FromThe Colorado Springs Gazette (Ryan Maye Handy):
The battle between cities and agriculture for water was the theme for a Monday gathering of water experts from around the West who came to Colorado State University for the institution’s first Western Water Symposium. The all day discussions were timely, as Colorado is in the last few months of approving its first statewide water plan, which is due on Gov. John Hickenlooper’s desk by early December.
The plan, broken up by basins, seeks to prepare for a future with more Colorado residents and less water. The plan’s default solution is that the water will come from Colorado’s agriculture, said Supreme Court Justice Greg Hobbs, who directed the symposium.
“The Colorado Water Plan, it’s really a plan about agriculture, how do we get water for the cities and not destroy agriculture,” he said. “And we’ve got a short water supply, and the farmers can be on the short stick of this if we don’t look out for their water rights.”
While the experts spent much of Monday discussing the future of water in the Rockies, they also reminisced about how the West got here, with its water needs exceeding its resources.
It began in the mid-19th century, when three acts passed under President Abraham Lincoln, the Homestead, Land Grant College and the Pacific Railway Acts, opened the West for settlement.
But what settlers found was not the water-rich land and easily accessed gold mines depicted in popular maps of the day, said Susan Schulten, a professor of history at University of Denver. Instead, they found a sort of “American desert,” an arid plains landscape that needed water to sustain the kind of livelihoods people were accustomed to on the East Coast.
What followed was more than a century of work, building dams and reservoirs, and legal wrangling that transformed Colorado into a place that had enough water for gold miners, farmers and growing cities along the Front Range.
In the 21st century, agriculture in Colorado spans both sides of the Continental Divide, and most of it relies on water coming from the mountains. About 70 percent of the Colorado River allocations to Colorado go to agriculture, which is about average, said Reagan Waskom, the director of CSU’s Colorado Water Institute.
But water headed to Colorado’s farms isn’t the only share being eyed in the negotiations to bolster Colorado’s dwindling water supply. In 2012, the Bureau of Reclamation completed a study of the Colorado River, which has its head waters in Rocky Mountain National Park and is the lifeline for much of the arid states to the west of Colorado. To help preserve the river, the study suggested that agriculture and urban users cut back on their flows by one million acre feet…
But it was hard to figure out how to take from agriculture, which has been plagued by drought, and expanding urban areas, said Waskom, who sat on the agriculture committee.
“This big report I don’t think really got us to the future,” Waskom added.
The report suggested that much of the reduction in agriculture’s water reserves be done through fallowing, or letting farmers’ fields go dry. But that solution comes at too high a cost for Colorado’s farmers, Waskom said.
“The way you are going to get ag water is by reducing consumptive use,” he said. “How can you reduce it in such a way and that you can get water and not hurt a farming operation? There really aren’t too many ways that you can reduce consumptive use other than fallowing. If you are paid enough for that water when you fallow, maybe you come out ahead and go golfing.”
Both legislators and members from the Colorado Water Conservation Board appointed by Gov. John Hickenlooper visited Craig on Wednesday to present information on the plan and listen to public input.
Northwest Coloradans have a major stake in the plan, which could allow for the eventual diversion of water from the Yampa River to the Eastern Slope to quench the thirsty lawns of a rapidly growing urban and suburban population.
Several local leaders from the water, agriculture and conservation arenas voiced their opposition to a trans-mountain diversion of Yampa waters.
“The state water plan has probably caused as much angst and apprehension as anything that’s happened in my lifetime,” said Ken Brenner, member of the Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District board of directors and also part of a third-generation ranch family in Routt County. “I am opposed to any new trans-mountain diversion. I don’t believe the water supply exists, and we are certainly having enough trouble meeting our compact obligations.”[…]
The Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District board, which includes Brenner and eight other members, issued a letter Wednesday to the CWCB asking for “an equitable apportionment of the native flow within the Yampa,” relative to native flows used by other basins in the state that empty into the Colorado River.
The concern is that, because Colorado is only allowed to use a certain portion of its river flows, and because Northwest Coloradans have junior water rights relative to regions that developed earlier, the state may limit local use of water in the Yampa/White/Green Basin in order to meet its obligations downstream.
State water planners are seeking public comments on the plan through Sept. 17. The legislative Water Resource Review Committee is also currently juggling how to weigh in on the plan. Committee-sponsored bills are due in October, two months prior to the deadline for the final water plan’s completion.
“As legislators, myself included, we feel very strongly that the water plan will only be successful if we have widespread public input,” said Committee Chair, Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, District 6.
Roberts, who is one of a four-person Western Slope majority on the committee, hopes the visit to Craig and other locations will help better inform legislative water policy in the future.
