#Drought news: The November 2015 drought update is hot off the presses from the CWCB

Click here to read the update:

Following a very warm and dry start to the fall, November to-date has seen more seasonal temperatures west of the divide and increased precipitation on the west slope and northeastern plains. This has helped to alleviate abnormally dry conditions over parts of the state. Storage levels in some basins are at the highest levels since the turn of the 21st century and water providers have no immediate concerns going into the snow accumulation season.

  • September ended water year (WY) 2015 well above average for temperature across Colorado, ranking as the warmest September on record. The start of WY 2016 began much the same with October ranking the 3rd warmest on record. Both months saw average temperatures more than 50F above the long term monthly average, setting the state up to see the warmest three month September/October/ November period on record.
  • Overall precipitation during the October 2014- September 2015 water year was above average and the wettest water year since WY1999. Evapotranspiration rates were also some of the lowest recorded, since record keeping began 23 years ago.
  • Statewide water year-to-date precipitation is near average across most of the state. Recent storms resulted in increases in many basins including the basins of the southwest, Upper Rio Grande, Gunnison, Upper Colorado and South Platte which are all above average for the water year to-date at 140, 105, 113, 110 and 121 percent of average, respectively.
  • Reservoir Storage statewide is at 109 percent of average as of November 1st . The Arkansas basin has the highest storage levels in the state at 132 percent of average; this is the highest reservoir levels have been in the Arkansas in more than 15 years.
  • The Upper Rio Grande has the lowest storage levels at 87percent of average; this is also the only basin with below average storage. However, the Rio Grande levels are 28 percent greater now than this time last year and the highest they have been since 2009.
  • The Surface Water Supply Index (SWSI) is highly variable across the state with sub-basins ranging from extremely dry to extremely wet. At this time of year the index reflects reservoir storage, which is largely above normal statewide, streamflow forecasts will be incorporated into the index beginning in January.
  • El Niño conditions remain strong, and are projected to continue into early spring. Strong events do not favor increased precipitation during the winter months in the central and northern mountains of Colorado, as storm tracks tend to move in a more southerly pattern. However, the likelihood of good spring snowfall in this region is better, especially along the Front Range. The best combination would be for the El Niño to weaken over the winter, and then come back strong in spring.


Colorado Drought Monitor November 10, 2015
Colorado Drought Monitor November 10, 2015

#COWaterPlan is Historic Step Forward — San Juan Citizens Alliance

From the San Juan Citizens Alliance via the Pagosa Daily Post:

Colorado’s leading conservation and recreation organizations American Rivers, American Whitewater, Audubon, Conservation Colorado, Environmental Defense Fund, High Country Conservation Advocates, San Juan Citizens Alliance and Western Resource Advocates agree that Colorado’s first-ever water plan is an important step forward for the state in terms of future water management.

The final plan reflects Coloradans’ values made clear in 30,000 public comments that revealed overwhelming support for conserving water in our cities and towns, protecting rivers and promoting a strong river-­based recreation economy.

These conservation groups agree the plan will help protect Colorado’s $9 billion recreation and outdoor economy, our vital agricultural communities, and the birds and wildlife that depend upon healthy rivers for survival, while also helping to preserve our Western way of life. Specifically the groups applaud the fact the plan makes important progress in securing Colorado’s water future by:

  • Setting the first-­ever state wide water conservation targets for cities and towns, prioritizing water conservation as never before
  • Helping preserve and restore our rivers by proposing annual funding for healthy rivers, which will create ongoing and unprecedented financial support for river assessments and restoration
  • Making new, costly and controversial large trans-­‐mountain diversions, which harm rivers and local communities, much less likely
  • Together, these groups express optimism about the plan’s overall direction, and are committed to the implementation process. The groups emphasize that the plan will not be valuable without action from Colorado’s leaders to implement it.

    Meeting all of Colorado’s water needs will require implementation and action in the same spirit of collaboration, flexibility and innovation that was shown in producing the plan. The groups will work with Governor Hickenlooper and the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) to protect Colorado’s environment by strengthening the water project evaluation criteria so the state engages only in those efforts that are cost-­‐effective and have support from local communities. The groups look forward to collaborating with the state, water utilities, irrigators, the business community and others to adhere to and execute the plan and protect water for future generations.

