Saving the Fraser River — Grand Water #ColoradoRiver

From the Sky-Hi Daily News (Lance Maggart):

Drive around Grand County for a little while and you’ll notice our profusion of bumper stickers with slogans admonishing you to “Save the Fraser River”.

For many folks in the valley their bumper stickers are a sign of solidarity but for others such statements are more than mere words, they represents a visceral call to action. The issues and obstacles that confront the Fraser River are deeply rooted and solutions can be difficult to agree on, let alone implement. The Fraser River and its tributaries experience what is called an altered flow regime, meaning the natural stream flows of the river have been altered. According to Kirk Klancke, President of the Colorado River Headwaters Chapter of Trout Unlimited located in Grand County, currently around 60 percent of the native flows of the Fraser River are diverted out of the valley.

“One of the problems is the stream bed is native but the flows are not,” Klancke said. “Over half are diverted out of the Fraser valley. When you have diminished flows like that the stream loses its velocity. The river needs enough velocity to flush sediment out of the rocks on the bottom.That is where the macroinvertebrate life is.”

Macroinvertebrate life, or bugs, live within the voids in the rocks on the bottom of the river, Klancke said. As the river loses its velocity the flows are not able to flush the sediment out from the rocks and the amount of bug habitat is diminished, which has a corresponding effect on the amount of bug life on the river. The amount of bug life on the river has a direct correlation to the amount of fish within the river.

The reduced native stream flows also have a strong impact on the temperature levels within the streams and rivers. “When you have diminished flows the stream becomes wide and shallow and it heats up in ways it never did before,” said Klancke. “Seventy degrees is the limit trout can withstand. We are seeing temps in some places higher than that.”

In an effort to address both of these issues several western slope interests along with eastern slope diverters such as Denver Water have partnered together to form a group called Learning by Doing. Learning by Doing is a cooperative group that seeks to address the environmental impact concerns of Grand County organizations while still providing sustained diversion of water to the Front Range. The group has been developing project ideas and in the fall of 2016 they expect to begin a large rechanneling project on the Fraser River called the Fraser Flats Habitat Project.

Project organizers are planning to rechannel approximately half a mile of the Fraser River on the Fraser Flats, just outside of the Town of Fraser. The works is being done on a section of the river owned by Devil’s Thumb Ranch. So far around $100,000 have been raised to fund the project with roughly half of those funds coming from Denver Water and the other half coming from Devil’s Thumb Ranch. Trout Unlimited also has a $5,000 grant they will apply to the project, allowing for an additional 135 feet of rechanneling.

“The idea of rechanneling is to match the stream bed to the stream flows,” said Klancke. “We create a channel within a channel.”

In the simplest terms the rechanneling work is accomplished by physically digging a deeper channel within the center of the existing streambed where water can recede to at low flow times. The new channel provides a deeper and narrower pathway for the stream to follow, increasing the velocity of water while also decreasing temperatures. The work must be performed carefully so as not to damage the natural streambed either. The native streambed remains essential for allowing larger flows of water during spring runoff. Along with digging a new channel within the Fraser River workers will also move and adjust rocks to create a healthy ratio of riffles to pools within the river.

The collaborative project is the first from the Learning by Doing group and represents a very exciting step forward for people like Klancke who spoke highly of Denver Water and that organizations willingness to engage in the process and work to further the proposed actions. Denver Water CEO/Manager Jim Lochhead echoed his views.

“The most exciting aspect to this project is that all the parties to Learning by Doing are beginning work before it is technically required under the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement,” Lochhead stated. “This is due in large part to the partnerships and relationships that have developed over the past few years, and the value we place on the environmental resources in Grand County. We don’t want to lose momentum, and the fact that Devil’s Thumb Ranch, Trout Unlimited and others in the county have stepped up to move this effort forward is a great indication of our common commitment. We look forward to continuing to work with our partners to enhance the health of the aquatic environment in Grand County.”

Learning by Doing plans to put the rechanneling project out for bidding in mid Jan. and hope to have a contractor chosen by the end of Feb. Work on the project is expected to begin in the fall of 2016.

Water Storage a Critical Question for Climate Adaptation — Circle of Blue #COP21

From Circle of Blue (Brett Walton):

Water advocates have repeatedly clamored for recognition that climate adaptation is about shifting hydrological cycles. In Paris, they are beginning to see results. But Paris is not where adaptation will take place. Fortifying modern society against the destructive potential of a new climate falls on the shoulders of public officials in countless cities, counties, and districts in countries rich and poor. In Denver and Dallas just as in Delhi and Dhaka.

Water managers have much to think about, and the considerations vary by region. Indian cities are still trying to provide 24-hours-a-day water service to their citizens, while American counterparts are encouraging residents to use less. Still, one issue more than any other is likely to dominate the water adaption discussion in the coming decades: storage. That is, how to smooth out climate irregularities into a reliable, steady water supply.

