#ColoradoRiver: Southwestern Water Conservation District Water 101 session recap #COWaterPlan #COriver

From The Pine River Times (Carole McWilliams):

The nightmare scenario for West Slope water nerds is a “call” on the Colorado River, meaning that Colorado, Wyoming, and Northwest New Mexico are not delivering a legally required amount of water to California, Nevada, Arizona, and Utah.

If or when that happens, some water users in the three Upper Basin states will have their water use curtailed so that the Lower Basin states get their share. Water banking as a concept being proposed on the West Slope to minimize curtailment and huge water fights between holders of pre-1922 water rights, which would not be curtailed, and holders of post-1922 rights that would be curtailed.

Durango water engineer Steve Harris spoke to this at the Sept. 25 Water 101 seminar in Bayfield.

The idea started in 2008 with the Southwest Colorado Water Conservation District and the Colorado River Conservation District. Those two entities cover the entire West Slope, Harris said. The idea of water banking is “to provide water for critical uses in cases of compact curtailment.”

West Slope agricultural water users would voluntarily and temporarily reduce their water use and be compensated for it. The water would go to Lake Powell to satisfy the legal requirement for the three Upper Basin states to deliver 7.5 million acre feet of water each year (averaged over 10 years for a total 75 million AF) to the four Lower Basin states and avert curtailment…

All this is dictated by a water compact signed in 1922. It committed 15 million AF per year divvied up between the Upper and Lower Basin states. “Average flow now is around 13 million AF in the Colorado,” Harris said. The result has been continued draw-down of Lake Powell and Lake Mead.

“Right now we are at around 90 million AF versus the 75 million AF over 10 years,” Harris said. If the amount delivered goes below the 10 year requirement, perfected water rights before 1922 would not be curtailed. Most of that is West Slope ag water.

About half of Bayfield’s and Durango’s municipal water is pre-1922 rights, he said. More than 90 percent of the 1-plus million AF of pre-1922 West Slope water is used to grow grass or alfalfa hay.

Post-1922 rights include area reservoir storage, water for coal-fired power plants, a lot of municipal and industrial water, and 98 percent of West Slope water diversions to Front Range urban areas. “So they would be curtailed. But that’s not going to happen,” Harris said, because Front Range residents aren’t going to have their water supply cut to grow hay.

“We want to set up a water bank so the pre-1922 users would set aside water for the post-1922 users. Otherwise, pre-1922 rights could be targeted for acquisition by post-1922 users,” he said.

Water banking is still an idea at this point. “We don’t know if the water bank will work,” Harris said. Two studies have been done, one is under way, and a fourth will be conducted by Colorado State University to look at the impacts on eight small farms of full irrigation, reduced irrigation, and no irrigation.

Harris said 50,000 to 200,000 AF of West Slope pre-1922 water might be able to go into a water bank, based on land that could be fallowed. But there is concern that some other senior water right holder could take the water before it gets to Lake Powell. Also, he said, “It’s very hard to measure water saved through fallowing. Every year is different.”

In contrast, there is an estimated 55,000 AF of critical post-1922 municipal and industrial use on the West Slope and 295,000 AF of critical diversions to the East Slope. “The amount of pre-compact water that might be available is much smaller than the demand,” Harris said. He cited another local issue: “If you don’t irrigate on Florida Mesa, people don’t have water wells.”

An assortment of water entities in the Colorado River Basin have contributed $11 million to do demand management pilot projects to get more water to Lake Powell. Durango applied to change their water billing to “social norming,” meaning how much water you use compared to your neighboors. Harris quipped that he’d pull the norm down because he made a show of removing his lawn back in the spring.

State Sen. Ellen Roberts also spoke at the seminar. “Even though we are a headwaters state, there’s a limited amount of water, and if the population is going to double by 2040 or 2050, where will the water come from? … Every direction from Colorado, there’s a neighboring state that has a legal right to some of our water.”

Eighty-seven percent of the state population lives between Fort Collins and Pueblo, and they like their Kentucky blue grass, she said, adding, “Kentucky is a much better place for it. … On the Front Range, all they care about is does the water come out when they turn on the tap.”

