Lower Ark board meeting recap: “We’re trying to see if a lease-fallowing program is viable” — Jay Winner

September 18, 2014

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The Colorado Water Conservation Board last week approved a pilot project that will provide the town of Fowler water from several farms on the Catlin Canal over the next 10 years. The project is the first to be attempted under 2013 legislation, HB1248, that authorized demonstration projects that determine if lease-fallowing projects are a viable alternative to permanent dry-up of farms. It is also the first test of the viability of the Arkansas Valley Super Ditch.

Participating farms would be dried up no more than three years of the next 10 in order to supply 500 acre-feet (163 million gallons) annually to Fowler. Seven farms with 1,128 acres will be dried up on a rotational basis to provide the water under a plan filed by the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District and the Arkansas Valley Super Ditch.

The CWCB reviewed comments on the project expressing concern from Aurora, the Lower Arkansas Water Management Association, Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District and Colorado Beef, a Lamar feed lot. The comments were similar to filings made in the past in water court cases that sought to permanently change water rights. Most expressed concern that their water rights would not be injured by the program and sought to assure that measurements in the program are accurate. Some were supportive of the program and all wanted to be notified of progress or changes in the program.

“We’re trying to see if a lease-fallowing program is viable,” said Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District. “We’re trying to keep the water in the Arkansas basin. That’s what it’s all about.”

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

How much water is staying down on the farm?

The state will spend $175,000 to study the amount of water returning to the Arkansas River from fields on the Fort Lyon Canal. That will be matched with $50,000 from the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District. The Colorado Water Conservation Board approved the grant last week as a way to address contentions from farmers that the amount of tailwater return to the Arkansas River has been overestimated. The outcome could affect the formulas used by the Colorado Division of Water Resources in administering the Arkansas River Compact and rules that govern wells or surface irrigation. It could also make more water available to farmers to lease under the Super Ditch or other rotational lease-fallow programs.

The grant was approved in July by the Arkansas Basin Roundtable.

The state now recognizes a 10 percent return of water from fields, or tailwater, that are flood irrigated. That water must be replaced under state rules adopted during the 24-year Kansas v. Colorado court case.

The Fort Lyon Canal is 100 miles long and irrigates 94,000 acres, so farmers contend water soaks into the ground and never makes it to the river. It is anticipated that the collection and analysis of data will take about two years to complete, at which time further work could be contemplated.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Leaky ponds are good news for farmers in the Lower Arkansas Valley. The second year of a pond study in a normal water year is showing similar results as last year, when drought gripped the region.

“We’re not seeing a significant difference,” said Brian Lauritsen, a consultant on the study being funded through the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District and the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

Water leakage on more than 20 ponds averaged about 20 percent this year, compared with 18 percent last year. Most are on the Fort Lyon Canal. It had been thought the numbers would be higher when the ground was drier.

“Usually, you don’t want to see ponds leaking,” said Jack Goble, engineer for the Lower Ark district.

But in this case, there is a chance the state will adjust its formula used to determine how much water irrigators owe for return flows that are reduced through more efficient irrigation techniques such as sprinklers. More leakage means less water owed to the river.

The Lower Ark also has built two ponds on the Catlin Canal designed specifically to leak. Called recharge ponds, they are designed to return water to the Arkansas River over time, the way that water flows through the aquifer in farming operations. One pond fills part of the need for Rule 10 surface irrigation plans, while the other is credited to Rule 14 well plans. One pond contributed 135 acre-feet (44 million gallons) in a month, while the other leaked 120 acre-feet (40 million gallons) in 21 days.

“I hope we’re able to get more of these ponds, especially in the lower part of the basin,” said Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Ark District.

More HB13-1248 coverage here. More Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District coverage here.


Fountain Creek flood mitigation dam(s) and the issue of prior appropriation

September 4, 2014
Flood irrigation in the Arkansas Valley via Greg Hobbs

Flood irrigation in the Arkansas Valley via Greg Hobbs

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A discussion about water rights, the first step to looking at building dams or detention ponds on Fountain Creek, is moving ahead. The project is being coordinated by the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District, and would fit in with a larger study looking at flood control on Fountain Creek.

