September 10 seminar highlights water connections from Colorado to California — Hannah Holm

Colorado River Basin including Mexico, USBR May 2015
Colorado River Basin including Mexico, USBR May 2015

From the Grand Junction Free Press (Hannah Holm):

As California has sunk deeper into drought over the past several years, Colorado has mostly climbed out after the back-to-back dry winters of 2012 & 2013. At this point, Colorado is officially drought-free except for small patches with “abnormally dry” conditions in the northwestern and southwestern corners.

Because Colorado’s snowpack and water use affect water supplies downstream aligning supply and demand in Arizona, Nevada and California continues to be a struggle. Inevitably Colorado will face repercussions upstream in the headwaters of the great Colorado River.

The Colorado River District is providing an excellent opportunity to learn about these hydrologic and policy connections from some of the top minds in western water at its annual seminar September 10 in Grand Junction’s Two Rivers Convention Center. The theme of the seminar is “Will what’s happening in California stay in California?”

Starting off at 9am, climate researcher Klaus Wolter will discuss the climate conditions that have led to the 15-year southwestern drought that has helped drop the reservoirs of Lake Mead and Powell to historic lows.

On the policy front, former Las Vegas water czar Pat Mulroy will discuss why the impacts of water challenges along the Colorado will flow upstream as well as downstream. Jennifer Gimbel, Principal Deputy Secretary for Water and Science for the U.S. Department of the Interior and former Director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, will provide a federal perspective on the regional drought and efforts to address the low levels in Lakes Mead and Powell.

Over lunch, longtime environmental reporter John Fleck will take time out from writing his book on the Colorado River to discuss the capacity of the Colorado River Compact to flex to address new realities of supply and demand. Bringing the focus back upstream, Colorado River District leaders Eric Kuhn and Dan Birch will then argue that Western Coloradans need to worry more about protecting existing uses in the face of drought than a big new project to take water east of the Continental Divide.

The final two speakers, Ken Nowak with the Bureau of Reclamation and Astor Boozer with the Natural Resources Conservation Service, will discuss trends, opportunities and challenges associated with agricultural water conservation, efficiency and transfers to urban areas. The seminar will conclude at 3:30pm.

The cost for the seminar, including lunch, is $30 if you register by September 4, and $40 if you pay at the door. Students can attend for $10. Full details are at

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 You can also find the Water Center at or

Colorado Water Congress summer meeting recap #COWaterPlan


From The Colorado Statesman (Marianne Goodland):

According to a panel of water and land-use experts at last week’s Colorado Water Congress, Coloradans might have to learn to live with smaller lawns, smaller parks and other landscaping changes to help conserve water.

The state water plan outlines a “stretch goal” for municipalities to conserve 400,000 acre-feet of water annually over the next couple of decades. That goal was based on a host of suggestions from municipalities across the state and merged into one conservation goal. It’s a lofty goal — hence the term “stretch.”[…]

Matthew Mulica of the Keystone Policy Center said his organization is spearheading a “Colorado Water and Growth Dialogue.” The effort, now in its second year, looks at the potential benefits of integrating land and water planning and increasing housing density. The conversation brought to the table water providers, land-use planners and developers, public officials, and others with a stake in the matter. The group is first looking at Denver and Aurora water-service areas, and Mulica said they hope the findings will apply to the rest of the state.

They’re examining land and water planning that allows water to play a more prominent role in land-use choices; how to increase “densification” and decrease landscaping, while still maintaining the lifestyle that Coloradans enjoy; and which land-use patterns hold the greatest promise for cutting water use.

It’s not necessarily conservation, Mulica told the audience at the Aug. 20 session. When old homes are torn down and new ones built, there should be ways to change landscaping to reduce water use, he said, or to build houses that make water conservation a priority…

Marc Waage of Denver Water said the group wants to develop a “toolbox of options” for land-use planners that would include conservation-minded land-use patterns.

One model looks at the benefits of increasing residential density, including small single-family homes, changing single-family units to multi-family units, and increasing the density of multi-family housing. That’s where the comparison with Denver’s Stapleton and Highlands neighborhoods arises.

But landscaping is where the greatest opportunity for conservation lies, said Brenda O’Brien of Green Industries of Colorado, a company also known as GreenCO.

O’Brien pointed out that most of the action items in the state water plan relate to outdoor water use. The idea, she said, is to put together best-management practices in land and water-use planning. Making sure these practices are enacted will likely take state laws and local ordinances, she added.

The General Assembly will have to take another stab at changing the state’s construction defects law, according to Scott Smith of the Colorado Association of Home Builders.

Smith wasn’t as gung-ho about changing landscaping for individual homes. His industry has to anticipate what the market will look like in five to 10 years, he said, which means identifying development properties, coming up with financial partners, and making sure a project is profitable.

“Housing and community development comes from the private market, and economics drive the process,” Smith said. “Landscaping is the red-headed stepchild in the economics and financing of housing.”

But landscaping isn’t always up to the developer — it’s often left to the homeowner, Smith said. In addition, housing developments are required to provide open spaces and parks, and that tends to be even more important in high-density developments.

Smith also hinted that homeowners need to take a more active role in water conservation. The state and local building codes now require low-flow water fixtures, but he suspects residents game the system by flushing toilets multiple times or simply taking longer showers.

Then there are expectations about what parks should look like. Smith cited Colorado Springs as an example: the water utility directly bills the parks department for its water use, a rarity among municipalities. Because it has been stuck with the cost, the parks department has had to take a hard look at its water use and is going through an extensive process to redevelop parks, converting some heavily-irrigated areas to native plants.

