Water Lines: Group discusses Colorado’s future regarding water & agriculture #COWaterPlan

March 5, 2015

CWCB director James Eklund with manager in Water Supply Planning, Jacob Bornstein bring  a box containing the draft water plan to the Capitol.

CWCB director James Eklund with manager in Water Supply Planning, Jacob Bornstein bring a box containing the draft water plan to the Capitol.

From The Grand Junction Free Press (Hannah Holm):

The three-evening water course, organized by the Water Center at Colorado Mesa University in February, focused on water for agriculture for three primary reasons: 1) agriculture is the historical foundation of western Colorado’s largest communities; 2) it remains an important feature of our economy and landscape; and 3) as the largest consumer of water in a water-short region, significant transfers from agriculture to urban areas are expected in coming decades.

The course examined the climate and legal context for agriculture, how water is used currently, and factors affecting the future of agriculture in Colorado and the rest of the Colorado River Basin. Growing urban demands and the potential for reduced supplies due to climate change are two of the primary factors affecting the water that will be available for agriculture in the future.

Irrigated agriculture accounts for about 89 percent of the water consumed in Colorado and 70-80 percent of the water consumed in the Colorado River Basin as a whole. However, that does not mean that farmers and ranchers themselves account for all that consumption. All of us who eat Colorado-grown beef, sweet corn, onions and peaches and drink Colorado wine, beer and spirits claim a share of Colorado’s consumption, and wearing Arizona-grown cotton and eating California-grown winter lettuce increases our share of Colorado River water use.

Nonetheless, since farmers are the ones whose livelihoods are dependent on access to irrigation water, they are the ones that feel the greatest unease when eyes are cast in ag’s direction to meet growing urban needs, improve flows for the environment, or to prop up water levels in Lake Powell.

East of the Continental Divide are many examples of the devastation that occurs when agricultural water is moved to cities through a simple “buy and dry” process. Once a critical mass of farmers has sold out, it’s tough for those remaining to stay in business, and weeds take over abandoned fields. Just about everyone involved in debates about the future of Colorado water agrees that this is undesirable.

As a result, there’s been lots of talk, and some legislative action, on “alternative transfer methods” that attempt to move water from farms to cities on a rotating, temporary basis that provides additional income to agriculture and keeps land and communities in agriculture over the long term. Such methods are discussed extensively in Colorado’s draft water plan.

While seen as preferable to “buy and dry,” one farmer participating in the water course noted that the acronym “ATM” was a little unsettling, and wondered if cities would really be willing to give back “temporarily” transferred water if commodity prices made using water on the land more appealing than selling it on the market.

Increasing irrigation efficiency, through methods such as drip and sprinkler irrigation and lining and piping ditches, has also been lauded as a way to help balance supply and demand and benefit the environment.

Reducing diversions can certainly benefit stream health, both by keeping flows up and reducing contaminants from agricultural runoff. Several speakers pointed out, however, that more efficiently moving water to exactly where plants can use it will not necessarily lead to an overall reduction in water use. It could instead lead to increases in the total volume of water consumed, as each plant in a field can finally get the water it needs to grow to its full potential. And reducing the amount of water that slowly seeps back to streams from fields can reduce late-season stream flows.

Another complication with agricultural efficiency measures is that they are expensive, and not every method is equally suitable to every crop and soil type — and sometimes it takes awhile to figure out what will really work well. Every mistake can cause a big hit to a farm’s productivity and income.

The silver lining behind the urgency of balancing supply and demand in the Colorado River Basin is that significant brain power and financial resources are being devoted to figuring out how to optimize the use of water in both urban and agricultural areas, and how to wring multiple benefits from every drop. Farmers are getting financial and technical assistance with testing strategies to improve the health and water-holding capacity of their soils, as well as new water delivery strategies. Multi-stakeholder groups are debating the legal and financial mechanisms for how to more flexibly move water around to enhance the resiliency of the whole basin. It’s a time for both wariness and optimism, skepticism and creativity.

To see slides presented at the water course, visit http://www.coloradomesa.edu/watercenter/2015WaterCourse.html.

