#COWaterPlan “…lays out a path by which we may start saving our rivers” — Ken Neubecker

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

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Ken Neubecker):

It has been pointed out several times that the recent mine spill into the Animas River was, in one sense, a good thing. It re-awoke the public to Colorado’s checkered mining heritage, and the damage done to our rivers for more than a century. But Colorado’s mining legacy is more than old mines polluting mountain streams. It also gave us the fundamental laws and traditions that govern our rivers and the water they hold.

In 1859, David Wall dug a small ditch from Clear Creek to irrigate his two-acre garden, from which he sold produce to the miners up stream in Gregory Gulch. People back east objected to Wall’s diversion to land not directly adjacent to Clear Creek. But the miners from California who had come to Colorado brought with them a new idea of water allocation called prior appropriation. On November 7, 1859, the territorial legislature passed a law making Wall’s and any other agricultural diversion legal under the “rules of the diggings.”*

For the next 114 years dams and diversion projects were built with no concern for rivers or the health of the ecosystems they support. Water left in the stream was considered a waste and many rivers were severely degraded from altered flows and lack of water. That began to change in 1973, with the passage of Colorado’s in-stream flow water rights program. While not perfect, and not as protective as some might want to think, it recognized the natural environment as a beneficial user of water.

Now Colorado is developing a coordinated plan for the growing water needs of farms, ranches, communities, and — for the first time — the environment and the recreational economy that supports so much in Colorado. Rather than a simple endorsement for more projects that could further harm rivers, this water plan lays out all of the anticipated needs and myriad ideas for meeting them. Indeed, it lays out a path by which we may start saving our rivers.

The Colorado Water Plan has been in the making for more than 10 years, crafted by water stakeholders and the public from all across the state through the Basin Roundtables. Ranchers, farmers, municipal water providers and utilities have worked closely with many from the environmental and recreational communities to make sure that the plan incorporates serious consideration of the health of rivers, including bringing them back from the damage caused by past projects.

This has not been an easy task, and completion of the Colorado Water Plan does not guarantee success. A lot of time has been spent simply building trust after a long history of distrust between people with competing needs and values, and there are still stark differences between competing water uses that must be overcome. Colorado faces a daunting future — balancing the needs of agriculture, cities and rivers will not be easy. Growth, climate change, new economies and values, the need to fulfill downstream compact obligations and the simple reality of living in an arid region where water supply is shrinking, all make the transition from the Colorado of Dave Wall’s irrigation ditch to 21st century water management complex and challenging. Solving the puzzle of our water needs and restoring rivers will take all of us, working together, looking to the future, not the past.

From the Boulder Daily Camera (Nick Payne):

As important as the Colorado Water Plan is to the future of our state and its hunting and angling heritage, we can’t lose sight of what is happening in Washington, D.C. Several pieces of legislation are working their way through Congress to respond to drought in California and throughout the West. Federal agencies are pumping millions of dollars into drought-relief efforts and scrambling to find ways to make our country more resilient to future droughts, too.

Lawmakers can help sportsmen by spurring and supporting state and local solutions that work for entire watersheds, making it less likely that we will reach a crisis point in future droughts. We can build in assurances by using federal water programs to create:

Flexibility. In an over-allocated system like the Colorado River, we need federal programs that allow the transfer of water voluntarily and temporarily to other users in times of need without jeopardizing property rights, sustainable farming and ranching, or healthy fish and wildlife populations.

Incentives. Watershed groups demonstrating successful drought solutions on the local level — where they work best — should be rewarded, and the federal government should encourage the development of similar groups in other watersheds.

Access. With dozens of programs available across multiple federal agencies to improve water resources, it is difficult for Coloradans to know where to turn for assistance or how to navigate the different bureaucracies. We can get more out of limited resources by making these programs more accessible and decreasing the transaction costs of working with the federal government.

Healthier watersheds, overall. It’s the most cost-effective means of increasing water supply, reducing wildfire threats, protecting against floods, and improving drought resilience, and improving watersheds is something we can start doing right now.

From the fisherman pulling trout out of a high mountain reservoir to the Front Range city responsible for providing drinking water to its residents, we are all in this together. Colorado’s representatives in Congress must advance widely-supported conservation and efficiency measures, along with creative financing mechanisms, to meet water demands while protecting and restoring healthy river flows. Sacrificing species or targeting agriculture are not lasting solutions.

#COWaterPlan: “There is a lot of misunderstanding on water issues” — Leroy Garcia

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

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

One of the outcomes of the Colorado water plan has been to draw new voices to talk about a question that’s older than the state itself: How can a sparse resource be used to meet the needs of a growing population?

