Southern Colorado Plateau has dried 17 percent since 1985

#ColoradoRiver #COriver

Summit County Citizens Voice

New study projects impacts for world’s drylands

Hikers enjoying the view at Colorado National Monument, near Grand Junction. Researchers say recreation economies in the world’s drier zones are likely to take a big hit from global warming in the next few decades. @bberwyn photo.

Staff Report

Global warming is bad enough on its own for the world’s drylands, but when you add in the impacts of population growth, development and the increasing demand for water, the future looks downright grim.

The end result will be conditions that are detrimental to the recreation economy, wildlife habitat, water availability and other resources in hyper-arid landscapes, according to a recent paper published in Ecosphere. Drylands are of concern because broad-scale changes in these systems have the potential to affect 36 percent of the world’s human population.

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#Drought ebbs across most of the US, lowest level in two decades

Click on a thumbnail graphic below to view the September 25, 2012 US Drought Monitor to the one from May 23, 2017.

From Climate Central (Andrea Thompson):

After years of intense, record-setting drought across the U.S., particularly in the Great Plains and California, the country is now experiencing its lowest level of drought in the 17 years since the U.S. Drought Monitor began its weekly updates.

Less than 5 percent of the U.S. was in some stage of drought as of May 4, the most recent update, compared to the 65 percent mired in drought in September 2012.

“I have been an author of the U.S. Drought Monitor since 2005 and we have had very few instances where there was so little drought, and to see the changes we have in the last year, especially out West, it does astonish me,” Brian Fuchs, of the U.S. Drought Mitigation Center, said in an email.

The last time drought levels across the country were this low was in July 2010, when 8 percent of the U.S. was in drought — then came a remarkable period of deep, damaging drought that led to billions in crop and livestock losses, spurred major water restrictions, and helped fuel terrible wildfires.

The ups and downs in drought could be linked to some of Earth’s natural climate cycles that can usher in relatively wet and dry periods. But climate change is likely to play a role — and probably already has — as higher temperatures lead to increased evaporation and therefore worse drought conditions.

The epicenters of drought were in the central and southern Plains states from 2011 to 2013 and California from 2012 to this winter. At the peak of its drought, more than half of California was experiencing “exceptional” drought conditions, the highest category. At the end of September 2011, more than 85 percent of Texas was in this category.

Both droughts were fueled by a combination of dry weather and repeated, sizzling heat waves. The exceptional heat that blanketed much of the central and eastern portions of the country in 2012 boosted it to the hottest year on record for the U.S., while California experienced back-to-back record-hot years during its drought.

That heat is probably the clearest link between climate change and droughts, as rising global temperatures fueled by increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere tilt the odds in favor of record heat and away from record cold.

Studies have pointed to the role of climate change-fueled heat in California’s drought, and droughts in the future, no matter where they happen in the U.S., are likely to be more intense than those of today because temperatures will be higher on average.

Less clear, though, is how climate change might impact the atmospheric patterns that can lead to prolonged dry periods. During California’s drought, a persistent area of high pressure kept storms from bringing rains and snow to the parched state. While research has suggested this has been happening more often, it’s unclear if the reason is linked to global warming.

Perhaps the clearest regional signals of climate change increasing drought are in the already arid Southwest, where droughts are expected to happen more often, last longer and be more intense than in the past. There is also some suggestion of more consecutive dry days for the Southern Plains, which could make it easier for that region to tip into drought.

And for the West Coast — which depends on its winter snowpack to provide meltwater that keeps reservoirs topped up through the dry summer months —warming could mean more water falls as rain instead of snow, throwing a wrench in the current water storage systems and making dry summer conditions more likely.

The warming climate will also interact with Earth’s natural climate cycles, such as the El Niño-La Niña seesaw that can lead to wetter or drier conditions in parts of the country, as well as longer-lasting cycles like the Pacific Decadal Oscillation and Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation.

It is a recent switch in the phases of these two cycles that may have tipped the country from deep drought to normal conditions, said Victor Murphy, climate services program manager for the National Weather Service’s Southern Region. Studies have shown, he said, that certain phases of these cycles are connected to larger drought footprints in the U.S. and the opposite phases to less drought.

