“This project is a great new example of how water sharing can work” — Amy Beatie

April 26, 2015
Little Cimarron River via the Western Rivers Conservancy

Little Cimarron River via the Western Rivers Conservancy

From Steamboat Today (Tom Ross):

[The Colorado Water Trust] has collaborated with the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) to restore late summer flows to a 5-mile stretch of the Little Cimarron River in the Gunnison River Basin by sharing an agricultural water right.

Water Trust Executive Director Amy Beatie told Steamboat Today this week the agreement is the first of its kind, allowing agricultural water rights holders to use their water to raise a crop in early summer and then choose to be compensated for leaving it in the river in late summer and early fall. Compensation can be in the form of a lease or sale. It’s a model they hope to see replicated around the state.

“How to meet the ecological needs of streams while keeping water in agriculture is a discussion happening at every level of water policy in the state,” Beatie said Thursday in a prepared statement. “Agriculture is an essential part of Colorado’s economy. So are recreation and the environment. This project is a great new example of how water sharing can work on the ground within the state’s existing laws to bring together what are usually seen as incompatible uses.”

Here’s the release from the Colorado Water Conservation Board (Linda Bassi/Amy Beatie):

The Colorado Water Conservation Board (“CWCB”) and the Colorado Water Trust (“CWT”) today finalized an innovative agreement under which the same water rights will be used to both restore stream flows and preserve agriculture in the Gunnison Basin.

The CWCB is the only entity in the state that can hold instream flow water rights to preserve and improve the natural environment to a reasonable degree. Under its Water Acquisition Program, the CWCB can acquire water from willing water rights owners by donation, purchase, lease or other arrangement to include in Colorado’s Instream Flow Program. The CWCB and CWT partnership has resulted in many significant water acquisitions for instream flow use.

Under the agreement, up to 5 cubic feet per second of water that was historically diverted by the McKinley Ditch out of the Little Cimarron River (a tributary to the Cimarron River and Gunnison River in Gunnison and Montrose counties) will continue to be diverted and applied to the historically irrigated ranch until mid-summer. At that time, the water will be left in the river for instream flow use by the CWCB on a reach of the Little Cimarron River that historically saw low to no flows due to water rights diversions, as well as on the Cimarron River.

“Our rivers and our farms are at the heart of what makes Colorado so special,” said CWCB director James Eklund. “This agreement is a model for future agriculture and conservation partnerships.”

The Little Cimarron River originates in the Uncompahgre Wilderness Area and is managed as a wild trout stream by Colorado Parks and Wildlife for several miles above the area where agricultural uses have occurred for more than 100 years. Restoring flows in the Little Cimarron will re-establish habitat connectivity, an important component of a healthy river.

“This permanent, split use of an instream flow is distinctive because it acknowledges and preserves the value of irrigated agriculture as well as the value of restoring flow to a local river,” said Linda Bassi, chief of the stream and lake protection section at CWCB.

Additional information on the CWCB’s Water Acquisition Program is available on the CWCB web site: http://cwcb.state.co.us/StreamAndLake/WaterAcquisitions/

More instream flow coverage here.


Arkansas River Basin Water Forum recap: “We like our chances better with a strategy” — James Eklund #COWaterPlan

April 23, 2015
Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013

Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A state water plan may not prevent a crisis, but it would give the state a way to better deal with it.

“We like our chances better with a strategy,” said James Eklund, executive director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board. “We’ve got a path forward.”

Eklund addressed about 150 people who attended the opening day of the Arkansas River Basin Water Forum at Pueblo Community College.

The state will spend most of this year putting the finishing touches on a water plan to be presented to Gov. John Hickenlooper on Dec. 10. Eklund has spent the last 20 months talking to water groups throughout the state about what the plan does and how it will be used. Most recently, the state’s basin roundtables wrapped up basin implementation plans that feed into the final document.

Actually, it won’t be “final.”

Eklund called it “opensource policymaking,” meaning anyone with a smartphone or computer can logon (http://coloradowaterplan.com) and comment at any time.

California and Texas voters approved bond issues for $7.5 billion and $2 billion by 2-1 margins, largely because they had water plans in place, Eklund said.

“We’ve got to determine water priorities more aggressively than in the past,” he said. “The state will not pick winners or losers, but will be able to prioritize regional projects, like we do now for transportation.”

The plan also will connect state policies on water, ending current trends that put water quality in one “silo” (Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment) and quantity in another (Division of Water Resources).

