Flexible water sharing [water banking] reduces risk in dry times — Jon Stavney

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Jon Stavney):

“Water banking” is an emerging term in western Colorado as water planners work on concepts to protect water supplies in the face of long-term drought, increasing demand and the uncertainties of a changing climate.

Simply put, water banking is a voluntary, market-based tool that could facilitate water transactions between willing sellers and buyers. Water right owners, who are willing to free up some of their water in a particularly dry year or years, would temporarily lease it to those who simply can’t afford to be without water.

Also known as water sharing, it is one mechanism that could address the needs and concerns of agriculture, cities and the environment in advance of a crisis. It can add predictability and certainty for users of Colorado River water in unpredictable times. It may also enable agricultural water right owners to realize the value of their senior rights without outright selling those rights.

Perhaps most importantly, water banking could be employed to avoid a crisis should declining Colorado River water supplies force a curtailment of uses either because of low reservoir levels at Lakes Powell and Mead, or under water curtailment requirements to meet Colorado River Compact obligations.

The elevation of Lake Powell is a critical indicator of water availability in the Colorado River Basin. The reservoir helps manage water deliveries to the Lower Basin and generates more than 4,200 megawatts of electricity. The reservoir elevation is now around 3,612 feet, just 53 percent full. “Minimum Power Pool” in the reservoir is about 3,500 feet of elevation. Below that level, Lake Powell can no longer generate hydropower.

Lake Powell elevations also impact the reservoir’s ability to release water downstream, which in turn may threaten the Upper Basin’s obligations under the Colorado River Compact to provide for a minimum delivery of water from Colorado and its sister Upper Basin states to the Lower Basin. Should continuing drought jeopardize our ability to meet that obligation, the Upper Basin states could be forced to cut off water uses in Colorado in order to honor our commitments under the compact. In the face of such scenarios, water banking allows us to manage our water more flexibly in advance of a crisis.

Colorado’s water bank effort is being led by the Colorado River District, Southwestern Water Conservation District, Front Range Water Council, The Nature Conservancy, and the Colorado Water Conservation Board. The goal of this collaboration is to avoid agricultural dry up on the West Slope while minimizing risk for all Colorado River water users. The group seeks to develop solutions that strike a balance between urban, agricultural and environmental needs and sees water banking as an excellent tool to do that.

While we all hope for the best as the record drought in the Western states prolongs, there is an increasing urgency to be prepared for the worst. To be ready for whatever comes, we must consider all possible methods to prevent water shortages. Casting a wide net for solutions yields diverse and effective ways to meet the many possible challenges ahead of us and increases the likelihood that Colorado is prepared if a crisis similar to what California is currently experiencing occurs here. Whether it’s clean water for your kitchen tap, for your crops and animals, or for rivers and streams, this uncertainty affects us all.

To best address the water challenges before us, awareness is key. First, we must fully recognize the urgency at hand. A few months of welcome rain this year did not change the overall trajectory of the Colorado River supplies. Second, we must act in collaboration — communities, water managers, farmers and conservation groups developing solutions together. The best plans will benefit from input from a diversity of voices. Farmers and communities especially need to get involved to ensure that any new water programs are in their best interests. We all must be part of the solution.

We will need a smart range of options to reduce water use in the region on a temporary basis to help get through critical dry times. As we forge into an unknown future, water banking emerges as one of the most promising components in Colorado’s portfolio of options to better manage our limited water resources.

Jon Stavney is president of the Board of Directors, Colorado River District and a member of the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments Water Quality/ Quantity Committee.

Glen Canyon Dam -- Photo / Brad Udall
Glen Canyon Dam — Photo / Brad Udall

Providers utilizing the Denver Basin Aquifer are moving towards supply security

Denver Basin aquifer map
Denver Basin aquifer map

From the Centennial Citizen (Paul Donahue and Eric Hecox):

Is our water future secure?

It’s a question on the minds of many in Castle Rock and the entire south metro Denver region — and for good reason. After all, water is what makes our outstanding quality of life possible. If we want future generations to enjoy our communities as we do, we must ensure they have access to a secure and sustainable water supply that meets their future needs.

From conversations throughout the region, we know Castle Rock residents and those in the entire south metro area understand the critical role water plays in delivering the quality of life we desire for our children, in addition to supporting property values, job creation and economic growth.

