‘Conceptual Framework’ for diversions in #COWaterPlan — Glenwood Springs Post Independent

From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith) via the Glenwood Springs Post Independent:

A way to look at any new transmountain diversions in the state has been dubbed “Colorado’s Conceptual Framework” in the Colorado Water Plan after previously being called “the seven points” and the “draft conceptual agreement” as it has evolved over the past two years.

It’s a lofty title for a framework that major water providers on the East Slope are adamant does not carry any force of law, rule or policy, and that still divides water stakeholders in Colorado.

But no matter what it is called, the framework is, despite challenges, in fact included in the first-ever Colorado Water Plan, which was developed by the Colorado Water Conservation Board and presented to the governor on Nov. 19.

A number of Front Range entities told the CWCB that it should not adopt the conceptual framework or include it in the water plan.

“Even with wording changes, the basin roundtables recommend that the CWCB not adopt the framework as it is a work in progress that may be modified as dialogue continues,” wrote the S. Platte and Metro basin roundtables, two of nine regional water-supply groups that meet under the auspices of the CWCB, in a combined Sept. 17 comment letter.

But Chapter 8 of the water plan, “Interbasin Basin Projects and Agreements,” does include the conceptual framework.

In its introduction to the framework, the water plan recognizes that “a longstanding controversial issue in Colorado is the development of water supply from the Colorado River system for use on the Eastern Slope. It is controversial because of supply gaps, environmental health, compact compliance and other issues.”

The water plan describes the framework as providing “a path forward that considers the option of developing a new transmountain diversion and addresses the concerns of roundtables, stakeholders and environmental groups. The conceptual framework presents seven principles to guide future negotiations between proponents of a new transmountain diversion, if it were to be built, and the communities it would affect.”

The seven principles include concepts such as making sure a new transmountain diversion, or TMD, does not increase the likelihood of a compact call from states in the lower Colorado River basin, ensuring the Eastern Slope has other sources of water in dry years, and establishing guidelines for when diversions may need to be curtailed to keep enough water in Lake Powell.

The framework also says that new diversions should not limit Western Slope development, that it’s important to increase both municipal and agricultural water-conservation efforts in Colorado, and that steps should be taken repair damaged river ecosystems with or without new diversions.

The water plan says the CWCB will “use the conceptual framework as an integrated package of concepts to: encourage environmental resiliency; set high conservation standards; develop stakeholder support for interstate cooperative solutions; and establish conditions for a new multipurpose and cooperative transmountain diversion (TMD) project if proposed in the future.”

The framework was drafted and adopted by the members of the Interbasin Compact Committee, which includes two representatives from each of the state’s nine basin roundtables, six gubernatorial appointees, two legislative appointees and the director of compact negotiations on the IBCC.

The group’s “main charge is to work with the basin roundtables to develop and ratify cross-basin agreements,” the water plan says.

The water plan describes both the conceptual framework and the lingering geographic differences of opinion about future transmountain diversions.

“Generally, Eastern Slope roundtables identify the need for a balanced program to preserve the option of future development of Colorado River System water,” the plan says.

“Western Slope roundtables express concern regarding the impact on future development on the Western Slope, as well as the potential for overdevelopment related to both a Colorado River compact deficit and critical levels for system reservoir storage, such as the minimum storage level necessary to reliably produce hydroelectric power at Glen Canyon Dam,” the plan states.

The water plan also finds that the Colorado River basin roundtable, which meets regularly in Glenwood Springs, and the South Platte and Metro roundtables, which meet in Longmont and Denver, respectively, have the “greatest divergence” when it comes to the idea of more TMDs. [ed. emphasis mine]

“The Colorado basin roundtable points out the variability in hydrology,” the water plan says, “stating that TMDs ‘should be the last ‘tool’ considered as a water supply solution, once the many and complex questions are addressed over hydrology.’”

On the other side of the divide, the water plan says that the South Platte and Metro roundtables want to “’simultaneously advance the consideration and preservation of new Colorado River supply options.’

“Both viewpoints recognize the constraints of water availability and Colorado water law, but differ in their beliefs about whether such a project fits into water supply planning,” the plan concludes.

The members of the Front Range Water Council also have made it clear to the CWCB that they don’t see the framework as binding.

