#COWaterPlan: Time to get started on implementation

James Eklund and Governor Hickenlooper roll out the Colorado Water Plan, Thursday, November 19, 2015 via The Colorado Independent
James Eklund and Governor Hickenlooper roll out the Colorado Water Plan, Thursday, November 19, 2015 via The Colorado Independent

From The Denver Post (Jim Lochhead, Jon Goldin-Dubois):

The big question now is, what steps do we need to take to secure Colorado’s water future? The answer lies in Chapter 10: the “Critical Action Plan” that includes important, measurable objectives, goals and actions.

This chapter calls for reducing the future gap between water supply and demand by continuing water conservation and reuse efforts, incorporating water-saving actions into land-use planning, working to preserve agricultural economies while increasing flexibility and efficiency, creating stream and watershed protection plans, and increasing education and outreach.

These ideas are well thought out, reasoned and critical to implement. And the legislature took a few baby steps on some of these earlier this year. It legalized capturing rainwater through residential rain barrels, and it increased the ability of Front Range agricultural water users to retain their water rights but share some of their water with other users in times of need. The legislature also allocated $5 million to the CWCB to begin implementing the water plan.

However, now is not the time to claim success or, conversely, to throw in the towel. Now is the time to use the collective attention, work and energy of the tens of thousands of citizens who helped shape the plan and those who work daily on water issues in the state to push through critical parts of the plan to ensure a secure water future for Colorado.

Fortunately, we don’t have to reinvent the wheel to get this done. We have proven examples on how to kick-start, incubate, and work cooperatively to implement the water plan’s suggested actions.

For instance, the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement between Denver Water and West Slope local governments, water providers and ski areas will enhance the health of streams in the Colorado River Basin while allowing Denver Water to strengthen its system against drought and climate change by enlarging Gross Reservoir. As a result, the project actually benefits both sides of the Great Divide. Future projects like the expansion of Gross Reservoir that include appropriate mitigation are part of the solution. They should receive state support and funding because they can align with the state’s water values and the plan’s well-articulated criteria for being sustainable, collaborative and cost-effective. Indeed, the plan’s criteria should be applied to all project proposals — including the $5 million noted above — to ensure public funds are spent wisely.

Most importantly, we can take simple, immediate actions to increase water-use efficiency. The governor can accelerate reuse, graywater, and green infrastructure by funding the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to update its regulations. He can work to remove barriers to water reuse and green stormwater management and use. He can improve river health by setting a time frame for the CWCB and basin roundtables to establish priority lists of rivers that should have local stream management plans done. And, he can support water banks — to better facilitate sharing water for a multitude of purposes — in key river basins…

Jon Goldin-Dubois is president of Western Resource Advocates. Jim Lochhead was appointed Denver Water’s CEO and manager in 2010.

Rio Grande Roundtable meeting recap

Rio Grande River March 2016 via Greg Hobbs.
Rio Grande River March 2016 via Greg Hobbs.

From the Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

With less money from severance taxes flowing into the pools that fund water projects in the San Luis Valley and around the state, those fishing for funds may have to string some pretty good bait from now on.

In the 10 years the Rio Grande Roundtable has been in operation, it has funded thousands of dollars worth of projects from studies and assessments to ditch and river repairs.

Colorado Water Conservation Board Program Manager Craig Godbout reported to the roundtable board on Tuesday that the local group still has more than $300,000 in its basin fund but needs to keep in mind it may not see any more funding until July of next year. In addition to basin-allocated funds, there is a statewide fund from which requests may be made.

In light of the tighter funding outlook, Godbout said the state water conservation board was asking for affirmation from the local board regarding its earlier approval of $67,000 towards an Upper Rio Grande assessment. The state board has to sign off on projects and is fine with the assessment project but wanted to make sure the local board was still willing to commit to it, in light of funding challenges.

Rio Grande Roundtable Chairman Nathan Coombs said there was no question about the value of the project.

“We are just re-evaluating that we want money from our basin still going to this project,” he said.

