LAVWCD has a plan to increase and reallocate storage in John Martin Reservoir

Arkansas River Basin via The Encyclopedia of Earth
Arkansas River Basin via The Encyclopedia of Earth

From The La Junta Tribune-Democrat:

A new proposal for storage in John Martin Reservoir will benefit both Kansas and Colorado, said Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District Manager Jay Winner on Wednesday

A new proposal for storage in John Martin Reservoir will benefit both Kansas and Colorado, said Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District Manager Jay Winner on Wednesday. This proposal is in line with the Colorado Water Plan. The plan was presented by LAVWCD Engineer Mike Weber. Phase I is paid for by a Water Supply Reserve Account grant supplied by the Colorado Water Conservation Board. Research by LAVWCD has determined water users which could potentially use the John Martin Reservoir Account. LAVWCD has also determined the types of water available to those entities that would be suitable for storage at JMR. Those entities include Kansas and Colorado District 67 Ditches (Fort Bent, Keesee, Amity, Lamar, Hyde, Manvel, X-Y Graham, Buffalo and Sisson-Stubbs). Amity is largest user at 49.5 percent of Colorado’s share. This would be in Phase II, if the plan is accepted at the meeting of the 2016 Colorado Kansas Arkansas River Compact. Down the line and several years in the future, other potential users of the storage in JMR might include Catlin Augmentation Association, City of La Junta, City of Lamar, Colorado Water Protection and Development Association, and water conservancy districts such as LAVWCD.

John Martin Reservoir back in the day
John Martin Reservoir back in the day

A permanent pool of 10,000 acre-feet is to be maintained at JMR and is to remain there as authorized by the 1976 resolution, for the purposes of recreation and not subject to a tax.

Several other projects were presented by Winner and commented upon by the Board of Directors, all of whom were present except Legal Director Melissa Esquibel. The North La Junta Water Conservancy District Project, Phase 2, will go before the Otero County Commissioners on Oct. 24, having passed the Otero County Planning Commission. A request has been made to negotiate the contract with the Pueblo Reservoir for 25 years rather than year by year. A commercial building in McClave has been purchased by the LAVWCD to locate some of its offices, notably the engineering having to do with Rule 10, nearer the location of the sites. Agreement with Water Quality through the Department of Agriculture is being sought. Another project had to do with sealing the irrigation ponds and testing for selenium in the ground.

The City of Fountain is contributing $24,000 more than their original $50,000 to the fund for cleaning up Fountain Creek. The other $200,000 is divided equally between the City of Pueblo and the LAVWCD. The money for the project is coming from the Aurora refund, said Winter.

Straight line diagram of the Lower Arkansas Valley ditches via Headwaters
Straight line diagram of the Lower Arkansas Valley ditches via Headwaters

Fort Collins (CSU): Explaining Western water law, October 24, 2016 @CWCB_Linda

Prior appropriation example via
Prior appropriation example via

Here’s the release from Colorado State University (Jim Beers):

Learning more about the complexities and inner-workings of western water law is the purpose behind the 2016 Interdisciplinary Water Resources Seminar series. The series will discuss topics including the history and evolution of western water law; state compacts and federal water law; hybrid water law systems; water quality law; groundwater law; and environmental law. The seminar series will provide attendees the opportunity for in-depth discussion about water-related court cases and interaction with prominent water resource professionals.

Each seminar is held Monday at 4 p.m. in the Behavioral Sciences Building, Room 103. All faculty, students, off-campus water professionals, and members of the Fort Collins community who are interested in water and western water law are invited to attend.

For individuals unable to attend, the seminars will be recorded and uploaded online. The full semester schedule is accessible here. Or there’s more information regarding all of the Interdisciplinary Water Resources Seminars.

Linda Bassi’s talk

Linda Bassi, chief of the Colorado Water Conservation Board’s Stream and Lake Protection Section, will speak on Monday, Oct. 24. Her lecture will be “Evolution of the Law Governing Colorado’s Instream Flow and Natural Lake Level Program.” Bassi will trace the laws and court opinions that have shaped the Instream Flow and Natural Lake Level Program to address policy issues and meet evolving needs related to protecting valuable natural resources.

Bassi is responsible for all facets of the Colorado Water Conservation Board’s Stream and Lake Protection Section including: legal protection; monitoring enforcement of the Board’s new and old instream flow water rights; acquisitions of instream flow by the Board; and development of legislation, policies, and rules related to the program. Prior to working for the Board, Bassi worked in the Colorado Attorney General’s Office representing the Division of Water Resources and the Colorado Water Conservation Board on various water rights issues.

#ColoradoRiver District annual seminar recap — @ColoradoWater #COriver

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

From the Colorado River District (Martha Moore):

Our ever-popular, one-day annual water seminar was attended by nearly 200, and, for the first time, broadcast live via our Facebook page. For those that participated – thank you!

Special gratitude goes to our excellent speakers. Your contributions are greatly appreciated.

For those unable to attend in person or via live feed, or those wanting to relive the awesome experience – please visit our seminar webpage to access the presentations or view the footage of the entire seminar.

Next year’s event is scheduled for Friday, September 15, 2017 at Two Rivers Convention Center, Grand Junction, Colorado. Mark your calendar and plan on joining us.

#ColoradoRiver: Bridging science and policy for better water strategies — @ASU #COriver

From Arizona State University (Click through for the photos):

Keeping an arid region supplied requires balancing many interests; ASU’s experts are connecting research with decision makers

Editor’s note: This is the third in a three-part series examining the work that ASU is doing in the realm of water as a resource in the arid West. Today’s focus in on the intersection of law, policy and academia.

