#Snowpack, #runoff and the #ColoradoRiver Basin — @MountainTownNew #COriver

Water rushes through scenic Glenwood Canyon. Photo/Colorado River Water Conservation District via The Mountain Town News -- Allen Best.
Water rushes through scenic Glenwood Canyon. Photo/Colorado River Water Conservation District via The Mountain Town News — Allen Best.

From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

Eric Kuhn paints a big picture of changing realities in the Southwest

rom his office in Glenwood Springs overlooking the Colorado River, Eric Kuhn has become one of the West’s most prominent thinkers about the intersection of water, climate change, and allocations for farms, factories and cities, including ski towns.

He joined the Colorado River Water Conservation District as an engineer after working in the private sector as a nuclear engineer. He has been manager of the water district since 1996. The district encompasses all of the Colorado River drainage in Colorado upstream from Fruita. As such, the district is a primary source of water not just for the bulk of Colorado ski towns and Front Range cities but also downstream farms and cities, including Phoenix, Los Angeles, and San Diego.

Mountain Town News collaborated with Kuhn on a reader-friendly Q&A to probe the growing evidence that warming temperatures have started upsetting the apple cart of Colorado River operations.

Eric Kuhn along the banks of the Colorado River in Glenwood Springs, general manager of the Colorado River District. Photo via the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel.
Eric Kuhn along the banks of the Colorado River in Glenwood Springs, general manager of the Colorado River District. Photo via the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel.

Was it a good snow year in the upper Colorado River Basin? It varied, of course, but generally it was average to a little above average in the Gunnison, Yampa, Green and other basins of the upper Colorado River.

Does that mean the reservoirs in the Colorado River Basin are filling? We’ve been hearing a lot about declining levels of Lake Powell and Lake Mead, the two giant reservoirs on the Colorado River. Water runoff is a more complicated story than snowpack. This year, for example, the runoff reached about 94 percent of average. So, average or above-average snowpack but below-average runoff.

The best way to understand snowmelt is to study the inflow into Lake Powell. You can call this reservoir the savings account for the Upper Colorado River Basin. It is this savings account that allows the upper division states of Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and New Mexico to consistently meet water supply obligations to the Lower Basin at Lake Mead as spelled out by the Colorado River Compact of 1922. The lower division states are California, Nevada, and Arizona.

There is no such thing as an average snow year—nowhere, no place. Snowpack varies wildly from year to year. That said, in an average water year, about 10.7 million acre-feet flows into Powell. Three-fourths of that occurs during April through July.

Colorado River Basin, USBR May 2015
Colorado River Basin, USBR May 2015

Average snowpack but below-average runoff? That poses an obvious question. But first, would you explain this savings account more? The 1922 compact requires the upper division states to not deplete the flows downstream to Lake Mead below a certain volume. Powell most often releases 8.23 to 9 million acre-feet, as required by the 2007 interim agreement among the seven basin states and the federal government, a side agreement to the compact. But ordinarily, because of evaporation, that means the effective demand on Powell is 8.6 to 9.4 million acre-feet.

What this means is that in any year with an 85 percent of average runoff, Lake Powell just about breaks even. In other words, water levels are not gaining but neither are they declining.

For local supply reservoirs in most of Colorado, we can get by with an 85 percent or better inflow year without too many concerns.

So nothing to worry about in the upper basin? We’re meeting our obligations, end of story? We are OK for now and probably for the immediate future, but if the current conditions transition into a drought over the next several years, as happened after the 1998 El Niño event, we could be in serious trouble because unlike in 1998-99 when system reservoirs were plumb full, today they’re only about half full.

How much of the water in Lake Powell and Lake Mead comes from upstream of Grand Junction (or Moab)? And how much of that originates as snow in places like Steamboat Springs, the Eagle Valley, and the San Juan Mountains? Most of the run-off in the upper basin originates from about 20 percent of the land: those watersheds above about 9,000 feet in elevation, where snowpack accumulates and sticks through the snow season.

The Green River drainage contributes 36 percent of the flow into Lake Powell, the Colorado mainstream 36 percent, the San Juan 24 percent, and the others 4 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. This is the long-term average.

