From the Colorado Water Conservation Board/Colorado Division of Water Resources (Taryn Finnessey/Tracy Kosloff):
Following above average temperatures in June and July across the entire state, August was cooler with slightly below average temperatures. Precipitation has varied over the last two months with some basins seeing half of normal moisture while others have had upwards of 150 percent of normal rainfall. The Front Range corridor remains dry and warm and drought conditions have also been expanded into Elbert and Lincoln counties. The forecast for the next two weeks shows mostly dry conditions coupled with moderate temperatures.
The months of June, July and August were collectively the 13th warmest summer period on record. Temperatures in September have been above normal in the southern half of the state and near normal to the north.
With the exception of the Yampa & White River basins, the state received near to well above average precipitation in August. However, September precipitation is tracking well below average in all basins. Statewide water year- to-date mountain precipitation, as reported from NRCS, is at 96 percent of normal as of September 16th. The 2016 water year ends September 30th.
Reservoir storage statewide is 107 percent of normal. The South Platte and Yampa& White basins have the highest storage levels in the state at 112 and 110 percent of average, respectively. The Upper Rio Grande has the lowest storage levels at 91 percent. All other basins are above normal at 104 to 109 percent of average.
Front Range water providers all reported storage levels ranging from 80 to 126 percent of average, however they did express some concern regarding low stream flows, which this task force will continue to monitor.
The long term forecast is highly uncertain at this point. El Nino has concluded and ENSO neutral conditions exist. It remains unclear if La Nina conditions will develop. However, should La Nina materialize it does not necessarily mean Colorado will experience drought conditions.
Click here to read the summary. Here’s an excerpt:
The Colorado Cattlemen’s Association (CCA) and Partners for Western Conservation (PWC) initiated the Ag Water Network in late 2015 with the objective of helping to ‘keep ag water connected with ag land.’ The Ag Water Network is partially funded by a Walton Family Foundation grant.
The state water plan, released in November, 2015, estimated Colorado’s population could swell to 10 million people by 2050, nearly doubling our current population of 5.4 million. The plan projects that the demand for water driven by the increasing population could result in a municipal and industrial water supply gap of 560,000 acre-feet. Statewide, this could result in the loss of 700,000 irrigated acres by 2050 through the purchase and transfer of water rights from irrigated agriculture to urban areas. Such large-scale dry-up of irrigated agriculture would have permanent adverse economic, environmental and food security impacts.
The water plan acknowledges the economic, environmental and cultural value of Colorado’s agriculture industry. To minimize ‘buy and dry’ of irrigated farmland, the plan emphasizes water conservation, increased storage, and alternative agricultural transfer methods (ag water leases) as the primary means for closing the projected water supply-demand gap.
Rotational fallowing, deficit irrigation, and planting lower consumptive use crops are the main practices being used and/or tested for “creating” consumptive use water that would otherwise have been used by crops. Consumptive use (CU) water is water retained by the growing plant plus the amount lost through evapotranspiration.
The consumptive use (CU) water can be leased to municipal, industrial, recreational, environmental or agricultural interests provided the lease complies with state water law. All alternative ag transfers, or “ag water sharing” agreements must be voluntary, temporary and compensated. A variety of state laws have been passed over the last decade to ensure that a participating landowner’s water right(s) are not negatively impacted as long as the terms of the lease agreement comply with state law. Ag water leasing represents a sustainable approach that enables irrigated land to stay in production, albeit at a reduced output level, while helping supply water for other uses.
Ag water leasing is a new concept to most Colorado ag producers. The purpose of the ag water survey was to assess the level of knowledge of ag water right holders throughout the state regarding water leasing terms and concepts, and determine ag water right holder perspectives, concerns and interest related to leasing.
The survey was initiated February 26th, 2016 and closed on July 15, 2016, and received more than 300 responses. The first question – “do you own or lease ag water rights?” – was answered “no” by 51 respondents, leaving 266 respondents that said they own or lease agricultural water rights. The survey contained 25 background and water-related questions as well as a section at the conclusion which allowed respondents to leave comments or ask questions. All 25 survey questions are listed in the Appendix .
The project to bring raw water irrigation to the town of Norwood is gaining traction with a recently approved grant awarded by the Hermitage Fund, a philanthropic fund advised by the Telluride Foundation.
