#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

“Our agriculture water is the low-hanging fruit” — J. Paul Brown

Basin roundtable boundaries
Basin roundtable boundaries

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

Protecting Western Slope agriculture appears to be one area of agreement as the region looks for ways of speaking with one voice on Colorado water issues. That was one takeaway from what was effectively a Western Slope water summit held [December 18] in Grand Junction with the goal of presenting some consolidated messages on the state’s newly drafted water plan.

Members of four roundtable groups — representing the Gunnison and Colorado river basins, southwest Colorado and the Yampa, White and Green river basins — already have developed their own plans that were incorporated into the newly completed draft plan. Representatives from all those roundtables gathered Thursday to talk about common themes that have emerged that they can be jointly voicing to the rest of the state as a final plan is developed.

In the case of agriculture, Colorado roundtable basin chair Jim Pokrandt said it’s important that the state not engage in poor water planning that forces farmers and ranchers out of business.

Said state Rep. J. Paul Brown, R-Ignacio, who works in agriculture himself, “Our agriculture water is the low-hanging fruit. It’s the easy water to buy and that’s exactly what’s happened.”

He talked about a need for more Front Range storage of its own water and alternatives like bringing in water from the Missouri River “so you’re not buying that agricultural water.”

Jim Spehar, a former Mesa County commissioner and Grand Junction mayor, agreed about the importance of considering agriculture in state water planning.

“If this discussion isn’t done by and for agriculture I think it will be done to agriculture,” he said.

Thursday’s discussion also turned to other areas including municipal and agriculture conservation. Gunnison County rancher Ken Spann said one thing those in agriculture need to know is where any water they might free up from conservation would go. He’d like to see it help fill Lake Powell to help states in the Upper Colorado River basin meet interstate compact water obligations.

But he worries that instead it could just end up supplying another new subdivision, or perhaps simply being offset by new water use being sought in the Yampa basin, which would mean no net increase in Colorado River water reaching Powell.

“The trade-offs (from conservation efforts) have to be identified and we are now at the point where we have to do that or people won’t play,” he said.

Western Slope water interests plan to continue talking about seeking a unified voice on water, including by addressing issues such as a somewhat controversial proposed framework for discussing any possible new diversions of western Colorado water to the Front Range.

“This is just the start of the West Slope conversation,” said Moffat County rancher T. Wright Dickinson, who also sits on Colorado’s Interbasin Compact Committee, a statewide forum for discussing water issues.

More IBCC — basin roundtables coverage here.

9News series about #COwater and the #COWaterPlan — Maya Rodriguez

9News.com reporter Maya Rodriguez has embarked on a series about the Colorado Water Plan and water issues in Colorado. The first installment deals with Cheesman Dam and Reservoir.

Correction: The original post attributed the article to *Mary* Rodriguez. Coyote Gulch blames autocorrect rather than the author and his propensity to post at the wee hours of the morning.

Here’s an excerpt from Ms. Rodriguez’s article:

It is something most of us take for granted: running water. Colorado is now beginning to grapple with how to keep the tap flowing, both now and in the future. As the state develops a water plan, set to be released in December, we are beginning a series of stories revolving around that precious resource…

Cheesman Reservoir and Dam

Nearly 7,000 feet above sea level, it’s a place of stillness and a quiet refuge. Yet, it’s also a place capable of wielding immense power.

Cheesman Reservoir is a major source of water for communities up and down the Front Range. It holds 25 billion gallons of water. That’s enough water to cover Sports Authority Field with a foot of water more than 79,000 times. All of it is held in place by the Cheesman Dam, which was built nearly 110 years ago.

“It was tremendous foresight that this reservoir has been pretty much unchanged in all that time,” documentary filmmaker Jim Havey of Havey Productions said.

The reservoir is just one of the places Havey is beginning to capture as part of an upcoming documentary called “The Great Divide.” The subject? Water.

“We looked at water, initially, as a great way to tell the story of Colorado,” he said.

Colorado’s water system is a complex combination of reservoirs, rivers and dams. As the state’s population has grown, though, there has been a greater need to come up with a water plan that can evolve with time.

“Really, it is all connected,” said Travis Thompson, spokesperson for Denver Water, which bought the Cheesman Reservoir nearly 100 years ago.

Denver Water– along with water municipalities and agencies across Colorado– is now working on a long-term plan for Colorado’s water. It includes, among other things, figuring out the best way to manage the state’s water as it flows between different river basins and whether or not to create more reservoirs.

“We’re not planning just for today, we’re planning for tomorrow– 25 years, 50 years down the road,” Thompson said. “And we have many challenges that we’re looking into, just like our forefathers had.”

Those challenges include how to provide enough water for people and industries in Colorado, as well as people in 18 other states– and even two states in Mexico– which also get their water from rivers that begin in Colorado.