We’ve heard a lot about drought in the 21st century. Are we still in drought? Colorado as a whole is definitely not in a drought. From the entire Colorado River Basin perspective, it depends on the period one looks at. From 1906 through 2015, the mean annual flow at Lee’s Ferry (between Lake Powell and the Grand Canyon was 14.8 million acre-feet (maf). From 1930 forward, it’s been less, 13.9 maf, according to the National Flow Data Base kept by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (available on its website)

For the period of 2000 though 2015, the mean natural flow was 12.4 maf. That’s well below average. During the first part of the century, from 2000 through 2004, it was even less, just 9.4 maf.

Bottom line here: Nearly all the water in the Colorado River comes from upstream of the Grand Canyon, and the average in the 21st century has lagged below the longer-term averages of the 20th century.

Why are Lake Powell and Lake Mead continuing to decline? The recent declines in Mead have been caused by annual demand levels that exceed supply. By the end of 2016, I expect that total storage in Lake Powell and Lake Mead will be close to what it was at the end of 2005. Keep in mind that the major decline in runoff and hence storage was from 2000 through 2004.

Lake Powell via Aspen Journalism
Lake Powell via Aspen Journalism

That’s scary. Some decent snow years in the Rocky Mountains, where most of the Colorado River water comes from, but yet the storage in Mead is declining. Why the decline in Lake Powell?Lake Powell has actually gained a little bit of storage since 2013 and is well above the low point it reached in the winter of 2005. But because of obligations to deliver a little extra water to Lake Mead and because of OK-but-not-great inflows of 90 to 95 percent, the storage is not going up as rapidly as the snowfall in the Rocky Mountains suggests it should.

People talk about a “structural deficit.” What do they mean by that? The structural deficit is the difference between inflow to Lake Mead and demands at Lake Mead when Lake Powell is delivering a “normal” 8.23 maf/year. The math works this way: 8.23 maf from Powell plus native inflow between Powell and Mead of about 700,000 acre feet gives a total inflow of about 9 maf. Demands are 7.5 maf for the three Lower Basin states plus 1.5 maf for Mexico plus about 1.2 maf of evaporation and system losses for a total of 10.2 maf. Thus, the structural deficit is about 1.2 maf. Evaporation varies based on Lake Mead levels. When Lake Mead is fuller, evaporation plus system losses can be as high as 1.5-1.6 maf.

In a recent paper, you cited evidence that warming regional temperatures have turned above-average or abundant precipitation into just average runoff, kind of a reverse alchemy. How can this happen, turning more into less? Temperature is a major variable in the hydrologic cycle. As temperatures go up, evaporation goes up, crops and native vegetation consume more water (transpiration), and the runoff occurs earlier, which exposes native vegetation earlier. The net result is lower stream flows for the same precipitation levels. Brad Udall suggests that about one-half of the reduction in flows we’ve seen since 2000 in the Colorado may be due to temperature alone.

Good snow years means so-so water years in the Colorado River? Wow, that seems to have a lot of so-what! What do you think are the most important so-whats? For water supply purposes, it’s more than a so-what. If temperatures continue their upward trajectory (with year to year variability, of course), we may be in for a new normal. That normal may not have a ground floor.

I like statistics. Does one statistic leap to mind that illustrates what’s going on in the Colorado River Basin? Yes, the number is 1.2 million acre-feet, the amount that the Lower Basin (and Mexico) must reduce their demands if they are to stabilize levels in Lake Mead—at least for the moment. If temperatures continue to warm, they may have to reduce their demands even more.

Spray irrigation on a field in the Imperial Valley in southern California. This type of irrigation is a lot better than the extremely water inefficient type of flood irrigation that is popular in this region. Still, in the high temperatures of this desert region a lot of the water evaporates, leaving the salts, that are dissolved in the colorado River water that is used, on the soil.
Spray irrigation on a field in the Imperial Valley in southern California. This type of irrigation is a lot better than the extremely water inefficient type of flood irrigation that is popular in this region. Still, in the high temperatures of this desert region a lot of the water evaporates, leaving the salts, that are dissolved in the Colorado River water that is used, on the soil.

