‘Colorado’s Conceptual Framework’ included in #COWaterPlan — Aspen Journalism

Hand wheel Brent Gardner Smith/Aspen Journalism

From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith):

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

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

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

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

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

In its introduction to the framework in Chapter 8, the water plan recognizes that “a long-standing controversial issue in Colorado is the development of water supply from the Colorado River system for use on the eastern slope. It is controversial because of supply gaps, environmental health, compact compliance, and other issues.”

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

Some of the framework in the River House on the San Juan River.
Some of the framework in the River House on the San Juan River.

The principles

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

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

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

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

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

The end of the tunnel that brings water from Hunter Creek to the Fryingpan River drainage, and then on to the eastern slope.
The end of the tunnel that brings water from Hunter Creek to the Fryingpan River drainage, and then on to the eastern slope.


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

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

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

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

“In its BIP, the Colorado Basin Roundtable points out the variability in hydrology, stating that TMDs ‘should be the last “tool” considered as a water supply solution, once the many and complex questions are addressed over hydrology,'” the plan says.

On the other side of the divide, the water plan says that “in the South Platte/Metro basin implementation plan, the roundtable advocates to ‘simultaneously advance the consideration and preservation of new Colorado River supply options.’”

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

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

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

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

A heron at rest along the bank of the Colorado River.
A heron at rest along the bank of the Colorado River.


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

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

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

Upper Lake Powell, October 2014.
Upper Lake Powell, October 2014.

The seven principles in the conceptual framework

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gears on the top of the dam that forms Lost Man Reservoir, part of the diversion system on the upper Roaring Fork River headwaters.
Gears on the top of the dam that forms Lost Man Reservoir, part of the diversion system on the upper Roaring Fork River headwaters.

Major Transmountain Diversions in Colorado*

Grand River Ditch 18,000 AFY

Adams Tunnel 226,000 AFY

Moffat Tunnel 55,000 AFY

Roberts Tunnel 62,000 AFY

Blue Mountain Project 9,000 AFY

Homestake Tunnel 25,000 AFY

Busk Ivanhoe Tunnel 5,100

Boustead Tunnel 56,000 AFY

Twin Lakes Tunnel 41,000 AFY

San Juan-Chama Project 83,000 AFY

Aurora Homestake Pipeline 16,000 AFY

* Source: Colorado Water Plan

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism is collaborating with The Aspen Times and the Glenwood Springs Post Independent on coverage of rivers and water.

Bart Miller: Giving thanks for a #COWaterPlan

From the Boulder Daily Camera (Bart Miller):

There is much to be thankful for in our lives. This is especially true for Colorado’s rivers. We fish, boat, picnic, hike, swim and enjoy their serenity. The good news is the Colorado Water Plan is the first time the state has put together a plan for how to address water in Colorado, and it sets a course to ensure that all our kids and grandkids can enjoy thriving Colorado rivers for years to come.

So we raise our glasses to Gov. Hickenlooper and the Colorado Water Conservation Board for adopting a Colorado Water Plan on Nov. 19 that includes many strong elements! This is an important step forward on future water management.

We are extremely pleased that the new water plan sets the first-ever statewide water conservation goal. The Colorado Water Plan sets a goal of conserving 400,000 acre-feet of water by 2050, which is a nearly 1 percent annual reduction in per person water use in our cities and towns. This is a very doable and cost-effective strategy to stretch our existing water supplies, relying on innovation and new best practices that can maintain our high quality of life. This is a common sense approach and a key element for state water management.

Second, the water plan proposes annual funding for healthy rivers, creating ongoing financial support for river assessments and projects that help make our rivers resilient. For too long our state has been overly focused on pipes and concrete to move water around — and not on the impacts to our rivers. We have a $9 billion recreation industry in Colorado that relies on healthy rivers, and our own joy and happiness require healthy rivers. So it’s great to see the plan make a solid down payment toward future river health.

Finally, we applaud that the new plan makes large, new river diversions from the Western Slope to the Front Range highly unlikely. A framework presented in the plan about how to make decisions on these projects will help ensure the expense, time and alternative approaches are thoroughly considered. There are cheaper, faster and better ways to meet our water needs than piping water west to east over the Rockies.

James Eklund and Governor Hickenlooper roll out the Colorado Water Plan, Thursday, November 19, 2015 via The Colorado Independent
James Eklund and Governor Hickenlooper roll out the Colorado Water Plan, Thursday, November 19, 2015 via The Colorado Independent

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

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Greg Walcher):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“We’re pleased that the #COWaterPlan recognizes that healthy rivers are central to Colorado’s quality of life” — David Nickum

The Western Slope headwaters of the Yampa River, which legally still has water that could be put to beneficial use on the Front Range.
The Western Slope headwaters of the Yampa River, which legally still has water that could be put to beneficial use on the Front Range.