She noted the heated reaction to the bill she introduced in 2014 to limit the size of lawns in new residential developments that use water converted from ag, leaving the ag land dry. Harris initiated that idea. Roberts commented, “To feed their lawns, they need our water.”

As with population, 87 of 100 state legislators also live betwween Fort Collins and Pueblo, she said. “If they don’t come out here to know our world, they don’t appreciate why water is so important. … Water is our future.”

Roberts gave an update on the Colorado Water Plan, which is intended to address the projected gap between water demand and supply. Community meetings on the plan were held around the state last year and earlier this year. “The number one thing we heard was the need for storage,” Roberts said. “If we can’t capture and hold the water we have, we are hurting ourselves.” The next question is how to pay for storage projects. “That’s where the fighting begins,” she said.

The water plan needs more specifics on recommended actions, Roberts said. And after the Gold King spill of toxic mine waste, it needs something about water quality threats from abandoned mines.

The 470-plus page plan is being done by the Colorado Water Conservation Board and is supposed to be presented to the governor by Dec. 10. It’s available on-line at http://www.coloradowaterplan.com.

Colorado River Basin including Mexico, USBR May 2015
Colorado River Basin including Mexico, USBR May 2015

Final draft of #COWaterPlan will push action — Fort Collins Coloradoan

Barker Meadows Dam Construction
Barker Meadows Dam Construction

From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Jacy Marmaduke):

The Colorado Water Plan, more than two years in the making, reached the end of its final public comment period last week. Now, the Colorado Water Conservation Board is combing through an estimated 26,000 comments with the intent to respond to them and prepare a final draft for the Dec. 10 due date.

The hardest part, board members and water wonks say, will be whittling down the second draft’s 16-page list of goals into a shortlist of action items. The goals were derived from eight regional “basin implementation plans.”[…]

It’s too early to tell exactly which action items will make the cut for the final draft, but Eklund said it will prioritize conservation – the point at which every water conversation must start, as Gov. John Hickenlooper likes to say — and storage.

The plan will be action-oriented, Eklund said, although the document can’t directly instigate action. That power lies in the hands of Hickenlooper, government agencies and the Colorado Legislature. New water projects will need regional coordination and funding.

Fort Collins is part of the South Platte River Basin, which also includes Boulder, Windsor and Greeley. The South Platte Basin worked with the Metro Basin – Denver – to come up with a basin implementation plan.

The basin goals include:

  • Initiating new water storage projects, especially ones that integrate the South Platte River
  • Finding alternatives to buy-and-dry, or the municipal purchase of farm land for water use
  • Instilling stricter requirements for efficiency in plumbing fixtures, appliances and landscaping to conserve water
  • There’s one thing the final plan won’t include: a transmountain diversion project. The second draft included seven tough criteria for evaluating proposals for those kinds of projects, and none of the basin plans advocated for one…

    The [CWCB] wanted the plan to present a wide range of viewpoints in language that “you don’t need to be a Ph.D. water scientist to understand.”

    From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Nick Coltrain):

    Fort Collins’ state legislators will host a forum on the Colorado Water Plan on Saturday.

    The forum will include a panel discussion with local water experts and presentations. Time for audience questions, comments and ideas will follow. Sen. John Kefalas, and Reps. Joann Ginal and Jeni Arndt, all Democrats, will host the event.

    The free event will run from 10:30 a.m. until noon Saturday at the Old Town Library, 201 Peterson St., Fort Collins.

    Fryingpan-Arkansas Project operations update: Surplus supply going into water year 2016

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    What to do with all the water?

    The Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District tackled the question Thursday by approving additional allocations requested by cities and farms in the Arkansas Valley.

    But more than half of additional water brought in by the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project will be carried over to next year and added to next year’s allocations.

    In May, the district allocated about 46,000 acre-feet (15 billion gallons), with about one-third going to cities and two-thirds to farms. But continued wet conditions added another 22,500 acre-feet to the amount available for allocation.

    A total of 72,000 acrefeet were imported, but some of it goes for other obligations or to account for losses.

    Wet conditions and the way water has to be delivered or accounted for cut down on demand for the additional water, Executive Director Jim Broderick explained.
    Most cities had plenty of water in storage and not many places to store additional water.