In a Sept. 15 letter to the CWCB on the water plan, the council said that the framework “’has no regulatory force or effect. Rather, it is guidance, the implementation and use of which will depend on the positions taken by the parties who engage in good faith negotiations on the construction of future specific proposed projects.”

The Front Range Water Council includes Denver Water, Aurora Water, Colorado Springs Utilities, Northern Water, the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, the Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co., and the Board of Water Works of Pueblo.

The concept of “environmental resiliency” is also laid out in the framework and is done so on terms that are as environmentally staunch as any other statement in the water plan.

The framework says that “Colorado’s Water Plan, basin implementation plans, and stakeholder groups across the state should identify, secure funding for, and implement projects that help recover imperiled species and enhance ecological resiliency, whether or not a new TMD is built.“

In terms of next steps on the conceptual framework, the water plan says only that “the CWCB will monitor ongoing discussions” at the roundtable and Interbasin Compact Committee levels “that involve the topics associated with the seven principles of the conceptual framework.”

Aspen Journalism collaborates with the Post Independent and The Aspen Times on coverage of rivers and water. More at http://www.aspenjournalism.org.


Principle 1: Eastern Slope water providers are not looking for firm yield from a new transmountain diversion (TMD) and the project proponent would accept hydrologic risk for that project.

Principle 2: A new TMD would be used conjunctively with Eastern Slope supplies, such as interruptible supply agreements, Denver basin aquifer resources, carry-over storage, terminal storage, drought restriction savings, and other non-Western Slope water sources.

Principle 3: In order to manage when a new TMD would be able to divert, triggers are needed. Triggers are operating parameters that determine when and how much water a potential new TMD could divert, based upon predetermined conditions within the Colorado River system.

Principle 4: A collaborative program that protects against involuntary curtailment is needed for existing uses and some reasonable increment of future development in the Colorado River system, but it will not cover a new TMD.

Principle 5: Future Western Slope needs should be accommodated as part of a new TMD project.

Principle 6: Colorado will continue its commitment to improve conservation and reuse.

Principle 7: Environmental resiliency and recreational needs must be addressed both before and conjunctively with a new TMD.


Grand River Ditch 18,000 acre-feet/year

Adams Tunnel 226,000 AFY

Moffat Tunnel 55,000 AFY

Roberts Tunnel 62,000 AFY

Blue Mountain Project 9,000 AFY

Homestake Tunnel 25,000 AFY

Busk Ivanhoe Tunnel 5,100

Boustead Tunnel 56,000 AFY

Twin Lakes Tunnel 41,000 AFY

San Juan-Chama Project 83,000 AFY

Aurora Homestake Pipeline 16,000 AFY

Source: Colorado Water Plan

#COWaterPlan: “…the same giant unresolved issue is always present — funding” — Greg Walcher

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Greg Walcher):

Ever since the writings of Solomon more than 900 years BC, it has been said that “there is nothing new under the sun.” He was not referring to Colorado’s continual water planning, but he could not have described it better.

Gov. John Hickenlooper just announced what he called Colorado’s “first-ever” comprehensive water plan. It is the final product of a decade of meetings, committees, and proposals. As finally adopted by the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB), the 500-page plan calls for $20 billion worth of conservation measures, though no specific strategy for funding it.

Interestingly, the press reports mention the 10-year process, but also claim this governor ordered CWCB to begin statewide water planning in 2013. In fact it has been underway a long time — not one decade, but several. But when things go well, there is plenty of credit to go around, and much of this new water plan is praiseworthy.

It calls for a new statewide conservation goal of 400,000 acre-feet of water by 2050. It also mentions a projected shortfall in municipal and industrial water demand of 560,000 acre-feet by 2050, and proposes to reduce that shortfall to zero by 2030. Again, the math is a bit unclear, but whether we plan to conserve 400,000 or 560,000 acre feet, it would be a good thing either way.

Interestingly, the plan also calls for construction of 400,000 acre-feet of additional water storage — which many of us have advocated for years. Our state is growing, not shrinking, and our need for water will continue to grow. Colorado is entitled under interstate agreements to substantially more water than it uses, so it is simply irresponsible not to store the water we get during wet periods, so we can use it during dry periods. When I served on the CWCB 15 years ago, we advocated creative new ways to store water, by expanding existing reservoirs, and using underground storage in closed aquifers. Both techniques have been used successfully elsewhere, and both are now part of Colorado’s official state plan. Bravo.

