Can we conserve our way out of our supply gap in the #ColoradoRiver Basin? #COWaterPlan

July 19, 2014

thehardestworkingriverinthewestcolooradoriver

Update: I heard from the Western Resource Advocates and American Rivers media guy, Gil Rudawsky. Scroll down to read the update.

Western Resource Advocates and American Rivers attempt to answer that question with a new report. Here’s their release:

On July 17 2014, Western Resource Advocates joined with American Rivers to release a new report that identifies conservation, reuse and other innovative solutions that could eliminate Western water shortages stemming from the over-taxed and stressed Colorado River. The report defines five cost-effective and clearly defined solutions that – if implemented at a larger scale across the basin – could meet the water needs of the West’s business, agricultural and growing population through 2060.

The Hardest Working River in the West: Common-Sense Solutions for a Reliable Water Future for the Colorado River Basin provides a comprehensive package of proven methods to conserve water.

  • Download the Executive Summary
  • Download the Full Report
  • See the full press release
  • The new report estimates that 4.4 million acre-feet of water could be saved and made available for other uses if these proven methods are implemented throughout the basin – more than enough water to meet projected growth in water needs in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming, for the next half-century.

    This report comes at a critical time for Western States with record droughts, depleted reservoirs hitting all-time lows, and a growing population increasing water demands.

    “Our report showcases the ‘All-Star’ water solutions – actions that are proven, cost-effective and ready to meet our current and future water needs,” said Bart Miller, Water Program Director at Western Resource Advocates. “The fact is, there is a lot of concern about the Colorado River right now but these solutions will work and help everyone – from agriculture to growing cities –

    “There is a widening water gap creating 3.8 million acre-feet of additional water needed to meet the needs of the growing population of the West. This is an enormous amount which, if not carefully managed, could deplete the river and dramatically alter the landscape of the seven basin states,” said Matt Rice, Director of Colorado Basin Programs for American Rivers. “These solutions will ensure the river’s resources meet all future water needs for urban, rural, business and agricultural communities across all seven basin states, while still protecting the natural environment of the West.”

    The five critical steps for solving our current and future water shortages are:

  • Municipal conservation, saving 1.0 million acre-feet through such efforts as improved landscaping techniques, rebate programs that incentivize water-saving devices and standardized water audits
  • Municipal reuse, saving 1.2 million acre-feet through gray water treatment and re-use for irrigation, industrial uses and other purposes
  • Agricultural efficiency and water banking, saving 1.0 million acre-feet via voluntary, compensated improvements in irrigation efficiency and technology, crop shifting and other measures (while avoiding permanently taking agricultural lands out of production)
  • Renewable energy and energy efficiency, saving 160 thousand acre-feet using wind, solar PV, and geothermal energy solutions, and new water-efficient thermoelectric power plants
  • Innovative water opportunities, generating up to 1.1 million acre-feet through creative measures such as invasive plant removal, dust-on-snow mitigation and targeted inland desalinization.
  • I’ve got email into their media guy about the dust-on-snow savings in their plan. 400,000 acre-feet is a lot and I haven’t run across an estimate like that. I thought the only historical adjunct for dust mitigation was the Taylor Grazing Act of 1934 and we certainly didn’t have accurate measurement of snowpack back then. We do know that the act lowered dust levels.

    Update: Gil Rudawsky got back to me with a paragraph from their report, I believe, it’s unclear from his email. At any rate the text reads, “By implementing measures to reduce the accumulation of dust on snow, lower evaporative losses are anticipated.”

    I told him that it’s a long way from “anticipated” to wet water. No one even knows if we can successfully implement dust-on-snow mitigation to the extent needed to back up their number. It’s just a little careless on their part.

    As an aside they also have a weather modification number in their totals. I have not been apprised of solid data from cloud-seeding efforts. That being said many large water providers set aside substantial funds each year for projects.

    I think everyone nowadays agrees that river health should be right up there when setting policy so I think that is one good takeaway from the report.

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

    Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer's office

    Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer’s office

    The undefined transmountain diversion to be addressed by the Colorado Water plan would be unnecessary under conservation proposals that would keep more water in the Colorado River, two environmental organizations said.