Why do California, Arizona and Nevada have to cut back—and we in the headwaters area don’t. The 1922 Colorado River Compact gave the upper basin states 7.5 million acre-feet, and the lower-basin states 8.5 maf. It was always assumed that California, in particular, but also Arizona would develop more rapidly, and they did, while the upper-basin states would be slower to put their allocated water to use. But, by the 1970s California was using far more than its 4.4 million acre-foot allocation. Since then, they have been reducing their diversions, but they remain above their allocation.

What are the implications for the headwaters in Colorado and Wyoming? We could continue to see good snow years and decent regional water supply conditions, but due to increasing regional temperatures and system-wide demands that exceed supplies, the Colorado as a whole may continue to be in crisis. There is an old saying that water flows uphill toward money. My biggest concern is that the continuing supply deficit may trigger efforts that will impact our quality of life, especially upper basin agriculture, which may be seen as the “low-hanging fruit.”

In your recent paper, you issue a warning. What is that warning—and is more than just one exclamation mark justified? My warning is that often, but not always, after we’ve had big El Niño years, in the next year, or two (or even three), we end up with drought in Colorado. 1997-98 and 1957-58 are good examples.

In Colorado, we need to quit talking about continuing drought and acknowledge that conditions in much of the state since the fall of 2013 have been wet (the Southwest and Rio Grande have not been as lucky). This means we need to be prepared for the NEXT drought. As (Colorado Water Conservation Board director) James Eklund says “wishing for the drought to end is not a successful strategy.”

For the basin as a whole, we need to be prepared to survive another 2000-2004 period. The difference is that in 1999 reservoirs were full to the brim. Now, they’re at levels of 40 to 50 percent of capacity.

It sounds like we will really need to rethink our use of water from Colorado and Wyoming to Arizona and California. Who’s in charge of this Plan B? The good news is that many entities are actively engaged in seeking solutions. The State of Colorado has just issued a water plan, for the first time ever. The lower division states appear to be on track to implement significant additional water savings if Mead levels continue to decline. Nobody is really in charge. The U.S. Secretary of the Interior has a significant role because of her authority over the operation of the major projects, but the states, affected water users, environmental groups, and the Native American tribes are all at the table.

The Department of Natural Resources grossly misreported the cost of the #COWaterPlan — The #Colorado Independent

The time to address water planning is before the reservoirs run dry.
The time to address water planning is before the reservoirs run dry.

From The Colorado Independent (Marianne Goodland):

Gov. John Hickenlooper’s administration vastly miscalculated the cost of Colorado’s first statewide water plan.

Earlier this month, the Colorado Department of Natural Resources provided The Colorado Independent with the total cost of the state water plan: nearly $6 million. But that number turned out to be more $2 million too high. State officials confirmed this week that the true cost of the water plan is actually $3,885,951, not including staff costs.

So what caused such an egregious error? The Department of Natural Resources says that almost $1 million of the discrepancy came from a simple miscalculation. A staff member accidentally double-counted the cost of the joint implementation plan submitted by metro Denver and South Platte River water stakeholders, one of eight regional implementation plans throughout the state.

These implementation plans are developed by nine regional stakeholder groups, known as basin roundtables, which are made up of representatives of water providers, plus environmental, recreational, industrial and agricultural water users. Each of the nine basin roundtables oversees a major river basin in the state, including the North Platte, the South Platte, the Arkansas, the Colorado, the Gunnison, the Yampa and the Rio Grande. Except for the Denver and South Platte roundtables, which worked jointly, each developed its own plan.

The implementation plans developed by these nine roundtables form the heart of the Colorado Water Plan. But they also include water projects, which aren’t listed in the state water plan itself, that are aimed at finding at least another 1 million acre-feet of water by 2050. One acre-foot is equal to the amount of water it would take to cover the field at Mile High Stadium, from endzone to endzone, with one foot of water – about 326,000 gallons. It’s about enough to quench the needs of four families per year. Multiply that by a million and you get the state’s projected water shortage for 2050, which many water experts say is a lowball estimate.