“Getting them over here, driving our roads, seeing our forests and seeing that agriculture really is strong and viable. … They’re not necessarily aware of that if they live in the urban corridor,” Roberts said. “I think part of the value of the water plan … is to make urban dwellers more conscious of the tradeoffs that have occurred and that we live in a high altitude, arid environment.”
From the Colorado Water Conservation Board (Tracy Kosloff):
Following the wettest May since record keeping began in1895, June and July have continued to provide beneficial moisture to the state. For the first time since August 2009, 97% of the state is drought free. As of July 20, the state has received 200% of average in precipitation based on SNOTEL sites. The year-to-date precipitation totals for the state have risen from 80% on May 1 to 97% of average as of July 1.
Water year-to-date precipitation at mountain SNOTEL sites statewide, as of July 21, is at 97% of normal. Southwestern Colorado and the Rio Grande Basin, which did not receive as much moisture over the winter, have had a wet spring and early summer. All eight basins have experienced above average precipitation so far in July with the Gunnison basin experiencing 270% of average.
June was the 14th warmest June on record (1985-2014) but so far in July, the state has experienced near normal temperatures with a few pockets on the west slope and the Front Range that are two to five degrees below average.
All of the CoAgMet sites measuring evapotranspiration (ET) continue to report below average ET and the Olathe and Lucernce stations are reporting record low ET. These stations have been collecting & reporting ET data since the early 1990s.
Reservoir Storage statewide is at 112% of average as of July 1st, up five percent from last month. Seven out of eight basins have over 100% of average. The Rio Grande has the lowest value at 89% of average, however, storage has improved since last month when they were at 66% of average. Storage in the Arkansas Basin is the highest since 2000. Between May 1 and July 1, John Martin reservoir, in the Lower Arkansas River basin gained over 250,000 acre feet of additional storage.
The NRCS Surface Water Supply Index (SWSI) shows improvements in all but two SWSI values in the Upper Arkansas and South Platte. Several SWSI values in the Southwest basins increased nearly five index points. Only three SWSI values remain below normal, two in the North Platte basin and the other in the Rio Grande.
Agriculture officials in attendance reported 131,000 prevented planted acreage due to such wet conditions. The crops that have been planted are expected to do well as soil moisture has greatly improved.
The Division of Water Resources announced the completion of the SWSI Automation Project. They will discontinue the 1980’s era SWSI and will begin reporting the automated SWSI, which is similar to the NRCS SWSI, which has been produced since 2011. Additional information is available at: http://water.state.co.us/DWRDocs/Reports/Pages/SWSIReport.aspx
According to water providers in attendance, their respective systems are in good shape as reservoirs are full and customer water demand is low.
Even in the face of climate change and a growing population, Colorado can have enough water in the future. That’s according to three water managers from around the state. But abundance won’t happen by accident; the state will have to steward the water it has and plan its growth smartly.
Jim Lochhead, CEO of Denver Water; Eric Hecox, executive director of the South Metro Water Supply Authority; and Eric Kuhn, general manager of the Colorado River District in Glenwood Springs spoke with Colorado Matters host Ryan Warner. They talked about the second draft of the state’s first water plan, which is available now. It will be finalized in December…
Jim Lochhead on the “action plan” included in the water plan’s second draft
“At this point I would characterize it as a compendium of ideas. It doesn’t set out priorities, it doesn’t set out timelines, it doesn’t set who will do what by when… For example, right now the plan speaks to municipalities saving 400,000 acre feet of water. I think that we need a statewide water efficiency goal that applies across the state, across all sectors. Whether it’s agriculture, industry or municipalities, we all need to be sharing in achieving greater efficiency. Right now it’s simply targeted at municipalities.”
Eric Kuhn on “the big issue” on the Colorado River
“Every drop of water today is used. Except for manmade exports of water that was saved in Mexico due to the accident of an earthquake, no water has gotten to the gulf of Baja California since 1999. So, if a city is going to use new water supplies from the Colorado River, somebody else in the Colorado River system is going to use less…
[But] look at some of the success stories in the Colorado River Basin. Las Vegas is serving 2.1 million today with two thirds of the water that they were using 10 years ago and serving 500,000 or 600,000 people less…
We have enough water in the system, even if climate change reduces our supplies. But we have to use it in a much smarter way.”
Eric Hecox on what South Metro communities have done to reduce water use
“We have historically had an over-reliance on non-renewable groundwater, which is essentially groundwater in wells. Our access to that water supply has been diminishing… for all intents and purposes, they’re drying up.