It’s a hot-button issue with farmers in the Lower Arkansas Valley, who see the capture of flood flows on Fountain Creek as a threat to junior water rights. At an Arkansas Basin Roundtable meeting last month, the need for a water rights study killed a proposal to look at the feasibility of building dams.

A $58,000 program by the Fountain Creek district will look at just the water rights issue. It will be funded by Colorado Springs Utilities, Pueblo West, Security, Fountain, the Pueblo Board of Water Works and the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, with in-kind support from Utilities and the Fountain Creek district. The process will bring together downstream water rights holders and state officials in a series of meetings to identify how water rights could be harmed by projects meant to provide public safety and what action could be taken to mitigate the damage.

All of the questions about how water moves throughout the Arkansas River basin would not be answered, but some ways to provide water through releases from Lake Pueblo or by timing releases from Fountain Creek structures would be explored, said Mark Shea, Fountain Creek point man for Utilities.

“There could be other beneficial uses, providing waterfowl or fish habitat, and allowing flood flows to be exchanged up Fountain Creek,” Shea said.

Melissa Esquibel, Pueblo board member of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District, said the Lower Ark also should be involved in the project.

“There is a lot mistrust and misinformation, so we need to take the right path,” she said. “There are legitimate concerns that arise from past issues.”

Pueblo County Commissioner Terry Hart agreed.

“If we are perceived as an 800-pound gorilla, we’ll get nowhere,” Hart said. “We’re talking about people and their livelihoods.”

Pueblo City Councilwoman Eva Montoya, who chairs the Fountain Creek board, said the dialogue is an opportunity to balance public safety and the need to protect water rights.

“We need to rebuild trust,” she said.

More prior appropriation coverage here.


Shoshone: “It’s an important plant for us [@XcelEnergyCO]” — Jerome Davis #ColoradoRiver

September 2, 2014

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

A Glenwood Canyon hydroelectric power plant with a controlling historic water right on the Colorado River is not for sale, a top executive with the Colorado subsidiary of Xcel Energy said Monday. Speaking at a meeting of the Colorado Basin Roundtable water-planning group, Jerome Davis, regional vice president of Xcel’s Public Service Company of Colorado, called the plant “extremely important” to Public Service.

The roundtable group is providing input on the state water plan and is hoping that plan takes note of the plant’s importance to western Colorado because of its 1905 water right. The right requires delivery of 1,250 cubic feet per second to the plant and is senior to rights including those of Front Range municipal transmountain diverters. The water continues downstream of the plant because of its nonconsumptive nature.

Western Slope entities have feared that Xcel might sell the small, 15-megawatt plant to a Front Range entity interested in abandoning the water right, which would significantly decrease Colorado River flows certain times of year. There also is Western Slope interest in having an opportunity to buy the plant should it be available for sale, to protect those historic flows.

But Davis on Monday said Xcel isn’t interested in selling the plant. He noted that the company has invested about $21 million there since 2007 repairing a ruptured penstock, doing dam work and a spillway replacement, and undertaking other projects.

“It’s an important plant for us when you talk about system reliability and system stability,” Davis said.

“… It also plays an important role in our renewable portfolio. … Those reasons really drive that in terms of where we view that long-term necessity of that plant.”

He said system reliability and rate competitiveness are Xcel’s top priorities as a utility, and while small, Shoshone adds to that reliability.

The plant doesn’t count as renewable energy in terms of Xcel meeting what’s required of it in that regard in Colorado, but Xcel officials said Monday it’s still viewed as an important renewable source within the company.

Asked whether Xcel would be willing to grant the Western Slope the right of first refusal should it ever decide to sell the plant, Davis declined to make any such commitment. But he did say the company took away that right from Denver in a franchise agreement between the city and Xcel for providing power there.

