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.


Arkansas Basin: ‘I’ve got a son who’s farming. Will there be water for him?’ — Dale Mauch #COWaterPlan

February 8, 2014

Arkansas River Basin -- Graphic via the Colorado Geological Survey

Arkansas River Basin — Graphic via the Colorado Geological Survey


From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Balancing the needs of urban growth and maintaining the state’s agriculture is a difficult equation, and some are wondering if it can be solved with real numbers. The conflict bobbed to the surface during a discussion about the upcoming state water plan at Thursday’s Farm/Ranch/ Water Symposium at the Gobin Community Center.

“We don’t have enough water for growth and agriculture,” Lamar farmer Dale Mauch said. “This is a way to delay the ultimate end of the story. Who’s going to get it first, Colorado Springs and Pueblo or me in Lamar?”

Unless a new source of water is brought in, the continuing dry-up of agriculture in the Arkansas River basin will continue, Mauch said.

“I’ve got a son who’s farming. Will there be water for him?” Mauch asked.

Charged with providing the answers to his question was James Eklund, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board. Eklund is heading up Gov. John Hickenlooper’s drive to develop a draft Colorado Water Plan by the end of this year.

“We don’t want to be in a situation where we knew that this was coming and didn’t do anything,” Eklund said.

Mauch suggested a project like the Flaming Gorge pipeline that brings new water into the state is the only way to assure agriculture and growth can co-exist.

Eklund said the political realities of moving water from one state to another might be more difficult than the decadelong process that has led up to a state water plan.

Another farmer, Wes Eck, said education should be a key component of a state water plan.

“I had some goose hunters from Colorado Springs come down. They looked at John Martin Reservoir (still at a very low level) and asked, ‘Where did all the water from our floods go?’ I told them we could soak up 100 times that much,” Eck said.

“We’ve got to do a better job explaining water,” Eklund replied.

More coverage from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain:

Farmers in the Arkansas Valley generally favor a farm bill that beefs up subsidies for crop insurance, rather than providing direct payments that guarantee income regardless of harvest quality or crop prices.

“The biggest thing for us will be the crop insurance program,” Holly farmer Colin Thompson said Wednesday.

Like most of the other farmers attending the Farm/Ranch/Water Symposium at the Gobin Community Center Thursday, Thompson is unsure of how his operation will be affected by the farm bill.

But he said the safety net for farmers is a big deal, given the high costs of planting a crop.

The farm bill passed the U.S. Senate by a 68-32 vote this week, after passing the U.S. House by a 251-166 vote last week. It is awaiting President Barack Obama’s signature.

“I’m glad they got it done,” said John Stulp, Gov. John Hickenlooper’s water policy adviser and a Prowers County farmer. “The safety net on crop insurance is the big thing.”

The bill also boosts conservation programs available to farmers.

“It’s very important from a conservation and natural resources perspective,” said John Knapp of the Natural Resources Conservation Service office in Rocky Ford. “It will increase opportunities for conservation easements and land trusts.”

Dale Mauch, a Lamar farmer, said the crop insurance program is vital in order to keep farmers in business.

“In this day and age, you need crop insurance because of the cost of everything,” Mauch said. “People don’t realize how expensive it is to put in a crop. I just brought a brand new bailer in 2009 for $101,000. Today, that same piece of equipment is $180,000.”

Costs for seed and fertilizer have skyrocketed, and the price of corn, his primary cash crop, are $4 per bushel, half of what they were just two years ago.

“I’m glad they cut direct payments. All we need is crop insurance,” Mauch said, as heads nodded all around the table where he was seated. “Irrigated agriculture in the Arkansas Valley is unlike anywhere else in the world.”

Food stamps need to be a part of the farm bill as well, because only about 50 members of the 435-member House are from rural areas, Mauch said.

“I don’t think any kid should ever go hungry,” he said. “On the other hand, there are some (negligent) fathers who should go hungry.”

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

It’s no secret to farmers that the Arkansas Valley usually is short of water. But future consequences of the shortfall are illustrated by actions that already have occurred in the South Platte River and Rio Grande basins.

The coming crisis was discussed last week at the Arkansas Valley Farm/Ranch/Water Symposium, which attracted about 200 participants.

“We found that we’ve been double-counting the municipal return flow in the basin,” Arkansas Basin Roundtable Chairman Gary Barber told the group.

The “agricultural gap” in the Arkansas River basin was identified by the roundtable at 25,000-30,000 acre-feet in March 2012. What that means is that farmers already are irrigating with borrowed water. That became clear last year when augmentation water for wells was cut off during the third year of severe drought. Those who depended solely on surface rights dealt with a reduced water supply by planting fewer crops.

That will become the norm in the chronically dry Rio Grande basin, said Travis Smith, general manager of the San Luis Valley Irrigation District and a member of the Colorado Water Conservation Board. Subdistricts have formed that will slowly reduce the drawdown on the aquifers agriculture depends on.

“It’s painful when you talk about cutting a man’s water supply,” Smith said.

In the South Platte basin, wells were shut down after the Empire Lodge court case restricted the state engineer’s authority to administer temporary plans, said Jeris Danielson, a former state engineer who became a water consultant.

“They shut down 3,000 wells and now have flooded basements in Sterling because the groundwater table’s rising,” Danielson said. “What we have not done in this state is manage the resource.”

The Arkansas River basin lags behind the South Platte in developing ways to stretch the water supply such as aquifer recharge programs, said Bill Tyner, assistant engineer for Water Division 2.

Only two recharge programs exist in the Arkansas Valley now: on the Excelsior Ditch by the Arkansas Groundwater Users Association and the city of Lamar well field. The Arkansas Valley Super Ditch has done some preliminary work in identifying recharge opportunities on canals.

Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District, offered a menu of options to deal with filling the ag water gap.

“We need to buy and retire land that is not productive,” Winner said.

Farmers need to buy more water and retain it to reduce the dependency on the spot market — which usually means leasing from Pueblo, Colorado Springs or Aurora. They also need to look at trades among water rights owners, recharge and strengthening storage.

“But with storage, it does not go far when you have no water to put into it,” he cautioned.

More Colorado Water Plan coverage 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.


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