Drilling down on issue of water, agriculture & conservation — Allen Best #ColoradoRiver

May 11, 2014
Crop circles -- irrigated agriculture

Crop circles — irrigated agriculture

State vs. local mandates is the subject of this report from Allen Best writing for The Mountain Town News. Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

A lawyer now based in Durango, [Ellen Roberts] spent the early 1980s living in Grand Lake and running lifts at Winter Park. Pipelines from both towns divert enormous amounts of water, roughly 60 percent of water in eastern Grand County, to farms and cities from Denver to Fort Collins and eastward to Julesberg.

“I’m not trying to undo that—and never in a million years could we,” says Roberts. “But there’s concern on the Western Slope—legitimately—whether people on the Front Range understand that water doesn’t come from the tap. It comes from someplace else. My bill, S.B. 17, was an effort to begin that conversation about what is the best use of precious water. Because we live in high-desert like conditions, maybe we should be rethinking how we use our water.”

The idea was pitched to Roberts by Steve Harris, president of a water engineering company in Durango and a delegate to the statewide Interbasin Compact Committee. The IBCC, as the committee is called, has been meeting monthly in an effort to shape the state-wide water plan ordered by Gov. John Hickenlooper…

“We appreciate that admonishment,” says Chris Treese, director of external affairs for the Colorado River Water Conservation District, who helped Roberts draft the proposal.

“I think we need to have more of a state-wide discussion about water conservation—and not just what we have done in the past, but rather the next step, the next frontier in conservation,” says Treese.

“We need to move beyond turning off your tap while brushing your teeth. While helpful, that’s very marginal in its benefit. If you’re going to make a difference, you have to go outdoors. That’s where the consumptive use is.”

More 2014 Colorado legislation coverage here.


Blue River “State of the River” meeting recap #ColoradoRiver

May 10, 2014
Blue River

Blue River

From the Summit Daily News (Ali Langley):

About 80 people — water managers, weather experts, government officials and interested community members — attended the event hosted by the Colorado River District at the Community Center in Frisco Tuesday, May 6. Discussion revolved around snowpack, runoff, flooding and the state water plan…

[Joanna Hopkins, board president of Blue River Watershed Group] spoke about the group’s restoration project of Ten Mile Creek, impacted by decades of mining, railroads, highways and development, and presented before and after photos of the work. The group will now focus attention on restoration of the Upper Swan River Watershed, where dredge boats in the early 20th century mined for 2 miles and the group and its partners will work to turn the river “right side up.”[...]

[Troy Wineland, water commissioner for the Blue River basin] pointed to a graph and asked the audience to consider this year’s snowpack levels. “What does that surplus, that bonus, that cream on the top, what does that mean to you?” he said. Better rafting, some said. Fishing. Full reservoirs…

Bob Steger, water resources engineer with Denver Water, discussed Dillon Reservoir operations. The utility’s main priorities for the reservoir are maintaining its water supply and reducing flood risk, he said, but it also considers boating, rafting, kayaking, fishing, endangered fish and its upcoming construction project.

The utility began lowering the reservoir level in late February, just like in other high-snowpack years, he said. Going forward, the reservoir will start filling in mid-May or June, depending on whether the spring is wet or dry.

The Roberts Tunnel, which brings water from Dillon to Denver, won’t be turned on until mid-June or July, he said, and the utility will replace the large gates that control outflow to the Blue River likely sometime between August and October…

Ron Thomasson, a hydrologist with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation who oversees Green Mountain Reservoir operations, said he expects to fill that reservoir in mid-July.

He talked about how more runoff will improve habitat for four endangered fish species in the 15-Mile Reach of the Colorado River and showed his “obligatory snowpack graph.” Then he presented spaghetti plots to explain that when experts say “most probable scenario” what they really mean is, “It’s actually no more probable than any other scenario. It just happens to be in the middle.”[...]

explained the rare conditions that combined to cause record-breaking flooding in the Boulder area in September. Then he switched to the “crazy winter that you just lived through” in Summit and what to expect in the six- to eight-week runoff season produced by seven months of snow.

He joked about the polar vortex, a phenomenon that’s been around forever but didn’t make the media until this winter, and he showed more spaghetti plots saying, “Those averages are beautiful. They give us something to think about. They never happen.”

Those excited about a surplus should remember the rest of the state is experiencing drought conditions. “You fared well,” he said. “It’s not always going to work that way, so please be grateful.”

Then he asked for volunteers to help collect real-time precipitation data with rain gauges for http://cocorahs.org.

Jim Pokrandt, chair of the Colorado Basin Roundtable that represents Summit and five other counties, emphasized problems with low levels in Lake Powell and Lake Mead and focused on the state water plan, which the roundtable is helping to create.

Of the 14 states in the West, Colorado is one of four without a water plan. The other three are Washington, Oregon and Arizona…

“Transmountain diversion should be the last tool out of the box,” he said. “Conservation and reuse needs to be hit hard.”

If a new transmountain diversion must be constructed, it should be done along the lines of the recent agreement between West Slope stakeholders and Denver Water.

One audience member asked why reducing population growth wasn’t one of the considered solutions. Most of the projected growth “is us having children,” Pokrandt said. “It’s the elephant in the room, but it’s the one that you really can’t touch.”

He said in some parts of the Front Range, the untouchable issue is green grass.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.


2014 Colorado legislation: SB14-023 — West Slope instream use, irrigation efficiency #COleg

May 8, 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 first of a two-part series about the bill from Michael Schrantz writing for Steamboat Today. Here’s an excerpt:

Senate Bill 23 is on its way to Gov. John Hickenlooper’s desk thanks to some legislative maneuvering, but the bill dealing with changes to water law on the Western Slope has divided interested organizations and prompted warnings that its consequences could be much broader than intended.

The bill aims to provide incentives for Western Slope agricultural water users and irrigators to make their operations more efficient while also increasing instream flows.

Organizations opposed to Senate Bill 23 warn that while its intent is laudable, the bill also has the potential to harm existing water rights.

Under current water law, not using a water right in its full, decreed amount for the intended beneficial use can put the right in jeopardy. The Division Engineer’s office tracks historic consumptive use, and whatever water has not been used in a 10-year period (either the full right or a partial amount) gets put on the decennial abandonment list. Water that’s considered abandoned flows through the stream or creek like it had been during the previous 10 years or longer that it wasn’t being used or it’s put to use by other rights holders.

Senate Bill 23 would allow those who have rights for agricultural, irrigation or stock watering uses in water divisions 4, 5, 6 (that’s us) or 7 to implement efficiency measures, such as a sprinkler system, and transfer that savings as an instream right to the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

The water rights holders could structure the agreement so that they could get the transferred amount back from the CWCB in the future, allowing them to implement more efficient irrigation measures without risking the loss of part of their decreed water.

The CWCB would get an instream flow between the point the rights holder diverts water and the point of the historical return flows.

Critics of Senate Bill 23 generally have two major issues with the legislation: that a transfer for instream use has the potential to harm intervening water rights and that it also could injure upstream junior rights holders…

“The intent of bill is providing incentives for ag water to use efficiencies without harm to others,” Colorado River Water Conservation District spokesman Chris Treese said.

That’s a goal the district supports and has funded itself in the past, Treese said, but there are a number of concerns with Senate Bill 23.

The Colorado River Water Conservation District, which represents Western Slope counties including Routt, opposes Senate Bill 23.

The principal concern, Treese said, is that the process could represent a cost to surrounding water users who take it upon themselves to investigate whether the change would harm their rights.

“There’s definitely a potential for injury for those rights in between,” Colorado Farm Bureau President Don Shawcroft said about the intervening rights between the point of diversion and point of historical return flows.

The Colorado Farm Bureau also opposed Senate Bill 23.

“It’s an interesting dilemma,” Shawcroft said. “Colorado water law says the state and anyone changing a water right has to prove they’re not injuring anyone else.

“Anyone who believes they’re injured has to lawyer up and engineer up and has to prove their point.”[...]

The Colorado Water Congress worked on the bill with legislators and other interested parties for eight to 10 months, Executive Director Doug Kemper said, and it is satisfied that the processes included in the bill will protect surrounding water rights holders.

“We finally got to the point where we felt like major concerns were addressed,” Kemper said. “We ultimately ended up taking the position to support” the bill.

Requiring a water court process to ensure that other water rights are not injured was a big part of that, he said.

“It’s not creating water right out of thin air or, of more concern, creating water right out of someone else’s water,” Kemper said…

More 2014 Colorado legislation coverage here.


Residents in the Arkansas River basin are encouraged to participate in developing #COWaterPlan

May 6, 2014
Basin roundtable boundaries

Basin roundtable boundaries

From the Lamar Ledger:

Residents in the Arkansas River basin are encouraged to participate in developing Colorado’s Water Plan.

Governor Hickenlooper issued an executive order in 2013 calling for the development of a statewide water plan, the first draft of which will be complete in Dec. of this year.

Each river basin in the state, including the Arkansas Basin, is developing a Basin Implementation Plan (BIP) that will forecast future water needs in the basin and identify way to meet those growing needs in a state where water is scarce.

The BIP information from all basins will be folded into the final state plan.

The Arkansas Basin Roundtable has been working on this issue for many years, and wants to be sure every voice is heard as many interests compete for a limited supply of water.

several ways of providing input are being offered to basin residents.

Attend a meeting of the Arkansas Basin Roundtable

Upcoming meetings include:

May 14 from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. at CSU in Pueblo.

June 11 from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. with a location to be determined.

Attend a meeting hosted by a member of the Roundtable

Attend one of these meetings in or near your community to hear more about the planning process and offer your opinion on water issues that affect you and suggest potential projects or policies that will help meet future needs. Meetings planned so far can be found at arkansasbasin.com.

Long on to the basin Web site

You will find a wealth of information about what has been done so far in the planning process and complete a survey that will ask for your opinion on water matters at http://arkansasbasin.com.

Contact the Arkansas Basin Roundtable member to share your thoughts or find out more about this statewide effort to secure Colorado’s water future.

When finalized, Colorado’s Water Plan will be an important tool in protecting water for all uses in our state – agriculture, the environment, recreation, municipalities and industries. The members of the Arkansas Basin Roundtable urge all citizens to consider the importance of water to our future.

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


April 24 “celebration lunch” for Colorado River Cooperative Agreement recap #ColoradoRiver

May 1, 2014
Denver Water's collection system via the USACE EIS

Denver Water’s collection system via the USACE EIS

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

At a celebration lunch on April 24 at Devil’s Thumb Ranch in Tabernash, representatives from Denver Water, the Colorado Governor’s Office, Grand County and Trout Unlimited spoke in favor of the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement. Nearing its one-year anniversary this September, the agreement coordinates efforts between 18 interest groups to both protect West Slope watersheds while providing future water supplies to Denver customers. The celebration came in the wake of the latest development in the proposed Moffat Collection System, Denver Water’s latest trans-mountain water project.

“(Our) overall goal is to protect the watershed and economies in the Colorado River Basin and help provide additional water security for those who live, work and play on the West Slope and (for) the customers of Denver Water,” said Jim Lochhead, CEO and Manager of Denver Water, at the lunch celebration…

Denver Water will pay out $1.95 million in Grand County for watershed, water treatment and river habitat improvements. It will send another $2 million to Summit County. The agreement is being called “historic” for its unprecedented work in bringing together a wide range of interests throughout the state and for its “learning by doing” program of adaptive water management.

“Working together, we were able to resolve historic conflicts through a holistic approach to resolving Colorado water disputes,” Lochhead said.

According to John Stulp with Gov. John Hickenlooper’s office, the unprecedented water cooperation will also be used as a model for the statewide Colorado Water Plan, set to be ready by December 2014.

“Part of the concerns we have, and why we need a water plan, is based on many of the same principles you had in this cooperative agreement,” Stulp said at the lunch. “Important … building blocks that went into this cooperative agreement (are) having good people with a broad vision of the future beyond their own community.”[...]

Still, the agreement hasn’t eliminated all controversy. Part of the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement negotiations is that West Slope parties must agree not to oppose any permits for the Moffat Project, the latest trans-mountain diversion plan to move water from the Fraser watershed to the Denver-metro area…

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers released its final Environmental Impact Statement for the Moffat Project last week. It’s a massive document — the table of contents alone is over 60 pages and Wockner said it has around 11,000 pages total. So far, however, he said he hasn’t seen anything in the study to address the negative impacts to river systems in Grand County. Other environmental interests have also said even with the environmental impact statement, the Moffat Project is “far from a done deal.”

“This project should not be approved unless the long-term health of the river is assured and our nation’s environmental standards are met,” said McCrystie Adams, a Denver-based attorney with Earthjustice, in a press release. “We and our partners are committed to keeping the Colorado River flowing.”

Geoff Elliott, an earth scientist with the local firm Grand Environmental Services, said Denver Water presented bad data to begin with, stacking the numbers in its favor.

“Their data is skewed to show more water in the Fraser Headwaters than now exists,” he said. “My problem is no one is doing math. Denver gets out with everything it wants.”

Elliot said according to his analysis so far, the Moffat Project’s proposals compared with U.S. Geological Survey data on actual water flows means it could take 90 percent or more water out of the Fraser.

“Now, we get hit by a 12,000-page Final EIS that requires an army to review,” he said. “This is Big Brother Denver Water hitting Grand County hard, and we are told we should be happy with vague platitudes, scraps of water and lawyerly agreements for more closed-door meetings.”

More Colorado River Cooperative Agreement coverage here.


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

April 30, 2014

2013annualreportcoloradoriverdistrict

Click here to read the report.

More Colorado River District coverage here. Here’s an excerpt:

Thanks to the efforts of Gov. John Hickenlooper, Colorado is pushing forward with the tough, so-called “adult” conversation on how to best supply water to a growing population. In May 2013, the governor issued an executive order that mandates Colorado develop its first-ever state water plan by 2015, with draft documents due in 2014.

The Colorado River District Board of Directors and staff are involved at many levels with a keen interest in protecting Western Colorado water, which has been our mission since 1937. The pres- sure is on – again – as it has been since our founding. This time, the State Demographer has predicted the state population could double by 2050. The 2010 Statewide Water Supply Initiative, produced by the Colorado Water Conservation Board, reconnaissance-level study of population and water, predicts the state has a looming gap of 500,000 acre feet of water as population grows. That is equivalent to two full Dillon Reservoirs or a little bit less than a full Granby Reservoir, to put it in perspective.

The two biggest targets to fill the gap are agricultural irrigation water and the Colorado River System – two vital interests of the River District. In Western Colorado, agriculture provides food, de facto open space and habitat, economy and culture. Agricultural water running down the rivers from the headwaters to the agricultural lands in the lower valleys is the same water upon which a recreational economy plays, while it also enhances the riparian environment.


The latest newsletter from the Colorado Water Trust is hot off the presses

April 30, 2014

Cache la Poudre River

Cache la Poudre River


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

JOHN STOKES TO RECEIVE ANNUAL CWT AWARD

David Getches helped found the Colorado Water Trust and served on CWT’s Board of Directors for a decade until his passing in July 2011. The David Getches Flowing Waters Award is presented in honor of David Getches’ inspirational, collaborative, and innovative spirit and determination in restoring and protecting healthy Colorado streamflows.

Help us celebrate John Stokes, this year’s recipient of the David Getches Flowing Waters Award. John has a broad and long-term view of how to improve the health and beauty of the Cache la Poudre River. He understands that water users, diverters, recreationalists, and environmentalists must work together and understand their common interest in the long-term health of the river. John brings this perspective to the many stakeholders he works with and challenges them to broaden their views of how the community uses, cares for, and improves the Poudre. Please join us in cheering John Stokes’ contributions and achievements at RiverBank on Tuesday, June 3.


Arkansas River Basin Water Forum: “What happens when you overdevelop?” — Jim Pokrandt #COWaterPlan

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

Arkansas River Basin — Graphic via the Colorado Geological Survey

Chris Woodka was front and center at the Arkansas Basin Water Forum. Below are 3 articles recapping the first day of the event.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A team of paragliders won’t cut it out of a glacier with a chainsaw. A ski patrol can’t bring it down from the top of a snowy mountain. Deep-sea divers won’t blow up an iceberg to get at it. In other words, no Silver Bullet for the state water plan. But it will provide options, said James Eklund, executive director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

“If you want to do planning, you have to do it before the crisis hits,” Eklund told the Arkansas River Basin Water Forum at Otero Junior College on Wednesday. “We’re not going to luck into what we want for our kids. We have to be intentional.”

The state water plan occupied all of the attention at the first day of the forum, along with the Arkansas Basin Roundtable’s basin implementation plan. The forum continues today with the focus on preserving irrigation for farms. The basin plan will be part of a draft state water plan that will be submitted to the governor in December.

“I can’t tell you what will be in the plan,” Eklund said. “It has to come from the grassroots up.”

The basin roundtables, the Interbasin Compact Committee and the CWCB have been talking about the core issues of a water plan — alternatives to ag dry-up, urban conservation, new supply, storage and environmental needs — for 10 years. New meetings are pushing to include more people in the statewide conversation, with about a dozen more planned in the next three months.

Eklund stressed the need to preserve watershed health to prepare for drought, floods and fires that have plagued the state for the past two years. While there will be measurable outcomes, the state water plan likely will not contain blanket solutions for filling the needs of cities on the Front Range as more people move into the state, he added.