    “A lot of people were at their limit and not making request,” Broderick said. “It’s been a wet year and there is no place to put the water. Everything got full.”

    The big exception was the Pueblo Board of Water Works, which did not take any water from the first allocation. Pueblo Water took 6,500 acre-feet. All told, cities added 8,200 acre-feet to their supplies.

    The large canal companies downstream did not jump at all of the additional water either, because there was no way to store it for when it would be needed. About 2,600 acre-feet were allocated during the second round.

    That still leaves about 11,700 acre-feet that was brought over from the Fryingpan River basin through the Boustead Tunnel into Turquoise Lake for later distribution in the Arkansas River basin.

    “It will be applied to the first allocation next year,” Broderick said. “My guess is that a lot of the water is going to be available to agriculture.”

    That could create a problem even with average moisture next spring, raising the possibility that water stored in excess capacity, or if-and-when accounts, could spill.

    About 55,000 acre-feet of if-and-when water is stored in Lake Pueblo now, about one-quarter of the water in the reservoir.

    Some winter water could also spill, if the amount exceeds 70,000 acre-feet. About 24,000 acre-feet are now in storage. However, winter water could be stored downstream as well.

    Turquoise and Twin Lakes are nearly storing at capacity. Lake Pueblo is at 80 percent of capacity, but 145 percent of average for this time of year, according to Roy Vaughan, manager of the Fry-Ark Project for the Bureau of Reclamation.

    If water conditions are typical, 26,000 acre-feet could spill next spring, but it is too soon to make an accurate prediction, Vaughan said. But he said most forecasts are calling for at least 100 percent of snowpack.

    “Part of the question is are we bringing water in and using it that year, or are we storing it?” Broderick said. “For the past few years, we have been using other water and storing (Fry-Ark) water.”

    Fryingpan-Arkansas Project via the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District
    Fryingpan-Arkansas Project via the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District

    #COWaterPlan: The Mesa County Commissioners approve resolution directed at TMDs

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

    [Scott McInnis] joined with commissioners Rose Pugliese and John Justman in approving a resolution of support for a provision of the proposed Colorado water plan calling for all affected counties to participate in proposals to send water to the Front Range.

    The resolution was approved in time to meet a Thursday deadline to comment on the statewide plan, which is to be complete in December.

    Several provisions in the resolution mirror others adopted by West Slope counties such as Routt, Ouray and Garfield, in calling for support of the framework for consideration of transmountain diversions.

    Among those provisions is one warning that “it would be unrealistic to look for any significant new supplies of water for the East Slope from the Colorado River as a primary source. Any further depletion of water from the Colorado River increases the risk of a compact curtailment.”

    Diversions of water in Colorado could be reduced or prohibited at the demand of downstream states should they not get their allotted water supplies from the river under a 1922 compact governing the operation of the river.

    The East Slope, which diverts as much as 600,000 acre-feet of water per year from the West Slope, should share in any reduction of diversions, West Slope officials and water managers have said…

    Steve Acquafresca, a former Mesa County commissioner and fruitgrower in Grand Junction, urged the commission to support the resolution saying the West Slope should take advantage of the willingness of the East Slope to agree to the provisions protecting the West Slope.

    Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer's office
    Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer’s office

    #COWaterPlan: “It’s a step in the right direction, but there’s still not much there in there” — Peter Nichols

    LadyDragonflyCC -- Creative Commons, Flickr
    LadyDragonflyCC — Creative Commons, Flickr

    From the Colorado Independent (Susan Greene):

    Colorado needs a mother lode of water by 2050 – as much, in fact, as it takes to serve about 2 million people.

    As our climate changes and population keeps soaring, the future looks scary dry.
    That’s why Gov. John Hickenlooper wants the state’s first-ever statewide water plan in place by December.

    In question is where to glean more water, who would pay for it, and how to avoid an all-out water war in a state where the Continental Divide isn’t just a hydrological contour, but also a battle line.

    When The Colorado Independent last reported on the making of the plan in July, the first draft offered no specific answers. Now there’s a second draft that puts forth a litany of concepts state officials are touting as “win-win solutions.”