We know residents are aware the region historically has relied too heavily on declining groundwater supplies and must diversify its supply for long-term sustainability. We know they view water as a top priority for the region and support an all-of-the-above approach that includes conservation and reuse, storage and new renewable supplies.

We also know Castle Rock residents as well as residents across the south metro area value partnership among leaders throughout the region to get the job done in the most economically responsible manner. Working together to secure water rights, build infrastructure and efficiently use storage space helps spread the costs and the benefits to customers throughout the region.

The answer to the question on people’s minds is not clear-cut. While our region is on the path to delivering a secure water future for generations to come, this effort is ongoing and will require continued support from our communities to see it through to the end.

The good news is that we have a plan, and we are executing that plan.

Thanks to innovative conservation approaches, the region has seen a 30 percent decrease in per capita water use since 2000. That means the typical south metro household or business, including those in Castle Rock, is using 30 percent less water than just 15 years ago. Declines in the region’s underground aquifers — historically the main water source for the region — have slowed considerably in that same time period, a testament to efforts across the region to diversify water supplies and maximize efficiency through reuse.

At the same time, major new water infrastructure projects are coming online throughout the region that bring new renewable supplies, storage capacity and reuse capabilities. These include the WISE (Water Infrastructure and Supply Efficiency) Partnership with Denver Water, Aurora and several other regional organizations including Castle Rock Water, the Chatfield Reallocation Project, Rueter-Hess Reservoir, the Northern Project and Castle Rock’s Plum Creek Purification Facility, to name a few.

The 13 members that make up the South Metro Water Supply Authority provide water to 80 percent of Douglas County and 10 percent of Arapahoe County. Together, they are partnering among each other as well as with local government leadership and water entities across the region and state to execute their plan to secure a sustainable water future for the region.

Since becoming a member of the South Metro Water Supply Authority, Castle Rock Water has helped lead implementation of the WISE project, new water storage reservoir projects and other regional renewable water supply efforts. WISE water will be available to Castle Rock residents by 2017 and even earlier for some of the other South Metro residents. A project like WISE represents as much as 10 percent of the renewable water needed for both current and future residents in Castle Rock.

The members of the South Metro Water Supply Authority, including Castle Rock, each have long-term water plans. Through partnerships, these projects are made possible by sharing in the needed investments and other resources when completing the time-consuming task of acquiring additional renewable water and building the required infrastructure.

This collaboration is supported by the state and is in line with the Colorado Water Plan. This regional support has been critical in providing feasible strategies to ensure water for future generations.

Is our water future secure? No, not yet. But we’re well on our way to getting there.

Paul Donahue is the mayor of Castle Rock and has served on the town council for eight years. Eric Hecox is the director of the South Metro Water Supply Authority, a regional water authority made up of 13 water provider members that collectively serve more than 300,000 residents as well as businesses in the south metro Denver area. South Metro Water’s membership spans much of Douglas County and parts of Arapahoe County, including Castle Rock, Highlands Ranch, Parker and Castle Pines.

Colorado Water Trust eNews November 11, 2015

Alamosa River
Alamosa River

Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:

Absolute Alamosa

On November 5th, the Division 3 water court issued final decrees to permanently bolster streamflows in the Alamosa River. These official decisions by the water court are the final steps in a multi-year approval process spearheaded by Alamosa RIVERKEEPER®, and the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) to improve water quality and the ecological functionality of the Alamosa River. The absolute decree means that up to 2.5 cubic feet per second (cfs) of water from the Gabino Gallegos Ditch and up to 0.5 cfs in the Valdez ditch can be used to bolster streamflows in a 16-mile stretch of the Alamosa River. These instream flows are the FIRST on the Alamosa River to be enrolled in the CWCB’s Instream Flow Program and protected for this use.

The Water Trust has served the Alamosa RIVERKEEPER® project as technical consultants on water rights and instream flow information since 2008. We owe thanks for this successful water court application and complete project to a partnership between CWCB, Alamosa RIVERKEEPER®, and Terrace Irrigation Company, who owns the reservoir where the water is stored for release after the irrigation season, if needed.

