9News series about #COwater and the #COWaterPlan — Mary Rodriguez

September 10, 2014


9News.com reporter Mary Rodriguez has embarked on a series about the Colorado Water Plan and water issues in Colorado. The first installment deals with Cheesman Dam and Reservoir. Here’s an excerpt:

It is something most of us take for granted: running water. Colorado is now beginning to grapple with how to keep the tap flowing, both now and in the future. As the state develops a water plan, set to be released in December, we are beginning a series of stories revolving around that precious resource…

Cheesman Reservoir and Dam

Nearly 7,000 feet above sea level, it’s a place of stillness and a quiet refuge. Yet, it’s also a place capable of wielding immense power.

Cheesman Reservoir is a major source of water for communities up and down the Front Range. It holds 25 billion gallons of water. That’s enough water to cover Sports Authority Field with a foot of water more than 79,000 times. All of it is held in place by the Cheesman Dam, which was built nearly 110 years ago.

“It was tremendous foresight that this reservoir has been pretty much unchanged in all that time,” documentary filmmaker Jim Havey of Havey Productions said.

The reservoir is just one of the places Havey is beginning to capture as part of an upcoming documentary called “The Great Divide.” The subject? Water.

“We looked at water, initially, as a great way to tell the story of Colorado,” he said.

Colorado’s water system is a complex combination of reservoirs, rivers and dams. As the state’s population has grown, though, there has been a greater need to come up with a water plan that can evolve with time.

“Really, it is all connected,” said Travis Thompson, spokesperson for Denver Water, which bought the Cheesman Reservoir nearly 100 years ago.

Denver Water– along with water municipalities and agencies across Colorado– is now working on a long-term plan for Colorado’s water. It includes, among other things, figuring out the best way to manage the state’s water as it flows between different river basins and whether or not to create more reservoirs.

“We’re not planning just for today, we’re planning for tomorrow– 25 years, 50 years down the road,” Thompson said. “And we have many challenges that we’re looking into, just like our forefathers had.”

Those challenges include how to provide enough water for people and industries in Colorado, as well as people in 18 other states– and even two states in Mexico– which also get their water from rivers that begin in Colorado.

“What the water plan is going to mean, I don’t think anybody knows yet,” Havey said.

Yet, it’s a plan that has a lot riding on it below the surface. The first draft of the state’s water plan is due in December and is expected to be presented to the state legislature next year. For more information about the water documentary, “The Great Divide,” go to http://bit.ly/1qDftUO.

More Denver Water coverage here. More South Platte River Basin coverage here. More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


CWCB: The next Water Availability Task Force Meeting is September 17

September 9, 2014
Storm over the La Garita Hills

Storm over the La Garita Hills

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

The next Water Availability Task Force meeting will be held on Wednesday, September 17, 2014 from 9:30a-11:30p at the Colorado Parks & Wildlife Headquarters, 6060 Broadway, Denver in the Bighorn Room.

The agenda is posted at the CWCB website.


CWCB: New draft chapters of #COWaterPlan now available for review

September 9, 2014

“The goal is to work together to find methods for conserving the precious lifeblood of our basin” — Deb Daniel

September 9, 2014

From Circle of Blue (Brett Walton):

Following a regional trend, Colorado’s water board is likely to approve a $US 160,000 grant on Friday that will help farmers in the state’s northeastern plains reckon with a water-scarce future.

Researchers at Colorado State University will use the state funds to answer a simple but profound question that is blowing across the American Great Plains like a stiff wind: What does water conservation mean for farming families, their towns, and their livelihoods?

Requested by the Water Preservation Partnership, a coalition of a farm group and all of the region’s water management districts, the two-year academic study reflects an important development in the nation’s grain belt…

“There is concern now over the rate of pumping,” Chris Goemans, an agricultural economist at Colorado State and one of the study leaders, told Circle of Blue. “The question is, what do we do and what happens if we do that?”

If current practices continue, wells in some counties will be dry within a decade, with disastrous economic and social consequences for rural communities. Faced with this prospect, the people of the plains, from Nebraska to Texas and now Colorado, are beginning to tighten the spigot and embrace, sometimes grudgingly, water conservation…

The Water Preservation Partnership, which recently marked its first anniversary, was created to find a local solution to the problem of groundwater depletion. It takes as a model a similar grassroots success story in northwest Kansas.