“There may be tough decisions in the future,” Eklund said, speaking about some climate models that show reduced snowpack in coming years. “If climate change occurs, at that point dramatic steps will be taken. We have to be comfortable as a state.”

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The Arkansas River basin is no stranger to the troubles of overdevelopment of water resources. But its neighbors also have complaints as they develop their part of the state water plan. Experts from four other basins shared some of those Wednesday at the Arkansas River Basin Water Forum at Otero Junior College.

September’s record floods were a mixed blessing for the South Platte basin, said Sean Cronin, executive director of the St. Vrain and Left Hand Water Conservancy District.

“While some reservoirs filled, it wiped out the infrastructure to deliver water to ditches,” Cronin said.

The Rio Grande basin has been in drought since 2002, and will provide little help in meeting the state’s water gap because it’s struggling to fill its own needs, said Mike Gibson, general manager of the San Luis Valley Water Conservancy District.

“We’re an ag-based economy, and we have a gap already,” Gibson said.

He jokingly suggested moving Interstate 70 — the dividing line for the state’s wet and dry weather — 300 miles south to solve state water problems.

The Gunnison River basin is softening its hard line against taking water out of its basin, but would demand tough conservation measures and no Colorado River Compact complications before agreeing to any further diversions out of the basin, said John McClow, attorney for the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District. It’s still not a popular idea.

“We’re an untapped basin and intend to keep it that way,” McClow said. “And, we’re paranoid.”

Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer's office

Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer’s office

The Colorado River basin is also resistant to more transmountain diversions, said Jim Pokrandt, an education and communication specialist for the Colorado River District. The Front Range already takes 450,000-600,000 acre-feet from the Colorado River each year, so there is no excess water. Pokrandt applauded cooperative agreements with the Denver Water Board and proposals by the Northern Water Conservancy District as examples of moving ahead collaboratively. The Colorado River basin is cautious because of the types of problems the Arkansas River and Republican River basins already have faced.

“What happens when you overdevelop?” Pokrandt asked. “The Colorado River Basin Roundtable does not want that kind of future.”

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

An aquatic biologist who worked to establish a high-quality fishery on the Upper Arkansas River was honored Wednesday. Greg Policky, who works for Colorado Parks and Wildlife, received the Bob Appel Friend of the Arkansas River award at the 20th Arkansas River Basin Water Forum. The award is named for the late Bob Appel, who was a farmer and conservationist who helped found the forum 20 years ago. Policky has been the state’s primary biologist for the Upper Arkansas River for more than 20 years and has worked to improved the brown trout fishery.

“His attention to detail and collection of objective fishery data has provided numerous benefits to the river’s fishery,” said Jean Van Pelt, in introducing him at the forum.

In addition to programs and studies, his ability to provide public education about fisheries was cited.

“His goal is to increase the public understanding of aquatic ecology and fishery management,” she said. “He has actively targeted angling organizations and land resource agencies, but he finds his most rewarding beneficiaries in school-age children.”

Policky was humble in accepting the award, thanking members of the Arkansas River basin forum for working together on the voluntary flow program, which modulates reservoir releases for the benefit of fish.

Past winners of the Appel award are Mike Conlin, Denzel Goodwin, Paul Flack, Reed Dils, Carl Genova, Allen Ringle, Bud O’Hara, Alan Hamel and Steve Witte.

More Forum coverage from Bette McFarren writing for the La Junta Tribune-Democrat:

The 20th Arkansas River Basin Water Forum “Planning and Planting for the Future” got under way on Tuesday evening at Otero Junior College. Welcoming the group was La Junta Utility Board Chairman Lorenz Sutherland.

The first session was “Landscaping for Drought Tour of Otero Junior College Campus,” an informative session on selecting drought tolerant plants, xeriscape principles and growing drought tolerant trees, conducted by Genia Short of Otero Junior College, Liz Catt of Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, and Shelly Simmons of the Colorado State Forest Service. The group urged use of drip irrigation and showed the simple and inexpensive tubing needed to accomplish the job. Also stressed were weed barrier material which is water permeable, gravel for mulch and edging to keep out encroaching grass. Also, look at your neighbors’ yards for good drought-tolerant plants. Anything with a bulb or tuber, such as irises and tulips, are drought-tolerant. Also, the old-fashioned bushes like spirea and rose of Sharon are good. Many other design suggestions and tree selection pointers made the session extremely worthwhile.

In the next session, Kevin Rein of the State Engineer’s Office explained the complications of the Colorado water rights system. It sounds simple, first in, first rights, but industrial, agricultural and municipal needs have complicated matters. Many states, in fact more than half of the United States, depend on water originating in Colorado, known as the Headwater State. “It falls as snow on our mountains,” said Rein, “melts, and runs off out of state. We try to catch a little of it as it goes by.”

La Junta’s Director of Water and Wastewater Joe Kelley led off the session on the Arkansas Valley Conduit, supported by Erin Mink, of Senator Mark Udall’s office. She recalled 20 years ago when she was warned about our drinking water while she was working at Bent’s Old Fort. Also making comments about the conduit were Doris Morgan of Congressman Cory Gardner’s office and Brian McCain, of Congressman Scott Tipton’s office. They emphasized that all of Colorado’s congressional representatives are supporting the Arkansas Valley Conduit.

On Wednesday morning, the really big crowd arrived, filling the adjacent parking lots around the Otero Junior College Student Center. Host Chairman Lorenz Sutherland, Otero County Commissioner Keith Goodwin, and La Junta City Manager Rick Klein welcomed the group. The local color guard presented the colors. The keynote speaker was James Eklund, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, who spoke on “Colorado’s Water Plan.”

More Arkansas River Basin coverage here.


“Front Range wants dibs on the” #ColoradoRiver — The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel #COWaterPlan

April 20, 2014
Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer's office

Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer’s office

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

A coalition of Front Range water utilities is calling in a letter for assurance that a new transmountain diversion project will be a part of a state plan aimed at filling the anticipated future gap between demand and supply.

That desire by the Front Range Water Council is unsettling others who question whether the Western Slope has any more water left to give.

[...]

The letter to the Colorado Water Conservation Board was written by James Lochhead, chief executive officer and manager of Denver Water. Other utilities also on the council are Aurora Water, Colorado Springs Utilities, the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, the Pueblo Board of Water Works, the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District and the Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co.

It says that the planning process “should begin with an assurance, and not simply a hope,” that a new project involving Colorado River water will be a fundamental part of the package for meeting the state’s future water needs.

Roundtable groups around Colorado, including in the Colorado River Basin, are preparing proposals that the conservation board will consider in trying to come up with a statewide plan.

The Front Range Water Council’s concerns center on meeting notes from a March 17 conference call involving chairmen of the roundtable groups. The notes include a reference to a goal of giving water providers “an indication that there is hope for new supply” if the providers do their part. They went on to refer to various conservation and other milestones that would have to be met prior to an agreement for new supply being reached.

Jim Pokrandt of the Colorado River Water Conservation District is chairman of the Colorado River Basin roundtable and sits on the Interbasin Compact Committee. He described the conference call conversation as a “schematic on how to talk about diversion, illustrating how the discussion might go” in the state planning process.

“It was purely contemplative but it had stuff in there that could be taken out of context and that’s what the Front Range Water Council got excited about … but they’re reacting to something that doesn’t exist,” he said.

That said, Pokrandt questioned how the utilities can expect a new diversion to be a sure thing.

“They’re looking for more than hope and I don’t know how there can be hope when you don’t know if there’s enough water, you don’t know if all the other conditions can be answered, if the public will go for it and finance it, if you can get permits,” he said.

Western Slope water officials long have worried that a statewide plan would simply be a means of paving the way for further diversions of water to the Front Range.

However, the Interbasin Compact Committee now envisions that the plan won’t identify a specific diversion project, but will lay out conditions under which one could be pursued.

In an interview, Lochhead said no one can currently say what a new diversion project would look like, where it would be located, or how much water will be involved.

“But we need to all agree that that is an option that needs to be secured and preserved and not just kind of put out in the future for some future discussion,” he said.

Pokrandt said he thinks the Colorado River Roundtable’s position will be that it doesn’t think any more water is available to support more Front Range diversions.

He said the group is willing to study the idea, but there’s no guarantee enough water exists for a diversion and the outcome can’t be preordained to meet the Front Range utilities’ desire for an assured project.

“I don’t know how you get more than hope with all the questions out there,” he said.

For years, the focus in terms of filling Colorado’s water gap has involved what officials call a four-legged stool involving conservation/reuse, completion of projects already in the planning process, transfers of agricultural water, and new diversions.

“That’s been the most difficult thing to talk about,” Pokrandt said of the diversion concept.

Said Lochhead, “The option of the development of that leg needs to be preserved.”

He said he thinks it’s premature for the Western Slope to say there’s no water available. New supply needs to be part of the strategy and there needs to be a discussion of how and when it should occur, and what the Western Slope benefits can be, he said.

Mesa County Commissioner Steve Acquafresca has been keeping an eye on what the Colorado River roundtable group has been preparing and thinks it is doing a good job of articulating the region’s best water interests.

That includes the possible conclusion about the lack of more water for diversions in part because of Colorado’s water obligations to downstream states under an interstate compact.

“I think the Colorado River roundtable really makes a good case,” he said.

He expects the water conservation board to receive conflicting plans from western and eastern roundtables.

“It’s going to be really interesting to see how the CWCB manages these diverging views as they integrate them together into some statewide water plan,” he said.

Lochhead noted that the letter he signed is from a group of utilities, and when it comes to Denver Water alone, it has a new agreement with Western Slope entities that would require their buy-in for any future diversions by that utility. He said it remains committed to that agreement.

But speaking for Front Range utilities more generally, “If the (Western Slope) position is there’s no water to be developed, what that says is there’s no room for discussion. We need to move beyond platitudes and politics and parochialism and move toward actual discussion,” he said.

At the same time, Lochhead conceded the potential for discussions to start to fall apart when parties start engaging in letter-writing.

“I’ll plead guilty to that here,” he said.

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


“…the waterways of Grand County have become the poster child for aquatic death by a thousand cuts” — Allen Best #ColoradoRiver

April 20, 2014
Denver Water's collection system via the USACE EIS

Denver Water’s collection system via the USACE EIS

Another independent journalist covering water issues is Allen Best purveyor of The Mountain Town News. Here’s an analysis of the recent agreement between Denver Water, Trout Unlimited, and Grand County for operating the Colorado River Cooperative agreement. Here’s an excerpt:

Located at the headwaters of the Colorado River, the waterways of Grand County have become the poster child for aquatic death by a thousand cuts…

Called the Mitigation and Enhancement Coordination Plan, the agreement between Denver Water, Grand County, and Trout Unlimited proposes to govern Denver’s incremental diversions through the Continental Divide known as the Moffat firming project. However, according to the architects of the deal, it should also serve as a model in the ongoing dialogue as Colorado’s growing metropolitan areas look to squeeze out the final drops of the state’s entitlements to the Colorado River, as defined by the Colorado River compact of 1922 and other compacts.

“It is a demonstration of a new way of doing business that should be a model as Colorado talks about meeting its water gaps (between demands and supplies),” says Jim Lochhead, chief executive of Denver Water.

“Instead of platitudes or politics or parochialism, you need to do it by sitting down and working together and dealing with the issues,” he adds…

There are skeptics, unable to explain this strange alchemy in which a river can in any way benefit from having less water, as the agreement insists can be the case.

Among those withholding enthusiasm is Matt Rice, the Colorado coordinator for American Rivers. He points out that the agreement covers just 4 of the 32 creeks and streams trapped by Denver Water in the Fraser Valley and the adjoining Williams Fork. Too, like too many other similar programs, the data collection begins after permits are awarded, not before, which he thinks is backward.

In short, while Denver is careful to talk about “enhancements,” he thinks it falls short of addressing full, cumulative impacts.

Cumulative impacts are likely to be a focal point of federal permitting. While the Environmental Protection Agency is likely to have a voice, the vital 404 permit must come from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The parties to the new agreement have asked that their agreement be incorporated into the permit…

A far greater financial cost to Denver specified by the agreement is the agency’s commitment to forfeit up to 2,500 acre-feet annually of the city’s added 18,700 acre-foot take.

Based on the firm yield of the water and Denver’s rate for outside-city raw water to customers, this commitment is valued at $55 million.

Denver will make this water available for release into the creeks and rivers, to keep water temperatures colder and hence more hospitable to insects and fish. The water can also be used for flushing, to mimic what happens naturally during spring runoff, scouring river bottoms, to clear out the silt that clogs the spaces between rocks where mayflies and other insects live – and upon which fish feed…

A final environmental impact statement from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is expected in late April. The federal agency can also impose conditions of its own making. They would be included in a record-of-decision, which is expected to be issued in late 2015.

A permit from the Colorado Department of Health and Environment is also needed. Boulder County insists it also has say-so over enlargement of Gross Reservoir, an assertion contested by Denver Water.

In addition, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission must award a permit for revised hydroelectric generation at Gross.

At earliest, expansion of Gross could start in 2018 and be ready to capture spring runoff in 2022…

The agreement represents a new wave of thinking about impacts of water diversions. The older way of thinking was demonstrated in the Colorado Big-Thompson project. Financed by the federal government, it gave the Western Slope a one-time package, Green Mountain Reservoir, between Kremmling and Silverthorne, to serve Western Slope needs, particularly the farmers near Grand Junction who need water for late-summer fruits and produce. The agreement did not cover a more recent problem seemingly caused by the diversion, algae that obscure the clarity of Grand Lake.

The most recent of of the new agreements since the 1990s provides more living, breathing elasticity. The foundation for the new agreement was announced in 2011 but not finalized until recently. Called the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement, it sharply restricts Denver’s ability to develop new water sources on the Western Slope and also calls for Denver to provide both water and money to address problems in the Vail, Breckenridge and Winter Park areas.

Then, in 2012, came agreements addressing the ambitions by five cities along the northern Front Range to increase the take of spring flows at Windy Gap, similar to what Denver wants to do at the Moffat Tunnel.

The Windy Gap settlement introduced adaptive management, an idea gaining favor in management of rivers of the West for several decades. The essential idea of Learning by Doing, the program embraced for both Windy Gap and the Moffat projects, is that it’s impossible to know exactly what to do in advance…

“In the past, you’d build a project, do the required mitigation and move on. That’s no longer the case. Denver Water is committed to a new way of doing business – one that approaches water management in a way that is collaborative and as beneficial to West Slope interests as possible. The partnership we’ve created through Learning by Doing is permanent. Our commitment is t o work with Grand County, Trout Unlimited and all the partners in Learning by Doing in an ongoing manner permanently into the future.”

More Denver Water coverage here.


The Colorado Basin Roundtable trims the list of potential projects for the basin implementation plan #COWaterPlan #ColoradoRiver

April 20, 2014

maroonlakewikipedia

Aspen Journalism is collaborating with the Aspen Daily News covering water issues in Colorado. I met one of their reporters, Nelson Harvey, last Wednesday at the Water Availability Task Force meeting. Aspen Journalism now has boots on the ground in Denver and on the Front Range.

Here’s an article about the Colorado Basin Roundtable basin implementation plan from Brent Gardner-Smith writing for the Aspen Daily News:

Consultants for the Colorado River Basin Roundtable earlier this week passed out a much shorter list of water projects to be potentially included in a draft water-supply plan for the area.

New reservoirs on upper Castle and Maroon creeks were not included on the working draft list, but enlarging three existing reservoirs in the Roaring Fork River watershed are.

The potentially expanded reservoirs include Spring Park Reservoir on Missouri Heights; Ziegler Reservoir just outside of Snowmass Village; and Martin Reservoir just above the Sunlight ski area.

Instead of over 500 potential projects and updated policy suggestions, the draft list passed out at a roundtable meeting on Monday by consulting engineer Louis Meyer of SGM included 95 potential projects and policies.

SGM has divided the broader Colorado River Basin in Colorado into seven sub-regions: the Roaring Fork, Grand Valley, Middle Colorado, State Bridge, Eagle, Summit and Grand County regions.

Meyer expected to ultimately see about seven to 10 of the projects identified per region under the category of “needs and vulnerabilities.”

In discussing the earlier list of 500-plus potential projects and policy changes identified for the Colorado River Basin, Meyer noted that many projects on the longer list would likely remain conceptual.

“Now mind you, a lot of these reservoirs will never be built,” Meyer said. “There are reservoirs, say, up Maroon Creek or Castle Creek — the chances are they will never be built.”

“Let’s just say, ‘won’t be built for quite a while,’” interjected Mike McDill, the deputy director of utilities for the city of Aspen.

The city holds conditional water rights for reservoirs on both upper Castle and Maroon creeks and wants to see the reservoirs mentioned in the statewide water plan…

Many of the projects on the shorter draft list are designed to leave more water in the rivers to the benefit of aquatic environments.

However, Meyer said there is still a non-consumptive, or environmental, gap in the Colorado basin’s draft plan.

Meyer said the plan did not yet have solutions to leave more water in all of the 64 critical stream segments in the basin identified by the state.

“This plan will recommend that more work be done on identifying a systemic approach to projects and polices to restore and maintain healthy rivers,” Meyer said.