It’s 118 at Lake Mead on a July afternoon, but the thermometer on the boat’s depth finder says the lake is a cool 67 degrees. Naturally, you jump in. It tastes earthy and mossy, if mossy can be a taste, and ultimately it’s what 30 million people survive on.

This is the stuff and place thousands of professionals are focused on. Law, economics, policy and science all underlie this bluish-green water. Some could argue that it begins with the river’s watershed in the Rockies of western Wyoming, but it’s here, where the water wizards of the Bureau of Reclamation determine their annual prognostication, that the West makes its stand.

Taking action

The Kyl Center for Water Policy, named after former Sen. Jon Kyl, a distinguished water lawyer, was created about a year and a half ago at Arizona State University to work on water-policy analysis and research. Sarah Porter, a Harvard-educated attorney and former state director of the Audubon Society, was hired as the inaugural director.

She became intrigued with water when she introduced an initiative to protect riparian habitat for bird migration.

“It got me more and more interested in water policy,” she said.

On a Friday morning in August, as the first meeting of the Governor’s Water Augmentation Council convenes down at the Arizona Capitol, a monsoon rain pounds outside.

“It’s raining outside; that’s awesome,” someone says.

Gov. Doug Ducey created the council last October. All of Arizona sits around the table: cattle growers, cotton farmers, cities, wine growers, utilities, tribal nations and communities, home builders, businessmen, attorneys and water professionals. Porter is there representing the Kyl Center.

They’ve been tasked with finding ways to augment water supplies. The state has been divvied into 22 areas. They are to look at each area, learn what the demand and supply imbalances are in each one, and come up with a solution to close that gap.

Today, they’re talking about the communications plan and what they want to do in the current fiscal year.

The message they want to get out is that Arizona is a “water success story” — in other words, we’re not California.

It’s a message with two competing goals: We need to conserve water, but we’re well-supplied. It’s safe to move here and do business.

“That bathtub ring (at Lake Mead) is not something only people in the Southwest pay attention to,” said Doug MacEachern, the state water department communications administrator.

They’re looking for a balance between rah-rah and everything’s awful.

“We need to tell people it’s going to cost more,” said Ted Cooke, general manager of the Central Arizona Project, the giant canal that shunts water from the Colorado River into central and southern Arizona. “It’s going to take more than new showerheads or toilets.”

“Their costs are going to go up, and that’s real,” said Bas Aja, executive vice president of the Arizona Cattlemen’s Association.

They create a subcommittee to look into funding for augmentation by using reclaimed and low-quality water. If there’s a shortage declaration on the Colorado in 2018, it’s likely that agriculture will need to make up the shortfall with reclaimed water. Porter volunteers to sit on the subcommittee. This is the rubber hitting the road.

They create another subcommittee to look into a partnership with Mexico on building a desalination plant on the Sea of Cortez.

They know people are aware of the value of water. That message is going to be amped up now.

The most complex legal case in American history

The way Arizona water law works is called prior appropriation. The first person to take water out of a river and put it to beneficial use gets a priority date.

If you dig a ditch and divert water out of the river in 1890 and use 10 acre-feet to grow cotton, you have a right, dated 1890, to grow cotton using 10 acre-feet a year. Somebody comes along 10 years later, digs another ditch downstream of you to grow corn with 10 acre-feet — they have a 1900 date. If there’s only 2 acre-feet in the whole river, legally speaking, you, with the 1890 date, gets 2 acre-feet and the person downstream of you gets nothing. That’s the way water law works.

The Little Colorado River and the Gila River are the two rivers that basically make up all of the surface-water rights in the state that aren’t the Colorado. Who has claims on them? Every kind of water user you can think of: big cities, small towns, large utilities, Native American tribes, little farms, big farms, cattle ranches, mines.

And they’re all suing each other.

It’s a giant court case that has been technically going on for 40 years, but actually goes back to territorial days. A class-action lawsuit usually involves thousands of people against a small group of defendants. This involves thousands of people fighting each other.

“I don’t think it’s hyperbole to say that it’s the most complex case in American history,” said Rhett Larson, the water attorney with the Kyl Center for Water Policy. “Yeah, it’s a complete mess.”

A water market could improve Arizona’s water management. If a clearinghouse or escrow was set up, people could buy and sell water through that escrow for nature or cities or mining.

“Once we have effectively priced water in a market, then maybe we’re reaching efficient water allocation,” Larson said. “Right now, we can’t do that because nobody knows who owns what.”

Until the legal cases, collectively called the general stream adjudication, is resolved, Arizona can’t have an effective water market because people can’t buy and sell water until who owns what has been resolved. The Kyl Center works on the general stream adjudication every day. Ideally, the courts will ultimately make a decree. But not everyone is in a hurry to see the case cleared.

“So a lot of the work that’s happening behind the scenes is to find ways, if not necessarily to resolve it, to at least allow small people who want to settle out of it and don’t want to pay their lawyers for decades, just to be able to settle out, take some water and leave — and for the others to at least have a faster, smoother process,” Larson said. “But there’s a lot of skepticism of that too, because if you’re going to get ground up into hamburger in the end — do you really want it ground up faster?”

The center has a group of stakeholders who meet several times a month to negotiate. Larson said the work is promising. “We’ve made a lot of progress in the last 18 months,” he said. The Kyl Center acts as a mediator to avoid litigation.

Before worrying about conserving water, people need to worry about understanding water, Larson said.

“Imagine a resource as important as water, to not know who owns it,” he said. “A lot of these assured water-supply designations are based on assumptions on who owns what water that might not be true when the adjudication is decided.