For the time being, overall drought levels in the U.S. are likely to hover around the current level, Fuchs said. Some areas, such as Florida, are likely to come out of drought as the summer wet season kicks in. Others, such as Georgia and parts of Texas, may see drought develop or deepen in the coming weeks.

Report: State of the Poudre — @fortcollinsgov

Click here to read the report. Here’s the executive summary:

Executive Summary
The purpose of this first State of the Poudre River (SOPR) is to provide a description of the current health of the Cache la Poudre River (Poudre) from approximately Gateway Natural Area to I-25. The Poudre is a complex natural system that has been altered by nearly two centuries of human influence. This has resulted in dramatic changes to the physical structure of the river, water quantity and quality, floodplain, forests, and wildlife communities. The human footprint continues to expand, placing additional pressure (or stresses) on the river ecosystem and the natural processes that sustain it. This river health assessment provides the City of Fort Collins with a new tool to track trends and benchmark progress towards its vision of sustaining a healthy and resilient Cache la Poudre River.

While the Poudre flows 126 miles from its headwaters to its confluence with the South Platte near Greeley this study focuses on a 24-mile reach from the lower canyon through Fort Collins. The study area was divided into four zones (Canyon, Rural, Urban, and Plains) and further into 18 study reaches based on natural changes on the landscape and human influences.

Overall Grade: For the 24-mile study area the Poudre River received an overall grade of C. This grade indicates the even though the Poudre has been altered and degraded by a suite of local and system wide stresses that impair its health, it continues to support basic elements of a functioning river ecosystem.

The framework for this baseline assessment includes nine indicators of river health which are informed by 25 indicator-specific metrics. Collectively these provide a thorough evaluation of how well the system is functioning. Metrics grades are developed by collecting and incorporating many types of data, which were then translated into an A-F grading system. Indicator and metric numerical scores and their corresponding letter grades were calibrated to categorical definitions relating to degree of functionality or impairment.

Recommended ranges developed for each metric (as established in the River Health Assessment Framework, City of Fort Collins, 2015) and were developed based on the City’s concept of working towards a functioning river ecosystem. The recommended ranges consider the contemporary real- world context and reasonable expectations for future change and the potential for improvement. They should, however, be used as a guide and aspiration rather than a directive. Also, when interpreting results for a comprehensive scientific assessment such as this, it is important to consider that uncertainty and variability exists across scientific disciplines, data sources, and river reaches. The methods and grading guidelines provide an explicit description of the analytical approaches used and can help the reader understand this variability.

This report is structured to allow the reader to understand the project approach (Sections 1 and 2) followed by identification of potential influences, or stressors, on river health in Section 3. The health assessment scores (Section 4) reveal the ramifications these anthropogenic stressors are having on ecosystem condition. Results indicate there is considerable variability across aspects of river health as scores vary widely (from A to F) at smallest unit of measurement (metrics scores by reach). In Section 5, the focus shifts to an overview of river health, describing the link between stressors and degree and type of impairment for each of the four zones. Poudre River health indicator grades for each zone are compared to the ranges recommended in the City’s Poudre River Health Assessment Framework (2015)—to highlight areas where there is the greatest gap between the City’s goals for the river and today’s conditions. This section also includes an analysis of the causes of impairment and explores which problems are tractable to practical solutions. Section 6 looks toward the potential future applications and improvements for the project.

From The Fort Collins Coloradoan (Jacy Marmaduke):

In their first-ever health assessment of a 24-mile stretch of the Poudre River, a group of Fort Collins water experts awarded the river an overall grade of a C.

In other words, the river is functional, the assessment’s authors said. But it could, and should, be better.

City officials aspire to a B grade for the river, which would mean the assessed stretch is considered “highly functional.”

The report was put together by a group of ecologists and resource managers from the city’s natural areas and utilities departments, Colorado Parks and Wildlife and several consulting firms. The goal was to develop a tool city officials can use to benchmark progress toward a healthier river.

