Colorado Water Congress Summer Conference recap, day 2

August 22, 2014


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

Gov. John Hickenlooper told members of the Colorado Water Congress on Thursday that he thinks it’s “unlikely” that public opinion in the state has shifted in favor of a new major dam project being built in the state, even in the face of population growth and drought. He said he has found more support around the state for the idea of increasing the height of existing dams by 5 or 10 feet, which he said can dramatically increase the amount of water stored in a reservoir.

“I think we have a lot of opportunity in those projects, many of which are underway,” Hickenlooper said.

But, he added, “I’m not sure we have enough capacity just doing those projects for all the water we’re going to need.”

He also called for increased water conservation in both the state’s cities and its fields.

The governor spoke on the second day of the Colorado Water Congress’ annual summer convention, which is being held at the Westin hotel in Snowmass Village through today.

Former Congressman Bob Beauprez, who is running against Hickenlooper for governor, is slated to speak this morning at the water conference.

Hickenlooper had the full attention of the members of the water congress on Thursday, as his call for a draft Colorado Water Plan to address the state’s future water needs is supposed to be on his desk by Dec. 10, and the planning process has kept many in the state’s water community busy. The governor noted that the nine different river-basin roundtables have held over 850 meetings to discuss water policy and projects. The Colorado River Basin Roundtable meets monthly in Glenwood Springs, and its next meeting is Monday, Aug. 25 from noon until 4 p.m. Those individual basin plans are now being sifted and sorted to create the draft statewide plan, which Hickenlooper said was met with skepticism when he first proposed it.

“What we kept trying to say is, the most important part of this water plan is the process we use to create it,” Hickenlooper said. “It’s not going to be a small group of people in Denver trying to make decisions on how water should be allocated for the rest of the state. And I think what we’ve seen is that this plan is going to be created by a broad cross section of people from across the state.”

Hickenlooper also called for cooperation among often-warring factions in Colorado’s water world, be they Front Range water providers trying to deliver water to a growing urban population, Western Slope ranchers and farmers working to preserve their rural way of life and the future value of their private water rights, or river-lovers on both sides of the divide fighting to keep water in rivers for fishing, boating or nature’s sake.

“Water can either divide us, or unite us,” Hickenlooper said. “In the end, it’s our choice. I think in this state, we generally choose to collaborate and work together to try and find compromises and make sure that it doesn’t divide us.”

He said that by working together and taking a “calculated and conservative” approach to water planning, the state’s various water factions are, in fact, moving forward.

“While this collaboration isn’t as sexy or glamorous as the bare-knuckled water brawling that we see sometimes in our neighboring states, and sometimes here in the past, this cooperation is effective and I think very productive,” Hickenlooper said. “Collaboration can bear fruit that otherwise would be unobtainable.”

Jim Pokrandt, the director of communications at the Colorado River District in Glenwood Springs and the chair of the Colorado River Basin Roundtable, said it was hard to say if the roundtable members around the state had faith in the emerging water plan.

“Some won’t be happy unless it calls out a project,” Pokrandt said. “Others will always think it is a stalking horse for a project no matter how it handles that issue.”

Pokrandt said the draft plan will at least identify many local water projects and statewide needs. Then, he said, “the real work begins.”

A final water plan is to be complete by December 2015.

And it remains to be seen how well the governor and the Colorado Water Conservation Board, which is in charge of developing the draft water plan, will collaborate with the state legislature.

Last year, state Sen. Gail Schwartz, formerly of Snowmass Village and who now lives in Crested Butte, co-sponsored a bill that would require the Colorado Water Plan to be approved by the legislature, and not just the governor. However, the bill was watered down to require the state’s interim legislative committee on water to hold nine public hearings in the state on the plan this summer. The hearing in the Colorado River basin was held Thursday evening at the Glenwood Springs library, with 10 state legislators who sit on the interim water committee in attendance, along with over 50 citizens.

Pokrandt, as chair of the Colorado basin roundtable, gave an overview of the group’s draft plan. He said a key finding was that another transmountain diversion was not in the best interest of the state at this time, especially as pending projects are already likely to divert an additional 140,000 acre-feet of water from the Colorado basin to the Front Range.