As an example, Meyer cited three reaches of river in the Roaring Fork watershed that had at times run well below the minimum in-stream flows defined by the state as necessary to protect the environment “to a reasonable degree.”

The critical reaches are on the lower Crystal River below the Sweet Jessup Ditch, on the Roaring Fork just above its confluence with the Fryingpan River in Basalt, and on the Roaring Fork in central Aspen below the Salvation Ditch.

Many of the projects identified on the short list for the Roaring Fork region are being recommended for their ability to “protect, maintain and restore healthy rivers.”

Projects that have been identified toward that goal include: restoring sections of the Roaring Fork as it winds through the Northstar nature preserve east of Aspen; the ongoing river restoration work in Basalt; and a restoration project on Cattle Creek, which flows into the Fork between Carbondale and Glenwood Springs.

Other environmental projects listed were whitewater parks in Basalt and Carbondale, which can help ensure a certain amount of water will flow down the Fork; the city of Aspen’s project to re-use wastewater for irrigation and snowmaking; Pitkin County’s effort to leave more water from its open space properties in the Fork; and efficiency efforts by local water utilities.

Also mentioned were ongoing discussions with irrigators on the Crystal River to find a way to leave more water in the river below the Sweet Jessup Ditch, where the river often runs nearly dry…

In 2010, a state study identified a gap of 110,000 acre-feet between supply and demand in the Colorado River Basin by 2050.

And the state found that projects already in the planning stage could produce 63,000 acre-feet of water, leaving an expected gap of 48,000 acre-feet.

Lurline Curran, the Grand County manager and roundtable member, said it would be wrong to leave the impression that there was still plenty of water to be taken out of the Colorado River Basin.

“We can build every reservoir we’ve got here, but we’re not going to have healthy rivers and streams if we do that,” Curran said. “It worries me when we say ‘We’ve got 10 times more than we need to meet our gap.’ No, we don’t, not if we’re going to protect and maintain healthy rivers and streams and protect our drinking water.”

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


“Efficiency and conservation need to be permanent programs” — Matt Rice/Bart Miller #COWaterPlan

April 20, 2014
Colorado River Basin including out of basin demands -- Graphic/USBR

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

Here’s a guest column from the Denver Business Journal suggesting that prioritizing wet water in the streams, in the Colorado Water Plan, will have the best economic benefit. Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

Healthy rivers are essential to Colorado’s multibillion-dollar agriculture, recreational, tourism and business economies, not to mention the Colorado River’s impact on the 36 million people who rely on it for drinking water. Yet, for more than a decade Colorado and surrounding states have experienced unrelenting drought. One good snowpack – even on the heels of a historic flood – can’t erase that.

It’s no surprise that in its fourth annual poll of voters across six Western states on issues ranging from public lands to oil and gas development, Colorado College found water issues to be among the top priority issues. In fact, “low levels of water in rivers,” ranked as the No. 2 concern for Western voters, second only to unemployment.

Further emphasizing this sentiment, 78 percent of voters in Colorado agree that using the currently developed water supply more wisely is the best solution to low river levels. In addition, these same voters agree conservation, reducing use and increasing water recycling make more sense than costly, controversial water diversion projects.

An issue that concerns 82 percent of voters should get immediate and sustainable action…

The first common-sense measure that must be included in the state water plan is to keep our rivers flowing at healthy levels…

In addition, it’s critical that we modernize our agricultural policies so voluntary, water-sharing agreements can flourish to benefit agriculture, cities, and the environment. We can also provide better incentives for efficient agricultural water use, storage and infrastructure upgrades.

We need to avoid any new major water diversion projects. Expensive and controversial projects that drain water from the Western Slope to the Front Range are highly controversial, and fail to address the fact that there’s a finite amount of water available amid a rapidly growing population. Buying up agricultural water rights to support urban growth isn’t a sustainable solution, either.

The bottom line? The most cost-effective uses of dollars from water customers and the state, and the most practical and successful ways of ensuring that Colorado has enough water to go around, are conservation and efficiency. Our state water plan must incorporate these measures.

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


The latest newsletter from the Colorado Water Congress is hot off the presses #COleg #ColoradoRiver #COWaterPlan

April 18, 2014
Colorado River near De Beque

Colorado River near De Beque

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

A record 180 people registered for the Wednesday, April 16 webinar, “Adapting the Law of the Colorado River.” John McClow, Colorado’s Commissioner on the Upper Colorado River Commission and CWC Board President, provided a brief summary of the Law of the Colorado River: the Colorado River Compact, the Upper Colorado River Basin Compact, and the Mexican Treaty of 1944. This was followed by a description of collaborative efforts among the seven Colorado River Basin states, the Department of the Interior, and Mexico to adapt the law to changing conditions on the river.

Read an overview of the presentation on the CWC blog and view the presentation on the CWC website.

More 2014 Colorado legislation coverage here.


“…I’ve worked for American Rivers now for a while” — Ken Neubecker #ColoradoRiver

April 15, 2014

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

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


Ken Neubecker posted the comment below in response to this post:

I can forgive Chris Treese for perhaps not knowing that I’ve worked for American Rivers now for a while. I have been on the Basin Roundtable and very involved in the discussions for a very long time and Western Slope water issues for over 20 years. [Gary Harmon, Grand Junction Daily Sentinel], who has my contact info from the MER release, should have given any one of us a call and could have found that out.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here. More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


“American Rivers needs to come to the joint talks, as well as issue press releases” — Chris Treese #ColoradoRiver #COWaterPlan

April 14, 2014
Colorado River Basin including out of basin demands -- Graphic/USBR

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

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

The upper reaches of the Colorado River make up one of the nation’s most endangered rivers, largely because of the possibility of a transmountain diversion, according to an annual listing. The upper Colorado came in second among the most endangered rivers, according to American Rivers, a Washington, D.C., nonprofit organization, which last year put the Colorado River on top of the list of endangered rivers, criticizing the “outdated water management throughout the region.”

The upper Colorado’s listing this year gives ammunition to the Western Slope in dealing with Front Range interests looking at a new diversion, said Chris Treese of the Colorado River Water Conservation District.

The listing “serves to highlight the uncertainty about the Colorado water plan,” Treese said.

It also, however, reflects a lack of knowledge about the inner dynamics of Colorado water and how the state already is dealing with those matters, he said.

Gov. John Hickenlooper last year ordered the development of a statewide water plan to be on his desk this December and be complete by the end of 2015. State officials are aware that they’re under close observation, said James Eklund, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

“We know that downstream states, the federal government, and numerous national organizations are watching what Colorado is doing with our water, and that’s an important reason why we’re engaged in Colorado’s water plan,” Eklund said, noting that the plan is being drafted with the state’s system of prior appropriation in mind.

The water plan is to take into account the work already done by various groups, or roundtables, representing the state’s river basins, the Colorado River Basin among them.

“American Rivers isn’t coming to the roundtables” or the Interbasin Compact Committee, Treese said. “American Rivers needs to come to the joint talks, as well as issue press releases.”

The statewide water plan won’t include a transmountain diversion, but it could outline the way that one could be pursued.

American Rivers worked with several conservation and environmental organizations in listing the upper Colorado as endangered, among them Boulder-based Western Resource Advocates. The statewide water plan, said Bart Miller of Western Resource Advocates, offers “both a threat and an opportunity” to the Western Slope. To be sure, some Front Range water providers view it as an opportunity to send more water east from the Yampa, Gunnison or Colorado mainstem, Miller said.

Many of the river basins in Colorado already suffer water shortages, so the water plan discussion is an opportunity to find ways to protect rivers “that are so valuable for irrigation, recreation and other things,” Miller said. In any case, the plan should focus on preserving the 80,000 jobs and the $9 billion the river generates on the Western Slope, Miller said.

American Rivers called on Colorado to avoid a transmountain diversion, increase the efficient use of water in cities and towns, modernize agricultural practices and give priority to river restoration and protection. The organization listed the San Joaquin River in California as the most endangered in the nation and also placed the White River in northwest Colorado as the seventh-most endangered because it’s threatened by oil and gas development.

The listing, said David Ludlam, executive director of the West Slope Colorado Oil and Gas Association, is “vague and hyperbolic and it disregards the fact that Colorado has the most robust regulations in the nation, and probably the world, when it comes to protecting water.”

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.


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

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

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

From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (John Stroud):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From the Vail Daily (Melanie Wong):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.


The funding request for Mountain Home Reservoir sails through the Rio Grande Basin Roundtable

April 12, 2014
Mountain Home Reservoir via The Applegate Group

Mountain Home Reservoir via The Applegate Group

From the Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

Money still following the water in the Rio Grande Basin.

With funds to spare, the Rio Grande Roundtable on Tuesday unanimously approved a $25,000 allocation from the local basin account for a feasibility study to determine the best way to improve the efficiency of Mountain Home Reservoir both for the benefit of Trinchera Irrigation Company irrigators and those who enjoy recreational activities at the reservoir.

Currently the local water supply reserve account totals more than $107,000, and another disbursal of $120,000 to the basin is expected soon, Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) staffer Craig Godbout told the roundtable members during their April 8 meeting. CWCB administers the funds approved by the legislature from a portion of severance tax proceeds for water projects throughout the state’s river basins including the Rio Grande. A portion of the money is allocated to each river basin to be apportioned by each roundtable group whose members locally include representatives of various water groups and interests throughout the San Luis Valley.

Another portion of the money is set aside for statewide disbursement through the CWCB board. That board also has to approve the local projects, many of which seek funding from both the local and statewide accounts. The Trinchera Irrigation Company’s request for $25,000, however, was solely from the local basin account.

Godbout explained that the total of the most recent request of $25,000 added to requests last month for basin funds of $44,500 equaled $69,500, which the current balance of $107,000 can accommodate .

Unlike the Trinchera request, the grant requests from March sought funding from both the local and statewide water reserve accounts, Godbout said. Those March requests are currently on hold until the CWCB receives its next allocation of severance tax proceeds, he added, because the total requests from the statewide account last month exceeded the amount the statewide account contained.

Funding requests for projects from around the state, including $830,500 in requests from the Valley, totaled more than $1.7 million, and the statewide account only had about $980,000 in it at the time, Godbout explained.

“We delayed all the statewide requests until May,” he said.

By that time the CWCB expects to receive an additional $1.9 million in its statewide account, which will more than cover the current requests for funding. The additional funding was supposed to come in on April 1 but has not yet been received.

Godbout anticipated approval for the pending project requests during the May 21-22 meeting of the CWCB board in Pueblo.

Trinchera Irrigation Company Superintendent Wayne Schwab presented the request on Tuesday to the roundtable group to fund a feasibility study on Mountain Home Reservoir improvements. He had presented an overview of the project to the roundtable during its March meeting.

The irrigation company encompasses 47 shareholders irrigating about 12,000 acres in the northern part of Costilla County. Trinchera Irrigation Company manages both Mountain Home Reservoir, with a decreed capacity of about 18,000 acre feet, and Smith Reservoir, decreed for about 2,000 acre feet, Schwab explained.

The project for which the irrigation company was seeking funding was improvement to Mountain Home, which not only provides irrigation water but water for wildlife and recreation such as fishing and boating. Schwab said Mountain Home Reservoir is a popular fishing spot even in wintertime when anglers go ice fishing.

Mountain Home Reservoir was built in 1908, and only one of the three canal gates is operational right now, Schwab said. The state engineer would like to see all three operational, he added.

Schwab said he believed the two gates not currently being used probably would open, but he was nervous they might not close. One of the current problems at the reservoir is gate leakage down the canal to Smith Reservoir, if it makes it that far, Schwab added. He estimated more than 1,000 acre-foot loss annually that is going into the ground or being evaporated.

The feasibility study, for which roundtable funds were requested and approved , would determine the best way to improve dam safety, improve water storage , reduce storage loss and protect and improve water availability for wildlife and recreational purposes.

The study would involve an underwater inspection of the outlet works, cost analyses of alternatives and recommendations .

Schwab said although no funding match was required, the Trinchera Irrigation Company with assistance from Colorado Parks & Wildlife and Trout Unlimited were kicking in $12,650, with more than $10,000 alone from CPW in technical assistance . Rio Grande Roundtable Chairman Mike Gibson reminded the group one of the goals of the roundtable was to support the reservoirs, and this project ties in with that goal. The roundtable has also previously assisted other reservoir projects for the Santa Maria, Continental , Rio Grande, Platoro and Sanchez Reservoirs.

More IBCC — basin roundtables coverage here.


“When the public comments, the No. 1 thing they are very interested in is healthy rivers” — Louis Meyer #ColoradoRiver #COWaterPlan

April 12, 2014
Fryingpan-Arkansas Project western and upper eastern slope facilities

Fryingpan-Arkansas Project western and upper eastern slope facilities

From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith):

“It’s a bunch of river with serious targets on them,” said Ken Neubecker of Carbondale about the upper Colorado basin. Neubecker, a longtime volunteer with Trout Unlimited and the former head of Western Rivers Institute, now works with American Rivers on policy and conservation issues.

In addition to rivers in the Roaring Fork watershed, Neubecker said the Blue, Eagle, Fraser, Yampa, Gunnison and Green rivers are all threatened by more water diversions.

“We continue to treat rivers as engineered plumbing systems and not ecosystems,” Neubecker said. “And the river doesn’t get a seat at the planning table.”

Aspenites will have a chance to learn more about the current threats and challenges to local and regional rivers when Louis Meyer of Glenwood Springs-based SGM engineering firm makes a presentation today at 6 p.m. in the Rio Grande meeting room in Aspen behind the county courthouse.

Meyer is an engineer, a member of the Colorado River Basin Roundtable and a consultant to the roundtable, which is charged with developing a detailed water plan for the Colorado River basin by July. That basin plan will help inform a statewide plan called the Colorado Water Plan.

For the past several months, Meyer has been talking to members of the public and water providers across the upper Colorado River basin, which extends in Colorado from Rocky Mountain National Park to the state line west of Loma.

“When the public comments, the No. 1 thing they are very interested in is healthy rivers,” Meyer said. “Not just flat rivers where the hydrograph has been taken off by reservoirs, but rivers that can support healthy biology.”

During a recent presentation in Carbondale sponsored by the Roaring Fork Conservancy, Meyer said 41 percent of the Fryingpan River and Hunter Creek is diverted to the Front Range, while 37 percent of the water in the Roaring Fork River and its upper tributaries is sent east under the Continental Divide.

Each year, about 98,900 acre-feet of water is sent out of Pitkin County to growing cities on the Front Range, which is equal to almost all the stored water in a full Ruedi Reservoir. By comparison, Grand County sends 307,500 acre-feet east, Summit County, 73,100 acre-feet, and Eagle, 32,000 acre-feet…

He suggested that people in the Roaring Fork River valley need to better understand what the “PSOP,” or “Preferred Storage Options Plan” is.

“PSOP is something you have to start paying attention to,” Meyer said. “It is an effort by the consortium of East Slope water providers in the Arkansas basin — the Southeastern Water Conservancy District, the cities of Pueblo and Colorado Springs.

“They would like to enlarge Turquoise Reservoir, near Leadville — that’s where water out of the Fryingpan is diverted — and they want to enlarge Pueblo Reservoir down very low in the basin so they can store more water.

“Where is that water going to come from? It’s going to come from out of this basin. The infrastructure is already there,” Meyer said. “You’ve got to keep an eye on it.”

Southeastern’s current strategic plan, available on its website, includes the goal to “maximize Fry-Ark diversions to the limit of (the district’s) water rights.”

In addition to PSOP, that could mean diverting more water from a “deferred area” in the Fryingpan headwaters through diversions planned, but not built, as part of the original Fry-Ark project…

Meyer also said that three Front Range counties between Denver and Colorado Springs — Douglas, Arapahoe and El Paso — are growing fast, need more water and are looking at some relatively dramatic potential solutions referred to as “big straws.”

The straws, or big pipelines and pump-back projects, could take water from the Green, Yampa, or Gunnison rivers and send it back over the Continental Divide to the Front Range.

And Meyer said discussions are happening now between Front Range and Western Slope water interests to determine under what conditions the Western Slope parties might agree to such a project…

Land use, not water use, may be the real key to leaving water in Western Slope rivers, he added.

“The biggest single issue that has come to the forefront in our work is that it’s not a water issue, it is a land-use issue,” Meyer said. “People are asking the questions, ‘shouldn’t we have our land use connected to our water use?’ and ‘shouldn’t the land use of the future respect that we already have a water shortage?’

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


The Gunnison County Commissioners take a look at the Gunnison Roundtable basin implementation plan #COWaterPlan

April 11, 2014
Gunnison River Basin via the Colorado Geological Survey

Gunnison River Basin via the Colorado Geological Survey

From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (George Sibley):

Concern about possible transmountain diversions dominated a public information-and-input meeting in Gunnison on Gunnison Basin Roundtable water planning.

The Gunnison County Commissioners hosted the meeting during their work session Tuesday, March 25. Thirty-five or 40 citizens participated in the discussion through the course of a two-hour meeting.

The water plan under consideration was the Gunnison Basin Roundtable’s contribution to the Colorado Water Plan ordered by Governor John Hickenlooper in May 2013; the plan will create possible solutions for a significant gap between the known water supply and the needs of a population projected to grow 60-100 percent by mid-century, mostly in the Front Range metropolis. Presenting information on the Gunnison Basin plan were roundtable members Frank Kugel, Rufus Wilderson and George Sibley.

