#ColoradoRiver: Southwestern Water Conservation District Water 101 session recap #COWaterPlan #COriver

From The Pine River Times (Carole McWilliams):

The nightmare scenario for West Slope water nerds is a “call” on the Colorado River, meaning that Colorado, Wyoming, and Northwest New Mexico are not delivering a legally required amount of water to California, Nevada, Arizona, and Utah.

If or when that happens, some water users in the three Upper Basin states will have their water use curtailed so that the Lower Basin states get their share. Water banking as a concept being proposed on the West Slope to minimize curtailment and huge water fights between holders of pre-1922 water rights, which would not be curtailed, and holders of post-1922 rights that would be curtailed.

Durango water engineer Steve Harris spoke to this at the Sept. 25 Water 101 seminar in Bayfield.

The idea started in 2008 with the Southwest Colorado Water Conservation District and the Colorado River Conservation District. Those two entities cover the entire West Slope, Harris said. The idea of water banking is “to provide water for critical uses in cases of compact curtailment.”

West Slope agricultural water users would voluntarily and temporarily reduce their water use and be compensated for it. The water would go to Lake Powell to satisfy the legal requirement for the three Upper Basin states to deliver 7.5 million acre feet of water each year (averaged over 10 years for a total 75 million AF) to the four Lower Basin states and avert curtailment…

All this is dictated by a water compact signed in 1922. It committed 15 million AF per year divvied up between the Upper and Lower Basin states. “Average flow now is around 13 million AF in the Colorado,” Harris said. The result has been continued draw-down of Lake Powell and Lake Mead.

“Right now we are at around 90 million AF versus the 75 million AF over 10 years,” Harris said. If the amount delivered goes below the 10 year requirement, perfected water rights before 1922 would not be curtailed. Most of that is West Slope ag water.

About half of Bayfield’s and Durango’s municipal water is pre-1922 rights, he said. More than 90 percent of the 1-plus million AF of pre-1922 West Slope water is used to grow grass or alfalfa hay.

Post-1922 rights include area reservoir storage, water for coal-fired power plants, a lot of municipal and industrial water, and 98 percent of West Slope water diversions to Front Range urban areas. “So they would be curtailed. But that’s not going to happen,” Harris said, because Front Range residents aren’t going to have their water supply cut to grow hay.

“We want to set up a water bank so the pre-1922 users would set aside water for the post-1922 users. Otherwise, pre-1922 rights could be targeted for acquisition by post-1922 users,” he said.

Water banking is still an idea at this point. “We don’t know if the water bank will work,” Harris said. Two studies have been done, one is under way, and a fourth will be conducted by Colorado State University to look at the impacts on eight small farms of full irrigation, reduced irrigation, and no irrigation.

Harris said 50,000 to 200,000 AF of West Slope pre-1922 water might be able to go into a water bank, based on land that could be fallowed. But there is concern that some other senior water right holder could take the water before it gets to Lake Powell. Also, he said, “It’s very hard to measure water saved through fallowing. Every year is different.”

In contrast, there is an estimated 55,000 AF of critical post-1922 municipal and industrial use on the West Slope and 295,000 AF of critical diversions to the East Slope. “The amount of pre-compact water that might be available is much smaller than the demand,” Harris said. He cited another local issue: “If you don’t irrigate on Florida Mesa, people don’t have water wells.”

An assortment of water entities in the Colorado River Basin have contributed $11 million to do demand management pilot projects to get more water to Lake Powell. Durango applied to change their water billing to “social norming,” meaning how much water you use compared to your neighboors. Harris quipped that he’d pull the norm down because he made a show of removing his lawn back in the spring.

State Sen. Ellen Roberts also spoke at the seminar. “Even though we are a headwaters state, there’s a limited amount of water, and if the population is going to double by 2040 or 2050, where will the water come from? … Every direction from Colorado, there’s a neighboring state that has a legal right to some of our water.”

Eighty-seven percent of the state population lives between Fort Collins and Pueblo, and they like their Kentucky blue grass, she said, adding, “Kentucky is a much better place for it. … On the Front Range, all they care about is does the water come out when they turn on the tap.”

She noted the heated reaction to the bill she introduced in 2014 to limit the size of lawns in new residential developments that use water converted from ag, leaving the ag land dry. Harris initiated that idea. Roberts commented, “To feed their lawns, they need our water.”

