#COWaterPlan: “Colorado can’t move forward in conflict, we’ve got to move forward with consensus” — John McClow

The diversion dam across the main stem of the upper Roaring Fork River. The dam diverts water toward the Independence Pass tunnel and the East Slope.
The diversion dam across the main stem of the upper Roaring Fork River. The dam diverts water toward the Independence Pass tunnel and the East Slope.

From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith):

A milestone in state water planning was reached Tuesday as members of the state’s Interbasin Compact Committee unanimously endorsed the latest version of a “conceptual framework” to guide discussions between East and West Slope interests about any new transmountain diversion.

“It’s not perfect, but I think we’re in general agreement this is a good starting point, and if ever there is a transmountain diversion, there will be, no doubt, additional negotiations,” said John Stulp, chairman of the IBCC.

Today in Colorado, between 450,000 and 600,000 acre-feet of water is diverted each year from the West Slope to the more populous East Slope.

The latest draft of the framework, tweaked Tuesday regarding statewide water conservation goals, will now be forwarded to the Colorado Water Conservation Board for inclusion in the final Colorado Water Plan, which is to be delivered to Gov. John Hickenlooper by Dec. 10.

“I would be surprised if it would change significantly from where we’re at today,” Stulp said of the conceptual framework.

To help satisfy the concerns of some members of the IBCC, staff from the Colorado Water Conservation Board drafted an additional introductory paragraph – during a break in the meeting – about the conceptual framework to be included in the water plan.

“The intent of the conceptual framework is to represent the evolving concepts that need to be addressed in the context of a new transmountain diversion as well as the progress made to date in addressing those concepts,” the new introductory paragraph stated. “The conceptual framework refers to several topics, including conservation, storage, agricultural transfers, alternative transfer methods, environment resiliency, a collaborative program to address system shortages, already identified projects and processes (IPPs), additional Western Slope uses, and other topics that are not exclusively linked to a new TMD, but are related to Colorado’s water future. The conceptual framework, like the rest of the Colorado Water Plan, is a living document and is an integrated component of the plan. Many of these topics are further discussed in more detail in other sections of Colorado’s Water Plan.”

The IBCC is made up of two members from each of the state’s nine basin roundtables, six governors’ appointees and two members of the Legislature.

Since 2013, the committee has been working on the seven core principles in the framework, which spells out under what terms a new transmountain diversion might be acceptable to the West Slope.

For example, a new project should not increase the likelihood of a call from California for more water under the Colorado Compact, or preclude future growth on the West Slope.

And it “should avoid, minimize or mitigate adverse environmental impacts where possible” and address the concept of “environmental resiliency.”

“Nothing is perfect, but I think adding environmental resiliency into the water plan – which happened because we got it into the conceptual framework and now it’s also in the body of the plan in chapter six – I think that’s a big step forward,” said Melinda Kassen, who represents environmental interests on the IBCC, and was speaking during a break in the meeting.

“And I like the fact that it’s also combined and we have a much more robust commitment and description of what we need to do in regard to compact compliance,” Kassen said. “So I think there are a lot of things in the conceptual framework that we have to work on – triggers, collaborative water management program, environmental resiliency, conservation – those are the action steps for moving forward. I think we need to move on, but I think the conceptual framework is a pretty good deal and we should take it and move on. And not just in terms of the conceptual framework, but in terms of the whole water plan. It’s a plan, and now we have to ‘do.’”

The east end of the Independence Pass tunnel, bringing water from the headwaters of the Roaring Fork River to the East Slope
The east end of the Independence Pass tunnel, bringing water from the headwaters of the Roaring Fork River to the East Slope

“A bunch of hoops”

Bill Trampe, a rancher in Gunnison County and a member of the Gunnison River Basin Roundtable, also supports the framework.

“For future transmountain diversions to occur, according to the framework, the proponent is going to have to go through a bunch of hoops,” Trampe said. “If the proponent is willing to take the gamble that there is enough water to merit the expense of the project, then go for it.”

