Colorado’s water plan: an end to mega projects? — High Country News #COWaterPlan

From the High Country News (Sarah Tory):

The latest draft of the plan sets strict guidelines for approving new diversions over the Rocky Mountains.

Underneath the surface of Colorado’s new water plan is an unspoken acknowledgment: the days of moving large amounts of water up and over the Rockies are probably done.

On July 7, the second draft of the statewide plan was released, the latest step in a decade-long process that will direct how Colorado’s water should be managed for years to come. The new draft sets a statewide water conservation target of 400,000 acre-feet and incorporates input from Colorado’s nine Basin Roundtables, groups of citizens and experts tasked with thinking about their region’s water needs. But the biggest addition is a revised set of guidelines for making decisions about new supply projects that could spell the end of any new big water transfers over the Continental Divide.

The guidelines acknowledge what for years seemed unthinkable to many Coloradans: there may not be any water left to develop, without cutting into the water rights already in use.

That admission represents a huge shift in what the state publicly acknowledges about Colorado’s water supply, says Eric Kuhn, the general manager of the Colorado River District and one of the people who helped draft the guidelines. “Just a few years ago no one was questioning whether there was more Colorado River water to develop,” he says…

That new mindset, encapsulated in the guidelines, challenges a long-held assumption that the state can and should develop its full allotment of water from the Colorado River under the 1922 Compact. The law requires that the Upper Basin states send 7.5 million acre-feet annually to the Lower Basin plus an additional 750,000 acre-feet for Mexico before splitting the remainder among themselves. According to the most recent study by the Colorado Water Conservation Board on the availability of supplies in the Colorado River Basin, Colorado has anywhere from one million to zero acre feet left to develop — depending on which climate model plays out.

On the West Slope, home to 84 percent of Colorado’s water supply, that possibility is driving calls for “not one more drop” of water diverted to the Front Range. Even Denver Water, the largest municipal water utility in the state with 1.3 million customers, acknowledges that protecting existing supplies is paramount. Their comments on the second draft state: “Denver Water receives about 50 percent of its total supply from the Colorado River. Therefore avoiding a ‘Colorado River Compact Call’ is critical to our ability to meet our obligations to our customers.”

But the lingering uncertainty over just how dry or wet Colorado’s future will be means Denver Water is covering both bases. Another section in its comment letter maintains that “the ability to develop new projects should be protected.”

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.

CWCB: What’s new in #COWaterPlan – July 2015? (webinar) for your listening pleasure

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.

Colorado’s water plan faces choppy waters — The Durango Herald #COWaterPlan

Evening, running through choppy waters image by James Gale Tyler -- Wikimedia
Evening, running through choppy waters image by James Gale Tyler — Wikimedia

From The Durango Herald (Peter Marcus):

…some wonder if rural Colorado is over-accommodating metro areas with the plan. State water officials – with input from eight regional water basins – outlined an estimated $20 billion in projects related to a municipal water-supply gap, which is growing largely because of Front Range expansion.

A second draft of Colorado’s Water Plan was made available to the public earlier this month. State lawmakers and water officials held a legislative meeting in Durango on Monday evening to present the plan and allow for input.

“We know the state is not going to be able to handle the burden, so we’re going to need to think outside the box,” said James Eklund, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

In a change from the plan’s first draft, the second draft includes an elaborate “critical action plan,” which includes proposals for legislation and Colorado Water Conservation Board policy.

The plan focuses heavily on funding, proposing ideas that run the gamut, including a possible ballot initiative that would ask voters to approve a fee on beverage containers. Voters have rejected past tax hikes for water issues.

Other ideas include creating a tax credit for homeowners who install efficient outdoor landscapes and irrigation, and exploring public-private partnerships to implement projects…

“Colorado can no longer be all things to all people,” commented Dick Ray, representing the Archuleta County Farm Bureau.

Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, pointed out that state officials must delicately balance population-dense Colorado with agricultural areas.

“We hear the desire to limit the number of people coming into the state of Colorado, but I don’t know how you do that,” Roberts said. “I don’t know how you close the door.”

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.

State plan takes on the challenges of water future — The Crested Butte News #COWaterPlan

Gunnison River Basin via the Colorado Geological Survey
Gunnison River Basin via the Colorado Geological Survey

From The Crested Butte News (Alissa Johnson):

The plan has been getting a lot of attention for addressing potential transmountain water diversion projects that would carry water from the Western Slope to the Front Range, including the Gunnison River. But local water experts say that’s one small part of a comprehensive document.

