“We’re still crunching the numbers…There’s been a spike” in comments since Aug. 20 — James Eklund #COWaterPlan

October 19, 2014

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

A poll aimed at influencing the drafting of the Colorado statewide water plan says residents oppose a new transmountain diversion and the plan should emphasize conservation. The poll was commissioned by WaterforColorado.org, which said the results were mirrored in more than 18,000 comments submitted for the drafting of a statewide water plan, the first draft of which is to be presented on Dec. 10.

The comment period on the plan ended a week ago and the Colorado Water Conservation Board is now factoring comments into its report.

“Our position is that any engagement is good engagement,” said James Eklund, director of the CWCB, who noted that the agency received 10,475 letters between Sept. 20, 2013, and Aug. 20, 2014.

“We’re still crunching the numbers,” Eklund said. “There’s been a spike” in comments since Aug. 20.

That total included 6,213 form letters marked “protect Colorado’s rivers,” as suggested by Water for Colorado, Eklund noted. Comments also included 730 unique emails and 92 unique submissions on web forms.

The poll, conducted by a bipartisan team, Keating Research and Public Opinion Strategies, found that 90 percent of respondents said the water plan should be to keep the state’s rivers healthy and flowing and that 78 percent of voters prefer using water conservation and recycling instead of diverting water from the Western Slope to the Front Range. It also found that 88 percent of respondents support a statewide goal of reducing water use in cities and towns by 10 percent by 2020.

WaterForColorado.org doesn’t identify its source of funding or staff members and notes on the website that it “shares insights and expertise from a variety of organizations that research and study water conservation and natural resource issues. WaterForColorado.org offers a solutions-based approach to Colorado’s water future, and opportunities for the general public to have a voice and take action.”

Other organizations have made similar findings.

“The interesting thing is that in this survey, the West Slope is at least being echoed in emphasizing conservation,” said Jim Pokrandt, spokesman for the Colorado River Water Conservation District.

The poll was conducted Sept. 5 to 8 of 500 voters across Colorado, including an oversample of 162 voters on the West Slope. Statewide, the margin of error is plus or minus 4.6 percent and plus or minus 7.7 percent on the West Slope.

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


Water Lines: How will Colorado’s water plan address West-East water transfers? #COWaterPlan #ColoradoRiver

October 14, 2014

From the Grand Junction Free Press (Hannah Holm):

As the first draft of Colorado’s Water Plan nears completion (it’s due in December), many who have participated in its development remain anxious about what will and won’t be in it — particularly in relation to the potential for more West Slope water to be transported east to serve growing cities on the Front Range.

Colorado’s Water Plan, which was ordered by Governor Hickenlooper in May of 2013, is intended to close a projected gap between water needs and developed supplies in coming decades. “Basin Roundtables” of water providers and other water stakeholders in each of the state’s major river basins contributed key building blocks to the plan back in July, when they turned in plans for how to address needs within their own basins.

Now, Colorado Water Conservation Board staffers are scrambling to integrate information from each of the basin plans, as well as their own statewide analysis and public input, into a cohesive document. This would be a big task even if all of the basin plans agreed with each other — which they don’t.

The West Slope basin plans reflect an extremely dim view of additional diversions of West Slope water to the Front Range, citing damage to the environment and river-based recreation and the concern that failure to meet water delivery obligations to downstream states would put both West Slope and Front Range users of Colorado River water at risk. The South Platte basin plan, on the other hand, states that additional Colorado River imports will be needed to supply future urban growth and prevent the dry-up of irrigated land.

At a meeting on Oct. 6, Gunnison Basin Roundtable members asked how this conflict would be resolved in the statewide plan. The answer they got from the basin’s representative to the Colorado Water Conservation Board, John McClow, was that it wouldn’t. He said, as other CWCB representatives have also stated in previous meetings, that the plan will not endorse any particular type of transmountain diversion project. The individual basin plans will stand on their own, without any forced reconciliation.

