Colorado’s Water Plan will need everyone to pitch in, officials say — The Denver Post

From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

Colorado adopted a landmark $20 billion water plan Thursday to try to accommodate rapid population growth by conserving more, reusing more, storing more and sharing more between farmers and cities — and diverting less from west to east across the mountains.

“Now is the time to rethink how we can be more efficient,” Gov. John Hickenlooper said at a ceremony embracing the roughly 480-page document…

State officials emphasized a practical consensus that emerged after a decade of river basin negotiations. In a drought-and-flood-prone West where clean water increasingly is coveted, they contend Colorado residents are best served by rallying around a common plan.

Hickenlooper urged immediate work with everybody chipping in to implement the plan: residents shortening showers, lawmakers cooperating to ensure funds and fine-tune laws, utilities thinking regionally about effects of diversions, and farmers forging alternatives to selling their water rights to cities.

And the governor swiftly placed the plan into the context of an intensifying Western water struggle.

“The Western governors have agreed that we’re all going to work on water together,” Hickenlooper said, referring to pressure California’s water crunch puts on an over-subscribed Colorado River. “None of us knows with any certainty how that drought is going to continue and spread.”

If Colorado ramped-up water conservation, with the incorporation of water into land-use planning and reservoir construction done right, the controversial diversion of more water across mountains won’t be necessary, Hickenlooper said — even with the 5.3 million population projected to nearly double by 2050.

Front Range cities rely on 24 tunnels and ditches to divert an average of 262 billion gallons of water a year west-to-east across the Continental Divide. This practice depletes streams and rivers, hurting ecosystems.

Diverting more to satisfy growing Front Range urban needs ought to be “the last possible use,” Hickenlooper said, adding state leaders’ goal is “where the water is, it stays.”

Environment groups and utility officials agreed a unified state stand may help prevent the federal government and other Colorado River Basin states from driving water decisions.

“Colorado has the ability to greatly influence what happens along other stretches of the Colorado River,” said Jon Goldin-Dubois, president of Boulder-based Western Resource Advocates.

Putting forth an unprecedented, detailed state plan “gives Colorado leverage in those interstate conversations,” he said…

Denver Water manager Jim Lochhead, pointing to a 20 percent drop in water consumption over the past 10 years despite population growth, said water-saving goals can be reached “without sacrificing quality of life.”

Lochhead anticipated benefits of changing land use in cities. “As we get denser … that’s going to reduce our overall water use.”

The plan depends on voluntary compliance since the Colorado Water Conservation Board lacks regulatory power. Colorado’s state engineer and the state Department of Public Health and Environment are the main state regulators around water.

Hickenlooper said the plan, if implemented, will “create a motivating context” for using water more efficiently out of self-interest.

“I’m not a huge fan of regulation,” he said. “This is designed so that we won’t need as much of the formal regulation we have now.”

Colorado transmountain diversions via the University of Colorado

From Colorado Public Radio:

Hickenlooper’s administration encouraged water managers — and users — from around Colorado to formulate the plan over a two-year period. James Eklund, head of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, led the effort. He told Colorado Matters on Wednesday the state favors more “carrot” and less “stick” in its approach to achieving the storage, conservation, distribution and management.

For example: The plan sets a specific conservation goal for cities but not for agriculture.

“The reason we don’t set a conservation goal for agriculture is because the [agricultural] user has got to produce a crop,” he said. “And if you’re asking them to conserve water, that means they are fundamentally diverting less water and growing less crop. That is a private property right in Colorado.”

“The challenges that we face as a state on water are so large that we have to really be hitting on all cylanders.” Eklund said. That includes pushing for new legislation and executive rulemaking, starting with his request for more flexibility in how the Colorado Water Conservation Board can spend the money it gets in appropriations from lawmakers each year.

“This is a moment for Coloradans to be proud,” Eklund, said Thursday at the plan’s unveiling. “For 150 years water has been a source of conflict in our state.”


From The Durango Herald (Peter Marcus):

“Now is the time when you rethink how you can be more efficient in the water you use,” Hickenlooper said during a ceremony at History Colorado, which was chosen as a location to highlight the historical significance of the water plan.