“[Out of necessity], our members have reduced collectively in the area water use by about 30 percent… We have two members, that are two of only a few in the state, that put individual customers on water budgets. We have a number of members that are paying current customers to transform their outdoor landscaping. We have members that are really pushing the boundaries of what they can do with new development, and giving significant incentives to new developers to put in place development that uses less water. In addition to that our members, for all intents and purposes, are reusing their supplies.”
James Eklund, the director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, invoked his Western Slope heritage at a “Summit on the Colorado Water Plan” hosted Saturday in Rifle by the Garfield County commissioners.
“The mantra I grew up with in Plateau Valley was not one more drop of water will be moved from this side of the state to the other,” said Eklund, whose mother’s family has been ranching in the Plateau Creek valley near Collbran since the 1880s.
Eklund was speaking to a room of about 50 people, including representatives from 14 Western Slope counties, all of whom had been invited by the Garfield County commissioners for a four-hour meeting.
The commissioners’ stated goal for the meeting was to develop a unified voice from the Western Slope stating that “no more water” be diverted to the Front Range.
“That argument had been made, probably by my great-grandparents, my grandparents and my parents,” Eklund said. “And I know there are a lot of people who still want to make that argument today, and I get that. But it has not done us well on the Western Slope.
“That argument has gotten us to were we are now, 500,000 to 600,000 acre feet of water moving from the west to the east. So I guess the status quo is not West Slope-friendly. We need something different. We need a different path. And these seven points provides that different path.”
The “seven points” form the basis of a “draft conceptual framework” for future negotiations regarding a potential transmountain diversion in Colorado.
The framework is the result of the ongoing statewide water-supply planning process that Eklund is overseeing in his role at the CWCB.
Eklund took the helm two years ago at the CWCB after serving as Gov. John Hickenlooper’s senior deputy legal counsel, and he’s been leading the effort to produce the state’s first water plan, which is due on the governor’s desk in December.
The second draft of the plan includes the seven points, even though the Colorado River Basin Roundtable, which meets monthly in Glenwood Springs under the auspices of the CWCB, is still on the record as opposing their inclusion in the water plan. That could change after its meeting on Monday.
Not legally binding
The “seven points” seeks to define the issues the Western Slope likely has with more water flowing east under the Continental Divide, and especially how a new transmountain diversion could hasten a demand from California for Colorado’s water under the 1922 Colorado River Compact.
“The seven points are uniquely helpful to Western Slope interests because if you tick through them, they are statements that the Front Range doesn’t necessarily have to make,” Eklund said in response to a question. “If these were legally binding, the Western Slope would benefit.”
Under Colorado water law a Front Range water provider, say, can file for a right to move water to the east, and a local county or water district might have little recourse other than perhaps to fight the effort through a permitting process.
But Eklund said the points in the “conceptual framework” could be invoked by the broader Western Slope when negotiating a new transmountain diversion.
As such, a diverter might at least have to acknowledge that water may not be available in dry years, that the diversion shouldn’t exacerbate efforts to forestall a compact call, that other water options on the Front Range, including increased conservation, should be developed first, that a new transmountain diversion shouldn’t preclude future growth on the Western Slope, and that the environmental resiliency of the donor river would need to be addressed.
“We’re just better off with them than without them,” Eklund said of the seven points.
A cap on the Colorado?
Eric Kuhn, the general manager of the Colorado River District, which is based in Glenwood Springs and represents 15 Western Slope counties, told the attendees that three existing agreements effectively cap how much more water can be diverted from the upper Colorado River and its tributaries above Glenwood Springs.
The Colorado Water Cooperative Agreement, which was signed in 2013 by 18 entities, allows Denver Water to develop another 18,000 acre-feet from the Fraser River as part of the Moffat, or Gross Reservoir, project, but it also includes a provision that would restrict other participating Front Range water providers from developing water from the upper Colorado River.
A second agreement will allow Northern Water to move another 30,000 acre feet of water out of the Colorado River through its Windy Gap facilities, but Northern has agreed that if it develops future projects, it will have to do so in a cooperative manner with West Slope interests.
And a third agreement known as the Eagle River Memorandum of Understanding will allow Aurora and Colorado Springs to develop another 20,000 acre feet of water as part of the Homestake project in the Eagle River basin, but will also provide 10,000 acre feet for Western Slope use.
“So effectively these three agreements, in effect, cap what you’re going to see above Glenwood Springs,” Kuhn said.
The Moffat, Windy Gap and Eagle River projects are not subject to the “seven points” in the conceptual agreement, and neither is the water that could be taken by the full use of these and other existing transmountain projects.
“So when you add all that up, there is an additional 100,000 to 150,000 acre-feet of consumptive use already in existing projects,” Kuhn said.