As with population, 87 of 100 state legislators also live betwween Fort Collins and Pueblo, she said. “If they don’t come out here to know our world, they don’t appreciate why water is so important. … Water is our future.”

Roberts gave an update on the Colorado Water Plan, which is intended to address the projected gap between water demand and supply. Community meetings on the plan were held around the state last year and earlier this year. “The number one thing we heard was the need for storage,” Roberts said. “If we can’t capture and hold the water we have, we are hurting ourselves.” The next question is how to pay for storage projects. “That’s where the fighting begins,” she said.

The water plan needs more specifics on recommended actions, Roberts said. And after the Gold King spill of toxic mine waste, it needs something about water quality threats from abandoned mines.

The 470-plus page plan is being done by the Colorado Water Conservation Board and is supposed to be presented to the governor by Dec. 10. It’s available on-line at http://www.coloradowaterplan.com.

Colorado River Basin including Mexico, USBR May 2015
Colorado River Basin including Mexico, USBR May 2015

Bayfield: Water 101 session recap

From the Pine River Times (Carole McWilliams):

Two-thirds of the water that originates in the Colorado mountains must go to downstream states and Mexico, recently retired State Supreme Court Justice Gregory Hobbs noted at the Water 101 seminar on Sept. 25 at the Pine River Library in Bayfield.

This includes Kansas, Nebraska, and New Mecico as well as Arizona, Utah, Nevada, and California.

Herbert Hoover presides over the signing of the Colorado River Compact in November 1922.  (Courtesy U.S. Department of Interior, Bureau of Reclamation)
Herbert Hoover presides over the signing of the Colorado River Compact in November 1922. (Courtesy U.S. Department of Interior, Bureau of Reclamation)

“The legal doctrine is equitable sharing of interstate waters,” Hobbs said. This is governed by an assortment of interstate compacts, starting with the 1922 compact with three upper basin (Western Colorado and parts of Wyoming and New Mexico) and four lower basin states. Compacts are between states, but they become federal law when approved by Congress.

The 1922 compact dictates that 75 million acre feet, averaged over 10 years, must be delivered to the lower basin states. That’s measured at Lee’s Ferry in the Grand Canyon below Glen Canyon dam and Lake Powell. Seventy percent of that water comes from Colorado, Hobbs said.

There are nine interstate compacts governing Colorado water, he said…

Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer's office
Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer’s office

Within Colorado, the hot issue for many years, at least on the Western Slope, has been trans-mountain water diversions to the Front Range. “We are one Colorado. Isn’t that the problem?” Hobbs asked. Before his 19 years on the State Supreme Court, he represented the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District (northern Front Range) for 17 years.

“The water in these rivers is available to Colorado. There’s an overlay of federal supremacy,” he said. There are trans-basin diversions within the Colorado River Basin and around 24 diversions that go from Colorado headwaters to the east, he said.

Colorado water law is based on prior appropriation (first in time, first in right) and putting the water to beneficial use. A water right is conditional until it’s put to beneficial use.

The problem is, “If you can’t get your structure permitted by the Corps (of Engineers) or permits to cross federal land, you can’t put the water to beneficial use,” he said. “Getting the right is one thing; getting the permit to build the project is something else.”

Hobbs also listed a progression of federal laws – the 1862 Homestead Act to promote Western settlement, the 1866 Mining Law that severed water from federal lands and turned it over to states, and the 1902 Reclamation Act that opened the way for Western dam construction projects.

Colorado became a territory in 1861, he said. That year the territoriaal legislature created the right for settlers to build ditches to get water to their land that wasn’t next to the stream. It prevented corporations, railroads and land barons from buying up the river banks to control the water. In 1864, the legislature made prior appropriation the basis for water diversion and use.

San Luis People's Ditch via The Pueblo Chieftain
San Luis People’s Ditch via The Pueblo Chieftain

The earliest ditch right was the 1852 People’s Ditch near San Luis. Ute water rights date to 1868, the basis for constructing the Animas/La Plata Project.

“Our (state) constitution from 1876 says the public owns the water. You get a right to use it by prior appropriation,” Hobbs said. “The most valuable rights in the state are water and ditch rights.”

He showed pictures of several historical hand drawn maps of rivers in the mountain region. One from 1841 showed a big blank space of unknown land. The land was considered vacant, at least to settlers coming from back East, he said, noting that Native Americans already lived “from sea to shining sea.”