“I do think the cultural shift is underway, and I think those conversations, and everyone looking at how they can use water more efficiently, is critical,” the governor said…

Even with the collaboration, fights emerged, with a group of Western Slope officials recently expressing concerns that the plan would lead to transmountain diversion, in which water from western Colorado is used for municipalities along the Front Range. But the governor said the plan would actually minimize a need to divert water from rural Colorado, which is critical to agricultural needs.

“There ought to be ways to make sure we have sufficient water to satisfy the growth along the Front Range without diverting the water across the mountains,” Hickenlooper said. “If we are successful in going through this water plan, it will not be necessary.”

April Montgomery, a member of the Water Conservation Board representing the San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan rivers in Southwest Colorado, who attended the ceremony, said a process has now been established in the hopes of avoiding transmountain diversion. Steps must first be taken before diversions are agreed upon, including considering protecting future growth, development and the environment…

In some ways, the work of the plan begins now. Officials must pursue projects that meet the municipal water gap, provide safe drinking water, prioritize conservation and promote reuse strategies. Ideas include reducing lawn watering and evaluating storage options.

But with a $20 billion price tag, crossing the finish line will be difficult. State lawmakers this year have been encouraged to get the ball rolling with funding and outlining projects. The Hickenlooper administration has been careful not to prescribe too much in the plan, instead creating a vision for policymakers to act on.

Sinjin Eberle, with Durango-based American Rivers, also attended the ceremony, expressing optimism the water plan will help agricultural interests in Southwest Colorado.

“Keeping more water in the rivers keeps more security and more predictability for agriculture and making agriculture more sustainable,” he said.


From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

Years of efforts by countless Coloradans reached fruition this morning with the completion of Colorado’s first water plan.

The Colorado Water Conservation Board unanimously approved the plan.

The plan looks at potential gaps between supply and demand in future decades and addresses conservation, reuse, storage and other means of filling those gaps. A key, and controversial, component of the plan provides a framework for discussing possible further diversions of more Western Slope water to the Front Range.

Those involved in the plan say it is the product of the largest act of civic engagement in the state. Roundtable groups from individual river basins held numerous meetings on the plan, which also elicited more than 30,000 comments submitted by the public.

From the Sterling Journal-Advocate (Jeff Rice):

Gov. John Hickenlooper promised a “speedy review of this plan” Thursday morning after receiving Colorado’s first ever comprehensive state-wide water plan.

In remarks during a press conference at Historic Colorado, Hickenlooper emphasized the spirit of cooperation among Colorado’s disparate water interests in formulating the plan. He said that no longer will Colorado’s water needs be met at the expense of agriculture…

After the formal presentation, Diane Hoppe, chairwoman of the CWCB board of directors, told the Journal-Advocate that the plan is “a good way to look at our future.”

“This is a way forward,” Hoppe said. “This is how we deal with a growing population, and stretching our limited water resources.”

Joe Frank, general manager of the Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District, said he’s happy with the emphasis the plan places on off-channel water storage.

“The only way to capture all of the water that we’re losing is to dam the river, and that’s just not going to happen,” Frank said. “But water storage doesn’t have to be above ground, either. Underground storage, recharge and augmentation are also important.”

Don Ament, former Colorado Agriculture Commissioner who has represented Colorado in water negotiations with Nebraska, Wyoming, and the Department of the Interior in developing a recovery plan for the South Platte River, said he likes the plan because it dovetails with his group’s work.

“This is a big piece of the puzzle for what my group is doing,” Ament said after the news conference. “There is a lot of excitement (in the water community) about this, and I think it provides some good momentum to carry forward with developing our water resources. This is a real good thing.”

Colorado Springs Utilities and the #COWaterPlan

Pikes Peak with Garden of the Gods in the foreground
Pikes Peak with Garden of the Gods in the foreground

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Ryan Maye Handy):

…despite the painstaking work of people in nine water basins, multiple drafts, dozens of public meetings, and pushback from utility companies, the water plan is not a panacea. To the question of where Colorado’s extra water will come from, there is no simple answer.

“We know there is not a silver bullet, at least not one that we have found,” Eklund said.

Colorado is one of the last Western states to develop a water plan, although water planning on a smaller scale has been going on for decades. Colorado’s Rocky Mountain spine is the headwaters for several major rivers that flow into 18 states, and water here has always been carefully watched.