    Overall Colorado’s conservation experts agree the state is taking historic steps in the right direction by ensuring Colorado increases water conservation and recycling, keeps rivers healthy and flowing, and avoids new large trans-mountain diversions.

    “The plan provides ample water for fast-­growing Front Range cities, while recognizing the importance of protecting what makes Colorado special: gold-­medal streams, flowing Rocky Mountain rivers, healthy western slope communities, and abundant wildlife. It’s clear that Coloradans value what our state has to offer and we are optimistic the plan will provide a down-­payment for protecting healthy rivers and streams across the state. Now we have to get to work.”
    — Matt Rice, Director of Colorado River Basin Programs, American Rivers

    “We commend the CWCB and the Basin roundtables for ensuring actions to protect Colorado’s river systems and river-­dependent recreation are incorporated into the plan. These critical actions need funding, stakeholder input, technical consultation and study as we manage water for the future and ensure that our recreation industry and whitewater rivers are world-­class.”
    — Nathan Fey, Director Colorado River Stewardship Program, American Whitewater

    “The plan addresses the importance of preserving and restoring our rivers’ and steams’ environmental resiliency. Recognizing we still need more information and action to achieve that goal, the plan recommends that Colorado invest in stream protection and restoration. By 2030, the plan has a strong goal that 80 percent of a priority list of Colorado’s rivers and streams will have stream management plans.”
    — Abby Burk, Western Rivers Outreach Specialist, Audubon Rockies

    “Coloradans overwhelmingly support water conservation, and we are pleased to see this plan proposing our state’s first ever urban conservation goal. The plan recognizes that to meet our future water needs we must change the status quo from focusing on new, large trans-­mountain diversions to prioritizing conservation, reuse and recycling. We look forward to the Governor moving forward and carrying out our state’s water plan to better protect our rivers and wildlife.”
    — Theresa Conley, Water Advocate, Conservation Colorado

    “Colorado is taking an historic step in the right direction with this first water plan. Meeting all of Colorado’s water needs moving forward will require implementation and action in the same spirit of collaboration, flexibility and innovation that was shown in producing the plan.”
    — Brian Jackson, Associate Director, Environmental Defense Fund

    “We commend the Governor and CWCB for committing to water conservation in such a commonsense manner. Making better use of the water we already have is the cheapest, fastest and most flexible way to meet new demands – it’s just a no-­brainer.”
    — Bart Miller, Water Policy Director, Western Resource Advocates

    The San Juan Citizens Alliance advocates for clean air, pure water, and health lands – the foundations of resilient communities, ecosystems and economies in the San Juan Basin. For more information, visit our website at http://sanjuancitizens.org

    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

    Hickenlooper accepts water #COWaterPlan, downplays diversions — Aspen Journalism

    Photo via Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen journalism
    Photo via Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen journalism

    From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith):

    After accepting Colorado’s first-ever water plan at a press conference in Denver on Thursday, Gov. John Hickenlooper downplayed the prospect of future transmountain diversions of water from the Western Slope to the Front Range.

    “What comes through loud and clear again and again in that water plan is that there ought to be ways to make sure that we have sufficient water to satisfy the growth along the Front Range without diverting the water across the mountains,” Hickenlooper said.

    The need for more water from Western Slope rivers to meet growing population needs between Fort Collins and Pueblo has dominated much of the discussion among various river-basin roundtables in Colorado over the last two years as the water plan was developed.

    Colorado has more than 25 such transmountain diversions in place today, including in the headwaters of the Colorado, Roaring Fork and Fryingpan rivers, and up to 600,000 acre-feet can be moved east in a given year.

    But a number of Front Range water providers want to leave the option for more Western Slope water to meet their increasing demands, as they see the continued “buy and dry” of ag lands in eastern Colorado as the otherwise “default solution.”

    “There is nothing in here that is trying to take someone’s private property or saying they can’t do this or can’t do that,” Hickenlooper said about potential future diversions. “But what we are trying to do is create a system where that is the last possible use and in most cases, if we are successful in going through this water plan, will not be necessary. We’ve addressed storage, conservation, you go down the list of all the approaches here, our goal from the very beginning was trying to make sure that where the water is, the water stays, but within the realm of the legal system that we operate in.”