Farview Reservoir Mesa Verde NP
Farview Reservoir Mesa Verde NP

Before all those maps, Hobbs showed a picture of Far View Village on Chapin Mesa at Mesa Verde and a nearby structure that he said was a water reservoir. There are four reservoirs at Mesa Verde and one at Hovenweep, Hobbs said. Paleohydrology is one of his interests. “I can’t teach about water law without talking about history, culture, governance. There are enduring problems that go way back,” he said.

“Everywhere across this country there are water features, because water is the basis of life,” he added

Hobbs was just appointed as Jurist in Residence at Denver University. He also serves on the Colorado Foundation for Water Education that publishes the quarterly Headwaters magazine and the Citizens’ Guide to Colorado Water Law.

#ColoradoRiver: Why Denver pays farmers in Yampa Valley not to irrigate this summer — The Mountain Town News

The Yampa River flows through the Carpenter Ranch. Photo courtesy of John Fielder from his new book, “Colorado’s Yampa River: Free Flowing & Wild from the Flat Tops to the Green.” -- via The Mountain Town News
The Yampa River flows through the Carpenter Ranch. Photo courtesy of John Fielder from his new book, “Colorado’s Yampa River: Free Flowing & Wild from the Flat Tops to the Green.” — via The Mountain Town News

From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

Irrigation season on the Carpenter Ranch normally begins in early May and continues until September. The ranch is located along the Yampa River in northwestern Colorado, about 20 miles west of the ski town of Steamboat Springs. Water from the river is used to grow fields of waist-high timothy, clover, and other types of grasses that, after being cut, provide hay for cattle.

This year, the seasonal cycle was disrupted. Irrigation on four of the fields, totaling 197 acres, was suspended on July 1. Instead, the water has been allowed to flow down the Yampa River 100 miles to Dinosaur National Park. There, it joins the water of the Green River coming down from Wyoming, which in turn joins the Colorado River in Utah. The comingled waters then flow into Lake Powell.

Powell is one of two giant reservoirs on the Colorado River, the other being Lake Mead, near Las Vegas. Together, the two reservoirs can hold 16 times the annual flow of the Colorado River—on average. But the river and its many tributaries have been flowing below average most years since 1999. Even after torrential rains and heavy snows in the Colorado Rockies in May, the inflow into Lake Powell this year is just 88 percent of average. It’s part of a long-term trend of declining reservoir levels in a river basin that provides water for 25 to 34 million people. (Estimates vary).

These reservoir declines have instilled a sense of urgency in Jim Lochhead, chief executive of Denver Water. His agency provides water to 1.3 people in metropolitan Denver, with half the water arriving in the city from the Fraser, Blue, and other tributaries of the Colorado River.

Jim Lochhead -- photo via Westword (Alan Prendergast)
Jim Lochhead — photo via Westword (Alan Prendergast)

“One of the things we have learned in this drought is that it just seems to keep going and going and going,” says Lochhead. “We are really in uncharted territory right now in terms of where the (reservoir) levels are. The levels are the lowest since these dams have been constructed.”

Lake Mead, formed in 1936 as a result of Hoover Dam, is now at 37 percent of capacity. Lake Powell began forming in 1963 as a result of construction of Glen Canyon Dam and is at 54 percent of capacity.

Lochhead and other architects of the Colorado River System Conservation Program want to be ready in case an even more severe drought revisits the Colorado River Basin. Fresh in mind is 2002, when the Colorado River carried only 25 percent of its normal flows, and 2003 wasn’t much better. Should drought of that severity return, Lake Powell could even shrink to something called a dead pool. That’s when there’s too little water to generate electricity. The electricity is distribu ted broadly across the West to towns, cities, and farms. Revenues from sales are used to fund programs designed to protect endangered fish on the Colorado River.

Lake Powell also has another vital function for Colorado and other headwaters states: It is used to me et commitments of water deliveries to the lower basin states of Arizona, Nevada, and California as specified by the Colorado River Water Compact of 1922. Denver’s water rights from the Western Slope of Colorado are mostly junior to the compact. If drought persisted, it’s conceivable that Denver and other water users with more junior rights—including many in the mountain resort community—would have to curtail their diversions in order to comply with the 1922 compact.

