Statewide water plan: ‘I want to hear what pieces are important to you’ — Gail Schwartz

September 4, 2013

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Here’s a guest column about Colorado’s water plan, written by State Senator Gail Schwartz running in the Glenwood Springs Post Independent. Senator Schwartz has been in the middle of water legislation for most of her time in the state legislature. Here’s an excerpt:

The state water plan will pave the way for water decisions that responsibly and predictably address future challenges. The governor’s executive order detailed that the plan must promote a productive economy that supports vibrant and sustainable cities, viable and productive agriculture, and a robust skiing, recreation and tourism industry. It must also incorporate efficient and effective water infrastructure planning while promoting smart land use and strong environmental protections that include healthy watersheds, rivers and streams, and wildlife.

The Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) has been tasked with creating the Colorado Water Plan. The board must submit a draft of the plan to the governor’s office by Dec. 10, 2014, and a final plan by Dec. 10, 2015. The CWCB will incorporate the state’s Interbasin Compact Committee (IBCC) and nine Basin Roundtables recommendations to address regional long-term water needs.

As chair of the interim Water Resources Review Committee (WRRC), I will help ensure that the diverse voices of Colorado’s water community are heard during the development of this plan. The 10-member WRRC comprises legislators representing districts in each of the state’s major river basins. The committee has a full agenda as we are charged to review water issues and propose legislation. The WRRC will also remain actively engaged with the CWCB in development of the State Water Plan…

As charged, the water plan has a broad scope and will inevitably need to address difficult and contentious issues. I believe that we should first focus on conservation and efficiency both at the municipal/industrial level and in agriculture. Water conservation is an area with broad consensus. A recent public opinion study of Coloradans identified conservation as the most important water-related issue. Other studies have strikingly demonstrated that 80 percent of Coloradans favored conservation over new construction projects. In 2013, I sponsored SB13-19 which gives landowners a new tool to conserve water without injuring their water rights. New conservation and efficiency tools are needed in the State Water Plan as they stress wise use of our precious water resource.

Conservation may be just one piece of this larger puzzle, and I want to hear what pieces are important to you.

More statewide water plan coverage here.


Statewide water plan: ‘We need to find outside water. Actually, we do not. They do’ — Max Schmidt

September 2, 2013

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State Water Plan, meet the “not-one-more-drop-club” from the Grand Valley. Here’s a report from Gary Harmon, writing for The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel:

Colorado should import water to meet burgeoning Front Range demands — and lessen the pressure on the Western Slope to slake that thirst, Grand Valley water officials suggest.

Managers of 10 Grand Valley water agencies and municipalities are preparing to ask their bosses to insist that bringing water into the state [ed. emphasis mine] — which would be known as augmentation — is a needed step in the development of a statewide water plan.

The problem, the water managers have concluded, is that there simply isn’t enough water in the state to meet the demands of growth, particularly on the Front Range, and the demands of millions of downstream Colorado River water users in Arizona, California and Nevada.

“Reallocation of state water resources is not going to do the job,” Larry Clever, general manager of Ute Water Conservancy District, said.

Managers of the agencies sat down together to draft a Grand Valley response to Gov. John Hickenlooper’s call for a statewide water plan, and they began the process as a “not-one-more-drop club,” Clever said, in reference to any further diversion of water from the Western Slope over the mountains to the east. So any additional drops will have to come from elsewhere, Max Schmidt, general manager of the Orchard Mesa Irrigation District, said.

“Our problem is that we’re the cheapest source of good clean water to the Eastern Slope, and there’s no other way around it,” Schmidt said. “We need to find outside water. Actually, we do not. They do.”

The concerns by Grand Valley water managers center on the possibility that the lower basin states will place a call on the Colorado River under the 1922 compact governing the river. “Every time that (the East Slope) takes water from the West Slope, that enhances the chance of a compact call,” that in theory would hit hardest on the Eastern Slope, Schmidt said.

Hickenlooper in May directed the drafting of a statewide water plan, to be complete by December 2014.