    “Assembling such a plan, one that outlines numerous feasible steps the state, water providers and water users can take, is unprecedented in Colorado and represents a major step forward for our state,” Hickenlooper’s spokeswoman Kathy Green wrote in an email this week.

    Several key water experts are unimpressed, lobbing the same criticisms about the second draft as they did about the first.

    They say the revised, 416-page document still is less of a plan than a water study — a detailed account of the struggles faced by water users throughout the state, painstakingly compiled by an administration more interested in making everyone feel heard than in making tough decisions.

    With 13 days [September 17] left for the public to comment, critics say the plan still lacks priorities and actionable specifics and that it fails to address the most practical question – how to pay for solutions. They’re also disappointed that it sets no clear expectations for how much, statewide, all of Colorado’s water users should be conserving.

    “It’s a step in the right direction, but there’s still not much there in there,” said water lawyer Peter Nichols, one of Hickenlooper’s appointees to Colorado’s Interbasin Compact Committee, a statewide water working group.

    “There are a lot of platitudes and clichés and nice words like ‘foster,’ ‘develop,’ ‘encourage,’ and ‘coordinate’ in this draft. But those aren’t action words. Those words won’t carry us. They’re not going to meet our water needs for 2050.”

    A “back-of-the-napkin analysis”?

    If, as the old adage goes, water runs uphill to money, the slope is especially steep in Colorado. Maintaining current water storage and delivery systems and keeping up with climate change and continued growth will, according to the state, cost $20 billion over the next 35 years.

    The problem with that amount isn’t just that it’s ginormous. It’s unclear what the $20 billion would buy.

    Colorado Water Conservation Board director James Eklund mentions the figure often in meetings and public appearances. Yet, when pressed for specifics, he says it’s just “a back-of-the-napkin analysis.”

    According to the water plan, the $20 billion would pay for projects that have been deemed necessary in each of the state’s eight river basins. Yet, the costs for nearly half those projects are still listed on the plan as “forthcoming.”

    “It’s all very much a work in progress,” Eklund said.

    Colorado’s water chief is a tall, carefully coiffed and nattily dressed Stanford graduate who comes from a family of Western Slope cattle operators. He’s well versed in the practicalities and legalities of western water use, and seemingly at ease with the plodding pace of policy reform. He served as Hickenlooper’s senior deputy legal counsel before being appointed to lead the state on water.
    Eklund lauds his boss for “spending the political capitol” to order Colorado’s first statewide water plan rather than, like other governors, taking a pass on one of the state’s most touchy issues.

    “There are people in the water community that said you say the word(s) ‘state water plan’ and that’s toxic, that’s a third rail, you can’t touch that,” he said.

    “(Hickenlooper) said I need the white paper on water. We all looked at each other and said we don’t have one of those. He said you’ve got to be kidding me. You’ve got a business with an input as critical as water is to the bottom line of that business — you know as water is to the bottom line the state of Colorado. You would say that was unacceptable to the CEO and the board of directors. So go do it.”

    Since Hickenlooper’s executive order in December, Eklund’s staff has written and rewritten two drafts of the water plan. They’ve attended months of hearings and meetings asking what Coloradans want in their water future. And they’ve reviewed public comments from throughout the state – including, Eklund likes to note, the input of 26 high schoolers from Dolores.

    “That kind of response is something we could have only dreamed of,” he said.
    Eklund is especially proud that his staff has responded to all 25,869 public comments.

    “We’re looking really hard at each one as it comes in,” he said.

    As he tells it, the water planning process is an acme of civic engagement.
    Having amassed 25,869 public comments isn’t, in itself, a vision for how to solve the state’s water woes, seasoned water-policy makers say.

    “(They) need to sort through it, pull out what the priorities are. It’s not going to define itself,” said Denver Water chief Jim Lochhead. “A process is not a plan.”

    The need for specificity

    More details are key for Front Range business owners, Western Slope farmers and ranchers, environmentalists, water agency bosses and politicians who, like Eklund says of the Governor, also have their eyes on the bottom line. Although most agree on the need for a water plan, they differ – sometimes bitterly — about which water uses should take priority and who should bear responsibility for the projected shortfall. Without price tags, they say, there can be no meaningful discussion about funding strategies. And without funding strategies, there can be no hard look at what’s even possible.

