#COWaterPlan: Time to get started on implementation

James Eklund and Governor Hickenlooper roll out the Colorado Water Plan, Thursday, November 19, 2015 via The Colorado Independent
James Eklund and Governor Hickenlooper roll out the Colorado Water Plan, Thursday, November 19, 2015 via The Colorado Independent

From The Denver Post (Jim Lochhead, Jon Goldin-Dubois):

The big question now is, what steps do we need to take to secure Colorado’s water future? The answer lies in Chapter 10: the “Critical Action Plan” that includes important, measurable objectives, goals and actions.

This chapter calls for reducing the future gap between water supply and demand by continuing water conservation and reuse efforts, incorporating water-saving actions into land-use planning, working to preserve agricultural economies while increasing flexibility and efficiency, creating stream and watershed protection plans, and increasing education and outreach.

These ideas are well thought out, reasoned and critical to implement. And the legislature took a few baby steps on some of these earlier this year. It legalized capturing rainwater through residential rain barrels, and it increased the ability of Front Range agricultural water users to retain their water rights but share some of their water with other users in times of need. The legislature also allocated $5 million to the CWCB to begin implementing the water plan.

However, now is not the time to claim success or, conversely, to throw in the towel. Now is the time to use the collective attention, work and energy of the tens of thousands of citizens who helped shape the plan and those who work daily on water issues in the state to push through critical parts of the plan to ensure a secure water future for Colorado.

Fortunately, we don’t have to reinvent the wheel to get this done. We have proven examples on how to kick-start, incubate, and work cooperatively to implement the water plan’s suggested actions.

For instance, the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement between Denver Water and West Slope local governments, water providers and ski areas will enhance the health of streams in the Colorado River Basin while allowing Denver Water to strengthen its system against drought and climate change by enlarging Gross Reservoir. As a result, the project actually benefits both sides of the Great Divide. Future projects like the expansion of Gross Reservoir that include appropriate mitigation are part of the solution. They should receive state support and funding because they can align with the state’s water values and the plan’s well-articulated criteria for being sustainable, collaborative and cost-effective. Indeed, the plan’s criteria should be applied to all project proposals — including the $5 million noted above — to ensure public funds are spent wisely.

Most importantly, we can take simple, immediate actions to increase water-use efficiency. The governor can accelerate reuse, graywater, and green infrastructure by funding the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to update its regulations. He can work to remove barriers to water reuse and green stormwater management and use. He can improve river health by setting a time frame for the CWCB and basin roundtables to establish priority lists of rivers that should have local stream management plans done. And, he can support water banks — to better facilitate sharing water for a multitude of purposes — in key river basins…

Jon Goldin-Dubois is president of Western Resource Advocates. Jim Lochhead was appointed Denver Water’s CEO and manager in 2010.

#COWaterPlan: South Platte Basin Ag Producers and Water Managers Workshop July 13

Ag Workshop South Platte Flyer 07132016

Click here to register. Click here for all the inside skinny.

#COWaterPlan: Ag has to be on equal footing with municipal and industrial and environmental concerns — Bill McKee

dronecowpopularscience

From The Fence Post News (Nikki Work):

During the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association annual convention last week in Colorado Springs, ranchers, business owners and ag officials discussed the ways the state’s cattlemen can make a difference in water conservation and why the beef industry needs to have a role in the conversation. Many ranchers grow feed crops for their animals, like hay or grains, rather than purchasing them. Nearly all have to worry about water when it comes to the quality of their pasture and rangeland. Even for those that rely on purchased feed or who graze on federal lands, Fankhauser pointed out that the ag industry is all interconnected.

Fankhauser asked the group: If corn dries up, what will cattle eat? If farmers start to go out of business in an area, feedlots move out, then packing plants move out, Fankhauser said. When ranchers can’t keep the water on their land to sustain their pastures, they have to sell off their cattle herd, as they did in the 2012 drought.