Today, between 450,000 and 600,000 acre feet of water is sent from the basin to the east each year.

A chief finding of the basin’s plan is that “high conservation, (water) reuse and linking water supply to land use” are in the best options for the state.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

One candidate evoked the strong connection of water to Colorado’s past and the need to preserve more of it for the future. The other talked about a coming global crisis and the need for America to become an international leader for water development. This particular stop on the campaign trail was the summer convention of the Colorado Water Congress. U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, a Democrat, is facing Republican challenger U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner in the November election. Both are perennial favorites of the state’s leading water group, but took different approaches to argue how they would best serve the state’s water interests.

“How are we going to meet the needs of our people, our farmers and our communities if we don’t build storage,” Gardner said.

The federal government impedes water development in Colorado and represents a danger to water rights within the state, Gardner said.

Gardner talked about his family’s five generations as store owners and implement dealers in Yuma, and said federal policies endanger that way of life.

“Will our children have the same type of opportunity if we don’t change the way we’re doing things?” he asked.

Udall countered that it’s not enough for Colorado or the United States to look after just its own needs. Instead, the country has the opportunity to provide global leadership in confronting future shortages.

“When it comes to water, we are living beyond our means and that is a dangerous situation,” Udall said.

Climate is changing because of human activities at the same time world population is increasing, creating new stress on water supplies. As shortages grow, stability in foreign governments diminishes, he said. While that’s a threat to U.S. interests, it’s also an opportunity for American companies to be innovative while reaching out to help solve the problem. In the process, there would be goodwill toward the U.S., Udall said.

Closer to home, he said Colorado must protect its interests on the Colorado River and to resist federal attempts to tie up state water rights.

“I’ve made it one of my top priorities to protect Colorado water,” Udall said. “We have to make sure liquid gold is always available.” cwoodka@chieftain.com Will our children have the same type of opportunity if we don’t change the way we’re doing things?

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A bill that would allow water saved from farm efficiencies to support instream flows — vetoed this year by Gov. John Hickenlooper — could be resurrected in the next legislative session. The interim water resources review committee heard testimony Wednesday from some who opposed the measure and said a pilot program might be workable. There is still opposition to the bill, however.

“I think we got an idea of why they’re opposing the bill,” said state Sen. Gail Schwartz, D-Snowmass Village, after the hearing.

The bill, SB14-023, proposed allowing water savings from agricultural improvements to be donated on a temporary basis to the Colorado Water Conservation Board for instream flows, without diminishing the water rights of those who contribute water. It was an attempt to encourage conservation while not penalizing farmers under the state’s “use it or lose it” system. The law applied only to the Colorado River and its tributaries, but could affect junior water rights, including transmountain diversions, such as those used by the Pueblo Board of Water Works or Fryingpan-Arkansas Project.

John Stulp, Hickenlooper’s water adviser, said a scaled-back pilot program to see the impact of such donations of water rights is now being considered.

“Our concern is of possible damages to intervening diverters,” said Carlyle Currier, vice president of the Colorado Farm Bureau. “They could spend a lot of time and money trying to defend themselves in water court.” In overappropriated basins, such as the Arkansas and South Platte rivers, the concept would not work, but there are conditions where senior water rights would not be harmed and junior rights even improved in the Colorado River basin.

Terry Fankhauser, executive vice president of the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association, was more supportive of the bill, saying it is a tool that could help keep farmers and ranchers in business. The group’s membership is split over the costs of water court, but argued costs could be reduced if the CWCB picked up the tab for engineering costs.

“We believe the full range of issues was addressed in the bill,” said Doug Robotham, Colorado water project director for the Nature Conservancy. He also voiced support for the pilot program.

Montrose farmer Mark Catlin said he considers the bill a “jaundiced” attempt to change state water law. He disagreed with other speakers about whether farm efficiencies decrease consumptive use, because all water in a system is reused many times.

“A water right is how much water you can divert, and it’s dangerous to go into ag and change the way it works,” he said. “The calling right is at the headgate. Is the state of Colorado going to be a partner?”

