Dolores River: @CWCB_DNR instream right calls out Groundhog Reservoir diversion until November 1

View to southwest, looking down on Groundhog Reservoir. Photo via
View to southwest, looking down on Groundhog Reservoir. Photo via

From The Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga):

The call was initiated to satisfy in-stream flow rights below McPhee Dam of 78 cubic feet per second, but local water managers say the water will never get there.

In-stream flow rights are administered by the water board to preserve the natural environment in state rivers to a reasonable degree. They are a priority water right senior to some, but junior to others.

A call is made to maintain a water right’s priority in the Colorado system of prior appropriation, commonly referred to as “first in line, first in right.”

Because of the call initiated this month, a man-made ditch diverting water from Little Fish creek and Clear creek to Groundhog was shut off, allowing the creeks to flow naturally into the Dolores River via the West Fork.

Marty Robbins, District 32 water commissioner for the Department of Natural Resources, said the call caused water administrators to enforce Groundhog’s one-time fill system that legally allows the reservoir to only fill from Nov. 1 to May 1. Groundhog Reservoir, owned by the Montezuma Valley Irrigation Co., typically diverts the streams into the reservoir year-round.

“Just because it has been done before, does not mean it can when there is a call,” Robbins said. “These calls may happen more regularly.”

On Nov. 1, the reservoir will go back on priority for filling, and the diversion ditch will be reopened, officials said.

The administrative call sends the creek water into the upper Dolores River and McPhee Reservoir, managed by the Dolores Water Conservancy District.

But Dolores Water Conservation District general manager Mike Preston says the extra water will stay in the reservoir and not flow through the dam to the lower Dolores River.

“McPhee’s water rights are senior to that in-stream flow right, and we have a storage right that allows for refill,” he said.

The in-stream flow water right on the Lower Dolores River is intended to preserve habitat for native fish, including the round-tail chub, bluehead sucker, and flannelmouth sucker. Federal and state biologists have reported that an increase in flows below the dam is needed to improve native fish habitat.

But the unexpected call by the state for delivery of in-stream water rights had an unintended consequence of threatening trout elsewhere, said Montezuma County Commissioner Larry Don Suckla.

The diversion ditch from Clear Creek to Groundhog Reservoir supports trout population, he said, but they became doomed when the water was cut off.

“Explain to me how water can be diverted for native fish, but is allowed to hurt trout?” he said.

Brandon Johnson, manager for the Montezuma Valley Irrigation Co., said the Colorado Water Conservation Board’s administrative “call presents issues at Groundhog we were not anticipating.”

The Colorado Water Conservation Board also made administrative calls for in-stream flows rights on other rivers in the state to establish that the rights exist and to reveal if any water users are out of priority, officials said. The calls were made after irrigation season so they would be the least disruptive.

The additional water flowing into McPhee as a result of the call will be divided among allocation holders in 2017, Dolores Water Conservation District officials said.

Dolores River watershed
Dolores River watershed

White River: Wolf Creek Reservoir? #COWaterPlan

White River via Wikimedia
White River via Wikimedia

From The Craig Daily Press (Randy Baumgardner and Bob Rankin):

Our main takeaway from the meeting and subsequent tour was that the proposed Wolf Creek Reservoir project is a gem in the making for Colorado. In light of the governor’s water plan for the state, and his recent announcement that he wants to ensure that the we improve efficiencies and streamline the regulatory process for completing water projects in Colorado, it was highly encouraging to us to see a plan and a project like this in the works. Following our visit, we are confident that the Wolf Creek Reservoir can be an example and set the standard for how such projects can work, and we also both feel strongly that, for this reason, the Wolf Creek Reservoir should be made a priority within the state’s water plan.

More specifically, this project will bring a number of important regional benefits: it will provide the Town of Rangely with the quality and quantity of water necessary to serve their needs and address the growing water crisis that they are facing; it will assist in conservation efforts, providing possible opportunities for enhancing endangered fish species recovery; and, crucially, it will provide diversification to the local and regional economy through the tremendous recreational options it affords — offering growth and economic opportunity to an area that has been hit hard due to the drop in oil and gas prices, and other external and political factors that have ravaged the local energy industry. We will, of course, continue to work together at the state Capitol to address some of the political issues facing our energy sector; but in the meantime, seeing a project of this magnitude and importance begin to spring to life in this part of our state is extremely encouraging to us, as we are sure it is to the residents of Rangely and the whole area.