“What the water plan is going to mean, I don’t think anybody knows yet,” Havey said.

Yet, it’s a plan that has a lot riding on it below the surface. The first draft of the state’s water plan is due in December and is expected to be presented to the state legislature next year. For more information about the water documentary, “The Great Divide,” go to http://bit.ly/1qDftUO.

More Denver Water coverage here. More South Platte River Basin coverage here. More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.

Wilderness idea birthed in Colorado’s ‘cradle’ — The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel

Arthur Carhart via Wilderness.net
Arthur Carhart via Wilderness.net

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

Fifty years after the Wilderness Act became law, wilderness areas can be found in 44 states and Puerto Rico. But only one state, Colorado, can lay claim to what’s called the Cradle of Wilderness. It’s right here on the Western Slope, in the Flat Tops Wilderness Area east of Meeker, at a place called Trappers Lake.

The place has taken on its wilderness moniker thanks to the efforts of one Arthur Carhart, a native Iowan who had a degree in landscape architecture. In 1919, at the age of 27, he was sent by the Forest Service to the lake with instructions to survey it for 100 summer homes and a road circling the lake.

According to information on the White River National Forest website, Carhart did his work but “closed his report with a strongly worded recommendation that the area remain roadless and undeveloped.”

He wrote, “There are a number of places with scenic values of such great worth that they are rightfully the property of all people. They should be preserved for all time for the people of the nation and the world. Trappers Lake is unquestionably a candidate for that classification.”

“This was sort of the beginning of the idea that some places are too beautiful to be developed,” said Sloan Shoemaker, executive director of the Wilderness Workshop nonprofit group, based in Carbondale. “He came back with this idea of wilderness for wilderness’ sake.”

“The whole wilderness ideal started right there,” said Scott Fitzwilliams, supervisor of the White River National Forest, of which Trappers Lake is a part. “Here’s this 20-some-year-old … telling the agency, you’re on the wrong path.”

Carhart’s boss ended up agreeing with him.

Trappers Lake
Trappers Lake

“In 1920 Trappers Lake was designated as an area to be kept roadless and undeveloped. It remains so to this day. That designation marked the first application of the wilderness preservation concept in Forest Service history.”

That’s according to a biography on Carhart on the website of the Arthur Carhart National Wilderness Training Center, a federal interagency organization based in Missoula, Montana.

Although no one person can be called Father of the Wilderness 
Concept, Carhart has been referred to as “the chief cook in the kitchen during the critical first years,” the biography says.

He eventually became acquainted with another Forest Service employee, Aldo Leopold. The two put into a memorandum their shared vision for what at the time was still a nascent wilderness concept that they and others turned into a movement. Carhart left the Forest Service in 1923, but not before visiting and recommending preservation of what now is known as the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in Minnesota.

He saw his dreams come to fruition with the passage of the Wilderness Act and designation of the Boundary Waters as wilderness in 1964.

“During his long life, Carhart continued to write about and work for the ideal of wilderness,” his training center biography reads. “On March 3, 1973, at the age of 81 Carhart said of himself: ‘I sometimes wonder how I had the nerve as a young punk to get my superiors turned around on some of these things. I feel real good about how it all turned out.’”

Carhart died in 1978. That was long enough to see the Flat Tops Wilderness Area, including Trappers Lake, designated three years earlier.

Runoff/snowpack news: “…the bottom line for Lake Powell this year is that it’s [inflows are] going to be right about average” — Eric Kuhn #ColoradoRiver

From Steamboat Today (Tom Ross):

Steamboat Springs — Residents of the Yampa Valley, where the meadows are lush and snow still lingers on the peaks, easily could conclude that this is a year of water abundance. But in terms of the water produced by the entire Colorado River Basin, the summer of 2014 won’t be outstanding.

Eric Kuhn, of the Colorado River Water Conservation District, told an audience of about 50 state legislators, water managers and educators at the Sheraton Steamboat Thursday the abundance of snowmelt in the upper Colorado, Yampa and Green rivers early this summer isn’t indicative of the entire Colorado Basin.

“We have wet years, we have dry years but the bottom line for Lake Powell this year is that it’s going to be right about average,” Kuhn said…

“Currently, Lake Mead (below the Grand Canyon) and Lake Powell (just above the Grand Canyon) are 42 percent full,” Kuhn said. “Does that make us nervous? Yeah that makes us very nervous.”[…]

Water storage in Flaming Gorge Reservoir on the Green River just upstream from its Colorado stretch is expected to be 140 percent of average, and Blue Mesa Reservoir on the Gunnison River is expected to be 126 percent of average, Kuhn told his audience. But 25-mile-long Navajo Reservoir, straddling the Colorado and New Mexico state line and capturing flows from the San Juan River, will be just about 67 percent of average. It’s the southernmost reaches of the upper basin that are below par.