The rest of the error came from counting grant money that was ultimately not used. DNR spokesman Todd Hartman told The Independent that the original, nearly-$6 million figure included about $1.2 million in grant money, approved by the basin roundtables, that was not actually used to develop the plans. That means the roundtables spent about $3.6 million developing their plans, not the $5.6 million originally reported.

The department also shelled out $287,263 to write up and print the plan and to roll it out in a public presentation at History Colorado last November. That brings the total to $3,885,951.

So what did the basin roundtables spend that $3.6 million on? Most of the money went to pay consultants and project personnel to put together the basin implementation plans.

For example: the Colorado River basin roundtable spent $350,000 in two phases to compile its document. The funding came from a severance tax on revenues that oil and gas and mining companies pay to extract minerals in the state.
There’s one other cost tied to the water plan: more than $30,000 spent by lawmakers and nonpartisan staff who traveled around the state last year to hear from stakeholders about the water plan’s draft versions.

Lawmakers on the interim Water Resources Review Committee were tasked with holding forums in the nine basin areas, which took place between July and October of 2015.

These forums were authorized by legislation passed in 2014, with a two-year appropriation of $28,872. Of that, $25,572 was allocated for lawmaker and staff travel; the last $3,300 was for advertising the forums.

But the travel costs, at $32,481.52, exceeded the appropriation by nearly $7,000.

With those travel costs added in, the water plan’s tab is at $3,918.432.52. That doesn’t include the cost of hours for CWCB staff during the project’s two-year development, including the cost of travel and time for presentations made by Colorado Water Conservation Board chief James Eklund; nor does it include the cost of hours for Legislative Council staff who traveled with lawmakers a year ago.

What did taxpayers get for their nearly $4 million investment?

Not much, critics of the water plan say. Last year, Sen. Ellen Roberts, a Durango Republican who chairs the interim water committee, told the Colorado Water Conservation Board that the public input the committee gathered showed Coloradans wanted more more specifics in the plan to explain how the state will implement solutions. In a September 30 letter to the CWCB, Roberts said the plan should address how the state will come up with the estimated $20 billion required to pay for the water needed to make up for the projected shortfall.

Russ George is a former Speaker of the House from Rifle and former executive director of the Department of Natural Resources under then-Gov. Bill Owens. He sits on the water conservation board, and said of the plan’s roll-out last November that while the plan lacked actionable solutions, it was more of a “scientific document” than a political one. The plan is a “foundation to begin having the political conversation,” he told The Independent.

There has been some preliminary action on the plan since then. During the 2016 session, lawmakers adopted an annual projects bill for the water conservation board that includes $5 million for water plan implementation. That annual appropriation, according to the bill’s fiscal analysis, is to continue indefinitely, and is to be used for “studies, programs and projects” that will help implement the plan.

The projects bill also includes $1 million to continue work on an ongoing initiative to identify and track the state’s water shortage; $200,000 to fund the planning and construction of the Windy Gap Firming Project, one of the identified projects in the South Platte/Denver implementation plan; and $1 million for a reservoir dredging project, to be developed and jointly paid for with a water provider.

While a specific project isn’t identified in the bill, there are several reservoirs around the state that need dredging to clean out silt. Those are mentioned in basin implementation plans, according to Eklund, but not in the state plan.

Arkansas Basin Roundtable approves grant application for Fountain Creek flood control alternatives

Fountain Creek erosion via The Pueblo Chieftain
Fountain Creek erosion via The Pueblo Chieftain

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Flood control alternatives for Fountain Creek would be studied under a grant approved this week by the Arkansas Basin Roundtable.

“It will look at storage alternatives and determine a preferred alternative for future needs,” said Larry Small, executive director of the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District.

The district is seeking $93,000 in Water Supply Reserve Account grants through the Colorado Water Conservation Board. The board will vote on the application in September. The district will add $40,000 in local funds to the study.

The U.S. Geological Survey completed a study in December 2013 of 13 alternatives that would reduce the impact of a major flood on Pueblo, determining either a dam or series of detention ponds along Fountain Creek between Pueblo and Colorado Springs would be the best solution.

Last year, it completed a study that showed agricultural water rights downstream could be met through augmentation. Fountain Creek is the only drainage in the state not covered by a 72-hour store-andrelease law (SB212) passed last year by the state Legislature, Small explained.