This is part of a series of articles coordinated by the Water Center at Colorado Mesa University in cooperation with the Colorado and Gunnison Basin Roundtables to raise awareness about water needs, uses and policies in our region. To learn more about the basin roundtables and statewide water planning, and to let the roundtables know what you think, go to http://www.coloradomesa.edu/WaterCenter. You can also find the Water Center on Facebook at http://Facebook.com/WaterCenter.CMU or Twitter at http://Twitter.com/WaterCenterCMU.

More education coverage here. More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.

The latest issue of CFWE’s “Headwaters” is hot off the presses #COWaterPlan

March 2, 2015

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.

The South Platte is key to the #COWaterPlan — The Fort Morgan Times

February 25, 2015
South Platte River Basin via Wikipedia

South Platte River Basin via Wikipedia

From The Fort Morgan Times (Sara Waite):

The South Platte Basin and Metro Roundtables, which collectively represent the South Platte River Basin, collaborated on a Basin Implementation Plan (BIP). The draft BIPs from each basin were released last summer; the final drafts are due in April.

The two organizations have been seeking public input on the draft South Platte BIP, offering a series of meetings and webinars in various locations throughout the basin.

A video produced by the group to give an overview of the water plan and BIP explains, “A good Colorado plan is a good South Platte plan.” The South Platte basin is a key economic driver of the state, with seven of the state’s top 10 agriculture-producing counties, as well as the Denver metro area and growing communities like Loveland, Greeley and Fort Collins that together account for over half of the state’s economic activity. The basin’s economy is also enhanced by environmental and recreational tourism — skiing, boating, fishing, wildlife viewing and hunting — and is home to the most-visited state parks and the eastern half of the Rocky Mountain National Park.

The South Platte Basin is a leader in water conservation efforts. “Long-standing efforts to conserve and reuse water in order to get the most benefit from available supplies has meant that by the time water flows out of our state, each drop has been used multiple times for different purposes,” the video states.

But a growing population base in the basin and statewide means municipal and industrial water demand could double before 2050, and outpace the state’s current water supply. Following current trends could mean drying up over half of the basin’s irrigated cropland in that time, a practice that, if overused, is “not in the best interest of the Basin nor is it in the best interest of the State.”

The South Platte plan calls for pragmatic solutions that are consistent with Colorado law and property rights. These include a wide range of strategies that could be used in various combinations to meet the gap: conservation and reuse; multi-purpose water projects that include municipal, industrial, recreational and environmental components; agricultural transfers, including alternative transfer methods; Colorado River Basin supplies; and storage projects.

The competing needs present enormous challenges, the BIP notes, and those challenges drive the solutions. Joe Frank, chair of the South Platte Basin Roundtable, has called for public feedback on the solutions outlined in the draft plan to meet current and future water needs.

To learn more about the South Platte BIP and Colorado Water Plan, as well as give feedback on the plan, visit http://www.southplattebasin.com/.

CWCB: February 2015 Drought Update

February 23, 2015

Here’s the release from the Colorado Water Conservation Board (Ben Wade):

January was the 15th warmest on record as well as being the driest January statewide since 2003. February precipitation to date statewide is 81% of average. D1 drought conditions have been introduced to the western slope. In the next two weeks, much needed precipitation is forecasted to come to the state that could benefit the western slope and the northwestern part of the state in particular.

 Year-to-date precipitation at mountain SNOTEL sites, as of February 17, has dropped from 87% of normal on January 20th to 81% statewide. The South Platte basin continues to have the highest snowpack at 105% of normal, while the Upper Rio Grande basin has the lowest at 61% of normal. Six basins need more than 120% of normal precipitation to reach peak snowpack and make up for their big deficits.

 According to NRCS SNOTEL data, January was the driest in the Yampa/White basin in 30 years of collecting snowpack data. The basin experienced 33% of precipitation in January. They have almost seen near average precipitation in February at 86% but they would need to experience 147% of normal snowpack accumulation to reach their normal snowpack peak.

 The Southwest basins and the Rio Grande basins need 207% and 220% respectively of precipitation to reach their normal peak. As of February 17, the Southwest basins have only experienced 18% of average precipitation and the Rio Grande basin has experienced 33% of average precipitation.