The proposed position acknowledges that the Colorado Water Conservation Board estimates that there could be as many as 800,000 acre feet of water available for diversion and storage, but notes there is “considerable doubt” that additional development won’t result in a compact call.

The Grand Valley response would set out nine goals that such a plan would have to include, one of them being “implementation of a long-term, regional water-augmentation plan.” Other goals include protecting the “cornerstones of our economy,” agriculture, resource extraction, recreation and tourism; preparation for the possibility of a compact call; protecting the health and quality of the state’s river basins; and preparing for the effects of climate change.

Other goals include protecting and promoting the area’s agricultural heritage; preserving local control of planning for development; ensuring federal agencies operate within state water law; and ensuring that upstream diversions protect and maintain water quality for downstream users.

Ultimately, “it is imperative for state officials to engage officials from the federal government and other basin states in developing, implementing and paying for an augmentation plan” that will benefit all the states dependent on the Colorado River, the proposed position says.

The proposed position will go before the governing boards of Fruita, Grand Junction and Palisade, as well as Clifton Water District, Grand Valley Irrigation Co., Grand Valley Water Users Association, Mesa County Irrigation District, Orchard Mesa Irrigation District, Palisade Irrigation District and Ute Water.

Statewide Water Plan coverage here.


Colorado River Basin: Recent study by the Bureau of Reclamation highlights future supply problems #coriver

March 4, 2013

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Here’s a guest column running in The Denver Post, written by Allen Best, that gives an overview of the current state of the Colorado River. Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

Tow icebergs from Alaska? Pilfer from a tributary of the Yellowstone River in Wyoming? Or, even sneak water from the Snake, boring a 6-mile tunnel from a reservoir near Jackson Hole to the Green River? While it’s sure to make Idaho’s spud farmers cranky, it would help Tucson, Los Angeles and that parched paradigm of calculated risk, Las Vegas.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and everybody else with a megaphone has carefully branded these ideas as improbable or worse. Only slightly more credible is the idea of a pipeline from the Mississippi River. It could originate near Memphis, traverse 1,040 miles and, if reaching Castle Rock, rise 6,000 feet in elevation. Pumping would require a steady 800 megawatts of electricity, or a little more than what the Comanche 3 power plant in Pueblo produces.

In theory, this 600,000-acre feet of muddy Mississippi would replace diversions from the Colorado River headwaters between Grand Lake and Aspen. Those diversions range between 450,000 and 600,000 acre-feet annually. That would leave the creeks and rivers to the whims of gravity and geography, at least until arriving at Las Vegas and other places with growing thirst.
Cheap water? Not exactly: It would cost $2,400 per acre-foot for this Memphis-flavored sludge, assuming the idea isn’t grounded by protests from barge and riverboat operators. (Sometimes they, too, say they need more water.)

More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.


Peter Gleick: ‘Zombie water projects (Just when you thought they were dead)’

December 8, 2011

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From Forbes (Peter Gleick):

Water transfers from the Great Lakes or the Mississippi River or Alaska and Canada to the arid southwestern U.S.

These are perennial favorites: people look at the vast amount of water in the Great Lakes, or flowing down the Mississippi River, or flowing north to the Arctic Ocean and think, gee, what could make more sense than to take that water and move it to where we really need it, like California or Arizona or Las Vegas. After all, we’ve been moving water around since the beautifully designed Roman aqueducts, and even earlier. But most of these mega-projects are zombies – killed off years ago, only to linger, undead.