“So people are like, ‘Oh yeah, we have a hundred years of assured water supply!’ And you always feel like going, ‘You don’t know for sure that you own that water until the court says you do.’ … But I don’t know, I still hope that there’s something that will sort of stoke the fire in people’s willingness to resolve the stream adjudication.”

Diamonds and water

When economist Adam Smith wrote “The Wealth of Nations,” he wrote about the water-diamond paradox. Here’s a little tiny, shiny rock that people will pay out the nose for, but it does nothing. And over here is a substance that’s everything, but nobody wants to pay for.

It’s something Larson wonders about.

“I think it’s probably for a lot of reasons, partially because it falls for free out of the sky and people think, ‘Why should I pay for that?’ ” he said. “It’s partially because people think of water as a human right, as a fundamental right. I mean, how can you charge me for something that I absolutely need in order to live? And because, you know, in this country we tend to take it for granted. You turn on your taps and clean water comes out all the time, and you just assume this is a part of your life and it doesn’t cost much money.

“For some reason we will pay quadruple the amount of its price for movie popcorn, but the idea that you would pay full value for your water is just crazy!”

As the canal manager and the cattleman said at the water council meeting, pricing is on a lot of minds.

“We need to price water in a sane way to communicate to people this is a high-value commodity,” said Pat Gober, a research professor in ASU’s School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning who studies water resources management, decision-making under uncertainty and urban climate adaptation.

Water is super-cheap in Arizona. SRP charges $90 a year for irrigation. If you look at a Phoenix water bill closely, most of it goes to sewage fees, garbage fees and some taxes. Very little of it is actually water.

The city of Phoenix Water Services Department spends $175 million annually on operations and management. Of that, $24 million is spent on actual water. The capital improvements budget is $130 million.

“The cost is in the infrastructure,” water services director Kathryn Sorensen said. A section of the redwood water pipes that used to supply the city in the 1920s sits in the lobby outside her office in City Hall, as if to underscore the point. Phoenix has 7,000 miles of water lines spread across 540 square miles. (Now multiply that around the West.)

“As those water lines age, they’re going to have to be replaced if we’re going to continue to have reliable water supplies,” she said. “The cost of that is enormous. We estimate, very roughly, that the replacement cost of the city of Phoenix utility — if you were just to go out and build it starting from scratch — is about $15 billion; $11 billion of that is in pipelines. It’s the cost of the infrastructure that’s going to matter in the future. It’s an enormous cost. And our infrastructure is aging.”

Sorensen is an economist by training.

“I’m intellectually fascinated with the idea and the questions around resource allocation: Who gets what? Of course the most valuable resource here in Arizona is water,” said the Phoenix native. “It’s a very natural fit for me. I knew at a very early age that this is exactly what I wanted to do. I’m one of those of people blessed to have their calling as a career.”

Phoenix has tiered water rates. The more you use, the more you pay. There is also seasonal pricing; water costs more in summer.

“That’s really one of the ways you’re going to get conservation,” Sorensen said.

She knows the cost of water will go up.

“Of course,” she said. “The cost of everything increases over time. When you talk about water, it absolutely will become more expensive, particularly Colorado River water.

“The impact of that in terms of the end customer will kind of vary. Different cities have different supply portfolios. A city that is more dependent on Colorado River water and a city that is more dependent on Salt and Verde water might expect a different mix on the impact of those costs.”

Agriculture, which uses 67 percent of the water in Arizona, according to the Department of Water Resources, began to pay more in the mid-1990s, when Grady Gammage Jr. served on the board of the Central Arizona Project.

“Historically, water has been free to farmers,” Gammage said. “What they pay for is the delivery cost. In California, the Imperial Irrigation District is still delivering water to farmers at something like $6 an acre-foot. When I was at CAP, we started charging $30 an acre-foot. The questions were could farmers afford it or not?

“The farmers’ view at that point was they had long-term rights to water; they owned the water. It was just getting delivered through the canal. But the contracts they had signed for that delivery required them to pay for the canal at the fully loaded cost of it, and they couldn’t afford that. So we re-cut a deal where they don’t have long-term rights to water anymore. Water is in a kind of limited spot market every year.”

He once sat with a bunch of farmers who told him, “We have to be assured we’ll have water every year, and that the price will never vary.”

“I said, ‘Are you ensured that the price of seed will never vary every year? Or that the price of insecticide will never vary every year? Or gasoline or diesel fuel?’ ‘Well, no, but that’s different. Water is different.’ No, it’s not. It’s a commodity, like those other commodities,” Gammage said.

“So what the CAP does now is it tries to price agricultural water at the cost of getting it here, but on a sort of rolling average so the farmers know three or four years in advance how much water there is going to be, and what it’s going to cost, and that can be adjusted. That was hugely revolutionary. They all thought that would destroy agriculture in Arizona, and it’s worked out pretty well. The price had gone up fairly dramatically over time.”

There’s a trade-off between how much you pay for water and how much you pay for food, said John Sabo, a professor in the ASU School of Life Sciences. We eat a lot of stuff because it’s cheap and available. We eat baby greens in the dead of summer because water is cheap.

“That’s what farms are sitting on: this resource that’s only going to go up in value over time,” Sabo said. “It’s going to force them to become more efficient.”

Farms may sell expensive water to cities and use that increased revenue to install things like drip irrigation or switch from low-value crops like alfalfa to high-value crops such as strawberries. We’re not going to get to the point where lettuce is $15 a head, though.

“No, because people won’t eat it if it’s that expensive,” Sabo said. “Remember when avocados were $4 each? We only had guacamole during the Super Bowl. … I think it’s more that we’ll be focused on eating seasonal things that are cheap, but not all year round.”