Trampe’s suggested that if a project proponent takes a hard look at a potential new transmountain diversion, and does so through the lens of the conceptual framework, they may find that there just isn’t enough water to make a project viable.

Principle three of the framework deals with “triggers,” or the amount of water available in the larger Colorado River system, that may or may not allow water to be diverted to the East Slope.

“Triggers are operating parameters that determine when and how much water a potential new TMD could divert, based upon predetermined conditions within the Colorado River System,” a recent draft of the framework states. “Such parameters include, but are not limited to, specific storage elevations in one or more Colorado River System reservoirs, projected inflows at key Colorado River System locations, actual reservoir inflows over specific defined periods, snowpack levels, predictive models – or combinations of these – which would trigger certain actions and prevent others.”

In a brief interview after the meeting, Trampe said the water trends do not favor a new transmountain diversion.

“If hydrology does not improve, then the issues on the Colorado River are going to become worse,” Trampe said. “Mead and Powell continue to go down. They are not stabilized. They are not rising. They continue to go down. So if a proponent of a project looks at all of that, and still thinks there is water available, I guess there is not much we can do about it, except go through step four, the collaborative process, where we identify the risks and the ways we go about alleviating those risks to the various parties, particularly on the West Slope.”

Step, or principle, four in the framework discusses a proposed collaborative program to manage water in the Colorado River basin, and points out such a program is needed regardless of whether a new diversion is built or not.

“The collaborative program should provide a programmatic approach to managing Upper Division consumptive uses, thus avoiding a Compact deficit and insuring that system reservoir storage remains above critical levels, such as the minimum storage level necessary to produce hydroelectric power reliably at Glen Canyon Dam (minimum power pool),” the draft framework states. “A goal of the collaborative program is that it would be voluntary and compensated, like a water bank, to protect Colorado River system water users, projects and flows. Such protection would NOT cover uses associated with a new TMD.”

Trampe also pointed out that the conceptual framework is only a first screen for a potential new transmountain diversion, as any project would still have to go through existing regulatory reviews at, potentially, the federal, state and county level.

“Even if you think you can get through this process, you still have to go through the normal legal channels and permitting that is in existence today,” Trampe said. “You’re still going to have the traditional things to go through, particularly if you’ve not adopted the principles within the framework.”

The conceptual framework is not legally binding, as Colorado water law still allows for a water provider to propose a new transmountain diversion without referencing the conceptual framework. But it is seen as a way for Western Slope communities to review a proposed diversion against publicly adopted parameters.

The conceptual framework has been discussed at various other roundtable meetings around the state in recent weeks.

“I think that this gives us protections that otherwise we don’t have,” said Karn Stiegelmeier, a Summit County commissioner, during a July 27 meeting of the Colorado River Basin Roundtable, shortly before that roundtable endorsed the conceptual framework.

But during the same meeting, Ken Ransford, who represents recreational interests on the Colorado Roundtable, voted against the framework.

“This agreement doesn’t have teeth,” Ransford said. “It’s not enforceable. It gives us no legal rights. And the Front Range has said they are still willing to come over here and purchase agricultural water rights as necessary to protect their existing diversions. So I keep asking myself, what are we getting out of this?”

However Ken Neubecker, the associate director of the Colorado River Basin Program for American Rivers, and the environmental representative on the Colorado River Basin Roundtable, supported the conceptual framework, arguing it gives the Western Slope more protection.

“They could come over for a new transmountain diversion and ignore all of this right now, that’s just the way Colorado water law is,” Neubecker told the roundtable. “What this does do, along with the water plan, is set a high bar that they really are going to have to look at and try and comply with if they want to have a smoother road rather than a rougher road toward that end. They still have to go through permitting processes with the local counties and with the state, and the counties and the state can all look at it and say, ‘Well, where are you with complying with this? Where is your plan with point number four, point number three, whatever?’ It does give us that element of a condition, while not legally required, is something that politically would be a good thing to pay attention to.”

