irrigation in the Arkansas Valley via Greg Hobbs

    From The Greeley Tribune (Eric Brown):

    A northern Colorado water official expressed concern this week that talks of bringing more Western Slope water across the Continental Divide might take a backseat to other aspects of the long-term, comprehensive Colorado Water Plan.

    The statewide water plan — put in motion by Gov. John Hickenlooper and expected to be complete in 2015 — takes into account all aspects of water use in the state, such as further conservation efforts and new water-sharing arrangements between cities and agriculture, among many other efforts aimed at avoiding the large water shortages the state is forecast to face by 2050.

    A number of things have been agreed upon in the talks, but building new water-supply projects has long been a hot-button issue — particularly projects that would bring water from the Western Slope to Eastern Slope users.

    Discussions Tuesday and Wednesday between representatives of all of Colorado’s river basins made limited progress on the topic.

    During the meeting, Eric Wilkinson, general manager of the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District in Berthoud, expressed concern Tuesday that, because of its controversial nature, trans-mountain water diversions seem to be taking a backseat to other aspects of the long-term water plan.

    Wilkinson stressed that without more water going to Eastern Slope users, agriculture in particular will suffer.

    “We’ve gotten awfully good at taking water away from agriculture,” said Wilkinson, referring to the ongoing buy-and-dry issue taking place in Colorado, particularly on the Eastern Slope.

    The purchasing of water rights from ag producers leaving the land is a comparatively inexpensive way for cities to acquire needed water.

    Because of that, however, Colorado is on pace to see as many as 500,000 to 700,000 acres of irrigated farmland dry up by 2050, according to the Statewide Water Supply Initiative study, released in 2010.

    With much of Colorado’s ag production taking place in northeast Colorado — particularly in Weld County, which ranks in eighth in the nation for its production — it’s the region that could be hit the hardest.

    “If we investigate the possibility of bringing more water over here from the West Slope, and we’re told ‘it can’t be done,’ that’s fine,” Wilkinson said in an interview after the meeting. “But we at least need to be looking into it … and putting as much effort into that as we are other things, like conservation, and every other leg of the stool in these water talks.”

    A commitment in the Colorado Water Plan to at least explore trans-mountain water diversions could help such projects, if feasible, get off the ground quicker, which is vital, Wilkinson said, considering that those projects — when factoring in planning, permitting and actual construction — take decades to complete.

    The disagreement over trans-mountain water diversions between Eastern Slope and Western Slope water officials and users goes way back.

    About 80 percent of the state’s population lives on the Eastern Slope but about 80 percent of the state’s water supplies — primarily snowmelt in the mountains — sits on the West Slope.

    To meet the needs of the growing Front Range and northeast Colorado’s robust ag industry, Eastern Slope water providers have long built projects that bring water across the Continental Divide.

    There are now more than 30 such projects bringing about 450,000 to 500,000 acre feet of water each year from the Western Slope to the Eastern Slope, Wilkinson noted.

    Many on the Western Slope have expressed concern and want the Eastern Slope to stop diverting more of its water.

    While only about 20 percent of the population lives on the Western Slope, the Western Slope has its own water demands to meet, mainly its legal obligation to make sure several states downstream from Colorado receive certain amounts of water.

    Meeting those needs, while also contributing to those of Colorado’s Eastern Slope, is stretching the Western Slope thin, water officials from that part of the state say.

    At the same time, though, many northeast Colorado water officials stress they’re set to face their own water crises, and more trans-mountain diversions, if feasible, would make a huge dent in solving the problem.

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

    A representative of Front Range water providers told a Western Slope contingent Monday that Colorado can’t close its future supply gap through conservation alone, and other efforts need to include working on a potential new transmountain diversion project. But several participants at a meeting of the Colorado River Roundtable remained leery of any such idea, including what’s being called a breakthrough proposal that would limit such a project to diverting water only in wet years. The roundtable, covering the six-county mainstem of the Colorado River Basin, was meeting as it continues to prepare final recommendations for what it wants to see in a state water plan to meet future needs.

    Much of the debate in that planning process has centered on the potential for further Front Range diversions of Western Slope water. Early this month, the Front Range Water Council told the Colorado Water Conservation Board that plan needs to contain an assurance rather than just the hope that a new Colorado River diversion project would be part of the plan.

    Mark Pifher of Colorado Springs Utilities told those attending Monday’s meeting that the concern stemmed from an idea discussed by basin roundtable leaders that water supply might be put at the bottom of a sequential list starting first with conservation, then transfers of agricultural water, then completion of already-planned projects, with no assured pursuit of new supply. Instead, all four concepts should be worked at simultaneously so Front Range utilities can know that “there’s some certainty that new supply will be there when you need it, if you need it,” he said.

    He outlined a number of ways those utilities already are pursuing all four approaches to addressing water needs, including by having cut per-capita water use by 20 percent. But he said studies suggesting the Front Range can entirely meet future needs through conservation is wrong, and that it’s just a question of when more supply will be needed.

    “The world’s not going to stop in 2040 or 2050 or 2060. Demand is going to develop,” he said.

    While Front Range utilities want to be able to count on Western Slope water to help meet that demand, one of the themes the Colorado River Roundtable is settling on is that at least the mainstem six-county basin already has given up plenty of water to the Front Range and has no more left to develop.

    The state Interbasin Compact Committee is hoping a compromise might be reached through the idea of a new water project providing no firm yield of water, with diversions occurring only in years of above-average precipitation. The concept is receiving some Front Range support.

    Carlyle Currier, a Mesa County resident who sits on the committee, said many on the Western Slope long have said it needs protection from diversions in dry years.

    “I think this (new idea) offer certainly opened the door to that and went in the direction we’ve been talking” about, he said.

    But several who attended Monday’s session questioned whether the region can afford to give up water even in wet years. They pointed to low water levels at Lake Powell, which states in the Upper Colorado River Basin use to help meet compact obligations to states in the Lower Basin.

    “Shouldn’t high-water years be when we start to replenish Lake Powell?” asked Rachel Richards, a Pitkin County commissioner.

    She said wet years also provide the environmental benefit of variety in stream flows from year to year if the water isn’t being diverted. And if the Western Slope builds more storage of its own, it needs to make sure it has the ability in high-water years to fill those reservoirs, she said.

    Despite the widespread reservations within the roundtable about more transmountain diversions, they generally agreed Monday that they need to at least be willing to discuss the possible conditions of such diversions so decisions aren’t made without their involvement. Several suggested that one condition governing wet-year diversions should be the current water level at Lake Powell.

    More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


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