An early draft chapter of the Colorado Water Plan, however, does contain a draft “conceptual agreement” on how to approach a potential future transmountain diversion. This agreement was hammered out between representatives from all the state’s roundtables and released for comment.

The draft conceptual agreement got a mixed reception at the Gunnison Basin Roundtable meeting. Members welcomed an acknowledgement by Front Range parties that any new transmountain diversion may only be able to take water in wet years, due to existing demands and downstream obligations.

Language about the need for an “insurance policy” to protect “existing uses and some increment of future development” was greeted with much more skepticism, however. There was concern that this meant that irrigated agriculture could be sacrificed to enable continued urban uses, although no one could say with certainty what it really meant. There was also concern that the agreement would go into the December draft of Colorado’s Water Plan without sufficient additional discussion.

Some comfort was provided by the fact that, once the complete draft of Colorado’s Water Plan is released in December, the current timeline allows a full year for additional discussion and public comment before the document is final. You can find all the documents developed to date at http://www.coloradowaterplan.com.

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


Roundtable focuses on ‘augmentation gap’ — The Pueblo Chieftain

October 14, 2014
Straight line diagram of the Lower Arkansas Valley ditches via Headwaters

Straight line diagram of the Lower Arkansas Valley ditches via Headwaters

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Agriculture has a $1.5 billion annual impact to the Arkansas Valley, but production hinges on the availability of water. So, the Arkansas Basin Roundtable is trying to turn the state’s thinking around from looking at the agricultural “water gap” as a shortage of irrigated acres to prevention of further economic erosion.

“When the state first looked at the agricultural water gap, it came down to the number of acres, but it really had to do more with the $1.5 billion impact of agriculture,” said Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District.

“What we have is an augmentation gap.”

A study for the Lower Ark district and the Super Ditch showed that the amount of water needed to fill agricultural augmentation plans — methods to replace loss of return flows from pump­ing or surface irrigation improvements — could be as high as 50,000 acre feet (16.3 billion gallons) annually by 2050.

At the same time, traditional sources for augmentation water such as Colorado Springs Utilities or Pueblo Board of Water Works leases will diminish as the cities grow into their water supplies.

“A lot of the sources for augmentation water were double-counted,” Winner said.

Agriculture is not the only area that will be shorted. Mountain subdivisions, industrial users and cities are finding themselves under-subscribed when it comes to replacement water, said Terry Scanga, general manager of the Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District.

“If growth continues, whether it’s outside or inside the communities, we will continue to see a wider augmentation gap,” Scanga said. “More storage and better use of it can mean an increase in supply.”

The only other ways to find new water will be to continue to take it from farms, for many years the easiest target in the Arkansas River basin, or the much more difficult task of bringing more water across the Continental Divide, he said. But the quest to find more water must be tempered by protecting what is already in place.

In stating its preferences, the roundtable agreed to recommend language in the state water plan that encourages the state to: “Prevent future water supply gaps from increasing by protecting water rights and adhering to the prior appropriation doctrine.”

Meanwhile, the roundtable elected Jim Broderick to lead them for the next term. Here’s a report from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain:

Jim Broderick, executive director of the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, was elected chairman of the Arkansas Basin Roundtable at its annual organizational meeting Wednesday. But the annual selection of the slate of officers, usually a routine formality, came with a minor ripple.

The roundtable also selected the proposed slate of officers on the executive committee, including vice-chairwomen SeEtta Moss and Betty Konarski, and Interbasin Compact Committee representatives Jay Winner and Jeris Danielson.

The lineup was challenged by Brett Gracely, water resources manager for Colorado Springs Utilities, who pointed out there were no agricultural or municipal representatives on the executive committee.

Three of them, Broderick, Winner and Danielson, are water conservancy district managers. Moss, of Canon City, represents environmental interests and Konarski, a real estate agent, is the El Paso County representative.

“They have been there for several years, and represent one viewpoint, but not all the viewpoints on the roundtable,” Gracely said.

“What action are you proposing?” Broderick replied.