After the August 25th meeting in Keystone, Eric Kuhn, the general manager of the Colorado River District, which represents 15 West Slope counties, said the framework — if deployed correctly — could help protect West Slope interests.

“The West Slope is better off under the conceptual framework if, and it’s a big if, we follow through and have the discussions that are contemplated by the framework,” Kuhn said. “If it just sits on the shelf, it’s worthless for us.”

The first of the seven principles in the framework states “East Slope water providers are not looking for firm yield from a new transmountain diversion, and the project proponent would accept hydrologic risk for that project.”

That means that a Front Range water provider who proposes a new transmountain diversion must understand that there may not be water to divert every year, depending on snowpack, weather and the amount of water stored in Lake Powell and Lake Mead, the latter because of legal minimum water guarantees for downstream states.

“It’s not just, is there enough water, it is whether there is enough reliable water,” Kuhn said of the core principle. “If you are a community, and you are providing water to people, it’s not good enough to have water three out of four years. People want water four out of four years.”

Which may mean, Kuhn said, that a big new diversion project is not worth pursuing.

But to water interests on the Front Range, a new transmountain diversion is seen as an important tool to meet growing water demands, and getting the conceptual framework into the Colorado Water Plan is seen as a victory.

“It seems to me we’ve got a tremendous opportunity,” said Sean Cronin, the executive director of the St. Vrain & Left Hand Water Conservancy District in Longmont, during an Aug. 11 meeting of the South Platte Basin Roundtable in which he urged the roundtable members to endorse the conceptual framework.

“We have been clamoring for a transmountain diversion since the very first day of the roundtable,” Cronin said. “We now have a transmountain diversion framework sitting in a statewide water plan that’s nearly to the point of being approved and adopted.”

After Tuesday’s meeting in Keystone, IBCC member Wayne Vanderschuere, who oversees water planning for Colorado Springs Utilities, said a new transmountain diversion “needs to be in the cards,” especially to slow the practice of buying water from agricultural operations to meet growing municipal demands.

“The Colorado River has its own unique challenges irrespective of transmountain diversions, that everyone needs to take ownership of,” Vanderschuere said, referring to the state’s obligations under the Colorado Compact. “So we need to address that. But we also have an obligation to responsibly develop our portion of the compact entitlement, and to the extent we can do that, we should pursue that.”

Vanderschuere also praised the state’s existing array of transmountain diversions.

“The current transbasin diversions and the associated storage with them have done more to booster the economic, environmental, and environmental resiliency of Colorado than any other thing I can think of,” he said. “The storage, the flatwater recreation, the whitewater recreation, the environmental habitat, the economic benefits of having that water available, east and west, for recreation, for municipal and industrial – huge. Colorado would not be where it is today without those transbasin diversions that are currently in place. So we have to acknowledge that that’s been a huge success on all fronts.”

The ditch that moves water from Lost Man Reservoir to Grizzly Reservoir and then under the Divide to the South Fork of Lake Creek and the Arkansas River.
The ditch that moves water from Lost Man Reservoir to Grizzly Reservoir and then under the Divide to the South Fork of Lake Creek and the Arkansas River.

View from the CWCB

At a meeting on Aug. 21 in Vail of the Colorado Water Congress, John McClow, the general counsel of the Upper Gunnison Water Conservancy District, and a board member of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, described the conceptual framework, and the “historic conflict” in Colorado over transmountain diversions, for a ballroom full of members of the state’s professional water community.

“The most pressing question I’ve heard throughout the Western Slope is ‘What are we going to do about new transmountain diversion?’ All of the Western Slope roundtables addressed it to some extent in their basin implementation plans,” McClow said. “The South Platte Roundtable, the Metro Roundtable, talked about it in their plans. But those collective comments still reflected what I believe was conflict on the issue. It is a historic conflict – east versus west – and it’s been going on before Colorado was a state. What I’m happy to report is that the IBCC took it upon themselves to try and find a solution to that conflict.