“The Arkansas basin is a poster child for how you do this work,” Eklund said. “We need you to comment and help on the plan. We need to make sure our house is in order and that we’re unified as a state.”

The plan has to be flexible enough to meet the needs of a state that is expected to see its population double in 50 years. During his presentations, Eklund likes to show a picture of his own dour-faced great-greatgrandparents, whom he jokes would want no part of a water plan.

But times change.

“We’re living with the water policies our grandparents gave us, but we’re designing policies for our grandchildren,” Eklund said. “When people go home to be with their kids, they have to realize it’s not something you can take for granted. You have to plan for it.”

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


GarCo urges West Slope water summit — Glenwood Springs Post Independent #COWaterPlan

April 20, 2015

Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer's office

Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer’s office


From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (John Stroud):

Garfield County proposes to host a summit among Western Slope water interests in an effort to present a “united voice” on the prospect of new transmountain diversions, and how that would be stated in the forthcoming Colorado Water Plan.

County Commission Chairman John Martin suggested the summit during a presentation Tuesday by Louis Meyer, author of the draft Colorado River Basin Implementation Plan that emerged from a series of basin roundtable meetings last year and has been presented as part of the larger statewide plan.

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

Meyer said the seven-point conceptual framework put forward by the state’s Interbasin Compact Committee (IBCC) for inclusion in the water plan has taken the focus away from the work done by the nine basin roundtables.

He expressed grave concerns that the proposed framework for negotiating future projects to divert more water from the West Slope basins, primarily the Colorado, to the Front Range, is even ready for inclusion in the plan.

The proposed framework “lacks specificity, and is very ambiguous,” Meyer said. “And I don’t think the public has been adequately engaged in drafting these seven points.”

It was an opinion shared around the room for the most part Tuesday, during a county commissioners work session that was attended by numerous ranchers and those with recreational and conservation interests who have been part of the roundtable process.

“It’s time to get everyone together and put all of this on the table … and present a united voice from the Western Slope to the draft” water plan, Martin said, offering for Garfield County to host a summit meeting sometime in the coming weeks.

“It’s important that we all work together and to have some unified agreement, so that the governor will take heed,” Martin said…

Meyer said there are problems with each of the seven points in the IBCC proposal, namely that it assumes the Colorado River Basin has more water to give for the purpose of accommodating growth in the Front Range metro areas.

“In my travels, there is not any more water to develop in the Colorado Basin,” Meyer said, noting that existing diversions already result in low river flow issues and shortages for agriculture water users on the Western Slope.

The proposed use of “triggers” in wetter years to determine when water can be diverted, as well as measures to protect agriculture, the environment and recreation interests “sound good on paper,” Meyer said. But those points still need a lot of work, he said.

Some of those who attended the Tuesday meeting said the continued effort to keep new water diversions among the possibilities seems to throw out one of the key elements of the water plan, conservation.

“This whole thing grew out of our need to plan for the future,” said Barb Andre of Basalt.

“But I have a question about the word ‘need,’ and I don’t think we’re looking at the differences between wants and needs as much as we could,” she said. “It begins to look like the word ‘need’ is being misused here.”

Dave Merritt, who sits as Garfield County’s representative on the Colorado River Water Conservation District board, said the framework being proposed is just a concept that can still be negotiated.

He warned against making strong statements about whether the Front Range areas, and the state as a whole, should be allowed to grow or not by limiting water usage…

County Commissioner Mike Samson said the Front Range already gets enough West Slope water and needs to find other sources for its future water needs.

“I’ll reiterate what I’ve said before, we not only have no more water to give, they’ve taken too much already from the Western Slope and downstream states,” Samson said, also referring to it as a “needs versus wants” issue.

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


CWCB: April 2015 #Drought Update

April 19, 2015

From the Colorado Water Conservation Board (Taryn Finnessey/Tracy Kosloff):

Colorado has been warm and dry for so far this spring. March was four degrees above average across much of the state making it the 6th warmest on record. In addition, the three week period from March 9- April 1, 2015 was one of the driest on record. As of April 14th, many river basins had zero percent of average precipitation for the month to date, while others had just seven percent. Conditions are widely expected to change as spring storms move through the state over the next week and deposit a good amount of moisture.