“One thing that’s interesting is the amount of attention that transmountain diversion has gotten in the Colorado Water Plan. That’s really just a page or two out of about 500 pages, but it has gotten more attention than the rest of the document combined,” said Frank Kugel, general manager for the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District.

In fact, the plan doesn’t address specific project proposals for transmountain diversion. It provides a conceptual framework to guide the consideration of any future proposals—what Kugel calls sideboards for future discussions—including protection for local communities.

“There will be strict principles applied to any future transmountain diversion projects. The diverter has to accept the risk of that project and understand that if there is no water available, they are the first ones to be shut off,” Kugel said.

The full plan considers many other aspects of water management. As Kugel explained, “We’re facing the risk of having twice as many people [in Colorado] by the year 2050 and some 10 to 15 percent less water supply due to climate change. Those two paths are going in opposite directions, so we need to figure out how to serve more people with less.”

To do that, all nine of Colorado’s Water Basin Roundtables, the Interbasin Compact Committee (IBCC) and the Colorado Water Conservation Board have been providing input to the plan.

As the Water Plan website states, “The 27 members of the IBCC, representing every water basin and water interest in Colorado, have agreed that unless action is taken, we will face an undesirable future for Colorado with unacceptable consequences.”

The process has attracted a lot of attention from the public. Julie Nania, water director for High Country Conservation Advocates (HCCA), says that more than 24,000 public comments were submitted on the first draft of the plan.

“As a plan itself it’s important, but it also facilitates a conversation, taking a closer look at the difficult water issues in Colorado… and how to move forward and protect natural resources while ensuring that communities have the water they need to thrive,” Nania said.

After an initial review of the second draft, Nania is encouraged by the progress that has been made: there are strong urban conservation goals; emphasis has been placed on the importance of healthy rivers, watersheds and watershed planning (including a recognition of the $2 billion to $3 billion needed to keep them healthy); and stringent principles have been developed to vet any future transmountain diversions projects.

“Two things HCCA will look at as we move forward are funding… and more robust criteria for projects before the state decides to fund them,” Nania said. While the plan acknowledges the cost of maintaining healthy rivers and watersheds, there is no funding mechanism identified for other types of projects.

“And we would always like to see stronger language against new transmountain diversions,” Nania continued.

Dolores River watershed
Dolores River watershed

From The Durango Herald (Peter Marcus) via the Cortez Journal:

The July 2 release of the plan marks a critical juncture for Colorado’s Water Plan, which has been hailed by Gov. John Hickenlooper as one of the most important pieces of policy facing the state. The draft was actually released about two weeks early…

Local and state water officials will hold a meeting July 20 at the Holiday Inn & Suites in Durango, where state Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango; James Eklund, director of the Water Conservation Board; and Mike Preston, chairman of the Southwest Basin Roundtable, are expected to give an overview.

Preston said the plan represents an opportunity to frame the future of water in Southwest Colorado and throughout the state for the next 50 years…

Policymakers must balance the interests of rural Colorado – where water is precious for agricultural needs – with the needs of the rapidly expanding Front Range and suburban communities. One sticking point could be transmountain water diversions for Front Range communities. Front Range plans call for more transmountain water, but Preston questions the viability of such a strategy.

Officials must also preserve the state’s “prior appropriation” system, in which rights are granted to the first person to take water from an aquifer or river, despite residential proximity. Water rights often dominate policy conversations.

The Southwest Basin is complicated, flowing through two Native American reservations and including a series of nine sub-basins, eight of which flow out of state. Complexities exist with agreements with the federal government, which owns large swaths of land in the region…

Preston said he has a team currently combing through the second draft of the plan to determine what changes occurred from the first draft. He was not immediately able to comment on any updates to the plan.

“We’ve got a lot of substance, really a 50-year strategy in the plan, and then a bunch of unresolved issues on a statewide level,” Preston said. “So, we’re really going to press for broader community education and engagement from here forward.

“This is a living document,” Preston said. “We’re pretty serious about what’s in it, both in terms of trying to develop our own supplies for the future and how we need to participate in the statewide exercise.”

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.

CWCB approves transmountain diversion framework #COWaterPlan #ColoradoRiver

Conceptual vision of potential transmountain diversions from the South Platte Roundtable Basin Implementation Plan
Conceptual vision of potential transmountain diversions from the South Platte Roundtable Basin Implementation Plan

From The Pine River Times (Carole McWilliams) via The Durango Herald:

The Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) is drafting the plan. Meeting at the casino Wednesday, the board voted unanimously to include the conceptual framework in the water plan. The board was scheduled to continue meeting Thursday.