    Several close followers of the process tell The Independent that, as much as they want to show support, they’re finding it tough to buy into a plan that serves up little more than broad concepts.

    “The plan, in fairness, offers lots of interesting information about what’s happening with water in Colorado. But it’s a water study, not a water policy and not a water plan. And that’s an important difference,” said Harris Sherman, who ran the Colorado Department of Natural Resources under Govs. Dick Lamm and Bill Ritter and recently stepped down as a top Obama appointee to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

    Eklund aims to have tackled a good portion of the state’s water solutions by the time Hickenlooper is term-limited in three years. Still, he balks when asked about upcoming agendas for water. Should Coloradans expect water bills in the legislative 2016 session? It’s too early to tell, he told The Independent. Should voters expect executive action while Hickenlooper is in office? “It’s premature for me to know,” he said.

    “You have to crawl before you can walk.”

    Hickenlooper’s office also defends the water plan, saying it’s not the point to chart a specific list of water projects or their costs.

    “…To set up that straw man is misleading,” Green wrote.

    In fact, she asserted, specifics could mess up the grassroots water planning approach Hickenlooper is committed to.

    “The state does not have the authority to determine which projects go where and, should it attempt to do so, the collaboration and cooperation upon which the water plan was so respectfully built would collapse under the weight of such top-down action,” she said. “All parties would return to their traditional corners to fight it out, as they have for decades, with the same kind of infighting that prevents the very kind of holistic approach the water plan seeks to achieve.”

    Critics counter that, in a time of climate change and rampant growth, a 416-page articulation of water goals without key financial details and actionable solutions isn’t holistic. It’s naive.

    “There’s money involved in most of the ideas set forth in there…, but you wouldn’t know it. Without clear metrics, priorities, deadlines and a sense of who’s going to do what – without all the things I’d characterize as a real plan — there’s no path forward,” Lochhead said. “There are a lot of things on that list – including the funding – that, in my view, are unrealistic.”

    “What can we actually do in three years?” state Water Conservation Board member John McClow asked at the July meeting. “The list needs to be more realistic.”

    Who should pay? And how?

    Eklund’s team has topped its list of “Potential Future Funding Opportunities” with the following: “A federal/state partnership similar to the Central Arizona Project” and “A federal/state partnership similar to the California State Water Project.”

    Both are vast water delivery systems launched during the late- and mid- Cold War era, respectively, when the federal government used to pay for dams, pipelines and other projects that made Western deserts bloom.

    Emulating those partnerships is unlikely now that the Bureau of Reclamation and Army Corps of Engineers no longer have the budgets or mandates for projects that would be as legally risky and expensive as they are politically divisive. The feds aren’t in the business of building massive water projects any more.

    “Maybe Colorado didn’t get the memo,” said Pat Mulroy, a Nevada-based water expert with the Brookings Institution.

    Funding is more likely to come from the private sector — whose resources can be limited – and from the state and municipal public sectors, mainly though tax or water rate increases.

    In an effort to “identify and determine a path to develop a new viable public source of funding,” the water plan cites ways to glean $10 million here and $40 million there through various grant projects and government partnerships. The plan also suggests a container fee ballot measure that could generate about $100 million a year.

    But, in the $20 billion scheme of things, that’s chump change.

    Besides, counting on voter-backed funding can be risky. In 2000, Coloradans resoundingly rejected Referendum A, an effort to raise $2 billion for water projects. More recently, they’ve chewed up and spit out measures to raise taxes for transportation and education – both issues that poll higher than water among most Coloradans.

    Even if voters could be persuaded to back a water tax, policy constraints such as the Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR) could stand in the way. The current water plan overlooks Colorado’s knot of fiscal caps – an issue planners say they’ll be adding to the final draft.

    Water utilities point out that because their customers already pay for water projects through monthly water rates, they’d be paying double through a tax increase.

    “A statewide funding initiative, in my assessment, it’s not doable,” Lochhead said. “People aren’t likely to support paying twice.

