CFWE: Diane Hoppe Leadership Award presented to Gov. John Hickenlooper #COWaterPlan

Governor John Hickenlooper at the Colorado Foundation for Water Education's Diane Hoppe Leadership Award Reception, May 20, 2016.
Governor John Hickenlooper at the Colorado Foundation for Water Education’s Diane Hoppe Leadership Award Reception, May 20, 2016.

The administration of water rights is serious business. Governor Hickenlooper recognized the need for a Colorado Water Plan and then issued an executive order to produce one. Some said that he was asking them to, “Do the impossible,” that is, bring the varied entrenched water interests in Colorado together.

The Colorado Foundation for Water Education presented the Governor with their first Dianne Hoppe Leadership Award yesterday evening. Eric Hecox, board president, cited Hickenlooper’s leadership, dedication to wise governance, and faith in the power of listening to all sides in an issue to find common ground.

The governor credited everyone involved with the Water Plan. He singled out the IBCC and roundtables for their 10 years of effort working the grass roots across Colorado.

Heather Dutton received the Emerging Leader Award. Greg Hobbs’ introduction on Your Colorado Water Blog says, “[Heather Dutton] the newest manager of the San Luis Valley Water Conservancy District, glories in the heritage of the Rio Grande River. She’s a fifth-generation daughter of the Valley’s farming and ranching community, like her father Doug, who farms in the center of the Valley.”

Ms. Dutton thanked her family for their support and also cited the collaboration and mentoring from friends and colleagues.

Nicole Seltzer and the CFWE staff are getting pretty good at throwing these shindigs. I thought it was a great tribute. to change the President’s Award name to the Diane Hoppe Leadership Award. She was instrumental in passing the legislation that established the Colorado Foundation for Water Education. Diane passed this year but leaves a deep legacy.

Here’s a gallery of photos from the event:

Funds sought to improve Holbrook Reservoir outlet — The Pueblo Chieftain

Holbrook Reservoir is in a broad shallow basin formed in overburden soils overlying the Smokey Hill Member of the Niobrara Formation. Photo via Deere & Ault Consultants.
Holbrook Reservoir is in a broad shallow basin formed in overburden soils overlying the Smokey Hill Member of the Niobrara Formation. Photo via Deere & Ault Consultants.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A project to upgrade the outlet flow measurement at Holbrook Reservoir near La Junta was approved by the Arkansas Basin Roundtable Wednesday.

“We’ll be better able to use the storage there,” said Nick Koch, a roundtable member from Cheraw.

The work would construct a new concrete weir at the outlet and armor the channel immediately downstream to reduce erosion. The project will allow flows to be measured in the 1-14 cubic feet per second range, a requirement by the Colorado Division of Water Resources.

It also will lower the outlet by 1 foot to allow better access to water in the reservoir, Koch said.

The reservoir holds about 6,250 acre-feet of water, which benefits farmers on the Holbrook Canal. The canal also leases space to the Recovery of Yield group (Colorado Springs, Aurora and Pueblo), as part of the program that maintains Arkansas River flows through Pueblo. Space is leased in the reservoir by the cities, so water can be exchanged or leased later.

It also provides fishing and boating opportunities, Koch said.

The project would cost $40,150 and would be completed during the Oct. 1-Dec. 15 time frame.

The Holbrook Canal is seeking a $30,000 grant from the Water Supply Reserve Account, which is funded by mineral severance taxes. The grant still must be approved by the Colorado Water Conservation Board, but the roundtable’s blessing is a crucial first step.

The Recovery of Yield Group would supply $8,150, and Holbrook would contribute $2,000.

Straight line diagram of the Lower Arkansas Valley ditches via Headwaters
Straight line diagram of the Lower Arkansas Valley ditches via Headwaters

2016 #coleg: CWCB funding, water project permitting liaison for Gov’s office on the line

From The Colorado Independent (Marianne Woodland) via The Sterling Journal-Advocate:

Two bills that would begin work on the state’s water plan are moving through the legislature in the waning days of the 2016 session.

The first is an annual bill that funds water projects under the direction of the Colorado Water Conservation Board. Among the projects listed in the 2016 measure:

• $200,000 to conduct a study on underground water storage along the Front Range. That study is contained in a bill that’s awaiting a final vote in the Senate. The measure, House Bill 16-1256, looks at water storage on the South Platte, and could include above-ground storage as well. James Eklund, who heads the Colorado Water Conservation Board, told lawmakers earlier this session that they could use existing data to do much of that study.