Roundtable member Charlie Spielman had been opposed to the original approval of the Upper Rio Grande Assessment because he believed it was outside the primary scope of the roundtable, and he voted against it again on Tuesday, but the rest of the board affirmed their support of it.

Before Tuesday’s meeting, the Rio Grande Roundtable had $345,156 in its account, according to Godbout. The group on Tuesday approved $39,000 towards a $228,000 wetland wildlife assessment project that will take the basin’s fund balance down to $306,156.

The SLV chapter of Trout Unlimited is the fiscal sponsor and Wetland Dynamics the contractor for the assessment , which will gather and compile species, habitat and water information from public land agencies such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management and Colorado Parks & Wildlife, develop conservation goals and identify potential projects. Wetland Dynamics principals Jenny Nehring and Cary Aloia explained that this project will help the separate entities better coordinate their efforts in providing wildlife habitat, specifically regarding water resources.

The project will be completed by January 2019. Other pending or acquired funding sources include the SLV Conservation Connection Initiative and the Bird Conservancy of the Rockies.

No one opposed the wetlands /wildlife project, and funding for it was approved unanimously, but a couple of the roundtable members said they had a problem funding something that benefitted government agencies but was not being funded by those government agencies.

Other roundtable members said this project, like the SLV Habitat Conservation Plan and similar projects, would help protect private lands for traditional uses such as farming by identifying ways for public lands and water resources to be used more efficiently for wildlife habitat.

“You do anything for any species, you are benefitting lots of species,” added Rick Basagoitia, area wildlife manager for Colorado Parks and Wildlife in the San Luis Valley.

In improving habitat, projects like this also keep species from becoming listed as endangered, he said.

The news that funds might be tighter did not deter the board from approving funds for the wetland wildlife project or a subsequent $2,500 request from Center for Snow and Avalanche Studies Executive Director Jeff Derry for help with dust-on-snow monitoring. The information about dust storm events and their effects on snowpack are helpful in determining how fast snowmelt might occur. Derry will be seeking funds from other basin roundtables as well as the state water fund.

Coombs said less money did not mean the roundtable board should panic. He said there is nothing wrong with tightening up requirements for funding and making sure “t’s” have been crossed and “i’s” dotted.

“We have good projects,” he said.

Mike Gibson, who served as the chairman of the roundtable until retiring from the SLV Water Conservancy District, was voted back on as a board member on Tuesday following the group’s vote through a bylaw change to increase its at-large board representation.

Gibson said the roundtable board should not be secondguessing itself about whether or not to fund worthwhile projects because a better one might come along later and the roundtable wouldn’t have the money for it.

“I think it’s irrelevant because in the past we have said if money’s available and it’s a worthwhile project, we should approve it,” he said. “Speculating or considering what may come forward we may wish we had the money for at that time is irrelevant. What this roundtable has done all along if the money is available and it’s a good project we have approved it and moved forward.”

Gibson added that while the group still has $300,000 “which is an amazing amount of money available to us” “if there’s a worthwhile project out there, it needs to be brought forward while the money’s available.”

Cleave Simpson, who represents the Rio Grande Roundtable on the Interbasin Compact Committee (IBCC), said he is now serving on a guidelines/criteria subcommittee that is working on tightening up criteria that projects must meet to receive funding, since funds are tighter. Projects will have to more closely align with the legislature’s intent when it approved the roundtable structure and severance tax funding. Projects will also need to align with basin plans and the Colorado Water Plan, which was recently developed and approved by the governor.

Simpson said the IBCC also discussed other funding sources for water projects, such as instituting a container fee on human-consumed liquid beverages in containers . That is at an initial discussion stage, he added.

Travis Smith, who represents this basin on the Colorado Water Conservation Board, said there is a real shift from when the roundtables began 10 years ago to more stringent requirements and closer scrutiny before approving projects now.

“Funding is tighter, but good projects still get funded,” he said.

