Conservation Prevents #ColoradoRiver Shortage Declaration — Circle of Blue #COriver

Lake Mead behind Hoover Dam December 2015 via Greg Hobbs.
Lake Mead behind Hoover Dam December 2015 via Greg Hobbs.

From Circle of Blue (Brett Walton):

A resolute effort in Arizona, California, and Nevada to reduce Colorado River water use is slowing the decline of Lake Mead and delaying mandatory restrictions on water withdrawals from the drying basin.

The Bureau of Reclamation, the federal agency that oversees lake levels, forecasts that Arizona, California, and Nevada will draw less than 7 million acre-feet from the river this year, some 500,000 acre-feet less than they are permitted to consume and the lowest since 1992. (An acre-foot is 325,851 gallons, enough water to flood an acre of land with one foot of water.) At Lake Mead’s current water level, 500,000 acre-feet equals slightly more than six feet in elevation — just enough water to tip the lake into shortage levels, if it had been used.

The savings have been building. Four major conservation programs since 2014 have added roughly 10 feet of water to Lake Mead since 2014, according to Rose Davis, spokeswoman for the Bureau of Reclamation’s Lower Colorado Office. These programs, collaborations between federal, state, and local agencies, pay farmers not to grow crops, line earthen canals with concrete to prevent leaks, remove grass from golf courses, or install more efficient irrigation equipment. The savings are banked in Lake Mead.

“These programs are working,” Davis told Circle of Blue. “These partnerships are working. They are making a difference.”

The August analysis of the basin’s hydrology, an assessment carried out every month by the Bureau of Reclamation, concluded that the water level in Lake Mead will be above 1,075 feet in elevation next January. Those dates are important because the August study determines how much water the Bureau will release from Lake Powell into Lake Mead the following year and whether there will be a shortage in the three lower basin states. A shortage, which has never been declared, happens when the August study shows that Lake Mead will be below 1,075 feet in January. That will not happen next year. The lake’s forecasted water level in January is 1,080 feet.

The benefits of conservation spread beyond next year. The risk of a shortage in the near-term will go down. The last time the Bureau ran the numbers, in April, the results showed a 56 percent chance of shortage for 2018. The updated calculations, which will be published next week, will show “greatly reduced odds,” Davis said.

Water managers in the basin say that conservation gains can be maintained and extended. “All of the programs are long-term, reaching out several decades,” Tanya Trujillo, executive director of the Colorado River Board of California, told Circle of Blue.

More Challenges Still To Come
Even with the conservation success, hard decisions are close at hand. One, the basin must come to terms with the “structural deficit.” This is the term water managers use to describe a basic imbalance: in a year with average water releases from Lake Powell, the water level at Lake Mead will drop by roughly 12 feet because demand exceeds supply. James Eklund, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, called the structural deficit “a root discussion over the last several years” among all seven basin states.

Two, the risk calculations will change as the four states in the upper basin — Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming — pull more water out of the basin.

Three, water managers and politicians alike must figure out what to do about the Salton Sea, a festering sore in the basin’s politics. The sea — in fact, a lake — was created in 1905 when the Colorado River burst through a dike and filled a desert depression that had no ocean outlet. In later years, the Salton, now California’s largest lake, swelled with farm drainage and grew saltier from evaporation.

The Salton has been shrinking since 2003, when a historic agreement between Imperial Irrigation District and state, federal, and tribal agencies resulted in a large transfer of water from farm to city, which reduced farm runoff. As part of the agreement, Imperial delivered water to prop up the lake, which is also an important habitat for birds migrating along the Pacific flyway. But those deliveries will cease at the end of 2017, after which the lake will go into a tailspin, shrinking rapidly and becoming several times saltier than the ocean. Pesticides, salts, and toxic dust on the seabed poses an immediate health threat to the people of the Coachella Valley, Imperial County, and Mexicali, a border city of 1 million people. A solution to the Salton Sea problem is inevitably tied to Colorado River issues upstream.

