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.


“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.


“Conservation and cooperation is the new paradigm” — Steve Acquafresca #COWaterPlan

August 13, 2014
Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013

Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Mike Wiggins):

Efforts to forge a state water plan to bridge the anticipated gap between supply and demand should focus on enhanced conservation efforts on the Front Range and shun any new transmountain diversions, according to a group of primarily Western Slope residents.

In a meeting this week with The Daily Sentinel editorial board, Adventure Bound River Expeditions owner Tom Kleinschnitz, Silt Town Trustee Aron Diaz, Western Resource Advocates Program Director Bart Miller, Bruce Talbott of Talbott Farms, Mesa Park Vineyards co-owner Brooke Webb and Mesa County Commissioner Steve Acquafresca said they want to see river basins in other areas of the state call more for reducing water usage. Some of them also pitched the ideas of investing in improving existing infrastructure and building smaller storage projects at higher elevations.

“Conservation and cooperation is the new paradigm,” Acquafresca said.

Colorado’s population is expected to double by 2050, one of the reasons why Gov. John Hickenlooper issued an executive order calling for the development of a statewide water plan by 2015. The state’s eight largest river basins will present draft plans to the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

Western Slope water stakeholders say arguments that the majority of Colorado’s water should be used on the Front Range because the vast majority of the population resides there ignore usage of the river by the entire basin. The Colorado River Compact requires the Upper Basin states to deliver no less than 7.5 million acre-feet of water to the Lower Basin states during any 10-year period.

“My biggest fear is we will get a call (on the river) from the Lower Basin,” Talbott said.

Members of the group applauded Clark County, Nevada, and its county seat, Las Vegas, and organizations like Denver Water for their conservation efforts. Las Vegas has redesigned its golf courses to be more water-efficient and pays residents to rip out their lawns, while Denver Water has dramatically reduced municipal water usage over the last several years. As a result, Western Slope water users say they enjoy a good relationship with Denver Water. That relationship, though, doesn’t yet exist with entities like the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, Aurora Water and Colorado Springs Utilities, group members said.

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


Water Lines: Dire water predicament spurs cooperation, compromise — Grand Junction Free Press #ColoradoRiver

August 12, 2014
Colorado River Basin including out of basin demands -- Graphic/USBR

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

After a winter of happy news about the generous snowpack in Colorado’s mountains, summer brought reminders that our regional water situation is dire – or, at least, poised on the edge of direness.

Just as the ink was drying on mid-July headlines announcing that Lake Mead had dropped to its lowest level since filling 80 years ago, a new study found that groundwater loss in the Colorado River Basin has been even more dramatic. The study used satellite data to track changes in the amount of water in the basin from 2004 to 2013, and found that 75 percent of the nearly 53 million acre feet lost during that period was from groundwater depletions.

While it is easy to measure how much water is in reservoirs, it is much less clear how much groundwater remains in the region’s aquifers. Western Colorado doesn’t rely much on groundwater, but other states in the basin do.

Then, in early August, researchers at CU-Boulder released an updated report on Climate Change in Colorado. The report notes that higher temperatures are likely to put further pressure on the state’s water supplies, even if we get a bit more rain and snow, because plants will need more and more will evaporate.

An historic 14-year drought plus increasing demands are pushing the Colorado River system ever closer to the point where it could no longer be able to provide the services people rely on. And groundwater appears to be disappearing too fast to be much of a safety net.

The City of Las Vegas, Central Arizona farmers and power generation at Glen Canyon Dam are among the first in line to take a hit if water levels in Lakes Powell and Mead continue to drop.

However, disaster is not inevitable. The multi-state, bi-national agreement to send water back to the Colorado River Delta last spring, for the first time in 30 years, demonstrates that those who manage the river are capable of improbable feats.

Many of the same minds that negotiated the deal that provided water for the delta are working intensely to find ways to keep Mead and Powell functioning and to keep the region’s cities, farms and environment intact. There seems to be both a growing sense of urgency and an increasingly cooperative spirit to these efforts.