Patricia Mulroy, who runs the Southern Nevada Water Authority, recently revived the idea of moving floodwaters from the Mississippi River all the way to Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona to free up Colorado River water that could then be given to feed Las Vegas. Fear that similar projects would take water out of the Great Lakes led to a provision in the new international agreement signed by the U.S. and Canada that effectively prohibits transfers of water out of the basin because of fear that such diversions would lower the Great Lakes levels and threaten the health of fragile natural ecosystems. And of course there is the granddaddy of all water diversion proposals – called NAWAPA (the North American Water and Power Alliance) – proposed in the late 1950s and early 1960s by a consulting/construction company to divert around 150 million acre-feet of water annually (ten times the flow of the Colorado River) from the Yukon, Copper, Kootenay, Fraser, Peace, and other Alaskan/Canadian rivers all the way east to the Great Lakes and south to the southwestern U.S. and even Mexico. And a smaller version of this zombie is the Million Conservation Research Group proposal (named after Aaron Million – if it had anything to do with the cost, it would be the Billion Conservation Research Group) to build a pipeline from Wyoming to eastern Colorado to take 250,000 acre-feet of public water to sell for private gain. Professor Robert Glennon from the University of Arizona quipped that he sees many obstacles to the project, “not the least of which is the Rocky Mountains.”

These mega-projects are certainly technically feasible: there’s no mystery to building dams, aqueducts, pumping plants, and pipelines. What kills these projects is their massive political, environmental, and economic cost. They would cost tens or even hundreds of billions of dollars and lead to vast environmental destruction and devastation. Half a century ago, we didn’t know about the ecological consequences of massive water diversions, or we didn’t care, but those days are over. On top of this, any such project would require unprecedented political and legal water sharing agreements and anyone who believes such agreements can be reached is living in a fantasyland. But that doesn’t stop these zombies from periodically coming back to life.

More pipeline projects coverage here.


IBCC: The Pueblo Board of Water Works hopes to sustain agriculture on the Bessemer ditch after converting shares to municipal use

September 1, 2011

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

“We included a 20-year lease-back so we could work on other options to sustain agriculture,” Alan Hamel, executive director of the Pueblo water board, told a state Interbasin Compact Committee group earlier this week…

The IBCC subcommittee is looking at alternative agriculture transfers. The group met in Denver with the Front Range Water Council, which includes the state’s largest municipal water providers, and the Colorado Agricultural Water Alliance, which encompasses the state’s major agricultural associations.

The Pueblo water board now owns 28 percent of the Bessemer Ditch, about 5,400 shares. The ditch is the largest in Pueblo County, and a major factor in the local economy. Other cities also are looking at maintaining the viability of agriculture in their neighboring communities.
“People in the cities are figuring out that they also need to eat,” said Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District…

“We have to make sure that agriculture doesn’t become a sharecropper,” said T. Wright Dickinson, a Moffat County rancher. “We could be entering a time where agriculture could out-compete the cities in terms of the economic value of water.”

Cities also have concerns about sharing the water. “I can’t make any long-term decision and a big investment up-front knowing that all I’ve got is a five-year water supply,” said Mark Pifher, director of Aurora Water.

Meanwhile the Two Rivers Water Co. is busy buying up agricultural land and shares in the Arkansas River basin. Here’s a report from the Associated Press via The Columbus Republic:

Two Rivers Water Co. says it has finished raising $5.25 million, allowing it to close on its purchase of 2,500 acres of irrigated farmland in Huerfano and Pueblo counties…

Two Rivers bought 91 percent of the Huerfano Cucharas Irrigation Co. last year and added the Orlando Reservoir to its water rights portfolio in February. It says will be able to store more than 70,000 acre-feet of water when its reservoirs and canals systems are fully restored.

More IBCC — basin roundtables coverage here. More Front Range Water Council coverage here.


Colorado Water Congress summer meeting: Deputy State Engineer Mike Sullivan — ‘The state engineer cannot curtail diversions from another state’

August 26, 2011

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I’ve thought for a long time that Aaron Million’s proposal is akin to him driving a tanker truck across the Colorado/Wyoming border — not subject to Colorado water law — and that any water moved would count against the Upper Colorado River Compact. That’s the way the deputy state engineer sees it as well. Here’s a report from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

“The state engineer cannot curtail diversions from another state,” Deputy State Engineer Mike Sullivan told the Legislature’s water resources review committee Tuesday. “We can’t go into Wyoming and padlock a headgate.” Sullivan and State Engineer Dick Wolfe told the committee they have concerns about proposals to take water from Flaming Gorge Reservoir and the Green River in Wyoming and send it through a pipeline to Colorado’s Front Range.