The study focused on the Poudre from the lower canyon near Gateway Natural Area to Interstate 25 and used an A-F grading system. The spotlight was on six key indicators of river health:

  • Flows, the primary driver of river health
  • Sediment, a natural component of rivers that can be harmful if amounts are too much or too little
    River channel, including shape, width and depth
  • Water quality
  • Aquatic life
  • Riparian corridor, including riverside forests, wetlands and grasslands
  • The overall grade of C “indicates that even though the Poudre has been altered and degraded by a suite of local and system-wide stresses that impair its health, it continues to support basic elements of a functioning river ecosystem,” the report states.

    The river’s lower canyon zone fared better than the urban, rural and plains zones, scoring an overall B-minus with high marks for riparian corridor health, water nutrients and land and channel erosion. The canyon zone scored poorly on habitat connectivity and water temperatures, the latter because warming water temperatures represent risks for aquatic life.

    The river’s urban zone earned a C grade with high marks for water nutrients, trout population and land erosion. The urban zone failed in riparian corridor health, habitat connectivity and river flows.

    Overall, river flows were an issue for most of the 24-mile stretch.

    “The Poudre is characterized by major changes in flow volumes and timing,” the report states. “Reductions have significantly altered peak and base flows, the effects (of) which are exacerbated the further one travels downstream. Diversions also cause unnatural fluctuations in flow volume, which likely affects critical habitat and reproductive needs of fish and insects in the river.”

    Elkhead Reservoir Fishing Classic Tournament targets smallmouth bass and northern pike

    Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program

    From WesternSlopeNow.com (Rebecca Hykin):

    The four native fish involved with the program are the Colorado Pikeminnow, Bonytail, Humpback Chub, and Razorback Sucker. As these unique fish are found only in this part of the world, the Colorado River Basin, the decline is due to the loss in habitat and several non-native fish species preying on them, including Small Mouth Bass, Northern Pike, and Walleye.

    “The fish that we’re trying to remove compete for resources with the native fish as well as they are predatorial fish and they’ll eat the native fish as well,” said Tory Eyre, Aquatic Biologist with Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW).

    These non-native fish are coming into these native fish habitats from reservoirs overflowing and from a way that is a bit more unorthodox.

    “People are moving live fish from one body of water to another and that is illegal on the West Slope of Colorado, and when we have folks that are doing that, it results in a lot of our time and dollars to try to eradicate those species from areas in places that we don’t want them to be,” said Lori Martin, Senior Aquatic Biologist with CPW.

    Eyre explained the various instinctive recover efforts helping to save these native fish, “we propagate fish so we raise fish in hatcheries and stock them. We alter habitat [and] try to alter flows. Then our involvement is with the non-native removal.”

    Eyre added, “We placed gill nets in the backwaters that are a certain mesh size that targets the Northern Pike and we try to catch them in while they are entering the backwater to spawn.”

    CPW has also worked with other program partners to install spillway screens in reservoirs at Elkhead and Highline Lake State Parks to prevent non-native fish from escaping into the Yampa and Colorado Rivers.

    “It allows us to stock warm water fish that are okay with the recovery program into Highline Lake and the purpose of it is to keep those fish in the lake and not allow them to get in the Colorado River,” said Alan Martinez, Park Manager for Highline Lake State Park.

    However, those with the initiative have been running into a small issue as the recovery program is controversial for some people. Eyre explained, “Small Mouth Bass and Northern Pike are sport fish…people like to catch them.”

    As this is upsetting to some anglers, CPW has been working with the program’s agencies, and with anglers, to address their frustrations.

    “We’re trying to provide opportunities for anglers for similar species in waters or areas where there is no interaction with native fish,” said Martin.

    To encourage involvement by the angling public, CPW is sponsoring the Elkhead Reservoir Fishing Classic Tournament from June 24-July 2 in Craig.

    “The aim is to have anglers help us remove small mouth bass and northern pike so we that can better provide a compatible sport fishery that’s in line with endangered fish recovery efforts downstream,” said Martin.

    With all of the efforts in helping to reduce the non-native fish to increase the native fish populations, CPW officials say some improvements with some species have already been made in some locations along the Western Slope.

    “This is kind of our one chance to recovery these species. They’re not found anywhere else, so if they’re gone, then they’re gone, and they’re gone forever,” said Eyre.