    Five proposals listed by the organizations in “The Hardest Working River” could be of immediate and long-term benefit to the river, said Bart Miller of Boulder-based Western Resource Advocates, which issued the report along with American Rivers, which releases an annual report listing endangered rivers.

    Conservation measures “absolutely” could offset the need for new storage in the river, said Matt Rice, director of Colorado conservation for American Rivers, in a conference call with reporters.

    “We’re having a hard enough time keeping waters in the reservoirs as it is” without a new one, Rice said.

    Augmenting Colorado’s water supply from outside sources also wouldn’t help, Rice said, dismissing the idea of new pipes and water projects to deliver water into the state.

    The Colorado Water Conservation Board is moving ahead on the task of drafting a statewide water plan.

    Front Range water providers have floated the idea of a new transmountain diversion, but have offered no information as to where it might be located. One proposal calls for water to be diverted only during years with heavy runoff.

    Two dozen transmountain diversions now send as many as 600,000 acre feet of water to the east side of the Continental Divide.

    Colorado and the other upper Colorado River basin states are required to send at least 7.4 million acre feet of water per year to Arizona, Nevada and California. Five solutions that American Rivers and Western Resource Advocates are suggesting “would go a long ways toward meeting the needs in the future,” Miller said.

    Taken together, the proposals could keep 4.4 million acre feet in the river, Miller said.

    The proposals call for conservation and reuse of municipal water, with both more efficient fixtures and reduced irrigation of lawns and other outside uses; greater agricultural efficiency and water banking.

    Further, the proposal calls for more efficient water use by the energy industry and the use of rooftop solar and wind sources; and the removal of water-guzzling invasive plants such as tamarisk.

    Xeriscape landscape

    Xeriscape landscape

    From Colorado Public Radio (Ana Hanel):

    The goal is not to divert water from one area to another, said American Rivers’ Matt Rice.

    “We deliberately don’t address and don’t believe that the right approach is with new pipelines and new large-scale water projects, because they’re significantly more expensive,” Rice says.

    The report says millions of people’s drinking water is at risk over the next few decades if demand continues to outpace the Colorado River’s water supply.

    It’ll be important over the next few years for communities to continue to encourage water conservation, said Bart Miller of Boulder-based Western Resource Advocates.

    “We can look to having landscapes that use more native vegetation, that are smaller in size,” Miller says. “We can greatly decrease the amount of water that’s used outside, which is about half of the water use for most metropolitan areas.”

    Miller said it’ll be important to replicate successful conservation and water-reuse programs in cities throughout the southwest.

    More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.


    Pop quiz — perceptions of water use

    July 19, 2014

    Originally posted on Mile High Water Talk:

    By Lindsay Weber, Denver Water demand planner

    promolabel_blue_lookPop quiz: Why is it important to know how much water different activities use — like flushing a toilet or taking a shower?

    Answer: Because knowledge is power, and if you know how much water you are using, you can also figure out how much water you can save.

    So, are you up for the challenge? Below are questions about common household indoor uses of water. If you don’t know the answers to these questions, or if you don’t think that they have a major impact on your daily water use, you’re not alone. A recent national study shows that Americans are likely to underestimate the amount of water used by various activities by a factor of two, and are likely to greatly underestimate activities that use a lot of water — such as filling a swimming pool.

    Take the challenge:

     Answers:

    1) B

    In 2011, Denver Water conducted a residential water use study and found that the toilets in our service area have a median volume of 2.4 gallons of water per flush. To save water, you can flush less, but you can also use Denver Water’s rebate program to offset the purchase of a WaterSense-labeled toilet that uses as little as 1.28 or even 1.0 gallons per flush. This is especially important if you have an old, water-guzzling toilet from before 1996 that can use three or more gallons per flush. In…

    View original 276 more words


    Eating the #ColoradoRiver shortage elephant, one bite at a time — John Fleck

    July 19, 2014
    Colorado River Basin including out of basin demands -- Graphic/USBR

    Colorado River Basin including out of basin demands — Graphic/USBR

    John Fleck lays out a strategy to reduce the long-term shortage on the Colorado. Here’s his report from Inkstain. Here’s an excerpt:

    This line from a paper a few years back by Edella Schlager and Tanya Heikkila may seem obvious, but in the context of current discussions over the future of Colorado River management, it bears repeating:

    A water allocation rule that allocates more water than is available in a river is not well matched to its setting.