Storage is a “huge topic,” says Peter Gleick, president of the Pacific Institute, a research group. Huge, because the stakes are so high. There are billions of dollars in public and private investment and engineering contracts in play. California voters, for instance, approved $US 2.7 billion last year to spend on storage projects. There is potential conflict between old practices and new ideas. Dams and reservoirs are the tried-and-true storage method. A suite of alternatives is available but they have been tested in only a few parts of the world.

The questions are many: build new dams, increase the capacity of existing facilities, or change how they are managed? Emphasize small dams or large ones or none at all? Is underground storage an option? Where are the best locations? Must laws and policies be altered? How does conservation fit in? The questions are not only a matter of engineering. They also reflect deep and serious debates about social, environmental, economic, and political values.

Dams Set the Stage

In the beginning all storage was natural. Groundwater reserves were built up over millennia. Lakes formed and reformed. Domestic and economic life was molded on the seasonal cycles of rain, snow, and heat.

Soon enough, the demands of the modern era overwhelmed the natural order, in the United States in particular but also in other large economies. For settlements to grow into cities and pioneer farm plots into vast commercial enterprises, the need for regular and predictable water supplies was an urgent matter.

Manmade reservoirs were the answer. An era of dam building began in earnest in the United States in the 1930s. Fifty years later reservoir storage capacity had increased by a factor of 10. China, India, South Africa, and other countries followed. Worldwide, dams radically altered watershed ecology, drove millions from their homes, and became flashpoints for environmental and social justice movements.

Despite the drawbacks, reservoir storage helps in several ways. It provides a long-term buffer against extended drought. Dams in the Colorado River Basin, for example, hold four times the river’s average annual flow. Storage also protects communities against floods. The Portland, Oregon, waterfront would be washed away every few decades if not for the dozens of dams upstream on the Columbia River in British Columbia, Idaho, Montana, and Washington.

Storage is a critical issue today because natural systems are faltering. Groundwater reserves are being drained. Mountain snowpack is shrinking and melting sooner, leading to drier conditions later in the summer. A U.S. Geological Survey study published last month found that the peak spring river flows in the northern U.S. plains moved one to two weeks earlier over the last century.

“Climate change is going to destroy snowpack storage,” Gleick told Circle of Blue. A large body of scientific research supports the claim. Watersheds in the American West, southern Europe, the Middle East, and Central Asia that supply 2 billion people face declines in snow storage, according to a study published last month in the journal Environmental Research Letters. The snow season for several basins in the American West could shrink by two months by 2050, according to a 2014 University of Idaho study.

No single action will replace the storage that will be lost, according to Paul Fleming, manager of the climate and sustainability group at Seattle Public Utilities. That means communities must discuss the menu of options and agree on the order that works for them.

“It’s fair to say that any decision on storage needs to be rooted in the values of the location and of the people who reside there,” Fleming told Circle of Blue. Fleming was also a lead author for the adaptation chapter of the 2014 National Climate Assessment. “It’s important to think of storage not in isolation but as part of an overall strategy.”

Some regions need more storage than others — places that rely primarily on natural storage and are more exposed to the whims of weather.

“There are places where we’ve under-invested in surface storage,” Gleick said, mentioning sub-Saharan Africa as one such area. “These are places where there is a higher risk of drought and flood because they don’t have the protection that reservoirs provide.”

Dams need not be the behemoth structures that flourished in the last century and continue to be built today. Small dams can slow down rivers that are swollen from a heavy rain, hold back the water, and allow it to soak into the soil. The 2015 Stockholm Water Prize, considered the Nobel for water, went to Rajendra Singh for using such methods to restore groundwater tables in India. Singh’s organization has helped build or inspire the construction of more than 8,600 johads, or small earthen dams, in his home state of Rajasthan in the last two decades…

Using Old Dams In New Ways

Communities are also adapting by renovating old dams. Denver officials want to raise the height of Gross Reservoir, to boost storage capacity. Officials in Washington state plan to link two reservoirs in the Yakima River Basin by pipeline, to maximize storage.

Gleick points to Folsom Dam as another example of how an existing reservoir can be retrofitted to match a new climate reality. The dam, on the American River, east of Sacramento, was completed in 1956 and is operated by the federal Bureau of Reclamation. Like all dams that trap snowmelt to limit flood damage, Folsom is operated according to a set of formulas called rule curves. The curves tell managers when to transition from flood control mode, when reservoirs are emptied, to water storage mode. The shift happens in the spring, but decisions are often made with old data, Gleick said.

“We have to change those curves to reflect that the nature of storms is changing,” Gleick said.