The meeting focused mainly on goals that have been identified for the Gunnison Basin over the next four decades, and some “statewide principles” that it hopes to persuade at least the other West Slope basin roundtables to adopt in negotiations for the statewide water plan; some may be acceptable to all eight state river basins plus the metro area.

The priority goal stated for the Gunnison Basin is “to protect all existing water uses.” Roundtable members, according to Sibley, feel that the Gunnison Basin now has a good mix of consumptive uses (agricultural and municipal/domestic/industrial) and non-consumptive uses (environmental, recreational and hydropower), town-and-country, working-and-playing landscapes, and they want to carry that forward into the future. Change should be incremental, and weighed against its impact on existing uses.

Some of the citizen input warned the roundtable presenters to anticipate possible major changes in the headwaters region, from the oil and gas industry and potential mining operations for copper, molybdenum and “rare earth” minerals. Several citizens wanted to see more focus on water quality.

Other intra-basin goals discussed supporting the priority goal. While the planning process was brought about by a projected metropolitan water shortage, the municipal/industrial shortage in the Gunnison Basin is projected to be small, around 6,500 acre-feet (enough for approximately 13,000 four-person households) — roughly one percent of the projected statewide municipal/industrial shortage, and probably manageable through some anticipated agricultural land-use changes.

The heavily agricultural basin does, however, have a significant existing shortage of agricultural water, mostly late in the season, limiting the productivity of the land. Concern over these shortages is not limited to the ranchers; it acknowledges the close relationship between the valley’s agricultural land base and its economically important non-consumptive uses — the environmental and recreational uses also dependent on the extensive groundwater storage, wildlife wetlands and increased late season flows that result from irrigated floodplains, as well as aesthetic open-space considerations.

Most of the concerns expressed by the citizens present, however, reflected a Gunnison Basin antipathy toward headwaters diversions across the Continental Divide going back to the 1930s. These fears were not entirely allayed by the “Statewide Principles” being advanced in the Gunnison Plan. Kugel and Sibley explained that the strategy was to set the bar so high, for Front Range demand reduction preceding any diversion and West Slope compensations in exchange for any diversion, that the diversion would prove to be economically unfeasible. This strategy is furthered by the fact that both the Gunnison and Upper Colorado Basins are now over-appropriated in sub-average water years; any new diversion would be limited to above-average water years — a serious risk for the Front Range water suppliers to contemplate, given the projections for climate change on the one hand and the high cost of “pumpback” projects on the other.

That notwithstanding, the message from the audience was clearly for the roundtable to not be “soft” on the inevitable discussion of further transmountain diversion from any West Slope basin, since water removed from any of them increases the amount of water the other basins must send downstream for still undefined Lower Basin obligations.

Other public-input meetings are planned for other communities throughout the Gunnison Basin over the coming weeks. In addition, a public survey is available online, through the Upper Gunnison River District website — http://www.ugrwcd.org.

The roundtable is now moving into the stage of generating specific plans for meeting the identified needs and expressed goals. The roundtable meets the first Monday of every month, except for January, July and September, at 4 p.m. in the Holiday Inn Express in Montrose; the meetings are open to the public. The meeting on June 2 will precede a “State of the River” informational event held in conjunction with the Colorado River District at 7 p.m.

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


CWCB: The next Water Availability Task Force meeting is April 16

April 11, 2014

sanmiguelriver2006aerialmontrosedailypres

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

A Joint Flood & Water Availability Task Force meeting will be held on Wednesday, April 16, 2014 from 1:00-4:00p at the Colorado Parks & Wildlife Headquarters, 6060 Broadway, Denver in the Bighorn Room.

An agenda will be posted at the CWCB website.

More CWCB coverage here.


“We’ve got to start thinking about rivers as rivers” — Ken Neubecker #ColoradoRiver #COWaterPlan

April 11, 2014
Blue River

Blue River

From the Summit Daily News (Alli Langley):

The Blue and the Snake are in trouble. These two Summit County rivers are part of the Upper Colorado River Basin, which was named the second most endangered river in the country Wednesday by American Rivers, a Washington D.C.-based nonprofit focused on river advocacy.

“If you want to have healthy rivers and a recreational economy and agriculture on the West Slope, there really is nothing left to take,” said Ken Neubecker, associate director of the organization’s Colorado River project…

The nonprofit’s biggest fear is a new diversion, Neubecker said, because taking a lot of water out of the Colorado anywhere would have serious repercussions.

American Rivers and other conservation organizations say the Colorado Water Conservation Board, charged with creating the state water plan, should make sure it prioritizes river restoration and protection, increases water efficiency and conservation in cities and towns, improves agricultural practices and avoids new transmountain diversions.

Rivers on the Western Slope are already drained and damaged, Neubecker said. He called it wrong to divert more water instead of focusing on alternative methods to meet the gap between water supply and demand.

New supply development concepts via the Front Range roundtables

New supply development concepts via the Front Range roundtables

Right now, he said, details on a new diversion project have been vague, but Front Range proposals have considered developing the Yampa, Flaming Gorge and Gunnison and taking more water out of the Blue, Eagle, Roaring Fork and Fryingpan rivers…

The Colorado River and its headwaters are home to some endangered fish species. They support wildlife, agriculture and multi-billion dollar tourism industries.

And they provide some or all of the drinking water for the resort areas of Breckenridge, Vail, Aspen, Steamboat Springs, Winter Park and Crested Butte and most of the urban Front Range.

To meet its customers’ water needs, Denver Water is focused on Gross Reservoir enlargements as well as conservation and forest health efforts, said CEO Jim Lochhead Thursday.

Colorado’s largest water provider has no current plans to construct a new transmountain diversion, he said, but the state as a whole should consider that option.

A new diversion is “probably inevitable at some point,” he said. “We want to do that in partnership with the West Slope.”

And after signing the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement last year, the utility has to.

The agreement does not allow future water development without the permission of all parties, including Western Slope representatives. Lochhead said, it “establishes a framework where we are really working together as partners instead of the old framework of East Slope versus West Slope.”

But the push is not coming from Denver Water.

“They’re really not the ones that are after a new diversion,” Neubecker said. “They got what they want.”

Pressure for more water from new or existing transmountain diversions comes mainly from north and south of Denver, the Arkansas and South Platte basins and especially Douglas County, he said. Those areas should look at conservation efforts more seriously, he said, and “pay attention to land use policies that basically encourage wasteful water use.”[...]

“We’ve got to start thinking about rivers as rivers” instead of engineering conduits for delivering water, Neubecker said, and “understand that we may think that growth should be infinite, but the resources like water that support the growth are not.”

From the Glenwood Springs Post-Independent (Mike McKibbin):

There is no more unclaimed water in the Colorado River Basin, so if the state’s population nearly doubles by 2050, as some have projected, the consequences for everyone along the river – including Rifle – could be dire. That was the message Louis Meyer, a civil engineer, president and CEO of SGM in Glenwood Springs, told City Council as he detailed the ongoing Colorado Water Plan process at an April 2 workshop…

Of the counties in the Colorado River basin, he noted, Garfield is projected to have the most growth, around 274 percent, or 119,900 people, by 2030.

“The Front Range is expected to have serious water shortages by 2020, unless they find more water,” he said. “They can’t take any more from agriculture on the Front Range, so they want a new supply from the Colorado River basin.”

“We have a target on our back,” Meyer continued. “But we have no more water to give.”

If every entity on the Front Range implemented some strict conservation measures, such as banning all new lawns and perhaps the removal of some existing lawns, Meyer said, the water gap could possibly be eliminated in coming years.

“But if we put that in the [water] plan, we need to do the same thing in our basin,” he added.

All storage water in Ruedi and Green Mountain reservoirs is allocated, along with nearly every other reservoir in the state, Meyer said.

Water quality issues are already becoming acute, Meyer said, because there is less water in the Colorado River.

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


Transmountain diversions: “I think the Twin Lakes company needs to be more open-minded” — Jay Winner #COWaterPlan

April 11, 2014
Twin Lakes collection system

Twin Lakes collection system

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Twin Lakes Reservoir & Canal Co. took umbrage at the way working drafts of an upcoming state water plan viewed its future. A report prepared by the Interbasin Compact Committee uses an example of a way to create new supply, suggesting that Twin Lakes could cut back its diversions from the other side of the Continental Divide in drought years to aid the Western Slope. Trouble is, Twin Lakes has no plans to do that, said Kevin Lusk, who is president of the Twins Lakes company as a representative of Colorado Springs Utilities, the majority shareholder in Twin Lakes.

“In our discussions, we’re trying to keep what we’ve got, and we have no intentions of increasing the use,” Lusk told the Arkansas Basin Roundtable Wednesday.

Lusk asked for a retraction of the statement by the Arkansas Basin Roundtable and from the basin roundtable chairs. The document was discussed in a March 17 conference call among roundtable chairs and alluded to in an Aspen Daily News story. Several roundtable members questioned how the statement landed in the document, since it was not discussed at a meeting.

“It was cited as an example in the process as we move forward,” said Betty Konarski, chairwoman of the roundtable.

Lusk said the distribution of the information is detrimental to Twin Lakes. While there have been past discussions along the same lines, the company has never committed to changing its operations to accommodate the Western Slope.

“Twin Lakes is not considering a reduction of diversions. We haven’t agreed to do it or not to do it,” added Alan Ward, water resources manager for the Pueblo Board of Water Works, the second largest Twin Lakes shareholder. “We wouldn’t have a reason to give any of it up unless there was some benefit to us. It’s gravity-flow and inexpensive water for us.”

But a minority Twin Lakes shareholder, the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District, said the company should be more open to actions that could have a statewide benefit. comments,” said Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Ark district. “I think the Twin Lakes company needs to be more open-minded. It’s looking at what’s good for Colorado Springs Utilities, not the whole state.”

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


American Rivers names the Upper #ColoradoRiver the #2 most endangered for 2014 #COWaterPlan

April 10, 2014
Colorado River Basin in Colorado via the Colorado Geological Survey

Colorado River Basin in Colorado via the Colorado Geological Survey

From American Rivers:

Threat: Water diversions
At Risk: River health and recreation

The Upper Colorado River and its tributaries include some of the most heavily degraded rivers and some of the last truly healthy rivers in the West. The rivers are critical to Colorado’s heritage; they are the life-line for much of the state’s fish and wildlife, they sustain a vibrant agricultural economy, and they provide world-class opportunities for fishing, paddling, and hiking. However, these renowned rivers are threatened by increasing water demands and new proposed water diversions. The Governor of Colorado must take a stand now and keep water flowing in the rivers by promoting responsible conservation measures in the Colorado Water Plan.

The River

The Colorado River Basin in the State of Colorado includes the mainstem Colorado River and headwater rivers, such as the Eagle, Roaring Fork, Blue, Yampa, White, and Gunnison. Gold medal trout fisheries, world class paddling, and glorious massive canyons can be found throughout this river system. The resort areas of Winter Park, Breckenridge, Aspen, Steamboat Springs, and Vail, as well as much of the urban Front Range (on the other side of the Continental Divide), all get some or all of their drinking water from these rivers. The Upper Colorado River Basin is home to 14 native fish species, including several fish listed as endangered.

The Threat

n 2013, American Rivers listed the Colorado River as #1 on our list of America’s Most Endangered Rivers® due to the overarching concern of outdated water management throughout the entire basin. To begin addressing this concern in the Upper Basin, Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper has directed the Colorado Water Conservation Board to develop the first statewide Water Plan to determine how Colorado will meet its water needs in the future. With its population expected to double by 2050, Colorado must seize this opportunity to chart a more sustainable course for water management.

Approximately 80% of Colorado’s population lives on the Front Range in cities like Denver, Colorado Springs, and Fort Collins, but 80% of Colorado’s snow and rain falls on the Western Slope, primarily within the Upper Colorado River Basin. The Front Range has long depended on “trans-mountain” projects that pump, pipe, and divert water over the Continental Divide from the Colorado River Basin for municipal use, lawn irrigation, and agriculture. These dams and diversions decrease river flows, degrade the environment, and harm river recreation that is a key element for the tourism economy on the Western Slope. Having tapped the headwaters of the Colorado mainstem, some Front Range water interests are currently considering diversions from rivers further away, like the Yampa and Gunnison Rivers— rivers not yet impaired by trans-mountain diversions.

The Governor of Colorado and the Colorado Water Conservation Board cannot afford to fall back on outdated, expensive, and harmful water development schemes as acceptable solutions when they develop the water plan for Colorado’s future. Rivers are vitally important for Coloradans, and protecting and restoring rivers needs to be a top priority. If we want rivers to continue to support fish, wildlife, agriculture, and a multi-billion dollar tourism industry, we must ensure they have enough water.

What Must Be Done

Colorado Basin Rivers have played an important role providing water for Front Range development, but many of the rivers are drained and have no more water to give. The Draft Colorado Water Plan is scheduled to be released in December 2014, and the Governor and Colorado Water Conservation Board must make the following common sense principles a core part of the plan:

  • Prioritize protecting healthy flowing rivers and restoring degraded ones
  • Increase water efficiency and conservation in cities and towns
  • Modernize agricultural practices and make it easier for irrigators— who now use more than 80% of Colorado’s water— to share water with urban areas in ways that both maintain valuable ranches and farms and keep rivers healthy
  • Avoid new major trans-mountain diversion projects so as not to further harm Upper Colorado rivers and the communities that depend upon them
  • Adopting these strategies will allow sustainable use of water from the Upper Colorado River Basin, without building costly, environmentally harmful, and ultimately ineffective projects on these cherished rivers. Greater cooperation, innovative technologies, and best practices will enable Colorado to build prosperous communities, support thriving agricultural and tourism industries, and keep our rivers healthy and flowing.

    Colorado’s Water Plan will influence water development and impacts to rivers in Colorado for decades to come. Taking additional water from the Upper Colorado River Basin, already over-taxed by existing water diversions, should not be an option and will be unnecessary if the Governor and Colorado Water Conservation Board adopt a sensible Water Plan.

    From Steamboat Today (Tom Ross):

    A nearby tributary of the Colorado, the White River, is No. 7 on the list because of the amount of energy exploration taking place along its length, American Rivers’ Director of the Colorado River Basin Program Matt Rice said Wednesday.

    #The threat of future trans-mountain diversion that would export water from the upper Colorado to the state’s Front Range is the reason the basin ranks high among the top 10 again in 2014. However, Rice said, it’s also the process already underway to establish a new water plan for Colorado that is putting the focus on the Colorado and Yampa rivers.

    #“We want to make sure common-sense principles are included and prioritized in Colorado’s new water plan. We want healthy rivers to be a core component,” Rice said. “And we want to make sure this plan doesn’t support a new trans-basin project. That’s why it’s No. 2 on our list this year.”

    #Steamboat resident Ken Vertrees is uniquely situated in the ongoing discussions about the future of the Yampa as it fits into the Upper Colorado Basin and the water needs of all of Colorado. He sits on the combined Yampa, White, Green river basin roundtable that was tasked by Gov. John Hickenlooper in May 2013 with coming up with a water plan for this basin that will be incorporated into a statewide draft plan in December 2014 and ultimately into the finalized Colorado Water Plan due to be completed no later than Dec. 10, 2015.

    #In addition, Vertrees sits on the board of the Steamboat-based nonprofit, Friends of the Yampa, which is a partner with American Rivers on its 10 most endangered project. He said the rivers of the upper Colorado have in-basin needs of their own to meet before other basins come after their water.

    #“The state has a 20 percent gap in water supply going out to 2050. That’s the whole impetus for everything we’re doing right now,” he said.

    #Vertrees thinks there is potential for the people of the Yampa Basin to become a “complete loser” in the statewide planning process as water officials seek to close that gap either by redirecting water across the state or conserving, or both.

    #One presumption is that the Front Range, where 82 percent of the state’s population is located, will seek the last great trans-mountain diversion, with water now leaving the state in the Yampa, on its way to the Green and ultimately the Colorado, one of the primary targets.

    #The possibility of spending several billions of dollars to capture some of the water leaving Colorado in the Yampa and pumping it eastward across the Continental Divide to the Front Range surfaced in the middle of the past decade. But two proposals to do just that since have languished…

    Ultimately, Vertrees said, he’s hopeful that the state of Colorado as a whole will recognize the intrinsic value of the Yampa in its lower reaches as a wild desert river that supports a rare community of plants and animals.

    #“It’s a very scary time, in some ways, for our river and our basins,” Vertrees said. “Our non-consumptive water rights are critical to the health of the river. It maintains globally rare habitats and federally endangered fish that are found nowhere else. Isn’t that critical for us, as the state of Colorado, to protect forever?”

    More Colorado River Basin coverage here.


    “The roundtables have no authority…But let’s define what a good project looks like” — Gary Barber #COWaterPlan

    April 10, 2014
    Basin roundtable boundaries

    Basin roundtable boundaries

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    Preparing for a flood of meetings on the state water plan, Arkansas Basin Roundtable members are wondering what style of umbrella to bring.

    “How will the plan be used?” asked Sandy White of the Huerfano County Conservancy District. “There are a lot of cranky people like me in Huerfano County who want to know.”