Unfortunately, the plan also mentions the prospect of new trans-mountain diversions — which should not and will not happen. Half of the Colorado River is already diverted to the Front Range, more than enough. There are, as the plan points out, plenty of ways for Denver to conserve water, and to store more of its own supply. In fact, as Denver Water CEO Jim Lochhead points out, their residents have already reduced usage 20 percent over the last 10 years without any major problems. Lochhead was quoted saying, “We can go a lot lower without sacrificing quality of life.” He is right.

We have been down this road many times before, and the same giant unresolved issue is always present — funding. Much of the anticipated $20 billion cost of these water measures would be borne by utilities and their customers (who have not yet been asked if they want higher water bills), but the state also needs another $100 million a year for its share. The report suggests new federal funding (unlikely from today’s budget-sensitive Congress), tax increases (perhaps a statewide mill levy, higher severance taxes, or a sales tax increase) — or a new bond program. Only the latter approach would really be new, and believe me, it is a can of worms.

You see, new water projects are always viewed with suspicion in Colorado. A 2003 initiative [Referendum A] to create bonding authority for water projects became so thoroughly unpopular that it was defeated in every county, and became a campaign issue against candidates (including me) in three consecutive elections. That measure authorized no water projects; it was merely a future funding mechanism. Still, a century of history gave Coloradans good reason to suspect the worst: that someone might eventually use it to build trans-mountain diversions to “steal” water from one basin to another. So the proposal went down in flames at the ballot box and the result was, for another generation, no new water storage at all.

The comprehensive plan completed this week provides some hope that Coloradans might eventually emerge from those years of distrust and work together on a long-term solution. That could involve both conservation and creative new storage in every river basin of the state (instead of diverting water between them), public-private partnerships, bonding and other new funding sources, and a genuinely more prosperous future for all of Colorado. That would be something new under the sun, and would be worth all the effort that has gone into it.

Greg Walcher is president of the Natural Resources Group and author of “Smoking Them Out: The Theft of the Environment and How to Take it Back.” He is a Western Slope native.

Summit County could face strain from #COWaterPlan — Summit Daily News

Blue River
Blue River

From the Summit Daily News (Kevin Fixler):

“Seeing what California is going through, it’s much better to plan ahead than having to react to an emergency,” said Karn Stiegelmeier, one of Summit County’s commissioners, and vice chair of the Colorado Basin Roundtable, a council tasked with management and assessment of the Western Slope’s water supply. “That’s why we’re focused on conservation, which is obviously the most cost-effective way to ‘get more water,’ or share more water.”

Many, including a wide array of environmental and conservation groups endorse the new plan, citing a balanced safeguarding of the state’s $9 billion outdoors and recreation economy with its robust agricultural industries as well as the wildlife that call Colorado’s waterways home. They say it helps lay out Colorado’s environmental and outdoor values, and the timing is key.

“It’s very crucial in this moment, because it’s the best narrative of what is going on,” said Jim Pokrandt of the Colorado River District, a public water policy agency in charge of protecting the Colorado River Basin. “Water is something people take so for granted until you go to your spigot and it doesn’t come out.

Pokrandt, also the chair of the Colorado Basin Roundtable and f0rmer Summit Daily editor, used the swelling weekend traffic of the I-70 mountain corridor as an analogy for this story of the West and how, similarly, increased measures will be necessary to help counterbalance an already stressed system. The state’s water network, he said, needs the liquid equivalent of traffic metering, a toll road and extra lanes bored through Veterans Memorial Tunnels, to negate the effects of earlier decisions like water-centric Kentucky bluegrass across the state’s suburban neighborhoods.

“The offshoot of that is the water equation,” said Pokrandt. “Those people are already coming. They’re already here. How are we going to build water infrastructure for the next increments of residential development? Are we going to put more importance on urban, grassy landscapes, or are we going to moderate that and keep an eye on a better future for the Colorado River and agriculture?”[…]

The mountain communities have consistency voiced concern over additional trans-mountain diversions, taking more of that melted snowpack downstream to the state’s largest population zones, such as Denver, Aurora and Colorado Springs, that demand and require it. Before the final water plan was announced, a community group calling themselves the Citizens for Western Slope Water submitted a petition to Gov. Hickerlooper with almost 15,000 signatures against any new diversions from the headwaters. Fears of doing so consist of more negative environmental impact due to the rivers being tapped further, which could affect the rafting and fishing industries, in addition to producing more strain on local farmers and ranchers.