The $10,000 grant is the first won by The Norwood Lawn & Garden group, community raw water advocates who have been in charge of advocacy efforts and community surveying for the project.
Not to be confused with grey water, raw water is untreated [surface water or groundwater] — in this case from the Gurley Reservoir — that can be used for agricultural and home irrigation.
The raw water project has been on the radar of the town of Norwood for many years but did not become a tangible project until a grant issued to the town by the Colorado Water Conservation Board was used to conduct a $47,000 feasibility study.
After the feasibility study was presented in February, the Norwood Lawn & Garden group was formed and started distributing surveys to the community to see how many residents would be ready to give a tap commitment — a $2,500 fee for installing a tap to access the new water source — which also helps offset the initial costs of the project.
Led by Clay Wadman, the group of volunteers consists of members of the Norwood Water Commission, the Norwood Board of Trustees, the Colorado Water [Conservation] Board and community citizens that want to see raw water from the nearby Gurley Reservoir be directed to the town of Norwood for lawn and garden irrigation purposes.
This grant is one of three that is being solicited in order to see the raw water project come to fruition. A second grant from the Southwestern Water Conservation District for $175,000 will be submitted on Friday, and a third grant will be requested from the state Department of Local Affairs in late fall of 2016.
“Our hope is that this grant from the Hermitage Fund helps spearhead additional fundraising and grant efforts for the project,” April Montgomery, programs director of the Telluride Foundation said.
According to Montgomery, the grant provided by the Hermitage Fund will be split between two areas of concentration: for a senior citizen scholarship fund, which will provide senior citizens on fixed incomes with subsidized or free taps to access the new water source, and for administrative costs associated with running the project including marketing, community outreach and grant-writing initiatives.
The Hermitage Fund was created in memory of Reverend Sylvester Schoening and gives funds to organizations “which promote the preservation and restoration of land, water, natural resources and wildlife habitat in the San Miguel region of Colorado,” according to the Telluride Foundation.
According to Wadman, 107 people have already said they would be interested in the taps (up from 80 in July) and if they could get that number to 150 and win the other two grants the project will have enough funding to begin the first phase of construction in the summer of 2017. The project needs to raise $1.1 million dollars to reach that goal.
Wadman said that for residents, the tap commitments are “a big bullet to bite” but that in the long run it will be worth it. “(People are) going to save money on water bills, water is going to be much cheaper, it is going to make their properties more valuable, and going to make their rentals more rentable.”
If Norwood were to complete the project, it would join the ranks of other Colorado towns that have adapted to a raw water system including Carbondale, Nucla, Dove Creek and Grand Junction.
For Wadman, the raw water project is an extension of the growing agricultural movement taking place in Norwood.
“Norwood is defining itself as food centric. It is gardening, it is food based … raw water supports that,” he said.
Wadman will be presenting at the Norwood Board of Trustees meeting this Wednesday where the presale of taps will be up for discussion.
A remote-operated cloud-seeding generator is being installed in the mountains above Dolores in an attempt to improve snowpack and runoff into McPhee Reservoir.
Cloud seeders emit plumes of silver iodide into winter storm clouds to coax additional precipitation from clouds.
There are about 30 cloud-seeding generators stretching in an arc from Telluride to Mancos to Pagosa Springs. Most of the units are 40-year-old designs and require an operator to turn them on and off when conditions warrant.
The Cortez Journal reports that the Dolores Water Conservancy District has partnered with the Idaho Power Co. and Colorado Water Conservation Board on the project. Idaho Power has developed a more efficient remote-controlled generator that can be placed in locations higher in the mountains and closer to the clouds they seed.
The state’s population is growing. Its water supply is not.
This reality is the driving force behind the Colorado Water Plan, which aims to conserve what we have against a 560,000 acre-feet gap between supply and demand projected by 2030.
“That’s water that has to come from somewhere else,” John Stulp, director of the Inter Basin Compact Commission, said Thursday. “ … most likely, from agriculture and the Western Slope. We’re trying to avoid that.”
Stulp, who is also a special advisor to Gov. John Hickenlooper and a rancher, was in Montrose for the Uncompahgre Valley Water Forum, hosted by the Shavano Conservation District.
