Click on a thumbnail below for the WISE system map and Prairie Waters map.
Here’s the release from the South Metro Water Supply Authority (Russ Rizzo):
The WISE water project today received unprecedented statewide support, becoming the first water infrastructure project in Colorado to receive funding from Basin Roundtables across the state.
The Colorado Water Conservation Board approved $905,000 in state and regional grant funding for the WISE (Water Infrastructure and Supply Efficiency) project, including funds from seven of the state’s nine Basin Roundtables.
“We are excited and grateful for the broad, statewide support for this important project,” said Eric Hecox, executive director of the South Metro Water Supply Authority, which represents 13 water providers comprising most of Douglas County and a portion of Arapahoe County. “This is a significant part of our region’s plan to transition to a more secure and sustainable water supply, and benefits of WISE extend throughout the region and to the West Slope.”
WISE is a partnership among Aurora Water, Denver Water and South Metro Water to combine available water supplies and system capacities to create a sustainable new water supply. Aurora and Denver will provide fully treated water to South Metro Water on a permanent basis. WISE also will enable Denver Water to access its supplies during periods when it needs to. All of this will be accomplished while allowing Aurora to continue to meet its customers’ current and future needs.
“This project is reflective of the regional and statewide collaboration the State Water Plan calls for to meet the future water needs of Coloradans,” said former State Representative Diane Hoppe, chair of the Colorado Water Conservation Board. “The broad financial support from Basin Roundtables across the state reflects the cooperation and smart approach that the Denver metro area’s leading water providers have taken.”
The Basin Roundtables, created in 2005 with the Colorado Water for the 21st Century Act, represent each of the state’s eight major river basins and the Denver metropolitan area. The grants are part of the state’s Water Supply Reserve Accounts program that assists Colorado water users in addressing their critical water supply issues and interests.
Roundtables that have committed funds to WISE so far include:
Metro Basin Roundtable
South Platte Basin Roundtable
North Platte Basin Roundtable
Colorado Basin Roundtable
Arkansas Basin Roundtable
Gunnison Basin Roundtable
Yampa/White/Green Basin Roundtable
“The Colorado Basin applauds the WISE participants for their forward thinking and collaborative approach,” said Jim Pokrandt, chair of the Colorado Basin Roundtable, which includes Grand Junction and Glenwood Springs. “WISE benefits not just the Front Range but the West Slope as well. The project enables the metro region to re-use its trans-mountain supplies, thereby reducing the need to look to other regions for water supply. In addition, the WISE agreement is an integral part of the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement under which the West Slope receives funding to help meet our water project and environmental needs.”
Construction on the WISE project began in June and will continue into 2016. When WISE begins delivering water in 2016:
●The South Denver Metro area will receive a significant new renewable water supply;
●Denver will receive a new backup water supply;
●Aurora will receive funding from partners to help offset its Prairie Waters Project costs and stabilize water rates; and
●The West Slope will receive new funding, managed by the Colorado River Water Conservation District, for water supply, watershed and water quality projects.
Securing a Sustainable Water Supply for South Metro Denver
South Metro Water and its 13 water provider members are executing a plan to transition to renewable supplies. The plan focuses on three areas: conservation and efficiency; infrastructure investment; and partnership among local and regional water suppliers.
The region has made tremendous progress over the past decade, reducing per capita water use by more than 30 percent and adding new renewable water supplies and storage capacity that have significantly decreased reliance on nonrenewable groundwater.
For details on the WISE project as well as South Metro Water’s plan to transition to renewable water supplies, visit http://www.southmetrowater.org.
From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):
A $6.4 million project to blend water in a 21.5-mile pipeline in the South Metro area won state approval this week.
The Colorado Water Conservation Board approved a $905,000 grant toward the project which connects Aurora’s $800 million Prairie Waters Project with a $120 million pipeline that serves 14 water providers who are members of the South Metro Water Authority.