“Being one of the largest users on the river, it’s in our best interest to look out for and promote the health and welfare of the system as a whole,” Marion Champion, spokeswoman for Imperial Irrigation District, told Circle of Blue. “That said, we will need some reassurances from the state of California that it will live up to its restoration promises for the Salton Sea.”

Imperial has the largest allocation of Colorado River water — 3.1 million acre-feet, more than one-fifth of the river’s average annual runoff — of any user in the basin. Champion said that she expects Imperial to be a part of a basin-wide drought plan, but only if the Salton Sea is addressed, with either money or water, or both.

“That participation is contingent on a state led restoration plan and implementation commitment to ensure our community’s public health is protected,” she said.

Colorado Corn seeking applications for new ‘Farm Stewardship’ award

Sweet corn near Olathe, CO photo via The Nature Conservancy.
Sweet corn near Olathe, CO photo via The Nature Conservancy.

Here’s the release from Colorado Corn:

Many Colorado farmers are implementing some of the latest-and-greatest production methods, aimed at improving efficiency on their farms, protecting our natural resources, and enhancing air and water quality.

And now Colorado Corn wants to honor the producers taking these efforts to new heights.

The organization is seeking applications for its first ever Colorado Farm Stewardship Award.

“It will no doubt be a difficult task to select just one winner, when we know so many of our Colorado farmers are putting extensive time and energy into being excellent stewards of our resources, while also producing our food, fuel and fiber,” said Mark Sponsler, executive director for Colorado Corn. “But while it won’t be easy, we couldn’t be more excited about this new stewardship program. We feel this award will provide a platform for many growers to share their great stories – shining a light on the numerous, forward-thinking, best-management practices taking place on Colorado’s farms.”

The Colorado Farm Stewardship Award winner is expected to be selected by a committee comprised of board member representatives from the Colorado Corn Administrative Committee (CCAC) and Colorado Corn Growers Association (CCGA), as well as other experts in agriculture, conservation and sustainability.

The announcement of the winner will be made during the Colorado Corn Annual Banquet in Yuma on Dec. 7.

In addition to the awards banquet recognition, the winner will be recognized in Colorado Corn’s communications and outreach efforts, and will also receive the organization’s nomination for the National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) Good Steward Recognition – an honor that includes a $10,000 cash award for the winner, among other prizes.

Applicants must be Colorado Corn Growers Association members in good standing, implement conservation-tillage methods, and demonstrate practices related to soil, water or air stewardship.

Applications are due Nov. 18. The application can be found here.

If you have any questions, you can contact Melissa Ralston at mralston@coloradocorn.com, Eric Brown at ebrown@coloradocorn.com, or call our office at (970) 351-8201.

Questions remain on use of rain barrels — The #Colorado Springs Gazette #coleg

Photo via the Colorado Independent
Photo via the Colorado Independent

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Jim Flynn):

At the heart of this [water law] system, and protected by a section of the Colorado Constitution, is a concept called “prior appropriation.” The way this works is that some water users have priority over other water users, with the effect that, in times of scarcity, holders of senior water rights receive their water and holders of junior water rights do not. The seniority of water rights is generally based on a first-to-use-wins concept, meaning the most senior (and therefore the most valuable) water rights go back to the 1800s.

Any upstream activity even remotely threatening to downstream water rights holders is cause for great alarm. This came to light in the 2016 session of the Colorado Legislature when a bill (House Bill 16-1005) was introduced intended to regulate the collection of rainwater in barrels.

What finally emerged, after heated debate, is a new law allowing rainwater running off the rooftop of a residential property containing no more than four dwelling units to be collected in no more than two barrels having a combined storage capacity of no more than 110 gallons. These barrels must have a sealable lid; the water from the barrels can only be used at the property where the water is collected; and it can only be used for outdoor purposes “including irrigation of lawns and gardens.” The water “shall not be used for drinking water or indoor household purposes.” (Whether the water could be used for bathing activities if conducted outdoors is not clear.)