Small assured some roundtable members that the protection of ag water rights would remain prominent, saying farmers have been invited to participate in past studies.

“We would keep the dialog open through the entire flood control study,” Small said.

Among the factors to be considered are the cost of projects and their ability to contain floods of four different magnitudes: 10-, 50-, 100- and 500-year floods.

The study also will evaluate where flood control structures should be located, what sort of property would need to be acquired and which permits are needed. It would evaluate the costs and benefits as well.
There would also be the opportunity to see if other storage needs, as identified in Colorado’s Water Plan and the basin implementation plan, could be filled. Those include municipal, agricultural and wildlife habitat purposes.

#COWaterPlan: Colorado Ag Water Alliance workshop recap

stopcollaborateandlistenbusinessblog

From The Fort Morgan Times (Stephanie Alderton):

During the Colorado Ag Water Alliance workshop in Brush on Wednesday, speakers encouraged eastern plains farmers to think outside the box when using water.

MaryLou Smith, a Colorado State University professor and member of the university’s Colorado Water Institute, gave a talk about why farmers should think about using their water differently in order to prevent shortages. Several other speakers spoke about practical ways to do that, as well as some projects that have already begun. Part of the workshop’s goal was to introduce producers to the opportunities for alternative transfer methods under the new Colorado Water Plan.

The Plan encourages farmers to conserve water, but Smith said that’s only part of the equation.

“We recognize that ag water conservation can mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people,” she said. “So we actually talk more about, ‘How might ag producers use their water differently?'”

She said Colorado often faces water shortages between agricultural and urban uses, and urban policy makers often blame ag producers for not conserving enough water. Her organization works with farmers to find a solution to these problems, although she said “there is no easy answer.” A few problem-solving steps she put forward included improving irrigation efficiency, using updated equipment like soil moisture sensors and trying new farming methods like split-season fallowing. These methods, Smith said, might help “take the target off farmers’ backs” when it comes to disputes about water shortages.

Dick Wolfe, [State Engineer] for the Colorado Division of Water Resources, addressed the “use it or lose it” mentality farmers often have toward their water rights, saying they should focus on finding beneficial uses for water instead of just using it up at any cost.

“How much water do you need to put to beneficial use for that crop, if you need to do it without waste?” Wolfe asked farmers.

Like many speakers throughout the day, he said he wanted to encourage dialogue between his organization and the producers who have to deal with water regulations on the ground.

At the end of the workshop, a panel of producers presented water-saving projects that are already underway. Chris Kraft, a Morgan County dairy farmer and member of the Fort Morgan Ditch Company, spoke about the longstanding ag and energy lease that exists between Fort Morgan farmers and the Pawnee Power Plant (now Xcel Energy). Agricultural producers have found a way to share water with the power plant instead of instituting a “buy and dry,” by selling all their water rights.

[…]

The other panelists mentioned several similar ongoing projects. Greg Kernohan, from the company Ducks Unlimited, talked about the Colorado Ag Water Protection Act, which he helped promote; Todd Doherty, of Western Water Partnerships, presented the South Platte Ag/Urban Pilot Project, an attempt to share water between farmers and the city; and Gerry Knapp, of the City of Aurora, talked about ag and urban partnership concepts as well.

#COWaterPlan: Colorado Ag Water Alliance workshop recap — The Fort Morgan Times

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

Here’s part one of a recap of the meeting in Brush yesterday from Stephanie Alderton writing for The Fort Morgan Times:

The Colorado Ag Water Alliance, along with the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association and the Colorado Water Institute, hosted a three-hour workshop for producers to help explain the new Water Plan’s application to agriculture. Speakers with various roles in water and agriculture talked about the new state plan’s emphasis on alternative transfer methods (ATMs) to conserve water, how the plan will be implemented in the South Platte Basin in particular and how farmers can increase water efficiency. People came from all over the state to hear and discuss details in the plan.

“A good Colorado plan needs a good South Platte plan,” Joe Frank, of the South Platte Basin Roundtable, said. “Nine out of the top 10 ag producing counties are in this basin.”

