From The Summit Daily News (Kevin Fixler):
The major water bodies around Summit County and throughout most of the state are in strong shape after a slightly above-average winter season. However, the region is far from out of the woods on the matter of water in the West.
That was the thrust of speakers at Summit’s 23rd annual State of the River meeting on Wednesday evening, May 4 at the Silverthorne Pavilion — the first of six such meetings along the Colorado River Basin. With the Western Slope encompassing an average of 28 percent of the state’s water and spanning 15 counties, including Summit, this meeting of water wonks often sets the tone on consumption strategy and planning for rest of the year.
“There are no passengers on Spaceship Earth,” Troy Wineland, Summit County’s water commissioner, told the congested room, “there are only crewmembers. We’re all in this together.”
Wineland stressed that despite snowpack totals currently at about 115 percent of average above Dillon Reservoir — and with peak flows still to come around the first or second week of June once meltoff takes hold — circumstances are not as favorable. Other states in the country that also primarily rely on the Colorado River remain at near-critical shortages.
“While things are nice and rosy and wet and looking great here in the county,” he said, “you look throughout the entire Colorado river basin … not quite as rosy. The Lower Basin states right now are facing some very serious problems with access to water and need.”
Both Wineland and Denver Water’s Bob Steger were sure to discuss the present levels at Lake Powell during their respective presentations. Each noted how vital the resource is to every state along the Colorado Basin, even though water has already passed by many of them to arrive to Powell.
Aside from Powell functioning as the chief water supply for drinking, crop irrigation and recreation for 30-to-40 million residents in the region, the Glen Canyon Dam there also provides hydroelectric power. Besides contractual obligations of an annual average of 7.5 million acre-feet at Powell through that basin compact, of course, when water there gets below necessary levels, that has an impact back up to the Upper Basin states with increased electrical bills…
“(Lake Powell) is our bank account against accounts payable to the Lower Basin states,” re-iterated Wineland. “We’re probably within 20 feet of the critical threshold, at which point, Arizona and Nevada are going to have to make some hard decisions and really cut back on their water use.”
Despite the challenges even in what seems a healthy water year locally, all hope is not lost. The overall tenor of the meeting was mostly positive, with emphasis on how collaborative efforts across Colorado, as well as through such multi-state interdependence and agreements, proper attention on this limited resource is increasing.
Steger, Denver Water’s manager of raw water supply, brought encouraging news that the water from snowpack averages just a couple days ago are not only well above both the 20-year average on Dillon Reservoir (14.6 inches), but also ahead of 2015 (16.5 inches) as well. Current measures are 19.5 inches from this winter’s snowfalls.
On top of that, snowpacks on the South Platte River are also above normal for this time of year. That means Denver Water can most likely avoid pulling much water from Dillon Reservoir through one of its primary transmountain water diversion, Roberts Tunnel, this season for the South Platte and Denver’s consumption needs.
In fact, if that happens, that will continue a beneficial trend where 2014 and 2015 were actually the two lowest years within a 50-plus-year span for how much water has had to be removed from Dillon Reservoir through Roberts for the Platte and North Fork rivers.
“I attribute that partly to Mother Nature,” explained Steger to the audience, “because we’ve had good water supplies on the South Platte, but also our customers are doing a better and better job every year I think of conserving water. When our Eastern Slope supplies are good, that means we don’t have to take as much water from the Western Slope to the other side of the divide. That indirectly helps Lake Powell.”
Wineland also discussed how momentous the unveiling of Colorado’s statewide water plan — years in the making — in November is for the general conservation movement. To boot, regional endeavors like the recent $32,000 Colorado Water Conservation Board grant awarded to the Frisco-based High Country Conservation Center (HC3) for development and execution of a countywide water efficiency program are additional steps in the right direction. His parting words were of encouragement and optimism for the Colorado River Basin’s future.
“I just want to bring it back to the bigger picture,” he said. “We have leaders who are putting forth all this legislation and these cooperative efforts. But what we’re lacking are champions, and those champions, really, are you and I — everyone in this room. We need to take this legislation and work to the next level and implement these changes.”
From the Colorado River Water Conservation District:
TIME: (Wednesday) 5:30 pm – 8:00 pm
LOCATION: Silverthorne Pavilion, 400 Blue River Parkway, Silverthorne, CO
ORGANIZER: Blue River Watershed Group & Colorado River District 970-945-8522
From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Charles Ashby):
After nearly six years on the job, Mike King is leaving the Colorado Department of Natural Resources.
The Montrose native who has headed the department since Gov. John Hickenlooper came into office in 2010 announced Thursday that he was trading in that job for one some Western Slope folks might find, well, somewhat interesting.
He’s to be the new director of planning at Denver Water.