Stulp addressed how agriculture fits into the Colorado Water Plan. Agriculture “has the preponderance” of first use of water in the state — about 80 percent of Colorado water use begins in agriculture, he said.
The plan’s measurable outcomes address the projected supply-demand gap by 2030, plus the conservation goal of 400,00 acre-feet per year by 2050. Colorado is expected to add 5 million people in the coming decades, a number that includes native-born residents.
Conservation must be done on all levels, not just in agriculture, Stulp said, but also industrial and municipal.
“That, in itself, can provide a lot of water,” he said. Denver Water, for example, is using the same amount of water as it did 30 years ago, despite serving 350,000 more people now.
Storage is another factor. “That’s what made the West,” Stulp said. “We need more storage as we have more people coming.”
Agricultural objectives include the need to keep pace with national and global demand for food in the face of declining agricultural land worldwide, as well as finding alternatives to “buy and dry.”
Buy and dry refers to the selling or transfer of agricultural land and the water rights that may come with it, which can take both the land and the water out of ag. production.
The state has already lost between 500,000 and 700,000 irrigated acres to buy and dry, which the Colorado Water Plan does not prevent.
The state must guard against dry years by developing alternatives, Stulp said, citing both the 2012 drought in Colorado and the recent, crippling drought in California.
The former resulted in a $700 million loss; the latter loss is estimated at $9 billion.
“Drought can be devastating,” Stulp said.
Rotational fallowing, interruptive supply, deficit irrigation, water cooperatives and water conservation easements have all been presented as alternatives to buy and dry, as have alternate transfer methods.
Pilot projects are taking place in the state and elsewhere, along with discussions about irrigation technology needs.
“Alternate transfer methods are designed to be able to transfer water from agriculture to municipal (use) on a temporary basis,” Stulp said.
That can be mutually beneficial, and also contributes to resiliency. In times of drought, farmers “need to be able to squeeze every drop,” Stulp said.
The concept of water banking also ties into conserving water, but the challenge lies in making it happen basin-wide, said Montrose County Water Rights Development Coordinator Marc Catlin.
Catlin also sits on the Colorado River Water Conservation Board and the Gunnison Basin Roundtable.
Water banking would also encourage some fallowing of ground on a rotational basis.
“Right now, we’re studying water banking,” Catlin said. Water banking would depend in part on the ability to move unused irrigation water to places where it is needed, past diversion structures.
This could require adjustments to the Colorado River Compact.
The 1922 compact is a multi-state agreement for the use of Colorado River water. It requires 7.5 million acre-feet of water each year to be transferred to upper basin states.
With Mexico’s interests factored in, 8.2 million acre-feet of water flows across Lee’s Ferry each year to meet the compact requirements, a feat made possible by Lake Powell — “our insurance policy,” Catlin said.
If the compact provisions are not met, the upper basin states can place a call for curtailment; Lake Powell makes it possible to make sure the required amount of water is always going to be available. Drought is currently affecting the lake and hydropower generation from it.
Catlin said he has concerns with water banking, among these, “urban cousins” selling permanent water taps based on a temporary water supply.
“It’s going to take everybody” to decide what conservation looks like, Catlin said. “It’s a limited supply.”
Said Stulp: “The water plan is going to be as good as we implement it.”
GLENWOOD SPRINGS – The city of Glenwood Springs is making progress toward securing a recreational water right for three potential whitewater parks on the Colorado River, but it has yet to come to terms with Aurora, Colorado Springs and the Colorado Water Conservation Board.
In kayaking terms, it could be said the city has greased close to a dozen Class II and III rapids so far since it started its run through water court in 2013. And it’s recently made it cleanly through a Class IV hole called “Denver Water.” But it is now facing two gnarly Class V rapids called “Homestake” and “CWCB.”
Aurora and Colorado Springs are co-owners of the Homestake Project, which includes a reservoir on Homestake Creek in the upper Eagle River basin that holds 43,300 acre-feet of water.
The water is stored and then shipped through the Homestake Tunnel to Turquoise Reservoir and on to the two Front Range cities, which also hold conditional water rights in the Homestake Project that could allow for development of more water.