Not long ago, when I heard Colorado officials and water managers discuss the overuse of water in the Colorado River Basin, they made it clear that this was mostly a problem for California, Arizona and Nevada — and that Colorado was still intent on developing its full legal share. That tune hasn’t exactly changed, but more cooperative efforts have moved into the foreground.

Most recently, the Central Arizona Project, Denver Water, The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California and Southern Nevada Water Authority announced that they will team up with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to provide $11 million for pilot conservation projects to boost levels in Powell and Mead.

Cooperation is crossing constituencies as well as Upper – Lower basin divisions. The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel recently reported that Denver Water, the Colorado River District, the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association, the Colorado Farm Bureau, the Southwestern Water Conservation District, the Nature Conservancy and Trout Unlimited are working together to explore ways to use some of that $11 million to test “temporary, voluntary and fully compensated” conservation strategies.

Even within Colorado, some of the conflict between West Slopers and Front Rangers over additional transmountain diversions could be softening. A recent “conceptual agreement” released by Colorado’s Inter-basin Compact Committee, which includes representatives from all the state’s river basins, outlines how additional Colorado River water could be sent East “under the right circumstances.” Central to the draft agreement is the recognition by East Slope entities that a new transmountain diversion may not be able to deliver water every year and must be used along with non-West Slope sources of water.

These shifts in tone seem to indicate a coming-to-terms with the fact that Colorado River Basin water supplies are limited, and that everyone who relies on them has a stake in finding ways for all to live within those limits. What remains to be seen is whether we can adapt quickly enough to keep ahead of crisis. Don’t stop praying for snow just yet.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.


Another transmountain diversion for the Front Range? #COWaterPlan

August 9, 2014
Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer's office

Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer’s office

From the Sky-Hi Daily News (Hank Shell):

The nascent Colorado Water Plan has begun to materialize in the form of draft implementation plans for each of the state’s eight largest river basins. And Front Range interests are once again looking toward the Colorado River to cushion water demand in the face of rising populations and interstate water obligations on the other side of the divide…

Each roundtable released its draft plan last week, and the joint draft plan from the South Platte and Metro roundtables, which includes the Denver Metro Area, identifies new Colorado River water supplies as one of the “four legs of the stool” to address water needs in the South Platte River Basin.

The draft plan cites a growing population in the South Platte River Basin and obligations to send water to other states as major factors that justify additional trans-mountain diversion.

As of yet, the South Platte and Metro roundtables haven’t established just how much extra water it would need to divert from the Colorado River.

“There’s a lot of speculation out there from different folks, but I think the basin plan was very deliberate not to put a number to it because it really seemed to stall the conversation,” said Sean Cronin, the chair for the South Platte Roundtable. “It really felt like it was more prudent that we ought to be having a discussion about additional supplies, and we ought to be having a discussion about what those additional supplies would look like.”

The South Platte and Metro roundtables saw that the gap between water supplies and water demands on the West Slope left room for additional diversions, Cronin said. Additional diversions would also be limited to wet years, when more water is available.

“In the end, it really wasn’t a matter of how much water,” Cronin said. “It was simply a matter of do we want to pursue this idea for the greater good for Colorado.”

But the Colorado River Basin Roundtable’s draft plan doesn’t view its resources as expendable.

“We think that a new project should be the last thing that’s sought in that there still might not be enough resources or water to make that viable,” said Jim Pokrandt, chair of the Colorado River Basin Roundtable. “We base that on the fact that the we are already big donors of water to the Front Range.”[...]

But as Mark Koleber, chair of the Metro Roundtable, explained, Denver Water doesn’t supply all of the Denver-Metro area and outlying parts of the South Platte River Basin.

“The metro area is much larger than that outside of the Denver water system,” Kobeler said. “So what might be provided by the Moffat-Gross expansion wouldn’t necessarily go to areas outside of the Denver Water service area unless they have a contract for it.”