It’s not like farmers are acting like drunken sailors. In central Arizona, farmers are required by state law to use water-conservation practices like lining canals, laser-leveling fields and other best management practices. Farmers are legally required to be at least 80 percent efficient, according to the Department of Water Resources.

“Agriculture has become more efficient,” Porter said. “We can grow a lot more food with the same amount of water we used 30 years ago.”

Good news

“We really have a lot of water (in Phoenix),” Porter said.

Water usage in the city has fallen 30 percent in 20 years.

“We serve 400,000 more people than we did 20 years ago, with the same water,” Sorensen said. “Tremendously successful.”

Las Vegas pays residents to rip out lawns. Tucson has paid out $1.7 million on rebates for rain-harvesting systems. Not all those programs work. A lot of systems have been installed in Tucson, but there’s no decline in demand. In fact, they may be using twice the water they used before. Phoenix hasn’t paid for anything like that, but it’s hitting comparable demand reduction to cities in the region.

“I’m a big fan of the way the city of Phoenix has dealt with landscape issues, which is primarily about education, not about discouraging landscaping through rate adjustments or about paying people to tear out grass,” Gammage said.

What’s causing the drop in demand? Less turf, fewer pools being built, and more efficient appliances. One positive effect of the Great Recession Sabo pointed out was people couldn’t afford to buy new homes, so they remodeled. Remodels almost always involve kitchens and bathrooms, and new appliances are built to be water-efficient. Sorensen expects water use to continue to drop.

“We’re very proud of the way our residents have really embraced a desert lifestyle,” she said. “That’s what it is. Phoenix focuses on the long game when it comes to conservation. We’ve been doing it full-force since the mid-80s, decades before other communities figured out this was important.

“I know it sounds strange, but we don’t want our customers reacting to hydrologic events. We don’t want them reacting to the water levels in Lake Mead or the fact it’s been a 15-year drought, or any of those things. We want them to save water and use water efficiently because it will always be hot and dry here. That’s the mentality we need them to embrace. This is not a condition. This is not something to react to. This is how to live every day. That strategy has been successful in Phoenix.”

In-home efficiency is becoming about as good as it gets, Gammage thinks. And tearing out irrigated tall trees and lush lawns would be a terrible mistake.

“I think we need to be much more discriminating about the appropriate uses of water in the urban environment in the desert,” he said. “There are parts of metropolitan Phoenix where retaining the historic landscape — lush grass and trees — is important because it’s the heritage of Phoenix. … In the newer subdivisions we shouldn’t have grass in the front yards, where it isn’t used.”

But in making decisions like that, whether in Phoenix or in other arid cities, there’s a dilemma, Gammage said: “You wind up allowing the lush landscape to be preserved for the affluent people, and the lower-income people don’t get it.”

He’s a fan of Tempe Town Lake. It’s an amenity, a gathering place, and a place for recreation that is open to everyone.

“It’s a good use of water,” he said, adding that it “creates ambience and gathering space in the urban fabric.”

Phoenix has a huge amount of give when it comes to water supplies, said Porter, the director of the Kyl Center. The Salt River reservoirs are at half capacity, and not every SRP city uses all their supplies. We’re far from living on a knife’s edge, she said.

“We talk about a supply gap, and we worry about where we’re going to get water, but we actually — if we stopped growing, and didn’t have any more demand, we wouldn’t have a water problem. Even with all the scary threats to our water supply out there, we wouldn’t be having conversations about a water-supply problem,” said Porter, who added that the issues are sustaining growth.

Bull in a china shop

One of the challenges is getting two of the main players — scientists and those making decisions in government — talking to each other.

“I think, for some reason, and I don’t think it’s either side’s fault, policymakers and scientists aren’t communicating at all,” Porter said. “In a lot of disciplines there’s an expectation when they publish a paper in a scholarly magazine, someone at the legislature is going to pick it up and read it and act on it. Of course it’s absurd to think that if you think about how busy elected officials are and the demands on their attention.”

There isn’t the beginning of the communication needed, she said, but “there are places at ASU where there are much more deliberate efforts to make those communications happen.”

That place is the Decision Center for a Desert City. A research unit of the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability, the center conducts climate, water and decision research, and develops tools to bridge the boundary between scientists and decision makers. The 12-year-old center has worked hard to become an example of how academia can work with policymakers.

Dave White is the director and principal investigator of the center.

“This is a problem that we have faced and hopefully overcome to a large degree,” White said. “When university researchers conduct research independent of collaboration with policymakers, they often miss critical inputs or critical perspective into the research, that if they were aware of these perspectives they could vastly improve the relevance of the research.”

For example, if a scientist talked to a policymaker before embarking on a study, they could set a geographic scope to a political decision-making unit. A study about the Phoenix Active Management Area instead of “greater Phoenix” “could potentially increase the relevance of the study,” White said. (Active Management Areas are five places identified by the state as being heavily reliant on groundwater.)

Research also needs to meet the timing of policymaking. Agencies have deadlines and deliverables, just like the private sector does.

All of which raises the question: Exactly what do public water officials want to know from academia? Where does the rubber hit the road? These six titles are a random recent sampling of what policymakers want to know, from papers written for the Decision Center for a Desert City.

  • neighborhood microclimates and vulnerability to heat stress
  • regional relationships between surface temperature, vegetation and human settlement in a rapidly urbanizing ecosystem
  • determinants of small-area water consumption for the city of Phoenix
  • residents’ yard choices and rationales in a desert city: Social priorities, ecological impacts, and decision trade-offs
  • the impact of the Phoenix urban heat island on residential water use analysis of drought determinants for the Colorado River Basin
  • ‘We listen’

    Kelli Larson, an associate professor in the School of Sustainability, said she saw some of the dread policymakers have of scientists early in the center’s history.