Colorado was one of the last Western states to adopt a water plan. Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Texas and California all have one. Because Colorado’s individual municipalities are the ones that make decisions as to who gets water and how much, rather than the state itself, there is some question as to whether Colorado even needed one.

Proponents call the water plan historic in its deployment, even if at this stage, it provides no big solutions and produces little more than a suggested course of action that requires prolonged implementation of its guidelines. Few argue with the intent of the policy, however, in its attempts to solidify local awareness as well extend the conversation about Western water for decades to come — a move which even the plan’s harshest critics can agree upon.

Watering the West: How pioneers built local towns through irrigation — The Watch

Dolores River watershed
Dolores River watershed

From The Watch (Regan Tuttle):

Telluride’s early days, survival depended dearly on water. The enterprises that built the region — farming, ranching and mining — required irrigation from rivers, and lots of it. Of course, water becomes scarcer the farther one moves from the mountains or from the San Miguel River.

For the pioneers, creating an infrastructure that could sustain them in the short term and withstand the march of progress was no easy task. Suffering cold conditions, subsisting on biscuits and beans, laboring with shovels, axes and other hand tools, pioneers worked to channel water from its source to where they needed it.
Back then, this was legal. Just decades ago, as the old-timers established our local towns, “Water could be diverted from the stream, and ditches built across public and private land to convey water to its place of beneficial use,” the Colorado Foundation for Water Education reported.

“In a dry and thirsty land it is necessary to divert the waters of the streams from their natural channels,” Colorado Chief Justice Moses Hallet said in the late 1800s.


During Telluride’s early days, water was hauled from the San Miguel River and from springs on the east side of town. Wilson Rockwell said in his book “Uncompahgre Country” that a man named Dutch George in the late 1800s delivered five-gallon buckets of water from the spring at Cornet Creek to saloons and businesses on what is now Colorado Avenue for 10 cents each, two buckets at a time, balanced by a yoke around his neck.

When attorney L.L. Nunn needed water for his commercial bathhouse on the east end, he ran a garden hose from Cornet Falls. Later, in 1886, H. H. Corbin constructed a 370-foot vertical pipeline that transported water from Cornet Creek into town.

Though people then said it couldn’t be done, high pressure water was flumed from Trout Lake to help establish the Ames power plant, and later the Ilium plant, that would put Telluride on the map as the first city in the world to be powered by alternating electric current. Of course, the purpose was to support the mining industry.


For some, creating access to water was more difficult. The Town of Nucla, formerly Tabeguache Park, was founded by a socialist organization whose members wanted to escape their greedy landlords in Denver. By accident, they discovered the location that provided everything they desired: mild winters, ample sunlight, virgin soil — but no water.

Called the Colorado Cooperative Company, the members, or comrades, set up camp in the late 1800s in what became the second largest city in Montrose County to bring water to the homesteads for which they’d filed claims.
They were told their task was impossible.

“I believe [that] actually helped build the ditch. When you are told you can’t, you’ll bust a tug to do it,” Leonard F. Zatterstrom said in a memoir published in Marie Templeton’s book “The Visionaries.”

The Colorado Cooperative Company constructed a 17-mile-long wooden flume, called the CC Ditch, built along the wall of the San Miguel River canyon. David Lavender in “One Man’s West” writes that those who worked on the ditch were compensated by “credit at the commissary for food and supplies, plus water credits toward the purchase of ditch rights. The canal succeeded, and several prosperous farms sprang up.”

People like Zatterstrom worked eight-hour days building the flume, sleeping in the bunkhouse, buying their food through the company store and receiving rations of milk from the cooperative’s dairy cows.

Nucla was born when the project was completed in 1904, and “Piñon became a ghost town practically overnight,” Zatterstrom said.

But the hard work didn’t pay off for everyone. Mary Rogers was a 9-year old girl during the CC Ditch project. Because both her parents died, she went to live with her grandmother and uncles, the Heinemans, who worked on the CC Ditch. Like others, the German family came to Piñon in search of a better life, and hoped to one day own a farm.