The two cities, acting jointly as Homestake Partners, have told the water court and the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) that Glenwood Springs is claiming more water than it needs for a valid recreational experience.
And they say Glenwood Springs’ proposed water right for the parks would prevent the additional development of more water-supply projects in the upper Colorado River basin within Colorado.
“Glenwood’s proposed RICD [recreational in-channel diversion] would unilaterally foreclose development in the Colorado River basin above Glenwood, affecting users both in the basin and on the Front Range,” Aurora and Colorado Springs told the water court in June 2015. “This will result in further ‘buy and dry’ of agricultural water rights, and could in addition motivate West Slope users to make trans-basin diversions from other river basins, such as the Yampa and Gunnison.”
Glenwood Springs has filed for a single water right tied to “three proposed boating parks” to be known as the No Name, Horseshoe Bend and Two Rivers whitewater parks. Each park would include two wave-producing structures.
The whitewater parks would be able to call for between 1,250 cubic feet per second of water from April 1 to Sept. 30, for 2,500 cfs between June 8 and July 23, and for 4,000 cfs for five days between June 30 and July 6.
The ability for Glenwood to call for 1,250 cfs doesn’t seem to be much of an issue in the case, as that’s the same amount of water that the Shoshone hydropower plant upstream of the proposed whitewater parks has been calling downriver since 1902.
But flows of 2,500 and 4,000 cfs are apparently a different matter.
“We see nothing substantiating that there is any demand for water-based recreational experiences beyond those that are already available in view of the current stream regimen,” wrote attorneys for Homestake in 2014.
Yet the city has so far managed to file signed stipulations in water court with Denver Water, Ute Water Conservancy District, Orchard Mesa Irrigation District, Grand Valley Water Users Association, Ute Water Conservancy District, Glenwood Hot Springs Lodge and Pool, Bureau of Land Management and Colorado Dept. of Transportation.
The most recent of those agreements approved in Div. 5 water court in Glenwood Springs was with CDOT on July 25 and with Denver Water on May 31.
The agreement with Denver Water includes a provision where Glenwood Springs will not oppose a future, and as yet undefined, project to develop an additional 20,000 acre-feet of diversions from the West Slope, as contemplated in the 2013 Colorado River Cooperative Agreement, or CRCA, which Glenwood Springs signed.
“We’ve just agreed that we’re not going to have our water right impede that project once it’s defined and agreed to by the signatories of the CRCA,” said Mark Hamilton of Holland and Hart, the attorney representing Glenwood Springs in the case (2013CW3109).
Glenwood Springs has also reached conceptual agreements with the Colorado River District, West Divide Water Conservancy District and the town of Gypsum, but has yet to file signed stipulation agreements with the court.
Also in the case, but in support of Glenwood Springs’ application, are American Whitewater, Western Resource Advocates, and Grand County.
“We’ve made a really diligent specific effort to address a whole variety of concerns from a whole bunch of different people,” Hamilton said. “We’re making every effort to get there, but until Homestake and CWCB come to rest, we can’t assure anybody we still don’t need to have some kind of hearing in front of Judge Boyd.”
Judge James Boyd oversees water court proceedings in Div. 5 water court. The city’s application is still before the water court referee, who works with opposing parties to see if settlements can be reached before referring the case to the judge.
The referee has given the parties at least until Oct. 27 to see if agreements can be reached, but extensions of time are not usually hard to obtain.
Hamilton is set to meet on Sept. 8 with representatives from Aurora and Colorado Springs in another effort to reach an agreement. It will be the fourth such meeting since February.
Joe Stibrich, the water resources policy manager for Aurora Water and a member of the board of the Homestake Steering Committee, said last week he couldn’t discuss the ongoing settlement negotiations, but did say Aurora and Homestake Partners were working in good faith.
He also said, however, that the concerns already articulated by the two cities to the court and CWCB are still outstanding.
Carving out the MOU
Aurora and Colorado Springs are both parties to the Eagle River Memorandum of Understanding, which is tied to the Homestake Reservoir and Tunnel.
The 1998 agreement allows for a new water supply project in the upper Eagle River basin that would provide 10,000 acre-feet of water for a variety of West Slope entities and 20,000 acre-feet for Aurora and Colorado Springs.