But beyond that, Kuhn said Front Range water providers desire security and want to avoid a compact call, just as the Western Slope does.
“We’ve been cussing and discussing transmountain diversions for 85 years,” Kuhn added, noting that the Colorado Constitution does not allow the Western Slope to simply say “no” to Front Range water developers.
“So, the framework is an agenda,” Kuhn said, referring to the “seven points.” “It’s not the law, but it is a good agenda to keep us on track. It includes important new concepts, like avoiding over development and protecting existing uses.”
Vet other projects too?
Rachel Richards, a Pitkin County commissioner, told the attendees that she would like to see more water projects than just new transmountain diversions be subject to the seven points.
As part of the state’s water-supply planning efforts, state officials have designated a list of projects as already “identified projects and processes,” or IPPs, which are not subject to the seven points.
“We would like to see the same environmental standards, and community buy-in standards, applied to increasing existing transmountain diversions or IPPs,” Richards said, noting that the “IPPs” seem to be wearing a halo.
“They need to go through just as much vetting for concern of the communities as a new transmountain diversion would, and we’re probably going to see a lot more of them first,” she said.
At the end of the four-hour summit on the statewide water plan, Garfield County Commissioner Mike Sampson said he still had “real concerns” about the long-term viability of Western Slope agriculture and industry in the face of growth on the Front Range, but he offered some support for the seven points.
“I think the seven points is probably a good starting position,” Sampson said.
He also said Garfield County would make some edits to a draft position paper it hopes will be adopted by other Western Slope counties.
On Saturday, the draft paper said “the elected county commissioners on the Western Slope of Colorado stand united in opposing any more major, transmountain diversions or major changes in operation of existing projects unless agreed to by all of the county(s) from which water would be diverted.”
But Sampson was advised, and agreed, that it might be productive to reframe that key statement to articulate what the Western Slope would support, not what it would oppose.
Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism is collaborating with the Glenwood Springs Post Independent and The Aspen Times on coverage of rivers and water. The Post published this story online on July 25, 2015.
FromThe Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):
A West Slope attitude that not one more drop of water should be diverted to the East Slope is an approach that’s likely to fail at the worst of times, several speakers said Saturday at a West Slope water summit.
Representatives from 15 of 22 West Slope counties attended the summit at Colorado Mountain College, which focused on a framework of principles contained in the second draft of the Colorado water plan, set to be complete by the end of the year.
Organizers suggested that the West Slope counties and cities sign letters outlining a common position on the water plan and the potential for transmountain diversions.
Much of the framework outlines the conditions under which a new transmountain diversion could be discussed, though proponents of the framework acknowledge that the framework doesn’t have the force of law.
Still, the not-one-more-drop approach “has gotten us where we are today, where 500,000 to 600,00 acre-feet of water go from the West Slope to the East Slope,” said James Eklund, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, which is responsible for drafting the water plan.
The West Slope is better off with the framework contained in the water plan than without the framework, Eklund said.
The final version is to be complete by the end of the year and comments are due to the agency by Sept. 17.
The framework is “probably a good starting position,” for discussions with the Front Range about water management, said Garfield County Commissioner Mike Samson, who said the west side of the Continental Divide needs protection.
“If they take water for people who live on the East Slope versus water to raise crops, when it comes to a curtailment, who’s going to lose that battle? Ag will dry up.”
The water plan should recognize the existing conservation and water-quality improvements that the West Slope already has undertaken, Mesa County Commissioner John Justman said.
One principle in the framework calls for the East Slope to assume the “hydrologic risk” of a new diversion, meaning that East Slope water users would be affected by a call on the river as West Slope residents would be.
The West Slope has to take into account the needs of the rest of the state, however, said Dave Merritt of Garfield County.
“We are all part of one state,” Merritt said. “We need a healthy Front Range economy. These seven points (in the framework) make a very strong statement as to what needs to be addressed.”
That theme of cooperation, including striking a balance between consumption and conservation, quickly rose to the surface Friday, as members of the whitewater, conservation and political communities met at Colorado Mountain College in Glenwood Springs to discuss the future of state water policy.
“To the best of our ability, we don’t want it to be West Slope against East Slope, “ said Heather Lewin, watershed action director for the Roaring Fork Conservancy. “We want to be working together to understand where water comes from, and how to use it most efficiently … so that we can do the best we can for the people who live here and for the environment.”
Members of the environmental group Conservation Colorado hosted the confab, which was set to coincide with Colorado River Day. The discussion largely revolved around local water issues and the recent release of the draft Colorado Water Plan. As water levels dwindle throughout the West, Colorado is formulating its first state water plan…
A benefit of the state effort is that many interest groups have gotten together to discuss the issue, creating new partnerships that before may never have been possible, said Kristin Green, Front Range field manager for Conservation Colorado.
