“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.

#ColoradoRiver: The fall 2015 issue of Headwaters Magazine is hot off the presses from the Colorado Foundation for Water Education


Click here to go to read the issue online. From the website:

Revered and manipulated, cherished and disregarded, the Colorado is a lifeline and an overallocated system exacerbated by drought. Explore this defining moment on the Colorado, fact check some assumptions about the river, and read about ways that Colorado is taking proactive steps to shore up contingency plans for water shortage. Flip through or download the issue here.
Want to receive Headwaters? Send us an email for your free copy. Better yet, support Headwaters and water education by donating to the Headwaters Fund or becoming a member of the Colorado Foundation for Water Education.

CFWE Webinar: Agriculture and Water Scarcity—Managing Groundwater Declines

From the Colorado Foundation for Water Education:

Register now to join us December 10 from 9-10 AM for a webinar on managing groundwater for agriculture.

Water is an essential ingredient for productive agriculture, but not always easy to come by in semi-arid Colorado. Some of the state’s most significant agricultural producing regions rely on groundwater levels that are in decline. As water tables drop, the threat of limited water availability puts the state’s agricultural producers and rural communities at risk. Join us to explore solutions to sustain groundwater aquifers that can support agriculture for the long term. Click here to register.

Topics will include state administration, as well as locally guided efforts to address the legal threats of well shut-downs and physical limits of shrinking aquifers. We’ll take a statewide look at the issue, then focus on management approaches, local perspectives, and on-farm adaptations farmers are making to remain viable in the Rio Grande Basin and Republican River Basin.

We’ll hear from and have the opportunity to ask questions of speakers:

Kevin Rein, Deputy State Engineer, Colorado Division of Water Resources
Sheldon Rockey, Rockey Farm and Board Member with the Rio Grande Water Conservation District
Deb Daniel, General Manager, Republican River Conservation District

This webinar is brought to you through a partnership between the Colorado Foundation for Water Education and CoBank.

Groundwater movement via the USGS
Groundwater movement via the USGS

Watering the West: How pioneers built local towns through irrigation — The Watch

Dolores River watershed
Dolores River watershed

From The Watch (Regan Tuttle):

Telluride’s early days, survival depended dearly on water. The enterprises that built the region — farming, ranching and mining — required irrigation from rivers, and lots of it. Of course, water becomes scarcer the farther one moves from the mountains or from the San Miguel River.

For the pioneers, creating an infrastructure that could sustain them in the short term and withstand the march of progress was no easy task. Suffering cold conditions, subsisting on biscuits and beans, laboring with shovels, axes and other hand tools, pioneers worked to channel water from its source to where they needed it.
Back then, this was legal. Just decades ago, as the old-timers established our local towns, “Water could be diverted from the stream, and ditches built across public and private land to convey water to its place of beneficial use,” the Colorado Foundation for Water Education reported.

“In a dry and thirsty land it is necessary to divert the waters of the streams from their natural channels,” Colorado Chief Justice Moses Hallet said in the late 1800s.


During Telluride’s early days, water was hauled from the San Miguel River and from springs on the east side of town. Wilson Rockwell said in his book “Uncompahgre Country” that a man named Dutch George in the late 1800s delivered five-gallon buckets of water from the spring at Cornet Creek to saloons and businesses on what is now Colorado Avenue for 10 cents each, two buckets at a time, balanced by a yoke around his neck.

When attorney L.L. Nunn needed water for his commercial bathhouse on the east end, he ran a garden hose from Cornet Falls. Later, in 1886, H. H. Corbin constructed a 370-foot vertical pipeline that transported water from Cornet Creek into town.

Though people then said it couldn’t be done, high pressure water was flumed from Trout Lake to help establish the Ames power plant, and later the Ilium plant, that would put Telluride on the map as the first city in the world to be powered by alternating electric current. Of course, the purpose was to support the mining industry.


For some, creating access to water was more difficult. The Town of Nucla, formerly Tabeguache Park, was founded by a socialist organization whose members wanted to escape their greedy landlords in Denver. By accident, they discovered the location that provided everything they desired: mild winters, ample sunlight, virgin soil — but no water.

Called the Colorado Cooperative Company, the members, or comrades, set up camp in the late 1800s in what became the second largest city in Montrose County to bring water to the homesteads for which they’d filed claims.
They were told their task was impossible.

“I believe [that] actually helped build the ditch. When you are told you can’t, you’ll bust a tug to do it,” Leonard F. Zatterstrom said in a memoir published in Marie Templeton’s book “The Visionaries.”