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


Roaring Fork Watershed Stream Flow Report for August 21, 2014

August 22, 2014

GPS is Tracking West’s Vanishing Water, Scientists Surprised to Learn — National Geographic

August 22, 2014
Western US

Western US

From National Geographic (Michelle Nijhuis):

Throughout the western United States, a network of Global Positioning System (GPS) stations has been monitoring tiny movements in the Earth’s crust, collecting data that can warn of developing earthquakes.

To their surprise, researchers have discovered that the GPS network has also been recording an entirely different phenomenon: the massive drying of the landscape caused by the drought that has intensified over much of the region since last year.

Geophysicist Adrian Borsa of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and his colleagues report in this week’s Science that, based on the GPS measurements, the loss of water from lakes, streams, snowpack, and groundwater totals some 240 billion metric tons—equivalent, they say, to a four-inch-deep layer of water covering the entire western U.S. from the Rockies to the Pacific. (Related: “Water’s Hidden Crisis”

The principle behind the new measurements is simple. The weight of surface water and groundwater deforms Earth’s elastic crust, much as a sleeper’s body deforms a mattress. Remove the water, and the crust rebounds.

As the amount of water varies cyclically with the seasons, the crust moves up and down imperceptibly, by fractions of an inch—but GPS can measure such small shifts.

Borsa knew all this when he started to study the GPS data. He wasn’t interested in the water cycle at first, and for him the seasonal fluctuations it produced in the data were just noise: They obscured the much longer-term geological changes he wanted to study, such as the rise of mountain ranges.

When he removed that noise from some recent station data, however, he noticed what he describes as a “tremendous uplift signal”—a distinct rise in the crust—since the beginning of 2013. He showed his findings to his Scripps colleague Duncan Agnew.

“I told him, ‘I think we’re looking at the effect of drought,'” Borsa remembers. “He didn’t believe me.”

But Borsa was right. As he, Agnew, and Daniel Cayan of Scripps report in Science, the recent uplift spike is consistent across the U.S. West, and consistent with recent declines in precipitation, streamflow, and groundwater levels. With a great weight of water removed, the crust is rebounding elastically across the whole region.

The median rise across all the western GPS stations has been four millimeters, just under a sixth of an inch. But the Sierra Nevada mountains, which have lost most of their snowpack, have risen 15 millimeters—nearly six-tenths of an inch.


BLM signs decision approving whitewater park at Pumphouse #ColoradoRiver

August 22, 2014
Pumphouse, Radium campgrounds via the Bureau of Land Management

Pumphouse, Radium campgrounds via the Bureau of Land Management

From the Bureau of Land Management:

The Bureau of Land Management signed a Decision Record Aug. 15 authorizing the proposed Gore Canyon Whitewater Park at the Pumphouse Recreation Site on the upper Colorado River.

Grand County submitted a right-of-way application to build the feature across the full width of the river upstream of the Pumphouse boat launch 2. The county was recently awarded historic water rights for constructing this waterpark.

The feature consists of engineer-designed boulders and block-like concrete objects placed across the stream channel that would not be visible at normal flows and would allow for fish passage at all flow rates. Construction is scheduled to begin in November.

“The project will provide a unique recreational experience for the 60,000-70,000 people that visit the area each year,” said BLM Kremmling Field Manager Stephanie Odell. “It will also provide permanent protection for water flows supporting fishing and recreational floatboating.”

Developing a recreational in-channel diversion below Gore Canyon implements part of the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement among Denver Water and more than 30 Western Slope entities.

The Decision Record, Finding of No Significant Impact and Environmental Assessment are available on-line at: http://www.blm.gov/co/kfo.

More whitewater coverage here.


Glenwood Springs: Interim Water Resources Committee public meeting recap #COleg

August 22, 2014
Glenwood Springs via Wikipedia

Glenwood Springs via Wikipedia

From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (John Stroud):

Protection of the river ecology and preservation of recreation and agricultural interests was the consistent message heard by a panel of Colorado legislators who convened here Thursday to gather public comments on the new state water plan.

And the best way to ensure that is through better statewide water conservation practices and no more trans-mountain water diversions from the Western Slope to the Front Range, those who testified before the state Legislature’s Interim Water Resources Review Committee concurred.

