Colorado Water Congress Summer Conference recap #COWaterPlan

August 21, 2014
Westin Snowmass Resort

Westin Snowmass Resort

From The Aspen Times (Jill Beathard):

Climate change is globally impacting natural resources, particularly water supplies, and that can’t go unchecked, U.S. Sen. Mark Udall said Wednesday in Snowmass Village.

Managing water supply is clearly a critical issue in the West, but it is also an issue of national and international security, Udall said to a crowd gathered for the Colorado Water Congress Summer Conference at the Westin Snowmass Conference Center. Between now and 2040, the world’s water supply will not keep up with demand without better management, according to a recent assessment by the director of National Intelligence, Udall said.

“Water problems will hinder the ability of key countries to produce food and energy … hobbling economic growth here and around the world,” Udall said. “In turn, that will increase the risk of political instability, state failure and mounting regional tensions.”

Global water consumption has tripled in the past 50 years, and furthermore, the supply is diminishing due to climate change, he said.

“Our climate is changing, and the only thing constant and predictable on the subject is science, which shows we can’t ignore the problem,” Udall said. “Despite the mountains of proof, the volumes of scientific and peer-reviewed articles, some lawmakers and many talking heads still refuse to recognize that climate change even exists, much less that federal and state governments have a role to play alongside the private sector in solving it.”[...]

That stance is what sets him apart from his opponent in the upcoming Senate election, U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner, who also spoke to the Water Congress on Wednesday. Gardner doesn’t acknowledge that climate change is occurring, Udall said.

Without looking at the facts, legislators will not be working toward a solution that “maintains our special way of life” in Colorado, Udall said.

The Colorado River reaches 40 million people, and as the headwater state, Colorado has to fight to protect its interests from being overshadowed by those of downstream users, Udall said.

That is part of the role of Colorado’s representatives in Congress, by advocating to protect the state’s water rights as well as educating senators from parts of the country that are not faced with the same tight resources, Udall said.

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

Three members of Colorado’s Congressional delegation spoke on Wednesday in Snowmass Village at the annual summer convention of the Colorado Water Congress, which represents the interests of water providers and owners at the Colorado state house and in Washington, D.C.

Republican congressmen Cory Gardner and Scott Tipton spoke at lunch on the opening of the three-day water conference, while Sen. Mark Udall, a Democrat, spoke in an afternoon session. Also speaking in the afternoon was Abel Tapia, a Democrat from Pueblo who is challenging Tipton for his 3rd Congressional District seat.

Rep. Gardner, who is running against Udall for Senate, called for new water storage projects to be built in Colorado.

“I believe we have to focus on water storage, what we can do to move forward on common-sense, water-storage projects,” Gardner said. “If we were to build every water project on the books today and every one that’s under construction, we are still short of water into the future. And how are we going to meet the needs of industry and agriculture and our communities if we don’t store more water?”

Gardner called for simplifying the permitting process for water projects, including new dams and reservoirs, and said he wants to see federal, state and local partnerships formed to help pay for new projects.

And Gardner said he wanted to “stop and defeat” a new proposed rule from the EPA that would clarify the definition of “waters of the U.S.”

“Almost every molecule of water could come under the jurisdiction of that new rule the way it is currently written,” Gardner said.

The EPA, on its website about the proposed rule change, states that “the proposed rule does not protect any new types of waters that have not historically been covered under the Clean Water Act.” [ed. emphasis mine]

Rep. Scott Tipton also denounced the EPA’s proposed rule change.

“That’s going to have a regulatory impact and cost to us and it’s effectively going to be a taking,” Tipton said, “because if the EPA can step in this room and start to tell the state of Colorado, start to tell the western United States, how our water is going to be handled, we’re going to be stripping our farm and ranch community of the ability to be able to grow our crops, our communities to be able to grow and to be able to prosper and to be able to create jobs and certainty for our children to be able to have a prosperous future.”

After he spoke, Tipton was asked a question by Pitkin County commissioner Rachel Richards, who sits on the Colorado River Basin Roundtable, which is helping to shape the state’s forthcoming Colorado Water Plan.

“One of our big uncertainties is really water availability,” Richards said, noting that projections show that climate change could reduce water supplies in Colorado by 15 percent. “What is your position on climate change?”

“I always like to be able to say on climate change, I grew up in the shadow of some of the greatest climate change this nation’s ever seen — it’s called the Rocky Mountains,” Tipton answered lightly. “I guarantee you, the climate will change. And it will continue to do so. Unfortunately, we have some people that try and make this a political issue, for some reason.”

Sen. Udall had a different take on the subject.

“Our climate is changing, and the only thing constant or predictable on the subject is science that shows we can’t ignore the problem,” Udall said during his remarks to the crowd at the conference center in Snowmass.

“Rising temperatures and ongoing drought are only exacerbating the pressure on our river basins by contributing to insufficient rainfall and snowpack,” Udall said. “This has led to dwindling reservoir levels, leaving water managers in this room and across the state with difficult decisions on how to meet the water needs of cities, farmers and the environment.”

