#COWaterPlan: The Irrigation and Water Efficiency Conference, January 20

Ridgway via AllTelluride.com
Ridgway via AllTelluride.com

From The Montrose Daily Press (Devin O’Brien):

The Shavano Conservation District will provide an opportunity for area residents to slake their thirst for information about the Colorado Water Plan and water management.

The Irrigation and Water Efficiency Conference will address the recently adopted plan as well as management methods, Colorado water law, funding for irrigation improvements and wildlife habitat, according to a press release. Shavano Conservation District President Ken Lipton said information about the future of water use in Colorado is applicable to those whose interest is agricultural, environmental or otherwise.

“It’s important that every citizen understands the Colorado Water Plan,” Lipton said. “It’ll affect everyone.”

One of the areas the conference will cover will be small acreage management, which, according to Lipton, is growing in popularity in Montrose and Ouray counties.

John Rizza, a Small Acreage Management Specialist, is one of the speakers at the event. Water rotation among small farms and crops able to withstand drought are among the subjects he will address.

Oftentimes small acreage farms are formed by dividing land from a larger farm. In terms of water, this means a source is being used by multiple people for the first time, according to Rizza. Communication with other landowners is necessary to ensure a water source isn’t compromised through multiple people watering their fields on the same day. This is especially important in areas prone to droughts.

Another method of small acreage water management comes in the form of the perennial farm system. Perennial crops, such as the feed crops of Needle and Thread, Blue Grama, Indiana Rice Grass and Wheatgrass, are able to adapt to waterless conditions by hibernating. What results is a crop that is able to thrive until precipitation returns to an area.

“They can handle a little bit of drought and still produce a well for landowners,” Rizza said…

Other speakers include Special Policy Advisor to the Governor for Water John Stulp and former Division Four Water Court Referee Aaron Clay.

The conference is sponsored by the Bureau of Reclamation, the Colorado Department of Agriculture, the Natural Resource Conservation Service in addition to the Shavano Conservation District…

The event will be 2 p.m. Wednesday Jan. 20 at the 4-H Event Center in Ridgway. Attendees are encouraged to RSVP by calling (970) 249-8407, or emailing mendystewart@co.nacdnet.net

#COWaterPlan Reviewed at Crop Production Clinic — The Prowers Journal

Governor Hickenlooper, John Salazar and John Stulp at the 2012 Drought Conference
Governor Hickenlooper, John Salazar and John Stulp at the 2012 Drought Conference

From The Prowers Journal (Russ Baldwin):

John Stulp, former State Agriculture Secretary, Prowers County Commissioner and current Special Policy Advisor to Governor Hickenlooper for Water issues, was one of eight speakers at the January 6th Crop Production Clinic held at Lamar Community College.

Stulp provided an update on the Governor’s State Water Plan which was presented to Hickenlooper last month. The ten year study provides information on current and future water needs for Colorado and how those needs will impact such areas as population growth, adequate water storage plans, conservation and environment, agricultural needs and non-consumptive uses. The information was compiled as a result of numerous Interbasin Water Committee and roundtable meetings conducted throughout the state for several years.

Stulp laid out some general statistics for the gathering, which began with a produced video detailing the aims of the study. He added, “Our future water uses are being determined by several factors including climate change, population growth, recent state forest fires and agricultural demands, all of which will impact our supplies.” Stulp commented on water distribution, adding that although most of our water flows on the western side of the Continental Divide, 80% of the population is on the east. The Western Slope population is at 562,000 with 918,000 irrigated acres and the eastern side of the state has a population count of 4,490,000 with 2,548,000 irrigated acres. Even with that amount, Stulp noted that only 5% of state surface land is irrigated. One graph showed the amount of water leaving the state from our river systems, with the Arkansas River’s estimate at 164,000 acre/feet per year.

“There will have to be some conservation efforts,” he said, noting that the state’ s projected population growth will take us to double the current 5,000,000 residents by 2050, half from the birth rate and the balance from an influx from the rest of the country. “Colorado is still one of the destination states for future growth and we need to take that into account,” he stated. Stulp told the audience that even with an additional 350,000 residents into the Denver area over the past several years; conservation efforts reduced water usage by 20%.