Jay Winner, who was visiting from the Arkansas Valley Roundtable, said, “The message is they are going to tighten it up ” The last 10 years were a lot of fun. The next 10 years are going to be a little bit different.”

In a side note during Tuesday’s meeting, Smith pointed out that the River Valley Group, which had been the recipient of a large roundtable request in the past, had filed a Colorado Open Records Act request for information on projects the roundtable has approved and communication between roundtable members and state water board members. Steve Massey from the River Valley Group was present at the Tuesday meeting. The group states its purpose is “too match the needs of wildlife, agriculture, and human beings in a coexistent environment while enhancing opportunities for all, both for current and future generations.”

#COWaterPlan: Ag has to be on equal footing with municipal and industrial and environmental concerns — Bill McKee


From The Fence Post News (Nikki Work):

During the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association annual convention last week in Colorado Springs, ranchers, business owners and ag officials discussed the ways the state’s cattlemen can make a difference in water conservation and why the beef industry needs to have a role in the conversation. Many ranchers grow feed crops for their animals, like hay or grains, rather than purchasing them. Nearly all have to worry about water when it comes to the quality of their pasture and rangeland. Even for those that rely on purchased feed or who graze on federal lands, Fankhauser pointed out that the ag industry is all interconnected.

Fankhauser asked the group: If corn dries up, what will cattle eat? If farmers start to go out of business in an area, feedlots move out, then packing plants move out, Fankhauser said. When ranchers can’t keep the water on their land to sustain their pastures, they have to sell off their cattle herd, as they did in the 2012 drought.

Bill McKee, a rancher who lives in Carbondale but runs cattle in both Carbondale and Platteville, said if the beef industry does nothing else, it needs to make an effort to stop buy-and-dry, a practice in which agricultural land is bought up for its water rights and taken out of production…

Through water leasing, farmers would maintain ownership of their water, but only use a portion of it and be paid for the rest, which would be used by someone else, like a municipality…

There are a few different ways this could look, but according to a survey done by the Ag Water NetWORK, an organization formed by the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association and the Partners for Western Conservation, the most popular of them is for a certain portion of water to be leased, then the producer would receive reduced delivery of water over the rest of the season. About two-thirds of the respondents to the survey expressed some sort of interest in leasing their water…

T. Wright Dickinson, former president of the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association who serves on the state’s Inter-basin Compact Committee, said ag water leasing is only part of the solution. Continued development of the reservoir storage system is necessary, too, but ranchers need to realize their role and the opportunities they have to manage their water in a way that protects ag’s viability.

“If we do it right, conservation goes a long way into solving some of this gap,” said Dickinson, a Moffat County rancher. “If we do it wrong, the state won’t look the same.”

At the convention, Carbondale and Platteville rancher McKee talked with representatives from conservation group Trout Unlimited, which works with farmers and ranchers on water management to benefit fish populations. He was looking into options to better handle water on his property, something he said he needs to do soon, because changes are coming to Colorado, and they’re coming faster than anyone is prepared for.

“It’s time to have an intelligent discussion,” he said. “Everybody should be looking at these issues.”

Stephanie Scott, outreach coordinator with Trout Unlimited, said she sees the conversation around water and other natural resource issues changing in the ag community every time she attends a convention like the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association’s. At first, ranchers hesitate when they see the Trout Unlimited booth. It’s nestled next to the trade show mainstays, like merchandise, livestock products and ag tech. Scott said she can see the questions in their eyes — the ones they’re afraid to ask a conservation organization.

Trout Unlimited want to help them better manage their water because it helps both the farmer and the organization accomplish their goals, Scott said. Once farmers and ranchers realize that, the conversation about conservation really gets going.

And as population grows and the pressure on water mounts, more people in the ag community — the whole ag community, not just traditional crop growers — are willing to try new things, Scott said.

Since the governor’s water plan is new and fresh on the minds of legislators, McKee said now is the time for ag to have a bigger part in water conversations.

“Ag has to be on equal footing with municipal and industrial and environmental concerns,” he said. “We have to be at the head of the table, not at the end of the table.