This project has great potential to offer incredible returns to both Rio Blanco and Moffat counties. The recreational opportunities alone will certainly enhance the quality of life for the region as well as diversify the local economy, as it will draw people not only from around the region and the rest of the state, but from neighboring states as well.

We both believe that it is time for the state and the various stakeholders involved to get behind making this project a reality. This is a perfect example of how the state can prioritize helping western Colorado. In particular, we would ask the governor to put his support behind it, and to use this as an opportunity to prove his commitment to speeding up the permitting process…

Sen. Randy Baumgardner and Rep. Bob Rankin composed this Op-Ed.

LAVWCD has a plan to increase and reallocate storage in John Martin Reservoir

Arkansas River Basin via The Encyclopedia of Earth
Arkansas River Basin via The Encyclopedia of Earth

From The La Junta Tribune-Democrat:

A new proposal for storage in John Martin Reservoir will benefit both Kansas and Colorado, said Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District Manager Jay Winner on Wednesday

A new proposal for storage in John Martin Reservoir will benefit both Kansas and Colorado, said Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District Manager Jay Winner on Wednesday. This proposal is in line with the Colorado Water Plan. The plan was presented by LAVWCD Engineer Mike Weber. Phase I is paid for by a Water Supply Reserve Account grant supplied by the Colorado Water Conservation Board. Research by LAVWCD has determined water users which could potentially use the John Martin Reservoir Account. LAVWCD has also determined the types of water available to those entities that would be suitable for storage at JMR. Those entities include Kansas and Colorado District 67 Ditches (Fort Bent, Keesee, Amity, Lamar, Hyde, Manvel, X-Y Graham, Buffalo and Sisson-Stubbs). Amity is largest user at 49.5 percent of Colorado’s share. This would be in Phase II, if the plan is accepted at the meeting of the 2016 Colorado Kansas Arkansas River Compact. Down the line and several years in the future, other potential users of the storage in JMR might include Catlin Augmentation Association, City of La Junta, City of Lamar, Colorado Water Protection and Development Association, and water conservancy districts such as LAVWCD.

John Martin Reservoir back in the day
John Martin Reservoir back in the day

A permanent pool of 10,000 acre-feet is to be maintained at JMR and is to remain there as authorized by the 1976 resolution, for the purposes of recreation and not subject to a tax.

Several other projects were presented by Winner and commented upon by the Board of Directors, all of whom were present except Legal Director Melissa Esquibel. The North La Junta Water Conservancy District Project, Phase 2, will go before the Otero County Commissioners on Oct. 24, having passed the Otero County Planning Commission. A request has been made to negotiate the contract with the Pueblo Reservoir for 25 years rather than year by year. A commercial building in McClave has been purchased by the LAVWCD to locate some of its offices, notably the engineering having to do with Rule 10, nearer the location of the sites. Agreement with Water Quality through the Department of Agriculture is being sought. Another project had to do with sealing the irrigation ponds and testing for selenium in the ground.

The City of Fountain is contributing $24,000 more than their original $50,000 to the fund for cleaning up Fountain Creek. The other $200,000 is divided equally between the City of Pueblo and the LAVWCD. The money for the project is coming from the Aurora refund, said Winter.

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

Vail: Economic Development Council of Colorado forum recap

Gore Creek is healthy as it emerges from the Eagles Nest Wilderness Area, but has problems soon after, via The Mountain Town News. All photos by Jack Affleck.
Gore Creek is healthy as it emerges from the Eagles Nest Wilderness Area, but has problems soon after, via The Mountain Town News. All photos by Jack Affleck.

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

Colorado’s future economic development is integrally related to availability of water, and at least one industry, agriculture, could face increasing threats as demand grows for the increasingly scarce resource, speakers said at a forum this week.

“Sometimes I really feel there is a bullseye on my back,” sweet corn grower Robert Sakata of Brighton said at a conference hosted by the Economic Development Council of Colorado.

Availability and reliability of water is important to produce growers, said Sakata, who pointed to a recent state study that predicted 700,000 acres of irrigated agricultural land in the state could dry up by 2050 if the state continues on its current path.