In his new job, King is to oversee Denver Water’s long-range planning for treated and raw water supplies, demand and supply management, water rights, environmental compliance, watershed management and climate change preparations.
“As the son of a West Slope water lawyer and a Wayne Aspinall Democrat, this is a new time and Denver Water is a different organization than back in the day,” King said. “They’ve been moving in the right direction, and I look forward to helping them get there. They’re about as progressive as any agency I can imagine, so it’s all good.”
King added, however, that people should watch what he does and hold him accountable for it.
Hickenlooper, who said he’s still looking for a replacement, praised King for all the work he’s done during his administration, including helping to devise a statewide water plan and working on compromises on oil and gas drilling practices.
During his time on the job, King also helped Hickenlooper merge the department’s parks and wildlife divisions, and helped devise Colorado’s roadless rule with the U.S. Forest Service.
“Mike brokered the oil and gas task force, helped create the state’s first-ever water plan and recently launched Colorado Beautiful, the most ambitious trails and recreation expansion in a decade,” Hickenlooper said. “His ability to balance industry and conservation concerns is unparalleled.”
Several groups have praised King for the job he’s done leading the department.
“During that time, he oversaw important natural resource projects,” said Pete Maysmith, executive director of Conservation Colorado. “We have appreciated Mike’s sophisticated understanding of these very complex issues and support on environmental priorities, such as protection of the Roan Plateau, negotiation of a strong sage grouse plan and advocacy on behalf of the in-stream flow program.”
King, who has worked at the department for about a decade under several executive directors before becoming one himself, said he was pleased with what he’s accomplished, but that it was time to move on.
“I put my heart and soul into it and moved the ball,” he said. “We’ve done incredible things with the water plan, the Rio Grande cooperative agreement, and watched Denver Water reach agreement with the Colorado River cooperative, so we’ve made some incredible progress on water.”
Here’s the release from Denver Water (Stacy Chesney):
Mike King, executive director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, has been selected as the new director of Planning for Denver Water.
King will oversee Denver Water’s long-range planning for treated and raw water supply systems, demand and supply management, water rights, environmental compliance, watershed management, and climate change preparations. He will be a member of the executive team, reporting to the chief executive officer and the Denver Board of Water Commissioners.
“We are very excited that Mike has accepted the position of director of Planning for Denver Water,” said Jim Lochhead, CEO. “Colorado remains a highly desirable place to live. Growth and the uncertainties of climate change will continue to challenge not only Denver Water but also the entire state. Mike’s knowledge of water, his statewide leadership on environmental issues and his proven strategic skills are a perfect combination for this position.”
As director of Planning, King will be responsible for helping guide Denver Water’s integrated resource planning (IRP) process. The IRP uses scenario analysis to inform Denver Water’s long-range capital replacement and expansion programs, including water collection, storage, treatment, distribution and recycling. The IRP further incorporates Denver Water’s commitment to conservation and water-use efficiency.
His responsibilities also will include ensuring Denver Water continues to operate in an environmentally sustainable manner. He will be responsible for policy and regulatory issues, including developing watershed management plans and addressing endangered species issues.
“I am very excited to join Denver Water at this time in the organization’s history,” said King. “Denver Water is a leader in resource management and is recognized as one of the most progressive water utilities in the nation. Denver Water’s mission to be a responsible steward of our natural resources aligns with my experience and skills, and perhaps most importantly with my core values. I will bring to Denver Water the same energy and commitment to public service that I have for the past 23 years to the State of Colorado.”
From the Summit Daily News (Kevin Fixler):
“Seeing what California is going through, it’s much better to plan ahead than having to react to an emergency,” said Karn Stiegelmeier, one of Summit County’s commissioners, and vice chair of the Colorado Basin Roundtable, a council tasked with management and assessment of the Western Slope’s water supply. “That’s why we’re focused on conservation, which is obviously the most cost-effective way to ‘get more water,’ or share more water.”
Many, including a wide array of environmental and conservation groups endorse the new plan, citing a balanced safeguarding of the state’s $9 billion outdoors and recreation economy with its robust agricultural industries as well as the wildlife that call Colorado’s waterways home. They say it helps lay out Colorado’s environmental and outdoor values, and the timing is key.
“It’s very crucial in this moment, because it’s the best narrative of what is going on,” said Jim Pokrandt of the Colorado River District, a public water policy agency in charge of protecting the Colorado River Basin. “Water is something people take so for granted until you go to your spigot and it doesn’t come out.
Pokrandt, also the chair of the Colorado Basin Roundtable and f0rmer Summit Daily editor, used the swelling weekend traffic of the I-70 mountain corridor as an analogy for this story of the West and how, similarly, increased measures will be necessary to help counterbalance an already stressed system. The state’s water network, he said, needs the liquid equivalent of traffic metering, a toll road and extra lanes bored through Veterans Memorial Tunnels, to negate the effects of earlier decisions like water-centric Kentucky bluegrass across the state’s suburban neighborhoods.