• $1 million to continue the statewide water supply initiative. Known as SWSI (pronounced SWAY-sea), the initiative, launched in 2010, developed a study that revealed the state would be short 1 million acre-feet of water by 2050. As part of the statewide water plan, the water conservation board pledged to update the 2010 study within the next year.

A second bill, Senate Bill 16-200, would create a position in the governor’s office to act as a liaison between local, state and federal agencies on water project permits for storage, hydroelectric facilities, diversions and more. The hope is the position would decrease the amount of time it takes to get state and federal permits. The position would be short-term, to end by September 2019.

The bill, which was introduced last week, won unanimous approval in the Senate Friday. Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, is sponsoring it in the Senate; Rep. Ed Vigil of Alamosa, a Democrat who chairs the House Agriculture, Livestock and Natural Resources Committee, will be its House sponsor. The bill is supported by Gov. John Hickenlooper, the Colorado Water Conservation Board and several other state agencies, according to Sonnenberg.

Hickenlooper acknowledged the problems with permitting during a news conference Wednesday. He said the Obama administration is open to shortening some of the processes around infrastructure, including water. Some of it is red tape, Hickenlooper said, and some of it is relevant process. The question becomes whether there’s a way to separate out the red tape from appropriate processes, and whether the state needs another person to do that. [ed. emphasis mine]

While Hickenlooper said he is still trying to find ways to eliminate positions, he would defer to the water conservation board and the basin roundtable groups as to whether they have the resources to handle that on their own or if another person is needed to manage that.

It’s not just a time constraint, Hickenlooper said. When the permitting process is extended, the costs climb along with it.

#ColoradoRiver: “There are no passengers on Spaceship Earth, there are only crew members” — Troy Wineland

Colorado River Basin, USBR May 2015
Colorado River Basin, USBR May 2015

From The Summit Daily News (Kevin Fixler):

The major water bodies around Summit County and throughout most of the state are in strong shape after a slightly above-average winter season. However, the region is far from out of the woods on the matter of water in the West.

That was the thrust of speakers at Summit’s 23rd annual State of the River meeting on Wednesday evening, May 4 at the Silverthorne Pavilion — the first of six such meetings along the Colorado River Basin. With the Western Slope encompassing an average of 28 percent of the state’s water and spanning 15 counties, including Summit, this meeting of water wonks often sets the tone on consumption strategy and planning for rest of the year.

“There are no passengers on Spaceship Earth,” Troy Wineland, Summit County’s water commissioner, told the congested room, “there are only crewmembers. We’re all in this together.”

Wineland stressed that despite snowpack totals currently at about 115 percent of average above Dillon Reservoir — and with peak flows still to come around the first or second week of June once meltoff takes hold — circumstances are not as favorable. Other states in the country that also primarily rely on the Colorado River remain at near-critical shortages.

“While things are nice and rosy and wet and looking great here in the county,” he said, “you look throughout the entire Colorado river basin … not quite as rosy. The Lower Basin states right now are facing some very serious problems with access to water and need.”

[…]

WATER WAYS

Both Wineland and Denver Water’s Bob Steger were sure to discuss the present levels at Lake Powell during their respective presentations. Each noted how vital the resource is to every state along the Colorado Basin, even though water has already passed by many of them to arrive to Powell.

Aside from Powell functioning as the chief water supply for drinking, crop irrigation and recreation for 30-to-40 million residents in the region, the Glen Canyon Dam there also provides hydroelectric power. Besides contractual obligations of an annual average of 7.5 million acre-feet at Powell through that basin compact, of course, when water there gets below necessary levels, that has an impact back up to the Upper Basin states with increased electrical bills…

“(Lake Powell) is our bank account against accounts payable to the Lower Basin states,” re-iterated Wineland. “We’re probably within 20 feet of the critical threshold, at which point, Arizona and Nevada are going to have to make some hard decisions and really cut back on their water use.”

CHAMPIONING CONSERVATION

Despite the challenges even in what seems a healthy water year locally, all hope is not lost. The overall tenor of the meeting was mostly positive, with emphasis on how collaborative efforts across Colorado, as well as through such multi-state interdependence and agreements, proper attention on this limited resource is increasing.