Bill McKee, a rancher who lives in Carbondale but runs cattle in both Carbondale and Platteville, said if the beef industry does nothing else, it needs to make an effort to stop buy-and-dry, a practice in which agricultural land is bought up for its water rights and taken out of production…

Through water leasing, farmers would maintain ownership of their water, but only use a portion of it and be paid for the rest, which would be used by someone else, like a municipality…

There are a few different ways this could look, but according to a survey done by the Ag Water NetWORK, an organization formed by the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association and the Partners for Western Conservation, the most popular of them is for a certain portion of water to be leased, then the producer would receive reduced delivery of water over the rest of the season. About two-thirds of the respondents to the survey expressed some sort of interest in leasing their water…

T. Wright Dickinson, former president of the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association who serves on the state’s Inter-basin Compact Committee, said ag water leasing is only part of the solution. Continued development of the reservoir storage system is necessary, too, but ranchers need to realize their role and the opportunities they have to manage their water in a way that protects ag’s viability.

“If we do it right, conservation goes a long way into solving some of this gap,” said Dickinson, a Moffat County rancher. “If we do it wrong, the state won’t look the same.”

At the convention, Carbondale and Platteville rancher McKee talked with representatives from conservation group Trout Unlimited, which works with farmers and ranchers on water management to benefit fish populations. He was looking into options to better handle water on his property, something he said he needs to do soon, because changes are coming to Colorado, and they’re coming faster than anyone is prepared for.

“It’s time to have an intelligent discussion,” he said. “Everybody should be looking at these issues.”

Stephanie Scott, outreach coordinator with Trout Unlimited, said she sees the conversation around water and other natural resource issues changing in the ag community every time she attends a convention like the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association’s. At first, ranchers hesitate when they see the Trout Unlimited booth. It’s nestled next to the trade show mainstays, like merchandise, livestock products and ag tech. Scott said she can see the questions in their eyes — the ones they’re afraid to ask a conservation organization.

Trout Unlimited want to help them better manage their water because it helps both the farmer and the organization accomplish their goals, Scott said. Once farmers and ranchers realize that, the conversation about conservation really gets going.

And as population grows and the pressure on water mounts, more people in the ag community — the whole ag community, not just traditional crop growers — are willing to try new things, Scott said.

Since the governor’s water plan is new and fresh on the minds of legislators, McKee said now is the time for ag to have a bigger part in water conversations.

“Ag has to be on equal footing with municipal and industrial and environmental concerns,” he said. “We have to be at the head of the table, not at the end of the table.

State looking to increase funding for water projects

A headgate on an irrigation ditch on Maroon Creek, a tributary of the Roaring Fork River.
A headgate on an irrigation ditch on Maroon Creek, a tributary of the Roaring Fork River.

By Brent Gardner-Smith, Aspen Journalism

PUEBLO – To counter a sudden and sharp reduction in severance tax revenue from the oil and gas sector, the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) has proposed a five-year, $175 million funding plan for water-supply and river-restoration projects.

If approved by the state Legislature next year, the agency’s plan would bolster the amount of money that regional basin roundtables, and the CWCB board, have on hand to give out as grants in support of water projects and proposals.

Such funding has helped complete a number of projects within or near the Roaring Fork River watershed since 2006, including $40,000 for a feasibility study of a potential 18,000-acre-foot Kendig Reservoir south of Silt, $60,000 for repairs to the East Mesa Ditch irrigation system in the Crystal River watershed, and $100,000 to help the Snowmass Water and Sanitation District improve its water-metering program.

The Colorado basin roundtable, which meets every other month in Glenwood Springs, has approved an average of $820,000 a year in water-project grants through the state’s Water Supply Reserve Account (WSRA), which has been funded with severance tax revenues. In all, the roundtable has approved $8.2 million worth of grants since 2006.

The WSRA program as a whole has approved about $75 million in grants over the past 10 years, and has been funded at about $8 million annually with severance tax revenue. That stream of revenue has come from oil and gas companies in Colorado, but is subject to large year-to-year swings from both the cyclical nature of the industry and how companies choose to take advantage of tax deductions.

