Southwestern basin implementation plan ready for comment #COWaterPlan

September 26, 2014
San Juan River from Wolf Creek Pass

San Juan River from Wolf Creek Pass

From the Pagosa Sun (Ed Fincher):

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

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

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

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

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

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


MSU: Water Resources Review Committee, October 1 #COWaterPlan

September 24, 2014

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

September 23, 2014

Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013

Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013


From The Greeley Tribune (Kayla Young):

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

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

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

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

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

Municipal vs. agricultural priorities

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sustainability concerns for agriculture

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

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

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

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


Fort Collins: #COWaterPlan meeting September 17

September 16, 2014
Fort Collins back in the day via Larimer County

Fort Collins back in the day via Larimer County

From the Fort Collins Coloradoan:

State officials will host a meeting in Fort Collins on Wednesday, Sept. 17, to discuss the Colorado Water Plan with residents of the South Platte River Basin, the massive watershed that encompasses Fort Collins and the entire northeast corner of the state.

The water plan is a statewide initiative to prepare for long-term water use in Colorado, where burgeoning populations along the Front Range will tax Western Slope reservoirs in years to come. Colorado’s Rocky Mountains are the headwaters for most major rivers in the West, and provide water to 18 other states. But next to Arizona, the state is one of the last in the West to develop a statewide plan for water use.

A final draft of the plan is due to Gov. John Hickenlooper by December. However, Nov. 1 is the deadline for gathering public comment on the water plan. The plan is divided into basins, and each basin will have its own plan.

The Fort Collins meeting will address plans and concerns for the South Platte River Basin, and all residents from Fairplay to Julesberg are welcome to come. The meeting will be from 1 to 4 p.m. at the Fort Collins Senior Center, 1200 Raintree Drive. There is another meeting in Denver on Oct. 1 for the South Platte basin.

From the Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga):

The question is how to keep farming viable while covering a Front Range domestic supply gap expected to be between 350,000 and 500,000 acre-feet per year?

The state’s eight water basins are negotiating solutions that will culminate in a Colorado Water Plan for future management due out late next year.

Front Range metro suppliers say the solution is diverting more water from Western Slope rivers and reservoirs via the 22 transmountain diversions already in place.

But state water districts west of the Continental Divide are calling foul, and have calculated that if Front Range residents stop watering their thirsty Kentucky Bluegrass lawns it will be enough to make up the supply shortage.

“Ninety percent of domestic water use — your kitchen, bathroom, showers — makes it back to the river systems and reservoirs through return flows. It has less water-supply impact than watering lawns, which absorb 70-80 percent of it,” said Mike Preston, general manager for the Dolores Water Conservation District.

Preston is also chairman of the Southwest Water Roundtable, tasked with forming a local strategy for responsible water use and policy.

“The state proposes a 60-40 standard for domestic water consumption, 60 percent for in-home and 40 percent for outdoor lawns to better conserve water for ag production and population growth,” he said “But we’re getting a lot of pushback from Front Range water suppliers who are accustomed to the 50-50 ratio now.”

For domestic water obtained via transmountain diversions, the suggested ratio is 70 percent indoor use, and 30 percent outdoor use.

Furthermore, increasing transmountain diversions have far-reaching consequences. Siphoning off more Western Slope water to the Front Range threatens the state’s water-contract obligations for downstream states like Arizona, Nevada and California who depend on Colorado River basin water stored in Lake Powell and Lake Mead.

“They’re watching our water polices, more than we look at theirs,” Preston said. “Colorado is the headwaters for a lot of their supply.”

Meanwhile Western Slope water — especially the Blue Mesa Reservoir complex, near Gunnison, and Wyoming’s Flaming Gorge Reservoir — are looked at with envious eyes by Front Range water districts.

But the massive reservoirs are mainly designed to store water for contractual delivery to Lake Powell and Lake Mead relied on by Lower Basin states.

Colorado is entitled to 51 percent of Colorado River basin water above Lees Ferry, Ariz. Once it is diverted to the Front Range, it is lost to the Colorado River system, eventually draining east toward the Mississippi River.

To make a dent in unsustainable water demand in Fort Collins, Denver, and Colorado Springs, they should become more like Las Vegas, local water officials say.

The city’s successful lawn conservation program has vastly reduced water consumption, and includes strict drought-resistant landscaping regulations for future development…

“Front Range water district plans all include transmountain diversion as the solution,” Preston said. “We’re saying it won’t be considered until you get more aggressive about domestic conservation by limiting outdoor watering.”

More education is needed about the importance of responsible water management, said Bruce Whitehead, of the Southwest Water Conservation District.

“Many people don’t have a clue about the state water plan or the issues we’re facing,” he said. “We have a lot of work to do in our basin to educate the constituency.”

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


State Rep. Randy Fischer: Having a voice in water planning #COWaterPlan

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

Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013

From Steamboat Today (Randy Fischer):

“Water is essential to Colorado’s quality of life and economy, but our ability to maintain those values will be challenged by a growing population, increasing demands for water, and limited supplies of this precious resource.”