The state has been credited as the birthplace of water law, after battles between miners and farmers over water rights broke out in the 19th century.

In the modern era, water uses are heavily regulated and litigated – but the state has never had a comprehensive plan for future water use, one that balances its opposing interests.

Since the plan began to compile information in 2013, it has had to juggle the disparate interests of nine water basins, which are home to big cities, rivers, farmland and rural communities. Residents in the Western Slope basins closely watch the Colorado River – which provides much-needed water to California – and push against channeling their water over to the Front Range. The South Platte basin, the state’s largest that covers the entirety of northern Colorado, is desperate for more water for it’s growing cities, and is looking to the Western Slope and to agriculture to provide some of it. Meanwhile, the Arkansas basin, home to Colorado Springs, has a little bit of everything – a dependence on Western Slope water, the state’s second largest city and agriculture that gives $1.5 billion every year to the local economy.

The solution to filling the water gap will come from a mixture of all of these – water from the Western Slope, from farmlands and from cities.

Some of the most scathing commentary of the plan has come from Colorado Springs Utilities, a water manager for the state’s second largest watershed, the Arkansas River basin. Despite the years of work, Utilities feels that the plan has done little more than create a rushed document that delivers a list of “don’ts” instead of a path forward for the future of water.

While Eklund defends the plan as something that is meant to be acted on, the plan’s suggestions are not binding without executive orders or legislation, he said. Because of this, Utilities believes that plan falls short of giving the state a clear direction when it comes to water.

“Without a firm and clear policy statement … the rest of the document is a directionless recitation of guardrails without a road,” wrote Utilities officials in a public commentary submitted in September, when the last draft of the plan was released.

The commentary also criticized the plan as being biased against municipal water use, and not having enough detail on building more water storage, one of Utilities’ preferred methods for girding the state’s growing population against water loss.

Utilities did praise the plan for putting together an impressive collection of water information. However, it also has said that the plan also slowed it’s regular water planning processes.

Despite Utilities’ tone, many of its suggestions resonated with concerns from others around the state. One major consensus to come out of the water plan is that the permitting system for building projects like the Southern Delivery System is broken, Eklund said. Projects like that can take decades and millions of dollars to get approved, both things that need to be cut.

For Eklund, the plan is more than just a collection of problems – it does offer solutions and ways forward for Colorado’s diverse water community. Eklund also thinks of the plan as a living document; once water board members vote on the plan on Thursday, it will continue to be updated and changed. To Eklund’s knowledge, the plan is also the largest civic engagement process the state has undertaken, a process that involved responding to every single one of the 30,000 comments received.

He is confident that Utilities will be happy with the final plan.

“We will just have to wait and see,” said Steve Berry, a spokesman for Utilities, on Sunday night.

“You know how these things go – they never reflect all of your feedback. The good thing is that we have a record of our thoughts on it, and that’s permanent, and that always been looked back on.”

“My colleague likes to say, instead of one silver bullet, there’s lots of little silver BBs” — Liesel Hans

Tap water via Wikimedia
Tap water via Wikimedia

From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Jacy Marmaduke):

Thirteen gallons: It’s the volume of a standard kitchen trash bag, a 6-minute shower or a little more than a full tank of gas for a compact car.

And it’s the crux of Fort Collins Utilities’ vision for the city’s water use come 2030.

Average daily water use was 143 gallons per person in 2014. Utilities wants to reduce that to 130 gallons per person, a 9 percent cut, over the next 15 years.

The water saved would fill 2 1/2 Olympic-size swimming pools in just a year…

Conservation strategies laid out in a document released this month could affect your water bill, your lawn or even your toilet. And utilities staff hope a wide range of methods will prepare the community for inevitable dry spells in a semi-arid region vulnerable to unpredictable climate patterns.

“My colleague likes to say, instead of one silver bullet, there’s lots of little silver BBs,” said Liesel Hans, water conservation program manager with Fort Collins Utilities. “There’s a lot of ways to fit our goal, and it doesn’t have to be a one size fits all.”

Utilities is seeking feedback on its water efficiency plan update through Jan. 15. After resident and City Council review, the department will start making changes on a rolling basis in the coming months and years.