One factor in the severance tax equation — tax deductions — changed this spring when the Colorado Supreme Court ruled that oil and gas companies can, in fact, deduct certain expenses that the Department of Revenue had previously ruled against. The ruling means the state has to rebate $125 million, or more, to the industry.

The court ruling came when severance tax revenues were already expected to drop.

The CWCB had been ratcheting down the amount of severance tax revenue it expects to see flow into the WSRA accounts this year, which are divided between the nine basin roundtables and a statewide account administered by the CWCB board.

In January, the roundtables were advised to expect a 25 to 50 percent drop in severance revenues this year. And as of this month, they’ve been told to expect zero money from severance tax dollars next year.

“For this year, ‘16-’17, we’re not looking at any money coming into the WSRA accounts, statewide or basin,” said Brent Newman, a program manager at CWCB who works in a support role with several roundtables.

With the drying up of severance tax revenue, the amounts available to the roundtables for grants are restricted to the money they now have on hand.

The Colorado basin roundtable has $473,327 to spend between now and July 1, 2017, which is when CWCB is hoping its new funding plan will come to fruition.

At its meeting in May, the Colorado basin roundtable members tightened their belts and denied one application for funding and approved three other projects, but only granted half of the requested amounts in each case.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Four buckets of money

The funding plan put forth by the CWCB includes four types, or buckets, of funding.

One $50 million bucket consists of $10 million a year over five years to fund the WSRA program at the level it generally has been funded since 2006.

“We’re trying to make up the deficit in severance tax revenue,” Newman said.

But if severance tax revenues do return to prior levels, the money would still go into the WSRA accounts, along with the newly designated funds. This means funding for the WSRA program as a whole could rise as high as $20 million a year, which would be a dramatic reversal of fortune for the regional roundtables and the CWCB.

A second $50 million bucket — filled at the rate of $10 million a year for five years — would allow the CWCB board to directly make grants to support programs and initiatives described in the 2015 Colorado Water Plan, such as water-efficiency programs and education and outreach efforts.

A third $50 million bucket would consist of a one-time cash infusion into a loan repayment guarantee fund. This money would be used to fund future water-supply projects that have a number of municipal and governmental entities behind them.

The credit ratings of many smaller cities and districts are lower than those of large water providers and cities, and that can increase risk to lenders and make it harder to get big loans for projects. But if the state guarantees that the loans will be repaid, it should make it easier to get new projects built.

Newman said funds from this proposed bucket could help proposals such as the Windy Gap Firming Project, which would allow additional diversions from the West Slope to be stored in a new East Slope reservoir.

There are 13 different entities on the northern Front Range that are supporting the Windy Gap project.

“Some have an awful credit rating, some have a great credit rating,” Newman said, speaking in general terms about water projects with various entities involved. “By guaranteeing these bonds from a state fund, it brings everyone up to the same credit rating, and makes it a lot easier for multiple partners to work together on a project. And it actually cuts out millions of dollars in costs.”

Alan Hamel, a CWCB board member representing the Arkansas River basin, supports the proposed funding plan, including the loan repayment guarantee fund.

“It will really help smaller communities with their projects,” he said.

Newman and Hamel made their remarks on June 8 in Pueblo at a meeting of the Arkansas roundtable’s executive committee. That roundtable is especially interested in CWCB’s funding proposal because it only has $185,000 in its account for the next 12 months, and it has approved an average of $1.2 million a year in water projects and plans over the past decade.

The fourth bucket in the CWCB’s funding plan includes $25 million, at $5 million a year for five years, to fund projects and plans designed to improve the environment, and recreational values, of the state’s rivers and streams.

This funding, up from about $1.5 million a year over the past two years, will go to help fund river management and restoration efforts, such as the recently completed Crystal River management plan and the forthcoming Roaring Fork River management plan.