“That group worked for over a year putting together seven principles that would create a framework around which a new transmountain diversion could be developed. It is not an agreement, it is not a regulation, it is not mandatory, but it confronts reality on every aspect of what will be necessary to consider in the event that a proponent wishes to pursue a new transmountain diversion. It’s couched in terms of seven principles, and each of them addresses one element of it. Some go a little bit beyond the strict interpretation of a transmountain diversion.

“What’s most important to remember is that it is not a rule,” McClow said. “What it does is set forth the obstacles that would occur in the event that a proponent were considering one, that it is to say, the physical and legal availability of water in the basin of origin, which is addressed by Colorado water law. But it reaches beyond that to say that if the new development occurs within the Colorado River system, which is what we’ve always identified as our source of new supply, we have to look beyond the state boundary and look at the big river system because of our obligations to other states on the Colorado River.

“We have to be careful that in developing that additional water, we don’t overdraft our entitlement under the Colorado River Compact and Upper Colorado River Compact. This framework provides a process to address those issues. And further, to say we have to have some means of evaluating the possibility of diversions by this new project through triggers. And without defining the triggers, its says there are places you need to look to figure out when and how much water could be diverted by a new transmountain diversion.

“The principles go beyond that and look at issues such as West Slope – East Slope collaborative benefits from a single project, it talks about conservation standards for the proponent of a new transmountain diversion, it talks about environmental and recreational sustainability within the state.

“I hope that we, the conservation board, will adopt this framework and incorporate it into the water plan so that we can remove this controversy because Colorado can’t move forward in conflict, we’ve got to move forward with consensus,” McClow said. “And this is a burning issue, Front Range and West Slope, and I’m hoping that for once in our history we can sit down and say ‘We’ve agreed on how this can actually happen, should it be possible, as long as it is done reasonably and responsibly and reflects the reality of our circumstances at the time.'”

The outfall of the Bousted Tunnel, which delivers water from the Roaring Fork and Fryingpan rivers to the East Slope.
The outfall of the Bousted Tunnel, which delivers water from the Roaring Fork and Fryingpan rivers to the East Slope.

The seven principles b the draft conceptual framework:

1. East Slope water providers are not looking for firm yield from a new transmountain diversion (TMD) and the project proponent would accept hydrologic risk for that project.

2. A new TMD would be used conjunctively with East Slope supplies, such as 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 would be able to divert, triggers are needed.

4. A collaborative program 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 is collaborating with The Aspen Times and the Glenwood Springs Post Independent on coverage of water and rivers. The Times published a shorter version of this story on Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2015, as did the Post.

Land use moves to center of Colorado’s water discussion — Sky-Hi Daily News

Sprawl
Sprawl

From the Sky-Hi Daily News (Hannah Holm):

Not long ago, mentions of growth control as a tool to reduce water demands tended to be written off by Colorado water insiders as too complicated, outside the control of water providers and anti-economic development.

However, as the state’s water leaders have continued to debate how to meet the water needs of a growing population, the problems associated with getting more water from farms and West Slope streams have loomed larger, while the barriers to addressing water demand through land use strategies appear to have shrunk.

The link between water demand and land-use patterns occupied prime space on the agenda at last week’s summer meeting of the Colorado Water Congress, an entire issue of the Summer 2015 issue of Headwaters magazine, and its own subsection (6.3.3) in the July 2015 draft of the Colorado Water Plan. And House Bill 008, passed in 2015, requires land use strategies to be included in the water conservation plans that are required for large water providers to get financial assistance from the state.

While it’s been obvious for many years that big, green lawns require more water than apartment patios and rock gardens, the socially and politically acceptable tools for guiding growth in a less thirsty direction have been much less evident. Now, local governments and water providers with urgent water supply concerns are taking the lead in developing and implementing these tools in Colorado.