“My mother worked in the garden and did dishes,” Norma McKeever, now 88, said. According to her, the conditions were not pleasant, especially in the winter. Rogers said the food was terrible, just biscuits and beans at the camp’s boardinghouse in the cold season. But it was worth it to the family. They’d filed a homestead claim with hopes that when the CC Ditch was done, they’d have irrigation water and could build a life.

Rogers was in her teens by the time the CC Ditch was completed. But the water didn’t reach the Heineman’s farm in 1904. The majority of the CC Ditch workers had accomplished what they’d needed for their own homesteads, and they weren’t willing to extend the project. What can you do with a farm that has no water?

Grandmother Heineman went to work as a washerwoman and housekeeper for those who owned prosperous farms. Mary Rogers got a job at the Western Hotel in Norwood. One of her uncles moved to Nevada and never came back.

McKeever said the Heinemans, buried in the pauper site at Nucla Cemetery, weren’t the only ones to feel cheated out of their homestead dreams.

Though socialism failed, the town has not. Water still serves Nucla to this day, though the wooden flume has mostly been replaced by more practical means. The town celebrates the water victory every July with their Water Days celebration.


Wilson Barrett of Redvale is the ditch rider — the patroller or inspector — for the waterway that is the lifeblood of Norwood, the Gurley Ditch. He is the only employee of Farmer’s Water Development, the stock company that “owns” the Gurley and divides its shares of water. But nobody really owns the water in Colorado, he said, just the rights to use it. According to him, life in Norwood wouldn’t be possible for anyone if the old-timers hadn’t dug the ditch.

In the late 1800s, when pioneers began settling Wrights Mesa, Rockwell said Ed Joseph — of the Joseph family, one of the first to settle the area — began construction of a reservoir east of the Lone Cone in the high country.

Some people disagree as to who later built the Gurley Ditch and finished the reservoir above it. Barrett said it was Naturita Land and Cattle Company. Regardless, whatever company worked on the project went bankrupt. One of the owners in that outfit was named Charles Gorley. Over time, the spelling of “Gorley” evolved into “Gurley,” which is used today.

To avoid losing the rights to use their water, local farmers and ranchers on the mesa decided to purchase the floundering company, buying it out of bankruptcy, and then established Farmer’s Water Development.

Now irrigation water runs from the dam through Beaver Park and to Wrights Mesa, mostly for agricultural purposes, but a small percentage is used for domestic water in town.

Barrett’s great uncle, Gordon Barrett, was one of the first workers to help dig the Gurley.

“They came in 1914, and they worked on the ditch in the fall. If you worked in the fall, you could get shares in the company,” Barrett said. “He was nominated to work on the ditch as part of the family so they could get more water.”

Recently, going through old paperwork, Barrett found one of the original invoices for equipment. He discovered a purchase order, sandwiched between old papers, for picks, boxes of dynamite, shovels and other tools that made the Gurley.

Without the ditch, Barrett said, Norwood would not have survived.


Most people probably don’t know that Ridgway almost didn’t survive. Years ago, in the 1960s, there were plans for a dam to be constructed just north of where Ridgway now sits. Had the original plans been executed, Ridgway would now be under water.

Some refer to it as “the town that refused to die,” and Ridgway lucked out when officials in the 1970s decided to move the dam farther north. Now, the Ridgway Reservoir, constructed in the late ‘80s, covers what was the old ghost town of Dallas.

Though Ridgway is situated on the Uncompahgre River, that stream is not the town’s source of water. Sometimes running yellow or orange, the Uncompahgre is known as a “dirty river” due to the minerals it contains. The town of Ridgway sourced its water in the late 1800s from Hartwell Lake, now Lake Otonowanda, below Mount Sneffels.

Ridgway completed a major expansion of its reservoir last summer.


Today, being on town water is a luxury most people probably don’t think much about. While just 100 years ago we were hauling water and digging ditches through the local mountains, most folks now just turn on the tap. Our pioneers have made it possible for us to have access to water even in places where water didn’t naturally occur.

Those who live further out in the country have other water issues, and real estate in many parts of Colorado becomes complicated when water rights enter the picture. Sometimes water rights are a part of landownership; sometimes they’re not. Water is overseen by water commissions and boards in various regions.

These days, one cannot simply dig a diversion ditch from an existing stream or take water from a manmade ditch. Now, water projects involve planning, permits, engineering work and financing. The Colorado Doctrine, a set of laws pertaining to water use and landownership, has been in place since the 1860s.