    White elaborated, saying that it’s apparent that projects listed in the plan won’t be fast-tracked and those omitted won’t be black-listed. The plan also won’t alter water rights.

    Betty Konarski, roundtable chairwoman, said it’s important to know which projects are being contemplated, even if the plan doesn’t say how or when they will be accomplished.

    “One of our goals is following on,” she said. “Which of these can we turn into a project and initiate. Once we see them all, we can see how they can work together.”

    Alan Hamel, the basin’s director on the Colorado Water Conservation Board, said there is value in identifying needs in order to reinforce the importance of projects and coordinate permitting by state agencies.

    Dave Taussig, of Lincoln County, asked how the state plan would interact with local planning efforts, which could override state edicts on growth and water development.

    “The roundtables have no authority,” said Gary Barber, who stepped down as chairman of the roundtable in order to work as a consultant on the basin implementation plan. “But let’s define what a good project looks like.”

    Barber spent most of Wednesday afternoon going over details of the plan, and reviewed the history of how the roundtable formed after the 2004 State Water Supply Initiative was crafted.

    SWSI was updated in 2010, and from it, Gov. John Hickenlooper charged the roundtables, the Interbasin Compact Committee and the Colorado Water Conservation Board to develop a state water plan.

    Roundtable members are being asked to fan out into the countryside to gather input before an Arkansas Basin implementation plan — just one ingredient in the state’s recipe for its water future. Some meetings already have been held and comments are filtering back to the roundtable.

    At least 15 meetings are planned throughout the basin. A complete list, as well as details about the water plans, can be found at the website, http://arkansasbasin.com.

    More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


    The Arkansas Basin Roundtable is sponsoring a dozen meetings to gather input for their basin implementation plan #COWaterPlan

    April 9, 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):

    Ready to dive in? A dozen meetings have been scheduled to get input from communities on the Arkansas River basin’s portion of the state water plan. The meetings, sponsored by the Arkansas Basin Roundtable, are in response to last month’s decision by the roundtable to reach out into the sprawling basin to gather input as the state moves toward developing a draft water plan by the end of the year under an order by Gov. John Hickenlooper. The meetings also address concerns by some state lawmakers that community outreach on water issues is lacking, despite nine years of roundtable meetings throughout Colorado.

    The Arkansas Basin Roundtable has launched a website (http://arkansasbasin.com) that lists the meeting times and places, as well.

    Included are the roundtable’s monthly meeting, 11:30 a.m. today at Colorado State University-Pueblo; and the Arkansas River Basin Water Forum, April 22-24 in La Junta. Smaller community meetings will begin next week, with meetings in Trinidad and Walsenburg on April 16. Upcoming meetings will be in Gardner, April 25; La Veta, April 29; Springfield, April 29; Lamar, May 1; Salida, May 6; Hugo, May 7; Las Animas, May 20; Rocky Ford, May 27; and Fowler, May 27. Meetings also will be scheduled for Colorado Springs, Pueblo and Simla.

    The website also includes more detailed information about the water plan through a link to the state water plan website at http://coloradowaterplan.com.

    From The Pueblo Chieftain editoral staff:

    When the Arkansas River Basin Water Forum convenes for its 20th annual gathering April 23-24 in La Junta, there should be just one topic at the top of its agenda — water for agriculture. Those attending this year’s forum will take time to discuss the Colorado Water Plan, which is currently being developed thanks to an executive order by Gov. John Hickenlooper. Arkansas River basin water users and officials will talk about a number of topics — including drought, irrigation rules and weed control — during the two-day gathering. But their discussion and eventual input into the water plan shouldn’t stray from agriculture and the need for consistent water supplies in Southern Colorado.

    Agriculture is the backbone of the region’s economy. Without a reliable water supply that will ensure a sustainable future for farmers and ranchers in the Arkansas Valley, our most important industry and our overall economy will be in jeopardy.

    Water interests in the Arkansas River basin need to send a clear and unified message through the Colorado Water Plan process that agriculture, more than growing cities, should be the state’s No. 1 priority when it comes to the allocation of water resources.

    If we don’t stay together in that belief, growing communities to the north will continue to come shopping for water in Southern Colorado, leading to the loss of productive farms and ranches throughout the region.

    There are effective tools available to hang on to Arkansas River water, including conservation easements with farmers and ranchers to tie water rights to specific land. A legislative measure to forbid the transfer of more water out of a basin of origin could be part of the debate as well.

    Our water resources are valuable and finite. The new water plan needs to acknowledge that fact, and strengthen agriculture’s grip on its fair share of the available resources.

    Meanwhile it’s full steam ahead with work on the Rio Grande Roundtable basin implementation plan according to this report from Charlie Spielman writing for the Valley Courier:

    This is the sixth article in the Narrow the Gap water series addressing the Rio Grande Basin Water Plan. VALLEY In 2004, the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) completed the Statewide Water Supply Initiative (SWSI) Phase 1 Study. One of the key findings of the study was that while SWSI evaluated water needs and solutions through 2030, very few municipal and industrial (M&I) water providers have identified supplies beyond 2030.

    Beyond 2030, growing demands may require more aggressive solutions. Since the SWSI Phase 1 Study was completed, Colorado’s legislature established the

    “Water for the 21st Century Act.” This act established the Interbasin Compact Process that provides a permanent forum for broad-based water discussions in the state. It created two new structures : 1) the Interbasin Compact Committee (IBCC), and 2) the basin roundtables. There are nine basin roundtables each located in one of Colorado’s eight major river basins and the Denver metro area.

    The CWCB determined that the forecast horizon for the water demand projections needed to be extended to the year 2050 to better represent the long-term water needs that the state will face. The West Slope basin roundtables suggested the 2050 timeframe for the demand projections so that potential growth rates on the West Slope could be better characterized. Infrastructure investments and commitment of water supplies also require a longer view into the future. In addition, several of the SWSI Identified Projects and Processes (IPPs) with Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) requirements have used a planning horizon of 2050. Finally, the 2050 timeframe matches the ongoing energy development study conducted by the Colorado and Yampa-White Basin Roundtables. (CWCB, M&I Water Projections.)

    The Municipal and Industrial Rio Grande Basin Water Plan workgroup knows that unless action is taken, water shortages for San Luis Valley cities and towns will be inevitable. So the team set about laying out frame work for the Rio Grande Basin’s Municipal and Industrial uses. By working together the committee has uncovered some interesting facts:

  • The Division of Water Resources doesn’t characterize any wells as “industrial” but as commercial.
  • There is a healthy photovoltaic solar electric business established in the San Luis Valley, and future growth of this sector seems assured. As an added bonus, this generating capacity uses relatively little water.
  • Reasonable projections of future oil and gas drilling indicate that the industry’s future water use will probably not be extensive.
  • Opportunities for significant water requirements for hydro power plants appear limited at this time.
  • Total municipal and industrial water use in the Rio Grande Basin is likely to remain at less than 1-3 percent of the agricultural water use. A situation that is much different, when looking at other cities and towns in river basins across the state.
  • The several municipalities in the Rio Grande Basin that obtain their water from confined aquifer wells provide significant water to the surface system and to the unconfined aquifer in the form of treated waste water. Presently these towns receive no credit or benefit from their contribution. Moving forward these municipalities will need to secure their well water resources by obtaining water augmentation plans or by joining a sub-district . The implementation of new water rules and regulations will lay out a specific blueprint of how these communities can move forward. Further complicating the water outlook for San Luis Valley municipalities is the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s (CDPHE) lowering of the maximum arsenic limits tolerances to 2 parts per billion . This action will greatly increase water treatment costs.

    Water is nearly as “invisible” as air. Unfortunately this creates a complacency that has led to failing infrastructure and severe water shortages in unexpected places like Atlanta, Georgia where, according to Charles Fishmen author of “The Big Thirst” , several million people have been added to the population in the past 20 years without increasing its water supply.

    The key for municipalities is to improve their outreach and education efforts about conservation and population. When simple conservation techniques are implemented, the water savings are quite remarkable. Lowering water demands as a result of water efficiency can assist providers in avoiding, downsizing, or postponing the construction and operation of water supply facilities and wastewater facilities as well as eliminating , reducing, or postponing water purchases. In addition to these water supply benefits , there are other societal, political, and environmental benefits.

    At present there appears to be no communities within the upper Rio Grande Basin at risk regarding the development of adequate water supplies and /or obtaining augmentation water. Planning and conservation, however , will allow them to move smoothly towards 2050. The Rio Grande Basin Roundtable would like input in the development of the Rio Grande Basin Water Plan. The most effective methods to become involved are: attend the Rio Grande Basin Roundtable monthly meetings the second Tuesday of each month at the SLV Water Conservancy office , 623 Fourth Street in Alamosa; submit comments directly online at http://www.riograndewaterplan. webs.com or attend any one of the five Basin Water Plan subcommittee meetings. The lead consultant is Tom Spezze (tom@dinatalewater.com).

    Charlie Spielman, represents municipal and industrial water users on the Rio Basin Roundtable and also serves as chair of the M&I subcommittee for the Rio Grande Basin Water Plan.

    More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


    A look at James Eklund and the #COWaterPlan

    April 8, 2014
    Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013

    Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013

    From Colorado Public Radio (Rachel Estabrook):

    …Gov. John Hickenlooper has ordered the state to create a water plan; he wants a draft of it by December 2014, to be finalized in 2015. The plan will be based on what local groups organized around watersheds, called basin roundtables, come up with over the next several months. The basin roundtables will meet throughout the spring and will deliver their wish lists to the state over the summer.

    To lead the massive effort, Gov. Hickenlooper has chosen James Eklund to direct the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

    “We have water where we don’t have people, and we have to make sure we address that problem as best we can,” Eklund says.

    That also means there are people where there isn’t much water. Eklund says you can draw a line down the middle of Colorado.

    “If you think of Colorado as a rectangle…and you draw a line right down the middle of that rectangle…80 percent of the water falls on the left side of that line and 80-87 percent of the people are on the right side of that line,” Eklund says.

    In addition to the looming gap between how much water Colorado has and how much it needs, Eklund says he’s worried about a trend known as “buy and dry,” where cities, mostly on the Front Range, buy water rights from farmers, leaving the farms to dry up.

    “The challenge that we face as a state when that happens is a ripple effect that spreads through the local economy, the community,” Eklund notes. “If you’re not farming, you’re not paying into the tax base. You’re not sending your kids to school. You’re not going to the grocery store, the cafe. And that is a challenge for the entire community.”

    Eklund is careful to point out that he doesn’t want to stop arrangements between willing sellers and willing buyers.

    “But we want to give people options,” he says.

    That includes encouraging rotational fallowing, a method that allows farmers to let parts of land go dry for a year or more and sell the water rights for only that period of time, restarting production on that land later.

    Ultimately, Eklund says, the solution to Colorado’s water crisis will include more conservation – and that could mean sacrifices.

    “We’re all going to have to bear some pain,” Eklund says. “And how we bear that pain, and who bears what percentage of it, who bears what risk – that’s the conversation that’s going on right now in Colorado in shaping this water plan.”

    Eklund says that could mean rules about how much water people can use. It could mean water providers will start using aggressive tiered pricing schemes to make it expensive to use water. For farmers, Eklund says, continued buyouts of their land would be very painful.

    As the basin roundtables go on, some conservation groups worry that not enough attention will be paid to keeping the rivers flowing. Those rivers are important to Colorado’s natural habitats and to the state’s recreation industry. Eklund says he’s listening to those concerns.

    “We have been aggressive in reaching out to the conservation and environmental community to make sure their voice is heard in all of this,” he says, “and that our water plan doesn’t become some glossy report that sits on a shelf somewhere.”

    Eklund is encouraging citizens to participate in the planning process. A schedule of the basin roundtable meetings and a link to give input to the plan are at the Colorado Water Conservation Board’s website.

    More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


    SB14-115’s goal is greater public participation in the #COWaterPlan #COleg

    April 8, 2014
    Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013

    Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013

    From The Durango Herald (Joe Hanel):

    …legislators fret they will be left out of the process. And they worry the public will be caught unaware, even though years of work and hundreds of public meetings have gone into drafting the plan.

    Rep. Steve Lebsock, D-Thornton, said he wants to avoid repeating mistakes the state government made when it partnered with a private company to expand the highway between Denver and Boulder and add toll lanes.

    Even though every local government in the area signed off on the plan in public meetings, hundreds of angry people turned out last winter to oppose that plan and said they were taken by surprise.

    “Perception is reality,” Lebsock said. “It’s absolutely critical that our government, with an assist from the Legislature, is willing to hold public meetings.”

    That’s the idea behind Senate Bill 115, which advanced Monday after an 11-1 vote in the House Agriculture Committee.

    It was proposed by Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, and Sen. Gail Schwartz, D-Snowmass Village, who thought Hickenlooper’s administration was ignoring the Legislature while drafting the water plan. Originally, the bill would have required the Legislature to approve the Colorado Water Plan.

    Now, the bill requires the Legislature’s summer water committee to hold hearings around the state this year and in 2015 to take public testimony on the plan.

    Two of the meetings would have to be in Southwest Colorado…

    Nine years ago, the Legislature created a system of “water roundtables” in each major river basin to start working on a state water plan while reaching out to as many people as possible.

    Those roundtables have been at work for nearly a decade and have held hundreds of public meetings, which have not always been well-attended.

    More 2014 Colorado legislation coverage here. More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


    “There is no additional water for additional support to other basins” — Steve Acquafresca #COWaterPlan #ColoradoRiver

    April 7, 2014
    Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer's office

    Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer’s office

    New transmountain diversions of water from the Colorado River Basin to the Front Range got a frosty reception from Grand Valley water users and residents Thursday.

    At certain times during the year, more water travels east through tunnels than flows downhill along the Western Slope, said Max Schmidt, general manager of the Orchard Mesa Irrigation District, during a town hall meeting in Grand Junction City Hall on the development of a statewide water plan.

    “There’s nothing left to give,” Schmidt said to about 40 people gathered in the meeting sponsored by the Colorado River Basin roundtable and the Water Center at Colorado Mesa University.

    Grand Valley water users haven’t strayed from their original reaction to calls for a new transmountain diversion, said Larry Clever, general manager of the Ute Water Conservancy District, the largest supplier of water in the Grand Valley.

    “It’s going to be a fight” if a new transmountain diversion is proposed, Clever said. “If Lake Mead and Lake Powell spill over, then maybe, but until then, we fight.”

    State officials have said the statewide water plan, which is to be complete by December 2015, with a draft due to Gov. John Hickenlooper by this December, won’t include a transmountain diversion. The plan, however, is expected to outline the terms under which one might go forward.

    Comments in the town hall are to be reflected in a Colorado River Basin plan. It, along with other basin plans, are to be reflected in the statewide plan.

    The Colorado River Basin is already a donor basin unable to meet the demands that officials expect by 2050, Mesa County Commissioner Steve Acquafresca said.

    “There is no additional water for additional support to other basins,” Acquafresca said.

    More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


    The City of Aspen has a long list of projects for the #ColoradoRiver Basin Implementation Plan #COWaterPlan

    April 7, 2014

    aspen
    From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith):

    Tall new dams in pristine spots on upper Castle and Maroon creeks. Bigger dams on Lost Man and Lincoln creeks in the headwaters of the Roaring Fork River. A bigger reservoir at the city’s water plant. Water pumped up from deep underneath Aspen. Treated effluent pumped from the Aspen wastewater plant to the city golf course. Water left in the river instead of being diverted to the Wheeler irrigation ditch.

    These projects are all on a list that Mike McDill, the city of Aspen’s deputy director of utilities, wants included on a larger list of regional water projects now being compiled by the Colorado River Basin Roundtable.

    “If it is already on the list, at least people can’t say they didn’t know we were thinking about it,” McDill said…

    Over 500 “projects, policies and processes” are now on the Colorado roundtable’s draft priority list, including Aspen’s suggested projects. The list, which is part inventory, part to-do list, and part wish list, is to be winnowed down in the next two months by the roundtable.

    “Putting projects on the roundtable’s list is a good way to provoke conversation,” said Louis Meyer, a consulting engineer with SGM, who is leading the development of the Colorado roundtable’s basin plan. “It is also incumbent on us to show the state that we have a list of water needs.”[...]

    During recent public roundtable meetings, McDill has described Aspen’s list of projects in a calm and pragmatic matter, despite the scale of some of them.

    “Our concern is we have a lot of water in June and not so much water the rest of the year,” McDill said about the potential value of reservoirs on upper Maroon and Castle creeks.

    Today the city of Aspen diverts water from lower Castle and Maroon creeks for its water supply, but it does not have any water storage capacity beyond the tiny Leonard Thomas Reservoir at the water plant, which can hold 14 acre-feet of water.

    If built someday as described by the city’s conditional water right, the Maroon Creek reservoir would store 4,567 acre-feet of water behind a 155-foot-tall dam just below the confluence of East Maroon and West Maroon creeks, which is known as a stunningly beautiful location. A Maroon Creek reservoir would cover 85 acres of U.S. Forest Service land about a mile-and-a-half below Maroon Lake.

    The Castle Creek reservoir would hold 9,062 acre-feet of water behind a 170-foot-tall dam located about two miles below the historic town site of Ashcroft in a verdant valley. It would inundate 120 acres of mostly private land.

