— David McGimpsey (@DTM1993) March 24, 2015
Water Values podcast: Behind the Headgates of Colorado’s Water Plan with CWCB Director James Eklund #COWaterPlanMarch 24, 2015
Click here to go to the Colorado Water Conservation Board website to read the update. Here’s an excerpt:
Activation of the State Drought Mitigation and Response Plan, and the activation of the Agricultural Impact Task Force remain in effect to respond to ongoing drought conditions in Southern Colorado.
February was the 14th warmest on record and 221 daily temperature records were either tied or broken throughout the state. March has continued this pattern especially on the western slope. At least two communities, Denver and Colorado Springs have seen their earliest 80oF day on record (March 16). Late February and early March storms helped increase snowpack levels, but the remainder of the month, to date, has been warm and dry in many basins.
El Nino conditions are expected to strengthen over the next few months favoring a wet spring for the southeastern portion of the state.
Water year-to-date precipitation at mountain SNOTEL sites, as of March 16, is at 85% of normal. As a state, Colorado will need to experience 226% of normal precipitation in the next few weeks in order to reach the normal peak by April 1st. The South Platte basin continues to have the highest snowpack at 100% of normal. The Upper Rio Grande basin has the lowest at 73% of normal, a 12% increase from February.
March 1st streamflow forecasts statewide range from 54-113% of average. The near average to above average forecasts are in the South Platte, Colorado, and upper portions of the Arkansas and Rio Grande basins. The lowest streamflow forecast is 54% of average in the upper Gunnison basin on Surface Creek at Cedaredge.
Reservoir Storage statewide is at 105% of average as of March 1st a slight improvement from last month. Storage in the northern half of the state is in good shape heading into the spring. The southern half of the state has below average storage levels. The Upper Rio Grande has the lowest storage at 72% of normal.
The Surface Water Supply Index (SWSI) is at near normal statewide. The lowest SWSI value in the state is due to low storage levels in Paonia Reservoir in the Gunnison basin. Currently, the reservoir is at 25% of average.
Current El Nino conditions are expected to persist and may be bolstered by a positive PDO (Pacific Decadal Oscillation). El Nino typically favors more precipitation in Colorado during the growing season.
Water providers in attendance reported their systems are in good shape, largely due to plentiful storage. Despite higher than average temperatures, providers have not seen a significant increase in customer demand.
More Colorado Water Conservation Board coverage here.
Colorado Water: Potential new transmountain diversion gets a boost at statewide summit — The Aspen TimesMarch 22, 2015
[ed. I’m reposting this with the link and story from the Aspen Journalism site. Brent has included a bunch of audio from the recent Basin Roundtable Summit.]
From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith):
The prospects for a potential new transmountain water diversion that would bring more water to Colorado’s growing cities on the Front Range appeared to brighten recently during a meeting of about 300 Colorado water leaders.
At the meeting, held in Westminster on March 12, members of the state’s nine river basin roundtables responded in near unanimity to a straw poll regarding a “draft conceptual framework” that outlines how to keep discussing, and planning for, a new transmountain diversion, or TMD.
Today in Colorado, between 450,000 and 600,000 acre-feet of water is diverted under the Continental Divide from the west to the east slope. To put that in context, Ruedi Reservoir holds about 100,000 acre-feet of water and the total annual flow of the Roaring Fork River is about 900,000 acre-feet of water.
All but five of the approximately 300 people gathered in a Westin hotel ballroom gave a thumb’s up to a list of statements regarding ways to look at a potential new TMD.
“We have consensus on all of these points, but not necessarily that they’re fully encompassing,” said Jacob Bornstein, a program manager at the Colorado Water Conservation Board who has been helping to develop the draft conceptual framework and who lead the straw poll exercise.
The 7 points
Often referred to as “the seven points,” the conceptual framework has been the subject of much discussion over the past six months among members of the nine basin roundtables, who came together on March 18 for a “statewide basin roundtable summit.”
“As you’ve heard from every corner of the state, everyone has at least begun to consider the usefulness of this conceptual framework,” said John McClow, a CWCB board member who also sits on the Gunnison River basin roundtable. “I think we’ve heard from all of them that it might need some definition, it might need some refinement, but that it will provide us with a framework that we can utilize to evaluate a future TMD.”