There are some big goals in the plan update, including:

  • Requiring more efficient plumbing and irrigation fixtures for re-developed homes and businesses.
  • Changing water rates to encourage conservation.
  • Increasing use of the online “Monitor My Use” tool, which shows users how much water they’re using on a daily, monthly and yearly basis. This helps customers see what time of day they’re using the most, among other features.
  • Revamping and spreading the Xeriscape Incentive Program, which pays residents to re-do their lawns with plants that conserve water.
  • Offering more rebates to businesses that conserve water.
  • Providing more education to increase community water literacy.

The strategies and their timelines are purposely vague because the department wants to hear what people think of them before deciding which ones to implement. And the plan targets residential and business use because both make up gluttonous portions of the water-use pie: Businesses account for 39 percent of water use in the district; homes account for 47 percent.

Utilities will “look at a wide range of options” for changing rates, Hans said, which could include changing the fixed rate, the variable rates or both…

Graphs of Fort Collins Utilities’ water demand over time tell a gripping story. Demand increased steadily as more people and businesses moved in during the 1990s. By 2000, the city was using more than 200 gallons per person per day to meet an annual demand of more than 10 billion gallons. That level of demand would fill Horsetooth Reservoir in about five years.

Then came the 2002 drought. Some people, including then-Gov. Bill Owens, called it Colorado’s worst drought in 350 years.

Fort Collins saw about 9 inches of rain that year, about 6 inches less than normal.

The historic drought got the city thinking about water conservation, Hans said. It wasn’t long before the utilities department switched to a “conservation-oriented” rate structure, so people who use more water pay a higher rate.

That change and other conservation efforts have helped the department cut use per person and in total. In 2014, annual demand was about 7 billion gallons, a 30 percent reduction from 2000 demand even as the city’s population swelled by 25 percent.

But progress has plateaued, Hans said, so her department hopes new methods — and a goal more ambitious than the original 2030 target of 140 gallons per person each day — will help galvanize next-level conservation.

A lot of the strategies involve building on existing programs that identify water leaks in homes, show residents how to more efficiently water their lawns, set efficiency goals for businesses and teach children and adults why water conservation matters.

Conservation fans say the 2030 water use goal is made more achievable by what seems to be an ingrained value for many in Fort Collins.

“We live in a semi-arid desert,” said Brian Werner, spokesman for the Northern Water Conservancy District — the agency that facilitates close to one-third of Fort Collins Utilities’ water supply.

“From Day 1, settlers realized you had to supplement what Mother Nature gave you if you wanted to grow crops. We were very conservation-oriented from the get-go.”

Julie Kallenberger, water education and outreach specialist for Colorado State University’s Water Center, added Colorado’s headwaters state status fosters more of a conservation-oriented mindset.

“Water becomes more of a topic because people understand how important it is,” she said. “I came here in ’02, and I immediately noticed it.”

Water efficiency plan

You can find the Fort Collins Utilities water efficiency plan at

Aspinall Unit operations update: Gunnison River through Black Canyon streamflow to increase to 1100 cfs

From email from Reclamation Erik Knight:

Releases from Crystal Dam will be increased from 600 cfs to 1100 cfs on Monday, November 16th. The purpose of this increase is to lower Blue Mesa Reservoir down towards the winter icing target. The current content of Blue Mesa Reservoir is 673,000 acre-feet which is 81% full.

Flows in the lower Gunnison River are currently above the baseflow target of 1050 cfs. River flows are expected to stay above the baseflow target for the foreseeable future.

Pursuant to the Aspinall Unit Operations Record of Decision (ROD), the baseflow target in the lower Gunnison River, as measured at the Whitewater gage, is 1050 cfs for the remainder of the year.

Currently, there are no diversions into the Gunnison Tunnel and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon are 600 cfs. After this release change Gunnison Tunnel diversions will still be at 0 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon should be around 1100 cfs. Current flow information is obtained from provisional data that may undergo revision subsequent to review.