Communities south of Denver have been tapping groundwater faster than it can be replenished and are scrambling to get on a more sustainable water supply path. Eric Hecox, executive director of the South Metro Water Supply Authority, reported to the Water Congress crowd that in addition to re-using their groundwater supplies and participating in a regional water re-use project with Denver and Aurora, South Metro communities are beginning to address water demand in the land development process.

Douglas County has a water section in its Master Plan, which promotes infill development and the preservation of rural and open space. Castle Rock is offering lower tap fees to developers that limit turf areas and install other water-efficiency measures in new developments and is seeking to reduce water demands in existing homes by paying residents to rip out grass. Residents of Castle Rock and Highlands Ranch face higher water rates if they exceed a customized “water budget,” and Parker requires rain sensors on irrigation systems.

A long-standing barrier to relying on conservation as a “new” water supply is the perception that people’s behavior is too fickle to be relied upon for future planning. Building conservation measures into land development through measures such as increasing density and establishing low water-use landscaping from the beginning can take away some of that uncertainty.

Better data on exactly how much water use comes with each style of development can also help. The Keystone Policy Center is working with Denver, Aurora and other local governments through the Colorado Water and Growth Dialogue to combine existing water use data with modeling tools to better quantify the water demand changes that could come with different land use patterns.

The fact that increased population does not necessarily lead to proportional increases in water use is already clear. As Allen Best points out in the summer Headwaters issue, Denver Water’s total water use has decreased by 5 percent since 1990, despite the fact that the population it serves has increased by more than 30 percent during the same period.

As our understanding of the link between water use and different land use patterns, pricing strategies and landscaping requirements becomes more precise, it may be possible to further de-couple population growth from increasing water use. This, in turn, could significantly reduce the need for irrigated agriculture and West Slope streams to supply more water for urban growth, without the need to erect any fences at the border.

To learn more about efforts to integrate water and land use planning in Colorado, see:

• The Summer 2015 issue of Headwaters magazine, at http://www.yourwatercolorado.org/cfwe-education/headwaters-magazine/summer-2015-water-land-use .

• Section 6.3.3 of the July 2015 draft of the Colorado Water Plan, at: http://www.coloradowaterplan.com.

Hannah Holm is coordinator of the Water Center at Colorado Mesa University. This article is part of a series coordinated by the Water Center in cooperation with the Colorado and Gunnison Basin Roundtables to raise awareness about water needs, uses and policies in our region. To learn more, go to http://www.coloradomesa.edu/WaterCenter.

Colorado Water Congress annual summer meeting recap #COWaterPlan

Seven-point draft conceptual agreement framework for negotiations on a future transmountain diversion screen shot December 18, 2014 via Aspen Journalism
Seven-point draft conceptual agreement framework for negotiations on a future transmountain diversion screen shot December 18, 2014 via Aspen Journalism

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Some might think the upcoming state water plan is a recipe book for an elegant 10-course dinner.

Turns out something else is on the menu.

Stone soup.
You know, that old tale where a boiling rock becomes a tasty, fulfilling and nutritious dish as everyone adds a little something to the mix.

That’s the upshot of a three-day meeting of the Colorado Water Congress where the water plan served as the centerpiece of discussion. Gov. John Hickenlooper ordered up the water plan in 2013, a tumultuous weather year that featured drought, huge wildfires and floods. The document is expected to be completed in December, but even then will serve more as a cookbook than rule book or guidebook.

“The early discussion was, is this a textbook or a novel?” said Travis Smith, a Rio Grande basin member of the Colorado Water Conservation Board that is writing the state water plan.”We provided the textbook. I was interested in the novel that told the stories (of water).”

The plan has to be digested one bite at a time, Smith said. He advised Water Congress members to pick a chapter that interested them and read it, then add their own comments to the stew.