“We need new people…It’s the only way you’ll create a change” — Jay Winner

Basin roundtable boundaries
Basin roundtable boundaries

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

One of the fears when the state Legislature created the Interbasin Compact Committee and basin roundtables in 2005 was that the jaded “water buffaloes” would take over the process.

One of the hopes was that fresh, new voices would join in a conversation about how to deal with Colorado’s water problems.

One of those fresh new voices was Jay Winner, who had just six months under his belt as the general manager of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District, which formed in 2002 to keep water from being siphoned off of farmland.

Somewhere along the line, Winner believes, he must have sprouted horns and hooves, taking on the shaggy countenance of a water buffalo himself.

Next month, Winner, now 58, will step down after 11 years of chairing the Arkansas Basin Roundtable needs assessment committee, the clearinghouse for water project funding through the Water Supply Reserve Account. He’ll also be leaving the IBCC after nine years this fall, hoping for fresh blood.

“We need new people,” Winner said. “It’s the only way you’ll create a change. You need new people with new ideas.”

Winner hasn’t done a bad job. The roundtable has secured $34.28 million with 76 grants and 15 loans since 2005, when the WSRA was created.

That’s roughly 15 percent of the state total for nine roundtables, so an above-average showing for the basin. All of those projects came through the needs assessment committee before gaining roundtable approval.

Most were massaged in the process to iron out wrinkles, and a few ideas never saw the light of day.

By the time the roundtable sees a project, the road to acceptance has been paved with adjustments and compromises.

Some projects that broke out of the committee without consensus led to ugly battles within roundtable meetings.

Winner broke onto the Arkansas Valley water scene in memorable ways, trying to apply a lifetime of management experience — he essentially ran a Kremmling gas station for its owners at the age of 13 and has been running things ever since — to a basin divided by water worries. The drought of 2002 had spawned the Lower Ark district and from the first day at its helm, Winner began ruffling feathers. Maybe even throwing rocks at cozy nests.

He sent a message to Congress in late 2004 that stopped a water storage bill which everyone else had assumed was a lock. He spoke before a congressional committee visiting Pueblo the next year to torpedo a different version of the Preferred Storage Options Plan. The Lower Ark district filed a federal lawsuit in 2007 that derailed yet another rollout of the PSOP plan.

He mixed it up with Aurora in 2009 to get some concessions about future withdrawals of water from the Arkansas River basin. And, as he likes to point out, the Lower Ark district is the only government entity in Pueblo County that hasn’t signed off on Colorado Springs stormwater projects.

That’s the Jay Winner that makes headlines most often.

When the roundtables formed, Winner jumped in as the chairman of the needs assessment committee, heading a loose collection of people with diverse interests from throughout the 22-county basin.

“When I got into it, no one else wanted to be chair,” Winner said. “As I worked on it, I began to see it was such a good opportunity to bring dollars into the basin.”

Winner doesn’t claim credit for thinking up the projects that the roundtable approved. In his familiar cryptic corporatespeak, he calls himself a “B-to-Y man.”

“A lot of people are A and Z people,” Winner said, stretching his hands to frame his point. “I provide the B, C, D and all the way to Y that you need to get the job done.

We (the Lower Ark district) pay people to write grants for projects. A lot of people know the problem, and the answer, but don’t know how to get from one to the other.”

Winner often pulls out little lessons like this in front of a room full of adults in a way that usually makes them feel like schoolchildren and even bristle. Despite that, Winner always makes them listen — and sometimes even agree with him.

One of his high points was a $275,000 grant from the CWCB that paired up with a $2.8 million loan to provide a water line to the Ordway Cattle Feeders, the largest agriculture- related business in Crowley County.

“That helped out the county so much,” Winner said.

On the other hand, he rejected a proposal by Pete and Nancy Moore for a gray-water line in Ordway because it had no local buy-in.

“They were nice people, but someone had to say no,” Winner said.