In all, it adds up to $175 million being put forth over five years to move forward on the projects and ideas described in the Colorado Water Plan.

“All of this is very conceptual,” Newman said. “The [CWCB] is going to be beating this up for the next couple of months before we have a final funding plan in place.”

Gears on the top of the dam that forms Lost Man Reservoir, part of the diversion system on the upper Roaring Fork River headwaters.
Gears on the top of the dam that forms Lost Man Reservoir, part of the diversion system on the upper Roaring Fork River headwaters.

Money in hand

The money for the project is coming from the CWCB itself, which has been loaning money to various entities to build water projects for years. As those loans have been repaid over the years, the CWCB has kept the money in a fund. Now it plans to tap that pool of money to fill the four buckets described above.

Newman said the CWCB was in a unique position of having funds to work with “because of the good stewardship of our loan funds over the past several decades.”

“We’re in this position of having, and it’s weird to say this in public, too much money to loan out,” Newman said in Pueblo. “We have a really healthy loan program, and it’s not just dependent on severance tax. We’ve given out some really big loans that are starting to be paid back in installments every year now. So we have these perpetual funds that are cycling back.”

Since it has the funds on hand, and is watching severance tax revenue dry up, CWCB board members in May asked staff to put a plan together that would help implement the ideas in the Colorado Water Plan and in the various regional basin plans developed over the past two years.

The authorization to spend the money in CWCB’s proposed funding plan has to come from the state Legislature as part of its annual review and approval of the CWCB’s “projects bill.”

If the Legislature approves the funding plan, the funds would not be available until July 2017, at the start of the state’s next fiscal year, which means many of the nine basin roundtables are looking at a lean 12 months ahead.

Between now and the end of the year, the CWCB staff and board will continue to discuss and fine-tune the conceptual $175 million plan. The CWCB will next discuss the plan at its July meeting in Steamboat.

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism, the Aspen Daily News, and Coyote Gulch are collaborating on coverage of rivers and water in Colorado. The Daily News published this story on Wednesday, June 15, 2016.

#ColoradoRiver #COWaterPlan: Making water conservation a reality #COriver

Colorado River in Eagle County via the Colorado River District
Colorado River in Eagle County via the Colorado River District

From the Middle Colorado Watershed Council (Dan Ben-Horin) via The Glenwood Springs Post Independent:

It may be difficult to think of water conservation now as we look out our windows at rivers and creeks swollen with spring runoff, but we need to remind ourselves of where we live. Here in the Colorado River Basin, we live with a constant threat of a looming drought.

As Eric Kuhn wrote in his May 12 article in the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel, “we cannot be fooled by talk of a continuing drought. Instead, we need to be diligent and prepared for the next drought.” Our current reality includes an increasing population and a decreasing water supply, and it is now time for us to realize how far conservation measures can improve our water use efficiency.

As part of the recently published Colorado Water Plan, one of the Colorado River Basin’s themes is to encourage a high level of conservation. Statewide, we have done a remarkable job of reducing water use, with per-capita use dropping by almost 20 percent over the past decade. Some municipalities have even cut water use by as much as 30 percent during this time period. Incredible work has been done thus far, and we can now build upon what we learned statewide.

Many entities in the state are now required to have a specific water conservation plan approved by the Colorado Water Conservation Board. Locally, the Roaring Fork Conservancy partnered with the Community Office for Resource Efficiency, Ruedi Water and Power Authority and local municipalities in the Roaring Fork Watershed to develop a water efficiency plan. The plan consists of water efficiency plans for Aspen, Snowmass Village, Basalt, Carbondale and Glenwood Springs, as well as a regional plan that applies the common elements of the five individual plans to the watershed.

Plans such as this outline actions steps for reaching conservation goals by identifying best practices such as landscape efficiencies, water loss management features and variable rate structures. A successful conservation strategy must look beyond past accomplishments and create a specific action plan to meet conservation goals.