However, roundtables on the West Slope, especially the Gunnison, Yampa-White and Colorado river basin roundtables, are still voicing concerns and questions about the conceptual framework and the harm a new TMD might cause.
Despite the concerns from the West Slope, James Eklund, the director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB), the state’s water-planning agency, opened the roundtable summit on a bullish note.
“Whether you call them the draft conceptual framework, or the seven points of consensus, or the conceptual agreement, or the guidance on interbasin negotiations, or my personal favorite, the seven points of light, the work of our leaders in this room and on the Interbasin Compact Committee demonstrates the new paradigm in East-West discussions,” Eklund said.
The CWCB’s 27-member Interbasin Compact Committee includes representatives from each of the roundtables, as well as members appointed by the governor and legislative representatives.
The group unanimously endorsed the conceptual “seven points” last July.
The enviromental perspectives
Melinda Kassen, an attorney who specializes in environmental issues, has served as a governor-appointed environmental representative on the IBCC since 2005.
“So, I think I was asked to come up here to justify my having raised my thumb on this, when we did this last summer,” Kassen said as she addressed the crowd in Westminster.
Kassen said she could support the framework because of its seventh point, which states, “Environmental resiliency and recreational needs must be addressed both before and conjunctively with a new TMD.”
“The reason that this point is so important is the way it’s written,” said Kassen, noting the point about the environment was last on the list, but not least.
“It doesn’t say we will address environmental and recreational needs in the context of some big new transmountain diversion,” Kassens said. “It doesn’t say we’ll do mitigation and that’s how we’ll deal with the environment. What it says is, we will make our environment resilient now. We will protect our recreation economy now. And then, if at some point in the future if there’s another big project, we will also do mitigation for that project.”
The Front Range perspective
Jim Lochhead, the CEO and General Manager of Denver Water, also spoke at the roundtable summit.
“In terms of a future transmountain diversion, that is an option that needs to be preserved for the future, if we need to do it,” Lochhead said. “But what this conceptual framework does is articulate some principles that we can agree to, that allows us to move forward when and if that time comes.”
Lochhead also stressed the importance of entities on the West Slope and Front Range working now on the things it can agree on, instead of just listing long-standing disagreements.
“Let’s be more efficient,” Lochhead said. “Let’s work on re-use (of water). Let’s work on capturing and using local water supplies as efficiently as we possibly can throughout the entire state, across all sectors, before we begin talking about big infrastructure projects that, hopefully, we either don’t need or we need at a much smaller and refined scale in the future. But when and if we do need those, they will be developed in partnership across the entire state.”
He also stressed that the seven points need to be viewed as a whole package.
“There’re not in any kind of order,” Lochhead said. “They are not even individual pieces, they are a package. They need to be viewed as a whole, because they are a part of a whole. And they are part of a commonality, I think, that we agreed on, and that we should agree on, in terms of where we’re going as a state.”
The view from the roundtables
After Kassen and Lochhead spoke, the CWCB’s Bornstein took the room through the straw poll, where members could vote thumbs up, down or sideways.
As he went through a reversed, and re-worded list of the seven points (see below), there was not one “thumbs down.”
Then Bornstein put up a slide referring to all of the seven points, or statements, which read: “These previous statements encompass the major issues a conceptual framework on a new TMD should address, although more detail may be needed.”
“We’ve got … five people in the room, out of about 300, that think these are not the major issues,” Bornstein said.
After that, a panel of representatives from four roundtables shared the current view of their respective roundtables about the seven points.
Joe Frank, the general manager of the Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District, is serving as the new chair of the South Platte River basin roundtable.
He said the members of the South Platte roundtable had previously voted unanimously to support the “seven points.”
And on March 10, the South Platte roundtable also agreed to include a “straw man” TMD in the its basin implementation plan, so that a theoretical new TMD – such as a pipeline to move water to the Front Range from Flaming Gorge Reservoir – could be freshly analyzed in the context of the seven points.
“The framework is in a good spot, but moving forward past that we need to get a straw man and discuss these difficult topics,” Frank said.
The South Platte roundtable is also strongly in favor of building new water reservoirs in the state and it wants storage discussed in the forthcoming final Colorado Water Plan, which is open for public comment until May 1.
“We just believe that storage needs to be front and center when we start to talk about Colorado’s water,” Frank said. “We’ve heard it a lot that conservation needs to be the beginning of the conversation, we also believe that storage needs to be in the beginning of that conversation.”