As southeast Colorado’s economy is heavily dependent on farming and ranching, Stulp noted that our agricultural growth will need to keep pace with state, national and global demands which will call for innovative ideas for water use, storage and conservation. Some ideas put forth from the study indicated a need for rotational fallowing, interruptible water supply, deficit irrigation, water coops and banks and water conservation easements. He noted that storage will play an important part in future water supplies, with thought being given to underground storage to reduce evaporation loss.

Keeping water down on the farm — The Pueblo Chieftain

Bessemer Ditch via The Pueblo Chieftain
Bessemer Ditch via The Pueblo Chieftain

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Palmer Land Trust: Pueblo County, Lower Ark Valley at risk

Keeping farms and ranches productive is more than just a quaint notion for the Palmer Land Trust, which sees agriculture as the thread that holds together the fabric of the Lower Arkansas Valley.

And Pueblo County should be on guard.

“This doesn’t work unless the larger community makes an investment and says, ‘We want to save this,’ ” said Matt Heimerich, coordinator for Palmer’s initiative in the Lower Arkansas Valley.

Heimerich and Executive Director Rebecca Jewett met Wednesday with The Pueblo Chieftain editorial board to discuss progress with a two-pronged program to keep irrigation water on farms and to improve sustainable ranching methods.

“We’re at the front end of our initiative to protect farmland in the Arkansas Valley,” Jewett said. “This is just a starting point.”

Two projects last year moved the effort ahead:

  • Palmer is working with the Nature Conservancy on turning around the 25,000-acre BX Ranch in eastern Pueblo County. A conservation easement and a trial program to better manage grasslands aim at eventually finding a buyer for one of the region’s oldest ranches.
  • Palmer also is helping to preserve farms on the High Line Canal near Rocky Ford in a demonstration project the trust believes can be used as a model for other ditches, including the Bessemer Ditch in Pueblo County.

“The Bessemer is closer to Pueblo and the prices of farms increase dramatically. The water rights and soil are good, and we want to work there before it’s too late,” Jewett said.

It’s not an easy process, mainly because conservation values for water rights typically reflect actual value rather the potential for future sales to cities.

Heimerich knows all too well the potential side of the equation. As a Crowley County farmer and former commissioner, he has seen the devastating effect of dewatering thousands of acres of productive farm ground when the water was sold to Pueblo, Colorado Springs and Aurora.

He’s optimistic that cities won’t be able to practice the same sort of buy-and-dry tactics of the past, but said Pueblo County is not immune and should be doing everything it can to protect agriculture.

“Think of Pueblo Chiles, that’s a great start. There’s no reason Pueblo can’t be thought of in the same way as Sonoma or Bourdeaux,” Heimerich said. “Look at what they did with Rocky Ford melons.”

In addition to branding, Heimerich wants to encourage food-processing industries to locate here in order to increase the value of local products, another area Palmer is pushing communities to act.

Finally, he thinks the newly adopted Colorado Water Plan will provide a barrier for cities to carry out the sorts of water raids which decimated Crowley County.

“Crowley County in the 1960s had the highest percentage of people who claimed agriculture as their primary source of income. I think that’s what got me interested in the land trust,” Heimerich said.

“The municipalities need water, but know that under the state water plan it will be an uphill political fight. The Palmer Land Trust is part of a way to manage water so that farmers can continue to farm.”

Webinar: #Colorado, we have a #COWaterPlan — Western Rivers Action Network

From email from the Western Rivers Action Network:

You’re Invited: January Lunchtime Webinar Series
Noon January 6

The final Colorado Water Plan, released November 2015, is an important step forward for Colorado on future water management. The plan reflects many Coloradan’s values and water priorities. The plan shows important progress by setting water conservation goals, proposing funding for healthy rivers, and making a large new trans-mountain diversion less likely. But, what does the plan say about funding, storage, permitting, or criteria for state water project support?

Find out by joining water experts on January 6 from noon 1 p.m. MT for an engaging webinar about what the final Water Plan means for Colorado today and tomorrow.