    Lochhead said Denver Water’s board would be willing to consider asking its 1.3 million customers to fund more delivery systems, reuse projects and conservation efforts to help stave off a shortfall. Problem is, he pointed out, he hasn’t been approached by state officials about the prospect of making such an ask. Neither had two other water agency bosses interviewed for this story.

    As the gatekeepers of the most promising source of money in the state, water bosses wonder whom if not them the administration is so intent on collaborating with.

    East v. West

    The tension underpinning Colorado’s water situation is largely between urban and agricultural users. Although, by virtue of their populations, cities and suburbs have more money and political clout, agricultural communities generally have the upper hand because their water rights are usually older, giving them higher priority for Colorado’s dwindling water supplies.

    Farming and ranching communities – especially those on the Western Slope with rights to Colorado River water – long have fought efforts by city folk to grab their water, pump it east through the mountains and fuel growth along the Front Range. More recently, environmentalists hoping to keep more water from being siphoned out of the at-risk river have echoed the Western Slope battle cry — “Not one more drop!”

    That leaves sprawling Front Range cities and suburbs straining to live within their means. The well known “Use only what you need” campaign by Denver Water, the state’s biggest municipal water supplier, is one of many efforts that has been able to slash municipal water use.

    It comes as no surprise that the water plan, in its second draft released in July, is calling for city dwellers and businesses to conserve water in hopes of saving 400,000 acre-feet per year. (An acre-foot is enough to serve two to three households per year at current water use rates.) The plan calls for “medium-level conservation” – meaning, presumably, saving more water than residents and businesses currently are conserving, but not so much that it hurts. Eklund’s team calls it a “stretch goal,” which is financial-speak for a way of challenging people to reconsider what they thought was possible.

    The conservation plan is a goal, not a requirement. It’s voluntary.

    Nobody seems to question cities’ need to keep conserving more water. Several water insiders do, however, question whether 400,000 acre-feet could actually be gleaned by urging city dwellers and suburbanites to cut back their laundry loads and backyard sprinkling. They also question whether the conservation policy is fair.

    Even though municipalities serve about 86 percent of Coloradans, they only consume about 2 percent of the state’s water. Agriculture uses between 85 and 90 percent.

    The water plan doesn’t set clear expectations for farmers and ranchers to conserve. Their water rights allow them to tap however much water they can put to what’s called “beneficial use.” If they use less, the water goes to the next user – and so on. So, as things stand, there’s a legal disincentive for agricultural users to cut back.

    This doesn’t sit right with many city folks, especially knowing how much water goes wasted by inefficient techniques such as the use of unlined dirt irrigation ditches and canals.

    “There’s no question that in other parts of the world, agriculture uses much less water,” Sherman said. “Things can be done. Improvements can be made.”

    After reading the plan, Patricia Wells, the Colorado Water Conservation Board member representing Denver, said, “I was struck by the disparity of how we treat agriculture and how we treat the people of Colorado.”

    “The only mandates in this plan are all about people.”

    Calls for broader conservation are coming from unlikely players – the business community rather than from environmentalists.

    At the state board’s July meeting about the plan in Ignacio, representatives from environmental groups praised the conservation goals as is and commended the plan’s commitment to keeping water in rivers to protect environmental and recreational flows.

    “I’m here with two messages – that of appreciation and encouragement,” Bart Miller, a river expert with Western Resources Advocates, told Eklund and his board. “As it progresses, we’re seeing more details, really good things…”

    The Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, in the meantime, is strongly urging that conservation goals apply statewide — including to agriculture—rather than just to certain sectors.

    “We want to make sure that all sides are giving,” said Mizraim Cordero, the Chamber’s vice president of public affairs. “I think there’s still room for more discussion about what goals are achievable by agriculture.”

    Eklund notes that there’s a big difference between residential and agricultural conservation because water rights are property rights in Colorado.

    “They’re running businesses in agriculture. They’re not doing it because it’s fun… They’re doing it to make money. If you’re telling them they’ve got to add a line item to their balance sheet that they didn’t otherwise anticipate, they’re going to ask you who’s paying for that. And right now, we’re not doing that,” he said.

    Given the vastly disproportionate amount of water used by farms and ranches, Colorado isn’t likely to overcome its shortfall without arrangements between agriculture and utilities.