Some producers, especially the new farmers without water rights, have trouble wrapping their heads around the laws.

Last July Leila Seraphin, formerly of California, bought a property in Norwood that the Gurley Ditch runs through. She said she wishes she could use some of that water for her own farming and gardening, but she knows it’s against the law.

“We were told right when we moved here water was a big issue and taking from the Gurley was not allowed, and that all the water was owned,” she said.

Building a life as a new producer on Wrights Mesa, she has learned a lot about where her water comes from.

“It’s hard to imagine water being free to use, as every drop has a price tag,” she said.

Barrett said people living in this region should be grateful for their water.

“The water we have — 99 percent of it was done with a shovel and a pick. Without the pioneers, there would be nobody here,” he said.

He believes that is especially true for Wrights Mesa, as he said that before the Gurley ditch, life didn’t exist in Norwood.

“The early homesteaders had to go clear into the San Miguel River or into Naturita Creek with wagons and barrels to haul it to have any water at all,” he said. “I’d say for most people [this] is new information.”

Uncompahgre River Valley looking south
Uncompahgre River Valley looking south

#COWaterPlan tackles state water shortages — The Crested Butte News #ColoradoRiver

Crested Butte
Crested Butte

From The Crested Butte News (Alissa Johnson):

“The final version of the Colorado Water Plan adds more clarity as far as the position on trans-mountain diversions,” said local water expert Frank Kugel. As general manager for the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District, Kugel said the plan makes it clear that, “The Front Range interests—if they pursue trans-mountain diversion—understand there’s not a firm supply. They would accept the risk of any project development that the water may not be there when they need it.”

In addition, Governor Hickenlooper made it clear that diverting more water across the mountains will be a last resort.

According to the Denver Post, Hickenlooper stated that if water conservation is ramped up, water is incorporated into land-use planning and reservoir construction is done right, “the diversion of more water across the mountains won’t be necessary.”[…]

Kugel says that’s a good thing for the Western Slope.

“The other aspects of the water plan that are favorable for our basin are that there are other proposals [besides trans-mountain diversion] for meeting the gap between supply and demand,” he said.

They include reuse projects for the Front Range, limits to the permanent drying up of agricultural lands, opportunities to lease water rights and temporary fallowing of farmlands.

“The plan is a step in the right direction as far as providing for the future of Western Slope water. We certainly need to remain vigilant to guarantee that the protections laid out in the plan are followed through, but there has been a great deal of good work done to solve future water problems,” Kugel continued.

The plan also outlines projects for the local water basin, including about 130 projects to deal with decreasing water supplies. According to Kugel, climate change studies project that on a local level, warmer temperatures will lead to increased evaporation and transpiration and in turn a 10 percent to 20 percent reduction in water supplies by the middle of the century.

Droughts and shortages experienced in 2002 and 2012 could become more commonplace. In 2002, diversions on the East River and the Slate River completely dried up.

The projects outlined in the water plan will look at water consumption and shortages as well as environmental and recreation concerns. Stream management plans for Ohio Creek and the East River are already under way. While the projected population growth on the Front Range makes its water problems most noticeable, Kugel says that meeting water demand is a statewide issue.

“The shortages are state-wide. In the coming decades there are more acute projects for the Front Range because of growth… making conservation and other methods and efficiency efforts more important there. But as citizens of Colorado we all have obligations to maximize the use of water.”

More information on the Colorado Water Plan is available at http://www.coloradowaterplan.com, including an executive summary.

Colorado Springs takes issue with “status quo” #COWaterPlan — the Colorado Springs Independent

From the Colorado Springs Independent (Pam Zubeck):

he state’s long-awaited water roadmap to assure adequate supplies decades into the future got a lot of coverage last week, with many cheering the plan…

But Colorado Springs Utilities’ managing engineer for water resource planning M. Patrick Wells, had harsh words for the plan.

In a Sept. 17 letter providing feedback on a draft version, Wells called the plan “a directionless recitation of guardrails without a road.”

The plan fails to establish a common vision for the state’s water supply future, and rather appears to be “a vehicle for managing growth,” he says.

The plan also lacks baselines against which to judge water development in the future, Wells says. For example, water projects have been labeled harmful in some cases for recreation and the environment. But the contrary is often true, he writes. “In many cases, water development has resulted in more reliable flows, improved habitat, better water quality, and improved recreation for key stream reaches versus pre-development conditions.”