This means another entity could seek permitting for a transmountain diversion project from the Colorado River, which wouldn’t fall under the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement.

But Pokrandt said any additional diversions to the South Platte, in theory, would have to come from other basins like the Yampa or the Gunnison.

“Some new big transmountain diversion would probably have to go somewhere else,” Pokrandt said. “It would have to go somewhere else that’s not hard hit.”[...]

The draft basin implementation plan issued from the Colorado River Basin Roundtable has found that additional transmountain diversion would damage agriculture and degrade environmental conditions in the Colorado River basin.

“There’s already so much water taken out of the headwaters that we don’t think that there’s any more water to give without severe economic and environmental degradation,” Pokrandt said…

Each roundtable will submit its final plan to the Colorado Water Conservation Board in April 2015. The board will submit the final state water plan to the governor in December 2015.

For more information on each roundtable’s draft plan, visit http://coloradowaterplan.com.

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


Water Plan Input, Round 2: The Legislature

August 8, 2014

Originally posted on Your Water Colorado Blog:

Even if you live here, you have a chance to give input to Colorado’s Water Plan

Unless you’ve been living off-the-grid in a far corner of our beautiful state, you know that the Colorado Water Conservation Board is leading an effort to craft Colorado’s Water Plan.

 After almost a decade of work, nine Basin Roundtables have crafted individual plans that will offer solutions for how each basin’s future water needs will be addressed at the local level.  These ‘Basin Implementation Plans’ will then be incorporated into Colorado’s Water Plan, with a draft due in December 2014. There have been over 100 meetings held by the roundtables to educate about the plan and offer opportunities for input since Summer 2013.

Our esteemed lawmakers want to hear from you!

Now that the roundtables have submitted their draft plans, and are taking a breather to regroup, the State Legislature is picking up…

View original 299 more words


Water Lines: Gunnison Basin contributes to #COWaterPlan debate — Grand Junction Free Press

August 7, 2014
Gunnison River Basin via the Colorado Geological Survey

Gunnison River Basin via the Colorado Geological Survey

From the Grand Junction Free Press (George Sibley):

In July, the Gunnison River Basin Roundtable completed a “Gunnison Basin Water Plan,” finishing a year of concentrated hard work. This basin plan went to the Colorado Water Conservation Board, along with eight other plans from other Colorado basin roundtables; and by the end of the year a single consolidated Colorado Water Plan will emerge to shepherd the use of the state’s water resources out to 2050.

Exactly what this consolidated Colorado Water Plan will look like is not yet known. So fear fills the knowledge gap: Metropolitan water users (~80 percent of the population) fear that the Plan will impose draconian conservation measures; East Slope farmers fear that it will either outright redirect their water to the cities or will hatch complex “water-sharing” schemes that will slowly erode their property in water; and West Slope inhabitants fear that it will direct more water from our side of the mountains to Front Range cities.

Realistically, the plan will probably fulfill all of those fears to some extent. The planning was initiated when Colorado’s water leaders realized that, by mid-century, Colorado will probably have another 3-5 million people, all needing water from a supply that is already stressed by people pressures. Most of the new people will congregate in Colorado’s Front Range cities.

How do we equitably distribute an already stressed but essential resource among maybe twice as many people – most of them concentrated in one water-short area? And since most of that resource is already being used to produce food – also something urban dwellers need – how do we share out the water without diminishing the food supply?

Complicating matters, all nine basins, except for Colorado’s small part of the North Platte River, have discovered that they themselves are likely to be short of water for their own anticipated population growth. But the four West Slope basins (Yampa-White, Colorado, Gunnison and San Juan-Dolores) and the Rio Grande basin found that through a combination of small water projects, conservation programs, and “willing seller” agricultural transfers, they should be able to resolve their communities’ projected shortages from within their own basins.