Steger, Denver Water’s manager of raw water supply, brought encouraging news that the water from snowpack averages just a couple days ago are not only well above both the 20-year average on Dillon Reservoir (14.6 inches), but also ahead of 2015 (16.5 inches) as well. Current measures are 19.5 inches from this winter’s snowfalls.

On top of that, snowpacks on the South Platte River are also above normal for this time of year. That means Denver Water can most likely avoid pulling much water from Dillon Reservoir through one of its primary transmountain water diversion, Roberts Tunnel, this season for the South Platte and Denver’s consumption needs.

In fact, if that happens, that will continue a beneficial trend where 2014 and 2015 were actually the two lowest years within a 50-plus-year span for how much water has had to be removed from Dillon Reservoir through Roberts for the Platte and North Fork rivers.

“I attribute that partly to Mother Nature,” explained Steger to the audience, “because we’ve had good water supplies on the South Platte, but also our customers are doing a better and better job every year I think of conserving water. When our Eastern Slope supplies are good, that means we don’t have to take as much water from the Western Slope to the other side of the divide. That indirectly helps Lake Powell.”

Wineland also discussed how momentous the unveiling of Colorado’s statewide water plan — years in the making — in November is for the general conservation movement. To boot, regional endeavors like the recent $32,000 Colorado Water Conservation Board grant awarded to the Frisco-based High Country Conservation Center (HC3) for development and execution of a countywide water efficiency program are additional steps in the right direction. His parting words were of encouragement and optimism for the Colorado River Basin’s future.

“I just want to bring it back to the bigger picture,” he said. “We have leaders who are putting forth all this legislation and these cooperative efforts. But what we’re lacking are champions, and those champions, really, are you and I — everyone in this room. We need to take this legislation and work to the next level and implement these changes.”

Glenwood Springs paddling toward whitewater parks, but rapids ahead

Looking up the Colorado River from the mouth of the Roaring Fork River. One of three proposed whitewater parks would be built in the river just upstream of the pedestrian bridge.
Looking up the Colorado River from the mouth of the Roaring Fork River. One of three proposed whitewater parks would be built in the river just upstream of the pedestrian bridge.

By Brent Gardner-Smith, Aspen Journalism

GLENWOOD SPRINGS — In its effort to secure water rights for three proposed whitewater parks on the Colorado River, the city of Glenwood Springs has reached formal or conceptual agreements with a list of opposing parties in the water court case, including Denver Water, but it’s still facing opposition from Aurora and Colorado Springs.

“We have a number of parties that have already settled,” said Mark Hamilton, an attorney with Holland and Hart representing Glenwood. “And while there are still some significant question marks, we think the process so far has been productive and continues to be productive.”

Since December 2013, the city has been seeking a recreational in-channel diversion (RICD) water right tied to three whitewater parks on the popular Grizzly-to-Two Rivers section of the Colorado River, at No Name, Horseshoe Bend and the upper end of Two Rivers Park.

The two wave-forming structures in each of the three whitewater parks would operate under a common water right that could call for 1,250 cubic feet per second of water from April 1 to Sept. 30, 2,500 cfs of water for up to 41 days between April 30 and July 23, and 4,000 cfs on five consecutive days sometime between June 30 and July 6.

The 1,250 cfs level is the same as the senior water right tied to the Shoshone hydropower plant, which is upstream from the three proposed whitewater parks. Glenwood officials have previously said, however, that 2,500 cfs is a better level for boating and floating than 1,250 cfs, and the city wants the flows of 4,000 cfs for five days around the Fourth of July to hold expert whitewater competitions.

But Aurora and Colorado Springs, both as individual cities, and together as the Homestake Partners, have told the water court that Glenwood is seeking more water than it needs.

“Glenwood has ignored the law limiting a RICD to the minimum flow necessary for a reasonable recreation experience, and instead has reverse-engineered its proposed RICD to tie up half the flow of the mainstem of the Colorado River,” the Front Range cities said in a June 2015 statement filed with the court.

And the cities, which own conditional water rights upstream of Glenwood, said that the city’s proposed water right “would dramatically and adversely affect the future of water use in the Colorado River drainage, if not the entire state.”

Hamilton has met twice this year with representatives of Aurora and Colorado Springs, most recently on April 22 in Denver, to see if a deal can be worked out on how much water is appropriate.