Lake Powell, shown here in 2008, serves multiple purposes. Photo/Andrew Pernick, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation -- via The Mountain Town News
Lake Powell, shown here in 2008, serves multiple purposes. Photo/Andrew Pernick, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation — via The Mountain Town News

To forestall this apple cart from being upset, Denver and several major water providers that tap the Colorado River Basin last year joined with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to begin exploring how water can temporarily be shifted from traditional uses and allowed to flow downstream. The Carpenter Ranch along the Yampa River is the first pilot project announced in this Colorado River System Conservation Program.

The ranch is owned by The Nature Conservancy, one of several partners from the environmental community working with Denver and other water providers. The non-profit in turn sublets the land to ranchers, says Geoff Blakeslee, the Yampa River project coordinator for the organization. Taking water off the hay meadows reduces harvest and it will also reduce the number of cattle that can graze the meadows in autumn. About 90 percent of agriculture on Colorado’s Western Slope is, like the Carpenter Ranch, used to produce hay.

Joe Brummer, an associate professor of forage science at Colorado State University, has studied effects of water curtailment in small plots at the Carpenter Ranch as well as other farms. Hay production continues if irrigation ceases, but only in small quantities. The second year, after irrigation has resumed, production lags 50 percent, he says. Even in the third year, again after full resumption of irrigation, production at the Carpenter Ranch test site was 8 to 9 percent below average.

This year, the experiment is different: a split season.

Nine other pilot sites have also been identified, five of them in Wyoming and four in Colorado. They are being funded at a total cost of $1 million. A larger program on the Colorado River involving lower-basins states has a cost of $11 million. Other water agencies providing money, in addition to Denver, include those serving metropolitan Las Vegas and Los Angeles, along with the Central Arizona Water Conservation District, and the Bureau of Reclamation.

Taylor Hawes, Colorado River program director for The Nature Conservancy, says the overarching goal of the pilot program is to learn as much as possible about how water can be shared in time of crisis.

“It’s complicated to move water around,” she says. “These are property rights. Many farmers are unsure how it will impact their water rights if they participate in a project like this. So the point of these pilots is to learn as much as we can right now, so that if a crisis does hit, we will have good information so that we can design a program that allows us to share water in a drought.”

How close is crisis? Too close for comfort, she says. “If this were your savings account and it was continuing to drop, you would be concerned,” she says.

Hawes also sees another, even more dramatic analogy. “I think we were on the edge of the cliff, and depending upon whether it’s a good year or bad year, we take a step forward and backward. The California (drought) situation has highlighted impacts that we will have if we don’t have a plan in place.”

A fishing pier stood distant from the receding waters of Lake Mead in December 2010. Photo/Allen Best - See more at: http://mountaintownnews.net/2015/08/20/letting-water-flow-down-the-yampa-to-lake-powell/#sthash.7tRYDEZj.dpuf
A fishing pier stood distant from the receding waters of Lake Mead in December 2010. Photo/Allen Best – See more at: http://mountaintownnews.net/2015/08/20/letting-water-flow-down-the-yampa-to-lake-powell/#sthash.7tRYDEZj.dpuf

Some say that the Colorado River actually is in worse shape over the long haul than California. New evidence finds that warming temperatures in the Southwest may be causing evaporation and [transpiration] that alone can explain declining reservoir levels.

“The fact that the Colorado River Basin drought is more a product of the heat than any drop in precipitation is a frightening prospect, because that heat is not going to go away,” says Doug Kenney, research associate at the Natural Resources Law Center at the University of Colorado. In fact, because of increased locked into the atmosphere because of accelerating greenhouse gas emissions, all climate models forecast brisk increases of heat in future decades in the basin.

Denver’s Lochhead says the 2002 drought forced the seven states in the Colorado River Basin to consider how to share impacts of drought. Upper Basin states can move water from smaller reservoirs near the headwaters, such as Flaming Gorge in Utah and Navajo in New Mexico, down into Powell. Water can also be allowed to flow downstream through projects such as are being tested at the Carpenter Ranch.

Water providers in the Colorado River program want to work out kinks so that, if crisis occurs, curtailments can be scaled. But many questions remain, such as how to protect water users through the process, to ensure their water rights remain valid. “It’s really the first step,” says Lochhead, and there will be many follow-up questions.