The Colorado Water Congress meeting runs through Friday noon in Snowmass.

From The Durango Herald (Peter Marcus):

Just as the Colorado Water Congress kicked off its summer conference Wednesday, the political waters already were churning as the state’s U.S. Senate candidates traded jabs.

Democratic U.S. Sen. Mark Udall and Republican opponent U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner spoke at the premier summer conference on water issues.

Udall issued a news release at the start of the conference, attacking Gardner for supporting a 2008 ballot initiative when Gardner was a state representative that would have diverted millions from water projects to fund transportation. Amendment 52 would have redirected some gas and oil severance-tax revenues from water to highway projects.

The initiative was seen as a competing measure to another ballot question at the time, Amendment 58, that would have eliminated a state tax credit to increase severance-tax collection for college scholarships, among other areas.

Both ballot questions were rejected by voters.

“Senators have a duty to represent and protect the well-being of all Coloradans,” said former U.S. Sen. and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar in a news release issued by the Udall campaign.

Opponents of Amendment 52 pointed out at the time that three out-of-state energy companies contributed to the initiative.

“It is deeply disturbing that Congressman Gardner sided with out-of-state interests over the water needs of Colorado communities,” Salazar said. “Almost two-thirds of Colorado’s voters from every part of the state rejected Gardner’s scheme. Coloradans deserve better than Congressman Gardner.”

In a phone interview with The Durango Herald on Wednesday, as Gardner was driving to the Water Congress engagement, the congressman said Udall’s campaign was “running out of steam.”

“There’s a saying that I have for Mark Udall,” Gardner said. “Once again, Sen. Udall is missing the mark.”

Gardner turned the debate back on Udall, pointing out that the incumbent supported Amendment 58, which was viewed as being anti-energy industry. Gardner also said that Udall has shown no leadership on transportation, including easing congestion along Interstate 70.

“It’s a shame that Sen. Udall can’t even talk about how we need additional dollars for transportation and the water infrastructure in the state, he would rather resort to partisan attacks,” said Gardner.

The congressman said he would speak to the Water Congress about “federal intrusion,” including a proposed rule by the Environmental Protection Agency that would clarify regulatory authority under the Clean Water Act to protect streams and wetlands. Some farmers fear that the rule would allow the EPA to regulate small bodies of water, even ponds or puddles on their land.

Gardner also said he would discuss increased water-storage opportunities.

“I am passionate about water issues in Colorado I have been a leader at the state Legislature and U.S. Congress to protect Colorado water and Colorado water rights from intrusion,” Gardner said.

For his part, Udall was expected to speak to the Water Congress about how water is “the liquid gold that makes our lives possible.”

“Managing the supply and availability of our water is one of the most critical natural-resource issues facing the United States and the world,” Udall was expected to say, according to prepared remarks emailed to the Herald.

“The bottom line is, when it comes to water, we are living beyond our means,” Udall added. “And that’s a dangerous way to live.”

Udall used the opportunity to also highlight climate change, suggesting that the science is conclusive and Republicans continue to ignore concrete evidence.

“Yet, despite the mountains of proof, the volumes of scientific and peer-reviewed articles, some lawmakers and many talking heads still refuse to recognize that climate change even exists … much less that the federal and state governments have a role to play – alongside the private sector – in solving it,” Udall said. “Like you, I have made it one of my top priorities to protect our water and invest in our water infrastructure.”

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Hundreds of people are helping to write and thousands more taking in interest in a state water plan, a legislative committee learned Wednesday.

“This really shows that we’ve gotten to the point where people are taking a real interest in the plan,” John Stulp, who advises Gov. John Hickenlooper on water issues, told the Legislature’s interim committee on water resources.

The committee was thrust in the middle of the state water debate by SB14-115 in the last legislative session. It is kicking off its own hearings tonight in Glenwood Springs and then will embark on seven more in each of the basins.

The Arkansas River basin hearing will be 9 a.m.-noon Aug. 29 at the Robert Hoag Rawlings Public Library.

More than 1,000 separate comments were received by basin roundtables at 120 outreach meetings in developing implementation plans that were submitted to the Colorado Water Conservation Board last month.

More than 160,000 unique hits have been recorded on the website for the plan (coloradowaterplan. com) with 2 million page views, he added.

By mid-September, those comments will be integrated into draft chapters for review by the CWCB.

The basins are in agreement on many issues, including the need to preserve agriculture, conserve water, protect recreation and preserve the environment.

The Arkansas River basin also has pushed ahead the need for watershed health to anticipate and counteract the ravages drought and wildfire have had in recent years.

Basins also agree that storage or other types of water projects should have multiple benefits, interstate compacts present challenges and more education of the public on water issues is needed, Stulp said.

“You’ve said the basins work together, but how do we resolve fundamental conflicts,” state Sen. Gail Schwartz, DSnowmass Village, asked Stulp.

“At this point, we recognize areas of agreement and will address conflicts as we move forward,” Stulp replied.