Louis Moore, Bureau of Reclamation spokesman, told Circle of Blue that Folsom’s rule curves have been updated and that there are ongoing discussions about additional changes, to match new conditions. Paul Fleming said that Seattle is also changing how it manages its reservoirs.

Rule curves are an operational change. Reclamation is also altering Folsom’s physical structure. The agency is collaborating with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on a $US 900 million upgrade to the dam’s spillway. This will allow managers to dump water more quickly during a flood and thus store more water behind the dam.

Gross Dam enlargement concept graphic via Denver Water
Gross Dam enlargement concept graphic via Denver Water

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.”

W. SLOPE NEEDS STORAGE

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.”

‘STRETCH GOAL’

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.

CONSERVATION LIMITS?

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 http://www.aspenjournalism.org.

Feds delay decisions on new Colorado River diversions

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.

View original post 137 more words

#COWaterPlan: Even with wording changes, the basin roundtables recommend that the CWCB not adopt the framework

Alan Ward stands at the Ewing Ditch headgate
Alan Ward stands at the Ewing Ditch headgate,

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

Letters sent to the Colorado Water Conservation Board in September about the draft Colorado Water Plan reveal a range of opinions about potential new transmountain diversions and the merits of using a “conceptual framework” to evaluate them.

Various Front Range water providers and interest groups told the CWCB that the conceptual framework should not be included in the water plan, should not be a regulatory requirement, and should not apply to transmountain diversion projects already in the planning and approval stage.

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

But a number of organizations based on the Western Slope or that focus on the Colorado River basin say the framework is a good step forward.

Officials at the Getches-Wilkinson Center for Natural Resources, Energy and the Environment at the University of Colorado Boulder, for example, gave an enthusiastic endorsement of the framework.

“This is a revolutionary document and a quantum leap forward in Colorado water history,” Lawerence MacDonnell and Anne Castle, both of the Getches-Wilkinson Center, wrote in a Sept. 17 letter to the CWCB. “The conceptual framework is a critically important part of the Colorado Water Plan and should be formally adopted in the plan and by the CWCB, not just monitored.”

The final water plan is expected to be approved by the CWCB board of directors at their meeting on Nov. 19 at the History Colorado Center in Denver.

The conceptual framework includes seven principles “to guide future negotiations between proponents of a new TMD and those communities who may be affected were it built.”

The concepts covered include a recognition that there may not be water to divert in dry years, that new diversions should not increase the likelihood of a compact call from California, that municipal conservation should also be pursued and that environmental needs must be addressed.

Brent Newman, a program manager in the water supply planning section of CWCB, said Friday that the framework is going to be included in the final water plan and will be called “Colorado’s Conceptual Framework.”

“Folks may not agree with every single principle, or even with discussing the concepts of a transmountain diversion out loud, but it represents a historic milestone in Colorado water policy that’s a long way from ‘Not One More Drop’ or ‘We’ll See You in Court,’” Newman said, citing the long-held positions of the Western Slope and the Front Range, respectively.

RANGE OF VIEWS

Comments on the second draft of the water plan were due Sept. 17 and water-focused organizations filed more than 50 substantive letters.

It’s not hard to pick up on the differing views in the letters about the framework, which was developed over the last two years by members of the Interbasin Compact Committee, which serves as an executive committee for the CWCB’s nine basin roundtables.

Those who don’t think new transmountain diversions are a good idea tend to support the framework. But those who see new diversions as necessary diminish the framework’s authority and reject its potential restrictions.

Castle and MacDonnell of the Getches-Wilkinson Center clearly support the framework, but they see big problems with taking more water from the upper Colorado River basin.

The pair told the CWCB that “development of significant new Colorado River supplies increases the risk of future curtailment to all existing, post-1922 Colorado River water users, reduces the production of renewable hydropower at Colorado River Storage Project reservoirs, and could ratchet up unwelcome and counterproductive political dynamics among the Colorado River basin states.”

But officials at Colorado Springs Utilities, while aware of potential issues with downstream water users in other states, see new TMDs as a likely necessity.

M. Patrick Wells, the managing engineer for water resource planning for CSU, told the CWCB in a Sept. 17 letter that the draft water plan “consistently overlooks the fact that one or more new TMDs will ultimately need to be constructed to address Colorado’s water supply gap.”

As such, Wells said the final water plan “should contain a definitive statement that a new TMD will be constructed, even if no formal concept has been proposed.”

Wells also said CSU has “a significant concern” that adhering to the framework will become a regulatory requirement of new water projects.

The utility “strongly requests” that language be added to the water plan to “make it abundantly clear that the conceptual framework is not a statement of state policy, and is not in any way to be interpreted or construed as a basis for any conditions or requirements in any water court case, state or federal permitting process, or contract negotiation.”

The members of the Front Range Water Council agree with Colorado Springs Utilities on this point.