  • Water year-to-date precipitation at mountain SNOTEL sites, as of April 14, is at 57% of normal. Most basins have already passed their normal peak accumulations date and are experiencing melting. However, cooler conditions and snow are expected over the next two week and that will help to slow the rate of snowmelt.
  • April 1st streamflow forecasts have dropped significantly from the previous month. Statewide forecasts range from 37-102% of average. The highest forecast is 102% in the Colorado at the Dillon Reservoir inflow, while the lowest streamflow forecast is 37% of average in the Yampa basin on Elkhead Creek.
  • Reservoir Storage statewide is at 108% of average as of April 1st a slight improvement from last month. Storage in the northern half of the state is well above average with multiple basins seeing storage levels in excess of 120% of average. The Upper Rio Grande and the Arkansas have the lowest storage at 77% and 79% of average respectively. Strong storage is helping to alleviate concerns about dry conditions.
  • The Surface Water Supply Index (SWSI) is near normal in much of the South Platte, Gunnison and Arkansas, but showing moderate to severe drought in portions of the state. The lowest SWSI value in the state is in the North–Fork Gunnison where stream flow forecasts are currently 36% of average, the highest value is in the Upper Arkansas.
  • Current El Nino conditions have strengthened and are forecasted to continue strengthening, with some projections indicating a possible Super El Nino. El Nino typically favors more precipitation in Colorado during the growing season.
  • The wildfire season is forecast to be “normal” this year and the state is well positioned to respond. A normal fire season equates to roughly three thousand fires across the state.
  • Water providers in attendance reported their systems are in good shape, largely due to plentiful storage. While demand has begun to increase it remains near where it was at this time last year.

  • “Basically 80 percent of the river goes to agriculture…where are you going to go look for it [water]?” — Dale Mauch #COWaterPlan

    April 19, 2015

    Click on a thumbnail graphic to view a gallery of mid-April US Drought Monitor maps (2011 thru 2015).

    From Colorado Public Radio (Grace Hood):

    Between 2011 and 2013 was the driest three-year stretch of weather in recorded history for parts of southeast Colorado. Conditions have improved slightly since then. But a look at U.S. Drought Monitor maps over recent months shows drought persisting at varying levels.

    The scarcity of water is connected to another problem in Colorado. The state’s population is expected to double by 2050, and there won’t be enough water to meet the demand. For farmers like Mauch, there’s hardly enough water to meet current needs with the drought, let alone future ones. This tension is one of several reasons why the state is creating its first-ever water plan with the help of regional water managers. Friday, they hand in their plans for how to be prepared for the future.

    City vs. ag tug of war

    A big question is where municipalities along the Front Range will find more water.

    Over the years, the scarcity has led to municipalities buying up land and water rights near Rocky Ford, Colorado.

    “If the Front Range is going to continue to grow, it will only be at the expense of agriculture,” said Mauch. “There’s just not enough water.”

    Recently an affiliate of real estate development firm C&M Companies and Resource Land Holdings LLC announced a pending purchase of 14,600 acres of farm land in the area. With talk of more land exchanges between local farmers and C&M, Mauch said he’s worried.
    “We seem to kind of have a target on our back right now with a lot of land acquisitions, and a lot of municipals interested in our water, large groups speculating on our water,” said Mauch.

    Karl Nyquist with C&M Companies said the plan is to use the 14,600 acres of land for agriculture. The exact partners who will use the land have yet to be determined.

    Water plan in progress

    As Mauch worries about the plans of his new neighbor, water managers in the Arkansas River Basin have crafted a plan for the future. The group and eight others are submitting their plans today to the state.

    “The Arkansas River is the entire economy of the Arkansas Basin,” said Gary Barber, who worked as project manager on the local Basin Implementation Plan…

    The South Platte River Basin, which includes the agricultural powerhouse Weld County, provides another illustration of what can be lost. In 1976, the basin had more than 1 million acres of irrigated farmland. In 2010, the amount of irrigated land dropped to 850,000 acres…

    “Basically 80 percent of the river goes to agriculture. So if you’re looking for water, and one group has 80 percent of it, where are you going to go look for it?”

    From The Colorado Statesman (Ron Bain):

    Even though a panel of 300 delegates from the state’s nine water basin roundtables almost unanimously approved the “seven points of light,” as Eklund likes to call them, the three representatives of Western Slope water roundtables who accompanied Eklund to Club 20 were not in full agreement with them.

    “Our core belief is that a transmountain water diversion is not in the best interests of western Colorado,” said Jim Pokrandt of Glenwood Springs, chairman of the Colorado Basin Roundtable. “But we can’t say not one more drop. The Colorado Constitution says you can’t say that.”