The Water Infrastructure and Supply Efficiency partnership, which includes Denver Water, Aurora and South Metro members, says the new connection paves the way for recovering up to 10,000 acre-feet (325.8 million gallons) of water annually. The project does this by providing Prairie Waters flows balance water quality from Denver Aquifer wells and other sources.
Prairie Waters captures sewered flows downstream and treats the water for reuse at a plant near Aurora reservoir. The East Cherry Creek Village pipeline can redistribute the water among other users.
At a July meeting of the Arkansas Basin Roundtable, South Metro Executive Director Eric Hecox claimed it would relieve pressure on taking water from farms, including those in the Arkansas River basin.
Three conservancy districts which have agreements with Aurora — the Lower Arkansas, Upper Arkansas and Southeastern — were skeptical that Aurora might use the WISE arrangement to manipulate storage levels in order to trigger more withdrawals from the Arkansas River basin.
Aurora provided assurances that would not happen, gaining approval from the roundtable in August.
“What’s significant is that six other roundtables joined to fund this project,” said Alan Hamel, who represents the Arkansas River basin on the CWCB.
Roundtables have funds in basin accounts, and contributed $105,000 to the grant, of which the Arkansas Basin chipped in $10,000. A statewide fund provided the remaining $800,000.
From The Colorado Independent (Marianne Goodland):
In Otero County, the corn is knee-high, the famous Rocky Ford cantaloupes are almost ready to pick and the onions, tomatoes, sugar beets and wheat are thriving in the fields.
But on the north side of the Arkansas River, over in nearby Crowley County, the landscape looks very different. The only bumper crops are “noxious and obnoxious weeds,” according to a county commissioner. This is what happens when a county sells its water rights.
As did many communities this year, the southeastern Colorado county had what locals are calling a “Miracle May.” Rainfall in that single month was just a couple inches shy of what the county gets, in total, most years. For the first time in recent years, Lake Meredith will have enough water for fish to survive and maybe even generate a little tourism from anglers.
Still, it wasn’t enough to resuscitate the once-thriving agricultural industry nor to save the county’s last remaining feedlot, which is scheduled to go up for bankruptcy auction later this month.
Water experts say Crowley is a parable for how bad things can get when cities and industry dry up farmland to buy rural water — a controversial practice known as “buy and dry” deals.
But the county’s dry landscape could change if, as proposed by a group of water users representing the Arkansas River basin, the state’s water plan includes a blueprint for bringing water back to the county.
How Crowley County dried up
Water, and the agriculture industry that followed, didn’t come naturally to Crowley County.
The county was formed in 1911 out of a portion of northern Otero County – named in honor of state Sen. John H. Crowley, who represented the area at that time. The county is bordered on the south by the Arkansas River.
But the river wasn’t enough to irrigate local farms. The first irrigation systems came in through the Colorado Canal in the 1890s. In the 1920s, the state built a tunnel through the mountains to deliver water from the Roaring Fork River on the Western Slope and into a new reservoir at Twin Lakes, near Leadville. Crowley County farmers paid for the reservoir.
The county had its agricultural heyday before the dustbowl of the 1930s, but even after that farmers prospered.
Attached to Sweetness, a history of the county’s tiny town Sugar City, published in the 1980s, states “water created a Garden of Eden.”
The county easily rivaled its neighbors on crop production. It was known for tomatoes, onions, corn and wheat. It had two major feedlots for native Colorado cattle, and a sugar factory for processing sugar beets. And it was famous for cantaloupe. The juicy melons, known as Sugar City nuggets, were a “pink beauty,” according to Attached to Sweetness.
In the 1970s, more than 50,000 acres were irrigated in Crowley County.
But Crowley’s shares in the Twin Lakes reservoir earned it attention from thirsty Front Range cities.
In the late 1960s, with crops and cattle prices in decline, farmers and ranchers in Crowley County started thinking about selling their water rights. Some wanted to get out of agriculture. Others were ready to retire, and farmland was their 401(k).
In 1972, the Foxley Cattle Company bought water rights from farmers and ranchers all over the county. For a couple of years, that land stayed in agriculture and continued to be irrigated.