Oh yeah, and Pete Moore chaired the Lower Ark board, so was Winner’s boss at the time. Nancy Moore was the mayor of Ordway.

Another attempt was made to get funds that basically would have sent a girl to a beauty pageant, which was easier to reject.

“People ask for all sorts of things,” Winner said.

“Those that wouldn’t succeed, we kicked back.” Winner is stepping down at a time when he believes the criteria for grants will begin to tighten. Funds are more restricted following a state Supreme Court decision on mineral severance taxes that fund the WSRA. Projects also will need to line up with Colorado’s Water Plan and have multiple purposes and funding sources.
Winner said he plans to stay on the committee, but he’s running out of time and energy to continue leading the charge.

“I’ve got an RV trailer that I’ve used once,” said Winner, who plans to take his wife Lori, a Pueblo City Council member, on a vacation soon. “It’s time for someone younger to step in.”

State looking to increase funding for water projects

A headgate on an irrigation ditch on Maroon Creek, a tributary of the Roaring Fork River.
A headgate on an irrigation ditch on Maroon Creek, a tributary of the Roaring Fork River.

By Brent Gardner-Smith, Aspen Journalism

PUEBLO – To counter a sudden and sharp reduction in severance tax revenue from the oil and gas sector, the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) has proposed a five-year, $175 million funding plan for water-supply and river-restoration projects.

If approved by the state Legislature next year, the agency’s plan would bolster the amount of money that regional basin roundtables, and the CWCB board, have on hand to give out as grants in support of water projects and proposals.

Such funding has helped complete a number of projects within or near the Roaring Fork River watershed since 2006, including $40,000 for a feasibility study of a potential 18,000-acre-foot Kendig Reservoir south of Silt, $60,000 for repairs to the East Mesa Ditch irrigation system in the Crystal River watershed, and $100,000 to help the Snowmass Water and Sanitation District improve its water-metering program.

The Colorado basin roundtable, which meets every other month in Glenwood Springs, has approved an average of $820,000 a year in water-project grants through the state’s Water Supply Reserve Account (WSRA), which has been funded with severance tax revenues. In all, the roundtable has approved $8.2 million worth of grants since 2006.

The WSRA program as a whole has approved about $75 million in grants over the past 10 years, and has been funded at about $8 million annually with severance tax revenue. That stream of revenue has come from oil and gas companies in Colorado, but is subject to large year-to-year swings from both the cyclical nature of the industry and how companies choose to take advantage of tax deductions.

One factor in the severance tax equation — tax deductions — changed this spring when the Colorado Supreme Court ruled that oil and gas companies can, in fact, deduct certain expenses that the Department of Revenue had previously ruled against. The ruling means the state has to rebate $125 million, or more, to the industry.

The court ruling came when severance tax revenues were already expected to drop.

The CWCB had been ratcheting down the amount of severance tax revenue it expects to see flow into the WSRA accounts this year, which are divided between the nine basin roundtables and a statewide account administered by the CWCB board.

In January, the roundtables were advised to expect a 25 to 50 percent drop in severance revenues this year. And as of this month, they’ve been told to expect zero money from severance tax dollars next year.

“For this year, ‘16-’17, we’re not looking at any money coming into the WSRA accounts, statewide or basin,” said Brent Newman, a program manager at CWCB who works in a support role with several roundtables.

With the drying up of severance tax revenue, the amounts available to the roundtables for grants are restricted to the money they now have on hand.

The Colorado basin roundtable has $473,327 to spend between now and July 1, 2017, which is when CWCB is hoping its new funding plan will come to fruition.

At its meeting in May, the Colorado basin roundtable members tightened their belts and denied one application for funding and approved three other projects, but only granted half of the requested amounts in each case.


Four buckets of money

The funding plan put forth by the CWCB includes four types, or buckets, of funding.

One $50 million bucket consists of $10 million a year over five years to fund the WSRA program at the level it generally has been funded since 2006.

“We’re trying to make up the deficit in severance tax revenue,” Newman said.