    “We’re going to keep the discussion alive,” said Mike Preston of Cortez, chairman of the Southwest Basin Roundtable. “We’re concerned about the environment — the best feature of western Colorado.”[…]

    “It’s actually very didactic — western Colorado has gained some influence,” Preston said.

    The final point states that, “Environmental resiliency and recreational needs must be addressed both before and conjunctively with a new TMD.”

    From The Aspen Times (Nathan Fey):

    First, the good news: A conceptual agreement among all seven Colorado river basins is looking good, and it will effectively make any potential construction of major new trans-mountain diversions more rooted in reality. That’s the only sane course of action, because we know the Western Slope and our downstream neighbors do not have another drop of water to spare for Front Range cities. Those cities can and should get more serious about conservation and water recycling. We’re hopeful that this conceptual agreement will hold for the final water plan, to be released in later this year.

    Now for the challenges. We all know that Colorado depends on the recreation economy. For the Colorado River basin alone, it’s a $9 billion per year economic engine for our state. That means any water planning should include whatever it takes to keep our rivers at healthy flows. We have the knowledge and data about the amount of water that needs to stay in rivers. Those data aren’t currently integrated into the state plan, and they should be.

    More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


    The Arkansas Basin Roundtable finishes up their basin implementation plan #COWaterPlan

    April 15, 2015
    Flood irrigation in the Arkansas Valley via Greg Hobbs

    Flood irrigation in the Arkansas Valley via Greg Hobbs

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    Water plans don’t always pan out.

    The Arkansas Basin Roundtable last week wrapped up a basin implementation plan that was two years in the making. The aims of the plan are to preserve agriculture in the Arkansas Valley while filling the needs of a growing population, primarily in El Paso County.

    It’s part of a state water plan ordered up by Gov. John Hickenlooper as a way to accommodate a growing population without diminishing the state’s agricultural and environmental needs for water.

    The roundtable hammered out differences between geographic areas and types of water use among its members, with the common theme of protecting what we have.

    But a century ago, the vision was vastly different. It was a dream of turning the valley into an agricultural mecca on an industrial scale. The water plan of that era was spelled out in 1910, when Pueblo hosted the 18th National Irrigation Congress.

    Pueblo was Colorado’s second largest city at the time and the industrial and rail hub for the region. Agriculture was seen as the wave of the future. The optimism at the Irrigation Congress appeared to be an irresistible force at the time and the seeds for grand plans were being planted at the time. A souvenir program from the 1910 convention in Pueblo was recently discovered in the estate of Bill Mattoon, a longtime Pueblo water attorney.

    The expansion of irrigated agriculture was seen as a national duty, much the same as California Gov. Jerry Brown recognized its importance in context with the current drought.

    “There is no movement more important with reference to the food supply of this nation than the progress of irrigation of the arid and semi-arid lands of our Western, now desert, plains,” President William H. Taft wrote in the program.

    The U.S. Reclamation Service outlined plans for two dozen major water projects — dams, ditches and tunnels that would redirect rivers — in all Western states. Those included the Gunnison-Uncompahgre tunnel near Montrose, completed in 1909. The agency, forerunner of the Bureau of Reclamation, had just been formed in 1902.

    Congress had just passed a $20 million program to begin building those projects.

    Kansas and Colorado apparently were taking a break in 1910 from their century-plus battle over the Arkansas River. In the souvenir program, R.H. Faxon, editor of the Evening Telegram in Garden City, Kan., pushed the phrase “Valley of Content” for the Arkansas Valley shared by the two states. The Arkansas Valley Commercial Association, presided over by Faxon, included officers from Rocky Ford and Canon City as well.

    Crowley County, which would be decimated by water raids in the 1970s and ’80s, was not even a county at the time — that would come in 1911. But the Desert Land Reservoir and Canal Co. was a scheme to open up 200,000 acres of land to the east for irrigation.

    It would use stored flood waters from Lake Meredith, which was then part of Otero County, which was targeted as a 400,000 acre-foot reservoir — roughly 10 times its present-day capacity. The ambitious plan would also tie in Horse Creek and Adobe Reservoirs, which are part of Fort Lyon storage.

    “There is no other situation on the river where it is possible to build a ditch large enough to divert the entire volume of your average flood,” the famed engineer James D. Schuyler of Los Angeles proclaimed.