That would result from factors such as growers lacking sufficient water to make their operations work or selling valuable water rights to meet booming municipal and industrial demand.

Colorado has finalized a state water plan aimed at addressing looming shortfalls as the state’s population is expected to grow from about 5.5 million today to 8.6 million by 2050. The plan incorporates measures such as increased conservation and additional water storage.

But James Eklund, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, noted at this week’s forum that the plan requires about $20 billion in spending by 2050 for water projects.

Water service providers will pay for about two-thirds of that through the rates they charge consumers, and the state will fill in some of the remaining cost, but Eklund said there needs to be discussions about how to obtain more revenue.

Linn Brooks, general manager of the Eagle River Water Sanitation District, which provides water to much of Eagle County, called some new level of reservoir construction “a reality for us.”

“We need more water. We need more storage. The easy water we’ve already gotten. It’s just going to be harder and harder,” she said.

Hard can mean expensive and time-consuming, including for permitting, and especially when the federal government is involved in the permitting process. Eklund said some projects involve multiple project managers because the projects outlive the managers.

“That’s not agile. It’s not going to be responsive to the challenges,” he said, calling for a more efficient review process that still protects the environment.

Elizabeth Garner, Colorado’s state demographer, said the expense of providing water is a cost-of-living and amenity consideration that could influence future migration to the state. She cited a number of factors that are expected to negatively impact household incomes in the state in coming years and wonders to what degree that will affect how much people are willing to pay for water.

Meanwhile, water lawyer Steve Sims said availability of water will remain an initial question that businesses ask as they look to move to the state or expand here.

Efforts to increase water-use efficiency and cooperate with others will stretch supplies, but water presents a natural-
resource challenge that isn’t a win-win one in the long term, he said.

“There are win-lose situations. … That’s always the situation when you’re allocating a very scarce resource,” he said.

He said the key to keeping agricultural operations in business is making sure they have access to capital and talent so they can make money and not feel pressure to sell out.

Fort Collins (CSU): Explaining Western water law, October 24, 2016 @CWCB_Linda

Prior appropriation example via
Prior appropriation example via

Here’s the release from Colorado State University (Jim Beers):

Learning more about the complexities and inner-workings of western water law is the purpose behind the 2016 Interdisciplinary Water Resources Seminar series. The series will discuss topics including the history and evolution of western water law; state compacts and federal water law; hybrid water law systems; water quality law; groundwater law; and environmental law. The seminar series will provide attendees the opportunity for in-depth discussion about water-related court cases and interaction with prominent water resource professionals.

Each seminar is held Monday at 4 p.m. in the Behavioral Sciences Building, Room 103. All faculty, students, off-campus water professionals, and members of the Fort Collins community who are interested in water and western water law are invited to attend.

For individuals unable to attend, the seminars will be recorded and uploaded online. The full semester schedule is accessible here. Or there’s more information regarding all of the Interdisciplinary Water Resources Seminars.

Linda Bassi’s talk

Linda Bassi, chief of the Colorado Water Conservation Board’s Stream and Lake Protection Section, will speak on Monday, Oct. 24. Her lecture will be “Evolution of the Law Governing Colorado’s Instream Flow and Natural Lake Level Program.” Bassi will trace the laws and court opinions that have shaped the Instream Flow and Natural Lake Level Program to address policy issues and meet evolving needs related to protecting valuable natural resources.

Bassi is responsible for all facets of the Colorado Water Conservation Board’s Stream and Lake Protection Section including: legal protection; monitoring enforcement of the Board’s new and old instream flow water rights; acquisitions of instream flow by the Board; and development of legislation, policies, and rules related to the program. Prior to working for the Board, Bassi worked in the Colorado Attorney General’s Office representing the Division of Water Resources and the Colorado Water Conservation Board on various water rights issues.

#Colorado Water Trust Presents: The Great Divide Screening and Fundraiser @COWaterTrust


Click here to buy your tickets. Here’s the pitch from the Colorado Water Trust:


The destiny of the west is written in the headwaters of Colorado. Tens of millions of people, billions of dollars of agricultural production, and an enormous amount of economic activity across a vast swath of America from California to the Mississippi River are all dependent on rivers born in the mountains of Colorado. In this time of increasing demand and limited supply, it is essential to promote a more informed and inclusive discussion concerning decisions affecting our water resources.