The Interbasin Compact Committee, established in 2005 along with the roundtables, is moving ahead on resolving conflicts, he added. Recently, it reached a “conceptual agreement” on transmountain diversions.

Diane Mitsch-Bush, DSteamboat Springs, said the amount of water for energy development has been a moving target for Western Colorado and also needs to be given priority in the state water plan.

The water needs for both oil shale and hydraulic fracturing of oil and gas wells are being accounted for in the ongoing Statewide Water Supply Initiative, due for revision in 2016.

The draft state water plan is scheduled to be presented to the governor in December.

“This is a historic document we’re working on, and many people have had a part in it,” Stulp said.

From Aspen Public Radio (Marci Krinoven):

The Water Congress is an advocacy organization that gets involved with state and federal water issues, like water rights. The group’s annual summer conference brings together water managers, politicians and others involved in the resource. This week features candidates for a range of offices.

Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck was the first to speak. Regarding water, the republican says he’s developed a great pride for Northern Colorado.

“The pride is seeing people come together, work together and seeing people turn a desert into a very productive agricultural area. The frustration is seeing the government screw everything up.”[...]

Congressman Scott Tipton was up next. The republican touted his record including legislation signed into law last year that eliminates regulations on small-scale hydroelectric projects.

He spent much of his 10 minute talk criticizing regulations from the federal government. He highlighted the EPA’s “Waters of the U.S.” rulemaking, saying it gives the agency too much power.

“If the EPA can step in this room and start to tell the state of Colorado and the western United States how our water’s going to be handled, we’re going to be stripping our farming and ranching community of the ability to grow our crops,” he said.

The only question came from Pitkin County Commissioner Rachel Richards who asked Tipton about his position on climate change.

“I always like to be able to say with climate change, I grew up in the shadow of some of the greatest climate change this nation’s ever seen. It’s called the Rocky Mountains. I guarantee the climate will change, and it will continue to do so,” said Tipton.

Cory Gardner of Yuma began his talk by denigrating Congress, where he currently represents Colorado’s fourth congressional district.

“It’s always great to be at the Colorado Water Congress, a congress that has a much higher approval rating than other congress’ that we know of!”

Gardner is challenging Senator Mark Udall in a close and expensive race. He spent most of his time stumping – discussing not just water, but his so-called “Four Corner Plan,” that includes economic growth.

“What we are going to do to get this country’s economy growing again. Where does it start? I believe it starts with simple things like regulatory reform and getting government out of the way and letting America work,” he said.

Later in the day, democrat Abel Tapia stepped to the microphone. He is running against Congressman Tipton. The former engineer and Colorado state lottery director says he understands the challenges facing the Colorado River, which is over-utilized.

“I am committed to fighting to ensure that the Colorado and the Third Congressional District are protected, and get the water it deserves. I support a balanced water policy that takes into consideration the multiple users of our water – agriculture, municipalities and industrial.”

Calling water Colorado’s “liquid gold,” Senator Mark Udall was the last to speak. He pointed to the need for solving a projected water shortage on the Colorado River.

“Let’s have ongoing, tough and ongoing conversations within Colorado and between the Upper Colorado Commission and the lower basin states. If we don’t do that we risk losing site of our shared economic dependence.”

Climate change will exacerbate the problem of water shortages in Colorado and globally. He is concerned the majority of republicans in congress continue to deny climate science.

“Just last month, I tried to get a resolution passed that would put the senate on record acknowledging that climate change is a problem and poses a problem to the United States but enough members of the republican caucus objected and blocked it. But, Coloradoans know better,” said Udall.

More 2014 Colorado November election coverage here. More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


Will Front Range growth trump river health? — Glenwood Springs Post Independent #ColoradoRiver #COWaterPlan

August 20, 2014


From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Lauren Glendenning):

Climate change might not be the end-all, be-all in the state’s water discussion, but Brad Udall knows it needs to at least be a part of it.

“The proper way to deal with climate change is to get out of the scientific battles and deal with it as a risk,” said Udall, who is the director and principal investigator of the University of Colorado-National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration Western Water Assessment.

While Colorado isn’t dealing with what Udall says is the biggest climate change impact, sea level rise, it is dealing with impacts of the overall water cycle. The West faces an unprecedented 14-year drought, resulting in low water levels at Lake Mead and Lake Powell, supply-demand gaps, power losses and threats to conservation.

As the atmosphere warms, it also holds more moisture, resulting in water cycle changes. Udall said the effects are already appearing as more rain and less snow, earlier runoff, higher water temperatures and more intense rain.

The higher water temperatures are something that water conservation folks throughout the Western Slope are concerned about. At a recent Colorado Basin Roundtable meeting, Holly Loff, executive director of the Eagle River Watershed Council, introduced to the group a recent assessment of the Upper Colorado River. The study shows that elevated water temperatures are occurring in the Upper Colorado that are above the known thermal tolerance of trout.

Loff said more transmountain diversions out of the basin to the Front Range would only further affect aquatic life, which goes beyond just fish and bugs.