During his talk, the first of the day, he explained that the area has an increasing water supply gap as the population grows, which the Water Plan seeks to address. Frank’s group is in charge of implementing the plan in South Platte by coming up with a balanced, pragmatic program for farmers that is consistent with Colorado law. He said that program will focus on maximizing the use of existing water, encouraging farmers and other organizations to use ATMs in order to share water more effectively and promoting multi-purpose water storage projects, among other things.

Mike Applegate, of the Northern Water Board, talked about the status of current storage projects all over the state, while MaryLou Smith of Colorado State University gave a list of reasons why producers should want to use their water differently in an effort to conserve more. Phil Brink, of the CCA, reported the results of a survey on farmers’ opinions of ag water leasing, while Dick Wolfe, an engineer with the Colorado Division of Water Resources, explained the problems with the “use it or lose it” mentality farmers tend to have toward their water rights. John Schweizer, a producer from the Arkansas Basin, talked about the success of the Super Ditch near his hometown, an ATM project that recently started seeing results. After a final panel made up of people involved in various ATM projects, including Morgan County dairy farmer Chris Kraft, the audience spent more than an hour trading questions and comments with the speakers.

The purpose of the workshop, according to a CAWA press release put out beforehand, was to bring people together to discuss the “opportunities and barriers” the Water Plan presents. The speakers in the second half of the day presented many opportunities in the form of ATMs and other projects. For example, Schweizer said the Super Ditch, though it’s taken many years to be completed, has the potential to help many farmers conserve water without new legislation or complicated water rights battles.

“We’ve had a lot of people say this wouldn’t work,” he said. “We’re starting to prove them wrong…I see nothing but a glorious future for this project.”

But it was clear that many people at the workshop saw many remaining obstacles to water efficiency. During the question and answer session at the end, several people pointed out that, while ATMs can make it easier for farmers and other organizations to share water, they can’t solve the problem of water shortages by themselves.

“We are concerned that the state Water Plan talks so much about these ATMs, and a lot of policy makers around the state are counting on them,” Smith said while moderating the discussion. “Part of what we want to do is get the message of what you guys are saying back to some of those policy makers.”

#COWaterPlan: “There’s real time and then there’s water time” — Joe Frank

coloradowaterplanexecutivesummaryfinal112015

From The Sterling Journal-Advocate (Jeff Rice):

Members and staffers of the Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District’s board of directors have questioned figures published last weekend that put the cost of the Colorado Water Plan at nearly $6 million…

Joe Frank, LSPWCD executive director, said he questions the accuracy of the figures because of a conversation he’s had with Brent Newman, a program director with the Colorado Water Conservation Board, which produced the CWP. According to Hartman’s figures the roundtable groups for the Denver metro area and the South Platte Basin, which collaborated on a joint Basin Implementation Plan, spent $2.2 million on that plan. But Frank said his conversation with Newman put the number at $1.3 million, or a little more than half of the amount estimated by Hartman.

Several board members said this morning that even if the $6 million figure is accurate, it’s not out of line for the work that was done, and the results have been well worth the money.

“I don’t know if you can put a value on the relationships that have grown out of this,” said Brad Stromberger, a board member from Iliff. “The amazing thing was that people who might’ve never talked to each other before, and certainly never talked to this extent, actually sat down and worked out a plan they all can agree on. I just don’t think you can put a value on that.”

The board members also answered criticism that little has happened since the plan was unveiled in November, and that there aren’t specific project recommendations in the plan. They pointed out that the Colorado Water Plan wasn’t meant to promote specific water storage projects or conservation strategies, and that some movement is being seen.

“It’s meant to be a blueprint,” said Gene Manuello of Sterling. “But you can’t make recommendations for a specific project in a statewide plan. A water storage project is going to affect someone upstream or downstream, and you have to work those things out.”

Frank said the plan does, in fact, specify how much water will have to be found over the next 30 to 50 years, and it lays out a process for identifying and developing projects. The board members pointed to House Bill 16-1256, which is aimed at better identifying and recommending water storage possibilities in the South Platte Basin, as one of the results of the CWP. In fact, Section 1 of the bill even mentions the CWP as a reason for the South Platte study to be done.