In its Sept. 15 letter, the council pointed to recent remarks about the framework made by John McClow, a CWCB board member from the Gunnison River basin.

“As board member McClow stated in his remarks at the summer Colorado Water Congress convention, 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 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.

MORE WATER EAST

A few organizations have told the CWCB that the framework should apply to both potential new transmountain diversions and the “firming” of existing transmountain water supplies.

Today, about 600,000 acre-feet of water a year is sent east under the Continental Divide and over 500,000 acre feet of that is diverted from headwaters in Grand, Summit, Eagle and Pitkin counties.

And another 120,000 to 140,000 acre-feet of water could be sent east after changes are made to existing transmountain diversion systems, according to the Colorado River basin roundtable.

Included in that 140,000 acre-feet figure is 20,000 acre-feet more from the Windy Gap project in Grand County, 18,000 acre-feet more from the Moffat Collection System above Winter Park, and 20,000 from the Eagle River MOU project, which potentially includes an expansion of Eagle Park Reservoir at the Climax Mine and a new dam and reservoir on lower Homestake Creek.

In addition to those, the water quality and quantity committee of the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments told the CWCB that there are other projects in the works that could send more water east, including “future Dillon Reservoir diversions, firming in the upper Roaring Fork and Fryingpan rivers, and Colorado Springs Utilities expanded diversions from the upper Blue River.”

In the language of the Colorado Water Plan, these projects already on the books are called IPPs, for “identified projects and processes.”

The Pitkin County commissioners, in a Sept. 15 letter, told the CWCB that the county “wholeheartedly endorses” the framework but “strongly believes” the framework’s core principles need to be “expanded in scope to apply equally to the various IPPs that involve trans-basin diversions.”

The Pitkin County Healthy Rivers and Streams Board, a tax-funded organization dedicated to leaving more water in the Roaring Fork River and its tributaries, feels the same way.

“The IPPs are the result of simple community canvassing to obtain information as to any potential plans or processes that are being contemplated around the state,” the board wrote in a Sept. 17 letter. “The IPPs have not been vetted and vary widely in size, impact and feasibility. “

SOME PLAIN LANGUAGE

Trout Unlimited, which has been paying close attention to the development of the water plan, said it supports the framework.

But it also gave the CWCB some plain-language criteria it thinks should be used to judge new TMDs.

“These transmountain diversions of water can cause severe economic and environmental damage to the areas of origin,” wrote Richard Van Gytenbeek, the Colorado River Basin outreach coordinator for Trout Unlimited, in a Sept. 17 letter to the CWCB.

As such, Gytenbeek told the CWCB it “should reject all new TMDs” unless the project proponent is already “employing high levels of conservation,” can show “that water is available for the project,” and “makes commitments that guarantee against environmental or economic harm to the basin of origin.”

The Colorado River District, which has board members from 15 Western Slope counties, said it supports the framework.

The river district’s general manager, Eric Kuhn, has been instrumental as a member of the IBCC in developing many of the framework’s key concepts.

“Admittedly, there are elements of the framework that we would prefer to edit but recognize there are others who would address those same edits in an opposite fashion,” the River District told the CWCB in a Sept. 17 memo.

However, the River District said the framework “represents a ‘way forward’ for constructive discussion about possible development of Colorado River basin water resources for out-of-basin use.”

Aspen Journalism is collaborating with the Post Independent and The Aspen Times and on coverage of statewide water issues. More at http://www.aspenjournalism.org…

SEVEN PRINCIPLES

1. East Slope water providers are not looking for firm yield from a new TMD and the project proponent would accept hydrologic risk for that project.

2. A new TMD would be used conjunctively with East Slope supplies, such as interruptible supply agreements, Denver Basin Aquifer resources, carry-over storage, terminal storage, drought restriction savings and other non-West Slope water sources.

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.

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.

5. Future West Slope needs should be accommodated as part of a new TMD project.

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

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

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

Denver Water to host Gross Reservoir Expansion Project Public Availability Sessions — Wed and Thu

From Denver Water via Twitter and Boulder County:

Denver Water is hosting two Public Availability Sessions this week to encourage residents in the area of Gross Reservoir to come and meet with Denver Water staff to address questions about DW’s Gross Reservoir Expansion Project.

PUBLIC AVAILABILITY SESSION
Wednesday, Oct. 7, Noon – 8 p.m.
Saturday, Oct. 10. 9 a.m. – 4 p.m.

Location: Coal Creek Canyon Community Center
31528 CO-72, Golden, CO 80403

While not sponsored by Boulder County, the county has offered to spread the word about the meetings as a way for county residents to come have their questions and concerns addressed by Denver Water staff. As one Denver Water official has stated, “We’re very hopeful that this availability session format allows us to talk more directly with individuals about their concerns.”