    Yup. That in a nutshell is the problem highlighted by this oft-revisited Bureau of Reclamation slide demonstrating how the Lower Colorado River Basin’s water budget works. Everyone here is following the rules, living within their legal allocation, and Lake Mead keeps dropping because the Law of the River has allocated more water than is available in the river.

    This is the critical thing to understand as we see the beginnings of the new “Colorado River System Conservation Program” taking shape, which would create a framework to pay farmers to leave water in the river. It’s not enough to simply save water. The way we go about it must be embedded within, and take into account, the rules governing allocation and distributions of Colorado River water…

    The 1990-2003 experience suggests that the water conservation piece of this may be the easy part. As a nice new Western Resource Advocates white paper explains, we know how to conserve the water. The key piece here, and the reason the System Conservation Program is so interesting and important, is that we need to get the water allocation rules and river management policies right in order to cause those conservation savings to happen.

    More Colorado River Basin coverage here.


    Northern Water opts for gradual rate increase — Fort Collins Coloradoan

    July 18, 2014
    Colorado-Big Thompson Project Map via Northern Water

    Colorado-Big Thompson Project Map via Northern Water

    From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Ryan Maye Handy):

    The Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District will increase the cost of its water step-by-step over 2016 and 2017, which will mean 28 percent cost increase per year for cities like Fort Collins.

    The district’s board came to a decision about the rate increases on July 11, after months of considering the best way to hike prices to balance out the district’s budget. The board initially considered a more than 40 percent increase in 2016, but decided to compromise with cities and other water users concerned that such drastic increases would harm their finances.

    Fort Collins Utilities, which now gets the bulk of its water from the district, says that in the short term customers’ utility rates will not be affected…

    For 2015, allotment prices for cities were set at $30.50 per acre foot, up from $28. While that cost will only increase for cities over the next few years, irrigators will face a 61 percent increase in allotment costs in 2016 and 2017.

    Fort Collins Utilities directly owns 18,855 units in addition to about 14,000 units it leases from the North Poudre Irrigation Co. But, in terms of actual use for 2014, the city has used 14,900 acre feet of water since Nov. 1, when the water year begins.

    After the High Park Fire, Utilities became even more reliant on C-BT water since the Poudre River, the city’s other water source, was filled with fire and flood debris. This year, the city gets about 65 percent of its water from Northern Water, and 35 percent from the Poudre.

    From the Loveland Reporter-Herald (Jessica Maher):

    Costs are expected to increase every year until 2018, when municipal and industrial C-BT users will be charged $53.10 per unit and agricultural users will be charged $30.20 per unit. That represents a nearly 90 percent increase for municipalities and 202 percent increase for agricultural users.

    The city of Loveland owns 12,118 units of C-BT water, 5,112 of which are fixed at a rate of $1.50 per unit that will not change.

    The increase for Loveland’s remaining 7,006 open-rate units will cost the city about $176,000 more by 2018. Loveland Water and Power staff will budget for the increase in the coming years, senior water resources engineer Larry Howard said.

    “It’s real money, but it’s not something that’s devastating to the utility or something,” Howard said.

    Next year, rates are set to increase by 9 percent. That’s a manageable increase that will not require rate increases for Loveland Water and Power customers, Howard said.

    Whether customers will see an impact from the increase in future years is not known.

    “When we do our cost of service study next year, the cost increase will be taken into account, along with any other changes in our costs,” Utility Accounting Manager Jim Lees said.

    The city of Loveland’s primary two sources of water are the Green Ridge Glade Reservoir and water diverted directly from the Big Thompson River at the Big Dam.

    “We generally rely on those each year and then start filling in with C-BT and Windy Gap water,” Howard said. “It depends on the year and how much we need.”

    Depending on conditions year to year, the city rents C-BT water to farmers, so Howard said that could help to absorb the cost of the rate increases over the next few years.

    Brian Werner, Northern Water’s public information officer, said that the increases are the result of a comprehensive study that started last year.