The state engineer, “to the extent practicable within existing resources,” is instructed to provide information on his agency’s website about the permitted and prohibited uses of rain barrels and water collected therein. The state engineer is also given authority to curtail rain barrel usage in situations where it might impair the rights of downstream water users. And the state engineer is required to diligently study whether rain barrel usage is causing injury to holders of downstream water rights and to report back to the Legislature on this issue by no later than March 1, 2019.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment also gets into the act. That agency is instructed, “to the extent practicable within existing resources,” to develop “best practices” intended to address nonpotable usage of collected rainwater and issues relating to disease and pest control. When and if such best practices are developed, they are to be posted on the department’s website and on the state engineer’s website. Alternatively, the state engineer’s website can provide a link back to the department’s website.

Finally, knowing the penchant of homeowners living in common-interest ownership communities to fight over almost everything, the Legislature added language to the new law addressing rain barrel usage in these communities. An owners association in a common-interest ownership community cannot prohibit rooftop water collection using rain barrels. The association can, however, “impose reasonable aesthetic requirements that govern the placement or external appearance of a rain barrel.” So, for any of you who have the misfortune of serving on your neighborhood architectural control committee, it’s time to develop design guidelines for rain barrels.

#ColoradoRiver: Momentum — Doug Kenney #COriver

How much water reaches the Westwater stretch of the Colorado River, and then Lake Powell, is taking on increasing importance to Colorado water officials. A new study is underway to look at much more water is available to develop on the Western Slope, and it's caught the attention of east slope water officials. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism
How much water reaches the Westwater stretch of the Colorado River, and then Lake Powell, is taking on increasing importance to Colorado water officials. A new study is underway to look at much more water is available to develop on the Western Slope, and it’s caught the attention of east slope water officials. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

From Carpe Diem West (Doug Kenney):

I’ve been spending a lot of time lately talking to colleagues about the current state of the Colorado River, and if there’s one word that captures their collective assessment, it is momentum. Throughout the basin, a lot of really good innovations are occurring. Conservation has, rightly, emerged as a credible management tool, and not merely something for the hippies to talk about. Cooperation among the states, between the US and Mexico, and between the water users and environmentalists, is arguably at an all-time high. Thoughtful people hold key posts in many of the relevant agencies. And so on. Sure, there’s still too many efforts to build new straws to further depletions, some key players—such as the tribes—are still struggling for meaningful inclusion, and there’s never enough money, especially for costly reforms such as improved watershed management. But compared to 20 years ago, or even 10 years ago, it’s a different world. Momentum.

But is it enough? Can incremental progress on several fronts congeal to form a comprehensive, lasting solution to the river’s problems? And can it happen on a schedule that acknowledges that the climate will continue to warm, populations will continue to grow, and that persistently low reservoir storage makes the region increasingly vulnerable should a few really dry years be around the corner. The challenges are all growing, and despite our current momentum, Lake Mead—the unofficial canary in this coal mine—is projected to drop further over the next 2 years. We are doing better—arguably, much better. Nobody should be shy in acknowledging this; some boasting is justified. But we aren’t winning yet. Can incremental reforms ultimately tip the scales, shifting the basin’s course from one of steady decline to one leading to true sustainability, or will it only delay a day of reckoning that ushers in more sweeping changes—reforms that go beyond what current negotiations envision? I don’t pretend to definitely know that answer. Nobody does. But I suspect we likely need one or more new “grand bargains” to get us to the finish line. If so, the ultimate value of the incremental reforms may be in establishing the networks and laying the groundwork for those conversations to occur. Momentum.

Dr. Doug Kenney
Doug is the Senior Research Associate, Getches-Wilkinson Natural Resources Law Center and Director of the GWC Western Water Policy Program. Doug is a member of The Colorado River Research Group; a self-directed team of ten veteran Colorado River scholars. A founding member of Carpe Diem West, he also participates on the program team. He researches and writes extensively on several water-related issues, including law and policy reform, river basin and watershed-level planning.