    The governor’s remarks seemed to please representatives from American Rivers and Western Slope Resources on Thursday, as they sent tweets quickly noting the governor’s take on diversions.



    Differing views

    Thursday’s press conference came during a break in a regular meeting of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, which is charged with managing the state’s water supply and whose staff has worked intensely hard on developing the water plan, which was due on the governor’s desk by Dec. 10.

    At the CWCB meeting after the press conference, Joe Stibrich, the water resources policy manager of Aurora Water, and a member of the Metro basin roundtable, offered to the board members a different take on the future than the governor, and did so through something of a manifesto from Front Range water interests.

    “I’ve had the privilege of working with CWCB staff, and other roundtable and other Interbasin Compact Committee members, in the collaborative, and I’d say often spirited, discussions that has lead to Colorado’s Water Plan,” Stibrich said. “These discussions have taken place since 2005 over the course of literally hundreds of meetings.

    “And I believe these discussions have lead me, and I hope the other participants, to a deeper understanding of the water-related needs for all river basins and for all beneficial uses of Colorado’s water resources, and also the solutions to address those needs.

    “The Metro roundtable represents water interests in the Denver metro area, but within the S. Platte basin. While those interests are predominantly municipal and industrial, or M&I, our membership also includes agricultural, environmental, recreational and other interests. This has given us the opportunity to learn from each other and work toward common goals.

    “Once development of the basin implementation plans began as part of the roundtable role in Colorado’s Water Plan, the Metro and S. Platte realized that a basin implementation plan (BIP) for the combined roundtables and the entire S. Platte basin made sense, as we had many common interests and that successfully meeting the needs of the basin could only occur if we worked together.

    “We especially recognized that without a unified BIP, agricultural buy and dry would continue as the default solution to addressing the basin’s M&I gap. The S. Platte BIP identified areas of focus whose successful completion will be integral to meeting the basin’s gap and ensuring that Colorado’s future needs are met.

    “These are predicated on finding balanced solutions that equally promote conservation and resource, development of identified projects and processes, agricultural transfers, and preserving the ability to utilize Colorado’s entitlement under the Colorado River compact for the benefit of entire state. The development of additional storage was also identified as an essential tool for implementing these balanced solutions.

    “The Metro roundtable will concentrate its future efforts on implementing its BIP, prioritizing balanced solutions. And in doing so, we fully expect to continue working collaboratively with the S . Platte basin roundtable.

    “The IBCC offered us all an opportunity to identify issues and concerns that went beyond geographic and political borders. We openly discussed potential solutions, identified no-and-low regret alternatives that should be pursued in the interest of the state, and explored and developed the framework for exploring and discussing the potential development of future transbasin diversions.

    “Frankly, the members of the IBCC faced criticism among many members of their respective roundtables, with many believing that their representatives went to far in implying any agreement to this framework. But I believe the framework is an important piece of the plan. It protects the ability of the state to develop our compact entitlement on the Colorado River, providing a balanced approach to meeting the state’s overall needs.

    “We obviously still have many challenges ahead. While the plan provides an overall approach to move forward, we need to recognize that the many and varied water interests in this state will not stand still waiting for someone else to address their futures.

    “For example, buy and dry is still the least expensive and only viable option for many smaller water providers, and without additional help from others, including support from the state, they will continue as they have in the past.

    “Another challenge we face is meeting the M&I gap in a meaningful way, while recognizing the vital importance of preserving the quality of life associated with the urban landscape.

    “Benefits from urban landscape range from better air, surface water and groundwater quality … providing surfaces for leisure activities, to enhanced aesthetics and improved mental health. Solutions that compromise the valuable contributions of these benefits to our local and state economy need to be considered cautiously.

    “Slow but significant progress was made by the IBCC and basin roundtables since the year 2005. Frankly, I think this was set back some by the deadlines imposed by the executive order to develop Colorado’s Water Plan in a short time frame. And it caused many of the parties to pull back to earlier positions that were more directed toward protecting their own interests rather than moving forward with collaborative solutions.

    “The plan did force us all to realize that we have a way to go to truly address the state’s need on a statewide basis. But now that the plan is final, I believe we can now move forward again with the cooperation and support of the state to develop and implement solutions using the plan as a guide that will address Colorado’s needs,’ Stibrich said.