    The city has renewed the conditional water rights for the two reservoirs eight times since they were decreed in 1971 and is required to do so again in 2016, when it must show it is making progress toward building the reservoirs.

    “Aspen will build the Castle Creek and Maroon Creek reservoirs if necessary and if in the best interest of citizens of the community,” city officials said in 2012…

    Also on Aspen’s list of potential projects is the enlargement of existing reservoirs, including Grizzly Reservoir and Leonard Thomas Reservoir…

    Grizzly Reservoir was built in the 1930s on upper Lincoln Creek, a tributary of the Roaring Fork River. The reservoir is owned by the Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co., of which the city of Colorado Springs is now the majority owner. The reservoir holds about 570 acre-feet of water and primarily serves as the forebay to the tunnel that Twin Lakes uses to divert water under the Continental Divide…

    The smaller Lost Man Reservoir, also owned by Twin Lakes, backs up water on Lost Man Creek and then diverts it to Grizzly Reservoir…

    But Kevin Lusk, a principal with Colorado Springs Utilities, and the president of the Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co., threw cold water this week on the idea of expanding either Grizzly or Lost Man reservoir.

    “Twin Lakes has no plans or interest in enlarging these facilities,” Lusk said via email. “Nor has anyone talked to us about these ideas.”[...]

    Also on the city’s list is expanding Leonard Thomas Reservoir at the city’s water plant above Aspen Valley Hospital so it can hold 25 acre-feet instead of 14 acre-feet…

    Another water project on the municipal list is to determine just how much water is under the city of Aspen, and whether it is suitable for drinking.

    In 2012 and 2013, the city drilled a water-well near Herron Park 1,520 feet underground in search of hot water it could use for geothermal energy.

    But in July 2013 the city announced that it did not find water hot enough to make electricity, but it did find a steady stream of clear water coming up out of the well at 29 pounds per square inch, about half of the water pressure in a normal household.

    “This summer, we’re putting a pump into the well to analyze the water and get some feel for the capacity of the aquifer,” McDill said.

    If it turns out there is still a lot of water 1,500 feet underground Aspen, the city may install a larger, permanent pump into its test well to create a back-up supply of water…

    The pump back project, which is well under way, will allow the city to reuse water from the Aspen Consolidated Sanitation District to supplement its irrigation water on the municipal golf course, and to provide irrigation and snowmaking water for other entities, including the Buttermilk Mountain ski area.

    “It is intended to keep more water in the Castle Creek by not diverting for the golf course,” McDill said.

    The source of the water is “treated municipal effluent” and pipes already have been installed from the sanitation plant, past the Burlingame neighborhood, and to a pond on the city golf course.

    The city is still seeking a water right for its pump back project from state water court, and has been working out agreements with a long list of opponents.

    The water is to be primarily used to irrigate 12.3 acres of landscaping along Highway 82 and Cemetery Lane, according to documents in water court. It also could supplement irrigation on 131 acres of the Aspen golf course, 21 acres of land in the Burlingame project, and 80 acres of the Maroon Creek golf course.

    In all, 233 acres of land could receive water from the project and water could be used to make snow on as much as 156 acres of land at Buttermilk…

    The Fork is often below a flow level of 32 cfs, which is the minimum amount of water the CWCB has determined is necessary to protect the environment “to a reasonable degree.” Last year, the city entered into a short-term water [lease] with the CWCB to leave 6 cfs of water in the river instead of diverting the water into the Wheeler Ditch, which is located river-left just downstream of the Aspen Club pedestrian bridge. The water in the Wheeler Ditch is typically used by the city for landscaping and irrigation in various parts of central Aspen…

    The Colorado River basin roundtable is scheduled to next discuss its draft list of projects on Monday, April 14, from noon to 4 p.m. at the Glenwood Springs community center.

    More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


    La Junta: Arkansas River Basin Water Forum, April 23-24 #COWaterPlan

    April 7, 2014

    Arkansas River Basin via The Encyclopedia of Earth

    Arkansas River Basin via The Encyclopedia of Earth


    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    A proposed state water plan, drought impacts, irrigation rules and weed control will be discussed at a regional forum in La Junta this month. The Arkansas River Basin Water Forum is planned April 23-24 at Otero Junior College. There also will be a community workshop from 6 to 9 p.m. April 22.

    This is the forum’s 20th year of bringing people from all parts of the Arkansas River basin together to discuss

    On the morning of April 23, James Eklund, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, will discuss the state’s water plan now being developed under an executive order by Gov. John Hickenlooper.

    That afternoon, participants in the forum will have the opportunity to give their input into the basin’s portion of the plan.

    The Bob Appel Friend of the Arkansas award will be presented at the luncheon.

    On April 24, irrigation rules and the importance of agriculture to the Arkansas River basin will be in the spotlight.

    Conservation and heritage will be discussed at the luncheon, with invasive species the topic for the afternoon.

    For information, visit http://arbwf.org or call the CSU Extension Office, 545-2045, or Jean Van Pelt, Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, 948-2400.

    More Arkansas River Basin coverage here.


    Ditch companies are running out of time for repairs, the runoff is coming #COflood

    April 6, 2014
    St. Vrain River floodplain November 2013 via the Longmont Times-Call

    St. Vrain River floodplain November 2013 via the Longmont Times-Call

    From the Longmont Times-Call (Tony Kindelspire):

    Left Hand Creek has been diverted from its main channel by a temporary earthen dam with two 48-inch pipes running through the middle of it. That’s so the workmen can rebuild the diversion dam and headgate that last September’s flood obliterated.

    “We have like 13 spots that we’re working on, various levels of destruction, with this being the worst. This is the Allen’s Lake diversion,” said Plummer, vice president of maintenance and operations for the Left Hand Ditch Co. “Most everything was just buried in debris. … The Allen’s Lake diversion was just rolled up into a ball of concrete and steel.”[...]

    Ditch companies control the water rights to irrigation ditches and are charged with maintaining them. The Left Hand Ditch Co. is typical of most such entities: it’s privately held and owned by shareholders — in the case of Left Hand, 460 shareholders. Sixteen percent of its shares are owned by the Left Hand Water District and goes toward drinking water, and the rest goes to agriculture.

    Ditches operate using diversion dams and headgates. The dams slow the water and back it up so it can then flow through the headgate, which is opened to let water through.

    In the Allen’s Lake diversion both the dam and headgate were wiped out, and in the narrow riverbed of Left Hand Canyon, the only way to replace them is to divert the river, build half the structure, then move the river again and build the other half.

    “We’ll get that (side) done and then we’ll move the river back over,” Plummer said as he watched the construction crew pour concrete. “What we’re doing is racing, we’re racing the run-off.”[...]

    Sean Cronin, executive director of the St. Vrain & Left Hand Water Conservancy District, attended an emergency meeting of the Highland Ditch Co. in the days following the flood.

    “Not repairing this is not an option,” Cronin recalls hearing the shareholders — many of whom are farmers — saying in the meeting. “This is how we make our living.”

    Cronin said there are 94 ditches and reservoirs within the St. Vrain & Left Hand district, and of those 43 suffered some amount of damage, totaling about $18 million. Some, such as the Highland, were completely destroyed.

    September’s flood all but wiped out the Highland’s diversion dam and headgate, which were built in 1870. What little remained after the water subsided was not repairable.

    The Highland Ditch, the biggest in the St. Vrain basin, goes all the way to Milliken, primarily serving ag land but also providing some of the city of Longmont’s drinking water.

    The diversion dam and headgate were rebuilt at a cost of $750,000, according to Wade Gonzales, superintendent of the Highland Ditch Co…

    The “Big Three” headgates, as far as Longmont is concerned — the Highland, the Oligarchy and the Rough & Ready/Palmerton — were all destroyed by the flood, according to Kevin Boden, environmental project specialist with the city of Longmont’s Public Works and Natural Resources Department.

    The Oligarchy, it should be noted, actually held up during the initial flood but then finally gave way the following Sunday during heavy rains.

    All three either have been or will be repaired by May 1, Boden said…

    [Dave Nettles] said that although the Poudre, Big Thompson and Boulder Creek watersheds all sustained some damage, none of them reached the “catastrophic” levels seen in the St. Vrain and Little Thompson watersheds.

    More infrastructure coverage here.


    Southwestern Water Conservation District 32nd Annual Water Seminar recap #ColoradoRiver

    April 6, 2014

    southwesternwaterconservationdistrictmap

    From The Durango Herald (Sarah Mueller):

    Speakers addressed the controversial practice of transmountain diversions, which takes water from the Western Slope to the Front Range. The water crosses the Continental Divide.

    “Frankly, on the Front Range, they’re really not interested in depleting that aquifer; they’re more interested in the transmountain diversions,” Rep. Don Coram, R-Montrose said. “They haven’t addressed the situations of storage; their answer is there’s more water on the Western Slope than they need.”

    Steve Harris, president of Harris Water Engineering, talked about the recent controversy over his idea of limiting lawn size in new suburban developments after 2016. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, drew fierce opposition from home builders and utility companies.

    “About half the people I talked to thought that was a great idea and the other half thought I was a demon,” he said. “In this state, I know what it’s like to get between people and grass.”

    Roberts rewrote the bill to call for a study of water conservation.

    Another bill floating through the General Assembly would require Colorado residents to purchase “WaterSense” fixtures, such as toilets, shower heads and faucets, after 2016.

    Coram said he opposed the bill because the products don’t save much water, and it’s impossible to enforce. WaterSense is a Environmental Protection Agency program labeling products as water-efficient…

    Kehmeier, speaking on the water banks panel, said he’s participated in an informal marketplace among local farmers with personal reservoirs where people could lease excess water…

    The Colorado Water Conservation Board also gave an update about creating the state’s water plan. Gov. John Hickenlooper directed the board last year to develop the plan. A draft plan is expected to go to Hickenlooper by the end of the year.

    More Southwestern Water Conservation District coverage <a href="


    Water summit drew large crowd — Fort Morgan Times

    April 5, 2014

    Map of the South Platte River alluvial aquifer subregions -- Colorado Water Conservation Board via the Colorado Water Institute

    Map of the South Platte River alluvial aquifer subregions — Colorado Water Conservation Board via the Colorado Water Institute


    From The Fort Morgan Times (Jenni Grubbs):

    The large crowd at Progressive 15’s Water Summit had their fill of water-related information March 28 at the Country Steak-Out in Fort Morgan, but it seemed they were still thirsty for more, asking nearly every speaker lots of questions and seeking more resources.

    The speakers addressed a number of different topics, including: potential and currently pending legislation and ballot issues that could affect water law, and weather forecasts and the plan the state is forming for dealing with water for the future.

    After Progressive 15 Chairman Barry Gore explained the nonprofit group’s mission as an advocacy agency for its members, Joe Frank from the Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District spoke about the history of public trust doctrine and how it could affect Colorado if adopted here…

    After a break for lunch, the crowd heard from National Weather Service Senior Hydrologist Treste Huse about weather and flood forecasts for Colorado.

    She said that while Morgan County received 300 percent of normal precipitation in 2013, “it’s drying up this year.”

    Northeast Colorado could see higher risks of flooding this spring and summer due to higher water tables, reservoirs already at capacity and the melting of a high snow pack. Landslides also could be possible with that flooding.

    Huse also said that it was possible that 2014 would have El Nino weather patterns in Colorado, which could lead to wetter than average conditions in the south and far east parts of the state.

    Later, former Colorado Agriculture Commissioner John Stulp, who now is an advisor in Gov. John Hickenlooper’s Water Office, spoke about the Colorado Water Plan.

    He said that while drought was growing in southeast Colorado, most of the state was not in a drought.

    Yet, he recognized that flooding could become an issue again.

    “We’re hopeful that the snowpack comes down in an orderly manner,” he said.

    More South Platte River Basin coverage here.


    CWCB: 2015 Proposed Instream Flow Appropriations

    April 5, 2014

    Colorado instream flow program map via the Colorado Water Conservation Board

    Colorado instream flow program map via the Colorado Water Conservation Board


    Click here to read the appropriation notice from the Colorado Water Conservation Board.


    The Road Not Taken

    April 3, 2014

    Originally posted on Your Water Colorado Blog:

    By Julia Gallucci, water education coordinator, Colorado Springs Utilities

    roadlesstakenWhen Robert Frost wrote his poem he probably wasn’t plagued by water issues, and neither are most Colorado citizens. While water is our bread and butter, how often do the rest of us think about, for example, the State Water Plan?

    Two organizations, Colorado Competitive Council and Accelerate Colorado intend to brief the Colorado business community on Colorado’s Water Plan. These lobbying groups are interested in framing what Colorado Business wants around water, and they hope to use this framework to weigh in on the State’s Water Plan.

    This is an excellent beginning to an independent State Water Plan public process, one from which, perhaps, the IBCC can draw ideas. Colorado Competitive Council and Accelerate Colorado have designed a “road show” which they successfully presented in Colorado Springs on April 2nd. In cities across Colorado, they leverage the…

    View original 199 more words


    CU-Boulder offers well users guide for testing water in areas of oil and gas development

    April 3, 2014

    chemistryglassware

    Here’s the release from the University of Colorado at Boulder:

    A free, downloadable guide for individuals who want to collect baseline data on their well water quality and monitor their groundwater quantity over time was released this week by the University of Colorado Boulder’s Colorado Water and Energy Research Center (CWERC).

    The “how to” guide, “Monitoring Water Quality in Areas of Oil and Natural Gas Development: A Guide for Water Well Users,” is available in PDF format at http://cwerc.colorado.edu. It seeks to provide well owners with helpful, independent, scientifically sound and politically neutral information about how energy extraction or other activities might affect their groundwater.

    The guide spells out the process of establishing a baseline for groundwater conditions, including how best to monitor that baseline and develop a long-term record.

    “Baseline data is important because, in its purest form, it documents groundwater quality and quantity before energy extraction begins,” said CWERC Co-founder and Director Mark Williams, who is also a fellow at the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research and a CU-Boulder professor of geography.

    “Once a baseline has been established, groundwater chemistry can be monitored for changes over time,” Williams said. “The most accurate baselines are collected before energy extraction begins, but if drilling has already begun, well owners can still test their water to establish a belated baseline and monitor it for changes. That might not be scientifically ideal, but it’s a lot better than doing no monitoring at all.”

    CWERC’s guidance builds on the state’s public health recommendations that well owners annually test water for nitrates and bacteria. The guide encourages well water users to collect more than one pre-drilling baseline sample, if possible.

    CWERC recommends collecting both spring and fall samples within a single year because water chemistry can vary during wet and dry seasons. Well owners should measure the depth from the ground surface to the water in their wells in the fall, during the dry season, so that they can keep track of any changes.

    “Colorado’s oil and gas regulators have established some of the most comprehensive groundwater monitoring regulations in the country, but those regulations do not require oil and gas operators to sample every water well in an oil or gas field,” Williams said. “So we wanted to develop a meaningful tool for people who want to test their water themselves or those who need information to help negotiate water testing arrangements as part of surface use agreements with drillers in their area.

    “Ultimately, it is the responsibility of the well owner to know their own well and understand their water. This guide will help Coloradans do just that.”

    The guide specifically outlines what well water users may want to test for and provides a list of properly certified laboratories that offer water-testing services. In addition, the guide assists individuals in interpreting the scientific data, chemical references and compound levels that are outlined in the laboratory results they will receive and any industry tests or reports related to drilling in their area.

    CWERC studies the connections between water and energy resources and the trade-offs that may be involved in their use. It seeks to engage the general public and policymakers, serving as a neutral broker of scientifically based information on even the most contentious “energy-water nexus” debates.

    CWERC was co-founded in 2011 by Williams and Joseph Ryan, a CU-Boulder professor of civil, environmental and architectural engineering, with funding from the CU-Boulder Office for University Outreach.

    To download a free copy of the guide, visit http://cwerc.colorado.edu. For questions about obtaining the guide or to order a printed version, visit the website or call 303-492-4561.


    Republican River Water Conservation District quarterly board meeting, April 10 #COWaterPlan

    April 3, 2014
    Republican River Basin

    Republican River Basin

    From the Yuma Pioneer (Tony Rayl):

    It is time for the Republican River Water Conservation District Board of Directors to hold its regular quarterly meeting in Yuma. It will be held at Quintech on Thursday, April 10, beginning at 10 a.m. Public comment is scheduled for 1 p.m.

    The board will receive a report from Assistant Attorney General Scott Steinbrecher on the negotiations with Kansas regarding compliance with the Republican River Compact, the Bonny Reservoir accounting issue, and the compact compliance pipeline. There also could be other matters addressed by Steinbrecher.

    The pipeline has been put to use this past winter as Kansas agreed to a one-year test run in 2014. Tracy Travis, the pipeline manager, will provide a report on the pipeline.

    Conservation has been a focus, particularly with a symposium sponsored by the RRWCD and local businesses held last month highlighting the need to conserve the Ogallala Aquifer, the region’s source of water. The board will discuss conservation survey results during the April 10 meeting.

    Also on the agenda, HDR Engineering will give a report regarding the Colorado Water Plan. There also will be a presentation on the Great Divide.

    The board will consider purchasing agency bonds, and receive reports on various recent meetings and programs.

    Quintech is located at 529 N. Albany St. in Yuma. For further information, or having any questions, please call RRWCD General Manager Deb Daniel at 970-332-3552, or email her at deb.daniel@rrwcd.net. The RRWCD website is http://www.republicanriver.com.