VIP Reception starts at 5:30pm in Henderson’s Lounge followed by the screening.

Proceeds from the event will go to support the Colorado Water Trust:

The Colorado Water Trust is a private, nonprofit organization whose mission is to restore flows to Colorado’s rivers in need. Founded in 2001, the Colorado Water Trust coordinates market-based water transactions, water-sharing agreements, infrastructure projects, and other creative solutions to restore flows to our state’s dry rivers and streams. Together with our diverse partners throughout the state, we are restoring habitat for fish and other wildlife, improving local economic opportunities, and where lost, returning to Colorado’s landscape the beauty of a flowing river.

Here’s the Coyote Gulch review of The Great Divide:

“I used to be a orthodox card-carrying humanities academic with contempt for the manipulations of nature that engineers perpetrated. And then, I realized how much a beneficiary I was of those perpetrations.” — Patty Limerick (The Great Divide)

This is an important film and Ms. Limerick hits the nail on the head with her statement. When folks understand the history of Colorado and how water has shaped that history, when they learn about the disease and hardship that goes hand in hand with scarcity of water here in the arid west, when they witness the bounty from plains farms and the western valleys and the economic drivers associated with Colorado’s cities, when they take time to sit down to talk and learn from neighbors and others, opinions can change, understanding can grow, problems can be solved, and opportunities can be realized.

Jim Havey and the filmmakers set out an ambitious goal, that is, the telling of Colorado’s water story, without advocacy and without pointing fingers. The Great Divide accomplishes the telling using a superb screenplay written by Stephen Grace, the stunning footage by Jim Havey, along with the old photographs and maps of Colorado (and the Colorado River Basin).

Prior appropriation and anti-speculation are big ideas that form the foundation of Colorado water law. Article XVI of the Colorado Constitution includes detail about the preferred uses and the rights of diverters to cross private land to put the public’s water to beneficial use. All water in Colorado belongs to the citizens but diverters gain a property right allowing them to use the water.

The filmmakers manage to explain these details well during the film. The film describes the law, the compacts between states, river administration, and the 21st Century world of water. They emphasize the work and pioneering efforts needed to get Colorado where it is today.

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

Starting with the San Luis People’s ditch (the oldest water right in continuous use in Colorado — 1852) Coloradans have built out many projects large and small to put the water to beneficial use. The Great Divide describes many of these projects including the big US Bureau of Reclamation projects, Colorado-Big Thompson, Fryingpan-Arkansas, the Aspinall Unit, and what many think will be USBR’s last big project, Aninas-La Plata.

According to the film an early project, Cheesman Dam on the South Platte River, enabled delivery of high quality water to the City of Denver which had been plagued by outbreaks of cholera and other waterborne diseases.

These projects have gotten Colorado to this point with over 5 million residents and a diversified economy. However, in the documentary the head of Denver Water Jim Lochhead states, “If we grow the next 5 million people the way we’ve grown the last 5 million — that may not be sustainable.”

There is a tension between environmentalists and water developers in today’s Colorado, highlighted by the film. The Great Divide explores the historical roots of the environmental movement starting with the Sierra Club effort to save Echo Park on the Yampa River, up through the legislation allowing the Colorado Water Conservation Board to hold and establish instream flow rights, the successful efforts to block groundwater withdrawals in the San Luis Valley for Front Range growth, and the mammoth decision to not permit the Two Forks Reservoir on the the South Platte River.


The City of Denver and many of the suburbs were counting on that project for future needs. It is interesting to note that the loss of Two Forks led to increased groundwater withdrawals from the Denver Basin Aquifer System and an increase in purchases of agricultural rights by municipal systems. Both of these alternatives are unsustainable but have led to recharge projects, water reuse projects by Denver Water and Aurora Water, along with serious efforts to allow alternative transfer methods for agricultural water that would protect farmers and keep the water with the land. The Great Divide touches on these newer more sustainable solutions.

Drought is a constant possibility in Colorado. The film shows how the drought of the 1930s spurred northeastern Colorado to line up behind the Colorado-Big Thompson Project for new supplies and storage.