    The goal of “preserving the ability to use Colorado’s entitlement under the Colorado River Compact to the benefit of the entire state” is one way referencing the future ability to use more Western Slope water on the Front Range.

    And Joe Frank, the chair of the S. Platte River basin roundtable, told the CWCB board that members of the S. Platte and Metro roundtables wanted to see “a balanced program to investigate, preserve and develop Colorado River supply options.”

    “We truly believe that we need to solve our issues not just as a basin, not just as a Metro and S. Platte basin, but collectively as a state,” Frank said. “We take an “all-of-the-above approach,” he added, “including storage, which we believe holds all of the other solutions together.”


    Now go to work

    While the publication of the Colorado Water Plan clearly did not end the conversation about the possibility of moving more water to the Front Range, the plan does list eight primary goals, or “measurable outcomes,” that give something for every water professional in Colorado to work on.

    “Now we all share the responsibilities of implementation,” Hickenlooper told the crowd of over 100 people gathered on Thursday at History Colorado for the release of the plan.

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

    The top goal is eliminating a projected 560,000-acre-foot gap between water supply and demand, and doing so in large measure by setting a goal of “400,000 acre-feet of municipal and industrial water conservation by 2050.”

    The plan also calls for the development of 400,000 acre-feet of water storage, saying “Colorado must also develop additional storage to meet growing needs and face the changing climate.”

    Another goal, relating to land use, is that “by 2025, 75 percent of Coloradans will live in communities that have incorporated water-saving actions into land-use planning.”

    The plan also includes an environmental goal to “cover 80 percent of the locally prioritized lists of rivers with stream management plans, and 80 percent of critical watersheds with watershed protection plans, all by 2030.”

    And it seeks to “investigate options to raise additional revenue in the amount of $100 million annually” in order to help pay for new water projects.

    Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism is collaborating the Glenwood Springs Post Independent and The Aspen Times on coverage of rivers and water in Colorado. The Times and the Post Independent published this story on Friday, Nov. 20, 2014.

    #COWaterPlan: State crafts historic plan to manage water — The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

    Coloradans have spent years in discussion and in many cases debate about what should be in the state’s first-ever water plan.

    And they’ll have years to wrangle over how to implement it.

    But on Thursday, for a day anyway, residents on both sides of the Continental Divide took a break to simply celebrate the completion of the historic document.

    “I think this is a moment that we should relish, savor,” Gov. John Hickenlooper said at a press conference.

    The Colorado Water Conservation Board unanimously approved the plan, and immediately presented it to Hickenlooper, who had ordered its creation.

    He declared, “We now have a plan with measurable objectives, concrete goals and detailed critical actions, all driven by our statewide water values, our system of how we think about water.”

    James Eklund, director of the CWCB, said in an interview, “It’s a big deal because it demonstrates a new paradigm, a new way forward and certainly a heck of a lot of work.”

    The plan looks at potential gaps between supply and demand in future decades and addresses conservation, reuse, storage and other means of filling those gaps. A key, and controversial, component of the plan provides a framework for discussing possible further diversions of more Western Slope water to the Front Range.

    Those involved in the plan say it is the product of the largest act of civic engagement in the state. Roundtable groups from individual river basins held numerous meetings on the plan, which also elicited more than 30,000 comments submitted by the public.

    Carlyle Currier, a Mesa County rancher who sits on the Interbasin Compact Committee, which addresses state water issues, said the plan’s completion is “certainly” historic.

    He said it represents “a lot of years of work coming to, I shouldn’t say coming to fruition, because I think as someone would say it’s the end of the beginning, not the end. The work really starts now.”

    Hickenlooper also spoke at length about the work ahead, including the need for “the Legislature’s help to make sure we have the right funding in the right places.”

    The plan sets goals including 400,000 acre feet of water saved by urban conservation, and 400,000 acre feet of new storage, by 2050. It also calls for identifying 50,000 acre feet of agricultural water for voluntary alternative transfers that don’t permanently dry up farmland, and for having management plans cover 80 percent of locally prioritized streams and watersheds by 2030.

    Jim Pokrandt, who works for the Colorado River District and chairs the Colorado Basin Roundtable, notes that the plan doesn’t back any specific project. Rather, it creates a plan for addressing a future with millions of more Coloradans in it, and with climate change expected to result in increasing drought.