The two East Slope “natural” basins (South Platte and Arkansas) and the Metropolitan “Sink” (the non-basin encompassing Denver and its first and second ring of South Platte suburbs) found that they would need to find “new supply” from outside their basins. The annual metropolitan shortfall by mid-century is estimated at 200,000-600,000 acre-feet, depending on actual growth and the extent of conservation programs. An acre-foot of water serves roughly two homes (with yards) for a year under current usage.

All of the “natural” basins have also quantified agricultural shortages – the difference between the water available and the “ideal” amount of water that would maximize the productivity of their land; these shortages added up to 2 million acre-feet statewide. Some of that shortage could be reduced through irrigation infrastructure repair and efficiency and more small storage.

None of the eight natural basins have discovered a big pool of unused water to resolve the metropolitan gap. That will have to be addressed in the state plan.

Where will the “new” metro water come from? There is a tendency in the state’s rural areas to sing the old song: “It’s your misfortune and none of our own.” But that requires forgetting what we learned in 2006 when a December blizzard shut down the Front Range – and suddenly our supermarkets were out of food. Like it or not, we hinterlanders need the Front Range as much as the Front Range needs hinterland water.

It is unlikely that there will be a significant transmountain diversion from the Upper Gunnison Basin, especially since water rights were quantified for the Black Canyon National Park and downstream flow targets were set for recovering endangered fish. Still, every gallon of water that goes to the Front Range from any West Slope stream decreases our local options under the terms of the Colorado River Compact, which prevents us from holding onto water relied upon by downstream states.

The Gunnison Basin Water Plan addresses the statewide issue by stressing, first, the absence of any significant pool of water not already being used to the max within the basin; and second, the high risk and high cost of very junior transmountain diversions that would only get water in above-average water years.

The core of each basin plan is the list of projects for meeting its own needs and goals; the Gunnison Basin plan lists over 100. These will require some projects for physically moving water around, but the harder work will be moving our minds around to figure out how a twice as many people can reasonably and equitably share out an already mostly developed resource.

To see the Gunnison Basin Water Plan (or any other basin’s), go to http://www.coloradowaterplan.com, and click on “Community” in the top menu. There are tracks on that website for submitting your own input on the planning process – but you may also send it directly to Gunnison Basin Plan Chair Frank Kugel, fkugel@ugrwcd.org, or give this correspondent a call at 970-641-4340.

George Sibley is chairman of Gunnison Basin Roundtable Education Committee.

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


“Want an expert overview on the #COWaterPlan?” — @ConservationCO/@wradv #ColoradoRiver

August 2, 2014

The latest newsletter from the Water Center at Colorado Mesa University is hot off the presses #ColoradoRiver #COWaterPlan

August 2, 2014

Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer's office

Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer’s office


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

“CONCEPTUAL AGREEMENT” ON FUTURE TRANSMOUNTAIN DIVERSIONS RELEASED
Colorado’s Inter-basin Compact Committee has released a draft conceptual agreement on how additional Colorado River water could be sent East “under the right circumstances.” Central to the draft agreement, which is being circulated for comment, is that the East Slope recognizes that a new transmountain diversion may not be able to deliver water every year and must be used along with back-up non-West Slope sources of water.

The document is available here, and includes an annotated bibliography that summarizes many of the studies, pilot projects and white papers that have been developed over years of debate over how to meet Colorado’s future water needs. Feedback can be submitted via the Colorado’s Water Plan website, which contains draft chapters and information on the individual basin plans that were due at the end of July. The CO legislature’s Water Resources Review Committee is also holding hearings on the plan around the state. See the schedule here.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.


Colorado water users gird for first statewide plan — High Country News #COWaterPlan

August 1, 2014


From the High Country News (Sarah Tory):

…stakeholders from the state’s eight river basins plus the Denver metro area are tasked with articulating their needs and creating proposals for solutions to future water demand, in order to help create that plan. Today [July 31] marks the deadline for submitting those local concerns to the Colorado Water Conservation Board, the entity in charge of creating the statewide plan. The board will then synthesize the results from the local discussions, write a draft plan due this December, and complete the final version a year later. As each basin’s roundtable crafts their local recommendations, interest groups are jockeying to get fair representation in the final document.