    All too often, those arrangements have meant farmers selling off their land and water rights to cities. That practice, known as “buying and drying,” has left wide swaths of the state deserted. Crowley County, for example, once had more than 50,000 irrigated acres and now has only 5,000.

    “When we sold our water, we sold our future,” a local town clerk told The Independent in July.

    Hickenlooper has made it clear that preserving Colorado’s agricultural tradition needs to be a keystone of the water plan.

    The easiest way forward would be if farmers and ranchers could directly market some of their water to utilities. But the “consumptive use” doctrine underlying water law blocks such deals because they put agricultural water rights in jeopardy. If farmers aren’t directly using their water, they risk losing it.

    Several top water officials and political leaders have been urging Hickenlooper, in his plan, to enable a market-based system that removes legal barriers. The idea behind so-called “alternative transfer mechanisms” is that farms would step up conservation if cities, through innovative funding, could subsidize efficiency efforts and glean the water savings on a short-term basis. Farmers, in turn, would be assured protection from losing their long-term water rights.

    It would be tricky. But it’s doable. Similar deals have been struck in California, which is under crisis with a severe drought. The point in Colorado is to avert a crisis before our next dry spell hits.

    “If Hickenlooper wants to make this a priority of this administration, he has limited time to start getting things done,” Lochhead said.

    Chiming in

    The public has until Thursday, September 17 to submit comments on the water plan.

    “We’re waiting with bated breath and open ears. We’re all ears,” Eklund said.
    Russell George, former speaker of Colorado’s House and Gov. Bill Owens’ natural resources chief who’s vice chair of the water board, said there’s “a beauty in itself” in the outpouring of civic participation.

    “I don’t feel the need for any of us to get hung up on the plan piece of this thing,” he has told The Independent.

    But, given the looming shortfall, stakeholders are, indeed, “hung up” — and making sure to speak out while the administration is listening.

    Environmental groups and their members are urging the administration to hone criteria for which of the 81 currently proposed “critical actions” are truly critical and should take priority. “Our thought is that it doesn’t really give enough detail such that you could take a giant list of projects and push them through,” Miller said.

    Several water experts are pressing Hickenlooper hard to end the stalemate between the Front Range and Western Slope over using extra Colorado River water when it’s available. The water plan proposes a conceptual framework for how negotiations between the two sides should go. But it offers no concrete solutions.

    “That’s where the plan falls short and where the state needs to get creative and ambitious and take a leadership role in actually brokering a deal,” said Nichols who, as a member of the committee that oversees compacts between Colorado’s distrusting river basins, has seen deal after deal blow up. “There are discussions going on about putting more meat on the bones before December and how to implement a meaningful plan, maybe by changing some laws.”

    The business community is trying to galvanize its members to read the plan and chime in. The Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce is pressing for specifics about costs and what, if anything, Hickenlooper will do to prod agriculture to measurably cut back.

    “We commend that the Governor has made water a major priority and has moved the ball. But we definitely encourage him and other leaders to continue (giving) specificity to help carry things out,” said the Chamber’s Cordero.

    Is he confident that’ll happen by final draft in December?

    Said Cordero: “I’m not going to answer that one.”

    @EcoFlight: Flight Across America 2015 #ColoradoRiver #drought #COWaterPlan


    From the EcoFlight website:

    Project Overview

    EcoFlight’s Flight Across America program dynamically engages college students about environmental issues, using a broad range of perspectives, both aerial and on the ground, to bring attention to pressing conservation issues. Students learn how such issues impact their lives and the world around them, and how to personally participate in advocacy work. Through the aerial perspective and discussions with diverse stakeholders and experts on the ground, EcoFlight offers a tangible educational experience, engaging students in the complexities of environmental issues throughout the West. It is our hope that by offering students the opportunity to delve deeply into issues central to the West, they become better prepared to participate in meaningful discussions public lands and advocate for their beliefs, as the next generation of leaders.