“The goal is to work together to find methods for conserving the precious lifeblood of our basin,” Deb Daniel told Circle of Blue. Daniel is general manager of the Republican River Water Conservation District, one of 10 members of the partnership.

Eight of the partners are groundwater management districts. Farmers in these districts account for 80 percent of the water used in northeastern Colorado and half of regional economic output. Altogether, the nine-county region withdraws nearly twice as much water each year as filters back into the aquifer, according to recent research. The annual deficit is 488 million cubic meters (396,000 acre-feet), roughly twice what Denver uses in a year.

The members see the writing on the wall for the aquifer if current behaviors continue, and they support a reduction in water use. Doing so will keep water in the ground longer, but not forever. The demands of irrigation are far too great. Still, the farmers want a clearer idea of the changes that conservation might bring.

“The WPP believes we must follow the lead of groups in Kansas, Texas and elsewhere who have developed grassroots, self-governing policies, by imposing pumping policies upon ourselves,” the members wrote in their application for state funding. “The challenge is determining what the policies should be, taking into consideration their economic feasibility for our agricultural producers and rural communities as well as their regional support.”[...]

Researchers at Colorado State University, which will contribute $US 48,000 to the project, will develop four products. First, they will use computer models to analyze the relationship between water use and agricultural production over the next 100 years. Several levels of conservation will be assessed, showing a range of possible outcomes.

Farmers in northwest Kansas, for example, are in the second year of a five-year plan to reduce water use by 20 percent. Their economic performance under the restrictions is being assessed by Kansas State University in a separate, ongoing study.

Next, the Colorado State University researchers will fan out into the community to educate farmers about the results of the modeling.

Then farmers will take a survey that asks what types of policies they prefer for achieving the reductions in water use. Goemans, the economist, said that policies will fall into one of two categories: those that put a price on water and those that put a cap on how much farmers use.

Lastly, the researchers will combine the modeling results and the survey preferences in a set of recommended policies…

The Colorado State University study has the conditional support of the state water board, said Rebecca Mitchell, head of the water supply planning section.

Mitchell told Circle of Blue that approval of the grant on Friday is “likely” though the state wants to see a few more letters of support to ensure the project has wide appeal. The board itself is interested, viewing the study as a template for analyzing water conservation policies in other areas of the state.

More Ogallala aquifer coverage here and here.


“…all measures, including…storage…must also be part of the conversation” — Charlie Bartlett #COWaterPlan

September 6, 2014


From ColoradoCorn.com (Charlie Bartlett):

Colorado Corn board member and Colorado Agricultural Water Alliance (CAWA) president Charlie Bartlett recently voiced concerns about the Colorado Water Plan draft, stressing to officials that it focuses too much on alternative water transfer methods as the way to protect agriculture, and not enough on other avenues, like new water-storage projects.

“We disagree with the premise that ATMs will sustain a viable agriculture,” Bartlett, a Merino-area farmer, wrote in a letter to the Colorado Water Conservation Board. “CAWA believes that the Colorado Water Plan needs a much more significant analysis and treatment of how we can sustain our vibrant and critical industry though keeping water in agriculture.”

Colorado cities have long bought water rights from farmers and ranchers to help meet the needs of their growing populations, and, because of that and other factors, Colorado is on pace to see 500,000 to 700,000 acres of irrigated farm ground dry up by 2050, according to the Statewide Water Supply Initiative report.

To help with the problem, many in Colorado are exploring alternative transfer methods (ATMs), agreements that more easily allow the ag community and cities to use the same water supplies without the farmers and ranchers selling off their water rights altogether. The Colorado Water Plan draft includes language about further exploring ATMs to protect the state’s agriculture – an industry, that, in addition to supplying food, feed, fuel and fiber, has a $40 billion economic impact on Colorado.

However, all measures, including more water-storage projects, must also be part of the conversation in developing a Colorado Water Plan that will help ensure there’s enough to go around for agricultural, municipal and industrial needs down the road, Bartlett stressed in a letter to the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

“Certainly, ATMs are a part of that approach, but only one aspect,” Bartlett continued.