Then came the Crowley County Land and Development Company, which bought more water rights — both from Foxley and directly from farmers and ranchers willing to sell at the right price. CLADCO sold those water rights to Pueblo, Colorado Springs, Pueblo West and Aurora to quench those communities’ sprawl.
According to the Colorado Foundation for Water Education, municipal and industrial users now own 90 percent of the water stored in Twin Lakes.
The terms of the water sales included a requirement that municipalities revegetate the fallowed farms and ranches to restore the county’s natural prairie grasslands. But several current and former residents say the contractors did a poor job of re-seeding the prairie grass, and it quickly died.
A county that once had more than 50,000 irrigated acres now has only about 5,000. In the drought of 2012, the number dropped to 2,500.
Even the few remaining farmers with water rights are not guaranteed water in a year when there is not enough to go around.
Asked if Crowley is still an agricultural county, County Commissioner Frank Grant paused, and then said, “Yes. We still have cattle.”
But according to one lifelong resident, it’s mostly dairy stock, not valuable cattle that can be sold for beef.
The prisons of Crowley County
With dwindling agriculture, the county had to find another industry for its economic base. It turned to prisons.
There are two in Crowley County: the state-run Arkansas Valley Correctional Center, just outside the town of Crowley; and a private prison operated by Corrections Corporations of America near Olney Springs.
The county’s most recent property tax revenues totalled about $1.6 million – more than half of which came from the private prison.
The most recent census in 2012 counted more than 5,823 “residents” in Crowley County, but 46 percent of them are prison inmates.
Crowley County Commissioner Tobe Allumbaugh said that outside of the prison numbers, the county’s population has declined at about the same rate as its neighboring counties – about 1 percent per year.
The prisons have brought jobs, but not necessarily to Crowley County. Most of the prisons’ workers live in nearby counties or in Pueblo or Colorado Springs.
Commissioners Grant and Allumbaugh attribute the lack of interest in living in the county to a housing shortage. Most of the homes are small, old and asbestos-laden. It’s too expensive to tear the houses down because they would need asbestos mitigation. No one is showing any interest in building homes in the county, either, they said.
While the CCA taxes contribute to the county coffers, prisons haven’t helped businesses survive in Ordway and other communities.
Ordway, the county seat, has a population of just over 1,000. There are a few businesses on the town’s Main Street – mostly county and town government offices – an insurance company, grocery store, pharmacy, the reservoir and canal company offices, a couple of medical facilities and Chubbuck Motor, the local Ford dealer. The nearest farm tractor dealer, John Deere, is in Otero County.
Mostly, buildings along Main Street are for sale or appear to be abandoned.
Darla Wyeno, clerk for the town of Crowley, was one of those who sold water rights to the big cities. She and her husband have 120 acres on which they used to grow onions, tomatoes and melons. Today, they graze cattle on their land. She says life might have been different if the cities that bought their water had done a better job of re-seeding their land with prairie grass.
The loss of water hasn’t been all bad, she said. Their son went to college on the earnings they made from the water deal. He’s now a successful banker in Colorado Springs. Her husband has an off-farm job, and both their careers mean two steady paychecks every month instead of one uncertain one at the end of the year when they cashed in their crops.
Still, Wyeno adds, “When we sold our water, we sold our future.”
Local residents now fight the rampant dust every day, never realizing that would be the impact of losing their water. Bees won’t come to Crowley; it’s too far a flight. The hay fields today have to be pollinated with bees rented from outside the county.
State water plan may hold promise for the county
The state water plan, ordered by Gov. John Hickenlooper two years ago, incorporates suggestions made by roundtable groups in each of Colorado’s nine river basins. The roundtables include representatives from agriculture, municipal water providers, industrial users, environmental and recreational interests and those who own water rights.
Under Colorado’s complex web of water laws, once water has been removed from the land through the purchase of a water right, it cannot be returned. It’s gone for good.
But that isn’t stopping the Arkansas Basin roundtable from trying to find ways to get water flowing back into Crowley County.