Wolfe explained that such plans could interfere with water rights administration in Colorado, particularly if lower basin states in the Colorado River Compact were to put a call on the river. Flaming Gorge Reservoir and the Green River are both part of the Colorado River basin, which supplies 80 percent of Colorado’s water. Under the compact, Colorado, New Mexico, Wyoming and Utah are required to deliver 75 million acre-feet of water over a 10-year period at Lake Powell. If they fail to do so, Arizona, California and Nevada could demand water, calling out junior rights in Colorado [ed. the compact has a 1922 priority, senior, for example, to the Colorado-Big Thompson Project]…

Fort Collins entrepreneur Aaron Million is claiming a Wyoming water right as the basis for his Flaming Gorge project, which would make enforcing it difficult under Colorado’s priority system. The Colorado-Wyoming coalition, led by Frank Jaeger of Parker Water and Sanitation, plans to work with the Bureau of Reclamation, and could claim the Flaming Gorge priority date. “There’s no authority in place for dealing with Flaming Gorge,” Wolfe told the committee.

Meanwhile, meeting attendees were treated to a discussion of population estimates yesterday. Here’s a report from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

The state population grew to more than 5 million in 2010, from 4.3 million in 2000. Colorado grew at a 17 percent rate over the decade, compared with 9 percent for the nation as a whole…

[Elizabeth Garner, state demographer] gave a detailed analysis of counties, showing that the Eastern Plains and San Luis Valley were flat or lost population in the past decade, while the Front Range and Western Slope were the fastest growing parts of the state…

But the picture gets more complicated because baby boomers are getting older. Colorado’s population over age 65 is expected to grow by 150 percent in the next 20 years, which could also contribute to smaller household sizes, changes in water consumption patterns and the tax base. “We are becoming very different,” Garner said. “For the last decade, the largest part of our population has been the most productive . . . In the next 10 years, 1 million people will be leaving the labor force.”

More Colorado water coverage here.


Reeves Brown: Why should agriculture, which is already short on water, be the reservoir for the state?

August 22, 2011

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

“Why should agriculture, which is already short on water, be the reservoir for the state?” Brown asked. “We need to go forward with a better analysis of the shortage and what is needed to support agriculture.” Brown also is a member of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District and Arkansas Basin Roundtable, and has often tried to keep the issue in front of those groups…

Earlier this month, the [Arkansas Basin] roundtable formed a committee to address Brown’s concerns. In the process, he hopes to guide the state to a new way of thinking about its water needs. At last week’s Lower Ark meeting, Brown expanded on the need for the committee, which is closely aligned with the district’s goals. “The agriculture industry deserves to be more than the stepchild for water supply in the future,” Brown said…

Water users in El Paso County — Fountain, Widefield, Woodmoor and Donala — have been buying farms and ranches for water in recent years. Large blocks of water have been purchased on the Fort Lyon and Bessemer canals for future municipal use. Half of the Amity Canal was sold to Tri-State Generation & Transmission Association for a future power plant. And there are agricultural operations that easily could turn into municipal supply projects throughout the valley, potentially catching the valley off-guard as GP’s plan did. Large blocks of agricultural water have been consolidated in Pueblo and Otero counties, causing public officials to worry about where the water could be headed…

The Lower Ark board is one of few water agencies in the state that firmly supports a Flaming Gorge pipeline. Last year, it supported Aaron Million’s idea for the 560-mile line from the Green River in Wyoming to Colorado’s Front Range because it would develop unused state entitlement in the Colorado River basin and take pressure off Arkansas Valley farms. Million has always insisted that some water from the pipeline be set aside for agricultural and environmental uses. The state’s roundtables have committed to investigating Million’s plan, along with a similar proposal by the Colorado-Wyoming Coalition, as a way of filling the water supply gap…

At a roundtable meeting earlier this month, Fremont County rancher Tom Young asked whether the state should seriously consider importing water from the Missouri River basin in South Dakota, rather than looking for more out of the Colorado River basin from Flaming Gorge Reservoir.

More Arkansas River basin coverage here.


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