    The first low-hanging fruit from the Colorado River Basin’s perspective is urban conservation, which mostly means conservation on the Front Range, where most Coloradans live, he said.

    “The Western Slope’s going to have to participate, but the big numbers (in terms of population and potential for conservation savings) are on the Front Range, no doubt about it,” he said.

    One of the points of contention in recent months during the plan’s finalization has regarded whether the Front Range should cut back more on its watering of lawns and parks, and what that might do to quality of life.

    Jim Lochhead, chief executive officer of Denver Water, said at Thursday’s press conference that his utility has reduced water use 20 percent over the last decade despite 10 percent growth in population in its service area.

    “We can go a lot lower without sacrificing quality of life. We can still have landscaping, we can still have trees through efficiency and use.”

    The prospect of further transmountain diversions also has dominated discussion this year, with Front Range water agencies saying more diversions must remain a possibility and many on the Western Slope saying the Colorado River has no more water to give.

    The plan’s framework for transmountain diversion discussions says in part that any new diversions would occur only in wet years, environmental and recreational needs would be addressed in conjunction with any new diversion, and future Western Slope needs would be accommodated.

    Hickenlooper said the state’s water rights law must be respected, but by addressing things like conservation and storage, the goal is to create a system where diversions are the last possible approach.

    “Our goal from the very beginning was to try and make sure that where the water is the water stays, but within the realm of the legal system that we operate in,” he said.

    Currier said he thinks no one is entirely happy with the plan, but it represents a lot of collaborative thinking and compromise.

    “I think it provides a very good base from which to build on from here,” he said.

    He believes the roundtable and Interbasin Compact Committee processes that date back a decade, to when Russell George pushed for their creation while director of the state Department of Natural Resources, have been important in that they forced people to talk and recognize the importance of various stakeholders. These range from agricultural, to municipal and industrial, to recreational and environmental interests.

    “There are things that must be protected and we need to work in a way that we can to meet the future needs of a wide variety of stakeholders in the future,” said Currier, who believes the process has led to an increased appreciation of agriculture’s role in the state.

    Eklund believes that through the roundtable process, “people have learned how to listen to each other in a greater capacity that I think no one thought possible.”

    Eklund straddles both sides of the Continental Divide because of his job in Denver and his family roots in Collbran. He believes a lot has been learned in the planning process about the economic and other connections between the Western Slope and the Front Range. A lot was said during the water plan process about the importance of the Western Slope’s tourism and recreation economy to the state, and that economy’s reliance on water that fills rivers and irrigates scenic valleys.

    “It’s really the Western Slope that’s a big, big part of our brand as a state,” Eklund said.

    The Yampa River flows through the Carpenter Ranch. Photo courtesy of John Fielder from his new book, “Colorado’s Yampa River: Free Flowing & Wild from the Flat Tops to the Green.”
    The Yampa River flows through the Carpenter Ranch. Photo courtesy of John Fielder from his new book, “Colorado’s Yampa River: Free Flowing & Wild from the Flat Tops to the Green.”

    Path forward is murky in Hickenlooper’s final #COWaterPlan — The Colorado Independent

    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 Colorado Independent (Marianne Woodland):

    Gov. John Hickenlooper has made public Colorado’s first statewide water plan. Though the document is intended to save the state from a looming water crisis, neither he nor state lawmakers have any specifics on how to implement it.

    With only one generation until Colorado’s water supply is projected to fall short, the administration set out two years ago to craft a strategy, which Hickenlooper had hoped to start putting in action immediately.

    But, as the effort has taken shape, critics have blasted it as a plan without a plan — more of a snapshot of Colorado’s water woes than a blueprint for long-term fixes. The first draft promised a chapter on legislation recommendations, but that chapter was left blank. The second draft proposed “critical action items” that, although replete with goals, lacked concrete steps for real action.

    In touting his final draft — a 560-page document that’s as thick as a phone book — Hickenlooper assured the crowd at his press conference Thursday morning that Colorado now has “a plan with measurable objectives, concrete goals and detailed critical actions, all driven by our statewide water values.”