How Water Is Reshaping the West — Hillary Rosner

Here’s a report from Hillary Rosner writing for Nova Next. Click through and read the whole thing. Here’s an excerpt:

“Be careful of rattlesnakes,” Brian Werner says as we walk near what will, a few years out, become the south end of Chimney Hollow Reservoir. I try to imagine what will happen to the snakes—and the bears and birds and burrowing animals—when these 1,600 acres become a lakebed. I’d been conducting an animated interview with Werner for more than an hour as we toured the region’s waterworks–reservoirs, pipelines, diversion ditches, pumps—but now, standing here, I’m speechless. Perhaps sensing my mood, Werner tries to be upbeat. He gestures to the west, where, as part of the reservoir land-acquisition deal, another 1,800 acres will be permanently protected. But it’s hard to stand beneath those ponderosas and not feel a kind of heartbreak.

Werner works for Northern Water, a public utility that delivers water to parts of eight northeastern Colorado counties and about 880,000 people. In conjunction with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, Northern Water administers the Colorado-Big Thompson Project, a sprawling collection of reservoirs and pipes built to send Colorado River water from the western part of the state across the Rockies (through a tunnel beneath Rocky Mountain National Park) the more populous—and growing—northeastern towns. Werner’s job title is public information officer, but after 34 years with the utility, he’s also its de facto historian, with an insider’s deep knowledge of the entire state’s water past and present, including the intricacies of water rights. (Western water law is an unfathomably complex beast predicated on a first-come-first-served system, which is why newer cities, late to the game, are struggling for rights to water that often flows right past them.)

Up and down Colorado’s Front Range—the string of cities perched along the Rocky Mountains’ eastern flanks—it’s a boom time. Fort Collins, the northernmost city, has doubled its population since the 1980s, with no sign of stopping. Farther to the east, in former rural communities like Frederick, Dacono, and Evans, pavement is spreading like weeds, subdivisions are sprouting in place of corn. The reservoir soon to drown the spectacular landscape under my feet that afternoon would deliver water to these bustling communities.

Nearby, another proposed reservoir would submerge a highway to store water from the Poudre River, which flows through downtown Fort Collins; this project will serve those same growing towns. “Some people think if we don’t build those projects, people just won’t come,” Werner says. “I wish that were the case. But it’s not gonna happen. People are going to keep moving here, because it’s a great place to live.”

Across much of the West, the story is similar. As cities and states grapple with urban growth alongside the impacts of global warming—crippling drought, a shifted timeline of snowmelt and stream flows, uncertainty about future water supplies—nothing is off the table when it comes to securing access to water. These days, the stories that make national news are more likely to be about old dams coming down than about new ones rising. That’s partly because dams coming down are still a rarity. But across the West, the local news is far more likely to be about smaller dams going up. The era of water mega-projects may be behind us, but engineers are still transforming landscapes to deliver water—an increasingly elusive and valuable commodity…

“The Reclamation era”—roughly the 1930s to the 1970s—“was big monster projects, massive dams that totally reshaped the watershed, rivers, and ecology,” says Reagan Waskom, director of the Colorado Water Institute at Colorado State University in Fort Collins. Today’s projects, Waskom says, are a series of “expansions and enlargements,” smaller-scale efforts meant to complement or shore up existing systems…

A subsidiary of Northern Water, called the Municipal Subdistrict, runs the Windy Gap project, which was built in the early 1980s to provide water for Boulder, Fort Collins, and four other Front Range cities. The system pulls water from the Colorado River and stores it in the Windy Gap reservoir on the west side of the Rockies then delivers it to Lake Granby, where it is pumped through the Big Thompson system to the eastern side. But in wet years, Lake Granby, the main reservoir for that Big Thompson system, is already full—leaving no room to store the Windy Gap water. That means in dry years, when the customers really need it, the water isn’t there.

Chimney Hollow is the solution, a way to stabilize the Windy Gap water supply. Water managers call it “firming.” Imagine that you are technically entitled to ten units of water out of a reservoir that stores 100 units. But in a dry year, the reservoir might only contain 30 units, and there are other customers besides you. In such a system, you couldn’t really depend on the reservoir for your water. That worst-case scenario is what water people call “firm yield.”

On the Windy Gap system, the firm yield is currently zero. “In the dry years, there’s no water available,” explains Werner, “and in the wet years, there’s nowhere to put it. You can’t rely on a project with zero firm yield.” Chimney Hollow, the utility contends, will give customers—the city of Erie, say— guaranteed annual delivery of their legally allotted water.