The water saving benefits resulting from water efficiency projects are tremendous. Reductions in water demands allow providers to save money on annual operations and maintenance. Further reductions in municipal water use would provide increased longevity on facilities right here in our communities.

In addition to these water supply benefits, we can achieve other benefits, such as an improved environment. Reduced wastewater discharges through indoor water savings can improve water quality and aquatic habitat in our lakes, rivers and streams.

Conservation also acts as a management tool to buffer against drought. Water providers can store water in a drought reserve as a long-term water conservation effort, and use those reserves during periods of shortages. As Mr. Kuhn pointed out in his May 12 article, when we entered the drought period of 2000-04, both Lake Powell and Lake Mead were completely full. Having reserves allowed us to mitigate the potentially devastating consequences of those dry years. With those lakes currently sitting at approximately 40 percent of capacity, what would happen if we were to enter into a period of prolonged drought today?

We cannot allow ourselves to become shortsighted when water is plentiful. It is time to build upon the conservation measures and efficiency savings we have already achieved. By adopting a variety of strong, permanent tools, we can fulfill our ongoing obligation to conserve water resources. The reality of climate change is that hotter, drier weather will become the new normal in the West, so conservation of our precious resource should become the new normal as well. As we learn and adapt to living in this semi-arid climate, we can make conservation become the new water reality.

Dan Ben-Horin is a watershed specialist for the Middle Colorado Watershed Council, which works to evaluate, protect and enhance the health of the Middle Colorado River Watershed through the cooperative effort of watershed stakeholders. To learn more, go to http://www.midcowatershed.org.

Meanwhile here’s a report about conservation in the water sector in California from Joshua Emerson Smith writing in The Los Angeles Times:

…a new study finds that reductions in urban water use have saved significant amounts of electricity and reduced greenhouse gas emissions.

The analysis, published by UC Davis, capitalized on the unique circumstances created by California’s drought. It culled statistics that electric utilities and water districts statewide were required to submit because of Gov. Jerry Brown’s unprecedented order for residents and businesses to lower water consumption by an average of 25%.

During Brown’s initial emergency conservation program that stretched from June 2015 through February, energy savings from water conservation totaled 922,543 megawatt-hours — enough to power 135,000 homes for a year, according to the data project…

The electricity saved from less water consumption was substantial enough that during peak summer months last year, savings equaled the effect of all energy efficiency programs offered by major investor-owned utilities in the state combined — and at less than a third of the cost.

“We were quite surprised when we looked at the numbers,” said Frank Loge, director of the UC Davis Center for Water-Energy Efficiency, which produced the new analysis.

“I think people have known this intuitively for a couple of years, but our analysis highlighted it,” he added.

The findings come as environmental groups and water managers have sometimes differed on how much conservation is needed, especially as new supply sources — including desalination plants, expanded reservoirs and water recycling programs — come online.

Arkansas Basin Roundtable executive committee meeting recap

Basin roundtable boundaries
Basin roundtable boundaries

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Water planners are looking at potentially leaner times for grants that fund projects, particularly for smaller water districts, towns or farms.

The funding crunch is coming because of an April opinion of the Colorado Supreme Court in BP America v. Colorado Department of Revenue, in which the oil giant prevailed in its arguments of which types of activities are exempt from mineral severance taxes. The impact could mean a repayment of up to $125 million and reduced future revenues.

Those taxes are the source of funding for Water Supply Reserve Account grants that are funded through the state’s basin roundtable process. Those grants are approved by the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

“Moving forward, revenues will be down 12.5 percent,” Brent Newman of the CWCB told the Arkansas Basin Roundtable executive committee Wednesday. “With the implementation of the Colorado Water Plan, we have to make sure grant programs meet standards.”

After last month’s meeting of the Interbasin Compact Committee, CWCB staff is preparing a new plan of action to fund water projects that does not rely on the up-and-down revenues of mineral severance taxes.