 Last month, 103 daily maximum temperature records across Colorado were tied or broken. As of February 15, there have been 199 maximum temperature records tied or broken statewide.

 Reservoir Storage statewide is at 104% of average as of February 1st a slight drop from last month. The lowest reservoir storage in the state continues to be the Upper Rio Grande basin, with 69% of average storage. The South Platte has the highest storage level at 119% of average.

 February 1st streamflow forecasts are near normal for the South Platte, Colorado, and northern portions of the Arkansas and Rio Grande basins. Streamflow forecasts are well below normal for the basins in the southwest, Rio Grande and Yampa basins.

 The Surface Water Supply Index (SWSI) for the state is near normal across much of the state. The lowest value in the state reflects low reservoir levels in Platoro reservoir.

 The 8-14 day forecast predicts the state will see below average temperatures and an above average chance for precipitation.

More CWCB coverage here.

Ciruli: It’s Colorado’s move on water planning #COWaterPlan

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

Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013

Here’s a guest column about the Colorado Water Plan written by pollster Floyd Ciruli that’s running in The Denver Post:

Colorado’s statewide water planning is overdue. California and Texas, the nation’s two largest states and users of Colorado headwaters, have moved well ahead of the state in planning and investment.

Both downstream states are facing major shortages. Texas voters, using a rainy-day fund, approved a $2 billion bond with 20 percent reserved for conservation, 10 percent for rural areas and the remaining funds for investments in reservoirs, recycling aquifer recharge and other supply infrastructure. California, which experienced gridlock for more than a decade among its perennial competitors — farmers, environmentalists and municipalities — and a horrendous divide between north and south water users, managed to craft a $7 billion conservation and infrastructure bond initiative that passed last November by 65 percent with help from serious drought and a very popular Gov. Jerry Brown.

Colorado, after more than a decade of discussions — river basin by river basin — has finally produced a draft plan, making 2015 potentially the year for making progress on water. But the state faces forces similar to California’s contentious factions. A continuing division exists among east and west slopes, environmentalists who argue for conservation measures to the exclusion of most other options, and basin parochialists who want to protect only their water and support strategies that send it out of state rather than storing and reusing it.

One of the most useful aspects of Colorado’s planning effort has been conducting two scientific studies of the state’s water needs and supply. The first took place in 2004, during Gov. Bill Owens’ administration, and the second was completed in 2010, near the end of the Bill Ritter’s term. Both studies confirmed a water supply gap up to 600,000 acre-feet by 2050, and that figure assumes a host of projects and programs will be in place within the next few decades — including conservation, storage and reuse.

Fortunately, Colorado voters have prioritized water supply and conservation and strongly support addressing the supply gap. A statewide voter survey conducted for the Colorado Water Congress in the summer of 2013, as the water planning process was accelerating in preparation of the draft report, indicated that voters were strongly supportive of the assumptions and approach of the planning effort.

The poll of voters statewide showed Coloradans strongly support the planning process to address the supply gap; want to avoid the loss of irrigated agriculture in the state; believe meeting the supply gap will require the full range of approaches (including conservation, reuse, water storage and new supply); greatly prefer the cooperative approach that the state’s planning process has adopted and recognize that compromise will be necessary; and they encourage the collaboration among urban and rural and small and large communities.

Colorado voters were generally not supportive of extreme views. When asked if conservation alone would be sufficient to make up the water supply shortage, they strongly disagreed and said it would have to be accompanied by storage. And nearly 90 percent of voters want Colorado to claim its legal share of water rather than allow it to flow out of state, rejecting the view that any one basin has sole control of its supply and can choose to send it to Nebraska, California or Texas before allowing full use by Coloradans.

The identified water gap will require decisive action by the governor and Colorado’s other political leaders. After a decade of study and talk, time is running out. Taking measures to ensure Colorado maintains its strong economy and quality of life can no longer wait, and our downstream competitors have already made their moves.

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.

Norwood: Lawn and garden irrigation project awaits CWCB funds for feasibility study

February 17, 2015
Lone Cone from Norwood

Lone Cone from Norwood

From The Norwood Post (Regan Tuttle):

At February’s Norwood town board meeting, trustees discussed the Colorado Water Conservation Board’s upcoming decision on a grant award that Norwood recently applied for. The funding would make possible a feasibility study that will determine whether or not Norwood should move forward with a lawn and garden raw water irrigation project, similar to that of Dove Creek.