So, a group primarily concerned with the Colorado River recently reached out to Pueblo to gather perspective.

Nuestro Rio — “our river” in Spanish — invited Puebloans to talk about water on the last day for comments on the final plan recently.

“My concern was that people could become more familiar with it and to make sure Southern Colorado knew it has a voice,” said state Sen. Leroy Garcia, D-Pueblo, who helped set up the meeting.

About 50 people, ranging from elected o_cials to farmers, attended. Also present was state Rep. Ed Vigil, D-Fort Garland, a member of the Interim Water Resources Review Committee.

“One of the goals of Nuestro Rio is to remind people of the importance of the river but to also involve more young people,” Garcia said.

While Nuestro Rio formed to emphasize the importance of the Colorado River to Latinos, a series of statewide outreach meetings showed there are concerns common to all rivers in the state, said Nita Gonzales, Colorado director for the organization.

“The main thing we heard was that diverting water cannot be the only solution,” Gonzales said. “Rivers are critical to Latino families, and before we move to big projects, we have to ask how do you protect the rivers.”

That includes maintaining agricultural uses that are the foundation for the economic wellbeing of many Latinos, Gonzales said.

“The other thing we heard is that elected officials are not as involved in water, but it is so important to the communities to make sure it is addressed in policy and budgets,” she said.

Garcia agreed.

“My own colleagues have to see this as one of the most important issues in the state,” he said. “We talk about transportation, education and economic development, but none of those things happens without water.”

On the state water plan, Garcia said he favors some of its openended approaches.
“There is a lot of misunderstanding on water issues,” he said. “The plan is very basin specific.”

#ColoradoRiver: Southwestern Water Conservation District Water 101 session recap #COWaterPlan #COriver

From The Pine River Times (Carole McWilliams):

The nightmare scenario for West Slope water nerds is a “call” on the Colorado River, meaning that Colorado, Wyoming, and Northwest New Mexico are not delivering a legally required amount of water to California, Nevada, Arizona, and Utah.

If or when that happens, some water users in the three Upper Basin states will have their water use curtailed so that the Lower Basin states get their share. Water banking as a concept being proposed on the West Slope to minimize curtailment and huge water fights between holders of pre-1922 water rights, which would not be curtailed, and holders of post-1922 rights that would be curtailed.

Durango water engineer Steve Harris spoke to this at the Sept. 25 Water 101 seminar in Bayfield.

The idea started in 2008 with the Southwest Colorado Water Conservation District and the Colorado River Conservation District. Those two entities cover the entire West Slope, Harris said. The idea of water banking is “to provide water for critical uses in cases of compact curtailment.”

West Slope agricultural water users would voluntarily and temporarily reduce their water use and be compensated for it. The water would go to Lake Powell to satisfy the legal requirement for the three Upper Basin states to deliver 7.5 million acre feet of water each year (averaged over 10 years for a total 75 million AF) to the four Lower Basin states and avert curtailment…

All this is dictated by a water compact signed in 1922. It committed 15 million AF per year divvied up between the Upper and Lower Basin states. “Average flow now is around 13 million AF in the Colorado,” Harris said. The result has been continued draw-down of Lake Powell and Lake Mead.

“Right now we are at around 90 million AF versus the 75 million AF over 10 years,” Harris said. If the amount delivered goes below the 10 year requirement, perfected water rights before 1922 would not be curtailed. Most of that is West Slope ag water.

About half of Bayfield’s and Durango’s municipal water is pre-1922 rights, he said. More than 90 percent of the 1-plus million AF of pre-1922 West Slope water is used to grow grass or alfalfa hay.

Post-1922 rights include area reservoir storage, water for coal-fired power plants, a lot of municipal and industrial water, and 98 percent of West Slope water diversions to Front Range urban areas. “So they would be curtailed. But that’s not going to happen,” Harris said, because Front Range residents aren’t going to have their water supply cut to grow hay.

“We want to set up a water bank so the pre-1922 users would set aside water for the post-1922 users. Otherwise, pre-1922 rights could be targeted for acquisition by post-1922 users,” he said.

Water banking is still an idea at this point. “We don’t know if the water bank will work,” Harris said. Two studies have been done, one is under way, and a fourth will be conducted by Colorado State University to look at the impacts on eight small farms of full irrigation, reduced irrigation, and no irrigation.

Harris said 50,000 to 200,000 AF of West Slope pre-1922 water might be able to go into a water bank, based on land that could be fallowed. But there is concern that some other senior water right holder could take the water before it gets to Lake Powell. Also, he said, “It’s very hard to measure water saved through fallowing. Every year is different.”

