The Interbasin Compact Committee continued its ongoing discussion about Colorado water rights and river basins at a meeting Tuesday in Salida.
The IBCC was founded through the Colorado Water for the 21st Century Act to lead conversations and address issues about Colorado’s water.
The Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District hosted the event and kicked off the meeting with a presentation by the Arkansas River Basin PEPO (Public Education, Participation and Outreach) Workgroup, led by Chelsey Nutter and Jean Van Pelt.
They explained four tasks they are working on, including participation and partnership building, focusing specifically on the Arkansas Basin area for education.
Their second task is to develop a Water 101 presentation for education, and they are currently working on a documentary about water and the Arkansas Basin.
Their third task is to help facilitate communication among the Arkansas Basin Roundtable, the Colorado Water Conservancy Board, the IBCC and the public, by integrating the information gathered into public outreach forums.
Finally, they are working to market the Arkansas Basin by designing a mission, logo and online resources, including a website and a Facebook presence.
Bob Randell, an attorney with the IBCC, discussed the Colorado Supreme Court decision earlier this month, in which BP America Production Co. will be refunded millions in oil and gas severance taxes.
Randell explained that the refunded taxes will have a direct effect on Colorado general funds and Department of Local Affairs grants, which will not be adding any additional money to 2016 and 2017 Tier 2 programs.
Sean Cronin, the South Platte River Basin representative, spoke about how that will affect the Water Supply Reserve Account.
“With demand outpacing supply, we will have to maximize our limited dollars,” Cronin said. “We want to provide folks with confidence that we are using WSRA funds as effectively as possible.”
Cronin said some of the options they have been looking at to help the program include:
• Looking at other grant deed programs for ideas.
• Considering how money is spent to hire contractors.
• Looking at financial need analysis for applicants, with a sliding scale depending on financial stability.
• Encouraging match requirements.
• Considering holding back a percentage of funds until progress reports on projects have been turned in and reviewed.
During the Lean Process update, Eric Kuhn, an appointee to the IBCC by the governor, raised a point about the difficulty with working with different parties on a project.
“Sometimes we miss the biggest concern,” Kuhn said, “trying to do something with a complex project. When you have two major entities with a lack of consensus, you hope it works out, because the permitting process only works as long as people agree on it.”
Becky Mitchell with the IBCC responded, saying, “What we came up with out of the Lean Process is that the state won’t jump into those kinds of situations.”
Cronin also said he had heard it wasn’t so much a problem in other parts of the country, only Colorado.
“I did hear that Colorado has had special circumstances, but that it is common among Western states, but we’re not the worst,” Mitchell said.
The committee also debated an idea of placing a tax on drinking liquid containers, from children’s juice boxes to cans of soda, as a possible source for the additional funding.
No decisions on the tax were made, but it was jokingly said that Colorado would need a drought for a tax like that to go through.
Thanks to spring snowfalls and cooler temperatures keeping the snow in the mountains a bit longer, the Rio Grande Basin’s snowpack is now above normal.
In fact in the northern part of the basin the threat of flooding conditions now exists, Colorado Division of Water Resources Division 3 Assistant Division Engineer James Heath told water leaders at the Rio Grande Roundtable on Tuesday afternoon in Alamosa.
He said as of [May 16], the basin snowpack was 104 percent of normal.
“We exceeded last year’s peak, which is good,” he said. “We are looking at a pretty good runoff. The northern part of the Valley is looking at flooding conditions already.”
He said La Garita and Carnero Creeks are already running at about 100 cubic feet per second (cfs). They typically peak at 50-60 cfs.
“They will get higher over the next week,” he said.
He said Saguache Creek is running at 175 cfs and is steadily climbing.
Heath said the Division of Water Resources is reviewing three forecasts to help determine what the annual flow of the Rio Grande and Conejos River systems will be this year, but the three forecasts vary quite a bit. Traditionally the water office has relied on the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) but is also now reviewing forecasts from the National Weather Service and WRF-Hydro, a modeling system developed by the National Center for Atmospheric Research.
On the Rio Grande, the National Weather Service has the highest forecast of 659,000 acre feet for the April-September time period , WRF-Hydro the next highest at 542,100 acre feet with NRCS at 445,000 acre feet for April-September . Division Engineer Craig Cotten decided to use a figure of 540,000 acre feet for the April-September time period and 660,000 acre feet for the calendar year.
“That’s above average on the Rio Grande system,” Heath said.