The Arkansas roundtable’s view
James Broderick, the executive director of the Southeastern Water Conservancy District, sits on the Arkansas River basin roundtable.
He said the Arkansas roundtable also believes new storage should be an integral part of the state’s water planning efforts, and that the Arkansas roundtable supports the seven points as written.
“From an Arkansas perspective, we’re not sure what all the controversy was about,” Broderick said.
The west slope’s view
The views presented at the statewide summit by two West Slope roundtables were quite different, however.
“We think the framework has questions that need to be answered before there can be something called an agreement, particularly about any transmountain diversions moving forward,” said Jon Hill, a Rio Blanco County commissioner who sits on the Yampa-White basin roundtable.
Hill said it was important to the Yampa-White river basins that an understanding be reached that sets aside some level of future water development in the region, which remains largely undeveloped.
“As long as we can work it in that we have some increment of future use, that is going to be reserved, or however you want to call it, then we can start getting along on this and that,” Hill said.
Michelle Pierce, the chair of the Gunnison River basin roundtable, said that while she feels the seven points represent a breakthrough of sorts, they shouldn’t be included in the state’s forthcoming water plan.
“I was at that meeting where these seven points were brought up and developed, and I did think it was a huge breakthrough in this process,” Pierce said. “It’s taken, up to that point, nine years to even talk about transmountain diversion. So I thought that was huge.”
However, Pierce went on to say, “the Gunnison basin doesn’t believe that the conceptual framework is ready for inclusion in the state plan. If it is determined that it will be included in the state plan, we would like to see a big disclaimer with that, something that would say, or highlight the fact that it is still under discussion, it still needs refinement, and that there is no real agreement statewide as to what those terms mean.”
A Colorado River basin view
A representative from the Colorado River basin roundtable was not included on the same panel at the March 12 summit with the representatives from the Gunnison, Yampa-White, Arkansas and South Platte roundtables, but the Colorado roundtable is on the record as opposing the inclusion of the seven points in the water plan.
On March 5, at a public meeting of the Roaring Fork Watershed Collaborative, Louis Meyer, a veteran Colorado roundtable member and a principal engineer with SGM, an engineering firm in Glenwood Springs, strongly criticized the seven points.
“I think that these were written on behalf of the Front Range, not the West Slope,” Meyer said. “I think if the West Slope’s four basin roundtables wrote them, they would be very, very different.
“There is no extra water in the state of Colorado,” Meyer said. “What we’re talking about is a reallocation of the water we already have. So, what is this re-allocation going to be? It is going to be a reallocation of water from agriculture and healthy rivers to rooftops and nonnative turf grass on the Front Range. I believe that the result will be flat rivers, the loss of agriculture, and escalating water costs.”
Here are the seven points as presented by the CWCB’s Jacob Bornstein during a straw poll at the statewide roundtable summit.
Bornstein said this list, which differs in order and in the wording from the official version of “the seven points,” also listed below, was “a bit of a deconstructed look at the conceptual framework.”
“Because I’ve been going to every roundtable, almost, and helping to explain this, I’ve sort of learned how to not have the eyes cross when you are talking about some of these concepts,” Bornstein said, noting he now simply calls them “The 7.”
1. We need to address environmental resiliency and recreational needs, including the recovery of imperiled species, with or without a new transmountain diversion (TMD).
2. If a new TMD were to be built, the proponent should involve non-consumptive, environmental and recreational partners upfront, so that the project is designed with environmental and recreational needs in mind, incorporates benefits, and mitigates impacts.”
3. Colorado should continue its commitment to improve municipal conservation and allowable reuse, statewide, with or without a new TMD.
4. If a new TMD were to be built, West Slope needs should be accommodated as part of a package of projects and processes that benefit both East and West slopes.
5. Colorado should develop a collaborative program aimed at preventing a (Colorado River basin) compact curtailment issue from occurring, while protecting existing users from involuntary curtailment (e.g., eminent domain or strict administration).
6. The collaborative program (in point 5) should be voluntary, such as a water bank and other demand management programs, and aimed at protecting current Colorado River water users, and some increment of additional use yet to be defined, but NOT uses associated with a new TMD.