    But what the plan doesn’t have, still, are specifics on how the state will be able to quench its many water thirsts by 2050, when water demand is projected to vastly exceed supply. What it doesn’t say is who’s responsible for making sure the plan’s “goals and critical actions” move from paper into reality. In response to criticisms that earlier drafts lack substance, the administration went heavy on the term “measurable objectives” in its final draft. Problem is, there’s no strategy for how to meet those objectives.

    Members of Hickenlooper’s water team say the plan is a guide for moving forward, even if it doesn’t exactly lay out just how to get there.

    Water Conservation Board member Russell George, who served as executive director of the Department of Natural Resources in Gov. Bill Owens administration, has been looking at the state’s water shortages since the 2002 drought and played a major role in helping create “water roundtables” whose suggestions form the heart of the plan. George lauds the effort, even though he acknowledges the plan offers no actionable solutions for living within the state’s water means.

    “It shouldn’t,” he said. “That’s a political decision. This is not a political document. This is a collaborative, almost scientific document, including social science and hydrology.”

    As George tells it, Coloradans shouldn’t expect an actual plan in the water plan as much a “foundation to begin having the political conversation.”

    Surrounded Thursday by dozens of people from across the state who worked on the document, Hickenlooper emphasized that the plan is only the beginning, saying all Coloradans must share in its implementation and make sure the work is “transformed into meaningful action.”

    “Time is of the essence, and we have to get right to work,” he said. “Now’s the time to prepare bipartisan, collaborative legislation that will allow us to make progress on the plan’s measurable objectives, and to do so in the upcoming session.”

    Asked what’s on his 2016 legislative agenda for water planning, he demurred, saying, “I’ve learned not to come up with specific requests until I’ve had a chance to talk to legislative leadership.”
    The session is less than seven weeks away and lawmakers are already hurrying to submit legislation by December 1, the first of two deadlines for bills for 2016.

    Critics point out that the plan is heavy on thinky concepts, but lacks specifics such as a list of water projects, funding mechanisms and hard-set requirements for water users. In a September 30 letter to the Colorado Water Conservation Board, Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, who chairs the state’s interim Water Resources Review Committee, summarized public concerns voiced in a series of meetings held throughout the state this summer.

    “The committee heard strong support for including more specifics in the plan that would explain how the state will help implement” solutions, she wrote. Roberts said the plan should address how the state will fund the estimated $20 billion it will cost to pay for the water needed to make up for the projected shortfall.

    The final draft doesn’t come much closer to addressing her — and the public’s — concerns.

    Among the goals that don’t have concrete solutions: conserving 400,000 acre-feet per year by 2050. (One acre-foot of water is 352,851 gallons, about the amount of water used by two families of four per year). It’s what the administration calls a “stretch goal,” meaning it’s merely aspirational, with no requirements behind it and no details on how to achieve it on a volunteer basis.

    Another goal without a solution: 400,000 acre-feet of water that should come from new or expanded reservoirs. There are several already in the works, including two new reservoirs planned for the Poudre River, expansion of two reservoirs in Grand County and Chatfield reservoir in Jefferson County. James Eklund, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, which drafted the plan, told The Colorado Independent that these projects alone could bring in 300,000 acre-feet of water. But, for reasons the administration hasn’t explained, these projects are mentioned only briefly in the water plan, and are absent in the chapter on water storage and what the regional water groups would do about it. Eklund indicated that listing projects in the plan, especially ones not in the works, would give ammo to those who oppose them.

    Business leaders have complained that the plan, in previous drafts, doesn’t ask enough of agriculture, which uses 89 percent of the state’s water. No matter how many low-flow toilets you install or how much you cut back on watering lawns in the cities and suburbs, they point out, it’s just a drop in the proverbial bucket.

    Those criticisms are scoffed at by some in agriculture, including state Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, who chairs the Senate’s powerful Agriculture, Natural Resources and Energy Committee. In his view, the plan doesn’t do enough for Colorado’s farms and ranches and gives merely “lip service” to agriculture. Instead of avoiding “buy and dry” — the practice of buying and fallowing agricultural land for its water rights — the plan embraces vague, conceptual new ways to do it, such as through temporary transfers of water rights that would cut the amount of productive agricultural land.

    The plan estimates a cost of up to $20 billion to implement all its goals, but again, without a sense of where that money would come from. And, although Hickenlooper spoke Thursday of the need to address funding issues to implement it, he didn’t say whom he has in mind to foot the bill — or how. He said there are laws currently on the books that are counterproductive to the plan, but either couldn’t or wouldn’t specify which ones.