Wells also objects to what he sees as the plan’s “anti-growth” and “anti-City” stance.

Utilities spokesman Steve Berry says the water plan won’t have a major impact on the city’s plans, mainly because it has “no teeth” in imposing costs on water users. But if the water plan dictates changes in how water is appropriated from the four rivers that originate in Colorado, that could affect Springs water users.

Berry says the city owns undeveloped water rights in both the Colorado River and Arkansas River basins. The Colorado River, which supplies eight states, including Colorado, and Mexico, could become a point of contention in coming years as water users look for other sources.

After the city failed to win approval of its second trans-mountain system, called Homestake II, in the 1990s, Utilities turned to developing its Arkansas River rights and built the $829-million Southern Delivery System pipeline from Pueblo Reservoir, which goes online next year.

Utilities officials, Berry says, don’t support a water plan that would impede the city from developing those rights. It’s worth noting that the new water plan doesn’t favor an additional trans-mountain water project to bring water from the Western Slope to the Front Range.

“We want to make sure through this water plan there are not unreasonable obstacles to developing our water rights in the future,” Berry says.

Lastly, Berry says Utilities is concerned the plan unduly emphasizes conservation. Through rates adopted amid drought conditions over the last decade, Utilities’ customers have dramatically cut usage — from 109 gallons per customer per day in 2006, to 85 gallons, he says. Of course CSU is in the business of selling water, and less usage could affect revenue.

Berry also notes Springs Utilities has long planned decades ahead for its water supply. SDS, for example, began in the 1990s.

Southern Delivery System route map -- Graphic / Reclamation
Southern Delivery System route map — Graphic / Reclamation

#COWaterPlan: Lots of ‘storage’ in water plan, but few ‘dams’ — Glenwood Springs Post Independent

Stagecoach Dam and Reservoir via the Applegate Group
Stagecoach Dam and Reservoir via the Applegate Group

From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith) via the Glenwood Springs Post Independent:

In the just-released Colorado Water Plan it’s rare to see the word “dam” used.

And yet, dams and reservoirs are at the core of Colorado’s water-supply systems, past, present and future.

The word “dam” does not appear at all, for example, in Chapter 10 of the water plan, which is the “Critical Action Plan” for the future of water supply in Colorado.

Instead of using “dam,” or “dams,” the state water plan, and most people at water meetings in Colorado, use the word “storage,” as in “water storage” or “storage project” to describe some type of structure that backs up and holds water.

In Chapter 10, where “dam” is ignored altogether, “storage” merits 14 uses.

In Chapter 6.5, the word “dam” is used just twice in the 30-page chapter about “infrastructure,” while “storage” is used over 160 times.

And in Chapter 4, “dam” is used 13 times, as one might expect in a chapter called “Water Supply.” But “storage” is used 71 times.

In a state like Colorado that can store 7.5 million acre-feet of water in 1,953 reservoirs — all formed by dams of some sort — the practice looks a bit like “dam” avoidance.

There are, however, a few instances in the water plan where “dam” or “dams” are used in a routine way.

“While new storage projects will certainly play a role in meeting the state’s water needs, the enlargement and rehabilitation of existing dams and reservoirs will provide more options for the path forward, as Ch. 4 discussed,” the plan states, for example, in Chapter 6.5.

In that context, the use of “dams and reservoirs” sounds appropriate, and not overly damning, one would suppose.

Here’s another example.

“While storage is a critical element for managing Colorado’s future water supplies, new storage projects may be contentious and face numerous hurdles, including permitting and funding,” the plan states in Chapter 4. “In many cases, it may be more practical and efficient to reallocate or enlarge an existing dam and reservoir than to build a completely new structure.”

Again, a seemingly innocuous use of “dam and reservoir,” which is to the plan’s credit, at least linguistically.

But “dam” is not a popular term in the water plan.

“Storage” is the preferred word.

In an op-ed piece in The Aspen Times on Nov. 23, Gary Wockner of Save the Colorado said the use of “storage” was “an Orwellian double-speak way of saying more dams, diversions and river destruction.”

Double-speak or not, “storage” is used a lot in the plan, including four times in the two sentences below, which describe the priorities of the Arkansas River basin.

“Storage is essential to meeting all of the basin’s consumptive, environmental, and recreational needs,” the plan states in Chapter 6.2. “In addition to traditional storage, aquifer storage and recovery must be considered and investigated as a future storage option.”