7. If a new TMD were to be built, it would not guarantee delivery of a certain amount of water annually, but instead operate as part of a flexible optimized system, diverting only when water is available, based on triggers Colorado establishes in advance, and relying on East Slope sources of water when not diverting.
At the end of the meeting, Bornstein put up one more statement, which read: “If the feedback from today is incorporated into the conceptual framework, then it is headed in the right direction.”
“No thumbs down,” Bornstein said after surveying the room. “So wonderful, thank you.”
The “original” 7 points
Here are the seven points as originally endorsed upon by the IBCC last year:
1. The East Slope is not looking for firm yield from a new TMD project and would accept hydrologic risk for that project.
2. A new TMD project would be used conjunctively with East Slope interruptible supply agreements, Denver Basin Aquifer resources, carry-over storage, terminal storage, drought restriction savings, and other non-West Slope water sources.
3. In order to manage when a new TMD will be able to divert, triggers are needed.
4. An insurance policy that protects against involuntary curtailment is needed for existing uses and some reasonable increment of future development in the Colorado River system, but it will not cover a new TMD.
5. Future West Slope needs should be accommodated as part of a new TMD project.
6. Colorado will continue its commitment to improve conservation and reuse.
7. Environmental resiliency and recreational needs must be addressed both before and conjunctively with a new TMD.
Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism, The Aspen Times and the Glenwood Springs Post Independent are collaborating on coverage of water and rivers. The Times published this story on Saturday, March 28, 2015.
From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):
Grand Valley residents on Tuesday can weigh in on the statewide water plan that is now before Gov. John Hickenlooper.
The draft plan presented late last year to the governor took no position on whether to propose a transmountain diversion of water from the Western Slope to the Front Range.
There are now 29 west-to-east diversions across the Continental Divide and talks of potential approaches to additional projects are continuing.
The draft statewide plan, as well as plans for management of the Colorado and Gunnison rivers, will be discussed at the 7 p.m. meeting in the Grand Junction City Hall Auditorium, 250 N. Fifth St.
Organizers of the meeting hope to increase awareness of what is in the statewide water plan and, in the longer term, increase understanding of forecasts that anticipate the state’s water needs outstripping its supplies, said Hannah Holm, coordinator of the Water Center at Colorado Mesa University.
Participants will be asked to fill out surveys about the statewide plan, as well as plans for the Gunnison and Colorado rivers.
The meeting is free and open to the public.
More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.
From The Grand Junction Free Press (Hannah Holm):
The three-evening water course, organized by the Water Center at Colorado Mesa University in February, focused on water for agriculture for three primary reasons: 1) agriculture is the historical foundation of western Colorado’s largest communities; 2) it remains an important feature of our economy and landscape; and 3) as the largest consumer of water in a water-short region, significant transfers from agriculture to urban areas are expected in coming decades.
The course examined the climate and legal context for agriculture, how water is used currently, and factors affecting the future of agriculture in Colorado and the rest of the Colorado River Basin. Growing urban demands and the potential for reduced supplies due to climate change are two of the primary factors affecting the water that will be available for agriculture in the future.
Irrigated agriculture accounts for about 89 percent of the water consumed in Colorado and 70-80 percent of the water consumed in the Colorado River Basin as a whole. However, that does not mean that farmers and ranchers themselves account for all that consumption. All of us who eat Colorado-grown beef, sweet corn, onions and peaches and drink Colorado wine, beer and spirits claim a share of Colorado’s consumption, and wearing Arizona-grown cotton and eating California-grown winter lettuce increases our share of Colorado River water use.
Nonetheless, since farmers are the ones whose livelihoods are dependent on access to irrigation water, they are the ones that feel the greatest unease when eyes are cast in ag’s direction to meet growing urban needs, improve flows for the environment, or to prop up water levels in Lake Powell.
East of the Continental Divide are many examples of the devastation that occurs when agricultural water is moved to cities through a simple “buy and dry” process. Once a critical mass of farmers has sold out, it’s tough for those remaining to stay in business, and weeds take over abandoned fields. Just about everyone involved in debates about the future of Colorado water agrees that this is undesirable.
As a result, there’s been lots of talk, and some legislative action, on “alternative transfer methods” that attempt to move water from farms to cities on a rotating, temporary basis that provides additional income to agriculture and keeps land and communities in agriculture over the long term. Such methods are discussed extensively in Colorado’s draft water plan.