The recent roundtables have been piggybacking on nine years’ worth of meetings, mandated under the Colorado Water for the 21st Century Act, which passed in 2005. With that foundation in place, Hickenlooper’s vision for a statewide plan had a head start in getting differing interests in each basin together. The biggest fights, however, aren’t necessarily within each roundtable, but between the basins themselves, particularly those separated by the Continental Divide…

The most contentious issue that the water plan must address is whether to allow new trans-mountain diversion projects, says Ken Neubecker, executive director for Western Rivers Institute, a river advocacy group, and the environmental representative for the Colorado River Basin Roundtable. The East Slope roundtables have been pushing to keep that option open, anticipating future water demands. But those in the western part of the state are firmly opposed, and some communities are pushing a “not one more drop” campaign.

Joe Frank, vice chair of the South Platte Basin roundtable, said that unlike past diversion projects, new proposals that appear in the draft plan are flexible arrangements under which water would be diverted east only during particularly wet years.

If the east-west divide is one major issue that the new plan must tackle, the other is unfolding on the fertile plains of the South Platte Basin, where the largest water shortages in the state are expected to occur. There, Gene Manuello’s cattle ranch sits near the town of Sterling. A third generation rancher, Manuello is the agricultural representative of his basin’s roundtable. He worries about the growing prevalence of “buy and dry” schemes in which thirsty cities buy up water rights from farmers and ranchers tired of trying to make a living in today’s unreliable agricultural market. That trend has been on the rise as cities grow more desperate for water, and is one that Manuello thinks will hollow out entire agricultural communities…

Driving this surge in demand for water is Colorado’s exploding population, concentrated in water-poor cities along the Front Range. If the state wants to deal with its water woes, it needs to get smart about growth, says Bob Streeter, who serves as the South Platte basin’s environmental representative. Streeter proposed that the government implement a policy to encourage only water-wise industries in the region. But that would mean discouraging profitable operations like dairy factories that contribute millions of dollars in jobs and salaries. The roundtable vetoed Streeter’s proposal. Other proposals include better land-use planning (saying goodbye to water hogging green lawns and suburbs) and making irrigation systems more efficient, like switching from flood to drip and replacing leaky canals.

One problem that’s surfaced during local discussions is that, while efficiency improvements are a sign of progress, they often spell trouble for downstream water users. Currently many downstream users rely on water that flows from leaking pipes and irrigation canals seeping back into rivers and groundwater supplies. The new efficiency practices therefore may impinge on downstream water rights.

Despite continued disagreements among users, roundtable organizers are optimistic that by the end of the year, the state conservation board will have a finished product to review.

“You get to know people,” Neubecker said about the recent years of local meetings. “After you work with these people for all these years, you get a good feel for how we’re all part of the same system.” Previous attempts at such a comprehensive water plan, like the one the Bureau of Reclamation proposed in 1974 were based on a top-down approach from the federal government, which died, according to Eklund, because Coloradans didn’t want bureaucrats from Washington telling them how to manage their water. The grass-roots nature of the current process seems to be the key to progress.

Not only that, said Eklund, like much of the American West, Colorado is growing thirstier. As drought, climate change and an exploding population push water resources to the brink,“there’s finally a sense that we have to tackle water problems as one unit.” If not, it won’t just be farms and lawns that take the hit. Municipal water rates will likely go up, and if too many streams turn to dust, the state’s vital tourist industry will suffer as well.

For Eklund, even an imperfect plan is better than no plan. “What I tell people is if we don’t do it, don’t think for a second it won’t get done for us,” he said, referring to the Bureau of Reclamation’s decision to take control of the Lower Basin States’ water supply when they couldn’t agree on how to share water amongst themselves. The lesson, he tells naysayers is this: “Would you rather us make a plan or the federal government do it for us?”