“We really see no change in terms of our operations” going forward with the plant, Davis reiterated, but he said the company makes a point to listen to all stakeholders and “ensure that all vested interests are listened to and addressed” in whatever it does.

“You’re hearing me say Shoshone is not for sale. I do have a pretty good feel in terms of the importance of it to the entire state,” Davis said.

As part of a 2007 franchise agreement with Denver, Xcel agreed to relax Shoshone’s water call under certain conditions, beginning with a projection that Denver water storage wouldn’t reach 80 percent during spring runoff. He said Xcel worked to involve others in the discussions to reach a balanced agreement that worked for the Western Slope and the river, and Denver proved to be “tremendous partner.”

“There’s this understanding that we work these things out with all stakeholders, as one unit,” Davis said.

A subsequent, far-reaching agreement between the utility Denver Water and dozens of Western Slope entities includes a protocol for generally continuing flows during plant outages, and even if the plant is no longer operational. Under it, the utility also would support possible purchase of a plant by a Western Slope entity. Under that agreement, the Colorado River Water Conservation District has initiated a process to study how best to preserve Shoshone flows, whether through a plant purchase or other means.

Among the concerns for some Western Slope interests is whether Xcel might someday change its mind about selling Shoshone, and the fact that the Denver Water deal doesn’t extend to other Front Range utilities.

Grand County Manager Lurline Underbrink-Curran told Davis Monday that should a time come when the plant is put up for sale, it’s the water right the Western Slope cares about, not Shoshone’s power capability.

“To remove that water right from the West Slope will upset the balance of the state more than you can ever realize,” she said.

Said basin roundtable member Chuck Ogilby, “I just think the Western Slope wants to know that that water right’s going to be there and protect our minimum-flow regime that we have as an assurance today.”

Officials with the river district have indicated they would be a likely interested party should the opportunity to acquire the plant ever arise. But Eric Kuhn, the district’s general manager, said Xcel is the most qualified entity to operate and maintain the aging facility, and that the district’s interest in the plant stems from river flows, not power generation.

“If it were for sale we would have to have somebody who knew the power business as our major partner because we couldn’t do that. We’re not in that business,” he said.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.


Dam dilemma looms for planners — The Pueblo Chieftain

September 1, 2014
Fountain Creek Watershed

Fountain Creek Watershed

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Building dams to slow down the pace of floodwater could save lives and reduce the destruction of property. But, it might also deprive a farmer of irrigation water or even deliver more to neighbors with more senior water rights. It could cause conflicts with neighboring states that have entered into compacts with Colorado.

Dams, detention ponds and even debris basins meant to trap sediment while allowing water to flow freely in areas ravaged by wildfire could be subject to state water rights administration. That’s the opinion of officials at the Colorado Division of Water Resources.

“I think we’ve clearly articulated how we view the law and there are not any gaps from an administrative standpoint,” said State Engineer Dick Wolfe.

But districts formed to control stormwater are discussing whether state water law could block efforts to stem the worst effects of floods. And they’re looking at changing the law to give more weight to arguments to detain water.

The Urban Drainage and Flood Control District, which was formed to assist Denver metro area counties with stormwater protection, has asked the state to clarify its position on whether flood control would have priority in any instance. Meanwhile, the Fountain Creek Flood Control and Greenway District is preparing a series of conversations with water rights holders on the same topic.

“If we as a district are going to be successful, we have to become involved,” Executive Director Larry Small told the Fountain Creek board at its August meeting.

The state’s position is that detaining water in a regional project could injure junior water rights.

In 2011, the state explained that its policy of allowing 72-hour detention of floodwater applies only to single-site projects, rather than regional detention ponds, said Kevin Rein, deputy state engineer. The rule has often been invoked in flood control discussions and usually misinterpreted. The Fountain Creek district found out about this firsthand when it constructed a demonstration project along Fountain Creek in Pueblo behind the North Side Walmart. It was required to file a substitute water supply plan.

But there are no hard and fast rules governing flood detention.