“We’re talking,” said Joe Stibrich, the water resources policy manager at Aurora Water. “But, we’ll see where it goes.”

“There are ongoing negotiations and discussions that seem to be productive at this time,” said Kevin Lusk, principal engineer at Colorado Springs Utilities. “Whether or not we can reach agreement, of course, is really up to how those discussions go.”

A status conference with the water court referee is set for June 23. The referee could then decide to send the application up to James Boyd, the judge who hears Division 5 water court cases in Glenwood Springs, or the parties in the case could ask for more time to keep talking before heading to trial.

“We are actively communicating with Colorado Springs and Aurora concerning the possible development of additional call reduction provisions in order to protect future yield to their systems,” Hamilton said. “And we remain hopeful that a stipulated decree may be able to be entered after completion of these ongoing negotiations.”

Glenwood has recently worked out a “call reduction provision” with Denver Water.

“There has been a lot of progress on our end with the RICD discussions,” said Travis Thompson, a senior media coordinator at Denver Water. “In fact, in the collaborative spirit of the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement (CRCA), Denver Water has agreed to allow Glenwood Springs to exceed 1,250 cfs under certain conditions.”

In the CRCA, signed in 2013, Denver Water agreed not to oppose a future recreational water right application if it did not seek flows greater than 1,250 cfs. But given that Glenwood is also seeking 46 days at 2,500 cfs and five days at 4,000 cfs, above the relatively consistent flow of 1,250 cfs, Denver did file a statement of opposition in this case.

Glenwood and Denver have now agreed that Glenwood would reduce its call for the whitewater parks to 1,250 cfs if continuing to call at a higher rate, such as 2,500 cfs, would limit a potential future water project that is described in the CRCA as providing 20,000 acre-feet to the East Slope.

Staff at Denver Water approved such an agreement with Glenwood on March 9, according to Thompson, and Hamilton said a copy would soon be filed with the court.

A map filed by the city of Glenwood Springs showing the locations of three proposed whitewater parks. The city is seeking non-consumptive recreational in-channel diversion (RICD) rights tied to six rock structures built in the river, two in each of the three parks.
A map filed by the city of Glenwood Springs showing the locations of three proposed whitewater parks. The city is seeking non-consumptive recreational in-channel diversion (RICD) rights tied to six rock structures built in the river, two in each of the three parks.

Other opposers

Glenwood enjoys the support of three “opposers” in the case: American Whitewater, Western Resource Advocates and Grand County, as the entities have filed statements “of opposition in support,” which is an option in Colorado’s water courts.

And Glenwood has now filed formal agreements in water court that it has reached with five other true opposers with a range of issues: Glenwood Springs Hot Springs & Lodge Pool, Inc., BLM, Grand Valley Water Users Association, Orchard Mesa Irrigation District, and Ute Water Conservancy District.

The Glenwood Hot Springs Lodge & Pool is concerned about the project disrupting the deep Leadville limestone aquifer that provides its hot water.

But they’ve reached an agreement with the city that allows them to review construction plans for the wave structures at the Two Rivers Park location and requires the city to monitor the resulting wave structures for five years to watch for scouring of the riverbed, among other provisions.

And an agreement between Glenwood and the BLM was filed with the court in June 2015. It says that if the city needs to cross BLM property to create a whitewater park in Horseshoe Bend then the city will go through the required federal land use process.

The city has also signed a memorandum of understanding with CDOT that moves issues coming from the use of land at the No Name rest area on I-70 out of water court and into a future potential land-use application.

“One of the conditions is that the city will have to work with CDOT as they move forward with building the whitewater park, as the (No Name) location falls in CDOT right-of-way,” said Tracy Trulove, a communications manager for CDOT. The agreement has yet to be filed with the court.

A graphic presented to the Glenwood Springs city council in December showing the size and timing of the city's water right application on the Colorado River. The large dark blue block at the bottom represents a seasonal base line flow of 1,250 cfs. The smaller block on top represents 46 days at 2,500, the narrow dark blue spike is 5 days at 4,000 cfs.
A graphic presented to the Glenwood Springs city council in December showing the size and timing of the city's water right application on the Colorado River. The large dark blue block at the bottom represents a seasonal base line flow of 1,250 cfs. The smaller block on top represents 41 days at 2,500, the narrow dark blue spike is 5 days at 4,000 cfs.