    Elkhead Reservoir

    Will the @EPA reconsider the Fountain Creek lawsuit?…@RepDLamborn pow wows with @EPAScottPruitt

    The Fountain Creek Watershed is located along the central front range of Colorado. It is a 927-square mile watershed that drains south into the Arkansas River at Pueblo. The watershed is bordered by the Palmer Divide to the north, Pikes Peak to the west, and a minor divide 20 miles east of Colorado Springs. Map via the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District.

    From the Associated Press via the The Fort Collins Coloradoan:

    The Denver Post reports that Lamborn has spoken twice with EPA chief Scott Pruitt about the suit, which was filed in 2016 by the EPA and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

    Pueblo County joined the suit this year.

    Colorado Springs insists it is investing $460 million with other municipalities over the next two decades to address the problem…

    The EPA declined to comment.

    [Stormwater] in Colorado Springs flows into Fountain Creek and south to Pueblo, where it joins the Arkansas River. The Arkansas is heavily used by agriculture in southeast Colorado.

    The EPA and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment filed suit in 2016, alleging water quality violations.

    Lamborn said he’d like to get the Colorado state agency to abandon the suit. But Dr. Larry Wolk, the department’s executive director and chief medical officer, said the agency believes “these significant violations need to be corrected in order to protect the state’s water quality.”

    “It’s not just the EPA, but it’s also the state of Colorado that filed the lawsuit,” said Jane Ard-Smith, chair of the Sierra Club’s Pikes Peak chapter. “The EPA doesn’t go around suing willy-nilly. We’ve seen a history of [stormwater] violations, so I would hope that the congressman would see the value of enforcing clean water laws.”

    R.I.P. Gregg Allman

    Gregg Allman, San Francisco, 1973. Photo credit Neal Preston.

    From USA Today via the Fort Collins Coloradoan:

    Rock musician Gregg Allman – whose work with the Allman Brothers Band set the stage for Southern rock, jam bands and influenced several generations of players – has died at age 69.

    A statement on Allman’s official website says the musician “passed away peacefully” at his home in Savannah, Georgia.

    Mr. Allman’s work and life is entwined with his brother Duane, with whom he founded the Allman Brothers Band in 1969. Two years later, Duane was killed in a motorcycle accident, but the band soldiered on, and reached new peaks with the 1973 album “Brothers and Sisters,” which featured signature songs “Ramblin’ Man” and the instrumental “Jessica.”

    Still, the band found their greatest success as a live act, performing for massive crowds in the 1970s and – like the Grateful Dead – influencing a future wave of concert-focused “jam bands.”

    Throughout their five-decade run – which included a few brief hiatuses – Mr. Allman was a constant presence, and his Hammond organ and soulful lead vocals defined their sound as much as his late brother’s limber guitar lines once did.

    Lawmakers lament they “don’t have more influence” moving state water plan forward — @COindependent

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

    From The Colorado Independent (Marianne Goodland):

    Two sessions have passed since Gov. John Hickenlooper rolled out Colorado’s first statewide water plan, yet lawmakers have made little progress toward the plan’s main goal – averting a massive state water shortfall in 2050.

    The single biggest achievement in water policy these past two sessions is a feel-good law allowing Coloradans to use rain barrels to collect rain and snowmelt to water their gardens. Although the barrels carry some symbolic importance in a state whose water supplies aren’t keeping up with needs, the amount of water they collect toward solving Colorado’s water woes is the statistical equivalent of a drop in the bucket.

    Lawmakers’ broader inaction underscores the limits of their authority on water policy and of their ability to put in place meaningful efforts – or at least a priority list for those efforts – to stave off a water crisis. Although the legislature has allocated $15 million to implement the water plan, some members complain their involvement is limited mainly to “writing the check,” without input into how, specifically, money might be spent other than on writing more water reports and holding more water meetings. Several admit they have no idea where the plan’s priorities lie or how, specifically, Hickenlooper expects it will be put into action.

    Senate President Pro Tem Jerry Sonnenberg, a Republican and farmer from Sterling and one of the General Assembly’s leading agriculture and water advocates, complains that lawmakers “do not have enough influence on the direction of the water plan.”