Another area for conservation could be soccer fields, Smith said, converting grass to artificial turf. “You can’t water those fields enough,” he said. Commercial and industrial users should also play a part, he added.

#ColoradoRiver: The latest Water Center @ CMU E-Newsletter newsletter is hot off the presses


Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:

Addressing land use patterns has recently become more central to the discussion over how to meet Colorado’s future water needs. For more details, see this Water Center column.

Colorado Water Congress annual summer meeting recap #COWaterPlan

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

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Some might think the upcoming state water plan is a recipe book for an elegant 10-course dinner.

Turns out something else is on the menu.

Stone soup.
You know, that old tale where a boiling rock becomes a tasty, fulfilling and nutritious dish as everyone adds a little something to the mix.

That’s the upshot of a three-day meeting of the Colorado Water Congress where the water plan served as the centerpiece of discussion. Gov. John Hickenlooper ordered up the water plan in 2013, a tumultuous weather year that featured drought, huge wildfires and floods. The document is expected to be completed in December, but even then will serve more as a cookbook than rule book or guidebook.

“The early discussion was, is this a textbook or a novel?” said Travis Smith, a Rio Grande basin member of the Colorado Water Conservation Board that is writing the state water plan.”We provided the textbook. I was interested in the novel that told the stories (of water).”

The plan has to be digested one bite at a time, Smith said. He advised Water Congress members to pick a chapter that interested them and read it, then add their own comments to the stew.

John McClow, who represents the Gunnison River basin on the CWCB, picked the section that discusses a collaborative framework for interbasin transfers — an idea that few from the Gunnison basin would have discussed 10 years ago.

The Interbasin Compact Committee still is seasoning that portion of the plan, so the current set of instructions already is outdated, he said. When it’s done, it will remain only a suggestion.

“We’re close to finding consensus about how a transfer could occur,” McClow said. “But it’s not a rule. It spells out the obstacles.”

Those obstacles are finding the balance among municipal water needs, protecting the Western Slope environment and satisfying Colorado River Compact needs with downstream states.

Patti Wells, representing Denver on the CWCB, dug through the ingredients already tossed in the pot and didn’t really like the taste.

While most of the people in Colorado have chosen to live in cities, their use of water — particularly for outdoor watering — has been described in terms of a problem, rather than a benefit, Wells said.

She pointed out that lawns and gardens reduce urban heat islands, improve water quality, increase property value and provide a place to play.

“That’s not to say we can’t use water wisely, but there is a value to people using water for outside uses,” she said.

By couching everything as a problem, it could be tougher to find solutions.

“Instead of trying to avoid the train wreck, we’re trying to figure out where to build the field hospitals,” she said.

The Arkansas River Basin Water Forum is offering two scholarships

Arkansas River Basin via The Encyclopedia of Earth
Arkansas River Basin via The Encyclopedia of Earth

Here’s the announcement from the ARBWF:

Arkansas River Basin Water Forum to Give Away Two Scholarships

The Arkansas River Basin Water Forum (ARBWF) is excited to relaunch our scholarship program and would like your help in distributing the application to graduate students (or others as you see fit). The application materials can be found on the main page of the ARBWF website.

The scholarship application package will be due September 1st, 2015.
In general, the applicant must demonstrate how their work may potentially have a positive impact on a water issue facing the Arkansas River basin. However, the students work does not need to be taking place within the basin, but simply must demonstrate its application to an Arkansas basin issue.

Please contact Blake Osborn at (719) 545-1845 with any questions. Completed application materials can be sent to 830 N. Main St. Suite 200 Pueblo, CO 81003 or emailed to

Colorado College announces the 2015-2016 “State of the Rockies” speakers series

The series for this season looks great and they are screening “The Great Divide” in November. I’ve attended many of the events over the past few years and I’ve learned a lot from the speakers — highly recommended.

Click here for all the inside skinny for this season. Click here to go to the State of the Rockies home page to learn more about this important work.

2016 Colorado legislation: Interim Water Resources Committee update

Vail Colorado via Colorado Department of Tourism
Vail Colorado via Colorado Department of Tourism

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

They’re supposed to be part-time legislators, but the Interim Water Resources Review Committee has been spending a lot of time on the road lately.

“We are committed to good water policy,” state Sen. Ellen Roberts, RDurango, and committee chairwoman, told Colorado Water Congress, meeting for its summer convention. “We have a robust statewide presence.”

The committee annually meets throughout the summer and fall months to develop water legislation that should move forward. A supermajority of the 10-member panel is required, but other bills are introduced through other routes, Roberts said.

The committee has given itself extra work this year with listening sessions on the state water plan, and many of those have been conducted. It heard a morning’s worth of testimony this week in Vail.

“There is a huge concern about storage, particularly if we can get to the point where we can finance storage,” Roberts said.

Highlights of the tour included discussion of multipurpose storage in the Arkansas River basin, efficiency in the Rio Grande and an overall desire to streamline regulation.

“One of the things I heard over and over is that there needs to be more collaboration with partners,” said state Rep. Ed Vigil, D-Fort Garland, who is vice chairman of the committee.

Vigil said it is important to promote agriculture and assure water is available for farms.

“There are lots of challenges,” Vigil said. “I’m glad we’re able to get out there and talk to people. When we make laws, we should do no harm.”