Gracely nominated Mike Fink, Fountain water resources engineer, to serve on the IBCC instead of Winner, whose term ended.

Broderick checked the bylaws and announced that Fink was not eligible to serve on the executive committee because he was not a member of the roundtable.

Colorado Springs Utilities already has a member on the 27-member IBCC, Wayne Vanderschuere, who was appointed by the governor.

Broderick then explained that the same people wind up in the leadership roles because they have the time to attend numerous meetings and the resources to do the work involved.

Winner, who also chairs the needs assessment committee, which screens grants, offered to step down from that job if others were interested in taking on the task.

“It takes a lot of time,” he explained.

Broderick invited other roundtable members to become more active in committees.

More IBCC — basin roundtables coverage here.


“The idea that we can build it and the water will come needs to be reversed” — Reed Dils #COWaterPlan

October 11, 2014
Sprawl

Sprawl

It seems that every time someone considers land-use planning on a statewide basis it becomes radioactive quickly. Here’s a report from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain:

It’s probably wise to expect a little pain when you grab the bull by the horns. So, the Arkansas Basin Roundtable this week wrestled the question of new development, land use policies and local control to the ground, only to find that it jumped back up to torment. The roundtable looked at a white-paper approach to explain the need for water planning in land use decisions by local authorities.

“The idea that we can build it and the water will come needs to be reversed,” said Reed Dils, a retired outfitter who served on the Colorado Water Conservation Board and the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District in recent years.

In a continuation of a discussion that began at the September roundtable meeting, the group batted at the issue.

The group is leaning toward recommending that local land-use authorities receive more education about how water will be provided to developments they approve.

The spectrum of local control is broad however. Counties make frontend decisions based on the availability of water, but sometimes there is little follow-through on whether the plans were carried out. It can mean that a development with a supposedly firm water supply fails to develop at the proper pace and residents resort to hauling water. Several examples were cited during the meeting.

“Who ultimately has the responsibility for maintaining accountability after 20 years and 15 iterations of county commissioners?” said Brett Gracely, water resources manager for Colorado Springs Utilities.

“I think if you want local control, you’re going to have to figure out how they’re going to get water,” said SeEtta Moss, the roundtable’s environmental representative from Canon City.

Local planners also have the ability to stretch their water supplies with policies that encourage high-density or cluster development or landscape irrigation limits, said Dave Taussig, a water attorney from Lincoln County.

At the other end of the spectrum is a sort of veto power counties can use to shape projects through 1974 HB1041, which gives counties authority to regulate statewide projects.

That could needlessly hinder otherwise beneficial projects, some members said.

Some roundtable members thought the amendment to the water plan might be confusing. Terry Scanga, general manager of the Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District, said well permits, water administration by the state and planning processes already in place provide protection for water rights.

“We’re back to Square One,” Scanga said.

“We’re looking at the question of do we have enough water for future growth.”

In the end, the roundtable delayed any action on this particular plank of the water plan.

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


Tying water to growth, sort of — The Pueblo Chieftain #COWaterPlan

October 5, 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 proposal to link local land use to state water planning through better education about water issues will be discussed at this week’s meeting of the Arkansas Basin Roundtable. The question often has been the elephant in the room during discussions in the past decade by roundtables and the state Interbasin Compact Committee. The groups were formed in 2005 to address an impending gap in municipal water supplies.

While strategies such as storage, water projects, conservation and sharing water supplies have been discussed, the interconnection of growth and water supply was seldom brought up. Until the September roundtable meeting, when several members openly wrestled with the question of “carrying capacity” for cities — similar to federal guidelines for the number of cattle allowed under grazing permits.

A draft paper prepared since then by consultants, sent in advance to members of the roundtable, outlines the relationship local control, land-use planning and water supply planning. It explores legal decisions that give cities the right to hold future supplies, but limit the time span and conditions water can be tied up. It also looks at measures ranging from proof of water ownership before allowing a development to enforcing conservation measures in new development. The paper could be incorporated into a basin implementation plan presented to the Colorado Water Conservation Board as part of the state water plan.