    Rep. Jeni Arndt of Fort Collins, a Democrat who chairs the House Agriculture, Livestock and Energy Committee, has run a half-dozen bills that specifically address water plan issues, some successfully, some not. She points out that a published guide on moving forward, put out by the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB), said that most goals of the water plan would be accomplished by the executive branch, with a limited role for the General Assembly.

    “That’s what they think,” she laughed.

    The Colorado Water Plan was initiated with much fanfare by Hickenlooper in May 2013 and finalized in November 2015. It seeks to address an alarming problem: Projections that, by 2050, the state will face a water shortfall of at least one million acre-feet per year.

    An acre-foot of water is about 326,000 gallons of water. If not addressed, the one million acre-foot supply-demand gap would cut across all water uses in the state: affecting at least two million residents as well as recreational, environmental, industrial and agricultural water uses.

    The swelling water deficit is born of several factors. One is growth and projections that the state’s population will jump from about 5.4 million residents this year to as many as 10.3 million by 2050.

    Another factor is climate change. A 2014 report commissioned by the CWCB points out that average annual temperatures in Colorado have risen by 2 degrees between 1977 and 2006. A hotter climate increases the potential for drought in southern Colorado, and could also reduce the annual spring runoff from the mountain snowpack, which affects all of Colorado as well as some of the downstream states both east and west that rely on water that originates here.

    An increasing reliance on water by Colorado’s oil and gas industry also factors in, as do demands by conservationists and recreational users to stop bleeding our rivers dry.

    But the biggest factor in terms of actual water use is that farming and ranching interests, which use 80 percent of the state’s water, are motivated under the state’s “use it or lose it” water laws to continue antiquated and even wasteful water practices out of fear of losing their senior water rights.

    The water plan identifies the size of the projected water shortage – drawn from a 2010 study that is being updated – but doesn’t offer a roadmap for addressing it, other than stating how much water the state needs to save through storage and conservation projects to meet its 2050 needs. It doesn’t spell out just who’s responsible for those savings: the executive branch, the legislature, or public-private partnerships.

    Hickenlooper’s administration has passed responsibility for charting the specific courses mainly to nine local, grassroots groups, known as basin roundtables, that include officials from water utilities and representatives of agricultural, industrial, recreational and environmental groups. The nine roundtable groups are centered around the state’s eight major waterways plus the Denver metro area. Each assessed how much water they would be short in the coming decades, broken down by recreation, environmental, agricultural and municipal needs.

    The roundtables – with the South Platte River and metro Denver groups working jointly – each came up with plans that outline what they will do to meet the projected water shortages in their areas. Their wishlists for local water projects form the bulk of specifics within the 540-page statewide plan. But there is no greater design, no set of master priorities on which spending decisions can be based.

    That leaves lawmakers scratching their heads when it comes to water policy and budgeting.

    The legislature’s efforts on water fall to a joint interim committee, known as the Water Resources Review Committee, that meets every summer. The bipartisan group of 10 lawmakers – including the chairs of the Senate and House agriculture committees – starts its annual review of state water issues each August. Members then sponsor water-related legislation either as a committee or on their own.

    In the past two years, water committee members have sponsored most of the 35 water-related bills proposed at the Statehouse. Of those, the vast majority deal with managing the state’s Byzantine laws on water rights. Roughly 15 were to varying degrees intended to address some of the nebulous goals laid out in Hickenlooper’s water plan.

    Related: Path forward is murky in Hickenlooper’s final water plan

    By far the most noteworthy among those 15 were the 2016 and 2017 annual water projects bills, which were written by CWCB staff and earmarked state funding for a variety of water projects. The 2016 bill put up $5 million to implement the water plan, but didn’t specify how that money would be spent. That line item became a bone of contention for some lawmakers, especially those on the Joint Budget Committee who tend to take a dim view of spending money without specifics on where it’s going.

    The 2017 projects bill set aside another $10 million for implementing the state water plan, plus another $10 million more to the basin roundtables to pay for local water projects. The 2017 projects outlined how the $5 million from 2016 would be spent. That money will go to the CWCB for statewide projects, such as improved water supply forecasting, a grant program on agricultural water transfers, statewide training to water providers on water loss, and grants to water agencies that are developing http://cwcb.state.co.us/legal/Documents/Policies/17FeasibilityStudySmallGrants.pdf for future water storage projects.