These words appear on the Colorado Water Conservation Board’s website, describing the need for and purpose of the proposed Colorado Water Plan, which is to be drafted by the end of 2014 under an executive order signed by Gov. John Hickenlooper in May 2013.

Our goal for the water plan is to provide a path forward for providing Coloradans with the water we need in the future while seeking to maintain such divergent values as healthy watersheds and environment, robust recreation and tourism economies, vibrant and sustainable cities and viable and productive agriculture.

Colorado’s Water Plan will build on eight years of extremely valuable water supply planning work by the Statewide Water Supply Initiative, the Inter-Basin Compact Committee and the nine Basin Roundtables, one for each of the major watersheds in the state.

In 2014, the Colorado General Assembly passed Senate Bill 14-115, which also recognized the need to engage the general public in the water planning process by gathering input through a series of public meetings in all the major river basins of Colorado. SB-115 directs the legislature’s Interim Water Resources Review Committee to convene these meetings, gather public input and provide comment on the draft water plan by Nov. 1.

The next of these public meetings is scheduled for Tuesday from 9 a.m. to noon at the Bud Werner Memorial Library in Steamboat Springs. This meeting is for residents of the Yampa and White river basins. I invite and encourage all residents of Northwest Colorado, from Steamboat to Rangeley, to attend this important meeting.

The WRRC recognizes that water issues inherently involve competing values that cannot all be resolved through technological or technical fixes. Different groups bring different values to the conversation. There is no “right” way to balance these competing interests and values. Through SB-115, the WRRC is asking the public to help make Colorado’s Water Plan a better document that seeks to represent the values of all state residents.

The WRRC also recognizes that the Colorado Water Plan will identify difficult choices and tradeoffs that will need to be made to plan for and create a sustainable water future. SB-115 envisions a public process that lays out these choices and tradeoffs facing Colorado and seeks to find a way through public input to navigate the difficult issues that lie ahead.

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


State water administration still evolving — Craig Cotten

September 14, 2014

sanluisvalleyearlywinterriograndeinitiative

From the Valley Courier (Craig Cotten):

State water administration still evolving

By CRAIG COTTEN Division Engineer Colorado Division of Water Resources

This is the thirteenth article in the series from the Rio Grande Basin Roundtable regarding the formation and implementation of the Basin Water Plan. VALLEY For more than 140 years, Colorado has used a system of water allocation known as the prior appropriation system.

Prior appropriation refers to the concept that those that put water to use first are entitled to get their water first during periods of water shortage, or put more simply, “First in Time, First in Right.” The Colorado Division of Water Resources is the sole state agency that is empowered to administer surface and groundwater to ensure that the prior appropriation doctrine is enforced.

The administration of water has been occurring in this area since before Colorado became a state. During the gold rush days when Colorado was still a territory, miners established ‘miners’ courts’ to handle disputes. Many times these disputes centered around water and who was entitled to use the water when there was not enough for everyone. It was during this time that the concept of prior appropriation really came into being in Colorado. In 1876 when Colorado became a state, the idea of a water administration system based upon the prior appropriation doctrine was enshrined in its constitution .

With the establishment of the position of water commissioners in 1879, Colorado became the first state in the nation to provide for the distribution and administration of water by public officials. In 1881, the legislature established the Office of the State Irrigation Engineer, known today as the State Engineer’s Office or the Division of Water Resources. In 1887 the legislature created a position called the superintendent of irrigation for each of the seven main river basins, or divisions, in the state. This position is now known as the Division Engineer.

For the first nearly 90 years of water administration by the state, water administration was restricted mainly to surface water. This changed in 1969 with the passage of the Water Rights Determination and Administration Act. This act required that groundwater be integrated with surface water into the prior appropriation system, and allowed the State Engineer to develop Rules and Regulations to administer groundwater use. In 1972, the State Engineer issued a moratorium on new wells in most parts of the San Luis Valley, and in 1981 that moratorium was expanded to prohibit new wells in all parts of Division 3. In 1975 the State Engineer developed groundwater rules for Division 3, the drainage basin of the Rio Grande. These rules stated that well owners had to replace the depletions due to their well pumping or they would be shut down. Obviously this threat of shutting down many wells in the San Luis Valley did not please the well owners, and a period of nearly 10 years of litigation ensued. In 1985, with an agreement between the parties to the lawsuit, the rules were dismissed . In their place the water users agreed that the Closed Basin Project would be used to offset the depletions to the rivers caused by the wells. The agreement worked fairly well until the late 1990’s and the drought years of the early 2000’s , when it was apparent that more formal regulation of groundwater was needed in Division 3.

One of the hurdles to groundwater regulation in the San Luis Valley has always been the lack of a good understanding of the aquifers and their interaction with the rivers and streams. In 1998 the legislature passed legislation that directed the State Engineer to begin a study of the aquifers of Division 3. This study became known as the Rio Grande Decision Support System (RGDSS), and is an ongoing study that has shed a great deal of light on the aquifers. In that same year the legislature also directed the State Engineer to begin developing rules to govern new withdrawals of water from the confined aquifer based upon information gathered from the RGDSS study. These rules were formally adopted by the State Engineer in 2004 and prevented any increased withdrawals of groundwater from the confined aquifer. After a lengthy trial in Alamosa, the rules were approved by Judge Kuenhold in November 2006. The ruling was appealed to the Colorado Supreme Court, and in 2008 the Supreme Court upheld the rules.