“It impacts everything that uses the riparian area, which is every creature,” Loff said. “Temperature, that is huge. When you take the water out [of the streams for diversions], the water that’s left heats up more. Water temperatures rise, and it completely changes the fish that want to be in that water. Our fishermen are going to see that.”

Loff said she isn’t so quick to join in on the finger-pointing to the Front Range. The Front Range has cut back on wasteful bluegrass lawns, for example, and is doing a great job in terms of per-capita water use.

“They’re actually doing much better than we are” in per-capita water use, she said. “We are all going to have to make some changes.”[...]

[Martha Cochran] points out that agriculture efficiencies could help improve water supplies, but the use-it or lose-it concept hampers progress.

Use-it or lose-it means that a water user who fails to divert the maximum amount of water that their right allows loses some of their rights the next time they go to court to transfer those rights.

“Sprinkling systems for agriculture are more efficient and use less water, they’re easier to control, you can direct them better, they’re more specific about how and when,” Cochran said. “And that’s a good thing, but it’s not [a good thing] if it means you lose your water rights because you’re not using all the water you traditionally used.”[...]

As the state crafts the Colorado Water Plan, one development holds out hope that East and West Slope entities can work together. Just last year, the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement was signed between Denver Water and Western Slope water providers and municipalities. The agreement is a long-term partnership that aims to achieve better environmental health in the Colorado River Basin, as well as high-quality recreational use.

The agreement, which included 43 parties from Grand Junction to Denver, states that future water projects on the Colorado River will be accomplished through cooperation, not confrontation. It’s debatable whether that will happen, given the finger-pointing cropping up during the draft stages of the Colorado Water Plan process.

James Eklund, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board and head of the development of the Colorado Water Plan, believes it can happen, but he admits it won’t be easy.

“The idea is to take that paradigm shift that occurred with the Cooperative Agreement and exploit that and replicate and scale that up to the entire state,” he said. “Doing that is going to require some work.”

But positions like Loff’s that are 100 percent against more transmountain diversion projects are widespread on this side of the Continental Divide, and it’s going to take more than some conversations and a few handshakes to find some middle ground.

“The biggest thing for us, and the entire basin, is that we want to make it perfectly clear that having another transmountain diversion over to the Front Range is really going to damage our recreation-based economy,” she said. “And that it’s going to have more impacts on the environment and on agriculture. They need to understand that we’re not saying we don’t want to share the water, it’s just that there isn’t any more water to share. We have obligations through the compact [to downstream states with legal rights], so more water leaving our basin — that water doesn’t ever come back.”[...]

So that will be part of the process in the coming months as each of the nine basins drafting implementation plans polish up their drafts before sending them off to the state. Two of the Front Range basins, Metro and South Platte, are combining theirs into one document, for a total of eight plans being rolled into the Colorado Water Plan.

It’s like a community development plan that lays out a vision and direction, but it will require execution, said Jim Pokrandt, communications and education director for the Colorado River District.

“Hopefully it will address how we can get down the path of efficiency and the land use discussion,” he said. “It’s a very painful discussion, but not as painful as the need to start digging a new transmountain diversion tomorrow.”

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


@rfconservancy: Colorado Water Plan Hearing – Thursday Aug. 21,5:00 pm in the Glenwood Springs Library #COWaterPlan

August 19, 2014

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


CWCB: August 2014 Drought Update #COdrought

August 19, 2014
Colorado Drought Monitor August 12, 2014

Colorado Drought Monitor August 12, 2014

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

Mild temperatures and above average precipitation across much of the state has brought continued drought relief to the eastern plains. The four corners region is experiencing less precipitation and deteriorating conditions. Monsoon rains could potentially help alleviate the drying. Water providers indicated that storage levels remain strong, with many reservoirs near or at capacity and demands slightly below normal.

  • Currently, 40% of the state is in some level of drought classification according to the US drought monitor. 13% is characterized as “abnormally dry” or D0, while an additional 11% is experiencing D1, moderate drought conditions. 13% is classified as severe, 3% as extreme and for the first time in 110 weeks none of the state is in exceptional drought (D4).
  • Year-to-date precipitation at mountain SNOTEL sites is 103% of average, this is in part due to strong July precipitation of 122% of average. August to-date is already 90% of average.
  • Eads, which has been in drought for nearly 4 years, received seven inches of rain in just a few hours and for the first time in 110 weeks the southeastern portion of the state is out of exceptional drought conditions, although extreme and severe conditions persist.
  • Reservoir Storage statewide is at 97% of average at the end of July 2014, 26% ahead of where we were for storage this time last year. The lowest reservoir storage statewide is in the Upper Rio Grande, with 62% of average storage. The South Platte has the highest storage level at 125% of average.
  • The Surface Water Supply Index (SWSI) for the state is near normal across much of the state, with an “abundant” index in a few northern basins of the South Platte, Yampa/White, and Colorado. The lowest values in the state are in the Southwest and reflect very low reservoir and streamflow levels. This area of the state has not received the same moisture as the rest of the state.
  • The chance of El Niño has decreased to about 65% during the Northern Hemisphere fall and early winter, but it is still expected that El Niño will emerge in the next several months and persist through Northern Hemisphere winter; a weak event is most likely.