While seen as preferable to “buy and dry,” one farmer participating in the water course noted that the acronym “ATM” was a little unsettling, and wondered if cities would really be willing to give back “temporarily” transferred water if commodity prices made using water on the land more appealing than selling it on the market.
Increasing irrigation efficiency, through methods such as drip and sprinkler irrigation and lining and piping ditches, has also been lauded as a way to help balance supply and demand and benefit the environment.
Reducing diversions can certainly benefit stream health, both by keeping flows up and reducing contaminants from agricultural runoff. Several speakers pointed out, however, that more efficiently moving water to exactly where plants can use it will not necessarily lead to an overall reduction in water use. It could instead lead to increases in the total volume of water consumed, as each plant in a field can finally get the water it needs to grow to its full potential. And reducing the amount of water that slowly seeps back to streams from fields can reduce late-season stream flows.
Another complication with agricultural efficiency measures is that they are expensive, and not every method is equally suitable to every crop and soil type — and sometimes it takes awhile to figure out what will really work well. Every mistake can cause a big hit to a farm’s productivity and income.
The silver lining behind the urgency of balancing supply and demand in the Colorado River Basin is that significant brain power and financial resources are being devoted to figuring out how to optimize the use of water in both urban and agricultural areas, and how to wring multiple benefits from every drop. Farmers are getting financial and technical assistance with testing strategies to improve the health and water-holding capacity of their soils, as well as new water delivery strategies. Multi-stakeholder groups are debating the legal and financial mechanisms for how to more flexibly move water around to enhance the resiliency of the whole basin. It’s a time for both wariness and optimism, skepticism and creativity.
To see slides presented at the water course, visit http://www.coloradomesa.edu/watercenter/2015WaterCourse.html.
This is part of a series of articles coordinated by the Water Center at Colorado Mesa University in cooperation with the Colorado and Gunnison Basin Roundtables to raise awareness about water needs, uses and policies in our region. To learn more about the basin roundtables and statewide water planning, and to let the roundtables know what you think, go to http://www.coloradomesa.edu/WaterCenter. You can also find the Water Center on Facebook at http://Facebook.com/WaterCenter.CMU or Twitter at http://Twitter.com/WaterCenterCMU.
More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.
From The Fort Morgan Times (Sara Waite):
The South Platte Basin and Metro Roundtables, which collectively represent the South Platte River Basin, collaborated on a Basin Implementation Plan (BIP). The draft BIPs from each basin were released last summer; the final drafts are due in April.
The two organizations have been seeking public input on the draft South Platte BIP, offering a series of meetings and webinars in various locations throughout the basin.
A video produced by the group to give an overview of the water plan and BIP explains, “A good Colorado plan is a good South Platte plan.” The South Platte basin is a key economic driver of the state, with seven of the state’s top 10 agriculture-producing counties, as well as the Denver metro area and growing communities like Loveland, Greeley and Fort Collins that together account for over half of the state’s economic activity. The basin’s economy is also enhanced by environmental and recreational tourism — skiing, boating, fishing, wildlife viewing and hunting — and is home to the most-visited state parks and the eastern half of the Rocky Mountain National Park.
The South Platte Basin is a leader in water conservation efforts. “Long-standing efforts to conserve and reuse water in order to get the most benefit from available supplies has meant that by the time water flows out of our state, each drop has been used multiple times for different purposes,” the video states.
But a growing population base in the basin and statewide means municipal and industrial water demand could double before 2050, and outpace the state’s current water supply. Following current trends could mean drying up over half of the basin’s irrigated cropland in that time, a practice that, if overused, is “not in the best interest of the Basin nor is it in the best interest of the State.”
The South Platte plan calls for pragmatic solutions that are consistent with Colorado law and property rights. These include a wide range of strategies that could be used in various combinations to meet the gap: conservation and reuse; multi-purpose water projects that include municipal, industrial, recreational and environmental components; agricultural transfers, including alternative transfer methods; Colorado River Basin supplies; and storage projects.
The competing needs present enormous challenges, the BIP notes, and those challenges drive the solutions. Joe Frank, chair of the South Platte Basin Roundtable, has called for public feedback on the solutions outlined in the draft plan to meet current and future water needs.
To learn more about the South Platte BIP and Colorado Water Plan, as well as give feedback on the plan, visit http://www.southplattebasin.com/.