Here’s the release from Colorado Trout Unlimited:

Trout Unlimited praised the final Colorado Water Plan unveiled today by the Colorado Water Conservation Board, saying that it recognizes the key role that healthy rivers and streams play in sustaining the state’s economy and quality of life.

“We’re pleased that the Colorado Water Plan recognizes that healthy rivers are central to Colorado’s quality of life and help drive our booming, $13 billion recreation economy,” said David Nickum, executive director of Colorado Trout Unlimited. “If we want a future of Gold Medal trout rivers and outdoor opportunities, we need to plan for that future—and this plan is a step in the right direction.”

“Instead of fighting over a dwindling resource, with winners and losers, Coloradans should work together to find solutions that meet all of our diverse needs, from agriculture and industry to recreation and the environment. Collaboration is key,” said Drew Peternell, director of TU’s Colorado Water Project. “There are a number of concepts highlighted in the Water Plan that could lead Colorado to a better water future.”

Trout Unlimited pointed to three specific features of the Water Plan that, if adequately supported and funded by state lawmakers, will help protect Colorado’s rivers and sustain our economy:

1. The Water Plan calls for irrigation modernization.

Across Colorado, TU is a leader in working with ranchers and farmers on innovative irrigation modernization projects that improve water delivery while protecting river flows and habitat. “We are pleased that the plan recognizes the benefit of modernizing irrigation infrastructure,” said Peternell. “But ranchers and farmers need support and incentives to undertake these improvements.”

TU called on the Colorado General Assembly to provide increased funding for irrigation modernization and innovation projects and to enact substantive legislation to facilitate these projects.

Peternell noted that water rights are valuable property interests, and TU strongly believes that agricultural producers who use their water rights to improve stream flows should be compensated for doing so. “We look forward to working with state lawmakers, the CWCB and other stakeholders to promote irrigation modernization and innovation during the plan implementation,” said Peternell.

“We need to get money to the ground for good projects,” he added. “That’s the next challenge—moving from good ideas to on-the-ground action.”

2. The Water Plan encourages local communities to create stream management plans.

TU also praised the plan for encouraging local communities to create stream management plans (SMPs). SMPs will help stakeholders gain a better understanding of the stream flows necessary to support river health and recreational uses of water, while continuing to meet other water uses. Healthy flow levels can be integrated into community-driven water plans that meet diverse water needs.

“Steam management plans bring local water users together to determine how best to use limited water resources,” Peternell said. “They are an exercise in collaboration.”

TU applauded the CWCB and General Assembly for setting aside funding for SMPs through the 2015 projects bill. However, the $1 million currently earmarked will not be sufficient for these important plans in coming years. TU calls on the CWCB and General Assembly to increase funding for SMPs in future years.

The Water Plan establishes a framework for evaluating proposed trans-mountain diversions of water.
TU is also pleased that the Water Plan contains a “Conceptual Framework” for evaluating new proposed diversions of water from one basin to another. TU believes that the Conceptual Framework should prevent unnecessary, river-damaging trans-mountain diversions (TMDs).

TU has argued that Colorado should reject all new TMDs unless the project proponent (1) is employing high levels of conservation; (2) demonstrates that water is available for the project; and (3) makes commitments that guarantee against environmental or economic harm to the basin of origin.

The Colorado Water Plan, requested by Gov. Hickenlooper in 2013, is the product of more than two years of public meetings, thousands of public comments and eight Basin Implementation Plans. Trout Unlimited staff and volunteers have been actively involved throughout the Colorado Water Plan process, submitting comments and helping shape Basin Implementation Plans. Through its Our Colorado River program, TU has helped unite tens of thousands of Coloradans around core water values such as collaboration, infrastructure modernization, and conserving healthy rivers and streams.

While the final plan contains a host of strong ideas, TU said that implementing these good ideas will be the true measure of success.

“The Final Water Plan is a beginning not an end,” said Nickum. “The key to Colorado’s water future will be actual on-the-ground collaboration to meet our water needs while protecting our state’s rivers and agricultural heritage.”

Colorado transmountain diversions via the University of Colorado
Colorado transmountain diversions via the University of Colorado

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

Blue River
Blue River

From the Summit Daily News (Kevin Fixler):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.”