East West Divide Apparent At Colorado Water Meeting #COWaterPlan

July 23, 2014

Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer's office

Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer’s office


From KUNC (Stephanie Paige Ogburn):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


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

July 17, 2014

lowersouthplatteriver

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


Water Lines: Colorado needs a better water plan — Jim Pokrandt #ColoradoRiver #COWaterPlan

July 16, 2014


From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Jim Pokrandt):

It’s almost time for football training camps, so here’s a gridiron analogy for Colorado River water policy watchers: Western Colorado is defending two end zones. One is the Colorado River. The other is agriculture. The West Slope team has to make a big defensive play. If water planning errs on the side of overdeveloping the Colorado River, the river loses, the West Slope economy loses and West Slope agriculture could be on the way out.

This is how the Colorado River Basin Roundtable is viewing its contribution to the Colorado Water Plan ordered up by Gov. John Hickenlooper. A draft plan will be submitted this December and a final plan in December 2015. The Roundtable is assessing local water supply needs and environmental concerns for inclusion into the plan and there is plenty of work to consider in the region. But the big play may very well be the keeping of powerful forces from scoring on our two goal lines.

Here’s why: Colorado’s population is slated to double by 2050. Most of it will be on the Front Range, but our region is growing too. Mother Nature is not making any new water. We still depend on the same hydrological cycle that goes back to Day 1. So where is the “new” water going to come from? Right now, there seems to be two top targets, the Colorado River and agriculture (where 85 percent of state water use lies in irrigated fields). Colorado needs a better plan.

The Colorado Basin Roundtable represents Mesa, Garfield, Summit, Eagle, Grand and Pitkin counties. This region already sends between 450,000 and 600,000 acre feet of water annually across the Continental Divide through transmountain diversions (TMDs) to support the Front Range and the Arkansas River Basin.

That water is 100 percent gone. There are no return flows, such as there are with West Slope water users. On top of that, this region could see another 140,000 acre feet go east. A number of Roundtable constituents have long-standing or prospective agreements with Front Range interests wrapped around smaller TMDs. Existing infrastructure can still take some more water. That’s the scorecard right now. We assert another big TMD threatens streamflows and thus the recreational and agricultural economies that define Western Colorado, not to mention the environment.

In the bigger picture, the Colorado River Compact of 1922 requires Colorado to bypass about 70 percent of the river system to the state line to comply with legal limits on depletions so six other states can have their legal share of the water. Failure to do so, by overdeveloping the river, threatens compact curtailments and chaos nobody wants to see. For one thing, that kind of bad water planning could result in a rush to buy or condemn West Slope agricultural water rights.

The Roundtable has heard these concerns loudly and clearly from its own members across the six counties as well as from citizens who have given voice to our section of the water plan, known as the Basin Implementation Plan (BIP). A draft of the BIP can be viewed and comments offered by going online to http://coloradobip.sgm‐inc.com/. It is under the “Resources” tab.

Jim Pokrandt is Colorado Basin Roundtable Chair.

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


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

July 16, 2014
Basin roundtable boundaries

Basin roundtable boundaries

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

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

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

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

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

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

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

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


County commissioners urge participation in developing the #COWaterPlan

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

Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer’s office

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From the Vail Daily (Melanie Wong):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here


Fountain Creek: “Is there a way to balance the needs of flood control and water rights?” — Larry Small

July 11, 2014
Fountain Creek Watershed

Fountain Creek Watershed

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Overshadowing the need to look at the technical details of a study for a dam or detention ponds on Fountain Creek is how it would be funded. As of this week, the study has been battered about with all the care of an uprooted tree bobbing in the water. Other water issues may be getting snagged on it.

In May, Colorado Springs City Council stonewalled funding the study.