“The offshoot of that is the water equation,” said Pokrandt. “Those people are already coming. They’re already here. How are we going to build water infrastructure for the next increments of residential development? Are we going to put more importance on urban, grassy landscapes, or are we going to moderate that and keep an eye on a better future for the Colorado River and agriculture?”[…]
The mountain communities have consistency voiced concern over additional trans-mountain diversions, taking more of that melted snowpack downstream to the state’s largest population zones, such as Denver, Aurora and Colorado Springs, that demand and require it. Before the final water plan was announced, a community group calling themselves the Citizens for Western Slope Water submitted a petition to Gov. Hickerlooper with almost 15,000 signatures against any new diversions from the headwaters. Fears of doing so consist of more negative environmental impact due to the rivers being tapped further, which could affect the rafting and fishing industries, in addition to producing more strain on local farmers and ranchers.
Colorado was one of the last Western states to adopt a water plan. Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Texas and California all have one. Because Colorado’s individual municipalities are the ones that make decisions as to who gets water and how much, rather than the state itself, there is some question as to whether Colorado even needed one.
Proponents call the water plan historic in its deployment, even if at this stage, it provides no big solutions and produces little more than a suggested course of action that requires prolonged implementation of its guidelines. Few argue with the intent of the policy, however, in its attempts to solidify local awareness as well extend the conversation about Western water for decades to come — a move which even the plan’s harshest critics can agree upon.
From The Summit Daily News (Elise Reuter):
“I think we’ve made some major improvements and reached a better understanding throughout the state. But we still have a long way to go,” Summit County commissioner Karn Stiegelmeier said of the water plan.
The final draft of the plan will go to Hickenlooper on or before Dec. 10. In the meantime, each individual basin has drafted a set of local initiatives, as well statewide goals to help address the growing water supply gap that Colorado faces…
“Prioritizing the environment in that planning process, it’s exciting,” Theresa Conley, a water advocate for Conservation Colorado said. “The governor has repeatedly said since the executive order, every conversation about water needs to start with conservation. I think the plan advances that.”[…]
The Colorado Basin, consisting of Summit, Eagle, Mesa, Grand, Routt and Garfield counties, has set its own implementation plan to be carried out under the Colorado Water Plan.
“For us in this part of the state, our economy is absolutely integrated with our water,” Stiegelmeier said. “That is also the economy of the whole state. The Front Range is very much tied to our economy.”
She noted that on the Western Slope alone, the water recreation industry brings in $9 billion.
To promote recreation and healthier rivers, the Colorado Basin has led state discussions on stream management, with a plan to assess streams that are crucial to the basin and are in need of improvement. The first step of the plan is to assess water flows and predict the impact of current usage as well as unused water rights on fish, the surrounding riparian habitat, water flows and several other factors.
“We don’t know what the real on-the-ground, in-the-stream impact is until we do a really complete stream management plan,” Stiegelmeier said.
Take the example of Peru Creek — a stream that runs through the former Pennsylvania Mine, picking up waste from toxic metals unearthed during the mining era. Summit County is working on a collaborative effort to redirect the water away from the toxic metals, to allow more aquatic life in the Snake River downstream.
“We think it will take at least a year to see what that does to the stream by moving clean water out of the mines,” Stiegelmeier added.
This concept trickles up to the state level, where $1 million will be allocated per year for stream management planning, according to the current draft of Colorado’s Water Plan…
BRIDGING THE GAP
A key feature of the plan is to set a statewide conservation goal, to be implemented at the discretion of local water departments…
“We have stated over and over and over that there needs to be better land-use connection,” Stiegelmeier said. “You have your Kentucky bluegrass with every house, and that doesn’t make sense in a desert.”
A few proposed solutions are to leave native vegetation as open space and cluster buildings together. She pointed to Breckenridge as an example, with a tiered water-rate system encouraging conservation.
The state is also looking to improve water efficiency for agricultural uses. In the Kremmling area, part of the effort is to work on hay fields, where more efficient irrigation could benefit both farms and streams to an extent…
“When you have two years of low snowpack, you don’t have the luxury of having a conversation about conservation,” [Jim Pokrandt] said. “If things went to hell in a hand basket here in Colorado, you’d see the conversation getting sharper.”[…]
A DIVISIVE ISSUE
The most contentious piece of the water plan concerns the creation of new trans-mountain diversions, such as Lake Dillon Reservoir, that direct flows across the Continental Divide. The framework does not take a stance so much as create a series of requirements a new project must reach before getting started…
“Is it a radical shift? No. But it gets people on the same page,” Conley said. “In terms of guiding our water future, it’s a big step forward.”