“We do not find a legal basis to make an absolute finding that diversions of stormwater into regional water quality detention are allowable, nor do we find a basis to determine that such diversions would cause no injury,” Rein concluded in his letter to the Urban Drainage district.

Even the debris basins built by Colorado Springs after the Waldo Canyon Fire have the potential to run afoul of state water law, said Steve Witte, Division 2 engineer. “If they encounter groundwater, they have to be augmented with a SWSP,” Witte said. “If it’s in a normally dry stream, it may qualify as an erosion control dam, which if it holds less than 2 acre-feet of water is statutorily exempt.”

So far, the state has looked at about 30 of those structures in the Colorado Springs area.

Flood control is not impossible. One of the stated benefits of Pueblo Dam under the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project is to provide protection from floods. The operating rules of the dam allow holding back water if the Arkansas River is above 6,000 cubic feet per second at the Avondale gauge — a level that satisfies most water rights downstream.

However, Fountain Creek officials know they could have a tough time trying to unravel the water rights questions that will accompany any dam or detention pond project.

“It’s going to be a tough fight, but the best way is to confront it,” said Pueblo County Commissioner Terry Hart. “We have to put an effort together to try to negotiate it up front. The only way to identify the issues is to speak to those who might be hurt downstream.”

More stormwater coverage here.


Fryingpan-Arkansas Project update: “We can’t dry up the creeks” — Kara Lamb #ColoradoRiver

September 1, 2014
Fryingpan-Arkansas Project via the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District

Fryingpan-Arkansas Project via the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District

From The Aspen Times (Scott Condon):

The Fryingpan-Arkansas Project diverted about 80,200 acre-feet of water under the Continental Divide to the Front Range this year, according to Kara Lamb, spokeswoman for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which operates the system.

That is about 67 percent higher than the average diversion of 48,000 acre-feet over the 52-year lifetime of the system, she said. More water was diverted this year because of a higher-than-average snowpack and lots of rain starting in mid-July, according to Lamb.

Nevertheless, river and stream water levels have dropped to the point where diversions must be stopped to maintain minimum stream flows.

“This week and next week, we are shutting down the diversion system,” she said Friday. “We can’t dry up the creeks.”

Ruedi Reservoir is about 93 percent full right now. That’s slightly above average, according to the Reclamation Bureau’s records. The amount of water currently being released from Ruedi Dam is 267 cubic feet per second, about average for Sept. 1.

Water is still being diverted from the headwaters of the Roaring Fork River east of Aspen. The Independence Pass Transmountain Diversion System has diverted an estimated 59,400 acre-feet thus far this water year, which started in October 2013, according to water data on the Colorado Division of Water Resources website. Kevin Lusk, a water-supply engineer with Colorado Springs Utilities helped The Aspen Times interpret the data on the state’s website.

The average annual diversion over the past 79 years has been 42,000 acre-feet. This year’s diversion is already 17,400 acre-feet above average, or 41 percent higher.

The diversion system operated by the Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co. taps a 45-square-mile area at the headwaters of the Roaring Fork River. The system diverts water from the Roaring Fork River near Lost Man Campground. In addition, it diverts some of the water in Lost Man Creek, Lincoln Creek, Brooklyn Creek, Tabor Creek, New York Creek and Grizzly Creek, according to a description on the website of Roaring Fork Conservancy, a Basalt-based nonprofit that monitors water quantity and quality issues.

The conservancy’s weekly watershed river report, released each Thursday, showed that Twin Lakes Tunnel was diverting water at a rate of 80 cubic feet per second on Aug. 28 from the Roaring Fork River headwaters. Meanwhile, the river was flowing at only 49 cfs in Aspen that same day.

The Roaring Fork River is dammed near Lost Man Campground. The river below the dam runs at a trickle. It’s replenished to some degree by various creeks before it reaches Aspen.

Without the diversion, the Roaring Fork River flow would be 129 cubic feet per second in Aspen, or about 2.5 times what it is running now. Superior water rights allow the Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co. to divert an amount greater than the river flow.