  • “We don’t want to demonize the Front Range” — Jim Pokrandt #ColoradoRiver #COWaterPlan

    August 19, 2014


    From the Vail Daily (Lauren Glendenning):

    The soothing sound of the Colorado River as it meanders its way across Colorado’s Western Slope is the sound of a thriving economy, a fragile environment and also an impending crisis.

    The state of water supplies in the arid West is volatile and forecasts are grim. Lake Powell and Lake Mead are at alarmingly low levels, while populations across the West are swelling past the capacities of current water supplies.

    The Colorado River Basin is facing a battle of sorts as Colorado creates a statewide water plan. It’s a battle against time and against competing water needs, both here in Colorado and in lower basin states like Nevada and California.

    Regionally, some view it as an Eastern Slope vs. Western Slope battle, although water officials are carefully shaping the public relations message as one of unity and collaboration. There’s a very real fear that exists west of the Continental Divide, though, that Colorado’s growing Front Range population is going to suck the Colorado River Basin dry. Some even say that has already happened…

    “Population is still growing and there’s a need to find more water for municipal uses,” said Jim Pokrandt, chair of the Colorado Basin Roundtable and spokesman for the Colorado River Water Conservation District. “We don’t want to demonize the Front Range.”[...]

    …the state’s water planning has really been going on for over a decade, said Brad Udall, a research faculty member at the University of Colorado’s Getches-Wilkinson Center for Natural Resources, Energy and Environment and former director of the Western Water Assessment.

    Udall has written extensively about climate change issues as they relate to water resources but his passion for Western water began outside of books and classrooms. His mother took him down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon in the early 1970s, paving the way for Udall’s future in guiding Grand Canyon river trips. After getting into environmental engineering at Stanford University and developing a passion for water issues, he also began working on climate change issues. That’s when he realized that climate change means water change. They’re one in the same, he said…

    …none of the states want to go back and draft new laws based on the realistic flows, except for maybe California, [Glenn Porzak] said.

    “If you go back and say, ‘We made a mistake when we negotiated, we thought there was 17 million acre feet.’ If you renegotiate, (Colorado’s) going to lose,” he said. “All water is political.”[...]

    The major concern at Lake Powell is that it’s getting down to such a level that it will no longer be able to generate power, said Glenn Porzak, a water attorney based in Boulder who represents water entities and municipalities in both Summit and Eagle counties, as well as Vail Resorts.

    “The cost of power is going to quadruple,” Porzak said of Lake Powell, should it drop below power generating levels. “Almost all of the Western Slope’s power comes from the power grid that’s generated off Colorado River storage projects. That hits the ski industry and every other industry if the cost of power goes up four times.”

    It also hits the average citizen, who has been enjoying relatively cheap water at home, Udall said.

    “You hear we’re running out of water and we gotta get more, but we’re running out of cheap water,” he said. “Water that people are putting on lawns, that shouldn’t just be free, it should come with significant costs. … One of the lessons here is that water is going to get more expensive in the municipal sector, and a little bit more in the (agriculture) sector.”

    When prices are low, people over-use water, but when they’re high, conservation becomes a lot easier and more attractive. And conservation is a big theme in the first draft of the Colorado Basin Implementation Plan, which came out last month and will undergo several more revisions before it’s sent to the state later this year for incorporation into the state water plan.

    From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Lauren Glendenning):

    Nathan Fey’s passion for kayaking led him to a career in river conservation and water quality issues. As the Colorado stewardship director for the nonprofit American Whitewater, he’s watching carefully as the state progresses through its water planning process.

    The state must address some major conflicts as it creates the Colorado Water Plan, he said.

    “Sure, our population is focused on the Front Range, but the reason we all live here is because recreation is a way of life for us,” Fey said. “I think there’s a big disconnect for people in our urban areas about where their water comes from. They don’t understand that if they grow green grass, there’s less water in the river when they’re fishing.”[...]

    Recreation along the Colorado River and its tributaries is a $9.6 billion industry, and that’s just within the state of Colorado. According to a 2012 study for Protect The Flows, done by the consulting firm Southwick Associates, which specializes in recreation economics, the Colorado River would rank as the 19th-largest employer on the 2011 Fortune 500 list based on the jobs it generates.

    “People moved here for the environment — it underpins the economy,” said Jim Pokrandt, chair of the Colorado Basin Roundtable and the communications and education director for the Colorado River Water Conservation District. “Water in the streams is an economic driver in and of itself.”

    The recreation-based economies in mountain resort towns depend on healthy streams for more than just the water-based activities. Indirectly, hikers, campers and mountain bikers, to name a few, also depend on healthy streams.