    Hickenlooper’s office long has stayed mum about its water strategy, deferring questions to Eklund, who points to the plan’s list of 185 to 200 proposed “actions,” many of them legislative, but won’t say which, if any, he has in mind to push this session.

    Alan Salazar, the governor’s chief strategist, told The Independent Thursday that the administration may have to rush to form a legislative agenda on water, given that lawmakers already are well in the process of figuring out what bills they want to carry in 2016.

    Salazar noted that members of the legislature — specifically those on the House and Senate agriculture committees and the Interim Water Resources Review Committee, which takes the lead on water legislation each year — have been kept informed of the plan all along. The governor has asked them to “get behind the plan, see where you view opportunities.”

    “We’re not trying to impose bills,” Salazar said. “The purpose of the plan is not to have a legislative blueprint. It’s to show the state’s collective vision for the next 50 years.”

    “The governor is trying to be very diplomatic. The worst thing he can do is say, ‘Here’s the plan, and I already have a legislative agenda to implement it.’ That won’t work well with legislators,” especially with split control between the House and Senate, he added.

    Some critics see Hickenlooper’s diplomatic approach as a cover for inaction.

    Jim Lockhead, head of Denver Water — Colorado’s biggest municipal water agency — said this week that it’ll take leadership from the governor to unite “West Slope, East Slope, agriculture, municipalities and environmentalists – putting aside our individual interests and coming together to do what’s best for Colorado.”

    Given the bitter divisions between those water users, some at the Statehouse want to see Hickenlooper use his political clout and status as a lame-duck to actively move the plan forward. Rep. Ed Vigil, D-Fort Garland, vice chair of the water resources review committee, told The Independent that Hickenlooper will need to take an active lead on bridging long, deep divisions between water users on both sides of the Continental Divide.

    Senate Minority Leader Lucia Guzman, D-Denver, told The Independent Thursday that the water plan isn’t likely to get major traction in the 2016 session, and that it’s more likely it’ll be more of a focus in the 2017 General Assembly. As she sees it, lawmakers will need time to “unpack” the plan, learn what’s in it, and figure out their role in implementing it.

    “I wouldn’t be surprised if we didn’t have any major bills” on the plan this session, Guzman said.

    That would leave Hickenlooper, who’s term-limited out of office in three years, two legislative sessions to solve some of the state’s most longstanding, contentious and perplexing problems, including how to balance water usage between the West Slope farmers and ranchers who have first legal rights to water and the growing Front Range communities and businesses that can’t survive without it.

    Some say the governor has done his job simply by ordering the state water plan and now needs to step back.

    “Conservation and storage targets, funding, watershed health, they all sound pretty good on the surface,” said Doug Kemper, executive director of the Colorado Water Congress, a statewide association of more than 400 member organizations. The real work of building water projects, setting rules for conservation and otherwise implementing the plan will fall mostly to a host of regional water groups and water providers, not to the state, he argues.

    “Colorado is fiercely decentralized, and that includes water,” added Chris Treese of the Colorado River District. He calls the water plan a positive step forward, but he also hopes the governor remains true to the plan’s bottom-up approach, which is to let local officials who sit on water roundtables in Colorado’s eight river basins and in Metro Denver take charge of implementation.

    Said Sonnenberg, whose ag committee will take the lead on reviewing water bills tied to the plan: “It’s a great idea if we can figure out how to make it work.”

    #COWaterPlan: Water plan gives boost to ‘project, projects, projects’ — Glenwood Springs Post Independent

    Basin roundtable boundaries
    Basin roundtable boundaries

    From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Brent Gardner-Smith):

    While the Colorado Water Plan does not contain a list of water-supply projects endorsed by the state, the plan’s adoption still gives a boost to at least $2 billion worth of potential projects, as recently prioritized by regional water-supply planning committees, or basin roundtables.

    “The old truck is on its way, and we’ve shifted a gear today,” said Russell George of Rifle, who represents the Colorado River basin on the Colorado Water Conservation Board, after the water plan was approved Thursday by the CWCB board.