Kuhn and his audience had gathered in Steamboat Springs Thursday to begin a tour of the Yampa River Basin sponsored by the nonprofit Colorado Foundation for Water Education. CFWE program manager Kristin Maharg told the gathering that the purpose of the tour is to explore the compatibility of consumptive water uses (agriculture and power plants) and non-consumptive uses (recreation and habitat conservation) along the length of the Yampa in Routt and Moffat counties.

“The Yampa is no longer a valley too far, and we want to look at some of the demands this basin is facing,” Maharg said. “This is a very cooperative basin in terms of resource management and conservation.”

Thursday’s audience included more than a half dozen state legislators, members of their technical support staff, including an economist and an attorney who work on water bills, a Pitkin County commissioner and an Eagle County water district official, as well as college educators from Colorado State University, the University of Colorado Denver and Colorado Mesa University.

If there is some good news for the Colorado Basin and the people who depend on Lake Powell this summer, it’s that the abundance in the Green River basin will give the reservoir a boost this summer. Flaming Gorge Reservoir, about 30 miles upstream from the point where the Green makes a dog leg into Colorado on the way to its confluence with the Yampa, is currently releasing large amounts of water. That’s being done to mimic the spring floods that occurred before the dam was built in order to support the ecosystem that evolved around those floods. When the river is restored to its baseline sumer flow, it will be at double the flows seen in the last few years, or about 1,600 cubic feet per second. The net result of those additional flows should boost Lake Powell to 50 percent full by the end of July, Kuhn confirmed.

From Steamboat Today (Tom Ross):

The Natural Resources Conservation Service in Denver predicted Monday that the total volume of flows in the Yampa in Steamboat Springs in June and July will be 118 percent of average, and maybe more if precipitation is abundant. And flows in the Elk, one of the Yampa’s biggest tributaries, could be at 145 percent of average during the heart of the summer.

The streamflow projections issued by the NRCS shouldn’t be interpreted as meaning the flows in the Yampa consistently will be at 118 percent of average, Mage Hultstrand cautioned. She is the assistant snow survey supervisor with the NRCS in Denver. Hultstrand explained that the streamflow projection anticipates the total volume of water that will flow under the Fifth Street Bridge from June through July.

“It’s based on current (snowpack) conditions and weather patterns in the area the past few months,” Hultstrand said.

The weather in terms of temperature and precipitation will have much to say about streamflow from week to week.

The Yampa at Steamboat peaked for the season May 30 at 4,850 cubic feet per second, Brenda Alcorn, senior hydrologist with the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center in Salt Lake City, Utah, said Wednesday. The Elk peaked at 6,300 cfs also on May 30. The Yampa came close to going higher June 2, but fell just short, Alcorn said. Flows in the Yampa were in decline this week, but the snowpack still has a kick in it; the Forecast Center expects the Yampa to rally Thursday and Friday, jumping from Wednesday morning’s flow of 2,300 cfs to perhaps 3,400 cfs by Friday. The median flow for June 11 is 2010 cfs. Temperatures are expected to reach the mid-70s under clear skies Thursday and Friday.

The streamflow projection issued by the NRCS really is intended to inform reservoir managers and help them understand how full their reservoirs will be and how much water they can release.

It’s safe to say the upper Yampa will be carrying more water than average for much of the next seven or eight weeks, but the streamflow forecast doesn’t guarantee there will be above average water in the river for irrigating hay fields or providing thrills for tubers during the last week in July, for example, Hultstrand said.

More Green River Basin coverage here.

2014 Most Endangered Rivers from AmericanRivers.org #ColoradoRiver

American Rivers 2014 Most Endangered Rivers
American Rivers 2014 Most Endangered Rivers

Click here to go to the American Rivers website to view the list:

1. San Joaquin River

Outdated water management and excessive diversions leave the river dry in stretches, threatening water quality, fish and wildlife, agriculture, and leaving communities vulnerable in the face of drought.

2. Upper Colorado River

The river’s health, fish and wildlife, agriculture, and recreation are threatened by new proposed diversions and increasing water demands.

3. Middle Mississippi River

A proposed new levee would cut off the river from the floodplains that protects downstream communities from floodwaters and provide habitat for fish and wildlife.

4. Gila River

An unnecessary water diversion and pipeline would harm fish and wildlife, river health, and local economics dependent on outdoor recreation and tourism.

5. San Francisquito Creek

The 65-foot Searsville Dam blocks threatened steelhead from reaching habitat upstream, impairs water quality, and poses flooding risks for local communities.

6. South Fork Edisto River

Excessive agriculture withdrawals threaten the river’s health and downstream water users, including other farmers.