Lochhead is sensitive about how the program is perceived. It is not, he stressed, a grab by cities for agricultural water. The transfers are intended to be temporary and provide compensation to water-right holders. He also points out that it need not be just farms and ranches. One of the pilot programs involves a city on Colorado’s Front Range, he says, but declined to identify the city, because negotiations have not been completed.

“We’re trying to take the perception of winners and losers off the table,” he says. “In this program, everybody wins because the system wins.”

What’s also of note is the extent to which environmental groups have waded into this program. Hawes says The Nature Conservancy wants to work with farmers because, when the river system gets taxed, agriculture and the environment are usually the first to lose. “We need to work to find partnerships,” she says.

Water rights for the Carpenter Ranch date to 1881, the oldest on the Yampa River. Photo/ Mark Godfrey and The Nature Conservancy
Water rights for the Carpenter Ranch date to 1881, the oldest on the Yampa River.
Photo/ Mark Godfrey and The Nature Conservancy

Trout Unlimited has also been a major partner. It has property in the Pinedale-Green River area of Wyoming participating, and the organization has also enlisted a small farm along the Gunnison River near Delta, Colo. Cary Denison, project coordinator for Trout Unlimited in the Gunnison Basin, says the farmer will fallow the land for one year then, in the second year, plant a lower consumption crop. Corn, the current crop, takes two feet per acre. Winter wheat only requires a foot.

“Our role is very limited. I am looking at this is a way of participating in an interesting pilot project that looks at consumptive use of different crops.”

While some farmers already knew about the pilot program, he says, others needed to understand the motivation.

Some ratepayers in Denver also wanted to know why Denver Water would be paying farmers to let water flow downstream toward California. That question gets to the heart of the great complexity of water and the Colorado River Basin, points out Doug Kenney, research associate at the Natural Resources Law Center at the University of Colorado.

Denver itself is outside the basin, of course. Cheyenne, Albuquerque, and Salt Lake City, plus Phoenix and Tucson, Los Angeles, and San Diego are similarly outside the basin—but also depend upon Colorado River water.

For such a relatively small river, it pulls a heavy load.

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Transmountain diversion concepts discussed in Rifle — Aspen Journalism #COWaterPlan #ColoradoRiver #CORiver

Homestake Dam via Aspen Journalism
The dam that forms Homestake Reservoir on Homestake Creek, a tributary of the Eagle River. An agreement allows for more water to be developed as part of this transmountain diversion project.

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.

The outflow of the Bousted Tunnel just above Turquoise Reservoir near Leadville. The tunnel moves water from tributaries of the Roaring Fork and Fryingpan rivers under the Continental Divide for use by Front Range cities, and Pitkin County officials have concerns that more water will someday be sent through it.
The outflow of the Bousted Tunnel just above Turquoise Reservoir near Leadville. The tunnel moves water from tributaries of the Roaring Fork and Fryingpan rivers under the Continental Divide for use by Front Range cities, and Pitkin County officials have concerns that more water will someday be sent through it.

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.

The downstream face of the dam that forms Homestake Reservoir on Homestake Creek, a tributary of the upper Eagle River. A tunnel moves water from Homestake Reservoir to Turquoise Reservoir, near Leadville.
The downstream face of the dam that forms Homestake Reservoir on Homestake Creek, a tributary of the upper Eagle River. A tunnel moves water from Homestake Reservoir to Turquoise Reservoir, near Leadville.

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.”

rquoise Reservoir, which stores water brought under the Continental Divide from the Eagle, Fryingpan and Roaring Fork river headwaters.
rquoise Reservoir, which stores water brought under the Continental Divide from the Eagle, Fryingpan and Roaring Fork river headwaters.

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.

State water board rules against Glenwood’s proposed whitewater rights — Aspen Journalism #ColoradoRiver

Upstream view of the Colorado River at the mouth of the Roaring fork River
Upstream view of the Colorado River at the mouth of the Roaring fork River

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.

More whitewater coverage here.

City of Glenwood Springs proposed whitewater parks via Aspen Journalism
City of Glenwood Springs proposed whitewater parks via Aspen Journalism

Silverthorne: 22nd annual State of the River recap

Colorado River Basin in Colorado via the Colorado Geological Survey
Colorado River Basin in Colorado via the Colorado Geological Survey

From the Summit Daily News (Ali Langley):

Summit’s Blue River Basin recorded snowpack near the 30-year average, and the six speakers at the 22nd annual State of the River meeting on Tuesday, May 5, stressed that local residents should feel fortunate that the headwaters community was spared the immediate water supply problems others are facing around the West.