“What’s healthy for recreation is healthy for rivers and streams,” said Aimee Henderson, co-founder of the Upper Colorado Private Boaters, an affiliate of American Whitewater based in Glenwood Springs.

“Additional diversions are not an acceptable solution,” she said, adding there should be a statewide conservation agreement to decrease water consumption.

Pitkin County Commissioner Rachel Richards, who sits on the Colorado River Basin Roundtable, one of nine roundtables that is weighing in on the water plan, said it’s important to “truly acknowledge the value of the environmental and recreation economy in the state.”

Tourism promoters across the state, whether on the Front Range or the Western Slope, almost always showcase some type of high country water recreation in their attempt to attract visitors, Richards noted…

The Thursday meeting at the Glenwood Springs Branch Library attracted about 100 people, many of whom are members of the Colorado Basin Roundtable or have been involved in those discussions over the past several months.

The meeting was the second of nine sponsored by the 10-member legislative committee as it holds hearings within each of the major river basins as part of process to develop the state water plan…

The Glenwood Springs meeting focused on concerns within the main stem of the Colorado River, including the Roaring Fork, Eagle and Blue river valleys.

Many of the comments echoed those contained in the draft Colorado Basin Implementation Plan, which emphasizes a high conservation standard statewide and discourages further water diversions.

The draft basin plan concludes that any more water diversions would severely damage the state’s recreation-based economy, agriculture and the environment, and would jeopardize upper basin users should there be an interstate compact call by down-river water users.

It also includes specific recommendations, such as preserving the Shoshone water right for Western Slope needs rather than allowing it to be sold to Front Range water interests, and encouraging small water projects in western Colorado to meet agricultural needs…

[Ken Neubecker] summarized the comments of one of nine separate tables that engaged in small-group discussions with members of the legislative committee before the floor was opened up to general testimony.

“If you’re going to take a new supply for the Front Range, it’s going to come from someone else who is already using it,” Neubecker said.

Suggestion that any new diversions would come with an agreement that they occur only during peak runoff years “simply condemns the Western Slope to a permanent drought condition,” he said. “We need to educate everyone, especially the Front Range, about where their water comes from.”

Another concern expressed at the hearing included that the water plan is only intended to address water needs through 2050, even as growth pressures are likely to continue beyond that time. Others who spoke said it’s important to factor climate change models and predictions into the water plan.

From the Pagosa Sun (Ellen Roberts):

The water committee has started its deep dive into conservation issues, especially as it relates to the transfer of water used in agricultural production to urban municipalities along the Front Range. This conversation was triggered by a controversial bill I carried last year. I’m determined that we’ll keep at this until we reach best practices that make sense and reflect the precious nature of water in our state.

I appreciate the active engagement of several of my constituents in bringing ideas and zeal to this topic and as I travel the state with the water committee as we hold hearings over the next two months on what should be in the state water plan, I’ll be sure that the topic of water conservation gets brought up and vetted in all areas of the state.

My principal concern with municipalities failing to do everything they can to conserve water is that the urban corridor on the Front Range, including, but certainly not limited to, Denver, seek to transfer more water from the Western Slope to satisfy their residents’ needs and desires. I don’t need to inform my constituents of the impacts this would have on our way of life, on our viable agricultural production, and on our environment.

Also breathing down our necks is the impact of a potential “call” on the Colorado River from downstream states legally entitled to a share of that water for their own uses. If such a call is made, we won’t be getting water shipped back from the Front Range to satisfy the call.

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


Climate Predication Center 90-day outlooks from August 21, 2014 (sorry California)

August 21, 2014


Click on a thumbnail to view a gallery of 90-day predication from the Climate Predication Center. Click here to go the NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center website.


Drought news #COdrought

August 21, 2014

Click here to go to the US Drought Monitor website. Here’s an excerpt:

The Far West
Seasonably dry conditions kept drought conditions unchanged in most of the region, but unusual rainfall did lead to 2 areas of improvement. Some daily record rainfall amounts were recorded in southwestern Oregon, improving the marginal D3 conditions to D2 in part of that area. Farther south, rainfall during the last few weeks has been many times normal in part of the deserts of southeastern California, and severe drought was improved to moderate drought in some of this area where precipitation totals are now above normal for at least the last 6 months. Unfortunately, rainfall in this arid region will have no impact on the water shortages and seriously low reservoir stores reported throughout the state…

The Rockies and Intermountain West
Heavy monsoonal rains were reported through parts of southern and western New Mexico, central and eastern Arizona, southern Utah, and part of eastern Nevada. Most of these areas received at least an inch of rain, with larger amounts (3 to at least 6 inches) soaking some of the higher elevations in Arizona from north of Phoenix to the central New Mexico border.