But if severance tax revenues do return to prior levels, the money would still go into the WSRA accounts, along with the newly designated funds. This means funding for the WSRA program as a whole could rise as high as $20 million a year, which would be a dramatic reversal of fortune for the regional roundtables and the CWCB.

A second $50 million bucket — filled at the rate of $10 million a year for five years — would allow the CWCB board to directly make grants to support programs and initiatives described in the 2015 Colorado Water Plan, such as water-efficiency programs and education and outreach efforts.

A third $50 million bucket would consist of a one-time cash infusion into a loan repayment guarantee fund. This money would be used to fund future water-supply projects that have a number of municipal and governmental entities behind them.

The credit ratings of many smaller cities and districts are lower than those of large water providers and cities, and that can increase risk to lenders and make it harder to get big loans for projects. But if the state guarantees that the loans will be repaid, it should make it easier to get new projects built.

Newman said funds from this proposed bucket could help proposals such as the Windy Gap Firming Project, which would allow additional diversions from the West Slope to be stored in a new East Slope reservoir.

There are 13 different entities on the northern Front Range that are supporting the Windy Gap project.

“Some have an awful credit rating, some have a great credit rating,” Newman said, speaking in general terms about water projects with various entities involved. “By guaranteeing these bonds from a state fund, it brings everyone up to the same credit rating, and makes it a lot easier for multiple partners to work together on a project. And it actually cuts out millions of dollars in costs.”

Alan Hamel, a CWCB board member representing the Arkansas River basin, supports the proposed funding plan, including the loan repayment guarantee fund.

“It will really help smaller communities with their projects,” he said.

Newman and Hamel made their remarks on June 8 in Pueblo at a meeting of the Arkansas roundtable’s executive committee. That roundtable is especially interested in CWCB’s funding proposal because it only has $185,000 in its account for the next 12 months, and it has approved an average of $1.2 million a year in water projects and plans over the past decade.

The fourth bucket in the CWCB’s funding plan includes $25 million, at $5 million a year for five years, to fund projects and plans designed to improve the environment, and recreational values, of the state’s rivers and streams.

This funding, up from about $1.5 million a year over the past two years, will go to help fund river management and restoration efforts, such as the recently completed Crystal River management plan and the forthcoming Roaring Fork River management plan.

In all, it adds up to $175 million being put forth over five years to move forward on the projects and ideas described in the Colorado Water Plan.

“All of this is very conceptual,” Newman said. “The [CWCB] is going to be beating this up for the next couple of months before we have a final funding plan in place.”

Gears on the top of the dam that forms Lost Man Reservoir, part of the diversion system on the upper Roaring Fork River headwaters.
Gears on the top of the dam that forms Lost Man Reservoir, part of the diversion system on the upper Roaring Fork River headwaters.

Money in hand

The money for the project is coming from the CWCB itself, which has been loaning money to various entities to build water projects for years. As those loans have been repaid over the years, the CWCB has kept the money in a fund. Now it plans to tap that pool of money to fill the four buckets described above.

Newman said the CWCB was in a unique position of having funds to work with “because of the good stewardship of our loan funds over the past several decades.”

“We’re in this position of having, and it’s weird to say this in public, too much money to loan out,” Newman said in Pueblo. “We have a really healthy loan program, and it’s not just dependent on severance tax. We’ve given out some really big loans that are starting to be paid back in installments every year now. So we have these perpetual funds that are cycling back.”

Since it has the funds on hand, and is watching severance tax revenue dry up, CWCB board members in May asked staff to put a plan together that would help implement the ideas in the Colorado Water Plan and in the various regional basin plans developed over the past two years.

The authorization to spend the money in CWCB’s proposed funding plan has to come from the state Legislature as part of its annual review and approval of the CWCB’s “projects bill.”

If the Legislature approves the funding plan, the funds would not be available until July 2017, at the start of the state’s next fiscal year, which means many of the nine basin roundtables are looking at a lean 12 months ahead.