In contrast, there is an estimated 55,000 AF of critical post-1922 municipal and industrial use on the West Slope and 295,000 AF of critical diversions to the East Slope. “The amount of pre-compact water that might be available is much smaller than the demand,” Harris said. He cited another local issue: “If you don’t irrigate on Florida Mesa, people don’t have water wells.”

An assortment of water entities in the Colorado River Basin have contributed $11 million to do demand management pilot projects to get more water to Lake Powell. Durango applied to change their water billing to “social norming,” meaning how much water you use compared to your neighboors. Harris quipped that he’d pull the norm down because he made a show of removing his lawn back in the spring.

State Sen. Ellen Roberts also spoke at the seminar. “Even though we are a headwaters state, there’s a limited amount of water, and if the population is going to double by 2040 or 2050, where will the water come from? … Every direction from Colorado, there’s a neighboring state that has a legal right to some of our water.”

Eighty-seven percent of the state population lives between Fort Collins and Pueblo, and they like their Kentucky blue grass, she said, adding, “Kentucky is a much better place for it. … On the Front Range, all they care about is does the water come out when they turn on the tap.”

She noted the heated reaction to the bill she introduced in 2014 to limit the size of lawns in new residential developments that use water converted from ag, leaving the ag land dry. Harris initiated that idea. Roberts commented, “To feed their lawns, they need our water.”

As with population, 87 of 100 state legislators also live betwween Fort Collins and Pueblo, she said. “If they don’t come out here to know our world, they don’t appreciate why water is so important. … Water is our future.”

Roberts gave an update on the Colorado Water Plan, which is intended to address the projected gap between water demand and supply. Community meetings on the plan were held around the state last year and earlier this year. “The number one thing we heard was the need for storage,” Roberts said. “If we can’t capture and hold the water we have, we are hurting ourselves.” The next question is how to pay for storage projects. “That’s where the fighting begins,” she said.

The water plan needs more specifics on recommended actions, Roberts said. And after the Gold King spill of toxic mine waste, it needs something about water quality threats from abandoned mines.

The 470-plus page plan is being done by the Colorado Water Conservation Board and is supposed to be presented to the governor by Dec. 10. It’s available on-line at http://www.coloradowaterplan.com.

Colorado River Basin including Mexico, USBR May 2015
Colorado River Basin including Mexico, USBR May 2015

CWCB board meeting recap: Horse Creek flume gets state funding

Fort Lyon Canal
Fort Lyon Canal

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The Fort Lyon Canal Co. will rebuild its aging Horse Creek Flume this winter in a $2.2 million project designed to save both cropland and wildlife habitat.

The Colorado Water Conservation Board approved a $1.69 million loan and $500,000 grant at its meeting in Montrose this week. The grant was from the Water Supply Reserve Account endorsed by the Arkansas Basin Roundtable.

The 400-foot long, 10foot diameter steel pipe flume crosses Horse Creek about 8 miles west of Las Animas and was originally designed to carry 1,800 cubic feet per second when it was built in 1938. The flume has been repaired many times, but is at the end of its useful life. Its loss would affect farm revenues of $50 million and 14,000 acres of wildlife habitat.

Work on the project is scheduled to begin in November and be completed by March.

The CWCB also approved several other loans and grants that affect the Arkansas River basin:

A $533,000 project will replace the Evans Bypass Flume, a 450-foot long, 6-by-5foot structure with an underground pipeline at Evans Reservoir near Leadville. The Parkville Water District got a $180,000 loan and $300,000 grant from CWCB.

Lamar Water received a $100,000 loan and $161,000 grant toward a $400,000 project to repurpose two wells to provide non-potable water to irrigate public parks and fields. The wells previously were part of the city’s drinking water system until 2012, when they were taken out of service over water quality issues.

The Box Springs Canal and Reservoir Co., near Ordway, received a $200,000 grant toward a $300,000 project to replace several traditional wells with horizontal wells to restore production under water rights already claimed.

The Huerfano County Water Conservancy District won approval for a $220,000 grant toward a $250,000 project to assess the viability of storage in about 70 small dams in the Cucharas River basin.

The CWCB approved a $98,000 grant for the Arkansas Basin Roundtable to hire a coordinator to put the basin implementation plan into action. The plan identifies 300 projects — many of which meet multiple needs — that have been identified in the past 10 years.

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

Final draft of #COWaterPlan will push action — Fort Collins Coloradoan

Barker Meadows Dam Construction
Barker Meadows Dam Construction

From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Jacy Marmaduke):

The Colorado Water Plan, more than two years in the making, reached the end of its final public comment period last week. Now, the Colorado Water Conservation Board is combing through an estimated 26,000 comments with the intent to respond to them and prepare a final draft for the Dec. 10 due date.