#ColoradoRiver: “Killing the #Colorado” spotlights new solutions — American Rivers #COriver

killingthecoloradotrailerscreenshot

From American Rivers (Sinjin Eberle):

I have noticed a lot of chatter lately about the situation at Lake Mead. Dramatic overuse, prolonged drought, and the effects of increased temperatures have led to a historically low volume of water stored in the largest reservoir on the Colorado River. One of the most critical components of water in the west is less than 40% full. Yet while some people scramble for a quick fix or point fingers, others see the long game and note the optimism that working together for smart, sustainable solutions can bring. There is hope, there is a roadmap, and together we have the knowledge, skill, and foresight to make it happen.

Lake Mead behind Hoover Dam December 2015 via Greg Hobbs.
Lake Mead behind Hoover Dam December 2015 via Greg Hobbs.

The Discovery Channel recently produced a new documentary, Killing the Colorado, a made-for-TV version of the lengthy ProPublica series of the same name. The show is excellent, comprehensive, and features a number of voices that you may not expect to be featured in a film about the environment. Imperial valley agricultural producers, water managers, a red-state Senator and a blue-state Governor – all identifying problems facing the basin, and most putting forth an optimistic view that a human-caused predicament can be solved with human-inspired ingenuity.

One quote in particular is poignant – there is a scene with Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper in his office flipping through a binder full of historic water compacts. Upon his observance of the generations of water agreements, he remarks “The thing you realize when you go through these [water] compacts, is that everyone is in this together.” Given the situation facing Lake Mead, a growing chorus of voices around Lake Powell, the birth of the Colorado Water Plan, and a recognition that heathy rivers support healthy agriculture and sustainable economies, we truly are all rowing the same boat together in the Colorado Basin.

Lake Powell via Aspen Journalism
Lake Powell via Aspen Journalism

But, how can Lake Mead affect Colorado from a thousand miles downstream? Well, due to the Colorado River Compact of 1922, headwaters states like Colorado must send a certain amount of water to the Southwestern states of Arizona, Nevada, and California – it’s the law of the river, and the law of the land. And since when the Compact was developed, California was a fast growing destination, it has priority and can “call” for water if needed. For years, California has had the luxury to get much of the surplus of water that Colorado and Wyoming have sent downstream to be stored in Lake Powell and Lake Mead. But now with prolonged drought, a fast-growing population across the entire Southwest, and a substantial agricultural economy (especially in the Imperial Valley), the era of surplus water is over. As such, Lake Mead is directly connected to Colorado, whether we like it or not, and that connection is the Colorado River.

Killing the Colorado does a fantastic job over nearly an hour-and-a-half of highlighting a variety of colorful characters who have recognized that shortage and a lack of water will change everything in the future – that future is now. But while both the show and the written article are excellent at highlighting the situation, they don’t delve deeply into what I think is most important – that real solutions do exist, and we know how to implement them, it simply takes our collective will to get them moving. Solutions like urban and agricultural conservation and efficiency, like reuse and recycling, like innovative water banking and flexible management practices, like continuing the shift towards renewable energy (solar and wind don’t devour cooling water like natural gas and coal plants require). But while these efforts all seem daunting and out of an individual’s control, there are actions that each of us can take every day that together, make a huge difference. Like buying and installing your own rain barrel for your outside plants and flowers, like supporting your local farmer at the farmer’s market – small things that have a great impact, especially when we all do them together.

Solutions do exist, and as Arizona Senator Jeff Flake said “The drought over the past couple of years has awakened all of us to the future we have if we don’t do better planning. There are many things that are out of our control…Planning is so important. Conserving. Recharging. Water banking. Water markets. These are all important things that have to take place.

Let’s get started!

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

#Colorado #coleg interim committee meets, #conservation at the top of the agenda #COWaterPlan

Moffat Collection System pipeline photo via Bob Berwyn.
Moffat Collection System pipeline photo via Bob Berwyn.

From The Colorado Independent (Marianne Goodland):

If Colorado hopes to reach its goal of conserving at least 130 billion gallons of water a year by 2050, some of the state’s water utilities will have to step up their evaluation and repairs on aging or corroded water lines.

Colorado water experts anticipate that by 2050, the state will need at least one million acre-feet of water more than it will have, an estimate that many believe is conservative. (An acre-foot of water is 326,000 gallons, or the amount of water it would take to cover Mile High Stadium from end zone to end zone with one foot of water.)