Sunrise Black Canyon via Bob Berwyn
Sunrise Black Canyon via Bob Berwyn

How Water Is Reshaping the West — Hillary Rosner

Here’s a report from Hillary Rosner writing for Nova Next. Click through and read the whole thing. Here’s an excerpt:

“Be careful of rattlesnakes,” Brian Werner says as we walk near what will, a few years out, become the south end of Chimney Hollow Reservoir. I try to imagine what will happen to the snakes—and the bears and birds and burrowing animals—when these 1,600 acres become a lakebed. I’d been conducting an animated interview with Werner for more than an hour as we toured the region’s waterworks–reservoirs, pipelines, diversion ditches, pumps—but now, standing here, I’m speechless. Perhaps sensing my mood, Werner tries to be upbeat. He gestures to the west, where, as part of the reservoir land-acquisition deal, another 1,800 acres will be permanently protected. But it’s hard to stand beneath those ponderosas and not feel a kind of heartbreak.

Werner works for Northern Water, a public utility that delivers water to parts of eight northeastern Colorado counties and about 880,000 people. In conjunction with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, Northern Water administers the Colorado-Big Thompson Project, a sprawling collection of reservoirs and pipes built to send Colorado River water from the western part of the state across the Rockies (through a tunnel beneath Rocky Mountain National Park) the more populous—and growing—northeastern towns. Werner’s job title is public information officer, but after 34 years with the utility, he’s also its de facto historian, with an insider’s deep knowledge of the entire state’s water past and present, including the intricacies of water rights. (Western water law is an unfathomably complex beast predicated on a first-come-first-served system, which is why newer cities, late to the game, are struggling for rights to water that often flows right past them.)

Up and down Colorado’s Front Range—the string of cities perched along the Rocky Mountains’ eastern flanks—it’s a boom time. Fort Collins, the northernmost city, has doubled its population since the 1980s, with no sign of stopping. Farther to the east, in former rural communities like Frederick, Dacono, and Evans, pavement is spreading like weeds, subdivisions are sprouting in place of corn. The reservoir soon to drown the spectacular landscape under my feet that afternoon would deliver water to these bustling communities.

Nearby, another proposed reservoir would submerge a highway to store water from the Poudre River, which flows through downtown Fort Collins; this project will serve those same growing towns. “Some people think if we don’t build those projects, people just won’t come,” Werner says. “I wish that were the case. But it’s not gonna happen. People are going to keep moving here, because it’s a great place to live.”

Across much of the West, the story is similar. As cities and states grapple with urban growth alongside the impacts of global warming—crippling drought, a shifted timeline of snowmelt and stream flows, uncertainty about future water supplies—nothing is off the table when it comes to securing access to water. These days, the stories that make national news are more likely to be about old dams coming down than about new ones rising. That’s partly because dams coming down are still a rarity. But across the West, the local news is far more likely to be about smaller dams going up. The era of water mega-projects may be behind us, but engineers are still transforming landscapes to deliver water—an increasingly elusive and valuable commodity…

“The Reclamation era”—roughly the 1930s to the 1970s—“was big monster projects, massive dams that totally reshaped the watershed, rivers, and ecology,” says Reagan Waskom, director of the Colorado Water Institute at Colorado State University in Fort Collins. Today’s projects, Waskom says, are a series of “expansions and enlargements,” smaller-scale efforts meant to complement or shore up existing systems…

A subsidiary of Northern Water, called the Municipal Subdistrict, runs the Windy Gap project, which was built in the early 1980s to provide water for Boulder, Fort Collins, and four other Front Range cities. The system pulls water from the Colorado River and stores it in the Windy Gap reservoir on the west side of the Rockies then delivers it to Lake Granby, where it is pumped through the Big Thompson system to the eastern side. But in wet years, Lake Granby, the main reservoir for that Big Thompson system, is already full—leaving no room to store the Windy Gap water. That means in dry years, when the customers really need it, the water isn’t there.

Chimney Hollow is the solution, a way to stabilize the Windy Gap water supply. Water managers call it “firming.” Imagine that you are technically entitled to ten units of water out of a reservoir that stores 100 units. But in a dry year, the reservoir might only contain 30 units, and there are other customers besides you. In such a system, you couldn’t really depend on the reservoir for your water. That worst-case scenario is what water people call “firm yield.”