The hardest part, board members and water wonks say, will be whittling down the second draft’s 16-page list of goals into a shortlist of action items. The goals were derived from eight regional “basin implementation plans.”[…]

It’s too early to tell exactly which action items will make the cut for the final draft, but Eklund said it will prioritize conservation – the point at which every water conversation must start, as Gov. John Hickenlooper likes to say — and storage.

The plan will be action-oriented, Eklund said, although the document can’t directly instigate action. That power lies in the hands of Hickenlooper, government agencies and the Colorado Legislature. New water projects will need regional coordination and funding.

Fort Collins is part of the South Platte River Basin, which also includes Boulder, Windsor and Greeley. The South Platte Basin worked with the Metro Basin – Denver – to come up with a basin implementation plan.

The basin goals include:

  • Initiating new water storage projects, especially ones that integrate the South Platte River
  • Finding alternatives to buy-and-dry, or the municipal purchase of farm land for water use
  • Instilling stricter requirements for efficiency in plumbing fixtures, appliances and landscaping to conserve water
  • There’s one thing the final plan won’t include: a transmountain diversion project. The second draft included seven tough criteria for evaluating proposals for those kinds of projects, and none of the basin plans advocated for one…

    The [CWCB] wanted the plan to present a wide range of viewpoints in language that “you don’t need to be a Ph.D. water scientist to understand.”

    From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Nick Coltrain):

    Fort Collins’ state legislators will host a forum on the Colorado Water Plan on Saturday.

    The forum will include a panel discussion with local water experts and presentations. Time for audience questions, comments and ideas will follow. Sen. John Kefalas, and Reps. Joann Ginal and Jeni Arndt, all Democrats, will host the event.

    The free event will run from 10:30 a.m. until noon Saturday at the Old Town Library, 201 Peterson St., Fort Collins.

    Denver: 2015 State of Water, October 8

    Click here to go to the Denver Chamber of Commerce website. Click here to register.

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

    #COWaterPlan: Pueblo County files comments


    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    Pueblo County commissioners say the state should be a referee, rather than a sponsor, in future water projects and they want to emphasize local regulation.

    “The county’s experience has been that federal and state regulations and enforcement alone have been inadequate to protect against local impacts of water projects,” the commissioners wrote in comments on the state water plan filed last week.

    The deadline for comments was Thursday. Commissioners Liane “Buffie” McFadyen, Terry Hart and Sal Pace jointly signed the letter to Gov. John Hickenlooper and the Colorado Water Conservation Board, who are working to finish the plan by December.

    The commissioners want to make sure that the state water plan does not undermine the authority of the state’s counties and cities to regulate water projects under laws such as HB1034 and HB1041, both passed in 1974 to provide local regulation of statewide activities, including water projects.

    Pueblo County has used the 1041 process most notably in obtaining mitigation for the Southern Delivery System, an $840 million project that is designed to bring water from Pueblo Dam to Colorado Springs.

    SDS is scheduled to go online in 2016, and under the 2009 permit for the project, Colorado Springs has been required to spend an additional $75 million to fortify sewer lines, $50 million for Fountain Creek flood control, $15 million for roads, $4 million for wetlands restoration and $2.2 million for Fountain Creek channel dredging, among other conditions.

    “To avoid confusion as to the local government’s authority to deny a permit for a specific project, we recommend that the following sentence be added: ‘A permit may be denied for a specific water project that does not meet the standards or criteria of the local regulations,’ ” the commissioners wrote.

    The county also wants the state to remain neutral in water projects.

    “Pueblo County does not believe that it is appropriate for the state of Colorado to endorse or become a sponsor of a water project in most cases,” they said.

    The board also wants to include stormwater control in the state definition for watershed protection. Most of the efforts in the last three years in watershed health have focused on mitigating the damage from large wildfires, but Pueblo County said equal attention has to be given to the effects on water quality from increased stormwater caused by development, such as what has occurred on Fountain Creek.

    Stormwater has been a key issue in regulation of SDS as well. A recent study for the county by Wright Water Engineers found that 370,000 tons of sediment are deposited each year between Colorado and Pueblo, decreasing the effectiveness of Fountain Creek levees.

    Finally, the county wants water reuse to get more emphasis in the state water plan.

    “The benefits to Pueblo County of promoting reuse are twofold,” commissioners said. “First, municipal reuse would reduce the need for dry-up of agricultural lands and transfers of agricultural water rights to municipal use. Second, reuse in El Paso County would reduce and control damaging flows in Fountain Creek through Pueblo County.”