As part of the need to get more data on groundwater usage, the State Engineer established the well measurement rules in 2005. These rules require all large capacity wells, and some smaller wells, in Division 3 to be equipped with flow meters . The meter readings are collected a minimum of once per year and are being used to get a detailed description of the water use by well, and the total groundwater usage in the San Luis Valley . This is very important for the RGDSS model as well as for the impending groundwater rules.

In 2008 the State Engineer established an Advisory Committee in order to assist him in developing new groundwater use rules for existing groundwater uses. It is anticipated that these rules will be finalized this fall. Once the rules are in place, they will require that most large capacity wells in Division 3 replace their depletions to the streams and ensure that the aquifers remain sustainable. Owners that do not replace the depletions from the use of their wells and take steps to bring the aquifers back into a sustainable situation will have their wells shut down.

As water becomes a more and more precious commodity , there is need for increased administration of that water. This is to ensure that the water is being used by the people entitled to use it, that it is being used for its intended purpose, and that there is no injury to someone else’s water rights due to actions by another water user.

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


Glenwood Springs: How should Colorado prioritize economic benefits in the COWaterPlan?

September 13, 2014
Glenwood Springs via Wikipedia

Glenwood Springs via Wikipedia

From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (John Stroud):

The importance of green lawns to maintain quality of life and urban home values was heard alongside that of maintaining river flows for the Western Slope’s recreation-based economy in comments to the Colorado Water Conservation Board Thursday.

“Back yards are our recreational amenity,” Mark Pifher of the Front Range Water Council said during testimony before the CWCB on the draft Colorado Water Plan in Glenwood Springs as part of a two-day meeting that continues today at the Hotel Colorado.

Pifher also took to task Winter Park real estate broker Dennis Saffell, who cited statistics from Grand County that suggest riverfront properties sell for 134 percent more than other types of residential property, and even properties with a view of a river are 24 percent more valuable.

“It’s really important to keep our rivers viable economically, not just for the recreational aspects but for the entire economy that supports our communities,” Saffell said. “Rivers create a lifestyle, attract tourists and attract the people that live here.”

But aggressive conservation measures aimed at limiting outdoor water use in Front Range cities can have the effect of lowering real estate values in those areas, countered Pifher, who pointed out that outdoor irrigation makes up only 4 percent of consumptive water use in the state, according to statistics referenced in the draft water plan.

Joe Stibrich, representing the city of Aurora Water Department, suggested that, just as anglers and whitewater enthusiasts expect the state’s water plan to preserve the recreation experience in the mountains, urban dwellers have a right to expect a “reasonable residential experience.”

That includes reasonably irrigated lawns, public parks and sports fields, and golf courses, he said.

Statewide conservation measures also need to be considered on equal footing with viable alternatives to meet Front Range water needs, including new supply development through future trans-mountain diversions, he said…

“Water utilities do recognize the importance of healthy rivers and ecosystems,” Stibrich said. “But it’s equally important to maintain an urban environment with healthy landscapes.”

The debate pointed up the difficult task before the CWCB to deliver on Gov. John Hickenlooper’s directive to present a statewide water plan by December that addresses the often divergent views between the Western Slope interests and those of Front Range communities.

The first-ever statewide water plan is intended to address a significant gap in the amount of water needed to meet growth projections, especially on the Front Range, and what’s now available through both in-basin and trans-basin diversions.

But a key goal is also to protect healthy river flows on the Western Slope, including in the Colorado River Basin where members of the basin roundtable have recommended a strong emphasis on conservation in the water plan, along with opposition to any new trans-mountain diversions.

At some point, “the line has to be drawn … enough is enough” when it comes to Front Range water diversions, said fishing guide Jack Bombardier, owner of Confluence Casting in Gypsum in his testimony before the water board.

Bombardier was part of a coalition of river recreation business owners and enthusiasts, along with conservation groups, who spoke during the Thursday session. The coalition cited a study that shows river-based recreation in Colorado generates $9 billion a year and is responsible for 80,000 jobs.

“We all have skin in the game,” Bombardier said. “But we’re approaching a crossroads. The whole western [Colorado] ecosystem and economy hinges on healthy rivers.”

Water Conservation Board member Patricia Wells, representing the city and county of Denver, said one of the state’s recreational amenities that is reliant on water is missing from the equation in reference to those statistics — golf courses.

She requested that golf be mentioned in the section of the water plan that addresses recreational and environmental projects.

Wells also challenged speaker Annie Henderson, representing the Upper Colorado Private Boaters Association in Glenwood Springs, when she made reference to “wasteful and irresponsible water use” in relation to the need for better conservation measures to help protect the Western Slope’s quality of life.

“Quality of life exists in urban areas too,” Wells said. “Different people use water in ways that are valuable to them.”

Here’s some video from KREXTV.

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


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