“Even with climate change, we know that there will be high flow years,” Waskom says. “When those come along, you’ve either got a place to store that water or you don’t.”[…]

There’s also the issue of whether there will continue to be enough water in the rivers to make these efforts worthwhile. “Whether you have a big reservoir or just a straw where you’re sucking water out of the river and sending it somewhere else, the question is, will the water be there?” says Jeff Lukas, a researcher with the Western Water Assessment, a think tank based at the University of Colorado. “Just because you’ve done the modeling and your scheme would’ve worked under the hydrology of last 50 years doesn’t mean it’ll work in the next 50 years.”[…]

The new world is nothing if not complex. It’s a world of tradeoffs, a world without easy answers. Still, standing on the hillside at Chimney Hollow, I’m sure of one thing: I wish there was some way to spare this spectacular place.

#COWaterPlan: “I think we’ve made some major improvements and reached a better understanding throughout the state” — Karn Stiegelmeier

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.”[…]

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


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.

Pennsylvania Mine Upper Peru Creek Basin
Pennsylvania Mine Upper Peru Creek Basin

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…


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.”[…]

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


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.”

Bennet, Gardner oppose reforms to land conservation fund — The Durango Herald

Photo via Colorado Parks and Wildlife

From The Durango Herald (Edward Graham):

Newly proposed legislation to reform the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which Congress allowed to expire at the end of September, is being met by criticism that it will radically alter the popular program.

House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rob Bishop, R-Utah, who previously promised to put forward legislation that would change the LWCF’s funding after the program expired, announced the proposed legislation during a conference call earlier this week.

“More than 50 years ago, the Land and Water Conservation Fund was created to develop outdoor recreation facilities throughout the nation,” Bishop said during the call. “And while broadly supported and in many ways a policy success, the LWCF has strayed quite a bit beyond its law and original intent.”

The LWCF, which was first established in 1964, is the country’s most successful land conservation program. Over its history, the program has provided close to $17 billion in funding for the expansion of state and federal parks and national forests across the country.

Colorado Sens. Michael Bennet, a Democrat, and Cory Gardner, a Republican, have both expressed support for the fund’s permanent reauthorization.

In January, Bennet introduced legislation along with Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., and Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., to permanently reauthorize the fund. That legislation garnered 59 votes, one short of the 60 needed to pass the Senate.

Bennet said that the current reforms proposed by Bishop are unnecessary.

“The LWCF is one of our country’s most successful conservation programs that has benefited urban and rural communities throughout Colorado,” Bennet said. “It does not need to be reformed, and it enjoys strong bipartisan support. We will continue to push for permanent reauthorization and will work to secure full funding for the program.”

Gardner, along with Bennet and 52 other senators, previously signed on to a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., calling for the LWCF’s permanent reauthorization. Gardner also repeated his support for the program in response to Bishop’s legislation.

“For over 50 years, the LWCF has preserved iconic landscapes in Colorado and throughout the country,” he said. “I remain a strong proponent of permanently reauthorizing the LWCF, and that is why I will continue to work toward a solution that paves the way for the commonsense, permanent reauthorization of a program that has been a great friend to Colorado and is supported by sportsmen, hunters, recreationists and Americans around the country.”

Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez, who previously said that the fund was in need of reform “to ensure it is still achieving its original mission,” has not yet publicly come out in favor of the proposed legislation.

“Congressman Tipton looks forward to carefully reviewing Chairman Bishop’s proposal,” said Tipton spokesman Josh Green.

Finish line in sight for #COWaterPlan — The River Blog

MtSoprisSinjin Eberle
Mt Sopris | Sinjin Eberle

From American Rivers (Sinjin Eberle):

  • We know that the boat is definitely pointed in the right direction. We look forward to participating in the plan’s implementation so future water decisions continue to reflect the values and priorities outlined in the plan.
  • We are pleased to see the plan include many of the points Coloradoans have expressed overwhelmingly—through more than 30,000 public comments submitted to the state—including a strong statewide urban conservation goal and proposed funding for healthy rivers and streams across our state.
  • Over the next year, we urge the CWCB and the Hickenlooper administration to maintain this positive momentum to ensure there will be inclusive implementation, specific, stringent criteria for project selection and adequate funding to protect our rivers, outdoor recreation industry, agricultural heritage, and thriving cities.
Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013
Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013