This week, the Arkansas Basin Roundtable couldn’t get past the issue of water rights and shrugged off consideration of a state grant for $135,000 that would have been part of a $220,000, 2-year study to look at the consequences of a dam and the feasibility of building it.

Larry Small, executive director of the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District, was frustrated after the meeting. Small walked the roundtable through the years of studies that led up to the conclusion that the best way to protect Pueblo from stormwater runoff in Colorado Springs — much of it made worse by development in the last 40 years — is to stop the water upstream of Pueblo.

“Is there a way to balance the needs of flood control and water rights or do we just throw up our hands?” Small said at one point during the meeting. “It may not be possible, but we need to find out.”

After the meeting, he was clearly frustrated.

“This is such a small part of the overall costs,” he said, slapping his hand against a folder of supporting information for the study.

During the meeting, several roundtable members made the point that junior agricultural water rights could be harmed during a flood.

The Fountain Creek district has attempted to deal with that in the past, including a comprehensive workshop on the topic, attended by some farmers, in December 2011.

Some saw value in looking at the water rights question just to determine if the rest of the study could proceed.

“This at least gets the conversation on the table,” said Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District.

In the end, the water rights question became a deal stopper.

There also are side issues that play into the question, such as a simmering feud between the Fountain Creek and Lower Ark districts about how matching money for grants has been applied under an intergovernmental agreement among the districts and Colorado Springs.

“I would encourage the IGA partners to come together soon and resolve their differences,” said Alan Hamel, the basin’s representative on the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

Hamel was one of the few roundtable members who spoke in favor of the grant.

“I think this is a wakeup call for the Fountain Creek district,” Winner said. “You don’t just sit up in Fountain and pretend to rule the world. The district needs to realize it’s in the water business.”

More Fountain Creek watershed coverage here and here.


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

July 10, 2014

Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer's office

Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer’s office


From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (John Stroud):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How will it all fit together?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


“I cannot imagine storage on Fountain Creek unless John Martin Reservoir were full” — said Jeris Danielson

July 10, 2014
Fountain Creek swollen by stormwater November 2011 via The Pueblo Chieftain

Fountain Creek swollen by stormwater November 2011 via The Pueblo Chieftain

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A study that could lead to building a flood-control dam on Fountain Creek stalled Wednesday over the question of how it might affect water rights. Determining if water rights could be protected would be the first task in the study, Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District Director Larry Small explained to the Arkansas Basin Roundtable.

“The prime objective is to evaluate whether water rights could be protected if a dam is built,” Small said. “There would be regular meetings with water rights holders to resolve the conflicts.”

That didn’t sit well with several members of the roundtable, who argued that junior water rights could be harmed if floodwater were held.

“I cannot imagine storage on Fountain Creek unless John Martin Reservoir were full,” said Jeris Danielson, a former state engineer who now heads the Purgatoire River Water Conservancy District. “It could mean a great deal of water lost to junior water rights holders, and I have a problem with the roundtable providing something that could damage the Arkansas River Compact.”

Otero County farmers John Schweizer and Vernon John Proctor both made the point that the Fountain Creek district does not have water rights to hold back any water.

Several other members of the board suggested that no part of the Fountain Creek study should go forward until the water rights question is answered.

Alan Hamel, who represents the Arkansas River basin on the Colorado Water Conservation Board, said the farmers were ignoring the potential danger to agriculture from a flood on Fountain Creek.

“I support this grant application,” Hamel said. “You just have to look at all the ditch headgates that were lost in Northern Colorado last fall.”

The roundtable moves projects ahead only if there is consensus, so the application was denied. A revised application still could be considered.

The study would build on a U.S. Geological Survey study that determined either a large dam on Fountain Creek or a series of detention ponds south of Colorado Springs would be the best protection for Pueblo of a 100-year flood on Fountain Creek. The USGS study, however, did not identify where a dam would be built or determine other factors such as engineering obstacles or water rights. The Fountain Creek district is trying to answer those questions prior to the arrival of $50 million in funding from Colorado Springs. That money, dedicated to flood control projects that benefit Pueblo, is a condition of the Pueblo County 1041 permit for the Southern Delivery System.

