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.


“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.


Flaming Gorge Pipeline: Aaron Million still has his eye on the prize #ColoradoRiver

March 2, 2014
Conceptual route for the Flaming Gorge Pipeline -- Graphic via Earth Justice

Conceptual route for the Flaming Gorge Pipeline — Graphic via Earth Justice

From the Green River Star (David Martin):

The Aaron Million water project continues on in the form of a request to the Bureau of the Interior. Million’s request, as published in the Federal Register Feb. 12, calls for a standby contract for the annual reservation of 165,000 care-feet of municipal and industrial water from the Flaming Gorge Reservoir for a transbasin diversion project…

Mayor Hank Castillon, who is a member of Communities Protecting the Green, said he isn’t sure what Million’s plans are with this latest move. Citing his previous denials from the Army Corp of Engineers and FERC, Castillon said the amount Million wants to use has dropped from the initial 250,000 acre feet of water his project would require. Castillon said he expects a battle to occur between the eastern and western sides of the continental divide. Castillon is aware Cheyenne and other cities in eastern Wyoming need water, along with locations in northern Colorado. The problem they need to address, according to Castillon, is the fact that the water isn’t available…

The Sweetwater County Commissioners commented on Million’s proposal Tuesday, voicing their opposition to the idea. Commissioner Wally Johnson said the transfer of water to Colorado isn’t in Sweetwater County’s best interest, saying “it doesn’t matter if it’s Mr. Million or Mr. Disney” making the proposal. Commissioner John Kolb also voiced his opposition, saying opposition to the idea is unanimous between Gov. Matt Mead, the Wyoming County Commissioners Association and the commissioners themselves.

“I’d like to see us not wasting our time on crazy, hare-brained schemes,” Kolb said. “(Transbasin water diversion) doesn’t work.”

More Flaming Gorge Pipeline coverage here and here.


Text of the Colorado Basin Roundtable white paper for the IBCC and Colorado Water Plan

December 3, 2013
New supply development concepts via the Front Range roundtables

New supply development concepts via the Front Range roundtables

Here’s the text from the recently approved draft of the white paper:

Introduction
The Colorado River Basin is the “heart” of Colorado. The basin holds the headwaters of the Colorado River that form the mainstem of the river, some of the state’s most significant agriculture, the largest West Slope city and a large, expanding energy industry. The Colorado Basin is home to the most-visited national forest and much of Colorado’s recreation-based economy, including significant river-based recreation.

Colorado’s population is projected by the State Demographer’s Office to nearly double by 2050, from the five million people we have today to nearly ten million. Most of the growth is expected to be along the Front Range urban corridor; however the fastest growth is expected to occur along the I-70 corridor within the Colorado Basin.

Read the rest of this entry »


‘Don’t goddamn come here [#ColoradoRiver Basin] any more’ — Lurline Curran

December 3, 2013
Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer's office

Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer’s office

Here’s an article about the white paper approved last week by the Colorado Basin Roundtable, from Brent Gardner-Smith writing for Aspen Journalism. Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

“Don’t goddamn come here any more,” was the way Lurline Curran, county manager of Grand County, summed up the roundtable’s position just before the group voted to approve a white paper it has been working on for months.

“We’re trying to tell you, Front Range: Don’t count on us,” Curran said. “Don’t be counting on us to make up all the shortages.”

The actual paper crafted by the Colorado roundtable states its case in a more diplomatic fashion, but it is still blunt.

“The notion that increasing demands on the Front Range can always be met with a new supply from the Colorado River, or any other river, (is) no longer valid,” the position paper states…

“There is going to have to be a discussion and plan for developing a new West Slope water supply,” the South Platte roundtable stated in a June memo directed to Committee.

Together, the South Platte, Metro and Arkansas roundtables are pushing that discussion. They’re asking the state to preserve the option to build “several” 100,000 to 250,000 acre-foot projects on the Green River at Flaming Gorge Reservoir, the lower Yampa River, and/or the Gunnison River at Blue Mesa Reservoir…

On Nov. 25, the members of the Colorado River roundtable clearly wanted to inform the Committee that they don’t support the idea of new Western Slope projects.

Jim Pokrandt, a communications executive at the Colorado River District who chairs the Colorado roundtable, said the group’s paper, directed to the Committee, was “an answer to position statements put out by other basin roundtables.”

The Committee’s eventual analysis is expected to shape a draft statewide Colorado Water Plan, which is supposed to be on the governor’s desk via the Committee and the Colorado Water Conservation Board in 12 months.

And while there has been a decades-long discussion in Colorado about the merits of moving water from the Western Slope to the Front Range, the language in the position papers, and the roundtable meetings, is getting sharper as the state water plan now takes shape.

“It’s not ‘don’t take one more drop,’ but it is as close as we can get,” said Ken Neubecker, the environmental representative on the Colorado roundtable, about the group’s current position.

The paper itself advises, “the scenic nature and recreational uses of our rivers are as important to the West Slope as suburban development and service industry businesses are to the Front Range. They are not and should not be seen as second-class water rights, which Colorado can preserve the option of removing at the behest of Front Range indulgences.”