Such a project is now being actively studied, and may include a new dam on lower Homestake Creek that would flood complex wetlands.
Hamilton put a clause in the draft water rights decree that Glenwood Springs “shall not use the RICD water rights as a basis to oppose” projects described in the Eagle River MOU.
“That’s something that we offered up without even having a settlement agreement with them,” Hamilton said. “It was my initial shot at trying to draft a ruling that I though would address their concerns. And so I would envision that any additional settlement terms would be laid on top of what we’ve already put in there.”
There is likely more than the Eagle River MOU of interest to Aurora and Colorado Springs.
In 2012, the two cities told the BLM and USFS, in comment letters regarding potential Wild and Scenic designation on a section of the Colorado River, that “as much as 86,400 acre feet of water supplies may be developed by completion of the Homestake Project” and that “Aurora and Colorado Springs plan to develop the remaining portions of Homestake Project.”
Even if an agreement can be worked out with Aurora and Colorado Springs, Glenwood Springs will still need to come to terms with the Colorado Water Conservation Board, which recommended in June 2015 that the water court deny the city’s RICD filing.
The CWCB is charged by the state legislature with reviewing proposed RICDs and then making a recommendation to the water court.
When it came to Glenwood’s filing, the CWCB board of directors concluded in an 8-to-1 vote that it would “impair Colorado’s ability to fully develop its compact entitlements” and would not promote “the maximum beneficial use of water” in the state.
The state agency also directed its staff to oppose Glenwood’s filing in water court.
It’s not clear at this point how Judge Boyd might handle the recommendation-to-deny from the CWCB, or if Glenwood Springs might be able to get the CWCB to change its stance opposing the proposed water right.
“If we reach settlements with Homestake it’s possible that the CWCB would then reconsider and change its recommendations,” Hamilton said.
When it comes to reaching terms with Aurora and Colorado Springs, Hamilton said he remains “optimistic.”
“There is diligent ongoing discussion on all sides and good faith efforts being made,” he said. “And if it fails, it fails, and we’ll go to Judge Boyd and start setting deadlines and dealing with things more formally. But I think everybody is giving it a fair shot and seeing if we can get there shy of that.”
Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism and the Aspen Daily News are collaborating on coverage of rivers and water. The Daily News published this story on Monday, Sept. 5, 2016.
Colorado’s Water Plan envisions spending $100 million annually on water projects, but existing sources of funding are drying up.
The Legislature’s interim water resources review committee heard some of the reasons for that, as well as recent poll results that indicate the state’s voters might be ready to back a large-scale funding approach.
Revenues from the state’s mineral severance tax, which are used in part to fund water project loans, will drop significantly this year as a result of a state Supreme Court decision and depressed oil and gas prices, said Bill Levine, budget director for the Department of Natural Resources.
The court decision agrees with BP Petroleum’s assertion that Colorado had been overtaxing companies by including production costs that should have been deductible. State revenues took a double hit, both from the lower present value — about half of the price two years ago — and complicated tax code provisions that factor in losses from prior years.
“We’ve hit the cliff and gone over the cliff,” Levine said.
As a result, revenues that totaled $271 million in 2014 dropped to $57 million this year. In addition, the state is looking at repaying potentially $20 million to BP and other companies based on the court case.
Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, took issue at blaming the Supreme Court for the predicament.
“This is the cost of the Department of Revenue making poor decisions 10-15 years ago. The Supreme Court is not to blame,” he told Levine.
On the bright side, for water interests, state voters are supportive of spending money for planning, conservation, enhancement of river habitat, new water supplies and new storage projects, Denver pollster Floyd Ciruli told the committee. Those concepts have an 80-90 percent approval rating.
He cautioned the committee that sometimes those rosy numbers change by the time an actual measure is proposed, such as in 2003, when Referendum A was defeated in every Colorado county.
The $2 billion measure, which newspaper editorials branded a “blank check” showed early support among voters.
“A small passion against (a proposal) can grow to defeat,” Ciruli said.
Other polling results showed that attention has shifted to water quality from results of similar questions in 2013, when storage was more important because of an ongoing drought.
The survey also showed voters put more trust in local government than state, and far less in federal solutions.
“But the public is ready for implementation (of water projects),” he stressed.