CWCB member John Stulp called the conceptual framework “a guidance document for future negotiations.” The guidance notes that future TMDs will avoid increasing the risk of a compact deficit, the amount of water Upper Colorado River Basin states are obligated to deliver to Lower Basin states as measured at Lee’s Ferry in the Grand Canyon. Declaration of a compact deficit could have serious impacts to Western Slope water users.

Board member John McClow added, “On the West Slope, TMD is the number one issue in the water plan. I think this framework addresses that very well. It’s a concern on the Front Range, as well.”

Several CWCB members and other speakers said the conceptual framework and the state plan is a big step forward.

Durango water engineer Steve Harris agreed, but he objected that the plan doesn’t include a cost versus water-yield comparison of TMDs with alternative water sources.

“We think it’s very important that (it) be included,” he said. “I understand it’s not included, and it should be.”

Southwest Water Conservation District Director Bruce Whitehead called the framework “an elegant balance that was achieved. If it strays too far in any direction, we may lose that delicate balance.”

The water plan includes Basin Implementation Plans created by nine water basin roundtables around the state. Whitehead said the Southwest Basin Roundtable “supports first the development of resources (such as storage projects) in the basins that have the biggest supply gaps.”

He agreed with Harris that alternative supplies versus TMDs should be considered in the state water plan, not just in the Southwest Basin Implementation Plan.

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.

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

The next CWCB Water Availability Task Force meeting is July 22

Blue River
Blue River

From email from the Colorado Water Conservation Board (Ben Wade):

The next Water Availability Task Force meeting will be held on Wednesday, July 22, 2015 from 9:30-11:00a at the Colorado Parks & Wildlife Headquarters, 6060 Broadway, Denver in the Bighorn Room.

More CWCB coverage here.

“People are the Rodney Dangerfield of water use” — Patricia Wells #COWaterPlan

Sloans Lake
Sloans Lake

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Maybe because it was nearing lunchtime, the conversation about the state water plan turned to food Wednesday as the Colorado Water Conservation Board digested the final draft of the document at its meeting in Ignacio.

“I think you may have bitten off more than you can chew,” John Mc-Clow, a board member from Gunnison told the board’s staff.

“We haven’t opened our mouth,” CWCB Executive Director James Eklund replied. “This is the menu. We should be hearing more through the public comment process.”

Although saying changes from the first draft of the plan showed progress, McClow noted there were 83 funding actions listed in the plan and more focus was needed.

The board was divided about how much detail the plan should mention about specific projects and the ways to fund those projects, outlined in Chapter 10 of the newly released Colorado Water Plan. The board had looked at 181 “critical” projects during a June 23 work session, but differed on whether the projects were endorsed or simply identified.

“I would like to have a little more time to look at the list again,” said Alan Hamel, who represents the Arkansas River basin on the board.

Board members April Montgomery (Southwestern Colorado) and Travis Smith (Rio Grande basin) wanted more detail in Chapter 10, but were also concerned that the plan promote recreation, forest health and agricultural values. Montgomery wanted more clarity about whether a project’s chances of being funded depended on it being listed as “critical.” Smith said there was little in the plan about how projects would be prioritized.

Board member Patricia Wells, Denver Water’s general counsel, disagreed on the need for more detail in the 500-page plan, saying no one would read a long, detailed list of projects. She was also critical that the plan put so much emphasis on urban conservation, rather than promoting the value of people living in cities.

“Eighty-six percent of the people live in urban areas…they are the economy,” Wells said. “The only mandate in here is that the people use less water…Residential outdoor water is 2 percent of the water use in Colorado, but it contributes to the quality of life…People are the Rodney Dangerfield of water use. I think we should give them a break.”

Her comments were largely offset by conservation groups that addressed the board. Western Resource Advocates, Trout Unlimited and American Rivers speakers all praised the plan.

“Our impression is favorable,” said Drew Peternell of Trout Unlimited. He singled out stream management plans, which are cited as a way to meet environmental and recreational needs. “This will give us tools to identify what are the flow regimes we need to support nonconsumptive needs.”

Comments on the plan will be accepted through Sept. 17, and the final version of the plan will be submitted to Gov. John Hickenlooper in December.

The entire plan can be viewed at coloradowaterplan. com. Past documents and instructions for submitting comments also can be found on the site.

More CWCB coverage here. More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.