The roundtable suggests that the county should acquire water rights to maintain permanent water levels in its two major lakes: Lake Meredith and Lake Henry. Inconsistent levels have resulted in loss of fish, blowing dust and bad odors in both lakes, according to the basin’s recommendations.
Allumbaugh says replenishing the lakes could help the county become a tourist destination, although getting the water to a stable level is just one part of the solution.
Two more recommendations seek water rights for municipal, industrial and agricultural needs.
The roundtable’s recommendations don’t specify where that water will come from.
Engineer Rick Kidd represents Crowley County on the Arkansas basin roundtable. He says the group firmly supports any efforts to get and keep water rights in the Arkansas River valley.
Grant says what has gone down in Crowley County – which he has called home for the last 36 years – is pretty typical of rural communities all across the state.
“It just happened here sooner,” he says. “The water sales got us.”
More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.
From The Aurora Sentinel (Rachel Sapin):
“We have more water in our system than we’ve ever had since we’ve been recording,” Aurora Water Resources Management Advisor Joe Stibrich told congressional aides, city council members, city staff and Aurora residents on a tour of the city’s vast water distribution system last week. “We hit 99 percent of our storage capacity about a week ago.”
In total, Aurora Water has more than 156,000 acre-feet of water storage, which could supply the city with years of emergency supply in case of a drought.
The city gets water from three river basins. Half of the city’s water comes from the South Platte River Basin, a quarter comes from the snow melt flows from Colorado River Basin, and a quarter from the Arkansas River Basin.
But Aurora was not always a municipal water powerhouse.
In 2003, Aurora’s water supply level was at 26 percent capacity, the lowest in the city’s history. The idea for the at-the-time innovative Prairie Waters Project came about in the wake of that severe drought.
The $653-million Prairie Waters Project increased Aurora’s water supply by 20 percent when it was completed, and today provides the city with an additional 3.3 billion gallons of water per year.
The entire system pumps water from wells near Brighton, where it’s then piped into a man-made basin and filtered through sand and gravel. From there, the water is then piped 34 miles through three pumping stations to the Binney Water Purification Facility near Aurora Reservoir, where it’s softened and exposed to high-intensity ultraviolet light. The water is then filtered through coal to remove remaining impurities.
“It’s the crown jewel of our system,” said Stibrich during the tour. “Prairie Waters almost creates a fourth basin for us.”
But even before Prairie Waters, the first “crown jewel” project that allowed Aurora to grow and become the state’s third-largest city, was the one that allowed Aurora to cut most of its water ties with Denver.
Throughout the 1900s and into the 1960s, Aurora relied on the Denver Water Board for its supply. But the partnership between the neighboring cities grew contentious when, in the 1950s, Denver Water imposed lawn watering restrictions on a booming metropolitan area. Part of those restrictions included a “blue line” that prevented some Aurora suburbs from getting permits for new tap water fees.
In 1958, Aurora partnered with Colorado Springs to construct the Homestake Project, located in southern Eagle County in the Colorado River basin. The project was designed to use water rights purchased on the Western Slope that could supply the two cities.
For nearly a decade after the project was conceived, it was mired in legal battles with Denver and Western Slope entities. The first phase of the dam wasn’t even completed until 1967. In the 1980s, Aurora and Colorado Springs unsuccessfully attempted to expand the water collection system within the Holy Cross Wilderness area as part of a phase two plan.
The issue to this day is divisive, said Diane Johnson, a spokeswoman with the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District during the city’s tour of the reservoir.
“For people to think we might be having some other dam up here and impacting their access to wilderness is an emotional issue,” she said.
It was a memorandum of understanding created in 1998 between Eagle County and the two Front Range cities that identifies 30,000 acre-feet of water in the Eagle River basin to be divided into thirds between the three entities that helped alleviate tensions and put the project back on track.
Today Homestake Reservoir provides Aurora with 25 percent of its water, and Aurora Water officials are looking at various ways to expand their storage to satisfy the Eagle River MOU.