    “There’s this new water center opening, and some of the language was to improve water resource decision-making, which, as a decision maker, you might be sitting there thinking, ‘We’ve been working on these issues for 10, 20, 30 years, and now there’s this new center, and they’re going to improve our decisions?’” Larson said. “It may burn relationships.”

    The majority of the center’s “clients” tend to be technical staff at various agencies: water providers, planners, utility managers. Larson thinks about what they need and the policy implications. The center is proactive; it goes to decision makers, so they don’t have to navigate ASU to find the right people. Center staff — some of whom are former policymakers themselves — ask them what they’re working on, what their concerns are, what questions they have.

    “It takes time to build those relationships, to build trust,” Larson said. “We’ve been quite successful with that. Part of why we’ve been successful at that is because we listen. I see the planners and the decision makers as experts in their own right. They’re not scientists per se, they’re not researchers, they’re not academics, but oftentimes they do do their own form of research, and they have their own knowledge base. There’s a lot they can offer to our understanding and insights, including informing our research agendas.

    “When I first got here, I felt like we were outsiders trying to enter the water community, and now I feel like we’re a part of the water community,” she said. “That feels really good to see that unfold over 10 years.”

    And people in government agree that it’s successful.

    “They haven’t been (overbearing),” Sorenson said. “That’s exactly the reason we’ve been able to build such good relationships.”

    Boundary organization

    “One of the things we do really well that a lot of universities are getting into, but we’re on the leading edge of, I’d say, is integrating people into the decision-making process from the beginning,” Sabo said. “We’re very good at understanding the institutional context and the decision-making context of water resources and doing the planning and interface with the science that allows people to contribute to that process.”

    The Decision Center for a Desert City (DCDC) calls itself a boundary organization. It is a link between scientists and water-resource practitioners. The goal is to have a space — both physical and intellectual — that creates an institutional connection between the university and its partners.

    “We don’t operate in consultancy mode,” White said. “We involve the partners we work with in the design of the studies. The partners are involved in constructing the framing of the problem, they’re involved in constructing the research questions themselves, in designing and carrying out the research studies, and then interpreting and utilizing the results.”

    Sorensen and Tom Buschatzke, the director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources — the state’s two most influential water leaders — sit on DCDC’s advisory board. They, along with the National Science Foundation, which has invested $18 million in the center, evaluate the center every two years. White sits on the mayor’s water advisory board.

    Science should fill in the gaps and provide evidence for alternatives. It’s a fine line to walk, White said.

    “If you just throw your hands up in the air and say, ‘This is ridiculous!’ that’s not going to get you very far,” he said. “If you want to have policy-relevant work, then you need to understand how did the system converge this way. … It’s not up to us to make those decisions. It’s up to us to help to diagnose what the consequences of different decisions are.”

    Water Sim and the Decision Theater

    Because water problems tend to be extremely complex, that makes it difficult for non-water professionals and elected officials to understand them. DCDC has created two opportunities to make them visual.

    Water Sim is a software program that models system dynamics. You can fiddle around with various scenarios to see how an El Nino or a thin snowpack will affect water. It’s a systems model; it takes a lot of data usually collected separately — like water supply, demand, climate, population and policy data — and puts it together. Users can change one variable and see how it affects the rest.

    ASU’s Decision Theater provides meeting rooms with large-format ultra-high-definition displays and on-site computer systems, tools and personnel that can provide specialized geographic information systems, systems modeling, business intelligence, and 3-D spatial modeling and simulation, among other capabilities.

    With water problems, the importance of visualization really ratchets up.

    “A picture is worth 1,000 words, right?” Sorensen said. “One of the things that’s been really constructive is to work with DCDC on the Decision Theater. You can bring in policymakers and elected officials and instead of having to sit there and lecture them for three hours on the background of a problem and why it matters and why they should care about it, the Decision Theater helps them visualize it. You can tell the story much easier in a way that makes sense and in a way that’s compelling to them.”

    What policymakers say

    Water is immensely complex, even if it’s your field, even if you have a PhD. If you really take a look at water problems, what you’ll find is they’re wicked problems. They’re extremely complex. The low-hanging fruit has already been picked.

    “The solutions that are left to us to face the challenges of a changing climate and global uncertainty are few and far between, difficult to achieve, and they tend to be incremental in nature,” Sorensen said. “And yet ahead of us are enormous risks. As a policymaker, someone who has to actually make sure 1.5 million people in the middle of the desert have water, finding your way through that path is extremely difficult. You have to make decisions at different times with relatively little information and huge amounts of uncertainty.

    “That’s kind of ASU’s focus: How do you make good decisions in such an uncertain world with such wicked problems ahead of you? It has been a really useful and collaborative partnership. We’ve been thrilled to have been involved with it. … Water wonks are always a little bit nervous when academics forge their way into policy arenas, but I would say for the most part it’s been tremendously successful. It’s been a benefit to us, and hopefully to ASU as well.”

    And many people across many fields at ASU are working to make that happen.

    “A place like the Global Institute of Sustainability and DCDC help to serve as a glue for all of us, so that our efforts are bigger than just one professor’s efforts,” said hydrologist Enrique Vivoni said. “I think we’re starting to make inroads in increasing our reputation, and attracting great students and doing interesting projects and generating a niche that we can become world leaders in.”