That’s certainly in contrast to the vision of the South Platte, Metro and Arkansas basin roundtables, which in a draft joint statement in July said that the way to meet the “east slope municipal supply gap” is to develop “state water projects using Colorado River water for municipal uses on the East and West slopes.”[...]

The white paper from the Colorado roundtable states that “new supply” is a euphemism for “a new transmountain diversion from the Colorado River system.”

“This option must be the last option,” the paper notes.

Instead of new expensive Western Slope water projects, the paper calls for more water conservation and “intelligent land use” on the Front Range.

It goes on to note that Front Range interests are actively pursuing the expansion of existing transmountain diversions — many of which are likely to be blessed by the Committee because they are already in the works.

It says the Western Slope has its own water gap, as the growing demands of agriculture, energy development, population growth and river ecosystems are coming together in the face of climate change.

It calls for reform to the state’s water laws, so it is easier to leave water in Western Slope rivers for environmental reasons, and it rejects the Front Range’s call to streamline the review process for new water projects.

“Streamlining as a means of forcing West Slope acquiescence to any new supply project ‘for the good of the state’ is unacceptable,” the paper states.

Finally, the document advises the state not to endorse or get behind a Western Slope water project unless it “has been agreed to by the impacted counties, conservancy districts and conservation districts from which water would be diverted.”

More IBCC — basin roundtables coverage here. More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


‘Keeping the last wild river in the [#ColoradoRiver] Basin intact is important to a healthy environment’ — Susan Bruce

December 2, 2013
Yampa River Basin via the Colorado Geological Survey

Yampa River Basin via the Colorado Geological Survey

Here’s a post arguing to keep the Yampa River riparian system as a baseline for a healthy river from Susan Bruce writing for the Earth Island Journal. Here’s an excerpt:

Governor John Hickenlooper’s directive to the Colorado Water Conservation Board earlier this year to create a Colorado Water Plan by 2015 has put the Yampa, which has the second largest watershed in the state, under the spotlight.

Efforts to dam the Yampa go back to the proposed construction of Echo Park Dam, which Congress vetoed in 1952, bowing to a groundswell of public outcry led by David Brower, then with the Sierra Club. But in a compromise he later regretted, Brower supported the construction of two other dams: Glen Canyon on the Colorado River and Flaming Gorge on the Green River. The Green and Yampa rivers used to have similar flows and ecosystems. The construction of the Flaming Gorge Dam in 1962 modified the Green’s hydrograph, reducing sediment flow by half and tapering its seasonal fluctuations to a slower, more consistent flow, opening the way for invasive species like the tamarisk tree to crowd out native ones.

More recently, in 2006, there was a proposal to build a reservoir near Maybell, CO, and pump water from the Yampa to a reservoir about 230 miles away for municipal and agricultural use on the Front Range. But the plan was scrapped due to environmental and cost concerns; the reservoir would have cost between $3 billion and $5 billion.

The oil and gas industry is also eyeing the Yampa. Shell Oil had plans to pump about 8 percent of the Yampa’s high-water flow to fill a 1,000-acre reservoir, but it shelved the proposal in 2010, citing a slowdown of its oil-shale development program. Still, oil production in Colorado is at its highest level since 1957 and gas production at an all-time high. While industrial and municipal water needs are projected to increase with population growth, the largest water user, agriculture, will continue to divert the lion’s share of Colorado’s water, around 80 percent. All of which mean the pressure to suck up Yampa’s water is only going to grow.

The most unique characteristic of the Yampa is its wild and unimpeded flow, in particular the extensive spring flooding that washes away sediment, giving the river its brownish hue. This “river dance” helps establish new streamside forests, wetlands, and sandy beaches, as well as shallows that support species like the endangered Colorado pikeminnow and razorback sucker. By late fall, the water barely covers the riverbed in some stretches…

The rafting industry, which contributes more than $150 million to Colorado’s economy, has a strong voice when it comes to the Yampa’s future. Although damming the Yampa would provide a more consistent flow over a longer season, George Wendt – founder of OARS, the largest rafting company in the world – speaks for most outfitters when he says he would rather see the Yampa retain its natural state.

Conservationists also argue that the Yampa’s full flow helps meet Colorado’s legal obligation to provide water to the seven states within the Colorado Basin and Mexico. Measures being considered to protect the Yampa include an instream flow appropriation by the Colorado Water Conservation Board that would reserve Yampa’s water for the natural function of rivers, and a Wild and Scenic River designation by Congress.

Many proponents of keeping the Yampa wild point to its value as a baseline – an ecosystem naturally in balance. “If things go awry on dammed rivers, which they do, we have a control river, so to speak,” says Kent Vertrees of The Friends of the Yampa. “Keeping the last wild river in the Colorado Basin intact is important to a healthy environment and so future generations can experience in situ millions of years of history little changed by man.”

More Yampa River Basin coverage here and here.


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