One idea is a small reservoir in the Homestake Valley near the Blodgett Campground. Aurora Water officials said the issue with that plan is having to relocate the winding Homestake Road to a portion of the Holy Cross wilderness to accommodate it. Another alternative, which Aurora Water officials said they prefer, is to create a holding facility called a forebay, in the same valley, along Whitney Creek, that would hold water pumped back from a former World War II military site known as Camp Hale. From the holding facility, water could be further pumped up the valley to Homestake Reservoir.
Aurora Water officials are still working through the various politics of the alternatives, and repeatedly emphasized during the tour that there is no “silver bullet’ when it comes to water storage.
From Homestake, water travels east through the Continental Divide and tunnel where it’s sent to Turquoise Lake, then to Twin Lakes Reservoir near Leadville.
Aurora only owns the rights to a limited amount of storage in Twin Lakes, and that water has to be continuously lifted 750 feet via the Otero Pump Station to enter a 66-inch pipeline that leads to the Front Range.
The Otero Pump station — located on the Arkansas River about eight miles northwest of Buena Vista — is another impressive facet of Aurora’s vast water system, and the last stop on Aurora’s water journey before it is delivered to the Spinney Mountain Reservoir in South Park. With the ability to pump 118 million gallons per day, Otero provides half of Aurora’s and 70 percent of Colorado Springs’ drinking water, delivered from both the Colorado and Arkansas basins to the South Platte River Basin.
Tom Vidmar, who has served as the caretaker at Homestake for nearly 30 years and lives right next to the pump station, said the biggest issue facing Aurora’s water system is storage.
“We actually spilled water out of Homestake this year and didn’t collect (the) full amount we were eligible to take, simply because the reservoirs are at capacity,” Vidmar said during a tour of the massive pump facility. He said the electricity costs alone for Aurora to pump the water add up to around $450,000 a month.
A project Aurora Water officials hope to see come to fruition in 15 years is turning land the city purchased at Box Creek north of Twin Lakes in Lake County into additional storage space so water can be pumped more efficiently through Otero.
“Box Creek is an important project. It gives us more breathing room,” said Rich Vidmar, who is Tom Vidmar’s son and an engineer with Aurora Water, during the tour. “As we look at storage and where to develop storage, right now we’re looking at spots where we have chokepoints in our system where we’re not able to operate perfectly to get as much water as possible.”
Just as the state anticipates that its population of 5 million will double by 2050, so does Aurora — and storage will be key to providing water for a city that could potentially grow to more than 600,000 residents in the coming decades.
But the mountains aren’t the only place where Aurora hopes to expand its reservoirs. The city also is looking to expand Aurora Reservoir even further east.
At a July study session, Aurora Water Officials described a feasibility study being conducted to determine just how much water Aurora could store at a future reservoir, which would sit on the former Lowry Bombing and Gunnery Range.
More Aurora coverage here.
From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith):
James Eklund, the director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, invoked his Western Slope heritage at a “Summit on the Colorado Water Plan” hosted Saturday in Rifle by the Garfield County commissioners.
“The mantra I grew up with in Plateau Valley was not one more drop of water will be moved from this side of the state to the other,” said Eklund, whose mother’s family has been ranching in the Plateau Creek valley near Collbran since the 1880s.
Eklund was speaking to a room of about 50 people, including representatives from 14 Western Slope counties, all of whom had been invited by the Garfield County commissioners for a four-hour meeting.
The commissioners’ stated goal for the meeting was to develop a unified voice from the Western Slope stating that “no more water” be diverted to the Front Range.
“That argument had been made, probably by my great-grandparents, my grandparents and my parents,” Eklund said. “And I know there are a lot of people who still want to make that argument today, and I get that. But it has not done us well on the Western Slope.
“That argument has gotten us to were we are now, 500,000 to 600,000 acre feet of water moving from the west to the east. So I guess the status quo is not West Slope-friendly. We need something different. We need a different path. And these seven points provides that different path.”