Between now and the end of the year, the CWCB staff and board will continue to discuss and fine-tune the conceptual $175 million plan. The CWCB will next discuss the plan at its July meeting in Steamboat.

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism, the Aspen Daily News, and Coyote Gulch are collaborating on coverage of rivers and water in Colorado. The Daily News published this story on Wednesday, June 15, 2016.

#ColoradoRiver #COWaterPlan: Making water conservation a reality #COriver

Colorado River in Eagle County via the Colorado River District
Colorado River in Eagle County via the Colorado River District

From the Middle Colorado Watershed Council (Dan Ben-Horin) via The Glenwood Springs Post Independent:

It may be difficult to think of water conservation now as we look out our windows at rivers and creeks swollen with spring runoff, but we need to remind ourselves of where we live. Here in the Colorado River Basin, we live with a constant threat of a looming drought.

As Eric Kuhn wrote in his May 12 article in the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel, “we cannot be fooled by talk of a continuing drought. Instead, we need to be diligent and prepared for the next drought.” Our current reality includes an increasing population and a decreasing water supply, and it is now time for us to realize how far conservation measures can improve our water use efficiency.

As part of the recently published Colorado Water Plan, one of the Colorado River Basin’s themes is to encourage a high level of conservation. Statewide, we have done a remarkable job of reducing water use, with per-capita use dropping by almost 20 percent over the past decade. Some municipalities have even cut water use by as much as 30 percent during this time period. Incredible work has been done thus far, and we can now build upon what we learned statewide.

Many entities in the state are now required to have a specific water conservation plan approved by the Colorado Water Conservation Board. Locally, the Roaring Fork Conservancy partnered with the Community Office for Resource Efficiency, Ruedi Water and Power Authority and local municipalities in the Roaring Fork Watershed to develop a water efficiency plan. The plan consists of water efficiency plans for Aspen, Snowmass Village, Basalt, Carbondale and Glenwood Springs, as well as a regional plan that applies the common elements of the five individual plans to the watershed.

Plans such as this outline actions steps for reaching conservation goals by identifying best practices such as landscape efficiencies, water loss management features and variable rate structures. A successful conservation strategy must look beyond past accomplishments and create a specific action plan to meet conservation goals.

The water saving benefits resulting from water efficiency projects are tremendous. Reductions in water demands allow providers to save money on annual operations and maintenance. Further reductions in municipal water use would provide increased longevity on facilities right here in our communities.

In addition to these water supply benefits, we can achieve other benefits, such as an improved environment. Reduced wastewater discharges through indoor water savings can improve water quality and aquatic habitat in our lakes, rivers and streams.

Conservation also acts as a management tool to buffer against drought. Water providers can store water in a drought reserve as a long-term water conservation effort, and use those reserves during periods of shortages. As Mr. Kuhn pointed out in his May 12 article, when we entered the drought period of 2000-04, both Lake Powell and Lake Mead were completely full. Having reserves allowed us to mitigate the potentially devastating consequences of those dry years. With those lakes currently sitting at approximately 40 percent of capacity, what would happen if we were to enter into a period of prolonged drought today?

We cannot allow ourselves to become shortsighted when water is plentiful. It is time to build upon the conservation measures and efficiency savings we have already achieved. By adopting a variety of strong, permanent tools, we can fulfill our ongoing obligation to conserve water resources. The reality of climate change is that hotter, drier weather will become the new normal in the West, so conservation of our precious resource should become the new normal as well. As we learn and adapt to living in this semi-arid climate, we can make conservation become the new water reality.

Dan Ben-Horin is a watershed specialist for the Middle Colorado Watershed Council, which works to evaluate, protect and enhance the health of the Middle Colorado River Watershed through the cooperative effort of watershed stakeholders. To learn more, go to http://www.midcowatershed.org.

Meanwhile here’s a report about conservation in the water sector in California from Joshua Emerson Smith writing in The Los Angeles Times:

…a new study finds that reductions in urban water use have saved significant amounts of electricity and reduced greenhouse gas emissions.