    #ColoradoRiver: “The only way to support the current population is by storing water in years of plenty” — @ASU #COriver

    Low water levels of Lake Mead are seen near the Hoover Dam on the Nevada and Arizona border, April 11, 2015. Photo: Reuters

    From Arizona State University:

    Editor’s note: This is the first of a three-part series examining the work that ASU is doing in the realm of water as a resource in the arid West. We’ll explore solutions, but first we look at the current situation and how we got here.

    Atop Hoover Dam on a 115-degree July afternoon, tourists line up to suck cold water from fountains and crowd into the air-conditioned cafe and visitors’ center.

    Transpose both those actions to the 30 million people who depend upon that blue-green water behind the dam. That’s water for a jogger in Santa Monica. Water for an oleander hedge in Phoenix. Water for a shower to wash away a night in Vegas. It’s a comforting sight on a scorching day, all that water.

    What’s disconcerting is the white bathtub ring about 200 feet above the surface.

    Talk to the experts, and they’ll all tell you the same thing: That ring is never going away again. Between climate change and an ongoing drought, the ring is a stark reminder of another iteration of that hated 21st-century term: the “new normal.”

    “I think people have come to the recognition that the infrastructure which has served us so well over the last 100 years is not going to do the same job in the next 100 years,” ASU research professor Pat Gober said.

    That bathtub ring has been growing for years. There’s a number every water professional in the Colorado River Basin knows: 1,075.

    When the water in Lake Mead behind Hoover Dam drops below 1,075 feet, it will automatically trigger a round of mandatory water-use cuts to each state. Agriculture will take the first hit. Subsequent cuts tied to lake levels become more draconian. The ring is a visible symbol of how precariously Westerners live.

    And we do live precariously. Anyone whose air-conditioning has broken during a Phoenix summer or whose car battery has died on the freeway can tell you, it gets unbearable in a hurry. The ancient Hohokam people took off from what is now south-central Arizona during an epic drought in the Medieval Ages.

    But 30 million people aren’t going to just pick up and leave. If this is the “new normal,” we’re going to have to figure out a way to survive here.

    There’s no magic bullet. It’s going to take a range of strategies from experts in law, policy, science, and technology. Some of those strategies are already in place. Some won’t exist for another 10 or 20 years.

    That’s what this story is about. It’s about how a wide range of scientists at Arizona State University are putting their broad and diverse expertise toward solving the problem of how people in the arid West will continue to live sustainably, in a place where people basically have no business living at all.

    “We’re realizing that water as a resource is in many realms, and an institution of this breadth is what’s needed to address these problems and provide solutions and study the phenomenon from multiple angles,” said hydrologist Enrique Vivoni

    This story is about nuance. Conserve! (But keep your lawn and pool.) Worry about levels in Lake Mead! (But don’t worry about every fluctuation or weather event.) Water people know they’re sending mixed messages. They’re mixed on purpose. They have to be.

    “Everything about water is complicated,” said Sarah Porter, director of the Kyl Center for Water Policy at ASU. “I love that about water.”

    Where to begin?

    “It’s such a big issue,” said Karen Smith. “It’s so fundamental.”

    Smith, a faculty associate in the School of Sustainability, teaches a course on water use. She’s a veteran water warrior: strategic planner for the Salt River Project, the quasi-governmental agency charged with administering the flows from the Salt and Verde Rivers, one of Phoenix’s main water sources; water-quality director at the state Department of Environmental Quality; deputy director of the state Department of Water Resources.

    “One of the real problems I think we have when we start to talk about it is where to start,” she said. “Where do you start? Do you start with the science? Do you start with the policy, with sort of the politics to go with the economics of it? It’s crazy. There’s so much to it, and part of the challenge we’ve had in Arizona is knowing where to begin.”

    What’s going on

    “We’re all watching the lake levels in Mead,” said Pat Gober. “That’s the visual emblem of water infrastructure that’s worked for us in the past.”

    Gober, a research professor in ASU’s School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning, has won international prizes for her water research. She studies water resources management, decision making under uncertainty and urban climate adaptation.

    “We’re going to fall below (the 1,075 line) soon, and then we’re going to have to figure out a new plan for the future, because the amount of Colorado River water we assumed we were going to get, we’re not going to get,” she said. “It’s a brave new world for us, I think, and that’s the symbol of it.”

    Water and climate people talk about a “new normal” because they don’t believe that those lake levels will return to what they were 50 years ago.

    “That means we have to change the economy and the culture,” Gober said. “It’s going to be some kind of radical change.”

    While changing the economics of water is a relatively simple proposition (more on that later), changing culture is another story.

    Across the West, each city dependent on the Colorado River has its own unique challenges, but overarching all is the urgent need for survival in a dry place, whether that’s Denver, Las Vegas, San Diego or Phoenix.

    The Arizona capital is a river city.

    “We’ve taken the water out of the river and spread it across the landscape,” said ASU professor Nancy Grimm, who studies desert streams and how water works in urban ecosystems.

    “We call it riparianization of the city, because you’ve turned this what was a single riparian strip along the river into this big blob that’s all green, and when you fly into Phoenix you see that,” she said. “A lot of what we see in terms of the ecology of the city, the kinds of things that we’ve been studying in people’s yards, the vegetation that’s here, the kinds of birds that you see, the soil properties, all of these kinds of things are related to that fact. And if you think about it in historical terms, that water was spread across the landscape initially to create farmlands. Farmland has converted to housing.”

    At the turn of the previous century, Arizona had a desolate national reputation because of the desert and violence. It was the wild West, after all. Early boosters of Phoenix created marketing materials around 1910 exhorting people to move to Arizona. Promotional pamphlets usually depicted orange groves and canals. Almost never was a cactus shown. (The same applies to ASU during the same time, where campus was touted as a lush oasis with a huge fountain in front of Old Main.)