The “seven points” form the basis of a “draft conceptual framework” for future negotiations regarding a potential transmountain diversion in Colorado.
The framework is the result of the ongoing statewide water-supply planning process that Eklund is overseeing in his role at the CWCB.
Eklund took the helm two years ago at the CWCB after serving as Gov. John Hickenlooper’s senior deputy legal counsel, and he’s been leading the effort to produce the state’s first water plan, which is due on the governor’s desk in December.
The second draft of the plan includes the seven points, even though the Colorado River Basin Roundtable, which meets monthly in Glenwood Springs under the auspices of the CWCB, is still on the record as opposing their inclusion in the water plan. That could change after its meeting on Monday.
Not legally binding
The “seven points” seeks to define the issues the Western Slope likely has with more water flowing east under the Continental Divide, and especially how a new transmountain diversion could hasten a demand from California for Colorado’s water under the 1922 Colorado River Compact.
“The seven points are uniquely helpful to Western Slope interests because if you tick through them, they are statements that the Front Range doesn’t necessarily have to make,” Eklund said in response to a question. “If these were legally binding, the Western Slope would benefit.”
Under Colorado water law a Front Range water provider, say, can file for a right to move water to the east, and a local county or water district might have little recourse other than perhaps to fight the effort through a permitting process.
But Eklund said the points in the “conceptual framework” could be invoked by the broader Western Slope when negotiating a new transmountain diversion.
As such, a diverter might at least have to acknowledge that water may not be available in dry years, that the diversion shouldn’t exacerbate efforts to forestall a compact call, that other water options on the Front Range, including increased conservation, should be developed first, that a new transmountain diversion shouldn’t preclude future growth on the Western Slope, and that the environmental resiliency of the donor river would need to be addressed.
“We’re just better off with them than without them,” Eklund said of the seven points.
A cap on the Colorado?
Eric Kuhn, the general manager of the Colorado River District, which is based in Glenwood Springs and represents 15 Western Slope counties, told the attendees that three existing agreements effectively cap how much more water can be diverted from the upper Colorado River and its tributaries above Glenwood Springs.
The Colorado Water Cooperative Agreement, which was signed in 2013 by 18 entities, allows Denver Water to develop another 18,000 acre-feet from the Fraser River as part of the Moffat, or Gross Reservoir, project, but it also includes a provision that would restrict other participating Front Range water providers from developing water from the upper Colorado River.
A second agreement will allow Northern Water to move another 30,000 acre feet of water out of the Colorado River through its Windy Gap facilities, but Northern has agreed that if it develops future projects, it will have to do so in a cooperative manner with West Slope interests.
And a third agreement known as the Eagle River Memorandum of Understanding will allow Aurora and Colorado Springs to develop another 20,000 acre feet of water as part of the Homestake project in the Eagle River basin, but will also provide 10,000 acre feet for Western Slope use.
“So effectively these three agreements, in effect, cap what you’re going to see above Glenwood Springs,” Kuhn said.
The Moffat, Windy Gap and Eagle River projects are not subject to the “seven points” in the conceptual agreement, and neither is the water that could be taken by the full use of these and other existing transmountain projects.
“So when you add all that up, there is an additional 100,000 to 150,000 acre-feet of consumptive use already in existing projects,” Kuhn said.
But beyond that, Kuhn said Front Range water providers desire security and want to avoid a compact call, just as the Western Slope does.
“We’ve been cussing and discussing transmountain diversions for 85 years,” Kuhn added, noting that the Colorado Constitution does not allow the Western Slope to simply say “no” to Front Range water developers.
“So, the framework is an agenda,” Kuhn said, referring to the “seven points.” “It’s not the law, but it is a good agenda to keep us on track. It includes important new concepts, like avoiding over development and protecting existing uses.”
Vet other projects too?
Rachel Richards, a Pitkin County commissioner, told the attendees that she would like to see more water projects than just new transmountain diversions be subject to the seven points.
As part of the state’s water-supply planning efforts, state officials have designated a list of projects as already “identified projects and processes,” or IPPs, which are not subject to the seven points.