    Gunnison Basin Rountable basin implementation plan focuses on agriculture #COWaterPlan

    April 2, 2014

    haymeadowsneargunnison

    From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Hannah Holm):

    Current efforts to develop a Colorado Water Plan have been largely driven by a large projected gap between urban water needs and developed supplies. Gunnison Basin water planners, however, are more focused on a current gap between agricultural needs and developed supplies. The water managers and stakeholders that make up the Gunnison Basin Roundtable are concerned that efforts to address the urban gap will negatively impact agricultural uses, whose importance goes beyond food production to environmental and recreational values.

    In the Gunnison Basin, which stretches from the headwaters near Crested Butte, Lake City, Ouray and Paonia downstream to Delta and Grand Junction, the anticipated gap between municipal needs and developed supplies is relatively small, while the gap between agricultural needs and supplies is already large.

    According to the latest statewide water supply study, the present gap between water requirements to fully meet crop demands and water available is about 128,000 acre-feet per year in the Gunnison Basin. An acre-foot is about enough water to fill a football-field-sized tub one foot deep. This is generally considered sufficient to sustain two to three average households for a year.

    Agricultural water shortages are experienced in every water district in the basin. The district that includes the North Fork of the Gunnison River and Delta has the largest gap at over 75,200 acre-feet per year. This district also has the largest number of irrigated acres in the basin, with 90,200. The Lake Fork and Lower Uncompahgre districts have the smallest gaps, at between 2,500 and 3,000 acre-feet per year. The farmers of the 79,800 irrigated acres in the Lower Uncompahgre District benefit from senior water rights and upstream reservoirs, while the Lake Fork District contains just 16,500 irrigated acres.

    Analysis conducted so far points to a need for additional upstream reservoir storage to support late-summer and fall irrigation. The Wilson Water Group, the consulting group hired by the Gunnison Basin Roundtable to assist with the basin plan, is conducting targeted technical outreach meetings to more precisely identify the causes of the shortages and identify potential projects to address them. Causes for shortages can be categorized as physical (insufficient water available), legal (water is present, but the irrigator doesn’t have rights to it), storage-related (insufficient late-season water), or efficiency-related (sufficient water could be available if managed more efficiently).

    The focus on agriculture in the Gunnison Basin makes sense, given that the Gunnison Basin Roundtable’s primary goal is to “protect existing water uses in the Gunnison Basin.” Agriculture (mostly grass and alfalfa hay, but also pasture, fruit trees, wine grapes and the famous Olathe Sweet Sweet Corn) accounts for approximately 90 percent of the basin’s water consumption. In addition to its intrinsic value, irrigated agriculture is also seen as supporting other valuable attributes of the basin’s landscape. It provides the aesthetic “open space” important to the basin’s growing recreational economy, and the flood irrigation for high hay meadows slows the flow of water downstream, supporting late-season streamflows. Flood irrigation also creates wetland areas that nurture birds and other wildlife.

    Additional goals, supporting that primary goal of protecting existing water uses, include addressing municipal and industrial shortages, quantifying and protecting environmental and recreational water needs, and maintaining and modernizing critical water infrastructure, including hydropower.

    The Gunnison Basin Roundtable has also put forward a number of “statewide principles” for consideration by other basin roundtables. These principles warn of the hazards of new water projects on the Western Slope and encourage conservation and the development of local projects to meet local needs. Those principles are a response to the perception that Basin Roundtables in basins east of the Continental Divide continue to look west for new water supplies, despite the fact that additional depletions from the West Slope could increase the risk that Colorado may not be able to meet its contractual obligations to the downstream states that share the Colorado River.

    The basin roundtables are working to collect public input on water needs and priorities as well as to technically analyze supplies and demands. In order to learn more and take a survey to contribute your insights, go to http://www.ugrwcd.org and click on “Gunnison Basin Water Plan.”

    More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


    IBCC meeting recap: Front Range may not seek “annual firm yield” from future projects #ColoradoRiver #COWaterPlan

    April 2, 2014
    Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer's office

    Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer’s office

    From Aspen Journalism (Nelson Harvey):

    Mark Waage, the manager of water resources planning for the utility Denver Water, told a meeting of the Interbasin Compact Committee (IBCC) in Denver that Front Range interests are not necessarily seeking “firm yield,” or reliable annual supply, from a new trans-mountain diversion project, but instead could settle for diverting water only when a wet winter like this one gives the Western Slope and downstream consumers more than they need to satisfy existing water rights.

    “We are looking for wet year water,” said Waage after the meeting. “There are going to be wet years when we can develop more water. In dry periods, this project wouldn’t divert from the Colorado [River], and we would rely on [buying water rights from] Front Range agriculture instead,” along with reservoir and groundwater aquifer storage and mechanisms like rotational fallowing that permit farmers to temporarily lease their water rights to cities.

    The suggestion by Front Range interests that they’re willing to forego diversions during dry years stands in sharp contrast to their usual and long-standing insistence that “firm yield” for the Front Range from new trans-mountain diversion projects is inevitable.

    Existing diversion projects — like the Twin Lakes tunnel underneath the Continental Divide between the Roaring Fork and Arkansas river basins — already have the capacity to pipe as much as 600,000 acre-feet (roughly six Ruedi Reservoirs) of water to the Front Range each year…

    Just how much of the “new supply” sought by the Front Range will come from the Western Slope remains a looming question as officials work to draft a statewide water plan as ordered by Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper last year…

    In the meantime, members of the IBCC will now take the emerging framework for a new trans-mountain diversion project back to their respective roundtables for input, before drilling down further on the details in future meetings.

    Any agreement on a new project that parties on opposite sides of the Continental Divide can hammer out will likely be reflected in the statewide water plan. Still, the plan itself won’t explicitly endorse any proposed new projects.

    “We’re not going to pick winners and losers, or projects that are given a green light, so to speak, or a red light, so to speak,” said James Eklund, the executive director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, which oversees the IBCC and the roundtables.

    Eklund spoke at a meeting with state legislators on the statewide water plan that took place in February. “Instead what we’d like to do,” he said, “is focus on a regulatory path where we might be able to someday have the state endorsement of a project.”[...]

    For the IBCC members charged with protecting water supplies on the Western Slope, who have long clashed with Front Range cities over the idea of new trans-mountain diversion projects, Waage’s modest statement last week on behalf of Denver Water— vague and general though it was — sounded like something of a breakthrough.

    “They are now willing to talk about a project that’s not going to divert every year, and that’s new,” said Jim Pokrandt, communications and education director for the Colorado River District, which protects Western Slope water interests. “There seemed to be a coalescing around a project that would only work intermittently.”

    Eric Kuhn, the Colorado River District’s general manager, said that although Front Range water interests have long hinted that they might accept a new trans-mountain diversion project that doesn’t pull water every year, “this is the first time that the idea has surfaced with some consensus.”[...]

    Specifically where a new trans-mountain diversion project would be located also remains to be seen. Front Range interests have proposed several possibilities in recent years, including projects pulling anywhere between 100,000 and 250,000 acre feet from the Green River at Flaming Gorge Reservoir in Wyoming, from the lower Yampa River, or from the Gunnison River at Blue Mesa Reservoir west of Gunnison…

    Since many of the water rights now used by the Front Range to divert Western Slope water under the Continental Divide were adjudicated after 1922, there’s a chance that a so-called “compact call” would force some Front Range water interests to stop diverting water temporarily.

    Faced with the insatiable demand of their urban customer base, those Front Range interests could then begin leasing water from farmers on the Western Slope in order to continue their usual diversions, extending into western Colorado the practice of “buy and dry” water transfers from farms to cities that is now common on the Front Range.

    To alleviate fears of such a scenario playing out, Waage of Denver Water told the IBCC meeting last week that the Front Range would be willing to assume the “hydrologic or legal risk” associated with a new diversion project, meaning that diversions from the project would cease in the event of a compact call before Western Slope water users with more senior rights had to curtail their own use.

    “The risk of compact curtailment has been a stumbling block for years, and we are looking now at how to minimize and share that risk,” said Waage. “We need to look at water projects that won’t lead to the curtailment of the Western Slope’s Colorado Compact allocation.”[...]

    “I think to decide whether there is enough water, the Front Range would have to do a very detailed risk analysis,” said Kuhn of the Colorado River District. “Because of climate change, we know that the [water supply] baseline is going to change. I think most of the science suggests that we will not have more water in the future than we do now.”

    More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


    “They [Front Range] need to be making land use plans for themselves, instead of relying on us to save them” — Karn Stiegelmeier #ColoradoRiver #COWaterPlan

    April 1, 2014

    Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013

    Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013


    From the Summit Daily News (Alli Langley):

    Summit County’s struggle is meeting the water needs of growing communities while satisfying Front Range water rights established here in the 1930s and ’40s.

    “They need to be making land use plans for themselves,” said County Commissioner Karn Stiegelmeier, “instead of relying on us to save them.”[...]

    The Colorado Basin needs to rally around the idea of no additional water for other basins, said Peter Mueller, of the Nature Conservancy.

    Both Stiegelmeier and Mueller are part of the Colorado Basin Roundtable, one of nine groups of stakeholders created in 2006 by the Colorado Water for the 21st Century Act…

    In Frisco, water experts, local leaders and residents concerned about the future of water convened Wednesday to discuss the Colorado Basin Implementation Plan.

    The plan must show how the basin will produce the projected water needed by 2050, said Louis Meyer, the project manager for SGM, the civil engineering and surveying firm in Glenwood Springs creating the plan.

    More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


    Colorado Basin Implementation Plan Mesa County town hall meeting, April 3 #COWaterPlan

    March 31, 2014

    mesacountytownhallmeetingcowaterplan

    More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


    Gov. Hickenlooper powwows with the Club 20 Board #COWaterPlan

    March 30, 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 Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

    When Gov. John Hickenlooper sat down Friday for lunch with the board of directors of Club 20, the West Slope promotional organization, the pitcher at his table was emblazoned with a handwritten label: “Western Slope Water.”

    “I drink that stuff every day,” Hickenlooper told his lunch companions. He later urged Club 20 members and others to participate in the development of a statewide water plan, whatever their doubts or reservations about the process.

    The label was placed there by Harry Peroulis, a Club 20 member with ties to Mesa and Moffat counties, who said he was making sure the governor remembered where most of the state’s water originates.

    Colorado needs to keep more of its water, Hickenlooper told the organization, which weighs in regularly on water-related matters.

    One possible way to do that might be to raise the dams by 8 to 10 feet, increasing the amount of water that could be stored behind them.

    It would make more sense to expand an existing project rather than pursue a new one, Hickenlooper said later.

    The idea isn’t a part of the statewide water plan and he’s not throwing his support behind it, but, “intuitively, it makes sense,” Hickenlooper said afterward. He said he’d communicate it to statewide water planners.

    Hickenlooper broached his suggestion in response to a call by Ray Beck of Craig that the state devote more energy to increasing storage than to encouraging conservation, but it fit within the governor’s thought process that a statewide plan could benefit from broad participation.

    The “primary role” of the plan is to keep as much of the state’s water as possible, he said.

    Naysayers who doubt the process of drafting such a plan are much like those who told him he couldn’t build a brewery and restaurant in Denver, “And now there are 240 federally licensed breweries” in the state.

    Water managers and others involved in water management need to look at issues from different perspectives, he said.

    “There are almost always options that you don’t know about,” Hickenlooper said.

    The statewide water plan, which Hickenlooper kicked off last year, is to be complete in 2015.

    More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


    Durango: Southwestern Water Conservation District’s 32nd Annual Water Seminar, April 4 #COWaterPlan

    March 29, 2014
    Durango

    Durango

    From the Montrose Daily Press:

    A line-up of water experts on topics including Colorado’s water plan, water banking, and conservation, will speak at the Southwestern Water Conservation District’s 32nd Annual Water Seminar at the Doubletree Hotel (501 Camino del Rio) in Durango on Friday, April 4 from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

    Invited speakers include James Eklund, Colorado Water Conservation Board; John Stulp, Interbasin Compact Committee; and John McClow, Upper Colorado River Commission.
    Registration is $35 in advance or $40 at the door. To register online, visit http://www.swwcd.org. Mail-in registration forms are also available on the website. Registration will open at 8 a.m. on April 4.

    More Southwestern Colorado Water Conservation District coverage here.


    Grand Junction: Governor Hickenlooper addresses Club 20 #COWaterPlan

    March 29, 2014

    Grand Junction back in the day

    Grand Junction back in the day


    From KREXTV.com (Travis Khachatoorian):

    Water rights was the big topic of the day.

    “Water is critical to everyone, but in Western Colorado we’re very, very concerned about being able to access water to develop our own industries and our own communities,” said executive director of Club 20 Bonnie Petersen.

    Governor Hickenlooper spoke about his support for a statewide Colorado Water Plan. This would involve water basin officials from all corners of the state coming together for compromise on decisions regarding water distribution.

    “I think if we get everyone in the room together and get them frequent meetings so they get to know each other, I think there’s a real chance that the urban areas, the front range, the ranches, the agricultural users here on the Western Slope and the Eastern Plains, we can figure out the right compromises,” said Governor Hickenlooper.

    More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


    A look back at old-school irrigation efficiency — Greg Trainor #COWaterPlan

    March 28, 2014

    Flood irrigation -- photo via the CSU Water Center

    Flood irrigation — photo via the CSU Water Center


    From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Greg Trainor):

    In the early 1980s, I worked for the Atlantic Richfield Company (ARCO) on the Colony Oil Shale Venture at Parachute, Colo. I was a staff member in ARCO’s Community Development Group that was working on the development plans for the Battlement Mesa New Town. The New Town was designed to house the thousands of oil shale workers that were expected to move to western Colorado for oil-shale jobs.

    ARCO had been in the oil-shale business for some time and had purchased property on Battlement Mesa 30 years earlier in anticipation of oil-shale development. Upon purchase of these properties, ARCO leased the lands back to the original owners, allowing them to continue farming and using the water rights attached to the ranch lands. This continuation of use of the agricultural water rights ensured that the rights would not be abandoned, and the water would be available when the oil shale industry had need for it.

    One of my responsibilities with ARCO was to manage these leased ranch lands, working with previous owners, tracking water use, and ensuring a communication link between the land owner (ARCO) and the ranch lessees.

    One of ARCO’s lessees was a man named Dan Duplice, a sheep herder and farmer. Dan lived on Battlement Mesa and owned a band of sheep that traveled each summer from Battlement Mesa, across the Colorado River, and up the steep, hair-raising trails that connected the Colorado River valley floor with the thousand-foot-thick horizontal bands of the oil shale cliffs. At the top of these cliffs were the spruce-fir zones and open, grassed parks of the Roan Plateau.

    Dan had farm lands on Battlement Mesa that were fed by a small ditch that crisscrossed the lower elevations of the mountains that rose above Dan’s farm. Known as “Pete” and “Bill,” these peaks held snow at high elevations as well as on their lower slopes. It was the “low water” that Dan, and now ARCO, had rights to. With an early and short run-off of this “low water,” Dan had to take early advantage of the flow when it appeared.

    On my travels of Battlement Mesa, I would find Dan standing at the head of his alfalfa fields where the ditch emptied into his laterals. He would carefully bring the water to his creases, allowing only enough water down the crease to wet it down to the end of the field. Then he would move the water from one set of creases over to a new set and repeat the process. Dan would stand there with his shovel, husbanding the flow down the field, making sure that it got the water it needed and that no water left the bottom of his fields.

    Having spent most of my adult life in western Colorado, I was more used to standard “flood irrigation,” where irrigators would open up their laterals and flood their fields with all the water the creases would carry. Then, leaving their sets to return later in the day, irrigators would allow their water to flow down across the field and out the end of the field as return flow, usually into the small drainages that would carry the return water to the Colorado River.

    Today I participate in the Colorado Basin Roundtable, one of nine roundtables across Colorado working on development of the Colorado Water Plan, which the governor says is supposed to point the way forward to meeting the needs of growing cities and towns while also preserving agriculture, the environment and recreational opportunities. It’s a tall order.

    Agricultural water efficiency improvements are often suggested as a tool to address shortages and to leave more water in streams for environmental and recreational purposes. As I participate in the discussions, I think of Dan Duplice and my observations of him 34 years ago.

    Dan Duplice invested a significant amount of time to the special care of the flow and management of the available water. Despite the small amount of water carried by his ditch, the result was the production of an incredible amount of tall, thick alfalfa before this ditch water trickled out.

    In times of drought and increased competition for water, the kind of careful management of water practiced by Dan Duplice may have to become more widespread. His experience showed that good yields can still be had when water is tight — but it’s not easy. He spent a lot of time in those fields with a shovel.

    More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


    Recently executed agreement designed to increase river health in the Upper #ColoradoRiver and Fraser River

    March 26, 2014
    Ike enjoying the Fraser River back in the day

    Ike enjoying the Fraser River back in the day

    From the Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

    Grand County is that part of the snow-rich Western Slope most proximate to the farms and cities of the Front Range. It juts like a thumb eastward, the most easterly point of the Pacific drainage in North America.

    As such, it became a target, early and often, of transmountain diversions. The first major diversion across the Continental Divide was completed in 1890 and the last, located at Windy Gap, where the Fraser River flows into the Colorado, in 1985. Several others, more audacious in scale, came between.

