Colorado’s river economy worth $9 billion — High Country News #COWaterPlan #ColoradoRiver

October 3, 2014


From the High Country News (Sarah Tory):

When Governor Hickenlooper issued his executive order last year to create a state Water Plan, he charged the Colorado Water Conservation Board with the task and they, in turn, looked to the Basin Roundtables for their ideas about what the overall plan should include. The goal said, James Eklund, the Board’s Director, was to tackle Colorado’s water problems “as one unit.”

That’s the theory at least. But with the Roundtables dominated by municipal and agricultural interests, other groups are struggling to make their voices heard.

On September 10, a group of Colorado business leaders made their case for the “river-based economy” at the Colorado Water Conservation Board meeting in Glenwood Springs, where members of the public could comment on draft sections of the plan.

The setting was fitting: nearby, the rugged Glenwood Canyon runs alongside the busy I-70 corridor. A good portion of the town’s economy revolves around people coming to fish and raft on the Colorado River which carves through the canyon walls, but that river, like so many on the West Slope – where the majority of Colorado’s water lies – is shrinking. Every year, 180 billion gallons of water are sucked from rivers flowing west of the Continental Divide through a vast system of tunnels and pipes to thirsty farms and cities along the dry Front Range.

Now, faced with a growing gap between water supply and demand, they need more. In their draft plans, released in July, East Slope Basins like the South Platte emphasize the need “to consider new Colorado River supply options to meet future water demands” – which means keeping open the possibility of pulling more water from west to east through new transmountain diversions. But those plans, say members of Colorado’s outdoor recreation, real estate, and tourism industries, jeopardize a $9 billion dollar economy that hinges on healthy rivers – and supports more than 80,000 jobs in the state.

Graphic via the High Country News

Graphic via the High Country News

A report commissioned by Protect The Flows found that if the Colorado River was a company, it would rank 155th on the 2011 Fortune 500 list (those numbers are based just off of the revenue and jobs provided by the outdoor recreation industry), ahead of General Mills and US airways. It would also be the 19th biggest employer on the list.

“It’s really pure economics for us,” says Dennis Saffell, a realtor from Grand County. Factoring in all the indirect beneficiaries of Colorado’s rivers means the true economic value is likely much greater, he added, citing a recent report that found declining river flows across the Southwest could significantly hurt home prices…

Protect Our Flows wants the statewide plan to place more emphasis on smart water management and remove the option of building new transmountain diversions. The group is pressing the Colorado Water Conservation Board to set concrete statewide conservation goals in the Water Plan, especially for towns and cities – something most other Western states have, but Colorado is lacking.

Both Mackey and Saffell noted that although most of the Basin Roundtables recognize the economic value of healthy rivers, far fewer have actually quantified those benefits – or included specific language to protect stream flows. Since each Basin’s recommendations lay the foundation for the statewide plan, it’s essential that all of them include concrete standards.

But the river advocates are up against some strong, well-entrenched political forces. They pointed to the big agriculture and municipal interests that drive a large chunk of Colorado’s economy – and hold much of the power at the Basin Roundtables.

In comparison, the recreation economy is “the new kid on the block,”, says Mackey, who grew up skiing on wood skis and cable bindings. “I’m a sixty year old man and Patagonia, The North Face, the Vail Ski Resort – these companies grew up in my lifetime,” he added. “So we really need to push our way into the conversation.”

And there’s another challenge: Colorado’s water laws. Most were written in the late 1800’s and though a few modifications have occurred over the years, the laws still reinforce a “use it or lose it” mentality, which makes it difficult to implement conservation strategies. Thanks to those laws, says Saffell, farmers and cities have a legal right to keep using more water.

Think of it this way, he added: if we had the same traffic laws as we did 150 years ago when the water laws were written, it would be utter chaos. Most laws change to accommodate new realities, says Saffell, “but for some reason our water laws are untouchable.”

Instead, “we need to get away from this concept that any water left in the river is wasted water because it’s not being put to beneficial use,” he said.

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


Colorado Flood Updates offline until spring

September 30, 2014

Southwestern basin implementation plan ready for comment #COWaterPlan

September 26, 2014
San Juan River from Wolf Creek Pass

San Juan River from Wolf Creek Pass

From the Pagosa Sun (Ed Fincher):

Laura Spann from the Southwestern Water Conservation District in Durango announced yesterday the release of The Southwest Basin Implementation Plan (BIP), which can be found under the “community” tab on the Colorado Water Plan website http://www.coloradowaterplan.com.

The local portion of the state plan can be accessed by clicking on “San Juan and Dolores River Basin” under the community tab. The resulting page states, “Residents and interested parties are encouraged to participate in the Basin Implementation Plan process. As the process moves forward, documents relating to the plan will be posted here.” There are currently two documents on the page available for download.

While the website allows for electronic comments to be made concerning the broader Colorado Water Plan, Spann asks that interested members of the public direct any comments specifically about the southwest portion of the plan to Carrie Lile via email at carrie@durangowater.com or phone, 259-5322…

The website goes on to explain, “The Southwest Basin is located in the southwest corner of Colorado and covers an area of approximately 10,169 square miles. The largest cities within the basin are Durango (pop. 15,213) and Cortez (pop. 8,328). The region also includes three ski areas: Telluride, Wolf Creek and Durango Mountain Resort.”

The website concludes, “The Southwest Basin is projected to increase in municipal and industrial (M&I) water demand between 17,000 acre feet (AF) and 27,000 AF by 2050 with passive conservation included.”