To be fair, the water plan does discuss, and promote, the idea of “aquifer storage,” which does not require dams. It requires pipes and pumps to store water underground, but not dams. So aquifer storage is “storage,” but without “dams.”


“Storage” was on the mind of Patti Wells during the Colorado Water Conservation Board meeting in Denver on Nov. 19, when she told her fellow board members that “words matter.”

Wells is general counsel of Denver Water and represents the South Platte River basin on the CWCB. She suggested that “storage” may have worn out its usefulness as a euphemism for “dam.”

“We keep saying storage and what that connotes for people is a big reservoir that takes the water out of the river and sends it down a pipe to a municipal treatment plant, and that’s what storage is,” Wells said. “But in fact, maybe we should call them ‘water management facilities.’

“Because as we all know, if you can store the water, you can manage the water,” Wells said. “And that may be for low-flow releases in the summer. That may be for a boat race through a whitewater park. So storage doesn’t just mean to meet the supply gap. It can also mean to meet all the other goals in the state water plan.”

Wells made her suggestion during the “basin directors’ report” section of the CWCB meeting, after the Colorado Water Plan had been approved and presented to the governor.

Earlier in his director’s report Russell George, who represents the Colorado River Basin on the CWCB, also said language was important in shaping perceptions about water, especially about “reuse” water.

“Because right now, when you’re having a conversation with anybody about reuse, it’s a negative,” George said, noting reuse was sometimes called “toilet to tap.”

“That sort of image isn’t helpful, but it’s real,” George said. “The idea is, let’s see if we can improve the tone of that conversation. I think we absolutely have to do that. It’s a cultural thing, and we know that reuse will increasingly be part of the solutions in the future, so we need to begin to change the language and the impact of language.”

“Reuse” water, by the way, is “water used more than once or recycled,” according to the WateReuse Association, which notes it is already a common municipal practice.


Other words with layered meanings are also used in the water plan, including “multipurpose,” “balanced” and “education.”

“Multipurpose,” as in “multipurpose projects,” has a halo over it and the water plan seems to suggest as long as a project is “multipurpose,” it’s good to go.

“Those projects and methods that intentionally target consumptive and nonconsumptive benefits are categorized as multipurpose,” states Chapter 6.5, with an emphasis on “multipurpose,” as if defining the term.

But a sentence in Chapter 4 says “multipurpose” projects “take into account multiple users and multiple benefits, and diverse interests become involved during the planning process.”

But that could describe almost any “storage” project in Colorado.

Then there is “balanced,” which is often used by Front Range water providers and seems to suggest the use of Western Slope water to help meet the state’s water demands.

In Chapter 6.5 for example, the plan says the “primary message” of the South Platte and Metro basin roundtables was support for “water supply solutions that were ‘pragmatic, balanced, and consistent with Colorado water law and property rights.”

Joe Stibrich, the water resources policy manager at Aurora Water, and a member of the Metro Basin roundtable, told the CWCB on Nov. 19 that ”the development of additional storage was also identified as an essential tool for implementing these balanced solutions.”

And Joe Frank, head of the S. Platte River Basin roundtable, told the CWCB that his roundtable wants to see “a balanced program to investigate, preserve and develop Colorado River supply options.”

“Education” is another heavily used word in the water sector. Sometimes “education” means teaching students about water. But often it means “public relations.”

“Education” often is combined with “outreach” in the water plan, as in Chapter 9.5, which is called “Outreach, Education and Public Engagement.”

“‘Outreach’ creates public awareness of policies and processes, whereas ‘education’ promotes a deeper understanding of these topics,” the water plan states. “Both are prerequisites to ‘public engagement.’”

The word “public relations,” however, is not used in the chapter about “Outreach, Education and Public Engagement.”

But that doesn’t mean PR is absent from the plan, it’s just called “outreach and education activities.”

“With completion of the basin implementation plans and Colorado’s Water Plan in 2015, it will be imperative that the Colorado water community sustain momentum for outreach and education activities, and that funding for such activities increase as the community implements water supply solutions,” the plan states in Chapter 9.5.

Aspen Journalism is collaborating with The Aspen Times and the Glenwood Springs Post Independent on the coverage of rivers and waters. More at http://www.aspenjournalism.org.