“Existing Colorado law empowers land-use authorities to weigh the adequacy of an applicant’s water supply when making land-use decisions. However, the effectiveness of such a statute requires a well-informed decision making body, with some depth of knowledge regarding the subtleties of an adequate water supply,” the paper states.

Recommendations are to incorporate water planning with land use at the local level at the earliest possible time, keeping in mind that one size does not fit all users.

Proposed state legislation takes the same tack by recommending promoting water conservation in land-use planning under a coordinated approach among state agencies.

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


New storage project aims to ease demand for West Slope water — Grand Junction Daily Sentinel #COWaterPlan #ColoradoRiver

October 4, 2014
Proposed reallocation pool -- Graphic/USACE

Proposed reallocation pool — Graphic/USACE

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

The state of Colorado has signed an agreement to boost Front Range water storage, one of the things a growing chorus of Western Slope voices has been calling for to ease the demand for more transmountain diversions. Gov. John Hickenlooper on Friday announced the agreement between the state and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to provide for greater water storage at Chatfield Reservoir in Chatfield State Park. The action will result in an increase of up to 75 percent in storage for uses other than flood control.

It comes after Club 20’s board last month weighed in on an ongoing state water planning process by calling for measures including prioritizing “the storage of Front Range water on the Front Range.” That’s a position that also was endorsed earlier as part of a position paper on the state water plan that was signed by numerous headwaters counties, towns, water utilities and other entities. That paper specifically mentioned Chatfield as an example of such a project that could be undertaken.

The storage project announcement comes amid increasing Western Slope concern that the new state water plan will result in yet more transmountain diversion projects being pursued. In August, Associated Governments of Northwest Colorado sent Hickenlooper and Colorado Water Conservation Board director James Eklund a letter urging them to oppose any more diversions of water across the Continental Divide.

“The Western Slope in Colorado has no more water to give,” said the letter, signed by AGNC Chair Mike Samson, a Garfield County commissioner, and Vice Chair Jeff Eskelson, a Rio Blanco County commissioner.

It also was signed by former Western Slope state lawmakers Ron Teck and Jack Taylor, several local office holders in the region including Mesa County Commissioner John Justman, and ranching, energy and other business interests.

The AGNC refers to a letter from several Front Range water interests this spring calling for assurance that a new water project involving Colorado River water will be part of the state plan for meeting future needs.

“This would be too much of the same old story,” says the AGNC letter, which argues that for too long the thirst of the Front Range has been quenched “at the sacrifice of Western Slope communities.” It notes that western Colorado already provides more than 400,000 acre-feet of water a year to the Front Range.

Club 20 didn’t specifically oppose more diversions, but said the state plan should contain provisions including prioritizing municipal conservation, “including a statewide conservation goal and measurable outcome, and a higher goal for water providers that are using water supplies of statewide concern such as permanent dry-up of agricultural land and/or need a new transmountain diversion from the Colorado River basin.”

The idea of more Front Range storage of water originating there has received additional attention after last September’s Front Range flooding caused some to lament about water running downstream that might have been stored instead.

The Chatfield project has been in the planning and permitting stages for more than a decade, Hickenlooper’s office said in a news release.

“The Chatfield Reservoir Storage Reallocation Project will help farmers irrigate crops and assist communities working to replace limited groundwater with sustainable surface supplies. The project also has the benefit of storing more Front Range water and easing demand for water from the Western Slope. Importantly, as well, the project increases the capacity of an existing reservoir, reducing the impacts to the environment that could be associated with an entirely new reservoir site,” the news release said.

The state water plan principles endorsed by the headwaters jurisdictions don’t include outright opposition to more transmountain diversions, but lay out numerous conditions for more diversions occurring, including that existing diversion water first be “re-used to extinction to the extent allowed by law.”

More Chatfield Reservoir coverage here.


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

October 3, 2014


From the High Country News (Sarah Tory):

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

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

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

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

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

Graphic via the High Country News

Graphic via the High Country News

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


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