    “That’s the value we’re hoping Colorado embraces, so the desire to push for another transmountain diversion is deferred for a long time, if not forever, in favor of using the water we already have to its highest and most efficient use,” Pokrandt said…

    Pokrandt likens the process to economizing, just like any business would do during tough times. You look at internal expenses, in this case water uses, and you cut back…

    With the Colorado Water Plan’s deadline more than a year away, the Colorado Basin Roundtable is polishing its plan to make sure it gets the point across that more transmountain diversions would be detrimental to tourism economies, the environment and agriculture…

    In the mountains, many of the major water providers such as the town of Breckenridge, the Upper Eagle Regional Water Authority and the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District, have senior, or pre-compact, water rights. The same goes for the Grand Valley and Grand Junction areas, said water attorney Glenn Porzak, who represents those entities as well as Vail Resorts and other local municipalities.

    “The water rights really affected the most (under a compact curtailment) are all of the transmountain diversions,” Porzak said. “Fifty percent of Denver’s supply comes from the Dillon and Moffat systems and are post-compact. All of the Northern Colorado Conservancy District comes from the Thompson project, also junior. All of Colorado Springs and Aurora diversions are junior to the compact.”

    When 75 percent of the Front Range supply comes from junior diversions, Porzak said it’s clear what municipalities will do: They’ll buy up more senior agriculture rights for the Western Slope.

    More Front Range municipalities buying Western Slope agriculture water rights depletes rivers. When the water is diverted over the Continental Divide, it never returns to the basin. That affects flows, which affect water quality, stream health and the economic powerhouse that is recreation-based tourism…

    The ski industry is the pulse of Summit, Eagle and Pitkin counties during winter months. Water is the source of winter-based recreation, but the fact that it doesn’t always fall from the sky at the right times or in the right quantities means water must be taken from elsewhere.

    Aspen Skiing Co. and Vail Resorts have bought and maintained important water rights since the beginning of each company’s existence…

    Predictability like a start date for the season — something the company typically announces during the previous ski season — is crucial to lock in season pass sales. Without important water rights and water supplies, Hensler said opening for Thanksgiving might be impossible, and Christmas would even be a challenge…

    Hensler points out that snowmaking is only about 20 percent consumptive.

    “About 80 percent of the water we put on the mountain as snow melts and flows back into the streams — it’s a very sustainable use,” Hensler said.

    More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


    Water in the West: Conservation measures take center stage — Post Independent #ColoradoRiver #COWaterPlan

    August 18, 2014

    From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Laura Glendenning):

    Gary Bumgarner doesn’t like to hear statistics that say irrigated agriculture makes up 85 percent of Colorado’s consumptive water use. It’s misleading, he says, and as a fourth-generation Grand County rancher with senior and junior water rights, he knows a thing or two about water.

    Agriculture uses the same water more than once, he says, referring to return flows and downstream water uses. Transmountain diversions use water up and never return it. It’s known as consumptive use in the water world, meaning the use permanently removes the water from its natural stream system. Bumgarner and plenty of other ranchers and farmers argue that the agriculture industry’s share of the total consumptive use in Colorado is much less than 85 percent.

    More than half the water in Grand County heads east to the Front Range through transmountain diversions, which has Bumgarner concerned about the current statewide water planning process, sure, but he’s more concerned about what has already happened to water in the Colorado River Basin.

    Bumgarner, who is also a Grand County commissioner, remembers when his mother used to have to cross high water in a rowboat on her way up to Kremmling, he said.

    “In my teens and 20s, there was so much water,” he said. “Now, it’s a pretty stark contrast.”

    When a river is over-developed — meaning too much water is taken from it — danger lurks. The effects range from water quality issues to riparian habitat depletions to economic and recreational devastation.

    The agriculture industry in Colorado has a bull’s-eye on it as the state creates its Water Plan. Municipalities want to buy up senior agriculture water rights to secure supplies that can meet the demands of population growth — it’s known as “buy and dry” — and being that the agriculture industry uses more water than any other, it has found itself at the center of the discussion.

    At a recent Colorado River Basin Roundtable meeting, Bumgarner and others brought up the consumptive use point time and time again. The agriculture representatives at the roundtable want to be sure there’s more clarification in the Colorado Basin Implementation Plan before it’s sent off to the state.

    Six themes have emerged from the first draft of the basin’s plan, one of which is to “sustain agriculture.”

    That’s the million dollar question. Senior agriculture water rights are private property rights, meaning the owners can do whatever they want with their property — including buy, sell and transfer their water rights. If a Front Range municipality wants to come in a buy the rights, and the farmer or rancher wants to sell, there’s not much anyone can do to stop it.

    “If you’re making money, it’s sustainable. If you’re not making money, it’s not sustainable,” Bumgarner said. “Do I want my neighbor to sell out? No. Do I want the ability to sell out? Yes.”

    Bumgarner said the agriculture industry has to be nimble in order to sustain itself. His family has changed its operations around three times from a dairy farm to a sheep operation to its present day business of cattle and calves.

    “(Agriculture) has to learn to adapt,” he said. “Just because I do it, doesn’t mean my kids or grandkids should be doing it. It’s no different than any job. What you’re doing today doesn’t mean you should be doing it in 120 years.”