The Colorado Cooperative Company constructed a 17-mile-long wooden flume, called the CC Ditch, built along the wall of the San Miguel River canyon. David Lavender in “One Man’s West” writes that those who worked on the ditch were compensated by “credit at the commissary for food and supplies, plus water credits toward the purchase of ditch rights. The canal succeeded, and several prosperous farms sprang up.”

People like Zatterstrom worked eight-hour days building the flume, sleeping in the bunkhouse, buying their food through the company store and receiving rations of milk from the cooperative’s dairy cows.

Nucla was born when the project was completed in 1904, and “Piñon became a ghost town practically overnight,” Zatterstrom said.

But the hard work didn’t pay off for everyone. Mary Rogers was a 9-year old girl during the CC Ditch project. Because both her parents died, she went to live with her grandmother and uncles, the Heinemans, who worked on the CC Ditch. Like others, the German family came to Piñon in search of a better life, and hoped to one day own a farm.

“My mother worked in the garden and did dishes,” Norma McKeever, now 88, said. According to her, the conditions were not pleasant, especially in the winter. Rogers said the food was terrible, just biscuits and beans at the camp’s boardinghouse in the cold season. But it was worth it to the family. They’d filed a homestead claim with hopes that when the CC Ditch was done, they’d have irrigation water and could build a life.

Rogers was in her teens by the time the CC Ditch was completed. But the water didn’t reach the Heineman’s farm in 1904. The majority of the CC Ditch workers had accomplished what they’d needed for their own homesteads, and they weren’t willing to extend the project. What can you do with a farm that has no water?

Grandmother Heineman went to work as a washerwoman and housekeeper for those who owned prosperous farms. Mary Rogers got a job at the Western Hotel in Norwood. One of her uncles moved to Nevada and never came back.

McKeever said the Heinemans, buried in the pauper site at Nucla Cemetery, weren’t the only ones to feel cheated out of their homestead dreams.

Though socialism failed, the town has not. Water still serves Nucla to this day, though the wooden flume has mostly been replaced by more practical means. The town celebrates the water victory every July with their Water Days celebration.


Wilson Barrett of Redvale is the ditch rider — the patroller or inspector — for the waterway that is the lifeblood of Norwood, the Gurley Ditch. He is the only employee of Farmer’s Water Development, the stock company that “owns” the Gurley and divides its shares of water. But nobody really owns the water in Colorado, he said, just the rights to use it. According to him, life in Norwood wouldn’t be possible for anyone if the old-timers hadn’t dug the ditch.

In the late 1800s, when pioneers began settling Wrights Mesa, Rockwell said Ed Joseph — of the Joseph family, one of the first to settle the area — began construction of a reservoir east of the Lone Cone in the high country.

Some people disagree as to who later built the Gurley Ditch and finished the reservoir above it. Barrett said it was Naturita Land and Cattle Company. Regardless, whatever company worked on the project went bankrupt. One of the owners in that outfit was named Charles Gorley. Over time, the spelling of “Gorley” evolved into “Gurley,” which is used today.

To avoid losing the rights to use their water, local farmers and ranchers on the mesa decided to purchase the floundering company, buying it out of bankruptcy, and then established Farmer’s Water Development.

Now irrigation water runs from the dam through Beaver Park and to Wrights Mesa, mostly for agricultural purposes, but a small percentage is used for domestic water in town.

Barrett’s great uncle, Gordon Barrett, was one of the first workers to help dig the Gurley.

“They came in 1914, and they worked on the ditch in the fall. If you worked in the fall, you could get shares in the company,” Barrett said. “He was nominated to work on the ditch as part of the family so they could get more water.”

Recently, going through old paperwork, Barrett found one of the original invoices for equipment. He discovered a purchase order, sandwiched between old papers, for picks, boxes of dynamite, shovels and other tools that made the Gurley.

Without the ditch, Barrett said, Norwood would not have survived.


Most people probably don’t know that Ridgway almost didn’t survive. Years ago, in the 1960s, there were plans for a dam to be constructed just north of where Ridgway now sits. Had the original plans been executed, Ridgway would now be under water.

Some refer to it as “the town that refused to die,” and Ridgway lucked out when officials in the 1970s decided to move the dam farther north. Now, the Ridgway Reservoir, constructed in the late ‘80s, covers what was the old ghost town of Dallas.