That means every sector of water use — recreational, agricultural, industrial, municipal and environmental — can anticipate shortages. Much of the shortfall is tied to Colorado’s population boom. The state’s population is projected to nearly double from about 5.3 million to at least 8.7 million people, perhaps reaching as high as 10.3 million, by 2050.

On Tuesday, a state legislative interim committee met to discuss, among other things, how to save more water by stopping “water loss.”

Water providers lose 25 billion gallons of water a year through leaking water lines and hundreds of water main breaks, according to estimates in the Colorado Water Plan.

For water providers and utilities, that loss comes at the cost of extracting water and treating it, only to lose some of it before it reaches the user. In Colorado, water experts put the cost of that loss at about $50 million a year. In addition to actual water loss, there are also costs associated with incorrectly-operating water meters or other discrepancies.

Bottom line: Those financial losses mean utilities have less to spend on maintaining their systems. And the bottom, bottom line? Guess who helps make up the difference?

Utilities pass on the costs of water loss to consumers, says Teresa Conley of Conservation Colorado. Utilities have fixed costs and revenue that fluctuates based on how much water is used throughout the year. Water loss impacts water providers’ bottom line, she said, and that means consumers end up paying for water that gets lost in the system.

Fix these problems and that could save about 77,000 acre-feet of water a year — or about 20 percent of the state’s conservation goal. The focus on repairing leaking pipes comes at a time when national and local attention is being paid to lead in water supplies, largely due to corroded water lines in Flint, Michigan but found in Colorado, as well.

The Colorado Water Conservation Board, part of the state’s Department of Natural Resources,and author of the state’s water plan, would like to see a uniform way of measuring water loss. It has developed a tool for utilities that would track water loss statewide. But the utilities aren’t all that enthusiastic about using it, pointing out that their own efforts are producing the desired results.

John Thornhill, chief engineer at Greeley Water and Sewer, told the committee this week that pipes installed in the 1950s were the biggest problem for Greeley because the linings in them were susceptible to corrosion. The utility recently finished replacing those corroded pipes, which were part of a network of 640 miles of water lines.
Offering a well-worn pun in the industry, he said: “We’re getting the lead out.”

#ColoradoRiver: The Plan to Strengthen Denver’s Water Supply — 5280.com #COriver

Gross Dam enlargement concept graphic via Denver Water
Gross Dam enlargement concept graphic via Denver Water

From 5280.cm (Amy Thomson):

Considering the Denver region is growing by an average of 4,500 new residents per month, a large sector of the population likely doesn’t remember the catastrophic 2002 drought. The most severe water shortage since the Dust Bowl, snowpack and soil moisture were at all-time lows, and we remained in a dry period until 2006. Luckily, with water restrictions in place, we never actually ran out of water—we just got really close.

“We realized that we had an immediate need to correct a vulnerability in our system,” Denver Water CEO Jim Lochhead says. That’s when Denver Water started planning the Gross Reservoir Expansion Project, and after more than a decade of negotiations, the project (which was recently endorsed by Gov. John Hickenlooper) is underway.

But will it be enough? The short answer is yes—as long as Denverites work on strengthening their water conservation practices. Lochhead was pleased to note that when a storm comes through the Mile High City, there is a noticeable drop in outdoor water use, because well-informed residents are turning off their sprinkler systems. Denver residents have managed to reduce water consumption by more than 20 percent in the last 15 years, even with a 15 percent increase in population, according to Lochhead.

The decrease is not enough to mitigate the risk of drought, however. As Colorado’s largest water utility, the Denver Water system is made up of two collection systems—the Northern and the South Platte—and they are incredibly imbalanced. About 80 percent of the water comes from the south system, leaving the north very vulnerable to low rainfall or wildfires. During the notable dry years of 2002 and 2013, clients in the north end were lucky their taps continued to flow.

“We were literally only one drought away from a major problem in our system,” Lochhead says, noting that as recently as 2013, the system was virtually out of water in the north-end.