Thanks to return flows, the water division is going to maintain curtailment levels at 13 percent on the Rio Grande.
Curtailments on the Conejos River system have gone up, however, Heath explained. Curtailments were at 22 percent when the irrigation season started and now are at 26 percent.
The total anticipated flow of the Conejos River system this year is 300,000 acre feet, which is about average, Heath said, with 267,500 acre feet anticipated April-September. The forecasts between NRCS, the National Weather Service and WRF-Hydro were not as disparate on the Conejos system, with NRCS estimating 208,500 acre feet April-September, the National Weather Service predicting 327,000 acre feet and WRF-Hydro anticipating 297,700 acre feet.
It also causes the snowpack to melt sooner, which affects runoff into the San Luis Valley’s rivers, creeks and irrigation ditches.
The only place in Colorado to do so, the Center for Snow & Avalanche Studies (CSAS) monitors and measures dust-on-snow events at 11 mountainous locations including two affecting the San Luis Valley, Wolf Creek Pass and Spring Creek Pass.
CSAS Director Jeff Derry talked about the center’s work and made a preview presentation for financial support to the Rio Grande Roundtable on [May 17] in Alamosa. The water group will consider the formal request during its next meeting.
Derry said the data the dust-onsnow studies provide helps improve snowmelt forecasts.
“We collect a lot of data that SNOTEL does not,” he said.
The monitoring sites are at higher elevations than most SNOTEL measurement sites, he said.
Colorado’s recently completed water plan acknowledges dust on snow as a problem, Derry said. Simply put, when the snow is dirty, it melts faster because it does not reflect off the sun as well, Derry explained.
He said there could be several dust-on-snow events through a winter, which create layers of dust between snowfall layers in the snowpack, and in the spring when the snow begins to melt off the mountain, when the snowpack reaches those dust layers, it melts at a higher rate. This can explain erratic peaks in runoff, he said.
“Dust can be a major error in forecasting because they don’t know where dust might be in the snowpack so they can’t account for it,” Derry said. He said the biggest source of dust is from the Southern Colorado Plateau. The only way to know how many layers of dust there are in the snowpack is to dig snow pits, Derry said. “There’s just no substitute for going out and digging a snow pit.” He said this year on average there were about six dust events, with most of those being moderate events. Last winter there were three. “We usually see about eight events a year,” Derry said. There have been as many as 12-13 dust events in a year, however.
Rio Grande Roundtable Chairman Nathan Coombs said this type of information could be valuable for water management in the basin.
“This is a very big decision-making tool,” he said.
“Any kind of forecasting tool is very important to us,” added Roundtable member Travis Smith.
Derry will be asking for financial assistance from each of the basin roundtables . His first request was to the Rio Grande Basin roundtable.
He is asking for $25,000, but that could be split over more than one year, he said.
Colorado snowpack reached 104 percent of median by May 1, the Natural Resources Conservation Service reported Friday in a news release.
Conditions have shown the first improvement over the previous month since Jan. 1.
Mountain precipitation across the state during April was the best in 2016 at 110 percent of normal. Water year-to-date is at 100 percent of normal.
Colorado’s current snowpack and precipitation levels are right where they should be this time of year, Brian Domonkos, Colorado snow survey supervisor, said.
Elsewhere in the West seasonal snowpack has succumbed to early spring warming and has not recovered as Colorado did from recent storms, he said.
“In the Pacific Northwest, low precipitation and high temperatures led to a dramatic reduction in snowpack,” said NRCS hydrologist Cara McCarthy. “In this area, peak streamflow is arriving weeks earlier than normal this year.”
Not all areas have low snowpack. “Parts of Wyoming and Colorado have seen much above-average precipitation in recent weeks, causing concerns about potential flooding in the North Platte,” said McCarthy.
Snowpack for the North Platte River basin is 114 of median, 177 percent of last year.
The South Platte River basin is 114 percent of median, 117 percent of last year.
The seven major mountain watersheds in Colorado all received 90 percent of normal April precipitation or better. Special mention is warranted in the Arkansas, Upper Rio Grande and combined Yampa, White and North Platte basins because these areas received 120 percent of normal or better precipitation.
Rio Grande River Basin snowpack reached 77 percent of median and 269 percent of last year’s snowpack.
Yampa/White river basins are sitting at 106 percent of median, 224 percent of last year’s snowpack.
The seven major watersheds also have 90 percent of normal or better water year-to-date precipitation.
Arkansas River Basin snowpack reached 110 percent of median, 122 percent of last year’s snowpack.
Snowpack metrics indicate that the North and South Platte river basins have the best snowpack in the state at 114 percent of normal.
The Arkansas River saw the greatest improvement in April, while the Upper Rio Grande and combined San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan basins saw little change. Snowpack there is now 77 and 85 percent of normal, respectively.
Although not reflected in snowpack values, the NRCS noted it is also fortunate that rain was abundant most particularly in the Upper Rio Grande, which added to the greater water budget.
Statewide reservoir totals increased 1 percent since April 1, ending the month at 112 percent of normal, with declines occurring in the Rio Grande, Arkansas and combined Yampa, White and North Platte watersheds.
The administration of water rights is serious business. Governor Hickenlooper recognized the need for a Colorado Water Plan and then issued an executive order to produce one. Some said that he was asking them to, “Do the impossible,” that is, bring the varied entrenched water interests in Colorado together.
The Colorado Foundation for Water Education presented the Governor with their first Dianne Hoppe Leadership Award yesterday evening. Eric Hecox, board president, cited Hickenlooper’s leadership, dedication to wise governance, and faith in the power of listening to all sides in an issue to find common ground.
The governor credited everyone involved with the Water Plan. He singled out the IBCC and roundtables for their 10 years of effort working the grass roots across Colorado.
Heather Dutton received the Emerging Leader Award. Greg Hobbs’ introduction on Your Colorado Water Blog says, “[Heather Dutton] the newest manager of the San Luis Valley Water Conservancy District, glories in the heritage of the Rio Grande River. She’s a fifth-generation daughter of the Valley’s farming and ranching community, like her father Doug, who farms in the center of the Valley.”
Ms. Dutton thanked her family for their support and also cited the collaboration and mentoring from friends and colleagues.
Nicole Seltzer and the CFWE staff are getting pretty good at throwing these shindigs. I thought it was a great tribute. to change the President’s Award name to the Diane Hoppe Leadership Award. She was instrumental in passing the legislation that established the Colorado Foundation for Water Education. Diane passed this year but leaves a deep legacy.
Here’s a gallery of photos from the event:
Jamie Alvarez at the Diane Hoppe Leadership Award Celebration (CFWE) May 20, 2016.
Colorado’s Water Plan was crafted with hundreds of meetings and thousands of comments on a grand public scale with the type of unbridled enthusiasm usually reserved for a Broncos game.
Well, OK. Maybe a Rockies game.
By contrast, the Colorado Climate Plan was like an after-school pickup game for scientists, attempting to lay some sort of public policy groundwork for a series of unpredictable events. Even so, water is still the star.
“Water is one of the most vulnerable sectors,” Taryn Finnessey, of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, told the Arkansas Basin Roundtable last week. “Streamflow decreases and the peak runoff shifts. The frostfree season is longer and there are more frequent wildfires. We are seeing these things already.”
She presented the evidence of warming: Colorado’s average temperature has increased 2 degrees (Fahrenheit) in the last 30 years; 2.5 degrees in the last 50. The average temperature will increase 2.5-5 degrees by 2050. A 2-degree increase would make Denver more like Pueblo; 4 degrees more like Lamar; and 6 degrees more like Albuquerque.
“After 2050, we can’t predict,” she said.
Future precipitation is uncertain. Colorado is an inland area, with mountains and at mid-latitude — the trifecta for uncertainty. Less snow? More rain? No one can tell. But both extreme floods and droughts already are becoming more common.
The historic record — you don’t need to consider man-made consequences to review it — can be determined by tree-ring data. It goes back 1,000 years in the Colorado River basin, and 500-700 years in the South Platte, Arkansas and Rio Grande basins.
There have been, in every basin, decades-long droughts that occasionally have chased away civilizations.
Armed with the facts, the roundtable members were asked, by Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District, if they believed climate change was real and posed a threat. About 75 percent of the people in the room raised their hands.
“So, we’ve still got some work to do,” Winner said.
That’s true statewide as well. Only 19 percent of the state’s population does not believe global warming is happening, according to recent polls.
Just 60 percent say it is a threat to the state.
Beyond water, there are other sectors of the state that are preparing for climate change.
The Colorado Climate Plan, directed by the state Legislature in 2013, deals with public health, energy, agriculture, tourism and recreation as areas that could be affected in one way or another by markedly warmer or drier weather. And one surprising area: Transportation.
The plan outlines how wear and tear on roads, runways and other transportation structures is expected to increase as temperatures warm and storm events become more severe. Colorado witnessed this already in the 2013 floods in the South Platte basin, where road replacement became the major cost after the floodwaters receded.
Those types of impacts are expected to become more common.
There are also the on-the-ground impacts of more severe snowstorms, rain events and dust.
For instance, during the 2010-13 drought in the Arkansas Valley, the National Weather Service added dust storms to their roster of weather warnings. While Colorado’s Water Plan sets specific targets or goals to manage water use, the Colorado Climate Plan deals in broader “policies and strategies to mitigate and adapt.”
The report acknowledges that Colorado, by itself, could do little to curb global effects of emissions from power plants or automobiles, but should help cut those emissions.
Sort of like a fan in the stands cheering for the home team?
But the plan does point the way for Colorado to get in the ballpark.
A project to upgrade the outlet flow measurement at Holbrook Reservoir near La Junta was approved by the Arkansas Basin Roundtable Wednesday.
“We’ll be better able to use the storage there,” said Nick Koch, a roundtable member from Cheraw.
The work would construct a new concrete weir at the outlet and armor the channel immediately downstream to reduce erosion. The project will allow flows to be measured in the 1-14 cubic feet per second range, a requirement by the Colorado Division of Water Resources.
It also will lower the outlet by 1 foot to allow better access to water in the reservoir, Koch said.
The reservoir holds about 6,250 acre-feet of water, which benefits farmers on the Holbrook Canal. The canal also leases space to the Recovery of Yield group (Colorado Springs, Aurora and Pueblo), as part of the program that maintains Arkansas River flows through Pueblo. Space is leased in the reservoir by the cities, so water can be exchanged or leased later.
It also provides fishing and boating opportunities, Koch said.
The project would cost $40,150 and would be completed during the Oct. 1-Dec. 15 time frame.
The Holbrook Canal is seeking a $30,000 grant from the Water Supply Reserve Account, which is funded by mineral severance taxes. The grant still must be approved by the Colorado Water Conservation Board, but the roundtable’s blessing is a crucial first step.
The Recovery of Yield Group would supply $8,150, and Holbrook would contribute $2,000.
The major water bodies around Summit County and throughout most of the state are in strong shape after a slightly above-average winter season. However, the region is far from out of the woods on the matter of water in the West.
That was the thrust of speakers at Summit’s 23rd annual State of the River meeting on Wednesday evening, May 4 at the Silverthorne Pavilion — the first of six such meetings along the Colorado River Basin. With the Western Slope encompassing an average of 28 percent of the state’s water and spanning 15 counties, including Summit, this meeting of water wonks often sets the tone on consumption strategy and planning for rest of the year.
“There are no passengers on Spaceship Earth,” Troy Wineland, Summit County’s water commissioner, told the congested room, “there are only crewmembers. We’re all in this together.”
Wineland stressed that despite snowpack totals currently at about 115 percent of average above Dillon Reservoir — and with peak flows still to come around the first or second week of June once meltoff takes hold — circumstances are not as favorable. Other states in the country that also primarily rely on the Colorado River remain at near-critical shortages.
“While things are nice and rosy and wet and looking great here in the county,” he said, “you look throughout the entire Colorado river basin … not quite as rosy. The Lower Basin states right now are facing some very serious problems with access to water and need.”
Both Wineland and Denver Water’s Bob Steger were sure to discuss the present levels at Lake Powell during their respective presentations. Each noted how vital the resource is to every state along the Colorado Basin, even though water has already passed by many of them to arrive to Powell.
Aside from Powell functioning as the chief water supply for drinking, crop irrigation and recreation for 30-to-40 million residents in the region, the Glen Canyon Dam there also provides hydroelectric power. Besides contractual obligations of an annual average of 7.5 million acre-feet at Powell through that basin compact, of course, when water there gets below necessary levels, that has an impact back up to the Upper Basin states with increased electrical bills…
“(Lake Powell) is our bank account against accounts payable to the Lower Basin states,” re-iterated Wineland. “We’re probably within 20 feet of the critical threshold, at which point, Arizona and Nevada are going to have to make some hard decisions and really cut back on their water use.”
Despite the challenges even in what seems a healthy water year locally, all hope is not lost. The overall tenor of the meeting was mostly positive, with emphasis on how collaborative efforts across Colorado, as well as through such multi-state interdependence and agreements, proper attention on this limited resource is increasing.
Steger, Denver Water’s manager of raw water supply, brought encouraging news that the water from snowpack averages just a couple days ago are not only well above both the 20-year average on Dillon Reservoir (14.6 inches), but also ahead of 2015 (16.5 inches) as well. Current measures are 19.5 inches from this winter’s snowfalls.
On top of that, snowpacks on the South Platte River are also above normal for this time of year. That means Denver Water can most likely avoid pulling much water from Dillon Reservoir through one of its primary transmountain water diversion, Roberts Tunnel, this season for the South Platte and Denver’s consumption needs.
In fact, if that happens, that will continue a beneficial trend where 2014 and 2015 were actually the two lowest years within a 50-plus-year span for how much water has had to be removed from Dillon Reservoir through Roberts for the Platte and North Fork rivers.
“I attribute that partly to Mother Nature,” explained Steger to the audience, “because we’ve had good water supplies on the South Platte, but also our customers are doing a better and better job every year I think of conserving water. When our Eastern Slope supplies are good, that means we don’t have to take as much water from the Western Slope to the other side of the divide. That indirectly helps Lake Powell.”
Wineland also discussed how momentous the unveiling of Colorado’s statewide water plan — years in the making — in November is for the general conservation movement. To boot, regional endeavors like the recent $32,000 Colorado Water Conservation Board grant awarded to the Frisco-based High Country Conservation Center (HC3) for development and execution of a countywide water efficiency program are additional steps in the right direction. His parting words were of encouragement and optimism for the Colorado River Basin’s future.
“I just want to bring it back to the bigger picture,” he said. “We have leaders who are putting forth all this legislation and these cooperative efforts. But what we’re lacking are champions, and those champions, really, are you and I — everyone in this room. We need to take this legislation and work to the next level and implement these changes.”
Would you be willing to pay an extra penny or two on every beverage container you purchase for the next 30 years or so, if it could assure Colorado will meet its future water needs?
John Stulp, Gov. John Hickenlooper’s special advisor on water policy and director of the state’s Interbasin Compact Committee, put that question to an audience of more than 50 people in Steamboat Springs on Monday, and he was surprised at how many hands shot up.
Now that Colorado has its new statewide water plan in place, Stulp said it’s time to begin thinking about where the state will get the billions of dollars needed to close the water supply gap the state faces to support another estimated 5 million residents.
“The governor believes every conversation about water should start with conservation,” Stulp said. “I’ve always said, ‘You can have as much fun as you can afford.’ The state’s role might be something to the tune of $3 billion,” suggesting the residents of the state need to plan to raise about $100 million annually.
And that’s a lot of beverage containers…
Stulp, who comes from a cattle ranching/wheat growing background in southeastern Colorado, thinks our futures are bound together by the urgent need for more water supply.
“I say it pulls us and ties us together,” he said, “and we’re all tied to the Colorado River, because if anything happens there, it happens to all of us.”
Denver Water, which supplies water to 25 percent of the taps in the state, is doing more than many might realize, Stulp pointed out. The biggest water provider in Colorado is serving many thousands more users than it did 30 years ago but is using the same amount of water, thanks to conservation measures including the re-use of water.
After all, Denver Waster’s customers want to enjoy the rivers of the Western Slope, too, Stulp said.
There has been a paradigm shift in the way the Front Range looks at water, Stulp continued. Former Department of Natural Resources Chief Mike King, who is the new director of future water supply for Denver Water, grew up on the Western Slope in Montrose and understands the water outlook from this side of the Continental Divide.
But the agency also knows if the lower basin states ever made a call on the Colorado, demanding their share of water, it would hurt the Front Range more than the Western Slope, Stulp said. In part, because every acre-foot of water that wasn’t diverted to the eastern side would be felt doubly, because the water is used more than once.
Asked by Routt County Commissioner Doug Monger, who also serves on the Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District board of directors, if Gov. Hickenlooper is putting pressure on governors in the lower basin states such as California, Arizona and Nevada to use their water more wisely, Stulp replied, “Yes.” But he quickly added that diplomacy in the form of the relationships Colorado Water Conservation Board Director James Eklund has built with his counterparts is essential to Colorado’s relations with other Western states.
Marsha Daughenbaugh, executive director of the Community Agriculture Alliance, asked Stulp for his reaction to the fact that 40 percent of food produced in the U.S., much of it with the help of irrigation, is wasted.
“It goes to show you how cheap food is in this country and how cheap water is,” he concluded.