The $220,000 study promoted at the roundtable included financial backing from Colorado Springs Utilities, the Pueblo Board of Water Works, Fountain, the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, Pueblo West and Security. It also had letters of support from city councils and county commissioners in El Paso and Pueblo counties.

More Fountain Creek coverage here and here.


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

July 9, 2014
Basin roundtable boundaries

Basin roundtable boundaries

From the Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


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

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

Flood irrigation in the Arkansas Valley via Greg Hobbs

From the Ag Journal:

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

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

Schedule of DARCA workshops

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

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

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

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

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

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

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


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

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

Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From KKTV (Gina Esposito):

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

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

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

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


Governor Hickenlooper pow wows with Club 20

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

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

From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Will Grandbois):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From KREX (Travis Khachatoorian):

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

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


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

June 30, 2014

organicdairycows

From the Bent County Democrat (Candace Krebs):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


South Platte and Metro roundtables #COWaterPlan update

June 30, 2014
Basin roundtable boundaries

Basin roundtable boundaries

From The Fort Morgan Times (Marianne Goodland):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


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

June 29, 2014
The Glenwood Wave

The Glenwood Wave

From the Vail Daily (Randy Wyrick):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


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

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

Arkansas River Basin — Graphic via the Colorado Geological Survey

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

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

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

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

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

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


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

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

Arkansas River Basin — Graphic via the Colorado Geological Survey

From the Cañon City Daily Record (Carie Canterbury):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


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

June 16, 2014
Basin roundtable boundaries

Basin roundtable boundaries

From the Fowler Tribune (Lacy McCuisiton):

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


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


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

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


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

June 13, 2014
Basin roundtable boundaries

Basin roundtable boundaries

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

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

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

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

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

The CWCB will review basin plans in July.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


The countdown clock is ticking for #COWaterPlan Basin Implementation Plans

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

Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013

From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (John Stroud):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

• Implement smart growth strategies while emphasizing local control.

• Assure dependable administration of water resources.

• Sustain agriculture.

• Secure safe drinking water.

• Encourage basinwide conservation.

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

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

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

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

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


More storage on the horizon? #COWaterPlan

May 30, 2014

smithreservoir
From the Valley Courier (Travis Smith):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


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

May 30, 2014

Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013

Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013


From the Boulder Weekly (Bob Berwyn):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Arkansas River Basin — Graphic via the Colorado Geological Survey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


Fountain Creek dam study funding source up in the air

May 27, 2014
Fountain Creek Watershed

Fountain Creek Watershed

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It’s council’s decision,” Hart said.

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

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

More Fountain Creek coverage here.


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

May 25, 2014


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Local water, state water

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tapped out?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New reservoirs?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


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

May 24, 2014


From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But the debris and silt after a fire is immense.

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


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

May 23, 2014

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

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

Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Business in Colorado? Just add water. #COWaterPlan

May 22, 2014

From the Public News Service (Stephanie Carroll Carson):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


Solving the supply gap problem #COWaterPlan

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

Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer’s office

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (James Hagadorn):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


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

May 22, 2014
Basin roundtable boundaries

Basin roundtable boundaries

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You really changed the conversation for the good.”


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

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

Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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


Arkansas Basin Roundtable meeting recap #COWaterPlan

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

Arkansas River Basin — Graphic via the Colorado Geological Survey

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

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

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

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

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

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

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

Roundtable members were grateful for the turnout witnessed so far.

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

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

May 13, 2014

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


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

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

Historical Colorado River between Granby and Hot Sulphur Springs

From the Sky-Hi Daily News:

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

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

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

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

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

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.


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

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

Flood irrigation in the Arkansas Valley via Greg Hobbs

From The Greeley Tribune (Eric Brown):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


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.


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