    The $10 million in 2017 for implementing the plan includes $1 million to update a 2010 study that provided the initial projections for the state’s projected water deficit – estimated in 2010 to reach about one million acre-feet per year by 2050. That estimate is now considered low, and could possibly be as much as two million acre-feet annually.

    Another $2 million will pay for water projects that serve multiple purposes (such as recreation and environmental needs). Another $1 million will develop long-term strategies on conservation, land use and drought planning. Another $3 million will help facilitate the development of water storage systems. Some $1 million will pay for water education, $1 million for “technical assistance for agricultural projects” and $1 million for watershed health (more about that later).

    The $10 million for the CWCB’s 2017 costs for implementing the water plan and the $10 million for the regional roundtable groups will come from severance tax revenues that will be transferred into the CWCB’s construction fund. The rest comes from that construction fund, a revolving loan account that dates back to 1971 and makes low-interest loans for water projects throughout the state. Its revenues come from interest earned on outstanding loans, the fund’s cash balance, and federal mineral lease revenues.

    The 2017 projects bill, which Hickenlooper signed into law on Tuesday, puts $10 million from the CWCB’s construction fund into a new loan guarantee fund that would help with regional water projects in which multiple water utilities are involved.

    Another $5 million will pay for a watershed restoration program. Watersheds are areas of land from which rain or snowmelt route toward a common waterway, including the surface water from streams, rivers and reservoirs as well as groundwater found in underground aquifers. The water plan says healthy watersheds are crucial for environmental needs such as improving fish and wildlife habitats or reducing the impact of soil erosion, and for recreational purposes such as rafting and angling. Colorado’s watersheds match up with the nine river basins, and then are further subdivided by local waterways in each of those basins. The $5 million for watersheds is intended to advance the water plan’s goal to improve the health of 80 percent of those watersheds by 2030.

    In addition to the annual projects bills in 2016 and 2017, lawmakers have over the past two sessions sought measures to do the following:

    Improve forest health. A 2015 report by Colorado State University says healthy forests are key to providing clean water. But when the health of those forests decline, through wildfires or disease, for example, the quality of water flowing through them and on to waterways also declines. “Forests are our largest reservoir,” says Republican Sen. Don Coram of Montrose, sponsor of a 2016 bill that directs the Colorado State Forest Service and CWCB to document the nexus between the state water plan and forest management as a way of protecting the state’s water resources. That report is due July 1.

    Study possibilities to store water from the South Platte River: The General Assembly commissioned a report in 2016, and it’s due to lawmakers this December. Without waiting for that report, the water committee this year sponsored a bill to increase the capacity of reservoirs along the South Platte through dredging. The stand-alone bill sought $5 million in funding, but, in the end, the 2017 projects bill set aside $3 million for storage, including dredging the South Platte’s reservoirs.

    Help streamline state permitting for water projects. Water storage projects take years, even decades, from start to finish, and much of that is tied up in regulations. Sonnenberg says that at the state level a storage project gets caught in a circular trap. First, a proposed project goes to the state Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE), which has authority on water quality issues. Then it heads to Colorado Parks and Wildlife for review on mitigating wildlife issues. After that, it heads back to CDPHE, but by then much has changed.

    Lawmakers tried to set up a “one-stop shop” for water projects permits a couple of years ago. That didn’t work, so in 2016 they found a backdoor way to address the problem by telling the governor to hire someone to do it. Hickenlooper quickly put into place his water czar, former Ag Commissioner John Stulp. Under the law, the director of water project permitting coordination (yes, that’s the title) should work to speed up permitting for water projects financed by the CWCB’s construction fund or those required to obtain water quality certification from the CDPHE. Yet Stump said that so far, there hasn’t been a great need for his assistance in moving the permit process along. The water project closest to completion, the Windy Gap Firming Project southwest of Loveland, got its final federal approval earlier this month and is expected to begin construction of a 90,000 acre-foot reservoir known as Chimney Hollow in 2019. The projects bill includes a $90 million loan to the Northern Water Conservancy District for construction of Chimney Hollow.

    There are two other storage projects in the pipeline, and the permitting assistance is available as needed, Stulp said.