John McClow, who represents the Gunnison River basin on the CWCB, picked the section that discusses a collaborative framework for interbasin transfers — an idea that few from the Gunnison basin would have discussed 10 years ago.

The Interbasin Compact Committee still is seasoning that portion of the plan, so the current set of instructions already is outdated, he said. When it’s done, it will remain only a suggestion.

“We’re close to finding consensus about how a transfer could occur,” McClow said. “But it’s not a rule. It spells out the obstacles.”

Those obstacles are finding the balance among municipal water needs, protecting the Western Slope environment and satisfying Colorado River Compact needs with downstream states.

Patti Wells, representing Denver on the CWCB, dug through the ingredients already tossed in the pot and didn’t really like the taste.

While most of the people in Colorado have chosen to live in cities, their use of water — particularly for outdoor watering — has been described in terms of a problem, rather than a benefit, Wells said.

She pointed out that lawns and gardens reduce urban heat islands, improve water quality, increase property value and provide a place to play.

“That’s not to say we can’t use water wisely, but there is a value to people using water for outside uses,” she said.

By couching everything as a problem, it could be tougher to find solutions.

“Instead of trying to avoid the train wreck, we’re trying to figure out where to build the field hospitals,” she said.

#COWaterPlan: “There are, however, few mandates” — The Pueblo Chieftain

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

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Once the state water plan is delivered to Gov. John Hickenlooper, no one from the Arkansas Basin Roundtable will be ready to say “mission accomplished.”

On [August 12], the roundtable contemplated its future in light of the expected wrap-up of the water plan in December.

Public comments, which already number in the thousands, are due by Sept. 17.

The state Legislature’s interim Water Resources Review Committee heard another round of comments from the Arkansas Valley [August 11] in Salida.

And staffers from the Colorado Water Conservation Board, which is preparing the plan, gave roundtable members a few tips on finding the highlights among the verbiage of the 500-page document.

The plan generally promotes multipurpose projects with multiple funding partners and broad agreement about mitigation. It favors continuation of realistic conservation strategies. It addresses statewide concerns about municipal supply, agricultural needs, recreation uses and environmental preservation.

Its critical action plan, Chapter 10, outlines in broad strokes how projects will be prioritized, funded and possibly streamlined in the future. During the process, hundreds of projects bobbed up during dozens of meetings.

There are, however, few mandates. Words like “seek, create and encourage” are used, rather than “shall, will or must.”

“Chapter 10 is the guts of the state water plan,” Jeris Danielson said, summing up a similar presentation to the Interbasin Compact Committee a few weeks ago.

The IBCC, formed at the same time as the roundtables 10 years ago, had some angst about its future mission, but realized it will be needed to follow through on plans now in the works, Danielson said.

Jay Winner, the roundtable’s other IBCC member, said the plan is unfinished business, noting that roundtables throughout the state continue to vacillate on a framework for future transbasin transfers.

“If we don’t have a transmountain diversion, we don’t have a plan,” Winner said.

Alan Hamel, who represents the basin on the CWCB, said the roundtables will continue to have a role in the future, implementing basin plans that also were created in the two-year process to create a state water plan.

Jim Broderick, roundtable chairman, told members, who come from all parts of the sprawling Arkansas River basin, that it will be up to them in the future to see that basin plans are moved forward.

“Is this the last opportunity for comment?” Broderick asked Jacob Bornstein, a CWCB staffer.

“This is the last round of comment on the plan itself,” Bornstein replied. “But it is a living document that can change.”

The Great Divide premier August 6, 2015

thegreatdividefilmhaveyproductions

“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.

stoptwoforksdampostcardfrontcirca1988

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 will air on 9NEWS, KTVD-Channel 20, from 7 to 9 p.m. on Monday, Aug. 31. There is a film tour planned (click here for details).

All proceeds from the premier went to an effort to get the film into schools across Colorado. I think that is a great idea.

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.