Frank said even that legislation, which Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, helped sponsor, addresses two competing needs in the search for adequate water. The bill was introduced by Sen. Paul Brown, R-Ignacio, with the intent of finding ways to make more trans-mountain water diversion projects unnecessary. Frank pointed out that a study that identifies water storage opportunities in the South Platte Basin helps water users on both sides of the Continental Divide.

As for the apparent time lag between the plan’s introduction last year and work actually being done, Frank said, “There’s real time and then there’s water time. Sometimes a lot of talking has to be done to make sure everybody’s on board with a project.”

#COWaterPlan: Pueblo area lawmakers weigh in

Photo via the Colorado Independent
Photo via the Colorado Independent

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Colorado’s Water Plan was ordered by Gov. John Hickenlooper in 2013, and completed last year by the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

It built on 10 years of efforts by nine basin roundtables and the Interbasin Compact Committee, a 26-member panel representing diverse political and geographic areas across the state.

One hiccup in the plan came in 2014, when some members of the state Legislature demanded a more active role, perhaps ignoring that the engine driving the train was conceived and constructed by lawmakers in 2005. In the end, most lawmakers have concrete ideas on how to move the plan ahead in years to come in a cooperative way.

In the final plan, the emphasis is on both state and local responses to water needs, it calls for new revenue — $3 billion by 2050 — which will certainly require cooperation from the Legislature. Sprinkled throughout the plan are recommended regulatory changes as well, all of concern to lawmakers.

The Pueblo Chieftain, working with the Arkansas Basin Roundtable, reached out to state lawmakers from the Pueblo area to get their ideas on how the water plan will be implemented. Responding were Sen. Leroy Garcia, D-Pueblo; Sen. Larry Crowder, R-Alamosa; Rep. Clarice Navarro, RPueblo; and Rep. Daneya Esgar, DPueblo.

How do we fill the gap in the Arkansas River Basin within the Colorado Water Plan and Basin Implementation Plan?

Garcia:

“It depends on the basin, because each one is different.

“As I talk to my colleagues, everyone has a unique perspective in the state Legislature. I think there’s a lot to be celebrated. The state has put forward a good plan, but it’s a challenge because each basin is different.”

Crowder:

“With a projected population of 10 million people in 2050, Colorado’s Water Plan attempts to study and prepare for the future. Since agriculture uses 86 percent of the state’s water, the pressure for transfer will increase. A 560,000 acre-foot shortage is predicted by 2030 for municipal and industrial uses. Conservation, storage, transfers, and other issues are an ongoing discussion.

Recreation in this state is estimated at $7 billion-8 billion per year on nonconsumptive use of our water. . . .

“There are issues in which need continuing monitoring such as, in 2013 alone, more than 13,500 acre-feet of water was lost in Denver, Aurora and Colorado Springs due to faulty infrastructure. Broken water mains, leakage, malfunctioning meters and waste caused nearly 4 billion gallons of water to be lost before it ever reached these cities’ 2.1 million residents. . . .

Therefore, it is my strong belief that upgrading the metro areas’ antique water delivery systems is the better way to ensure urban residents have an adequate water supply.”

Navarro:

“The water plan talks about three main objectives which will all help meet the gap between our current water supply and our projected need. Efficiency is one of those components and we, indeed, need to get better at efficiency.

Conservation is another component which would help. Everyone needs to be aware of how to better use their water.

“For example, when people are watering their yards or businesses we shouldn’t see water running down pavement.

The third component is storage. We can become more efficient, and we can conserve, but if we have no place to keep that water for future needs, we have done it all in vain. Although new storage is an option, so is expanding existing storage and we should not forget about underground storage. All three are key to meet our future water needs.”

Esgar:

“I’m not sure that we will ever ‘fill’ the gap in the Arkansas River Basin. The water in the basin is already spoken for and appropriated, and the population of Colorado just continues to climb. I’m not convinced that we will ever be able to fill the supply of water that we need to sustain this growing population, so we must find ways to keep the water we do have, and to keep the gap from spreading even more.

“We need to be creative and diligent when it comes to the Arkansas River Basin. We need to be able to find innovative ways to conserve, store and repurpose the water we do have in our basin.