About the Colorado Water Plan

Gov. John Hickenlooper has put in charge the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) of developing a comprehensive, statewide water plan, in conjunction with other state water agencies. Roundtables of water experts from each of the eight major river basins in Colorado have already submitted drafted plans to the CWCB. The CWCB is now combining those eight draft plans, along with other input, into one that covers all of Colorado, which is due to the governor’s office in December. The final version Colorado Water Plan is to be completed by the end of 2015.

Draft chapters of the Colorado Water Plan and each of the eight basin’s draft plans are available online at http://www.coloradowaterplan.com/.

Those wanting to provide comments can do so at the same website.

Thanks to the La Junta Tribune-Democrat for the heads up.

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


State Water Plan draws crowd — Pine River Times #COWaterPlan

September 5, 2014
Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013

Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013

From the Pine River Times (Carole McWilliams):

A group of legislators from around the state were in Durango on Aug. 27 to take comments on the Colorado Water Plan now being drafted, and the regional plan that will be part of it.

The legislators are members of an Interim Water Resources Review Committee who are following a bill passed in the spring requiring them to hold such meetings in each of nine major drainage basins around the state…

Many of the attendees said they didn’t know enough about what’s actually in the state plan or the Southwest Basin Roundtable Implementation Plan to ask questions or comment.

Several people worried that the federal government is trying to take control of all the water in the U.S. and take people’s property rights via recent updates to the Clean Water Act rules on what constitutes “waters of the U.S.” Speakers urged people to submit opposition comments before the comment deadline in October.

Another concern is federal agencies trying claim bypass flows and to require private water rights holders to turn over those rights as a condition to get or renew a use permit on federal land.

Southwest Water Conservation District Director Bruce Whitehead cited area Forest Service and BLM land management plans. “This isn’t a new issue,” he said. “These plans come up with things about bypass flows.” The state has opposed that, and memorandums of understanding “have encouraged federal agencies to use state (in-stream flow) programs instead of imposing bypass flow requirements.”

It’s also one of the concerns with federal special use permits, he said. State agencies have protested that. “These aren’t guidelines. They are standards in the Forest Plan. We see it as double dipping, using the state in-stream flow program but also wanting bypass flows… The feds say this will be a template throughout the state and maybe the West.”

Whitehead continued, “Few of our concerns have been addressed. That’s why we’re bringing it to this panel. So far, we’ve been unsuccessful in working with these federal agencies in a cooperative collaborative manner.”

Participants grouped around tables discussed water issues and picked one of their members to summarize their comments to the larger group.

There was strong support for water conservation as part of the plan, such as the large percentage of municipal use that goes for lawns; for more water storage, and for Colorado’s prior appropriation system of “first in time, first in right.”

Tom Morris, staff attorney for the legislature, commented, “To many people, that is the Colorado water plan.”

Several people supported elimination of the “use it or lose it” part of the prior appropriations system, because it discourages more efficient water use.

There was support for new water storage in Southwest Colorado to keep water the area is entitled to from flowing out of state. Another big point was that water users in each basin should fully develop their own water, including storage, before they seek diversions from other basins or buy up ag water for municipal use.

Summarizing comments from his table, La Plata/ Archuleta Water District board member Dan Lynn said, “One point we wanted to make is that every drop of water in the state starts on federal land, but every drop of water doesn’t belong to the federal government.” He noted he worked for 36 years for the Natural Resources Conservation Service and said, “Don’t let those people get your rights.”[...]

Ignacio area rancher and president of the American National Cattle Women Patti Buck urged people to send formal comments on the EPA rule change on what constitutes waters of the U.S. subject to regulation.

“When we bought our ranch, we paid extra for our water shares” compared to land with no water rights, she said. No water means no grass, which means no cattle, which means no food, she said.

One participant, Margaret Cozine, had a different concern. She wants the state to not only allow, but encourage, rain water harvesting from rooftops, and re-use of gray water, as several other states do. She wants it for her garden and argued it does not damage downstream water rights.

Water committee chair Randy Fischer urged people to send comments on the water plan. There will be another series of meetings around the state once the draft plan is released. “Please stay tuned,” he said.

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


Jacob Bornstein speaks about the Role of Groundwater in the State Water Plan, 9/17/14 @AWRACO #COWaterPlan

September 4, 2014

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


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