    “The cost of doing business is going up,” Werner said. “Our management has charged us with looking at where we can control costs.”

    More Colorado-Big Thompson Project coverage here.


    NOAA: Climate data from air, land, sea and ice in 2013 reflect trends of a warming planet

    July 18, 2014

    SOTC2013Cover

    Here’s the latest State of the Climate release from NOAA:

    In 2013, the vast majority of worldwide climate indicators—greenhouse gases, sea levels, global temperatures, etc.—continued to reflect trends of a warmer planet, according to the indicators assessed in the State of the Climate in 2013 report, released online today by the American Meteorological Society.

    Scientists from NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, N.C., served as the lead editors of the report, which was compiled by 425 scientists from 57 countries around the world (highlights, visuals, full report). It provides a detailed update on global climate indicators, notable weather events, and other data collected by environmental monitoring stations and instruments on air, land, sea, and ice.

    “These findings reinforce what scientists for decades have observed: that our planet is becoming a warmer place,” said NOAA Administrator Kathryn Sullivan, Ph.D. “This report provides the foundational information we need to develop tools and services for communities, business, and nations to prepare for, and build resilience to, the impacts of climate change.”

    The report uses dozens of climate indicators to track patterns, changes, and trends of the global climate system, including greenhouse gases; temperatures throughout the atmosphere, ocean, and land; cloud cover; sea level; ocean salinity; sea ice extent; and snow cover. These indicators often reflect many thousands of measurements from multiple independent datasets. The report also details cases of unusual and extreme regional events, such as Super Typhoon Haiyan, which devastated portions of Southeast Asia in November 2013.

    Highlights:

  • Greenhouse gases continued to climb: Major greenhouse gas concentrations, including carbon dioxide (CO2), methane and nitrous oxide, continued to rise during 2013, once again reaching historic high values. Atmospheric CO2 concentrations increased by 2.8 ppm in 2013, reaching a global average of 395.3 ppm for the year. At the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii, the daily concentration of CO2 exceeded 400 ppm on May 9 for the first time since measurements began at the site in 1958. This milestone follows observational sites in the Arctic that observed this CO2 threshold of 400 ppm in spring 2012.
  • Warm temperature trends continued near the Earth’s surface: Four major independent datasets show 2013 was among the warmest years on record, ranking between second and sixth depending upon the dataset used. In the Southern Hemisphere, Australia observed its warmest year on record, while Argentina had its second warmest and New Zealand its third warmest.
  • Sea surface temperatures increased: Four independent datasets indicate that the globally averaged sea surface temperature for 2013 was among the 10 warmest on record. El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO)-neutral conditions in the eastern central Pacific Ocean and a negative Pacific decadal oscillation pattern in the North Pacific. The North Pacific was record warm for 2013.
  • Sea level continued to rise: Global mean sea level continued to rise during 2013, on pace with a trend of 3.2 ± 0.4 mm per year over the past two decades.
  • The Arctic continued to warm; sea ice extent remained low: The Arctic observed its seventh warmest year since records began in the early 20th century. Record high temperatures were measured at 20-meter depth at permafrost stations in Alaska. Arctic sea ice extent was the sixth lowest since satellite observations began in 1979. All seven lowest sea ice extents on record have occurred in the past seven years.
  • Antarctic sea ice extent reached record high for second year in a row; South Pole station set record high temperature: The Antarctic maximum sea ice extent reached a record high of 7.56 million square miles on October 1. This is 0.7 percent higher than the previous record high extent of 7.51 million square miles that occurred in 2012 and 8.6 percent higher than the record low maximum sea ice extent of 6.96 million square miles that occurred in 1986. Near the end of the year, the South Pole had its highest annual temperature since records began in 1957.
  • Tropical cyclones near average overall / Historic Super Typhoon: The number of tropical cyclones during 2013 was slightly above average, with a total of 94 storms, in comparison to the 1981-2010 average of 89. The North Atlantic Basin had its quietest season since 1994. However, in the Western North Pacific Basin, Super Typhoon Haiyan – the deadliest cyclone of 2013 – had the highest wind speed ever assigned to a tropical cyclone, with one-minute sustained winds estimated to be 196 miles per hour.
  • State of the Climate in 2013 is the 24th edition in a peer-reviewed series published annually as a special supplement to the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society. The journal makes the full report openly available online.