“We would like to see the same environmental standards, and community buy-in standards, applied to increasing existing transmountain diversions or IPPs,” Richards said, noting that the “IPPs” seem to be wearing a halo.
“They need to go through just as much vetting for concern of the communities as a new transmountain diversion would, and we’re probably going to see a lot more of them first,” she said.
At the end of the four-hour summit on the statewide water plan, Garfield County Commissioner Mike Sampson said he still had “real concerns” about the long-term viability of Western Slope agriculture and industry in the face of growth on the Front Range, but he offered some support for the seven points.
“I think the seven points is probably a good starting position,” Sampson said.
He also said Garfield County would make some edits to a draft position paper it hopes will be adopted by other Western Slope counties.
On Saturday, the draft paper said “the elected county commissioners on the Western Slope of Colorado stand united in opposing any more major, transmountain diversions or major changes in operation of existing projects unless agreed to by all of the county(s) from which water would be diverted.”
But Sampson was advised, and agreed, that it might be productive to reframe that key statement to articulate what the Western Slope would support, not what it would oppose.
Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism is collaborating with the Glenwood Springs Post Independent and The Aspen Times on coverage of rivers and water. The Post published this story online on July 25, 2015.
More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.
From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith):
IGNACIO — The ongoing effort by the city of Glenwood Springs to establish a new water right for three potential whitewater parks on the Colorado River was dealt a setback Thursday by the directors of the Colorado Water Conservation Board.
The CWCB board voted 8-to-1 to adopt staff “findings of fact” that the proposed water rights for a “recreational in-channel diversion,” or RICD, would “impair Colorado’s ability to fully develop its compact entitlements” and would not promote “the maximum beneficial use of water” in the state.
James Eklund, the director of the CWCB, and a nonvoting board member, was asked after the meeting what he would tell a kayaker in Glenwood about the board’s vote on Thursday.
“These are complicated issues,” Eklund said. “The CWCB values recreational water projects and takes very seriously its charge to strike a balance among recreational, environmental and consumptive uses. The proponent’s data and analysis weren’t able to demonstrate that the RICD as proposed struck this balance to the satisfaction of the CWCB.”
The CWCB board is required by state law to review all applications made in water courts for new recreational water rights, and to make a determination if the water right would prevent the state from developing all the water it legally can.
Colorado’s “compact entitlements” stem from the 1922 Colorado River Compact, which requires seven Western states to share water from the larger Colorado River basin.
The compact requires that an unspecified amount of water be divided between Colorado, Utah and Wyoming, and estimates of the amount of water Colorado can still develop under the compact range from zero to 400,000 acre-feet to 1.5 million acre-feet.
Mark Hamilton, an attorney with Holland and Hart representing Glenwood, told the CWCB board members Thursday that there would be “no material impairment” to the state’s ability to develop new water supplies.
“If the issue really is what’s the additional upstream development potential, we would point out that significant upstream development can still occur,” Hamilton said.
Hamilton also said that the recreational water right would be non-consumptive, meaning the water would stay in the river and simply flow over u-shaped, wave-producing concrete forms embedded into the riverbed.
Glenwood is seeking the right to call for 1,250 cubic feet per second of water to be delivered to three whitewater parks at No Name, Horseshoe Bend and Two Rivers Park, from April 1 to Sept. 30.
It also wants the right to call for 2,500 cfs for up to 46 days between April 30 and July 23, and to call for 4,000 cfs on five consecutive days sometime between May 11 and July 6 in order to host a whitewater competition.
Aurora and Colorado Springs, together as partners in the Homestake transmountain diversion project, are opposing Glenwood’s water rights application, which was filed in December 2013.
“We do not oppose reasonable RICDs, but we believe this RICD claim is extraordinary by any measure,” Joseph Stibrich, the water resources policy manager for the city of Aurora, told the CWCB board, which was meeting in Ignacio on the Southern Ute Indian Reservation.