7. White River (Colorado)

15,000 proposed new oil and gas wells in the region threaten to ruin clean drinking water and fish and wildlife habitat.

8. White River (Washington)

Salmon, steelhead, and bull trout populations are often killed at the unsafe and outdated Buckley Dam.

9. Haw River

Drinking water and recreation areas for more than one million people are threated by polluted runoff and wastewater.

10. Clearwater/Lochsa Rivers

The Wild and Scenic rivers’ cold-water fisheries, scenery, and whitewater are threatened by industrialization that would bring huge mega-loads bound for Canadian tar sands onto narrow roads beside the rivers.

From USA Today (Doyle Rice):

The San Joaquin River in central California — one of the sources of San Francisco’s drinking water and an agricultural resource for the fertile San Joaquin Valley — is the nation’s “most endangered river,” according to a report from American Rivers…

Other rivers on this year’s list include the Upper Colorado River system in Colorado; a stretch of the Mississippi River in Missouri, Illinois and Kentucky; the Gila River in New Mexico and the San Francisquito Creek in California.

Rounding out the Top 10 are the South Fork Edisto River in South Carolina; the White River in Colorado; the White River in Washington; the Haw River in North Carolina; and the Clearwater/Lochsa Rivers in Idaho.

The list is not a series of the “worst” or most polluted rivers.

Three factors govern the rivers’ selections, according to Irvin: “One is the significance of the river for human and natural communities,” he says. “The second is the magnitude of the threat for a particular river, while the third is a major decision that the public can help influence in the coming year.”

From the Sky-Hi Daily News (Leia Larsen):

The Upper Colorado’s primary threat is new transmountain diversions as the state’s metro population continues to grow.

“Having tapped the headwaters of the Colorado mainstem, some Front Range water interests are currently considering diversions from rivers farther away, like the Yampa and Gunnison rivers — rivers not yet impaired by transmountain diversions,” the American Rivers report said…

“The ‘America’s Most Endangered Rivers’ report is a call to action to save rivers that are at a critical tipping point,” said Ken Neubeck of American Rivers in a press release. “We cannot afford more outdated, expensive and harmful water development schemes that drain and divert rivers and streams across the Upper Colorado Basin.”

From Aspen Public Radio (Marci Krinoven):

A new list names the Upper Colorado River basin the second most endangered stretch of water in the country. The conservation group American Rivers released its annual “top-10” list Wednesday and local rivers like the Roaring Fork and Frying Pan are part of basin that’s threatened…

Neubecker says Front Range communities are desperately looking for new water supplies and that could come from the upper Colorado and its tributaries. He says the listing raises public awareness.

“There are an awful lot of people, especially on the Front Range, who have no idea where their water comes from. It’s getting better than it used to be. But, there are still a lot of people who don’t understand that every time they run their faucet, they’re draining the Colorado River system.”

One other river in the state made the list: the White River in northwestern Colorado. According to the list, it’s main threat is oil and gas drilling.

Flaming Gorge Pipeline: Aaron Million still has his eye on the prize #ColoradoRiver

Conceptual route for the Flaming Gorge Pipeline -- Graphic via Earth Justice
Conceptual route for the Flaming Gorge Pipeline — Graphic via Earth Justice

From the Green River Star (David Martin):

The Aaron Million water project continues on in the form of a request to the Bureau of the Interior. Million’s request, as published in the Federal Register Feb. 12, calls for a standby contract for the annual reservation of 165,000 care-feet of municipal and industrial water from the Flaming Gorge Reservoir for a transbasin diversion project…

Mayor Hank Castillon, who is a member of Communities Protecting the Green, said he isn’t sure what Million’s plans are with this latest move. Citing his previous denials from the Army Corp of Engineers and FERC, Castillon said the amount Million wants to use has dropped from the initial 250,000 acre feet of water his project would require. Castillon said he expects a battle to occur between the eastern and western sides of the continental divide. Castillon is aware Cheyenne and other cities in eastern Wyoming need water, along with locations in northern Colorado. The problem they need to address, according to Castillon, is the fact that the water isn’t available…

The Sweetwater County Commissioners commented on Million’s proposal Tuesday, voicing their opposition to the idea. Commissioner Wally Johnson said the transfer of water to Colorado isn’t in Sweetwater County’s best interest, saying “it doesn’t matter if it’s Mr. Million or Mr. Disney” making the proposal. Commissioner John Kolb also voiced his opposition, saying opposition to the idea is unanimous between Gov. Matt Mead, the Wyoming County Commissioners Association and the commissioners themselves.

“I’d like to see us not wasting our time on crazy, hare-brained schemes,” Kolb said. “(Transbasin water diversion) doesn’t work.”

More Flaming Gorge Pipeline coverage here and here.