    “State of the Climate is vital to documenting the world’s climate,” said Dr. Keith Seitter, AMS Executive Director. “AMS members in all parts of the world contribute to this NOAA-led effort to give the public a detailed scientific snapshot of what’s happening in our world and builds on prior reports we’ve published.”


    The Lower Ark District approves letter to the EPA about new rule as “water grab”

    July 18, 2014
    Groundwater movement via the USGS

    Groundwater movement via the USGS

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    A district formed to protect water in the Lower Arkansas Valley plans to weigh in on proposed rules that some say amount to a federal water grab. The Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District voted Wednesday to send a formal comment to the Environmental Protection Agency on its proposed Waters of the United States, claiming that it goes too far in regulating wetlands and even groundwater connected to streams.

    The rules are an attempt to resolve conflicting U.S. Supreme Court decisions that center on the issue of “navigable waters.”

    “East of the Mississippi River, all waters may be navigable, but it doesn’t make sense for the arid West,” said Mark Pifher, the Arkansas River basin’s representative on the Colorado Water Quality Commission. Pifher, a Colorado Springs Utilities executive, typically attends Lower Ark meetings to update the Lower Ark on stormwater issues. He recently testified against the rule in Washington, D.C., on behalf of municipal and agricultural water interests.

    Leroy Mauch, the Prowers County director on the Lower Ark board, urged the board to jump into the federal fray.

    “We need to research this and send out a letter objecting to this,” Mauch said.

    Wayne Whittaker, the Otero County director, said the new policy sounds like continuation of years of federal attempts to insert control into state water issues.

    Most water groups in the West have taken a position that the rules are too intrusive. An exception is the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union, which claims the rules have sufficient exemptions that protect agriculture.

    Some in Congress are backing legislation that would simply not fund enforcement of the policy.

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    Activities on several fronts are aimed at improving surface sprinkler irrigation in the Lower Arkansas Valley. Several studies are aimed at reducing the obligation of farmers in group plans, known as Rule 10 plans, under state consumptive use rules designed to prevent expanded water use through increased farm efficiencies. Sprinklers have been the most effected by the rules, although drip irrigation, ditch lining and other methods are accounted for as well.

    On Wednesday, the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District reviewed its projects that aim at the rules:

    A $70,000 state grant looking at the legal implications of using flood irrigation water rights decreed for the same ground as sprinklers as augmentation water. The district has suggested legislation to allow this, but it so far has not been introduced.

    A $175,000 proposed state grant to determine if tailwater measurements in state irrigation models are too high.

    A $120,000 study to determine if leakage from ponds that supply water to surface-fed sprinklers is too high.

    The goal is to reduce the obligation and find sustainable sources of replacement water, said General Manager Jay Winner.

    “These are parallel paths,” he told the board. “The day is coming when you won’t be able to buy water on the spot market.”

    More Environmental Protection Agency coverage here.


    Runoff news: 950 cfs in Black Canyon

    July 17, 2014
    Black Canyon via the National Park Service

    Black Canyon via the National Park Service

    From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

    Flows at the Whitewater gage on the lower Gunnison River are right at the baseflow target of 1500 cfs and the forecasts show the river flows trending downward over the next several days. Therefore releases at Crystal will be increased by 100 cfs today, July 17th. This should result in flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon of around 950 cfs.

    From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

    Despite all the rain last night, we have not seen any operational changes at Pueblo Dam. The rain was largely downstream of the reservoir. Pueblo is still around 60% full and operating normally.

    From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

    Just a quick update on Granby spill releases.

    We had more rain on the East Slope last night. As a result, we once again shut down diversions through the Adams Tunnel. Without the tunnel pulling water from Granby Reservoir to the east, more water is now being released to the west at Granby Dam to the Colorado River.

    Granby releases bumped up to about 630 cfs. That release is a combination of what is going through the river gate and what is coming over the spillway. The river gate is releasing about 430 cfs; the remainder is coming over the spillway.

    Later this afternoon, the total release is expected to drop down to about 530 cfs. The plan is to maintain the 530 cfs release through the night into tomorrow.


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