Though Ridgway is situated on the Uncompahgre River, that stream is not the town’s source of water. Sometimes running yellow or orange, the Uncompahgre is known as a “dirty river” due to the minerals it contains. The town of Ridgway sourced its water in the late 1800s from Hartwell Lake, now Lake Otonowanda, below Mount Sneffels.

Ridgway completed a major expansion of its reservoir last summer.


Today, being on town water is a luxury most people probably don’t think much about. While just 100 years ago we were hauling water and digging ditches through the local mountains, most folks now just turn on the tap. Our pioneers have made it possible for us to have access to water even in places where water didn’t naturally occur.

Those who live further out in the country have other water issues, and real estate in many parts of Colorado becomes complicated when water rights enter the picture. Sometimes water rights are a part of landownership; sometimes they’re not. Water is overseen by water commissions and boards in various regions.

These days, one cannot simply dig a diversion ditch from an existing stream or take water from a manmade ditch. Now, water projects involve planning, permits, engineering work and financing. The Colorado Doctrine, a set of laws pertaining to water use and landownership, has been in place since the 1860s.

Some producers, especially the new farmers without water rights, have trouble wrapping their heads around the laws.

Last July Leila Seraphin, formerly of California, bought a property in Norwood that the Gurley Ditch runs through. She said she wishes she could use some of that water for her own farming and gardening, but she knows it’s against the law.

“We were told right when we moved here water was a big issue and taking from the Gurley was not allowed, and that all the water was owned,” she said.

Building a life as a new producer on Wrights Mesa, she has learned a lot about where her water comes from.

“It’s hard to imagine water being free to use, as every drop has a price tag,” she said.

Barrett said people living in this region should be grateful for their water.

“The water we have — 99 percent of it was done with a shovel and a pick. Without the pioneers, there would be nobody here,” he said.

He believes that is especially true for Wrights Mesa, as he said that before the Gurley ditch, life didn’t exist in Norwood.

“The early homesteaders had to go clear into the San Miguel River or into Naturita Creek with wagons and barrels to haul it to have any water at all,” he said. “I’d say for most people [this] is new information.”

Uncompahgre River Valley looking south
Uncompahgre River Valley looking south

#COWaterPlan tackles state water shortages — The Crested Butte News #ColoradoRiver

Crested Butte
Crested Butte

From The Crested Butte News (Alissa Johnson):

“The final version of the Colorado Water Plan adds more clarity as far as the position on trans-mountain diversions,” said local water expert Frank Kugel. As general manager for the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District, Kugel said the plan makes it clear that, “The Front Range interests—if they pursue trans-mountain diversion—understand there’s not a firm supply. They would accept the risk of any project development that the water may not be there when they need it.”

In addition, Governor Hickenlooper made it clear that diverting more water across the mountains will be a last resort.

According to the Denver Post, Hickenlooper stated that if water conservation is ramped up, water is incorporated into land-use planning and reservoir construction is done right, “the diversion of more water across the mountains won’t be necessary.”[…]

Kugel says that’s a good thing for the Western Slope.

“The other aspects of the water plan that are favorable for our basin are that there are other proposals [besides trans-mountain diversion] for meeting the gap between supply and demand,” he said.

They include reuse projects for the Front Range, limits to the permanent drying up of agricultural lands, opportunities to lease water rights and temporary fallowing of farmlands.

“The plan is a step in the right direction as far as providing for the future of Western Slope water. We certainly need to remain vigilant to guarantee that the protections laid out in the plan are followed through, but there has been a great deal of good work done to solve future water problems,” Kugel continued.

The plan also outlines projects for the local water basin, including about 130 projects to deal with decreasing water supplies. According to Kugel, climate change studies project that on a local level, warmer temperatures will lead to increased evaporation and transpiration and in turn a 10 percent to 20 percent reduction in water supplies by the middle of the century.

Droughts and shortages experienced in 2002 and 2012 could become more commonplace. In 2002, diversions on the East River and the Slate River completely dried up.

The projects outlined in the water plan will look at water consumption and shortages as well as environmental and recreation concerns. Stream management plans for Ohio Creek and the East River are already under way. While the projected population growth on the Front Range makes its water problems most noticeable, Kugel says that meeting water demand is a statewide issue.

“The shortages are state-wide. In the coming decades there are more acute projects for the Front Range because of growth… making conservation and other methods and efficiency efforts more important there. But as citizens of Colorado we all have obligations to maximize the use of water.”

More information on the Colorado Water Plan is available at http://www.coloradowaterplan.com, including an executive summary.