District support

The city is also close to finalizing agreements with the Colorado River District, the town of Gypsum, and the West Divide Water Conservancy District, according to Hamilton.

Peter Fleming, general counsel for the Colorado River District, which represents 15 West Slope counties, said staff at the district is now comfortable with proposed settlement language in the Glenwood case.

And he said once the district’s initial goals in a RICD case are met, the district often stays in the case on the side of the applicants “in order to support the right of its constituents to use water for recreational purposes that will support and/or enhance the local economy.”

“We anticipate that such participation may be necessary in the Glenwood Springs RICD case,” Fleming said.

At the end of the list of opposers is the Colorado Water Conservation Board, a state agency whose board of directors in June 2015 recommended against the proposed RICD after concluding it would “impair Colorado’s ability to fully develop its compact entitlements” and would not promote “the maximum beneficial use of water” in the state.

“While we stand by our initial decision on this RICD, we’re encouraged that the applicants are actively seeking resolution with stakeholders and hope they will resolve the issues we raised,” James Eklund, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, said this week.

Eklund said the CWCB staff will likely reconsider Glenwood’s proposal after it has reached agreements with other opposing parties in the case, and if staff is satisfied, bring the proposed decree back to the board.

“Water for recreation in Glenwood Springs and around Colorado is essential and we want to make sure all RICDs strike the right legal, design, and safety balance,” Eklund said.

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism and the Aspen Daily News are collaborating on coverage of water and rivers in Colorado. The Daily News published this story on Saturday, April 30, 2016.

CWCB: April 2016 #Drought Update

Colorado Drought Monitor April 19, 2016.
Colorado Drought Monitor April 19, 2016.

Here’s the release from the Colorado Water Conservation Board (Ben Wade):

Recent precipitation delivered 103 percent of average April precipitation to-date, helping to boost overall snowpack and alleviate drought conditions across parts of Colorado. Regions of the central mountains and Front Range saw as much as 3 inches of precipitation, Monte Vista received a quarter of their average annual precipitation in just one storm. With short and long term forecasts favoring continued precipitation, and good reservoir storage, water providers have no immediate concerns. Agricultural producers are also in good shape with many looking to increase production this season to compensate for low commodity prices.

  • Statewide water year to-date precipitation as reported from NRCS is at 98% of average, with the southern portion of the state experiencing drier conditions than the northern half.
  • Despite recent precipitation, much of the state has seen above normal temperatures in March and April. Forecasts indicate that warmer temperatures are likely to continue into the spring.
  • Statewide NRCS SNOTEL water year-to-date precipitation is 98 percent of normal. The Upper Rio Grande has the lowest year-to-date precipitation at 87 percent of average, while the South Platte has the highest at 112 percent of average.
  • Reservoir storage statewide remains above normal at 111 percent. The Arkansas and Yampa/White basins have the highest storage levels in the state at 120 percent of average; the Upper Rio Grande has the lowest storage levels at 94 percent, just slightly below normal.
  • The Surface Water Supply Index (SWSI) as of April 1st is near or above average across the majority of the state. At this time of year the index reflects reservoir storage and streamflow forecasts. The lower Arkansas has seen large increases in storage over the last year and has some of the highest SWSI values in the state.
  • Streamflow forecasts are slightly below normal across many regions of the state with most forecasts ranging between 70-89 percent of average. The North Platte has the highest forecast in the state at 111 percent of average while the Purgatoire has the lower at just 69 percent of average.
  • The long term experimental forecast favors above average probability of precipitation through spring, with eastern Colorado favored more than the rest of the state. The strong El Nino event is likely to dissipate over the coming months but it is unclear if persistent La Nina conditions will develop. La Nina events tend to result in drier conditions across Colorado, but more so during later years of long-lived events.
  • The Pacific Decadal Oscillation tied its record high in March after more than two years above normal, which would tend to inhibit the development of a strong La Nina event or lessen its impacts.
  • Click here to read my Tweets from the meeting on Monday.

    Denver Water official says more West Slope water projects ‘not on our radar’

    The dam that forms Gross Reservoir, located in the mountains west of Boulder. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism
    The dam that forms Gross Reservoir, located in the mountains west of Boulder. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    By Brent Gardner-Smith, Aspen Journalism

    LOVELAND – Mike King, the new director of planning for Denver Water, said at a recent meeting that beyond additional transmountain diversions through the Moffatt Tunnel into an expanded Gross Reservoir near Boulder, Denver Water doesn’t have other Western Slope projects on its radar.