The analysis, published by UC Davis, capitalized on the unique circumstances created by California’s drought. It culled statistics that electric utilities and water districts statewide were required to submit because of Gov. Jerry Brown’s unprecedented order for residents and businesses to lower water consumption by an average of 25%.

During Brown’s initial emergency conservation program that stretched from June 2015 through February, energy savings from water conservation totaled 922,543 megawatt-hours — enough to power 135,000 homes for a year, according to the data project…

The electricity saved from less water consumption was substantial enough that during peak summer months last year, savings equaled the effect of all energy efficiency programs offered by major investor-owned utilities in the state combined — and at less than a third of the cost.

“We were quite surprised when we looked at the numbers,” said Frank Loge, director of the UC Davis Center for Water-Energy Efficiency, which produced the new analysis.

“I think people have known this intuitively for a couple of years, but our analysis highlighted it,” he added.

The findings come as environmental groups and water managers have sometimes differed on how much conservation is needed, especially as new supply sources — including desalination plants, expanded reservoirs and water recycling programs — come online.

Arkansas Basin Roundtable executive committee meeting recap

Basin roundtable boundaries
Basin roundtable boundaries

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Water planners are looking at potentially leaner times for grants that fund projects, particularly for smaller water districts, towns or farms.

The funding crunch is coming because of an April opinion of the Colorado Supreme Court in BP America v. Colorado Department of Revenue, in which the oil giant prevailed in its arguments of which types of activities are exempt from mineral severance taxes. The impact could mean a repayment of up to $125 million and reduced future revenues.

Those taxes are the source of funding for Water Supply Reserve Account grants that are funded through the state’s basin roundtable process. Those grants are approved by the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

“Moving forward, revenues will be down 12.5 percent,” Brent Newman of the CWCB told the Arkansas Basin Roundtable executive committee Wednesday. “With the implementation of the Colorado Water Plan, we have to make sure grant programs meet standards.”

After last month’s meeting of the Interbasin Compact Committee, CWCB staff is preparing a new plan of action to fund water projects that does not rely on the up-and-down revenues of mineral severance taxes.

That pot of money is now split among local governments, the Department of Local Affairs and agencies within the Department of Natural Resources, including the CWCB. The problem is that when oil, gas and mining activity drops or prices decrease, so do tax revenues. The state Legislature raided the revenues to meet budget shortfalls during the 2008-09 recession, showing they are unreliable.

The court decision will decrease the size of the fund pool. Newman stressed that carry-over funds are still in place, although roundtables already are starting to rein in their requests. The Arkansas Basin Roundtable hopes to move as much as $500,000 in grants ahead this year.

The state water plan calls for adding $100 million funding annually for water projects beginning in 2020, and the IBCC and CWCB have kicked around ideas — such as a container tax for water and soft drinks or a statewide tap fee — to provide that money.

But in the short term, CWCB staff is proposing using its own banked funds to provide a stable source for water projects for the next five years. The proposal includes establishing a $50 million loan fund that would be repaid, $10 million annual funding to the WSRA, $5 million annually for watershed restoration and $10 million annually for grants.

“Not everybody agrees with me, but I think it’s going to be a lot more restrictive,” said Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District and a member of the IBCC. “Under the water plan, in every basin, the gaps can’t get any bigger, but it could mean the large municipalities will take ag out of production.”

Small communities could also be in trouble as funds tighten, said Jim Broderick, executive director of the Southeastern Water Conservancy District. Many of the participants in the Arkansas Valley Conduit project will depend on small grants to fund internal projects to connect to the new waterline when it is completed.

The plan is to put a funding system in place for 2017 through the water projects bill, but time is short, since the CWCB usually finalizes the list by November, and it meets just three times. The IBCC only has one meeting, in August, scheduled to discuss the idea, and typically has required months or years to work out differences among regions in the state.

“If we don’t have an agreement, this isn’t going to happen,” Winner said.