    Reducing the stress on the basin

    The Colorado Basin Implementation Plan does include projects and policies that “provide incentives and protections necessary to support agriculture.”

    It also calls for improved water laws that would allow the agriculture community the flexibility to implement efficient irrigation without the loss of water rights.

    “An additional (transmountain diversion) that supports more bluegrass lawns on the Front Range while decreasing Colorado Basin irrigated agricultural lands and associated food supply is poor planning and not sustainable,” the draft reads.

    But the level of conservation that irrigation efficiencies could create is debatable. Much of the water lost through irrigation inefficiencies returns to the river or groundwater system for use by downstream water diverters, according to a 2008 Colorado Agricultural Water Alliance study, “Meeting Colorado’s Future Water Supply Needs.”

    “Increased agricultural water conservation could potentially result in a voluntary reduction in the diversion of water to the farm, creating benefits such as improved water quality, allowing more water to remain in the streams, reduced waterlogging of soils, and reducing energy costs for pumping, but may not result in water that can be legally transferred to other uses,” according to the study. “If the use of water conservation measures can improve water supply availability without causing injury to downstream users or the environment, then the result may be improved water supplies for agriculture and other uses.”

    Irrigation for agriculture isn’t the only water use under conservation scrutiny. Homeowners with non-native landscaping such as Kentucky bluegrass lawns could also start to face regulations and consequences, or at the very least some dirty looks from the neighbors.

    Talk to Western Slope water officials and conservationists, and you’ll hear a lot of criticism over bluegrass lawns along the Front Range, as well as in the High Country — and especially in resort towns where $20 million homes spare no expense for opulence.

    Martha Cochran, executive director of the Aspen Valley Land Trust, thinks Coloradoans have to start thinking differently about water resources and personal responsibility. She thinks a new standard could emerge for home landscaping that shuns those with bluegrass lawns, but that day will never come if citizens don’t become more educated about water resources. It also might not happen without government regulation.

    “I think we can do huge amounts to reduce what’s creating the stress on the basin,” she said. “There was a time when (bluegrass lawns and swimming pools) were kind of a symbol of prosperity. I think that some day it’s going to be looked upon as just tacky.”

    Municipalities are teaching and encouraging xeriscaping, a practice in which native plants and grasses, mulch and other low-water landscaping replaces landscaping that wastes water such as bluegrass.

    An informed citizenry is the best protection for Western Slope water, said Jim Pokrandt, chair of the Colorado Basin Roundtable and spokesman for the Colorado River Water Conservation District.

    “If you turn on your faucet and water didn’t come out, you’d be interested real fast,” he said.

    Values differ across the state

    With more than a decade of persistent drought conditions, there’s a focus on conservation. The U.S. Department of the Interior and municipal water suppliers in Arizona, Colorado, California and Nevada signed a landmark water conservation agreement last month called the Colorado River System Conservation Program. The suppliers — which include Denver Water in Colorado ­— are contributing $11 million to fund pilot conservation projects on the Colorado River.

    And municipalities across the Western Slope like Aspen, Winter Park and Snowmass are looking at both conservation efforts and also land use codes that limit growth based on water supplies.

    The City of Aspen has also incorporated a Center for Resource Conservation Slow the Flow Sprinkler Inspection program for the past two years, and the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District offers a similar program through certified irrigation professionals.

    These are all steps applauded by conservation groups like Western Resource Advocates. Water Program Director Bart Miller said if Colorado and the Colorado River Basin as a whole can do the right amount of urban conservation, water recycling, irrigation and energy efficiencies, the vast majority of future water needs should be met.

    “I think the state Water Plan provides a really unique opportunity, the first ever opportunity for the state to embed, articulate and follow through on the broad range of values that folks across the state have,” he said.

    While great opportunities exist, it’s also a safe bet to assume the state water plan won’t please all stakeholders — there will likely be some grumbling from each of the basins, but the hope is the plan can strike the right balance so it’s not about Eastern Slope versus Western Slope, said James Eklund, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board and the state water plan’s development director.

    “Doing that is going to require some work,” he said. “(Colorado’s Water Plan) won’t read exactly the way every stakeholder wants it to.”

    Western Slope stakeholders like Bumgarner fear the worst for the Western Slope: More transmountain diversions.

    “I don’t think there’s any doubt that they’re going to come get more water, and (agriculture) will be the loser — and the tourism industry,” he said. “You’re not going rafting on rocks if there’s no water. I’m very much anti-government getting into things, but at some point the state has to figure out how many people the state can contain. We’re not going to get more water, and we’re going to double the population, so they have to take it from existing users.”

    Part three in this series will explore the relationships between water and Western Slope economies. It will appear in Tuesday’s PI.

    Read Part one at http://bit.ly/1t9ueP2

    More conservation coverage here.


    Colorado’s Water Plan — KRCC #COWaterPlan

    August 15, 2014
    Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013

    Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013

    Click through to listen to the radio show. From KRCC (Sam Fuqua):

    “Civilization in this part of the world,” Preston says, “is really based on capturing the runoff that comes out of the snowpack, storing it, and being able to deliver it when it’s needed. Without that, this reverts to desert.”