Water Lines: Opinion — Feedback sought on #COWaterPlan

From the Grand Junction Free Press (Hannah Holm):

Are you concerned about how Colorado will balance the water needs of cities, farms and the environment in coming decades? If so, you have an opportunity to make your voice heard by state water leaders.

A second draft of Colorado’s first comprehensive statewide water plan was released last month, and the Colorado Water Conservation Board is seeking public input. Comments on this draft must be submitted by Sept. 17 in order to be considered in the development of the final plan, which is due to be submitted to Governor Hickenlooper on Dec. 10, 2015.

This draft follows years of debate between Front Range and West Slope water providers, environmental advocates, river recreationists, farmers and ranchers over how to meet a projected gap between available water supplies and demands, particularly in growing Front Range cities. There are three main sources to turn to: transferring water from agriculture, pulling more water from West Slope streams across the Continental Divide, and significantly ramping up water re-use and conservation.

Like the original draft released in December 2014, the new draft dodges controversy and lays out a toolbox of actions alongside detailed information about current water supplies, demands and climate change projections. Particular project proposals are found in the “basin implementation plans” developed by roundtables of water providers and stakeholders in each of the state’s major river basins.

The new draft does, however, contain significantly more nuts and bolts on how to move forward on measures such as promoting conservation, improving the efficiency of the project permitting process, and developing new funding mechanisms. The concept of environmental resiliency is also incorporated more fully into this draft of the plan.

In addition, the new draft includes a revised framework for discussing the perpetually hot topic of the potential for a new project to divert more water from the West Slope to the Front Range. The framework sets out “realities and issues proponents for a new transmountain diversion should expect to address,” including the fact that water would likely not be available to divert in some years, due to existing uses and downstream obligations.

In the realm of urban conservation, the second draft of the plan contains beefed up sections on increasing the re-use of municipal water and integrating land-use and water planning, since large-lot subdivisions consume more water than denser development with less turf.

In relation to agricultural water, the second draft discusses measures to increase efficiency and conservation — while noting that the two are not equivalent. Increasing efficiency involves getting better at delivering water directly to where plants need it and nowhere else, which can actually make crops grow more vigorously and thus consume more water. Conservation, on the other hand, involves reducing the consumption of water, which can be accomplished through planting less thirsty plants, giving crops less water than needed for maximum growth, planting less acreage, or getting rid of water-sucking weeds.

While efficiency can have water quality benefits and improve stream flows between the point of diversion and the point where unconsumed water trickles back to the stream, only reduced consumption can make additional water available for other uses.

The draft plan also dedicates considerable ink to “alternative transfer mechanisms” that allow farmers to provide a portion of their water to cities on a temporary basis instead of permanently selling the water rights and drying up their land. Using such mechanisms could be less damaging to rural communities than “buy and dry” practices, but they are more complicated to implement.

Permitting process proposals include ensuring that all agencies with a say on a project are involved early on. Funding proposals include establishing a guaranteed repayment fund to facilitate multi-party projects and green bonds for environmental and recreational projects.

One message that comes through in reading the draft plan is that no one big project or mandate will provide the answer to meeting all of Colorado’s future water needs. The needs are diverse and dispersed, and a diverse and dispersed set of tools are needed to address them. And each tool comes with its own set of technical, legal and financial challenges. The draft plan attempts to chart the course for resolving those challenges, in the hope that the results will add up to a water future for Colorado that matches Coloradans’ values.

You can decide for yourself whether you think the right tools have been identified and the strategies proposed are adequate by going to http://www.ColoradoWaterPlan.com. You can find the complete text of the plan under the “Resources” tab by clicking on “2015 Second Draft of Colorado’s Water Plan.” Clicking on “General Information” under the “Resources” tab will give you access to a webinar and a July 2015 update that outline changes incorporated into the new draft. The “Get Involved” tab provides several options for submitting input.

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 at http://www.Facebook.com/WaterCenter.CMU or http://www.Twitter.com/WaterCenterCMU.

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.