“Everybody has Blue River envy,” said Eric Kuhn, general manager of the Colorado River District. “You’re the sweet spot this summer.”

However, the event’s speakers also emphasized the coming impacts of long-term drought and overconsumption on Summit and other communities that supply the majority of the West’s water.

Kuhn said major water players including Denver Water, which owns and operates Dillon Reservoir, are for the first time loudly prioritizing certainty of water supplies over development because they are worried about their future abilities to deliver water to their current customers…

County Open Space director Brian Lorch and Blue River Watershed Group board treasurer Jim Shaw said restoration projects on the Swan River northeast of Breckenridge and the Tenmile Creek east of Copper Mountain are moving forward with success.

Summit County water commissioner Troy Wineland said Summit’s snowpack didn’t quite reach average this winter, according to data from the Blue River Basin’s four SNOTEL measuring sites. Half of the snowpack arrived in November and December, and it was gone at lower and middle elevations by the end of March, which was unusually dry and warm.

Runoff started sooner this year, and Tenmile Creek flows in early April were five times greater than average, Wineland said. He predicted peak runoff will occur in early June depending on the weather.

On Monday, May 4, Wineland said Old Dillon Reservoir achieved its first complete fill of 303 acre feet. The reservoir is jointly operated by the county and the towns of Silverthorne and Dillon, and it was stocked with golden trout from California that Wineland said should mean good fishing in the next year or two.

Wineland stressed the role that Summit residents can play in shaping the state’s first-ever water plan, which will outline Colorado’s water policy priorities for the next 50 years and will be handed to the governor in December…

Bob Steger, water resources engineer with Denver Water, said his calculations of Summit snowpack included data from Fremont Pass, which is why he measured Summit’s snowpack as above average but “nowhere near the snowpack that we had last year.”

The Blue River Basin may be the only basin in the state that peaks above average, and Denver Water’s No. 1 priority of filling Dillon Reservoir “should be no problem,” he said. “We’re only two feet from full right now.”

It should be a great summer for boating as well as rafting and kayaking below the dam, Steger said. “The fishing will eventually be good, but if you don’t like high water you probably better stay out until sometime in July.”

He answered a question about Antero Reservoir in Park County, which Denver Water will empty this summer ahead of repairs to the 100-year-old dam. The phase that requires draining the reservoir should be done by the end of 2015 with refilling beginning next spring. Steger also said Denver Water is still working on a permit to enlarge Gross Reservoir in Boulder County.

Ron Thomasson, a hydrologist with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation who oversees Green Mountain Reservoir operations, said runoff flows won’t be high enough this year to allow coordinated reservoir operations that would protect endangered fish on the Colorado River.

Peak flows must be between 12,900 cfs and 23,000 cfs to do that, and the current forecast is for 9,600 cfs, he said…

Kuhn presented last and detailed continued threats facing Lake Powell and Lake Mead operations.

“We’re going to have to cut back our uses,” he said, “after 100 years of develop more, develop more, develop more.”

Lake Mead could likely see its first shortage next year or in 2017, he said, and “bad things happen when Lake Mead and Lake Powell get drained.”

Allowing Lake Powell’s water level to fall below the amount needed to generate electricity would lead to dramatically higher utility bills costs, the elimination of funding for the important environmental programs funded by the hydropower revenue noted above that protect current and future water use in Colorado.

If Colorado and the other Upper Basin states violate the 1922 Colorado River Compact and fail to provide enough water to Lower Basin states, the West could be fighting over water in lengthy court battles and Colorado could be forced to prohibit some water uses.

Western states could lose control of water to the federal government, Kuhn said, and Colorado would likely lose power in management of the Colorado River and water in the state.

When asked about building an interstate water pipeline to solve some shortages, Kuhn said water managers have discussed pipelines of absurd lengths and he doesn’t think that method will work.

“To expect that we can export our problems to somebody else, I just don’t see that somebody else will willingly accept them,” he said.

#ColoradoRiver: “When do we say no, and who do we say no to?” — Mark Squillace

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

From the Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

By its natural flow, the Colorado River originates in Rocky Mountain National Park and ends in the Sea of Cortez. But flows of the Colorado decades ago ceased to be natural, as Phil Fradkin famously captured in his 1981 book “A River No More.”