    Preston also coordinates the Southwest Basin Roundtable, a regular gathering of agricultural, municipal, environmental, and recreational water users…

    In the Southwest Basin, Preston says some of the roundtable’s conversations have centered around balancing agriculture and the environment.

    “A lot of the challenge—and I think the roundtable’s done a very good job of it, because everybody gets along and tries to understand each other’s perspectives,” Preston says, “is how you reconcile or integrate the need for agricultural deliveries with the environmental values and keeping kind of adequate water in the streams.”

    Trying to support healthy ecosystems and a healthy farm and ranching economy with limited water is a big challenge, but add to that the state’s projected population growth of 5.5 million now to over 10 million by 2050.

    Then, says James Eklund, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, there’s drought.

    “We’ve had it over our history,” says Eklund. “What makes it unique now, or different now, is that we are seeing patterns of extreme drought in more sustained periods than we’ve ever seen them in our history. The Colorado River basin has been in a 14-year period of drought that has not been equaled in human recorded history.”[...]

    There’s broad agreement that one of the biggest issues for the Colorado Water Plan—both now and in the foreseeable future—is the question of transbasin diversions. That’s the technical term behind moving water from the Western Slope to growing cities on the Front Range. It’s always been a sensitive topic, and the Delores Water Conservancy District’s Mike Preston says his basin roundtable favors tougher limits on household water use, especially on lawns.

    “People aren’t really interested in bringing the Colorado River across the Continental Divide and diminishing agricultural potential in order to grow bluegrass in front of suburban households.”

    Colorado Water Conservation Board director James Eklund says he’s seeing more cooperation from Front Range cities looking for more West Slope water.

    “They’re saying that kind of for the first time,” Eklund says. “Saying, ‘We understand that even though we have a legal right to go take that water because we secured those rights a long time ago, we’re not just going to go do it because it’s something that we can do and we’ll see you in water court.’”

    Eklund says the state water plan will not supersede prior appropriation– Colorado’s seniority-based system of water laws. But, he says, prior appropriation may need to bend to reflect the changing times, just as it’s done for over a century.

    “Prior appropriation has had to either adjust or flex in each one of those times,” Eklund says, referencing the growth of cities and the agriculture economy across the state, as well as environmental needs, and even the connection between surface and ground water.

    From Steamboat Today (Ren Martyn/Marsha Daughenbaugh):

    The Yampa-White-Green Rivers Basin Roundtable gave preliminary approval to the first draft of their Basin Implementation Plan on July 23. The plan now will be submitted to the Colorado Water Conservation Board, which will consolidate plans from the nine Colorado water basins and develop a State Water Plan to be delivered to the governor by December 2015.

    The BIP addresses our basins’ responsibilities to balance current and future needs of our water resources. Development of this document has been a labor of love and concern by countless volunteers and a culmination of years of professional studies commissioned by the roundtable.

    Our roundtable identified eight primary basin goals for Northwest Colorado:

    • Protect existing decreed and anticipated future water uses in the Yampa-White-Green basins.

    • Protect and encourage agricultural uses of water in the basins within the context of private property rights.

    • Improve agricultural water supplies to increase irrigation land and reduce shortages.

    • Identify and address municipal and industrial water shortages.

    • Quantify and protect non-consumptive water uses.

    • Maintain and consider the existing natural range of water quality that is necessary for current and anticipated water uses.

    • Restore, maintain and modernize water storage and distribution infrastructure.

    • Develop an integrated system of water use, storage, administration and delivery to reduce water shortages and meet environmental and recreational need.

    The roundtable acknowledges long-standing discussions of trans-mountain diversions of West Slope water to the East Slope and are taking a position that prior to any development of a new trans-mountain diversion, the Front Range first must integrate all other water supply solutions including conservation and reuse plus maximize use of its own native water resources and existing trans-mountain supplies.

    The BIP also states: “Before it could be considered by the Yampa-White-Green Basin Roundtable, any proposed trans-mountain diversion out of the Colorado River Basin must undergo a full operational analysis to determine its impact on the entire river system. The analysis must recognize that, within the Colorado River system, the diversion of any ‘extra’ water available during wet years may occur under certain ‘trigger’ conditions of a full (or nearly full) supply in reservoirs designed to carry the Colorado River Basin through a drought. This analysis must be sufficient to determine that the risks of operating project(s) in a junior manner to identified Colorado River Basin needs are understood by all. Such a project should not be funded by the state of Colorado, but by interests, public and/or private, willing to accept such operational and financial risk.”

    Future projects and agreements cannot impact existing legal compact obligations to provide water to downstream users…

    The current BIP, as presented to Colorado Water Conservation Board, is a working document. The roundtable continually will update and refine it in response to the needs and demands of our region. It is available for public review on the Colorado Water Conservation Board website at http://www.colorado.gov/pacific/cowaterplan/yampa-white-green-river-basin.

    More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


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