Intense rainfall led to serious flash flooding north of Phoenix, AZ, but most of this fell after Tuesday morning August 19, which would be outside the period under consideration for this week’s Drought Monitor. Nonetheless, improvements to D2 were introduced in part of central Arizona where the heavier rain fell, with other spotty improvements noted in southeastern and east-central Arizona, and across southern New Mexico. D0 conditions were removed from part of interior southeastern New Mexico where more than 10 inches of rain has fallen in the past few weeks.

It should be noted that in spite of abundant rainfall this monsoon season, reservoirs primarily fed by the Rio Grande River remain seriously low due to upstream dryness and the very long-term precipitation deficits.

Elsewhere, moderate rains of 0.5 to 2.0 inches fell on part of the northern Intermountain West and part of the northern Rockies, but drought conditions remained unchanged outside Arizona and New Mexico…

The Western Great Lakes and the Plains States
It was a typical summer week in this region as a whole, with a highly variable rainfall pattern observed. Over 3 inches of rain was reported from south-central Iowa and adjacent Missouri southeastward into southern Illinois, with 5 or more inches soaking parts of northern Missouri. To wit, the small area of D0 there was removed.

Over 2 inches of rain, with scattered reports of 3 to 5 inches, fell on east-central Wisconsin, parts of southeastern Minnesota and North Dakota, and a few spots in central and northeastern Texas. Most other locations received somewhere between a few tenths of and 2 inches of rain, but little or no rain fell on northern Illinois, eastern Iowa, a strip from southwestern South Dakota through northeastern Nebraska, much of southern Kansas, and numerous locations in the southern Plains outside central Oklahoma, central Texas, and a few other isolated spots.

The rains prompted some improvement in central Oklahoma, central and part of northeastern Texas, and some small areas farther north. However, short-term moisture deficits have increased enough to warrant the introduction of D0 in a swath from south-central Minnesota through eastern Iowa, southwestern Wisconsin, and northwestern Illinois. Less than half of normal precipitation has fallen since mid-July in most of these areas, and 8-week rainfall is 5 to 8 inches below normal in much of the region.

Growing short-term moisture deficits also prompted the expansion of D0 southward into broader regions of southern Missouri…

Looking Ahead
During August 20 – 25, 2014, A swath of moderate to heavy rain is forecast from the northern Intermountain West eastward through the northern half of the Plains, the Great Lakes Region, the central Appalachians, and the mid-Atlantic. Between 2 and 5 inches is anticipated across much of Montana, western and southeastern parts of the Dakotas, southwestern and northeastern Minnesota, the southern Great Lakes, the central Appalachians, and the mid-Atlantic from central Pennsylvania southward through Maryland and eastern Virginia west of the Chesapeake Bay.

Light to locally moderate rain is forecast for most other parts of the central and southern Rockies, the Southeast, and areas immediately adjacent to the primary precipitation swath.

Little or no precipitation is expected along the West Coast, in the lower half of the Mississippi Valley, and across the southeastern Plains. Mild temperatures are expected from the Rockies and northern Plains westward to the coast. Montana and western North Dakota are expecting daily high temperatures 6oF to 15oF below normal. Hot weather is anticipated from the Southeast and central Appalachians westward through the southeastern half of the Plains, with daily highs averaging 9oF or more above normal from the Tennessee and lower Ohio Valleys northwestward through Illinois.

For the ensuing 5 days (August 26 – 30, 2014), odds at least slightly favor above-normal rainfall for a large swath of the country from the Southwest and the Rockies eastward through the Northeast, the central Appalachians, the central and eastern Gulf Coast region, and the Southeast as far east as Georgia and Florida. Enhanced chances for below-normal precipitation are restricted to the Northwest and southern Texas.


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