That pot of money is now split among local governments, the Department of Local Affairs and agencies within the Department of Natural Resources, including the CWCB. The problem is that when oil, gas and mining activity drops or prices decrease, so do tax revenues. The state Legislature raided the revenues to meet budget shortfalls during the 2008-09 recession, showing they are unreliable.

The court decision will decrease the size of the fund pool. Newman stressed that carry-over funds are still in place, although roundtables already are starting to rein in their requests. The Arkansas Basin Roundtable hopes to move as much as $500,000 in grants ahead this year.

The state water plan calls for adding $100 million funding annually for water projects beginning in 2020, and the IBCC and CWCB have kicked around ideas — such as a container tax for water and soft drinks or a statewide tap fee — to provide that money.

But in the short term, CWCB staff is proposing using its own banked funds to provide a stable source for water projects for the next five years. The proposal includes establishing a $50 million loan fund that would be repaid, $10 million annual funding to the WSRA, $5 million annually for watershed restoration and $10 million annually for grants.

“Not everybody agrees with me, but I think it’s going to be a lot more restrictive,” said Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District and a member of the IBCC. “Under the water plan, in every basin, the gaps can’t get any bigger, but it could mean the large municipalities will take ag out of production.”

Small communities could also be in trouble as funds tighten, said Jim Broderick, executive director of the Southeastern Water Conservancy District. Many of the participants in the Arkansas Valley Conduit project will depend on small grants to fund internal projects to connect to the new waterline when it is completed.

The plan is to put a funding system in place for 2017 through the water projects bill, but time is short, since the CWCB usually finalizes the list by November, and it meets just three times. The IBCC only has one meeting, in August, scheduled to discuss the idea, and typically has required months or years to work out differences among regions in the state.

“If we don’t have an agreement, this isn’t going to happen,” Winner said.

2016 #coleg: Gov. Hickenlooper signs HB16-1256 (South Platte Storage study)

South Platte River Basin via Wikipedia
South Platte River Basin via Wikipedia

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Charles Ashby):

Leave it to a Western Slope legislator to tell his colleagues on the Front Range just what they should do when it comes to finding more water for their thirsty cities.

While the South Platte River is miles away from Rep. J. Paul Brown’s southwest Colorado House district, it’s actually as close as the nearest Western Slope stream when it comes to statewide water management.

That’s why the Ignacio Republican introduced HB16-1256, which calls on the Colorado Water Conservation Board to study how much South Platte water has been allowed to flow into Nebraska over what the state’s water compact with the state requires.

Additionally, the bill, which Gov. John Hickenlooper signed into law on Thursday, calls on the board to identify potential sites to create more storage projects no matter how small they might be.

“It’s just important that we not waste water in Colorado anywhere,” Brown said. “I’ve been watching the South Platte for several years. Today, there is about 6,000 cubic feet per second that is flowing out of the state. This study will give us the information we need to go ahead and really get serious about water storage on the South Platte.”

The legislator said he got involved in the issue for obvious reasons: water is a matter of statewide concern and he’s tired of Front Range folks first looking to the Western Slope for more water when there’s still plenty in their own backyard.

He said the board shouldn’t have any troubles doing the study despite its short timetable — it’s due in March — because that state agency already has all the information it needs to complete it.

Brown said the study hadn’t been done previously because of too many competing interests in the South Platte River basin, and prior attempts at looking at more storage projects failed before they could begin.

“They just had their feet knocked out from under them so many times, they just kind of got discouraged, but I think it just took a sheepherder who’s just crazy enough to say we can do this and get the ball rolling,” he said. “When I first started out, they said it was impossible to do, but I just kept after them.”

Once Brown started to make strides in getting people to come to an agreement over doing the study, others quickly stood behind him, including Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, who shepherded the bill through the Senate.

Ultimately, it got through the House and Senate, including several committees in each, with only a single no vote.

“The number one concern is we’re going to be 400,000 acre-feet short on the Front Range for the growth they’re expecting,” Brown said. “We’re going to have to come up with that water, but you can’t conserve that much. We’ve got to come up with some alternatives.”