    Taken together, these great engineering achievements annually draw 60 percent or more of the native flows of this headwater region eastward, over and through the Continental Divide. The water delivered to cities between Denver and Fort Collins have made them among the most vibrant in the country, and the water that flows to farms as far east as Julesberg, hundreds of miles away, among the nation’s most productive.

    But this achievement has had a hidden cost that became more apparent in recent years. Combined with the frequent drought since 2000, the depletions have left the Colorado River shallow and warm as it flows through Middle Park. It is, according to environmental advocates, a river on the edge of ecological collapse, unable to support sculpin, trout, and other fish…

    Now come new efforts, the most recent announced earlier this month, to bring the Colorado River and its tributaries back from this brink.

    Called the Mitigation and Enhancement Coordination Plan, the agreement between Denver Water, Grand County, and Trout Unlimited proposes to govern Denver’s incremental diversions through the Continental Divide known as the Moffat firming project. However, according to the architects of the deal, it should also serve as a model in the ongoing dialogue as Colorado’s growing metropolitan areas look to squeeze out the final drops of the state’s entitlements to the Colorado River, as defined by the Colorado River compact of 1922 and other compacts.

    “It is a demonstration of a new way of doing business that should be a model as Colorado talks about meeting its water gaps (between demands and supplies),” says Jim Lochhead, chief executive of Denver Water…

    David Taussig, a native of Grand County and now the county’s water attorney, working from the 16th Street firm of White & Jankowski in downtown Denver, also sees the agreement as a model. “Nobody knows what (the agreements) will look like, but there are ways to develop things that benefit the Western Slope,” he says.

    There are skeptics, unable to explain this strange alchemy in which a river can in any way benefit from having less water, as the agreement insists can be the case.

    Among those withholding enthusiasm is Matt Rice, the Colorado coordinator for American Rivers. He points out that the agreement covers just 4 of the 32 creeks and streams trapped by Denver Water in the Fraser Valley and the adjoining Williams Fork. Too, like too many other similar programs, the data collection begins after permits are awarded, not before, which he thinks is backward.

    In short, while Denver is careful to talk about “enhancements,” he thinks it falls short of addressing full, cumulative impacts.

    Cumulative impacts are likely to be a focal point of federal permitting. While the Environmental Protection Agency is likely to have a voice, the vital 404 permit must come from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The parties to the new agreement have asked that their agreement be incorporated into the permit…

    Under terms of this agreement, however, Denver Water is required to spend $10 million in direct costs in Grand County.

    A major concern on the Fraser River is higher temperatures caused by more shallow flows, harmful or even deadly to fish. The money would go to such things as temperature-monitoring stations, to track how warm the Fraser is getting in summer months.

    In places, creeks and the Fraser River will be rechanneled. A river with 75 percent of its flows diminished over a year’s cycle has less need for width. Instead, it needs a narrower course, to allow more depth and hence the colder water needed for aquatic life. Such work was already started several years ago on a segment near the Safeway store in Fraser.

    A far greater financial cost to Denver specified by the agreement is the agency’s commitment to forfeit up to 2,500 acre-feet annually of the city’s added 18,700 acre-foot take…

    A final environmental impact statement from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is expected in late April. The federal agency can also impose conditions of its own making. They would be included in a record-of-decision, which is expected to be issued in late 2015.

    A permit from the Colorado Department of Health and Environment is also needed. Boulder County insists it also has say-so over enlargement of Gross Reservoir, an assertion contested by Denver Water.

    In addition, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission must award a permit for revised hydroelectric generation at Gross.

    At earliest, expansion of Gross could start in 2018 and be ready to capture spring runoff in 2022…

    Mely Whiting, an attorney for Trout Unlimited, says the new deal builds on both the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement and the Windy Gap settlements. They mesh together and, downstream from Windy Gap, should have great benefit.

    The weakness is that in the Fraser Valley, there is little existing baseline data. “We don’t have a very good grasp on either what we have lost or what we may lose in the future,” she says. “We know there have been declines, but don’t have nearly as much information (as below Windy Gap). So the effort will be to develop a strong baseline and get a strong understanding of what is going on up there.”

    At the end of the day it is a compromise, and Whiting admits that not all environmentalists are thrilled.

    “On my side of the equation, when I talk to people in the conservation community, some people want language that nails Denver to the ground, so that they have no wiggle room. They want things very predictable,” she says.

    “This Learning by Doing agreement is not extremely predictable,” she added. “We have some basic parameters. There are three ways we are going to measure, to monitor to make sure the values of the streams aren’t going down.”

    More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.


    Progressive 15 will host a Water Summit this Friday in Fort Morgan #COWaterPlan

    March 25, 2014
    Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013

    Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013

    From The Fort Morgan Times (Jenni Grubbs):

    The nonprofit advocacy group will host a Water Summit this Friday in Fort Morgan. The various speakers will discuss topics that will educate their audience about water and its importance to Colorado, according to a press release…

    John Stulp, the governor’s special policy advisor on water and former state agriculture commissioner, will speak at the forum about the Colorado Plan for water, according to the release.

    The South Platte and Republican rivers will the subject of another session, with Deb Daniel and Jim Yahn as the speakers.

    Public legislation related to water will be the focus of Joe Frank’s talk, which will include the potential local impacts to water rights and use of proposed legislation.

    Jerry Gibbens will provide an update on the Northern Integrated Storage Project, which is a proposed massive water storage project that would build two reservoirs, with one near Fort Collins and one near Ault.

    The featured luncheon speaker will be Treste Huse from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, who will provide forecasts for moisture and potential flooding issues.

    The summit will end with a panel discussion featuring people who represent different ideas and thoughts on the roles water will play in future plans and how it could impact on the northeast Colorado economy…

    Reservations are required and can be placed online at progressive15.org, by calling 970-867-9167 or by email to cathy@progressive15.org.

    More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


    Eagle Valley meeting on the #COWaterPlan, March 27

    March 24, 2014

    avonJackaffleck
    Click here for the pitch. Here’s an excerpt:

    Thursday, March 27th
    Eagle Valley “Town Hall” Meeting on the Colorado Water Plan
    6 to 8 pm @ Walking Mountains Science Center, Avon

    Did you know that Colorado is one of only a few states in the West operating without a formal water plan? As of May 2013, that is changing. Gov. Hickenlooper has asked to have a draft of the State’s Water Plan on his desk in December of 2014 with the final completed in December of 2015.

    For this process, Colorado has been divided into 9 river basins, each responsible for outlining their values, priorities, goals, and objectives moving forward. Here in the Eagle Valley, we fall into the Colorado River Basin and the draft of our Basin Implementation Plan is due in July. This process seeks much public input; now is the time for you to learn more about the Statewide Water Plan and give your feedback!

    Please join us for this very important evening of learning and sharing. We need your help to make sure the Colorado Water Plan reflects the needs and concerns of the Eagle Valley moving into the future.

    More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


    The Colorado Springs Regional Business Alliance is hosting a business briefing about the #COWaterPlan on April 2

    March 24, 2014
    Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013

    Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013

    From The Colorado Springs Gazette:

    In Colorado, water is as precious as a rare diamond, though much easier to get your hands on – at least for now.

    The future may be another matter.

    Frequent droughts, an increasing population and greater demand for water have elected officials, conservationists and the business community worried about the future of Colorado’s water supply.

    The specter of future shortages prompted Gov. John Hickenlooper to issue an executive order last year to establish a statewide water plan, said Wayne Vanderschuere, general manager for water resources for Colorado Springs Utilities. The initiative involves people from various statewide water basins coming together to discuss how best to conserve, share, find, develop and expand the existing water supply, Vanderschuere said.

    Against this backdrop, business and conservation groups are holding statewide meetings to hear what corporate executives and small-business owners have to say on the importance of water to their ventures, and to get their ideas on conservation and other steps that could be added to the governor’s plan.

    “A reliable and sustainable water supply is critical for long-term economic viability,” said Joe Raso, president and chief executive officer of the Colorado Springs Regional Business Alliance, which is hosting an April 2 briefing for the business community on the governor’s water plan.

    It’s not just having enough water for existing businesses, Raso said. Even a perception that the city and state might be struggling to maintain its water supply could crush business growth, he said. Water usage is a primary cost of business for major industries and accounts for at least a portion of all small business costs. The cost to provide sufficient water in the future could increase utility prices beyond the average business owner’s ability to pay, Raso said. Those costs also encourage larger businesses to move or locate elsewhere, he said.

    “If you have a company that decides the state and Colorado Springs is too expensive for their processes, or if they are worried about the impact of their water usage on the community, then they will locate elsewhere,” he said.

    Less water flowing in

    Four things must happen with the state’s water supply to keep the commodity from becoming a burden to businesses, said Bryan Blakely, president of Accelerate Colorado, one of two organizations making the April 2 presentation in Colorado Springs.

    “We are looking for efficiency, predictability, reliability and cost control,” said Blakely, whose organization pairs state businesses and local governments to work with Congress on issues related to the state’s economic development.

    He said one of the primary ways the state could increase available water is construct additional systems that would capture and store more of the state’s snow and rain runoff. Capturing and storing more in years of abundant snow and rainfall would provide additional supplies in dry years, Blakely said.

    “There is a lot of water flowing out of the state of Colorado that we have the rights to,” he said, “but we don’t have anywhere to store it.”

    There is also a lot less water flowing into the state.

    From 2001 through 2010, the Colorado River flow averaged 16 percent below the 20th century average, according to Environmental Entrepreneurs, “a national community of business leaders who promote sound environmental policy that builds economic prosperity,” according to its website, e2.org.

    The group’s research, “Colorado Water Supply and Climate Change: A Business Perspective,” states that “from 1999 through 2005, Lake Powell, the Colorado River reservoir designed to ensure delivery of water to the lower basin, fell from 99 percent of capacity to 33 percent, a sharper decline than thought possible.”

    Cooperation is key

    Solving the state’s water problems will involve the implementation of several ideas. E2 has said the governor’s plan must include a goal of reducing per capita urban water use by 25 percent by 2025 and by 50 percent by 2050. It also wants the state to “require all water providers to adopt water rates that create incentives for water conservation” and expand water reuse programs.

    Vanderschuere said finding a solution will require cooperation between governments, organizations and people.

    And there will be challenges. Agricultural enterprises, including farms and ranches, account for about 86 percent of the state’s annual water usage annually. But Colorado law is written so that it’s unlikely the state or any municipality could reduce the amount of water used by agriculture, even in lean years.

    Still, Vanderschuere said those in agriculture have been the most willing to help when it comes to droughts.

    “At least once a week I get someone calling me trying to lease us their water rights,” he said. “And we have had leases from ag in the past and will do so in the future.”

    If that’s the case, why worry?

    “The problem is getting the water from the farms to the urban area,” Vanderschuere said.

    Pumping, transporting, treating and distributing water from farms sometimes can be too costly for the amount of water received. Vanderschuere believes the state could develop ways to capture Colorado’s remaining allotment off the Colorado River, which also supplies water to Arizona, California and Nevada. He said Colorado has “a very specific allocation under the law of the river,” but right now the state is not using its full legal portion.

    “What is important is recognizing on the statewide perspective that there is an increasing gap in the water supply and water demand,” he said, “and with the state population expected to double by 2050, that is not very far off in water time.”

    While the population growth could be good for business in terms of having more customers, any real or perceived water shortage could stymie future business growth. Hence, the series of roundtables in each of Colorado’s eight major water basins to work on the governor’s initiative.

    Vanderschuere said the statewide water meetings are important because it takes decades to create solutions to water problems. He used the term “water time” to describe the time it takes to plan, design, permit, construct and start the flow of water through a new project. For example, he said the Southern Delivery System will be completed in 2016, but the project was envisioned in the 1980s, planned in 1990s and permitted around 2010.

    Contact Ned Hunter: 636-0275.

    DETAILS

    The Colorado Springs Regional Business Alliance is hosting Accelerate Colorado and the Colorado Competitive Council for a business briefing on Gov. Hickenlooper’s statewide water plan, “and to help finalize a new set of statewide business community water policy principles that address the business and economic development needs of Colorado,” according to the alliance’s website,

    WHEN: 8-9:30 a.m. April 2

    WHERE: Antlers Hilton, 4 S. Cascade Avenue

    COST: Free

    ETC: Register online at http://bit.ly/1dnvZi6. For more information, contact Shawn Dahlberg at 884-2832.

    More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


    ‘The BLM plays in the same sandbox as every other’ [water rights owner] — Paul Tigan #COWaterPlan

    March 22, 2014
    Blanca Wetlands via the National Park Service

    Blanca Wetlands via the National Park Service

    From the Valley Courier (Paul Tigan):

    This is the sixth article in the series from the Rio Grande Basin Roundtable, regarding the implementation of the Basin Water Plan. ing of the Bureau of Land Management, or BLM, what comes to mind? Is it livestock ranching? Oil and gas development ? Maybe it’s rock climbing at Penitente Canyon , or watching wildlife and birds at Blanca Wetlands. Perhaps it’s a trip to BLM lands every fall to sight in your rifle in the hopes of dropping a trophy bull on the opening morning of the first elk season.

    “The mission of the BLM is to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of the public lands for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations”. This mission is remarkably complex. As the San Luis Valley Field Office Manager likes to say “it’s not rocket science it’s more complicated.”

    It requires the BLM to not only balance “multiple uses” in the present day, but also consider how the American people may need those resources far into an unknown future.

    Here in the San Luis Valley, the BLM manages just over 500,000 acres of land according to this mission. Dozens of livestock ranching operations depend on the health of the BLM land; so too dozens of threatened, endangered, and special status wildlife and plant species. Some public lands have been set aside to be studied for future preservation, such as the San Luis Hills, while others have been designated for development as solar energy sites to serve future energy needs for the nation. And many uses share the same acre of public land like the new gravity-assisted mountain bike trail at Zapata Falls, but keep an eye out for the cattle on the same trail. And wear a helmet!

    But like every other person or entity that manages land in the San Luis Valley, there is one resource in short supply for the BLM water. It may surprise some to learn that the BLM (and every other federal land management agency) is required by federal law to adhere to the state-managed water appropriation systems. When it comes to water management, the BLM plays in the same sandbox as every other farmer, rancher, city, and conservation district.

    Many people might think of the BLM’s water needs as “non-consumptive ,” that is, resources need water but don’t “use” it the way a farm might use it. For some areas, this is true. People who enjoy float-boating on the Rio Grande depend on water to get from Las Sauces to the Lobatos Bridge, or further south into the Rio Grande Gorge. Similarly, aquatic species, such as trout, depend on certain water conditions at particular times of the year to breed and sustain their populations. People who enjoy fishing depend on the water as well. But the San Luis Valley Field Office also uses water, within the appropriation system, to support a diverse array of habitats and uses. The BLM holds dozens of water rights across the SLV for the benefit of livestock grazing operations. These rights generally stem from natural springs and utilize small infrastructure systems to make them useful. Perhaps more dramatically, the BLM also irrigates thousands of acres of land for the benefit of many plant and wildlife species. That management not only sustains those critical species habitats, but also leads to incredible recreation opportunities , such as wildlife viewing and waterfowl hunting.

    It would be difficult to overstate the importance of the Blanca Wetlands, a habitat restoration effort that began in the 1960s and continues to this day. The BLM uses more than 40 wells and some water from the Closed Basin Project to wet and dry about 2000 acres of historic and restored wetland playa habitat. These acres support 13 threatened, endangered, and sensitive species and over 160 species of birds. The wetlands are also an important calving and fawning area for big game species. Blanca Wetlands maintains Colorado’s largest population of western snowy plover and supports a number of waterbird species of regional, national, and even hemispheric importance.

    But the Blanca Wetlands isn’t just for the birds. One of the great joys of the BLM staff is watching the public engage these incredible resources just 20 minutes from Alamosa. Whether it is a kindergartener walking out into a playa barefoot to catch a fairy shrimp in a bucket, or a high school student receiving national recognition for her research, a living laboratory like the Blanca Wetlands connects people to the natural world in ways that no iPad app can.

    But like every water user who pumps groundwater to stay in business, the BLM faces an uncertain future with augmentation requirements from the State of Colorado. The BLM is not currently a party to any of the subdistricts but has worked with the state to define its augmentation responsibilities for groundwater pumping and will meet those responsibilities. These habitats are too important to dry up. They serve not only the diversity and health of the public lands, but also the American people.

    As the Rio Grande Basin goes through an era of unprecedented change, the BLM is committed to partnering with other water managers to ensure the Rio Grande Basin of the future enjoys the same broad array of natural resources that contribute to quality of life and a strong and diverse economy. The habitats and resources we manage will be as important 100 years from now as they are today, and water will continue to be the defining feature of these resources.

    The BLM is and active partner in the Rio Grande Basin Water Plan, to become a part of the stakeholder process get involved in one of three ways: 1) attend 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) or; 2) send comments directly to http://www.riograndewaterplan. com and; 3) attend any one of the BIP subcommittee meetings that can be found on the BIP website. The lead consultant and local liaison from DiNatale Water Consultants is Tom Spezze. Tom can be contacted at tom@ dinatalewater.com. To be considered, submit input to the Basin Roundtable by March 31.

    More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


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