More Fryingpan-Arkansas Project coverage here.


CWC Summer Conference recap, day 3: Exempt Colorado water storage projects from NEPA? #COWaterRally #ColoradoRiver

August 23, 2014

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

Colorado gubernatorial candidate Bob Beauprez told the Colorado Water Congress Friday that as governor he would be the “lead cheerleader” for new water storage projects in the state. He also drew a distinction between himself and Gov. Hickenlooper on the potential of a major new dam and reservoir project being built in the state.

The governor answered a question on Thursday at the Water Congress meeting in Snowmass Village by saying it was “unlikely” that public opinion in the state had shifted in favor of building a major new water storage project.

“I submit to you that’s not leadership,” said Beauprez. “I think we need a governor that stands up and says we’ve got to build new storage and I’m going to lead the way to make sure it happens. I’ll promote worthy projects. I’ll be your lead cheerleader on that.”

The Water Congress is an advocacy organization whose mission includes the “protection of water rights” and “infrastructure investment.”

Beauprez said he would seek to streamline the approval process for new water projects by asking Congress to pass a resolution exempting Colorado projects from NEPA, which often requires producing an extensive environmental impact statement.

“I’ll seek NEPA waivers for any project that meets the stringent Colorado standards, with the help of our Congressional delegation,” said Beauprez [ed. emphasis mine], a Republican who represented Colorado’s 7th District on the Front Range from 2003 to 2007.

Beauprez also told the Water Congress crowd that he supported approval of the Northern Integrated Supply Project, or NISP. The project’s proponent, the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, is seeking federal approval for two new reservoirs near Fort Collins.

The water for NISP will come from the Poudre and South Platte rivers on Colorado’s East Slope, but Northern Water’s existing system also uses water diverted from the Colorado River basin on the West Slope, and some of that water could be used in a system expanded by NISP. The Army Corps of Engineers has been leading the review of the project since 2004 and expects to release a decision document in 2016.

“Frankly, you’ve got a governor who can’t seem to decide if he’s for it [or] against it,” Beauprez said about NISP. “I’m for it. And I’ll do everything to make sure it gets approved and built.”

Given his enthusiasm for new reservoirs, Beauprez was asked by an audience member if he was proposing new transmountain diversions to augment the Front Range’s water supply.

“No,” Beauprez said emphatically.

“Where are you going to get the water from?” the questioner asked, noting that 80 percent of water in Colorado is on the Western Slope.

“What I’m proposing is the same kind of thing that NISP is doing — taking advantage of the opportunity to store East Slope water on the East Slope. I think until we’ve demonstrated that we’ve stored all the water we possibly can on the East Slope, transbasin diversions shouldn’t even be on the table.

“We know we can move water,” Beauprez continued. “And sometimes we’ve moved it because it’s been convenient, or because there’s the money, or because there’s the votes, or because of whatever. But the West Slope of Colorado is Colorado, too. And I understand that. And I want to protect that. And I know that you’ve got a whole lot of people downstream from you on the West Slope that covet that water as well.”

Beauprez, who grew up on a dairy farm in Lafayette and now diverts water to grow alfalfa and raise buffalo in Jackson County, said he has a keen appreciation for Colorado water law and will defend the state’s priority system, which is based on “first in time, first in right.”

“I know what Colorado’s time-honored water laws are for,” he said “I know that our prior appropriations doctrine has worked, and worked very, very well. And I know that there’s a lot of people that would like to gnaw away, erode, and destroy that. I’m not one of them. Our prior appropriations doctrine, our water law, and our right to own and utilize our water needs to be protected every day at all costs.”

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Like a bolt of lightning, climate change clearly divides candidates in the Third Congressional District.U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, a Republican, and his Democratic challenger from Pueblo, Abel Tapia were asked about it at the Colorado Water Congress summer convention.

“We all agree that climate will change,” Tipton said, quickly launching into campaign talking points on all-of-the-above energy policy.

But Tipton criticized the way some have politicized the issue and complained of governmental overreach by the Environmental Protection Agency and other federal departments.