    “We made the urban environment attractive to people who were coming here,” Gober said. “We created an oasis culture, not a desert culture. This isn’t a desert city. It uses water from all across the West, dammed up in those big dams to make our city look like Chicago and Philadelphia and northern California. Maybe it was a good thing to do 100 years ago, but it’s not going to work for us.”

    The ability of the region to grow is a function of the ability to capture and use large amounts of water. The future of arid cities is dependent on our use of water. Gober points out we use water to make the place make sense for us.

    To a certain extent, that will have to change out of necessity.

    “We’ve totally transformed this landscape, but the work that (ASU) has done looking at the future in terms of climate change, in terms of population is suggesting that we can’t keep doing that,” Grimm said.

    The only way to support the current population is by storing water in years of plenty to use in times of shortage. The way we’ve been doing that is by using a massive infrastructure of canals, dams and lakes. The heroic engineering marvels of the 20th century, like Hoover and Glen Canyon dams and the Central Arizona Project canal, gave Westerners stability and the ability to change the landscape.

    But now the rains aren’t showing up. Far more people live in the West now than did in the 1930s, when Hoover was built. And the wild cards of drought and climate change hover over it all.

    All of the allocations of Colorado River water that Arizona thought it was going to get have to be rethought. State water managers don’t use historical data sets to predict rainfall and snowpack because they’re not representative of what’s happening now. Arizona’s Department of Water Resources uses rainfall records going back to 1988 — what the agency director calls a stress test period — plus models that incorporate climate change.

    The problem

    If you check the Bureau of Reclamation’s website, Lake Mead is often slightly below 1,075 feet. Why isn’t everyone freaking out over this?

    The lake fluctuates a lot because of rain, evaporation and a host of other factors, according to Porter, of the Kyl Center for Water Policy.

    Mead’s diminishing levels aren’t due to drought: It’s over-allocation, which doesn’t account for loss. About 1.2 million acre-feet are lost every year because of evaporation, seepage into porous surfaces, and so on.

    “The lake level will be going down every year no matter what because of this structural deficit, as it’s called,” Porter said.

    An acre-foot is the measurement water wonks use. They don’t talk about gallons. An acre-foot is one acre covered by water a foot deep. (It’s about 326,000 gallons, if you must know.) Most water managers call an acre-foot enough water for a suburban family for a year.

    According to the Bureau of Reclamation, the lake’s surface drops 12 feet per year. When Hoover was built, no one thought about this.

    “At the time there was so much water, and we didn’t have nearly the demands we have now,” Porter said .

    A 2011 study of the Colorado River Basin by the Bureau of Reclamation (motto: “Managing Water in the West”) predicted a 3 million acre-foot gap in 2040.

    “Too many straws in it,” said John Sabo. Sabo, a professor in ASU’s School of Life Sciences, has loved to fish since he was a boy. He earned a degree in stream ecology, studied hydrology, and eventually ended up studying water, because everything in Arizona revolves around water.

    The Bureau of Reclamation makes its determination for the coming year on Oct. 1, the beginning of the water year. (Like finance, the calendar and taxes, there is a water year.)

    An August report by the bureau headed off a shortage declaration by predicting lake levels will be 4 feet above the trigger point at the end of the year. (They also predicted a shortage to be declared in 2018.)

    “Levels are not declining as quickly,” Porter said. Conservation “efforts are paying off.”

    This wasn’t a huge surprise to anyone in water management. The Colorado River is not a natural system, Smith, from the School of Sustainability, pointed out. No one wants the shortage declaration and the mandatory cuts that will accompany it, so an enormous amount of shuffling happens to prevent that.

    “It’s a highly plumbed river,” Smith said. “And so they manage it. So they’ll look at Mead, and they’ll look at Powell and they’ll say, ‘You know, let’s take a little bit more from Powell now and bring it down to Mead because it looks like they’ll be some better inflows into Powell. … So we’ll see what the bureau does when it gets close to 1,075.”

    It’s an enormous system to manage. There are two countries, upper- and lower-basin states, treaties, regulatory backgrounds, judicial backgrounds and legal precedents. The whole mess is collectively called the Law of the River.

    It’s a delicately balanced system. At a recent water meeting at the state Capitol, one panelist described it as a Rubik’s Cube, with each square representing a different stakeholder. Turn the cube once, and the whole system goes out of whack.

    Water managers aren’t expecting a rosy future.

    “Climate change is already a huge challenge for us,” said Kathryn Sorenson, water services director for the city of Phoenix. “We can expect that the flows of our local rivers, the Salt and Verde, will diminish and become more variable or potentially turbid. We can expect that we will enter into shortage on the Colorado River and probably stay in shortage for quite some time.”

    Climate change, drought, or both?

    This is Arizona’s 16th year in a drought. Is this year 16 of a 16-year drought, or year 16 of a 30-year drought? NASA’s most recent research suggests the latter might be the case, with an 80 percent chance to see a 30-year drought by the middle to end of this century.

    Droughts are part of natural variability in a desert region, but there is research that suggests they are becoming worse and more frequent because of climate change. Weather patterns in the Pacific that affect the West are changing, but researchers don’t know why.

    “(Climate change and drought) are working together, unfortunately,” said state climatologist Nancy Selover, a research professor in the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning. “I wish I could say 43 percent is this and 43 percent is that, but I can’t do that. It’s a fairly complex system.”

    The water series

    Part 1: The current situation and how we got here.