“One of the ways I’ve heard to accomplish this goal is to really look at responsible storage and flow for the entire area.

Agriculture depends on the water for farms and livestock, consumers depend on the water for their gardens and lawns, and our economy and Colorado lifestyles depend on the water for recreation throughout the entire Arkansas River Basin.”

What projects do you plan to fill the gap?

Garcia:

“Every approach will depend on the basin, and I don’t have any specific projects in mind. It will take a robust conversation.

In general, I would say we need to look at fixing the gap when it’s smaller, because that’s easier than watching it grow.

“I was talking to someone about the evaporative losses in Lake Pueblo. I’m a big fan of the reservoir and it’s no secret I use it to go fishing and boating with my boys and wife.

Lake Pueblo is a unique community gem that’s a destination for the entire state of Colorado.

“People take for granted the valuable resource we have and we need to be prepared so we don’t lose it to other uses. I think increasing storage could be a huge economic benefit.”

Crowder:

“It may easier to expand existing storage capabilities than creating new storage, and this is being looked at under the plan. I would like to see how the mitigation of Fountain Creek by Colorado Springs is going to prevent the devastation to the Arkansas River.

“Transferring water out of the basin is certainly not in the area’s best interest. A continuation of funding in water conservation districts is imperative under the circumstances.

Navarro:

“There are a number of opportunities for efficiency and conservation projects that can, and should be used by residents as well as businesses. Those would not only help with the water shortages, but it would also save money.

Many people are already realizing the benefits of xeriscaping and droughtresistant lawns, and as others see the results, the trend will be to do the same.

“When it comes to projects regarding storage, there are a number of small projects that have been talked about for years. Our basin roundtable is already talking about which options may be best to try and move forward on, and as to how to incentivize efficiencies and conservation. They are the experts and I will listen to them on how to best prioritize our water gap.

Esgar:

“As a state representative, I plan to work closely with the experts on water in Colorado, farmers, ranchers, and the conservation community to find the right projects to help stop the gap from getting bigger for the Arkansas River Basin. We have to have honest conversations and collaboration to keep the water in our basin.”

How do we keep the gaps for agriculture and municipalities from becoming bigger?

Garcia:

“Agriculture has a big target on its back, and I don’t think people appreciate the benefit it has to downstream users. We need a regional approach that involves the entire basin.

Crowder:

“Snowpack is always the predominate issue. “1. Municipalities need to make sure that their replacement decrees are in place to adequately serve their purposes. Inhouse water will always be available, but domestic use may not “2. Technology and advanced water practices for consumptive use should be studied and implemented.

“3. The conduit should be promoted for better quality water needs and conservation.

“4. The number one water right should be protected and that is the interstate compact.

“5. The prior appropriation rule of law for Colorado users should be adhered to.

“6. Updating canal by-laws is a very useful tool in protecting water transfers.”

Navarro:

“The water plan outlined those problems and those three main ideas are important for both agriculture and municipalities. Water storage needs to be that leveling factor to help us keep the water that we are entitled to use. When the river runs high, we need to keep that water so that we can use it when the river is limited.

It makes absolutely no sense to send extra water to Kansas when we have needs here.

“While agriculture has led the charge in becoming more efficient, they will need to find ways to produce more with less.

Incidentally, agriculture has done that very well over the last century.

Municipalities have also done a good job at creating incentives and finding ways to be more efficient. However, both will need to do even more in the future to meet the growing demands.”

Esgar:

”We need to depend on science to help us better use water that is allocated to Colorado’s important agricultural needs. As water shortages across America continue, there will be new and innovative ways to water crops and livestock. Colorado needs to be sure that we really look and see if these new methods could work here.

“When it comes to municipalities, we need to do a better job of educating consumers when it comes to conservation.

Folks didn’t completely understand why the rain barrel bill was so important to me. The simple tool of a 55-gallon barrel that collects rain that would have ran directly to the gutter, helps people understand how much water they may actually be consuming. Also, we need to be innovative when it comes to landscaping. I know that Coloradoans love their lawns, I do, too, but we have to have real conversations about more water-conscious ways to landscape our beautiful neighborhoods.”