Our list of presenters and topics include:

  • Abby Burk, host and Western Rivers Outreach Specialist for Audubon Rockies, will discuss stream management plans and environmental resilience.
  • Aaron Citron, Water Program Manager for Environmental Defense Fund, will present on agricultural efficiencies and alternative transfer methods.
  • Drew Beckwith, Water Policy Manager for Western Resource Advocates, will report on the first statewide water conservation goal, and storage plans.
  • Melinda Kassen, Interbasin Compact Committee member, will present on the Conceptual Framework, criteria for state supported projects, and funding for the water plan.
  • Theresa Conley, Water Advocate for Conservation Colorado, will discuss legislative possibilities and next steps to taking the plan from paper to on the ground work.
  • We will follow up these must see presentations with opportunities for Q&A. Don’t miss out! Our rivers and all they support depend upon our next steps structured by the Water Plan. Register today.

    A screenshot from the website for Colorado's Water Plan.
    A screenshot from the website for Colorado’s Water Plan.

    #COWaterPlan: “…it includes elements that everyone both likes and dislikes. That’s the nature of compromise” — Jack Bombardier

    Town of Gypsum via Vail.net
    Town of Gypsum via Vail.net

    Here’s a column from Jack Bombardier writing in The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel:

    On Nov. 19, the final draft of the Colorado Water Plan was delivered to Gov. John Hickenlooper. In the future, this might be looked back upon as a watershed moment for Colorado (pun intended).

    Since our fair state was first settled, water disputes have been a constant source of controversy. And now, after 14 years of drought and a never-ending flow of people wanting to live here, the challenge to supply enough water to keep everyone happy has never been more urgent.

    The governor was smart to understand that water drives Colorado’s economy and our quality of life more than anything else, including 200,000 sustainable jobs in our tourism and recreation economy. His emphasis on ensuring that the recreation and tourism economy tied to healthy rivers is taken into account in the plan is welcomed by the Colorado business community and environmental stakeholders alike.

    As I see it, there are two main water issues underlying all of the others. The first is supply and demand; drought is chipping away at the supply and more folks moving here all the time are increasing demand. The second is the fact that 89 percent of Colorado’s population lives on the Front Range, and 84 percent of our water flows west. These realities make it impossible for everyone to get everything they want. However, the new water plan represents a good first step toward reaching that ideal.

    I live beside the Colorado River, and with only a slight turn of my head I can see it flowing past my window as I write this. For most of the year, I run a float fishing business called Confluence Casting and take people from all over the world down the river. From my perspective, I see a precious resource, one that not only provides me with income but that helps people connect to the natural world in a very deep and almost spiritual way. River corridors like the Colorado and others are why people come here to live or visit in the first place. Quality of life is a hard value to define, but you know when you have it, and when you don’t. And here in Colorado, we definitely do.

    As much work as it took to get the water plan completed, now is when the heavy lifting begins. The plan outlines the main issues we face, and a number of different methods that we might use to help ensure our water supplies for the next 50 years or longer. But there is nothing in the plan that is really mandated. It’s sort of an “all of the above” wish list of things. Since all of the state’s Basin Roundtables and other varied stakeholders were involved in crafting the plan, it includes elements that everyone both likes and dislikes. That’s the nature of compromise.

    Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer's office
    Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer’s office

    From my narrow perch, I don’t want to see any more trans-basin diversions or dams, and not a drop more water going east. But even if we consider diverting water to the Front Range, let’s first consider smarter solutions that maximize water that is already available. For sure, available water could be managed a lot better than it is now, whether by reducing waste at the municipal or agricultural level, or by amending outdated water law. Colorado water rights have a “use it or lose it” provision that discourages landowners from keeping water in the rivers when they don’t need to take it. It can also be in a farmer’s short-term interest to sell their water rights to a city. Why not make it easier to lease it instead?

    I’m as pleased as everyone else that the Colorado Water Plan is now a real, living document. It is heartening to see the governor has placed conservation values at the center. The most cost effective and easily implementable way to ensure our businesses and communities have enough water to thrive is to improve urban and agricultural water conservation.

    The Colorado Water Plan may only be a first step, but every great journey begins with that. Now the plan needs to be implemented. The positive momentum we’ve created must be continued with robust and detailed criteria for project selection and adequate funding to protect our rivers, outdoor recreation industry, agricultural heritage, businesses and thriving cities. May we all look back in the coming years and say that Colorado’s great and successful journey towards a comprehensive water policy began on Nov. 19, 2015.

    Jack Bombardier is the owner of Confluence Casting, based in ​Gypsum, Colorado.