    Flight Across America 2015 will focus on water conservation concerns in the West, emphasizing the crucial role water plays in sustaining life, and the mega drought happening in many states across the West. The program provides an excellent learning environment for students, combining the aerial perspective of the role of water in the health of ecosystems and how watersheds connect landscapes, with on-the-ground discussions of the impact of energy development, urban planning, recreation and agriculture on our water resources. The Colorado River Basin is in its 14th year of drought, and water is a top concern for population centers and agriculture. We will discuss the coping mechanisms of multiple states in the West, as they plan for the future in an attempt to balance an already over-allocated water supply with growing domestic demand. Climate models are predicting an even drier future, with sustained periods of sparse precipitation and significant loss of soil moisture that span generations, about 10 times as long as a normal three-year drought. In the face of these “mega-droughts” it is imperative that we begin thinking in terms of the future and not just the present for water management in the West.

    In a five-day tour of four states, FLAA 2015 will engage college students with diverse conservation concerns of water in the West. EcoFlight will provide aerial tours of water storage and diversion projects, over energy development (both fossil fuel and renewable), over agriculture, and wild landscapes, and watersheds that are vulnerable to drought and water-loss. On the ground students will meet with diverse stakeholders – planners, public officials, conservation groups, sportsmen, energy industry representatives, Native Americans, recreationists and journalists to discuss the different and often competing interests in water and water conservation.

    Colorado River Basin including Mexico, USBR May 2015
    Colorado River Basin including Mexico, USBR May 2015

    Jennifer Gimbel and Pat Mulroy are the featured speakers at the 2015 #ColoradoRiver District seminar

    Herbert Hoover presides over the signing of the Colorado River Compact in November 1922.  (Courtesy U.S. Department of Interior, Bureau of Reclamation)
    Herbert Hoover presides over the signing of the Colorado River Compact in November 1922. (Courtesy U.S. Department of Interior, Bureau of Reclamation)

    Here’s the release from the Colorado River Water Conservancy District via Jim Pokrandt:

    Two of the most important women in Western water leadership will be addressing the Colorado River District’s popular Annual Water Seminar in Grand Junction, Colo., that takes place Thursday, Sept. 10, 2015, from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at the Two Rivers Convention Center.

    Headlining the event are Jennifer Gimbel, the Assistant Secretary for Water and Science, the U.S. Department of the Interior; and Pat Mulroy, Senior Fellow for Climate Adaptation and Environmental Policy at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas’ Brookings Mountain West, as well as a senior fellow in the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program in Washington, D.C. She retired in 2014 as General Manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority.

    Ms. Gimbel is well known in Colorado for her work as director at the Colorado Water Conservation Board before she moved to federal positions with the Department of the Interior that culminated with her ascendency to the post that oversees the Bureau of Reclamation, the U.S. Geological Survey and Colorado River administration. Ms. Mulroy oversaw the Southern Nevada Water Authority for 21 years where she got results as well as headlines in positioning Las Vegas for growth in the face of limited water supply.

    The theme of the seminar is: “Will What’s Happening in California Stay in California?” Cost of the seminar, which includes lunch, is $30 if pre-registered by Friday, Sept. 4, $40 at the door. Register at the River District’s website: http://www.ColoradoRiverDistrict.org. Call Meredith Spyker at 970-945-8522 to pay by credit card.

    The day’s speakers will draw an arc of water supply and policy concern from the Pacific to Colorado, looking at the basics of climate and weather generated by the Pacific, dire drought in California and what that means to the interior West, the still-on-the-horizon planning to deal with low reservoir levels at Lakes Powell and Mead, and finally, an analysis of Colorado’s Water Plan, still in draft form.

    Klaus Wolter, a pre-eminent analyst of El Nino-La Nina conditions in the Pacific will preview the growing El Nino conditions and what they will mean for snowpack this winter. He is a research scientist at the NOAA Earth System Research Laboratory’s Physical Sciences Division in Boulder and world renowned in his field.

    Also at the seminar, Colorado River District staff will speak to its policy initiative that new paradigm in Colorado Water Planning is how to protect existing uses, especially irrigated agriculture in Western Colorado, in the face of diminishing supplies and potential demand management necessities. Issues of planning for new transmountain diversion (TMD) remains a big focal point in Colorado’s Water Plan, but it is drought and reservoir levels that will command the system before a TMD can be honestly contemplated.

    Other speakers will address irrigated agriculture’s role in water planning, efficiency and conservation planning and financing and more.