    Part 2, coming Thursday: Science and research.

    Part 3, coming Friday: Law, policy, challenges — and some good news.

    Delph Carpenter's 1922 Colorado River Basin map with Lake Mead and Lake Powell
    Delph Carpenter’s 1922 Colorado River Basin map with Lake Mead and Lake Powell

    Aspen: Objectors plan to give city reservoir rights a “substantial haircut” during diligence filing process

    Gravity dam
    Gravity dam

    From The Aspen Daily News (Curtis Wackerle):

    Will proceed with diligence filing

    Eliminating the city’s future possibility to build reservoirs that would inundate portions of the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness would be irresponsible, given the uncertainties presented by climate change, Aspen City Council members said on Tuesday.

    The board was unanimous in its direction to file a diligence application that would maintain the city’s water rights, first decreed in 1971, to build dams that would create the reservoirs on upper Maroon and Castle creeks.

    “I have no more interest in building these dams than anyone else in this room,” councilman Art Daily said in the work session attended by about a dozen members of the public, most of whom wanted the city to abandon the water rights.

    Yet Daily, like the rest of his council colleagues, said he would need more information about how the city could meet future water supply challenges without the dams, before he could agree to sign away a later council’s ability to pursue their development.

    “I can’t in good conscious say we are going to drop these rights without knowing what the viable alternatives are,” Daily said, while acknowledging that a future where they would be necessary feels like an “almost unforeseeable possibility.”


    Ann Mullins said she cannot predict what will happen in 50 years, and officials in the city utilities department have noted that the snow pack around Aspen could look very different under some climate projection scenarios.

    “I think it’s the unpredictable part of climate change that is probably the scariest,” she said…

    Council members were clear that the city will continue to study alternative water management strategies that will hopefully preclude the need to ever build the dams. This includes increasing conservation and pursuing other supply and storage initiatives.

    Within the next year or two, for example, the city hopes to pump treated wastewater from the Aspen Consolidated Sanitation District up hill from the treatment plant near the Aspen Business Center to irrigate the municipal golf course. The city is also exploring developing water supply from deep-underground wells…

    Opposition strategies

    Numerous parties, including environmental groups, stream-side property owners and the U.S. Forest Service have indicated they will file statements of opposition to the diligence application should it go forward.

    Will Roush, conservation director at Wilderness Workshop, made the case at Tuesday’s meeting that the Maroon Bells are too important a resource to keep the possibility of the dams alive. The regulatory hurdles the city would encounter if it ever tried to develop the reservoirs would be too extreme, and would require an exemption signed by the president to federal wilderness area rules, Roush has said previously.

    Paul Noto, a local attorney who is working on behalf of the conservation group American Rivers, said that once the application is before a water court judge, the discussion will enter a new phase. A judge would approve any amendment to the water rights that was mutually agreeable to the city and opposing parties, Noto said.

    That means changes to the size and placement of the dams and reservoirs would be on the table. Noto, who argued Tuesday that the city doesn’t need the water that would be stored behind these dams, said there’s a strong possibility that the size of the would-be reservoirs is in for a “substantial haircut” in the water-court process.

    Questions remain on use of rain barrels — The #Colorado Springs Gazette #coleg

    Photo via the Colorado Independent
    Photo via the Colorado Independent

    From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Jim Flynn):

    At the heart of this [water law] system, and protected by a section of the Colorado Constitution, is a concept called “prior appropriation.” The way this works is that some water users have priority over other water users, with the effect that, in times of scarcity, holders of senior water rights receive their water and holders of junior water rights do not. The seniority of water rights is generally based on a first-to-use-wins concept, meaning the most senior (and therefore the most valuable) water rights go back to the 1800s.

    Any upstream activity even remotely threatening to downstream water rights holders is cause for great alarm. This came to light in the 2016 session of the Colorado Legislature when a bill (House Bill 16-1005) was introduced intended to regulate the collection of rainwater in barrels.

    What finally emerged, after heated debate, is a new law allowing rainwater running off the rooftop of a residential property containing no more than four dwelling units to be collected in no more than two barrels having a combined storage capacity of no more than 110 gallons. These barrels must have a sealable lid; the water from the barrels can only be used at the property where the water is collected; and it can only be used for outdoor purposes “including irrigation of lawns and gardens.” The water “shall not be used for drinking water or indoor household purposes.” (Whether the water could be used for bathing activities if conducted outdoors is not clear.)

    The state engineer, “to the extent practicable within existing resources,” is instructed to provide information on his agency’s website about the permitted and prohibited uses of rain barrels and water collected therein. The state engineer is also given authority to curtail rain barrel usage in situations where it might impair the rights of downstream water users. And the state engineer is required to diligently study whether rain barrel usage is causing injury to holders of downstream water rights and to report back to the Legislature on this issue by no later than March 1, 2019.

    The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment also gets into the act. That agency is instructed, “to the extent practicable within existing resources,” to develop “best practices” intended to address nonpotable usage of collected rainwater and issues relating to disease and pest control. When and if such best practices are developed, they are to be posted on the department’s website and on the state engineer’s website. Alternatively, the state engineer’s website can provide a link back to the department’s website.

    Finally, knowing the penchant of homeowners living in common-interest ownership communities to fight over almost everything, the Legislature added language to the new law addressing rain barrel usage in these communities. An owners association in a common-interest ownership community cannot prohibit rooftop water collection using rain barrels. The association can, however, “impose reasonable aesthetic requirements that govern the placement or external appearance of a rain barrel.” So, for any of you who have the misfortune of serving on your neighborhood architectural control committee, it’s time to develop design guidelines for rain barrels.