“I think it’s important to recognize the diversity of holders we do have in this state, particularly in this area, that feel very direct effects from how we are managing our rivers,” she said. “Now more than ever we need to make sure all those different voices are being heard.”
More than 24,000 comments have been made concerning the draft water plan, and the public comment period doesn’t end until Sept. 17, Green said.
She noted that the second draft of the water plan begins to delve into potential solutions, and suggests a conservation goal of saving 400,000 acre feet by 2050. It’s the start of establishing the criteria officials may want to discuss, she said.
“There definitely was more meat on the bones,” Green said of the second draft…
Roaring Fork watershed increases quality of the Colorado
Lewin said that while the Roaring Fork River may be a small component of the overall Colorado River Basin, it still contributes around 1 million acre feet of water to the larger river each year.
She said the quality and quantity of that water can be very significant farther downstream in both an ecological sense and for its value to industries, municipalities and agriculture. But diversions strain that resource.
“Having high-quality water in the Roaring Fork makes a big difference of the water quality overall in the Colorado,” Lewin said.
She added that the river’s gold medal fishing designation is a huge economic boost to the valley. That lofty standard is met when there are at least 60 pounds of trout per acre of water, including at least 12 fish that are 14 inches or longer.
“That’s a lot of fat fish,” Lewin said. “But [keeping] those fish growing fat, healthy and swimming doesn’t happen in a vacuum.”
These conditions occur when a river or stream consists of clean water, and is home to an abundant insect population and a healthy riparian area. Lewin said surrounding riparian areas provide shade to cool river temperatures; food for aquatic creatures; erosion control; and help to filter pollutants.
“As you increase development, and as we diminish stream flows, riparian vegetation becomes one of the first things to really suffer,” she said. “So it’s hard to regenerate cottonwoods without overbanking flows. Cottonwoods are a key part to that riparian vegetation piece.”
Lewin said the recent wet spring led to the term “miracle May,” a month with a huge amount of precipitation that helped make up for a dry and warm winter. The heavy flows also helped to clear out sediment that built up in areas of the Roaring Fork.
“One of the biggest transmountain diversions out of the basin, the Independence Pass Tunnel, was shut down for nearly two months,” she said (that was because the East Slope had ample water supplies). “It just started operations about a week ago or so. By closing down that tunnel we were able to really see the full effects of the spring flushing flow and the benefits to the river.”
Lewin added that old oxbows in the North Star Nature Preserve east of Aspen were again filled with water this spring, putting the wetland area in a more natural state.
The Roaring Fork Conservancy has also engaged residents in the Crystal River Valley to work on addressing low stream flows. That effort has focused on looking at best practices to manage diversions and return flows, and studying the area’s physical features.
“We’re trying to see if we can use all of those pieces together in cooperation with the people who live on and around the river, and use that water to do the best we can for the Crystal,” Lewin said.
Dean Moffatt, a local architect, inquired about efforts to bestow the federal “Wild and Scenic” designation and its protections on the Crystal River.
“As an organization, we’re certainly supportive of the process,” Lewin replied. “We think that it’s really important and has the potential to be really beneficial.”[…]
‘No more water to give’
Aron Diaz, a Silt town trustee, said there’s a lot of interest among local leaders in the Colorado Water Plan.
“We’re really in a unique position and have the opportunity to craft Colorado’s water policy at the larger state level,” he said. “But we need to keep in mind how that affects the Western Slope.”
Diaz said the biggest point of concern is that Front Range basins are still adding placeholders, indicating that they may need more West Slope water to meet demands.
“We’re pretty tapped out for the amount of water that we have available to us,” he said. “Both with our obligations to stakeholders along the Colorado and those environmental, recreational, agricultural, industrial, municipal needs … as well as our downstream obligations with the compact, we’re really at the limit.”
There’s a need to set “achievable, but very aggressive conservation goals” to assure every avenue is studied before looking at new diversions, Diaz said. He urged the public to visit westslopewater.com to sign a petition that will be delivered to Gov. Hickenlooper and Colorado Water Conservation Board director James Eklund. It requests that no new diversions of water be made to the Front Range…
“The Western Slope in Colorado has no more water to give. We, the undersigned western Colorado residents, strongly urge you to oppose any new trans-mountain diversion that will take more water from the Western Slope of Colorado, as you develop Colorado’s Water Plan,” the petition states. “We cannot solve our state’s future water needs by simply sending more water east.”