“Anyone who doesn’t believe in climate change is fooling themselves,” Tapia said later in the day. “When you look at the forest fires and floods we have experienced, something has added to that.”

Tapia said the country has the ability and obligation to discover ways to overcome the effects of climate change to keep the county and world secure.

Tipton also stressed his record in Congress on water issues, citing his efforts to stop the National Forest Service from tying up water rights in federal contracts for ski areas and ranch land.

He said the EPA’s Waters of the [U.S.] policies are dangerous to agriculture.

“If the EPA can come in and tell us how to use water, we’re going to be stripping our farmers of their ability to make a living,” he said. “We need common sense in federal regulations.”

Tapia said his own life experiences as an engineer, school board member and state lawmaker give him a unique perspective that would serve the state in Congress.

“I’m a problem solver,” he told the Water Congress. “I know that when you need to know something you go to the experts. You are the experts on water.”

More 2014 Colorado November election coverage here.

Tweets from the conference were tagged with the hash tag #COWaterRally.


“We don’t want to demonize the Front Range” — Jim Pokrandt #ColoradoRiver #COWaterPlan

August 19, 2014


From the Vail Daily (Lauren Glendenning):

The soothing sound of the Colorado River as it meanders its way across Colorado’s Western Slope is the sound of a thriving economy, a fragile environment and also an impending crisis.

The state of water supplies in the arid West is volatile and forecasts are grim. Lake Powell and Lake Mead are at alarmingly low levels, while populations across the West are swelling past the capacities of current water supplies.

The Colorado River Basin is facing a battle of sorts as Colorado creates a statewide water plan. It’s a battle against time and against competing water needs, both here in Colorado and in lower basin states like Nevada and California.

Regionally, some view it as an Eastern Slope vs. Western Slope battle, although water officials are carefully shaping the public relations message as one of unity and collaboration. There’s a very real fear that exists west of the Continental Divide, though, that Colorado’s growing Front Range population is going to suck the Colorado River Basin dry. Some even say that has already happened…

“Population is still growing and there’s a need to find more water for municipal uses,” said Jim Pokrandt, chair of the Colorado Basin Roundtable and spokesman for the Colorado River Water Conservation District. “We don’t want to demonize the Front Range.”[...]

…the state’s water planning has really been going on for over a decade, said Brad Udall, a research faculty member at the University of Colorado’s Getches-Wilkinson Center for Natural Resources, Energy and Environment and former director of the Western Water Assessment.

Udall has written extensively about climate change issues as they relate to water resources but his passion for Western water began outside of books and classrooms. His mother took him down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon in the early 1970s, paving the way for Udall’s future in guiding Grand Canyon river trips. After getting into environmental engineering at Stanford University and developing a passion for water issues, he also began working on climate change issues. That’s when he realized that climate change means water change. They’re one in the same, he said…

…none of the states want to go back and draft new laws based on the realistic flows, except for maybe California, [Glenn Porzak] said.

“If you go back and say, ‘We made a mistake when we negotiated, we thought there was 17 million acre feet.’ If you renegotiate, (Colorado’s) going to lose,” he said. “All water is political.”[...]

The major concern at Lake Powell is that it’s getting down to such a level that it will no longer be able to generate power, said Glenn Porzak, a water attorney based in Boulder who represents water entities and municipalities in both Summit and Eagle counties, as well as Vail Resorts.

“The cost of power is going to quadruple,” Porzak said of Lake Powell, should it drop below power generating levels. “Almost all of the Western Slope’s power comes from the power grid that’s generated off Colorado River storage projects. That hits the ski industry and every other industry if the cost of power goes up four times.”

It also hits the average citizen, who has been enjoying relatively cheap water at home, Udall said.

“You hear we’re running out of water and we gotta get more, but we’re running out of cheap water,” he said. “Water that people are putting on lawns, that shouldn’t just be free, it should come with significant costs. … One of the lessons here is that water is going to get more expensive in the municipal sector, and a little bit more in the (agriculture) sector.”