On the Windy Gap system, the firm yield is currently zero. “In the dry years, there’s no water available,” explains Werner, “and in the wet years, there’s nowhere to put it. You can’t rely on a project with zero firm yield.” Chimney Hollow, the utility contends, will give customers—the city of Erie, say— guaranteed annual delivery of their legally allotted water.

“Even with climate change, we know that there will be high flow years,” Waskom says. “When those come along, you’ve either got a place to store that water or you don’t.”[…]

There’s also the issue of whether there will continue to be enough water in the rivers to make these efforts worthwhile. “Whether you have a big reservoir or just a straw where you’re sucking water out of the river and sending it somewhere else, the question is, will the water be there?” says Jeff Lukas, a researcher with the Western Water Assessment, a think tank based at the University of Colorado. “Just because you’ve done the modeling and your scheme would’ve worked under the hydrology of last 50 years doesn’t mean it’ll work in the next 50 years.”[…]

The new world is nothing if not complex. It’s a world of tradeoffs, a world without easy answers. Still, standing on the hillside at Chimney Hollow, I’m sure of one thing: I wish there was some way to spare this spectacular place.

#COWaterPlan: “…we’ve got to work the problem of the gap from both the supply side and the demand side” — James Eklund

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

The Colorado Water Plan set to be released Nov. 19 will include a goal of developing 400,000 acre-feet of additional water storage in Colorado and a corresponding goal of reducing water use in the state by 400,000 acre-feet.

“The gap between supply and demand that we are forecasting is 560,000 acre feet by 2050, and if you add up 400,000 acre feet in conservation and 400,000 acre feet in storage, we zero out the gap,” said James Eklund, the director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, which has been preparing the water plan for the last two years.

“And,” Eklund said, “while we are not saying which specific projects are going to have to come on line, we are saying that as an entire state we’ve got to work the problem of the gap from both the supply side and the demand side.”

Eklund said the goal of developing 400,000 acre-feet of additional water storage by 2050 was realistic.

As examples, Eklund cited, without officially endorsing, the proposed Moffat, Windy Gap and NISP projects, all of which are under review and include expanded reservoir storage.

Gross Reservoir, southwest of Boulder, is proposed to be enlarged to hold an additional 77,000 acre-feet of water as part of the expansion of the Moffat Collection System.

The proposed Chimney Hollow Reservoir, part of the Windy Gap Firming Project, would add 90,000 acre-feet of storage southwest of Loveland.

The proposed Glade and Galeton reservoirs, which are at the core of NISP, or the Northern Integrated Supply Project, would add 170,000 and 45,000 acre feet of new storage, respectively, near Fort Collins.

And the planned expansion of Chatfield Reservoir, south of Denver, of which the CWCB is an official sponsor, would add 20,600 acre-feet of storage.

In all, that’s 402,600 acre-feet of proposed additional storage on the Front Range.

“We think the projects on the books are going to get us most of the way there,” Eklund said. “So I don’t see the storage goal as pie-in-the-sky. And I don’t see it requiring some really big nasty project that somebody has been worrying about emerging.”


He also pointed to the growing potential to store water in underground aquifers near Denver as an additional opportunity. And, he noted, the Front Range “does not have a copyright on the idea of more storage.”

“The Western Slope needs more storage, too,” Eklund said. “They have gaps, municipal and industrial supply and demand gaps, just the like the folks on the Front Range. “

But the storage projects now in process may not be enough, or happen fast enough, for many Front Range water providers and planners, at least judging by the comment letters sent to the CWCB on the draft water plan by a Sept. 17 deadline.

Colorado Springs Utilities, in a Sept. 17 comment letter, told the CWCB it was “disappointed with the relative lack of discussion on storage” in the water plan.

“While we appreciate the plan’s focus on enlarging existing storage, we believe more attention should be paid to developing storage of all types, e.g., on-channel storage, off-channel storage, gravel pit storage, etc.,” wrote M. Patrick Wells, the managing engineer for water resource planning for CSU.

“The plan should include an affirmative statement that it is state policy to develop additional storage,” Wells said. “This cannot be stressed enough, and Colorado needs to do as much as it can to secure as much additional storage of all types within its borders as is possible.”


The city of Westminster, which sits between Denver and Boulder, “believes that many of the components of the water plan will be successful only if there is the political will to create more water storage, including identifying new storage locations, expanding existing storage and encouraging regional storage solutions,” Westminster Mayor Herb Atchison wrote in a Sept. 17 letter.