    King served as executive director of Colorado’s Department of Natural Resources from 2010 until January of this year, when he took the planning director job with Denver Water.

    After speaking to a luncheon crowd of close to 200 at the Northern Water Conservancy District’s spring water users meeting in Loveland on April 13, King was asked from the audience “How much more water does Denver Water need from the Western Slope?”

    “I think if we get Gross Reservoir approved, the answer is for the foreseeable future, you know, we need to do that first,” King said.

    King is a native of Montrose, son of a water attorney, and has a journalism degree from CU Boulder, a law degree from the University of Denver, a master’s in public administration from CU Denver and 23 years of state government experience.

    “And I can tell you that the reality is, whether it is from a permitting perspective or a regulatory perspective, the West Slope is going to be a very difficult place,” King continued. “If there is water available, it is going to be a last resort. And I so think that the answer is, that won’t be on our radar.”

    Denver Water is seeking federal approval to raise the dam that forms Gross Reservoir, in the mountains west of Boulder, by 131 feet. That would store an additional 77,000 acre-feet of water and bring the reservoir capacity to 118,811 acre-feet. Ruedi Reservoir, by comparison, holds 102,373 acre-feet.

    The $360 million project would provide 18,000 acre-feet of firm yield to Denver Water’s system and result in an additional 15,000 acre-feet of water being diverted from the West Slope each year. On average, Denver Water’s 1.3 million customers use about 125,000 acre-feet of West Slope water each year.

    The water to fill an expanded Gross Reservoir would mainly come from tributaries of the Fraser and Williams Fork rivers, via the Moffat Tunnel, near Winter Park.

    Beyond the Gross Reservoir project, King explained that any future Denver Water projects on the West Slope would need to fit within the confines of the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement, signed by Denver Water and 17 West Slope entities in 2013.

    The CRCA, says that “if there is more water, it only comes after the West Slope says they agree with it and it makes sense,” King said. “That sets the bar so incredibly high and gives them the ultimate ability to say, ‘This is good for the West Slope.’

    “And so I just don’t think Denver Water is going to be looking to the West Slope,” King continued. “I think anybody who manages natural resources, and water in particular, will never say ‘never’ to anything, but I think it is certainly not on our radar.”

    Not on Denver Water’s radar, perhaps, but it is worth noting that Denver Water is the only major Front Range water provider to have signed the cooperative agreement with the West Slope.

    When asked what he thought of King’s remarks about West Slope water, Eric Kuhn, the general manager of the Colorado River District said he thought the comments reflect “the concept that if Denver takes more water from the West Slope it could undermine the security/reliability of what they already take.”

    Kuhn’s comment relates to the possibility that if Denver Water diverts too much water from the Western Slope, it could help trigger a compact call from the lower basin states, which could pinch Denver’s transmountain supply of water.

    Editor’s note: Above is a recording of Mike King, the director of planning for Denver Water, speaking after lunch in front of about 200 people at Northern Water’s spring water users meeting, a public meeting held at The Ranch event center in Loveland on Wednesday, April 13, 2016. The recording, made by Aspen Journalism, begins shortly after King had begun his remarks. It is 26:34 in length. At 8:20, King discusses the development of the Colorado Water Plan. At 22:40, King answers a question about the governor’s endorsement of the Windy Gap project and another phrased as “How much more water does Denver Water need from the Western Slope?”)

    A buoyant crowd

    Earlier in the meeting engineers from Northern Water — which supplies water to cities and farms from Broomfield to Fort Collins — told the mix of water providers and water users from northeastern Colorado that they could expect an average spring runoff this year, both from the South Platte and the Colorado Rivers.

    They were also told that Northern Water was making progress on its two biggest projects: the Windy Gap Firming Project, which includes construction of Chimney Hollow Reservoir near Berthoud; and NISP, the Northern Integrated Supply Project.

    NISP includes two new reservoirs, Glade and Galeton, to be filled with East Slope water from the Cache La Poudre River, which runs through Fort Collins and into the South Platte River.

    Just before lunch, John Stulp, the special policy advisor on water to Gov. John Hickenlooper, read a surprise letter from the governor endorsing the Windy Gap project, which would divert an additional 9,000 acre-feet of water each year, on average, from the upper Colorado River and send it through a tunnel toward Chimney Hollow.