When prices are low, people over-use water, but when they’re high, conservation becomes a lot easier and more attractive. And conservation is a big theme in the first draft of the Colorado Basin Implementation Plan, which came out last month and will undergo several more revisions before it’s sent to the state later this year for incorporation into the state water plan.

From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Lauren Glendenning):

Nathan Fey’s passion for kayaking led him to a career in river conservation and water quality issues. As the Colorado stewardship director for the nonprofit American Whitewater, he’s watching carefully as the state progresses through its water planning process.

The state must address some major conflicts as it creates the Colorado Water Plan, he said.

“Sure, our population is focused on the Front Range, but the reason we all live here is because recreation is a way of life for us,” Fey said. “I think there’s a big disconnect for people in our urban areas about where their water comes from. They don’t understand that if they grow green grass, there’s less water in the river when they’re fishing.”[...]

Recreation along the Colorado River and its tributaries is a $9.6 billion industry, and that’s just within the state of Colorado. According to a 2012 study for Protect The Flows, done by the consulting firm Southwick Associates, which specializes in recreation economics, the Colorado River would rank as the 19th-largest employer on the 2011 Fortune 500 list based on the jobs it generates.

“People moved here for the environment — it underpins the economy,” said Jim Pokrandt, chair of the Colorado Basin Roundtable and the communications and education director for the Colorado River Water Conservation District. “Water in the streams is an economic driver in and of itself.”

The recreation-based economies in mountain resort towns depend on healthy streams for more than just the water-based activities. Indirectly, hikers, campers and mountain bikers, to name a few, also depend on healthy streams.

“That’s the value we’re hoping Colorado embraces, so the desire to push for another transmountain diversion is deferred for a long time, if not forever, in favor of using the water we already have to its highest and most efficient use,” Pokrandt said…

Pokrandt likens the process to economizing, just like any business would do during tough times. You look at internal expenses, in this case water uses, and you cut back…

With the Colorado Water Plan’s deadline more than a year away, the Colorado Basin Roundtable is polishing its plan to make sure it gets the point across that more transmountain diversions would be detrimental to tourism economies, the environment and agriculture…

In the mountains, many of the major water providers such as the town of Breckenridge, the Upper Eagle Regional Water Authority and the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District, have senior, or pre-compact, water rights. The same goes for the Grand Valley and Grand Junction areas, said water attorney Glenn Porzak, who represents those entities as well as Vail Resorts and other local municipalities.

“The water rights really affected the most (under a compact curtailment) are all of the transmountain diversions,” Porzak said. “Fifty percent of Denver’s supply comes from the Dillon and Moffat systems and are post-compact. All of the Northern Colorado Conservancy District comes from the Thompson project, also junior. All of Colorado Springs and Aurora diversions are junior to the compact.”

When 75 percent of the Front Range supply comes from junior diversions, Porzak said it’s clear what municipalities will do: They’ll buy up more senior agriculture rights for the Western Slope.

More Front Range municipalities buying Western Slope agriculture water rights depletes rivers. When the water is diverted over the Continental Divide, it never returns to the basin. That affects flows, which affect water quality, stream health and the economic powerhouse that is recreation-based tourism…

The ski industry is the pulse of Summit, Eagle and Pitkin counties during winter months. Water is the source of winter-based recreation, but the fact that it doesn’t always fall from the sky at the right times or in the right quantities means water must be taken from elsewhere.

Aspen Skiing Co. and Vail Resorts have bought and maintained important water rights since the beginning of each company’s existence…

Predictability like a start date for the season — something the company typically announces during the previous ski season — is crucial to lock in season pass sales. Without important water rights and water supplies, Hensler said opening for Thanksgiving might be impossible, and Christmas would even be a challenge…

Hensler points out that snowmaking is only about 20 percent consumptive.

“About 80 percent of the water we put on the mountain as snow melts and flows back into the streams — it’s a very sustainable use,” Hensler said.

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


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