US Drought Monitor August 6, 2002
US Drought Monitor August 6, 2002

When things turned around after the drought of 2002 The Great Divide informs us that municipalities had to rethink conservation efforts and that pumpers with insufficient augmentation water were shut down. Denver Water managed to cut per capita consumption by 20% below pre-2002 levels and other utilities noted similar savings.

The film examines the aftermath of the 2002 drought and the efforts by the Colorado legislature which passed the Colorado Water for the 21st Century Act. It established the Interbasin Compact Committee (IBCC) and the nine basin roundtables. The roundtables and the IBCC were formed as a forum to share needs but most importantly share values. One of the outcomes of the effort has been the realization, stated in the film by Travis Smith that, “We are more connected than we’d like to admit.”

Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013
Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013

This connectedness, along with the need to solve looming wide-ranging supply gaps were the motivation for Governor Hickenlooper to issue an executive order to the Colorado Water Conservation Board to create Colorado’s first ever water plan. The Governor has an opportunity to present his view of the need for the plan in the film. He touches on the fact that however the plan turns out it will be built by the grass roots.

During his introduction of the film Justice Gregory Hobbs advised us to listen to the words along with viewing the images. He was right, the narrative by Peter Coyote engages and informs. You cannot listen to Mr. Grace’s words without learning at the same time. And that’s the point right? Educate and inform with an accurate representation of Colorado water issues and history…

The film is a stellar vehicle for educating and generating conversation. Go see it when you can, buy the book, and then start talking and teaching.

#COWaterPlan: The latest issue of “Colorado Water” is hot off the presses from the #Colorado Water Institute

McInnis Canyon National Recreation Area via the BLM
McInnis Canyon National Recreation Area via the BLM

From the Colorado Water Institute:

Director’s Letter (Reagan Waskom):

The release of the Colorado Water Plan ushers in a new era in our water management, where environmental and recreational values are given the same sense of urgency as traditional water development. As communities look for ways to get involved in Water Plan implementation at the local
level, Stream Management Plans (SMPs) are an excellent place to get started.

The concept of the SMPs is still new, with only a few communities having completed or in the process of working on their plans. So, there is plenty for everyone to learn, and the existing plans that are featured in this issue of Colorado Water provide inspiring models for how the plans can
go beyond previous efforts and help to bring communities together.

The Colorado Water Plan highlighted the need for SMPs as a tool to protect watershed health, the environment, and recreation in Colorado. It stated an ambitious goal to “cover 80 percent of the locally prioritized lists of rivers with SMPs by…2030.” SMPs are stakeholder-driven management plans that shepherd environmental and recreational goals and values into actionable projects aimed at “maintaining or improving flow regimes and other physical conditions,” for localized environmental and recreational water uses. Per the Water Plan, SMPs “can provide a framework [to basin roundtables, local stakeholders, and decision makers] for decision making and project implementation.” This special issue of the Colorado Water newsletter is intended to serve as an initial resource guide with topics including an overview of what SMPs are, the steps of the process, available tools, and shared lessons learned from select case studies around the state. The case studies here, alongside others we were unable to include, provide a foundation of water management collaborations that have involved professionals and committed staff who are working on similar issues in every major river basin. Special thanks goes to CSU alumna Claudia Browne from Biohabitats for spearheading.

Two workshops supported by the Colorado Water Conservation Board provided forums for many of the contributors to gather and share these resources in August and October 2016. Workshop presenters included: representatives from the Colorado Water Conservation Board, the Colorado Water Trust, Trout Unlimited, The Nature Conservancy, Open Water Foundation, American Rivers, CSU, the City of Steamboat, and consultants, among others. Bridging the gap between academia and practitioners, CSU students, faculty, alumni, and partners are bringing integrated science, engineering, and social tools to the table. The process should yield better outcomes for Colorado’s streams and rivers as SMPs are implemented.

SMPs are one part of the many approaches outlined in the Colorado Water Plan to secure future water supplies while protecting the environmental, social, and economic values held by Colorado citizens. The academic and research community has an important role in bringing objective science and education to the implementation process for the Water Plan. As the SMP process evolves, there will be room for many more creative minds and voices to help shape the future of wise water management for both humans and the environment.