    Windy Gap is part of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project, which diverts on average 260,000 acre-feet a year from the Western Slope.

    The Windy Gap project does include environmental mitigation measures for the sake of the Colorado River, and has approval from the required state agencies and Grand County, but it still needs a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

    Looking east toward the Chimney Hollow Reservoir site, which is just this side of the red ridge. On the other side is Carter Lake Reservoir and beyond that, the Loveland area.
    Looking east toward the Chimney Hollow Reservoir site, which is just this side of the red ridge. On the other side is Carter Lake Reservoir and beyond that, the Loveland area.
    A graphic from Northern Water showing the lay out of Windy Gap Firming Project.
    A graphic from Northern Water showing the lay out of Windy Gap Firming Project.

    A political risk

    After lunch, King shared some insights from his old job as head of the state’s department of natural resources.

    “I think it’s important that you understand what the development of the state water plan looked like from the governor’s perspective and the state’s perspective,” King told his audience.

    As head of DNR, King had oversight over the Colorado Water Conservation Board, which was specifically tasked by the governor in late 2013 to produce the state’s first-ever water plan, and to do so in just two years.

    King said that he, Stulp and the governor knew that a water plan in Colorado could be “the place where political careers went to die.”

    “So the thing we had to make sure that came out of this, knowing that we weren’t going to solve the state’s water issues in two years, was that we had to do this in a manner that politically, this was viewed as a big win, and that future governors and future elected officials would say, ‘We need to do this again and we need to continue this discussion,’” King said.

    “Not because the governor needed a political win,” King added, “but because to have the next stage of the water plan, to have the discussion in five years, you can’t have an albatross around this, and I think we were able to do that, and so we’re very proud of that.

    “If we had a political mushroom cloud, no one would have ever touched the Colorado Water Plan again,” King continued. “That meant we aimed a little bit lower than maybe we would have liked, and I’ve gotten this at Denver Water, talking about lost opportunities in the Colorado Water Plan. Maybe we did aim just a little bit lower than we should have.”

    King said the state was not able to “reconcile the inherent conflicts” in the various basin implementation plans, or BIPs, that were put together by regional basin roundtables as part of the water planning process.

    And he acknowledged that the plan has been criticized for not including a specific list of water projects supported by the state, and for reading more like a statement of problems and values than a working plan.

    “One of things that has been driven home to me time and time again in the two months that I’ve been at Denver Water is that planning is not something you do every five or six years,” King said. “Planning is a continuous process.”

    King also said that there were some “tremendous successes” in the water plan, including the basin implantation plans, or BIPs, even though they sometimes conflicted.

    “We got BIPs from every single basin,” King said. “The basins turned over their cards and said ‘This is what we need.’ So now we have a major step forward.”

    The "wedge-wheel" graphic that summarizes the approach of the Colorado Water Plan.

    Other plan elements

    King said other successes in the Colorado Water Plan include the stated goal of conserving 400,000 acre-feet of water by 2050 and a nod to changing land use planning in Colorado.

    King said tying land use to water availability “was something we never discussed in Colorado because it infringed on local control and it was just kind of a boogieman in the room.”

    But he pointed out that “the vast majority of the basin implementation plans said, expressly, ‘We need to have this discussion’ and ‘We need to start tying land use to water availability,’” King said. “That’s a good thing. That’s a major step forward.”

    When it comes to land use and Denver Water, King said driving down the per capita use remained a high priority and that if Denver proper grows, it is going to grow up through taller buildings, not by sprawling outward.

    King also said Denver Water was working to manage, and plan for, the already apparent effects of climate change, especially as spring runoff is now coming earlier than it used to.

    “We know that the flows are coming earlier, we know that the runoff is coming earlier,” King said, noting that reality is causing Denver Water to plan for different scenarios and ask questions about storage and late summer deliveries of water.

    “For us, the most immediate thing is, is that we know it’s getting warmer,” King said. “In the last 20 years we’ve seen that, the way the [run offs] are coming earlier. We know we’ve had catastrophic events that are incredibly difficult for us to manage. And so we’re trying to work through that.”

    Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism, the Aspen Daily News and Coyote Gulch are collaborating on coverage of rivers and water. The Daily News published this story on Wednesday, April 20, 2016.