    Kansas, once it got over the Valley of Content, would have more to say about that in the future. Supreme Court battles with Kansas that would culminate with a 2009 final judgment have limited Colorado’s ability to divert the waters of the Arkansas River.

    The program of the 1910 National Irrigation Congress reported 262,000 acres under irrigation in the state, and dreamed of placing 2.5 million acres under irrigation after more than 100 new irrigation projects were completed.

    That part came true. The 2012 Census of Agriculture listed 2.5 million acres under irrigation in the state, which by the way is a decline of about 300,000 acres from 2007.

    Pueblo was seen as a distribution center for the fruits of the land, which included large-scale orchards along the lines of those that already had seen success in places like Montrose and Grand Junction. Pueblo County’s own crops included cantaloupes, celery, alfalfa and corn.

    But the crop that would become so important to the valley was sugar beets, already a valuable commodity for the Arkansas Valley. There were 16 sugar beet mills in the state at the time, with seven in the Arkansas Valley.

    An unsigned article, “When We Shall Produce Our Own Sugar,” explained how the United States raised only one-fourth of the 3.6 million tons of sugar it consumed each year. Colorado and California were the leading producers.

    We can’t get enough of the stuff. In recent years, Americans consumed about 10 million tons of sugar annually, with about three-fifths of that produced domestically.

    Sugar beets are still grown and processed near Greeley. But things did not turn out so sweet for the Arkansas Valley, which lost all of its sugar beet mills — and the acreage and water that came with them — by the 1980s.

    Above all, the 1910 Irrigation Congress promoted the idea of the small family farm.

    “Are you looking for an ideal home in a land of sunshine?” one tempting advertisement for land near Delta asked.

    “Farmers beginning to see the light,” blared an ad for the Pueblo-Rocky Ford Land Co.

    “We have some splendid propositions for colonization,” an ad for San Luis Valley farms offered.

    Article after article in the 148-page publication touted methodical paths the enterprising farmers of the day could use to develop their land.

    Colorado in 1910 was wide open for agricultural development, and that seemed to be the water plan of the era: to develop and use as much as possible to grow crops.

    A century on, that vision is fading, but still defended as a value by the water planners of the present. One of the planks added by the roundtable to its basin implementation plan last week included a preference for using the water in the Arkansas River basin at home and not allowing it to leak away to other basins.


    Colorado Supreme Court upholds San Miguel River instream flows — Telluride Daily Planet

    April 15, 2015

    From the Telluride Daily Planet (Mary Slosson):

    The CWCB initially decided in 2011 to protect a 17-mile stretch of the San Miguel River stretching from Calamity Draw down to the confluence with the Dolores River in order to prevent water levels from dropping too low for three fish species — the flannelmouth sucker, bluehead sucker and the roundtail chub — to survive and thrive.

    All three are classified by the U.S. Forest Service Rocky Mountain Division as sensitive species, with human water diversion listed as the main reason for their precarious situation.

    “Fundamentally what this case is about is that environmental water rights are going to be treated just the same as other water rights,” said Rob Harris, a staff attorney for conservation group Western Resource Advocates, which filed a supporting brief in the case.

    “It’s a model for the West to follow on how to provide that local voice while also creating concrete, substantive protections that keep water in rivers for generations to come,” Harris continued…

    Officials at the Bureau of Land Management and the Colorado Department of Wildlife requested the instream flow protections in 2008. A district water board upheld the 2011 CWCB vote and that was that, until the Farmers Water Development Company objected. The group said that the CWCB’s actions were quasi-judicial in practice and in violation of the Constitution.

    The Colorado Supreme Court disagreed and, in a decision authored by Justice Allison H. Eid, upheld the water board decision by affirming that the CWCB was acting in a quasi-legislative capacity granted it by the state legislature.

    “We’re very, very pleased with the ruling,” said Linda Bassi, the chief of the CWCB Stream and Lake Protection Section. “It was an important decision for our agency.”

    State lawmakers empowered the CWCB in 1973 to use instream flow water rights to protect the environment of streams, rivers and lakes in order to assist imperiled fish and other species and to protect nearby vegetation.

    “It’s a big deal for us because the court affirmed that the process my board uses is correct,” Bassi added. “It strengthens our whole program.”

    The Colorado high court’s ruling is particularly important for the board in 2015, as several of its proposed instream flow protections have already been challenged. One of the sections in question is along the Dolores River in Montrose and Mesa Counties.

    More San Miguel River watershed coverage here.


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