    “It’s projects, projects, projects,” George said of the CWCB’s new “gear.” “And our job here is keep the resources coming for the projects, because that answers need.”

    The roundtables, through their “basin implementation plans,” have identified 880,000 acre-feet worth of new water supplies that could be developed across 91 projects, according to chapter 6.5 of the water plan, which focuses on water-storage.

    The Yampa/White’s basin plan identified the potential to develop the most of any basin, with 317,316 acre-feet of new water supply from 12 projects.

    The South Platte/Metro’s plan identified 191,980 acre-feet that could be developed from 23 projects, the Arkansas 166,500 acre-feet from 17 projects, and the Gunnison 139,406 acre-feet from 21 projects.

    The Southwest basin identified 30,354 acre-feet of developable water from eight projects, the Colorado River basin 24,082 acre-feet from three projects, the North Platte 11,993 acre-feet from five projects and the Rio Grande 6,030 acre-feet from eight projects.

    For a sense of scale, Ruedi Reservoir uphill from Basalt holds about 100,000 acre-feet of water.

    The three potential water-supply projects in the Colorado basin plan include expanding Hunter Reservoir near Grand Junction to 1,340 acre-feet; expanding Monument Reservoir, near Collbran, to 5,255 acre-feet; and building Kendig Reservoir on West Divide Creek south of Silt, which could hold around 18,000 acre-feet of water.

    Implementation of, yes, the basin implementation plans, or BIPs, is now a major theme of the water planning process in Colorado.

    Consider that the first item in the water plan’s vaunted “critical action plan” says that the state will “support and assist the basin roundtables in moving forward priority … projects … in their basin implementation plans through technical, financial and facilitation support when requested by a project proponent and pertinent basin roundtable.”

    After the water plan was approved Thursday, the CWCB board heard from representatives of various roundtables, including Michael “Sandy” White, a water attorney who represents Huerfano County on the Arkansas roundtable and is the group’s new chair.

    “From our viewpoint, the Colorado Water Plan is, in the Arkansas basin, the basin implementation plan,” White said. “We are just beginning to implement it.”

    “I know from your vantage point here, what happens at the state level is very important, and that’s where your focus will be,” White told the CWCB board. “But I encourage you not to forget that the basins are the locations of where the action will be. And we need your help in implementing the BIPs.”

    James Eklund, the director of the CWCB, suggested after presentations from representatives of the Arkansas and Gunnison basin roundtables that Coloradoans could become fans of various water projects.

    “Just like we had baseball cards, maybe we need to have water-project cards that show people where these projects are, how long they’ve been in the works, why they are important and what the stats are on them,” Eklund said.

    And after hearing from all of the roundtable representatives, Russell George again put an emphasis on projects.

    “I think we heard, as the representatives of the basins talk, it’s projects, projects, projects, and that’s as it should be,” George said.

    Another sign of the rising importance of the roundtables in Colorado’s water-supply process is that they are now moving from groups of volunteers lightly overseen by CWCB staff to groups that can hire contractors to work on, yes, implementing their specific plans.

    For example, on Wednesday the CWCB approved a three-year $150,000 grant for a part-time public relations coordinator for the Arkansas basin roundtable who will “undertake a structured public relations effort” to generate public acceptance of new water projects and “move these projects forward toward implementation.”

    The Arkansas roundtable plans to focus on three projects a year.

    “In the first year, identified projects will be chosen that focus on storage, multi-purpose storage projects and meeting the ‘gap’ in the Arkansas basin,” the roundtable said in its grant application.

    When roundtable representatives do come forward to seek assistance for new water-supply projects from the CWCB, they will be expected to show that their projects are consistent with the newly adopted Colorado Water Plan.

    George suggested to his fellow CWCB board members that “anyone that comes to CWCB asking for assistance ­— and we’ll continue to have many, many customers and we want to serve them — they will now be expected to research the state water plan and tell us where their project fits in the plan.”

    Applicants seeking support for new storage projects will have find plenty of language in the Colorado Water Plan to work with.

    “Colorado will require the implementation of many identified projects, storage, other infrastructure and methods to meet future municipal, industrial and agricultural needs,” the plan states, for example, in chapter 6.5.1.

    Aspen Journalism is collaborating with the Post Independent and The Aspen Times on coverage of rivers and water. More at http://www.aspenjournalism.org.