A discussion on April 3 sponsored by the University of Colorado Law School’s Environmental Law Society examined two aspects of the unnatural flows. All three speakers, in different ways, talked about different management regimes for water revolving around the adage of “just add water.”

Since 1999, Jennifer Pitt has shepherded efforts on behalf of the Environmental Defense Fund to restore flows to the river’s delta in Mexico. Water has not reached the sea with regularity since the 1960s and, until special releases last spring, not at all since the late 1990s.

Eric Wilkinson talked about the diversions of the river and its tributaries to cities along the Front Range of Colorado and to benefitting farms at least as far downstream as the Nebraska and Kansas borders. He’s general manager of the Northern Colorado Water Conservation District, which administers the single largest diversion across the Continental Divide, the Colorado-Big Thompson Project.

Introducing the session, law professor Mark Squillace framed the primary issue of the Colorado as one of management that recognizes inherent limits and demands choices: “When do we say no, and who do we say no to?”

The two giant reservoirs on the Colorado, Powell and Mead, together were at 94 percent of capacity in 1999. By 2007, that storage had dropped to 54 percent of capacity.

This year looks even worse: 42 percent of storage capacity for the two reservoirs, and more decline as the year progresses look inevitable. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration this year projected runoff in the Colorado River to be just 52 percent of normal. “Things are not looking good,” Squillace said.

“Are we facing a crisis?” he asked rhetorically, before answering his own question: “I would suggest it’s not a water crisis. It’s a management crisis.”

In talking about the successful effort to return water to the river delta in Mexico during March 2014, Pitt described a long, evolving process that essentially began in 1999 with a study that found that ecosystem functions in the river delta could be restored with just 1 percent of annual flows. Securing that water for a successful pulse of water last year required persistence and new levels of cooperation.

Wilkinson continued Pitt’s theme. “Everything you do with water takes time,” he said.

The Colorado-Big Thompson Project itself took time. It was conceived in at least some vague ways in the late 1890s as farmers in the South Platte Valley of northern Colorado noted insufficient water for late-summer irrigation. Recurrence of drought in the 1930s added argument for a giant, federally funded capital works project. Work began in 1938 on Green Mountain Reservoir, to serve needs of the Western Slope, but final work was not completed until 1957.

This and other diversions from the Colorado River headwaters have created a thriving economy along the Front Range. Weld County, the largest in the basin, is 8th in the nation in total agricultural production. By itself, Weld County produces more than all 20 counties on Colorado’s Western Slope combined.

All this belies the impression of Zebulon Pike who, upon encountering the high plains leading up to the Rockies, made comparisons to the deserts of Africa. “Just add water,” Wilkinson advised. He said that two-thirds of irrigated acres in Colorado get at least some of their water from the Colorado River.

The munificence of Colorado River water extends to the cities of the Front Range corridor, where about 85 percent of Coloradans live, mostly in the fast-urbanizing strip along I-25 north from Denver. The Front Range, said Wilkinson, represents 80 to 86 percent of Colorado’s economic activity.

Wilkinson’s description of Colorado’s transmountain infrastructure was a story of triumph. The future, he acknowledged, is far more muddled.

One outstanding issue is whether Colorado can expect to divert substantial amounts of additional water from the Colorado River and its tributaries. It’s not clear how much Colorado has left of its apportionments as specified by two major compacts governing the Colorado River, the seven-state compact of 1922 or the 1948 compact among the four headwaters states.

But even if there is water, said Wilkinson, there are additional questions: “If so, how do you develop it, and if so, how do you develop it in ways that protect basins of origin and still make the project economical?”

Then there’s this simple fact: existing diversions are not an absolute. They depend upon volumes of water in the river to meet compact requirements—and deepening drought could throw even long-standing diversions off the rail.

Responding to a question about California’s drought, Wilkinson said that he is “scared” that the federal government—administrator of the compact—will someday force curtailment of diversions with appropriation dates after 1922. That would include the Colorado-Big Thompson.

As the northern Front Range looks to add 2.5 million people during the next 35 years, the equivalent of the existing Denver-Boulder metroplex, there will be questions of where the water will come from. There is, said Wilkinson, a “disconnect” between the people who provide water and the people who approve residential developments.”

All this points to a new era of water management, as opposed to the “just add water” mantra of the mid-20th century.