    Ike enjoying the Fraser River back in the day
    Ike enjoying the Fraser River back in the day

    #COWaterPlan: “We’re recognizing now…that recreation and river health is one of our primary values” — Nathan Fey

    From the Public News Service – CO (Eric Galatas):

    Conservation groups are gearing up to make sure their voices are heard as Colorado’s Water Plan heads into the implementation phase in the new year.

    Nathan Fey, Colorado stewardship director for American Whitewater, said the last 100 years of water development have been focused on meeting demands at the tap along the Front Range and for agriculture, but added that he’s encouraged the state is embracing new priorities.

    “We’re recognizing now, for the first time in Colorado, that recreation and river health is one of our primary values,” he said. “This plan has called out kind of a new ethic, and that is: we’ve got to protect our rivers. Because it supports this very robust recreation industry.”

    Fey said river recreation in Colorado pumps $29 billion into the state’s economy, and the Colorado River basin accounts for $9 billion alone. He said people who care about rivers shouldn’t just leave the plan’s rollout to the state and utility companies, adding that American Whitewater will urge its members to join upcoming roundtables to make sure the plan’s stream and headwater protections go into effect.

    Colorado’s Water Conservation Board projects that the state’s population, which surpassed 5 million people in 2008, will reach 10 million by 2050 – and most growth will occur in cities on the Front Range.

    Fey said it’s important for residents to know that water used for golf courses, lawns and showers comes from the Western Slope. Conservation efforts, which feature prominently in the water plan, will be critical for its success, he said.

    “We need to conserve water to support what we like today, to make sure that it sticks around into the future,” he said. “The more water we conserve now, the less it means we have to take water from somewhere else in the future – whether it’s out of the river or it’s from our food producers.”

    If the collaboration, flexibility and innovation that helped produce the plan is carried forward into implementation, Fey said, he’s confident Colorado’s homes, agriculture and the birds and wildlife that depend upon healthy rivers for survival can all get the water they need. The water plan is online at http://coloradowaterplan.com.

    “…this is a new time and Denver Water is a different organization than back in the day.” — Mike King

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Charles Ashby):

    After nearly six years on the job, Mike King is leaving the Colorado Department of Natural Resources.

    The Montrose native who has headed the department since Gov. John Hickenlooper came into office in 2010 announced Thursday that he was trading in that job for one some Western Slope folks might find, well, somewhat interesting.

    He’s to be the new director of planning at Denver Water.

    In his new job, King is to oversee Denver Water’s long-range planning for treated and raw water supplies, demand and supply management, water rights, environmental compliance, watershed management and climate change preparations.

    “As the son of a West Slope water lawyer and a Wayne Aspinall Democrat, this is a new time and Denver Water is a different organization than back in the day,” King said. “They’ve been moving in the right direction, and I look forward to helping them get there. They’re about as progressive as any agency I can imagine, so it’s all good.”

    King added, however, that people should watch what he does and hold him accountable for it.

    Hickenlooper, who said he’s still looking for a replacement, praised King for all the work he’s done during his administration, including helping to devise a statewide water plan and working on compromises on oil and gas drilling practices.

    During his time on the job, King also helped Hickenlooper merge the department’s parks and wildlife divisions, and helped devise Colorado’s roadless rule with the U.S. Forest Service.

    “Mike brokered the oil and gas task force, helped create the state’s first-ever water plan and recently launched Colorado Beautiful, the most ambitious trails and recreation expansion in a decade,” Hickenlooper said. “His ability to balance industry and conservation concerns is unparalleled.”

    Several groups have praised King for the job he’s done leading the department.

    “During that time, he oversaw important natural resource projects,” said Pete Maysmith, executive director of Conservation Colorado. “We have appreciated Mike’s sophisticated understanding of these very complex issues and support on environmental priorities, such as protection of the Roan Plateau, negotiation of a strong sage grouse plan and advocacy on behalf of the in-stream flow program.”

    King, who has worked at the department for about a decade under several executive directors before becoming one himself, said he was pleased with what he’s accomplished, but that it was time to move on.

    “I put my heart and soul into it and moved the ball,” he said. “We’ve done incredible things with the water plan, the Rio Grande cooperative agreement, and watched Denver Water reach agreement with the Colorado River cooperative, so we’ve made some incredible progress on water.”

    Denver Water Collection System via Denver Water
    Denver Water Collection System via Denver Water