And John Kaufman, the general manager of Centennial Water and Sanitation District, which serves customers south of Denver, told the CWCB “more storage, particularly on the East Slope of the Continental Divide, is needed. And creative ways to bring more West Slope water to the East Slope should be explored in a manner that also benefits West-Slope interests.”

Kaufman also said in his Sept. 17 letter that the water plan “will not achieve full success if conservation is viewed as the keystone of the plan.”

While there is abundant enthusiasm for additional storage among Front Range water providers, there is less support for, and even belief in, the CWCB’s goal of conserving an additional 400,000 acre-feet, which has been dubbed a “stretch goal” during the development of the water plan.

Aurora Water, for example, questioned the assumptions used by CWCB in reaching its 400,000 acre-foot goal.

Joe Stibrich, Aurora Water’s water resources policy manager told the CWCB in a Sept. 17 letter he understood CWCB added up 154,000 acre-feet of potential “passive conservation” savings, 166,000 acre-feet of “active conservation” savings, and 80,000 acre-feet of “aspirational stretch” savings to reach its goal.

Stibrich said “additional work is needed to validate the numbers” and that it would be more useful to “define potential saving in a range” such as 320,000 to 400,000 acre-feet.

And he said CWCB should make sure people know its “stretch goal” is just aspirational.

“By its very nature, a stretch goal is aspirational and is not achievable under current policies and with existing technology and programs,” Stibrich said.


And the Front Range Water Council, made up of the largest water providers in Colorado, told the CWCB that reaching the conservation goal couldn’t be expected to come before new storage.

“The plan should reject the notion that project approvals should be contingent of first meeting any sort of conservation goals or targets,” the letter from the council said. “Passive and active conservation savings occurs over time as a result of technological innovation, education, market penetration and other factors and as a result, does not naturally lend itself to being ‘sequenced’ ahead of other water supply options. “

Burt Knight, Greeley’s director of water and sewer, bluntly warned against relying on conservation.

“We cannot conserve our way out of the anticipated gap, and the conservation mandates proposed in this draft could have a domino effect on our environment, our economy, our public health and our quality of life,” Knight wrote.

Offering another perspective, Richard Van Gytenbeek, the outreach coordinator for Trout Unlimited’s Colorado Water Project, said the state should go beyond the 400,000 acre-foot goal in the plan and set a goal of saving 460,000 acre-feet.

“A stretch goal, by its very definition, should be aggressive and go beyond what we know we can do using the types of strategies already in place,” Van Gytenbeek told the CWCB in a Sept 17 letter. “Colorado needs to be aggressive and discover how far we truly can go in water efficiency.”

And in addition to the full-throated call for more storage in the comment letters to the CWCB, there are also words of caution about new dams and reservoirs.

“Reservoirs can provide beneficial stream flows downstream, but they can also do the opposite,” said Ken Neubecker, the assistant director for the Colorado River Program at American Rivers, in a Sept. 14 comment letter.

While Neubecker concedes that additional water storage “must be considered,” he told the CWCB ”we must also recognize that politically such storage will be difficult.”

“It is easy for politicians and roundtables to demand more storage,” Neubecker said, “until they identify the specific ‘backyard’ they want to fill, the source they wish to deplete and the existing uses they intend to deprive.”

Aspen Journalism is collaborating with the Glenwood Springs Post Independent and The Aspen Times on coverage of water and rivers in Colorado. More at

Feds delay decisions on new Colorado River diversions

Originally posted on Summit County Citizens Voice:

Instead, the water goes through this aqueduct to water bluegrass lawns on the Front Range. New diversions from the Colorado River to the Front Range are still on hold pending further review. @bberwyn photo.

water quality, endangered species issues still unresolved

Staff Report

The complex permitting process for a pair of new Colorado water supply projects has been delayed yet again, as federal agencies continue to study the impacts of new diversions from the Colorado River and enlarged reservoirs on the Front Range.

Decisions for Denver Water’s Moffat Collection System Project, and Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District’s Windy Gap Firming Project have been rescheduled for release in 2016, according to a Nov. 4 press release from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

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