Last month, town officials met with those of Dove Creek to learn the details of the project.

Town Administrator Patti Grafmyer said that receiving the grant would not mean that the irrigation project will automatically move forward.

“Norwood can evaluate the feasibility study,” she said. “We are just asking for the funding, but once that has happened, there will be a scope of work that will have to be signed with the town board.”

CWCB members will make the decision this March.

More San Miguel River watershed coverage here.

#COWaterPlan: An Important Step — James Eklund @EklundCWCB

February 13, 2015
Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013

Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013

From The Washington Park Profile (James Eklund):

No single issue will have a more direct impact on Colorado’s future than our ability to successfully and collaboratively manage our life-giving water. Water pumps the beating heart of Colorado’s sublime appeal. It provides for thriving agriculture, the green hue of our forests, farm fields and, yes, even lawns, it courses through our wondrous landscapes and fills reservoirs and rivers cherished by anglers and rafters. It allows for more families and businesses to share in our state, entices tourists to visit and sustains our economies and environment.

But we only have so much of it. As our state continues to grow, how do we work together so that we continue to accrue all of these benefits water provides even as our supplies are limited – constrained both by what nature provides and what we’re obligated by law to send downstream, across state and national borders?

Further, how are we best to proceed and prepare when our finite supplies are subject to the volatility of Mother Nature as illustrated so starkly by recent drought, wildfire and flooding?

A statewide conversation to address these questions began in earnest in 2005, when roundtables, populated by people with myriad and often conflicting opinions and interests, convened in each river basin. Since then, these nine Basin Roundtables, along with a group that includes members from each roundtable (the 27-member Interbasin Compact Committee), have engaged in an unprecedented effort at consensus-building.

Those discussions bring us to today, when the Colorado Water Conservation Board – drawing on nine years of grassroots dialogue and more than 13,000 public comments through the roundtable and IBCC process – has released the first draft of Colorado’s Water Plan.

The water plan represents the consensus view from this process that unless Colorado takes a strategic, statewide approach to water, we will face a more difficult future and risk leaving the fate of our water to decisions and actions from outsiders, the federal government and other states within the Colorado River Basin.

Colorado’s Water Plan reflects agreement from water interests statewide on broad, near-term actions needed to secure our water future. These include efforts to conserve and store water, additional re-use and recycling of water and providing more options to agriculture to avoid the permanent dry-up of our farm and ranch land.

Colorado’s Water Plan doesn’t prescribe specific projects. Instead it outlines how various interests across basins can attain locally driven, collaborative solutions, and how balanced approaches can garner the broad support needed to accelerate projects and shorten the federal regulatory process often associated with water-related actions in Colorado.

With an issue as significant as water, it’s important to underscore what Colorado’s Water Plan does not do: In no way does it infringe upon water rights as a private property right; likewise is does not advocate for any kind of ban on buying and selling of those water rights among willing participants. It does not seek alternatives to our Prior Appropriation Doctrine that has guided water use since before our state’s founding; nor does it erode or in any way cede Colorado’s interstate compact entitlements.

But by creating a broad grassroots framework for how we, together, ought to approach and manage Colorado’s water, it gives us greater control of our destiny, sends a clear message of a unified Colorado vision to federal regulators and fortifies us against outcomes that could gradually be imposed upon us without a broadly supported path forward for our water.

The water plan published in December is not the end, but a beginning. We’ve published draft chapters online (http://coloradowaterplan.com) as we’ve assembled them as just part of our effort to maximize public participation beyond the public roundtable and IBCC process. This draft plan is now subject to more public comment, participation and revision, with a finalized version scheduled for submittal to Governor Hickenlooper later in 2015.

The plan itself will never be a finished one, however. We see Colorado’s Water Plan as an organic, living document, developed from the bottom up and shaped and shepherded by the public will and the evolving conditions and priorities necessary to maintain Colorado’s splendorous stature as a place to visit, explore, work and live.

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,149 other followers

%d bloggers like this: