#COWaterPlan “…lays out a path by which we may start saving our rivers” — Ken Neubecker

Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer's office
Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer’s office

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Ken Neubecker):

It has been pointed out several times that the recent mine spill into the Animas River was, in one sense, a good thing. It re-awoke the public to Colorado’s checkered mining heritage, and the damage done to our rivers for more than a century. But Colorado’s mining legacy is more than old mines polluting mountain streams. It also gave us the fundamental laws and traditions that govern our rivers and the water they hold.

In 1859, David Wall dug a small ditch from Clear Creek to irrigate his two-acre garden, from which he sold produce to the miners up stream in Gregory Gulch. People back east objected to Wall’s diversion to land not directly adjacent to Clear Creek. But the miners from California who had come to Colorado brought with them a new idea of water allocation called prior appropriation. On November 7, 1859, the territorial legislature passed a law making Wall’s and any other agricultural diversion legal under the “rules of the diggings.”*

For the next 114 years dams and diversion projects were built with no concern for rivers or the health of the ecosystems they support. Water left in the stream was considered a waste and many rivers were severely degraded from altered flows and lack of water. That began to change in 1973, with the passage of Colorado’s in-stream flow water rights program. While not perfect, and not as protective as some might want to think, it recognized the natural environment as a beneficial user of water.

Now Colorado is developing a coordinated plan for the growing water needs of farms, ranches, communities, and — for the first time — the environment and the recreational economy that supports so much in Colorado. Rather than a simple endorsement for more projects that could further harm rivers, this water plan lays out all of the anticipated needs and myriad ideas for meeting them. Indeed, it lays out a path by which we may start saving our rivers.

The Colorado Water Plan has been in the making for more than 10 years, crafted by water stakeholders and the public from all across the state through the Basin Roundtables. Ranchers, farmers, municipal water providers and utilities have worked closely with many from the environmental and recreational communities to make sure that the plan incorporates serious consideration of the health of rivers, including bringing them back from the damage caused by past projects.

This has not been an easy task, and completion of the Colorado Water Plan does not guarantee success. A lot of time has been spent simply building trust after a long history of distrust between people with competing needs and values, and there are still stark differences between competing water uses that must be overcome. Colorado faces a daunting future — balancing the needs of agriculture, cities and rivers will not be easy. Growth, climate change, new economies and values, the need to fulfill downstream compact obligations and the simple reality of living in an arid region where water supply is shrinking, all make the transition from the Colorado of Dave Wall’s irrigation ditch to 21st century water management complex and challenging. Solving the puzzle of our water needs and restoring rivers will take all of us, working together, looking to the future, not the past.

From the Boulder Daily Camera (Nick Payne):

As important as the Colorado Water Plan is to the future of our state and its hunting and angling heritage, we can’t lose sight of what is happening in Washington, D.C. Several pieces of legislation are working their way through Congress to respond to drought in California and throughout the West. Federal agencies are pumping millions of dollars into drought-relief efforts and scrambling to find ways to make our country more resilient to future droughts, too.

Lawmakers can help sportsmen by spurring and supporting state and local solutions that work for entire watersheds, making it less likely that we will reach a crisis point in future droughts. We can build in assurances by using federal water programs to create:

Flexibility. In an over-allocated system like the Colorado River, we need federal programs that allow the transfer of water voluntarily and temporarily to other users in times of need without jeopardizing property rights, sustainable farming and ranching, or healthy fish and wildlife populations.

Incentives. Watershed groups demonstrating successful drought solutions on the local level — where they work best — should be rewarded, and the federal government should encourage the development of similar groups in other watersheds.

Access. With dozens of programs available across multiple federal agencies to improve water resources, it is difficult for Coloradans to know where to turn for assistance or how to navigate the different bureaucracies. We can get more out of limited resources by making these programs more accessible and decreasing the transaction costs of working with the federal government.

Healthier watersheds, overall. It’s the most cost-effective means of increasing water supply, reducing wildfire threats, protecting against floods, and improving drought resilience, and improving watersheds is something we can start doing right now.

From the fisherman pulling trout out of a high mountain reservoir to the Front Range city responsible for providing drinking water to its residents, we are all in this together. Colorado’s representatives in Congress must advance widely-supported conservation and efficiency measures, along with creative financing mechanisms, to meet water demands while protecting and restoring healthy river flows. Sacrificing species or targeting agriculture are not lasting solutions.

#COWaterPlan: “There is a lot of misunderstanding on water issues” — Leroy Garcia

Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013
Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

One of the outcomes of the Colorado water plan has been to draw new voices to talk about a question that’s older than the state itself: How can a sparse resource be used to meet the needs of a growing population?

So, a group primarily concerned with the Colorado River recently reached out to Pueblo to gather perspective.

Nuestro Rio — “our river” in Spanish — invited Puebloans to talk about water on the last day for comments on the final plan recently.

“My concern was that people could become more familiar with it and to make sure Southern Colorado knew it has a voice,” said state Sen. Leroy Garcia, D-Pueblo, who helped set up the meeting.

About 50 people, ranging from elected o_cials to farmers, attended. Also present was state Rep. Ed Vigil, D-Fort Garland, a member of the Interim Water Resources Review Committee.

“One of the goals of Nuestro Rio is to remind people of the importance of the river but to also involve more young people,” Garcia said.

While Nuestro Rio formed to emphasize the importance of the Colorado River to Latinos, a series of statewide outreach meetings showed there are concerns common to all rivers in the state, said Nita Gonzales, Colorado director for the organization.

“The main thing we heard was that diverting water cannot be the only solution,” Gonzales said. “Rivers are critical to Latino families, and before we move to big projects, we have to ask how do you protect the rivers.”

That includes maintaining agricultural uses that are the foundation for the economic wellbeing of many Latinos, Gonzales said.

“The other thing we heard is that elected officials are not as involved in water, but it is so important to the communities to make sure it is addressed in policy and budgets,” she said.

Garcia agreed.

“My own colleagues have to see this as one of the most important issues in the state,” he said. “We talk about transportation, education and economic development, but none of those things happens without water.”

On the state water plan, Garcia said he favors some of its openended approaches.
“There is a lot of misunderstanding on water issues,” he said. “The plan is very basin specific.”

Final draft of #COWaterPlan will push action — Fort Collins Coloradoan

Barker Meadows Dam Construction
Barker Meadows Dam Construction

From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Jacy Marmaduke):

The Colorado Water Plan, more than two years in the making, reached the end of its final public comment period last week. Now, the Colorado Water Conservation Board is combing through an estimated 26,000 comments with the intent to respond to them and prepare a final draft for the Dec. 10 due date.

The hardest part, board members and water wonks say, will be whittling down the second draft’s 16-page list of goals into a shortlist of action items. The goals were derived from eight regional “basin implementation plans.”[…]

It’s too early to tell exactly which action items will make the cut for the final draft, but Eklund said it will prioritize conservation – the point at which every water conversation must start, as Gov. John Hickenlooper likes to say — and storage.

The plan will be action-oriented, Eklund said, although the document can’t directly instigate action. That power lies in the hands of Hickenlooper, government agencies and the Colorado Legislature. New water projects will need regional coordination and funding.

Fort Collins is part of the South Platte River Basin, which also includes Boulder, Windsor and Greeley. The South Platte Basin worked with the Metro Basin – Denver – to come up with a basin implementation plan.

The basin goals include:

  • Initiating new water storage projects, especially ones that integrate the South Platte River
  • Finding alternatives to buy-and-dry, or the municipal purchase of farm land for water use
  • Instilling stricter requirements for efficiency in plumbing fixtures, appliances and landscaping to conserve water
  • There’s one thing the final plan won’t include: a transmountain diversion project. The second draft included seven tough criteria for evaluating proposals for those kinds of projects, and none of the basin plans advocated for one…

    The [CWCB] wanted the plan to present a wide range of viewpoints in language that “you don’t need to be a Ph.D. water scientist to understand.”

    From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Nick Coltrain):

    Fort Collins’ state legislators will host a forum on the Colorado Water Plan on Saturday.

    The forum will include a panel discussion with local water experts and presentations. Time for audience questions, comments and ideas will follow. Sen. John Kefalas, and Reps. Joann Ginal and Jeni Arndt, all Democrats, will host the event.

    The free event will run from 10:30 a.m. until noon Saturday at the Old Town Library, 201 Peterson St., Fort Collins.

    Denver: 2015 State of Water, October 8

    Click here to go to the Denver Chamber of Commerce website. Click here to register.

    Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013
    Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013

    #COWaterPlan: Pueblo County files comments


    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    Pueblo County commissioners say the state should be a referee, rather than a sponsor, in future water projects and they want to emphasize local regulation.

    “The county’s experience has been that federal and state regulations and enforcement alone have been inadequate to protect against local impacts of water projects,” the commissioners wrote in comments on the state water plan filed last week.

    The deadline for comments was Thursday. Commissioners Liane “Buffie” McFadyen, Terry Hart and Sal Pace jointly signed the letter to Gov. John Hickenlooper and the Colorado Water Conservation Board, who are working to finish the plan by December.

    The commissioners want to make sure that the state water plan does not undermine the authority of the state’s counties and cities to regulate water projects under laws such as HB1034 and HB1041, both passed in 1974 to provide local regulation of statewide activities, including water projects.

    Pueblo County has used the 1041 process most notably in obtaining mitigation for the Southern Delivery System, an $840 million project that is designed to bring water from Pueblo Dam to Colorado Springs.

    SDS is scheduled to go online in 2016, and under the 2009 permit for the project, Colorado Springs has been required to spend an additional $75 million to fortify sewer lines, $50 million for Fountain Creek flood control, $15 million for roads, $4 million for wetlands restoration and $2.2 million for Fountain Creek channel dredging, among other conditions.

    “To avoid confusion as to the local government’s authority to deny a permit for a specific project, we recommend that the following sentence be added: ‘A permit may be denied for a specific water project that does not meet the standards or criteria of the local regulations,’ ” the commissioners wrote.

    The county also wants the state to remain neutral in water projects.

    “Pueblo County does not believe that it is appropriate for the state of Colorado to endorse or become a sponsor of a water project in most cases,” they said.

    The board also wants to include stormwater control in the state definition for watershed protection. Most of the efforts in the last three years in watershed health have focused on mitigating the damage from large wildfires, but Pueblo County said equal attention has to be given to the effects on water quality from increased stormwater caused by development, such as what has occurred on Fountain Creek.

    Stormwater has been a key issue in regulation of SDS as well. A recent study for the county by Wright Water Engineers found that 370,000 tons of sediment are deposited each year between Colorado and Pueblo, decreasing the effectiveness of Fountain Creek levees.

    Finally, the county wants water reuse to get more emphasis in the state water plan.

    “The benefits to Pueblo County of promoting reuse are twofold,” commissioners said. “First, municipal reuse would reduce the need for dry-up of agricultural lands and transfers of agricultural water rights to municipal use. Second, reuse in El Paso County would reduce and control damaging flows in Fountain Creek through Pueblo County.”

    #COleg Interim Water Resources Committee meeting recap: Storage needs cited #COWaterPlan

    South Platte River Basin via Wikipedia
    South Platte River Basin via Wikipedia

    Here’s a report from Marianne Goodland writing for The Colorado Statesman. Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

    It’s [The need for more storage] a message the interim Water Resources Review Committee heard and acknowledged during the hearings, held Monday in Greeley and Tuesday in Aurora.

    Representatives of the Denver South Platte River area basin roundtables hammered on that desire, as did members of the public who spoke to the committee.

    The hearings solicited public input on the statewide water plan, now in its second draft. A final version is expected to be delivered to Gov. John Hickenlooper by Dec. 10…

    Much of the water shortage anticipated in the next three decades is likely to occur in the South Platte region, said Joe Frank, chair of the South Platte roundtable. He told the committee his roundtable needs a better understanding of those numbers and how much of the 400,000 acre-feet applies to the gap.

    Most of the South Platte gap will come from municipal and industrial needs, Frank said, and there’s also a gap for the agricultural sector, which dominates the eastern part of the state. Frank wound up on the hot seat with several West Slope lawmakers when he said his roundtable wants to preserve its “rights” to Colorado River water. It’s a sore subject for West Slope residents who fear the East Slope will seek more water from the Colorado River, which advocates claim is already over-appropriated. In response to several questions from state Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango and state Rep. Don Coram, R-Montrose, Frank said he didn’t believe taking more Colorado River water would dry up West Slope agriculture, and that he didn’t anticipate this would have to happen “tomorrow.”

    But storage is the major need for the South Platte and Denver Metro area, Frank told the committee. The basin already has a 300,000 acre-foot shortage for agriculture, reflected by wells that have been shut down all over the area. Without new storage, half the farmland that relies on irrigation could dry up. More than half of the identified projects in the South Platte/Denver basin plan are for storage, he noted.

    Coram also pointed out that 1 million acre-feet went out of state this spring to Nebraska, an amount that exceeded the legal contracts between Colorado and Nebraska. Everyone wants to keep that water, Frank replied, but they have no way to store it.

    Storage needs to become a much higher priority in the statewide plan, said state Rep. J. Paul Brown, R-Ignacio, who isn’t on the committee but attended many of the hearings.

    But storage has always been a controversial topic in Colorado. Several storage projects have been killed because of opposition from environmental groups, including the Two Forks Dam, proposed in the late 1980s for the South Platte near Deckers. Environmental groups also are fighting a storage project on the Cache La Poudre River near Fort Collins — the Northern Integrated Supply Project, or NISP — which would put two reservoirs on the river.

    “We need to get past the controversy,” Frank said.

    #WISE: Water project the right mix — The Pueblo Chieftain

    WISE Project map via Denver Water
    WISE Project map via Denver Water

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    A $6.4 million project to blend water in a 21.5-mile pipeline in the South Metro area won state approval this week.

    The Colorado Water Conservation Board approved a $905,000 grant toward the project which connects Aurora’s $800 million Prairie Waters Project with a $120 million pipeline that serves 14 water providers who are members of the South Metro Water Authority.

    The Water Infrastructure and Supply Efficiency partnership, which includes Denver Water, Aurora and South Metro members, says the new connection paves the way for recovering up to 10,000 acre-feet (325.8 million gallons) of water annually. The project does this by providing Prairie Waters flows balance water quality from Denver Aquifer wells and other sources.

    Prairie Waters captures sewered flows downstream and treats the water for reuse at a plant near Aurora reservoir. The East Cherry Creek Village pipeline can redistribute the water among other users.

    At a July meeting of the Arkansas Basin Roundtable, South Metro Executive Director Eric Hecox claimed it would relieve pressure on taking water from farms, including those in the Arkansas River basin.

    Three conservancy districts which have agreements with Aurora — the Lower Arkansas, Upper Arkansas and Southeastern — were skeptical that Aurora might use the WISE arrangement to manipulate storage levels in order to trigger more withdrawals from the Arkansas River basin.

    Aurora provided assurances that would not happen, gaining approval from the roundtable in August.

    “What’s significant is that six other roundtables joined to fund this project,” said Alan Hamel, who represents the Arkansas River basin on the CWCB.

    Roundtables have funds in basin accounts, and contributed $105,000 to the grant, of which the Arkansas Basin chipped in $10,000. A statewide fund provided the remaining $800,000.

    Prairie Waters Project graphic via Aurora Water