“We believe that a water claim of over 581,000 acre feet will seriously impair full development of Colorado’s compact entitlement,” Stibrich said. “This claim will severely impact the state of Colorado’s ability to meet its future water needs.”
Stibrich also said “this RICD is going to shift the burden of water supply development to meet the future needs of the state to the Yampa, to the Gunnison, and to the Rio Grande basins, while promoting further dry-up of irrigated lands throughout the state.”
Denver Water is also opposing Glenwood’s water rights application.
As part of the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement, Denver Water agreed not to oppose a RICD application from Glenwood, but only if Glenwood did not seek a flow greater than 1,250 cubic feet per second, which is the same size as the senior water right tied to the Shoshone hydropower plant.
Casey Funk, an attorney with Denver Water, said the utility stands by its agreement, but since Glenwood has asked for more than 1,250 cfs, it is opposing the city’s water court application. However, Funk said Denver Water is willing to keep negotiating with Glenwood.
The city made the case on Thursday that it was asking for more than 1,250 cfs on only 46 days between April and September, and it was doing so because the stretch of the Colorado from Grizzly to Two Rivers Park was more fun to float at 2,500 cfs than 1,250 cfs.
According to testimony Thursday, Glenwood also offered to include a “carve-out” in its water right to allow for 20,000 acre-feet of water to be diverted, stored and transported upstream of the proposed whitewater parks at some point in the future.
But that did not do much to sway the concerns of the CWCB staff.
“Staff is concerned with this provision, as it does not include water rights for transmountain diversions,” stated a July 15 memo to the CWCB board from Ted Kowalski and Suzanne Sellers of the CWCB’s Interstate, Federal & Water Information Section.
The CWCB staff memo also found that Glenwood’s recreational water rights would “exacerbate the call on the river and materially impact the ability of the state to fully use its compact entitlements because the RICDs will pull a substantial amount of water downstream.”
Peter Fleming, the general counsel for the Colorado River District, suggested the CWCB board give the parties in the case more time to continue negotiating before it ruled on its staffs’ findings.
The River District, which is also a party to Glenwood’s water court case, represents 15 counties on the Western Slope.
“We think that compact issues are effectively done,” Fleming told the board about Glenwood’s application. “We believe there is sufficient water above the RICD to develop.”
But the CWCB board did not take Fleming’s suggestion, and after relatively little debate and discussion, a motion was made to accept the staff’s findings that Glenwood’s RICD failed two of the three criteria the CWCB board was supposed to rule on.
“I think it is really unfortunate that the board took the approach they did,” said Nathan Fey, the Colorado stewardship director for American Whitewater, after the board’s decision against Glenwood.
American Whitewater and Western Resource Advocates are both parties in the water court case, and they are supporting Glenwood’s application.
“It is unclear what evidence the staff presented that shows it is of material impairment to developing our water, or maximizing use of the state’s water,” Fey said. “Those are significant concerns, but I don’t think the state made a very strong case on those points. And it sounds like we would prefer to see another transmountain diversion and some future use on the Front Range, rather than protect the current river uses we have in our communities, like Glenwood Springs, now.”
The board’s finding will now be sent to the Division 5 Water Court in Glenwood Springs, where the city filed its water rights application and the process is still unfolding.
And while the CWCB board’s determination is not binding on a water court judge, it has to be considered by the court as part of the ongoing case.
But Hamilton, Glenwood’s attorney, said after the meeting that the court would also need to consider additional balancing information presented by Glenwood.
It could be an uphill journey for Glenwood, though, as the CWCB staff has also been directed by the CWCB board to remain a party in the water court case and to defend its “findings of fact,” which includes more issues than were considered by the CWCB on Thursday.
Given the board’s vote on Thursday, Stibrich of Aurora said settlement discussions with Glenwood Springs are now likely.
“I’m certain they will make overtures to us and we’ll talk,” Stibrich said. “We’ll see if something can be reached or not.”
Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism is collaborating with the Glenwood Springs Post Independent and The Aspen Times on coverage of rivers and water. The Post Independent published this story online on July 16, 2015.
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