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


Human fingerprints on 2013 floods — Mountain Town News #COflood

September 25, 2014
Climate Change in Colorado report for the CWCB from the Western Water Assessment and CIRES

Climate Change in Colorado report for the CWCB from the Western Water Assessment and CIRES

From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

Human fingerprints were not evident in the floods along Colorado’s Front Range in September 2013—at least not clearly.

“Because human changes have made the global atmosphere warmer and more moist, one can confidently state that all weather events are now subject to some influence of anthropogenic climate change,” says “Climate Change in Colorado.” A warmer atmosphere can hold more water, and the global atmosphere is estimated to have 3 to 5 percent more water as a result of anthropogenic, or human-caused, warming.

That alone “may have increased the source moisture for the event and increased the intensity of heavy rainfall,” the report adds.

But the weather pattern in September 2013 that dumped up to 18 inches of rainfall across portions of the Colorado foothills “was rare but not unprecedented, and climate change does not need to be involved to explain the pattern itself … The historical record strongly suggests that a flood event of the extent and magnitude of September 2013 could occur even in the absence of climate change.”

A report examining the link between anthropogenic warming and the 2013 floods is to be published by the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, but the conclusions there are not expected to conflict with these findings.

More South Platte River Basin coverage here.


MSU: Water Resources Review Committee, October 1 #COWaterPlan

September 24, 2014

Urban, agricultural communities clash over #COWaterPlan — The Greeley Tribune

September 23, 2014

Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013

Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013


From The Greeley Tribune (Kayla Young):

By 2050, projections place Northern Colorado’s population at double its current level — a forecast that threatens to not only challenge but possibly tap out the region’s water resources. In the South Platte Water Basin, a 22,000-square mile district including Weld County, this population boom could equate to major water shortages in the not-so-distant future.

Concerns regarding population and water resource management fueled public questions at the Fort Collins Senior Center on Wednesday at the eighth of nine statewide meetings to gather public input on the Colorado Water Plan. The public discussion is the result of ongoing state legislative efforts, jump started by an executive order from Gov. John Hickenlooper in 2013 calling for input on a plan to tackle the looming water crisis.

As the district with the largest population and greatest need for irrigation water, the South Platte Water Basin has captured particular concern from policymakers looking to balance urban water needs with agriculture. Current consumption in the district has already neared maximum supply capacity, according to data provided by the South Platte Basin Roundtable.

While the district’s water supply capacity maxes out at 736,000 acre-feet per year, water needs for 2050 are estimated to reach over 1.1 million acre feet.

The opinions voiced at the meetings will contribute to a draft submission of a statewide water management plan to Hickenlooper in December. The final Colorado Water Plan is slated for final submission to the governor in December 2015.

Municipal vs. agricultural priorities

The South Platte meeting drew 100 people, the most of all public meetings to date. Attendees reflected the sharp disconnect between concerns of urban populations and those of agricultural communities.

While farmers at the meeting advocated for greater water storage capacity to ease pressure on agricultural allotments, Fort Collins residents expressed concern that tentative reservoir plans such as the Northern Integrated Supply Project would diminish the beauty and value of the Poudre River.

Rather than turn to major reservoir projects, community members like Gina Janette, a former member of the Fort Collins Water Board, proposed a greater focus on demand management. In Fort Collins, she said such efforts have been effective in reducing per capita water consumption.

Fort Morgan dairy farmer Chris Kraft appealed to city residents by reminding them that farmers keep food on our tables and rely on water resources to do so.

“This has no intention of hurting the Poudre River. If we could understand the priority system, this project would help rather than hurt the river. Our community of Fort Morgan would be one of the beneficiaries of the water storage project,” he said, encouraging policymakers in attendance to streamline water storage efforts.

The divide arises from community members who value greater green spaces versus farmers who prioritize the economic value brought from rivers and reservoirs, said Reagan M. Waskom III, director of CSU’s Colorado Water Institute.

“Here in Fort Collins, the community likes the river how it is and they don’t want to see any further depletions, so there is a great deal of opposition here to new reservoir projects,” Waskom said.

“What ag understands is that those projects are not going to create ag water but will take pressure off of them. Their thinking is that if Greeley, Eaton, Ault and Fort Morgan get water from NISP, it’s water that they don’t have to source from ag.”

Another part of the Colorado Water Plan proposal involves alternative transfer mechanisms, a system that would place greater control of water resources in the hands of agriculture to enable better management in drought years.

“Frankly, this is not going to solve very many of our big problems, but it might in some cases — especially in communities like Greeley. Places like Greeley are excellent for this kind of system, if the city wants to do it,” Woskom said.

Sustainability concerns for agriculture

Current projections place irrigated farming acreage on a downward slope in the South Platte River Basin, particularly west of Interstate 25.

While a reduction in farmland equates to better land prices for those who maintain their properties, it casts into doubt the long-term viability of crops like grain and alfalfa in the region.

There are currently 830,000 acres of irrigated farmland in the district, representing 24 percent of the state total, according to data provided at Wednesday’s meeting. By 2050, acreage could drop to as low as 596,000.

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


Klaus Wolter’s forecasted SWE for January 1 and April 1, 2015 #COdrought

September 23, 2014

At last week’s Colorado River District Annual Seminar Jeff Lukas warned that the reliance on the April 1 snowpack to predict streamflow will be lessened by climate change. Nevertheless old habits die hard. Below are Klaus Wolter’s first passes at the January 1 and April 1 SWE, presented last week at the Colorado Water Conservation Board’s Water Availability Task Force meeting. Click here to view Klaus’ slides.

January 1, 2015 snow water equivalent prediction via Klaus Wolter

January 1, 2015 snow water equivalent prediction via Klaus Wolter

April 1, 2015 snow water equivalent predication via Klaus Wolter

April 1, 2015 snow water equivalent predication via Klaus Wolter


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