    Among the other water plan-related bills in 2016 and 2017:

    • Successful legislation to continue a pilot program that would allow farmers and ranchers to temporarily lease their water rights to municipal water utilities.
    Bills to require local governments to incorporate water conservation goals, including those found in the state water plan, into local community master plans, particularly when new development is being considered. Those bills failed two years in a row at the balking of local governments who don’t want to be told what to do.

    Sonnenberg, the water committee chair, looks toward hearings in August with an eye on building more water storage. He lives just a few miles away from the South Platte River whose water flows east to Nebraska for free. As many farmers and ranchers see it, dams and reservoirs need to be built to capture that water and save it for future use within Colorado.

    Most municipal water districts and industrial users agree on the need for more storage. But conservationists and recreational water interests oppose that view, saying and flows need to stay in rivers – regardless of state lines – to keep them and their habitats healthy.

    Sonnenberg has been particularly critical of CWCB and Hickenlooper’s administration for not taking a clear position on water storage and how it should figure in the water plan. He also criticizes CWCB for not welcoming lawmakers’ input on the water plan in general.

    “We had to run a bill just to get the CWCB to listen to us” about the water plan, Sonnenberg grumbled.

    That 2014 law reiterated that the General Assembly is responsible for water policy and that the CWCB has authority to implement that policy. The law also sent the water committee around the state in the summer and fall of 2014 to gather input from citizens on what the water plan should look like. The committee then sent that input to the CWCB for consideration in the water plan, as well as its own recommendations strongly urging a clearly defined set of priorities and specific steps the state needs to take to meet its water needs mid-century.

    From lawmakers’ perspectives, the final version of the plan doesn’t reflect their input.

    Disappointed with the plan’s progress, Sonnenberg says, “The CWCB has not had conversations with the legislature other than to (say) ‘pass our projects bill, sit down and shut up.’ That communication has to change.”

    Fellow committee member Sen. Matt Jones, a Louisville Democrat, is similarly concerned about efficacy of the plan, but for different reasons. His water worries are about conservation and river health – issues for which he says the plan lacks “a cohesive recommendation.” Progress on those issues has been very slow, he said, and certainly not fast enough to compete with increasing strains on the state’s water supply caused by population growth.

    Jones has pushed a bill for the last two years that would require developers to submit plans for water conservation in their proposed developments. Despite bipartisan sponsorship and even without opposition from homebuilders, the measure twice has failed to make it out of the Senate.

    He is especially frustrated that Colorado’s legislature hasn’t pushed the conservation side of the water plan. He notes that the state hasn’t updated its conservation statutes since 1991.

    The water plan “is very aggressive on conservation planning, and the legislature should meet that need by pushing even harder to make it happen,” Jones said. Without such a push, conservationists say, the plan remains more of a statement of values than a call for action.
    “The targets are there, and it has a lot of aspirational goals, but it’s not a defined implementation plan” that specifically says what needs to be done and who’s responsible for doing it, says Doug Kemper, executive director of the Colorado Water Congress.

    Kemper says the clock is ticking toward 2050 and that the water plan needs clearly articulated priorities from the General Assembly no later than the end of this year. The water community, including local and county governments, water districts, and hundreds of individuals and organizations interested in water issues, also hasn’t set its priorities yet, either. Kemper expects that will happen when the Water Congress meets in August.

    Bart Miller, who directs a program promoting healthy rivers for the conservation group Western Resource Advocates, says the progress so far has mainly been on the funding side – in particular the dollars coming out of the two projects bills in 2016 and 2017 – but that those amounts are too small to quench state water needs. Although, as Miller sees it, water projects from the Northern Water Conservancy District and Denver Water and under way to help meet the plan’s storage goal of 400,000 acre-feet, the goal of conserving another 400,000 acre-feet has seen far less progress.

    Miller sees a lack of clear milestones as one of the plan’s bigger shortfalls. “It should be able to say where you need to be by 2020 if you’re working toward 2030 or even 2050,” he says.

    CWCB has balked at setting such milestones and has been trying to lower expectations about the speed of the plan’s implementation. Nowhere was this more obvious than at a Joint Budget Committee meeting in December, when CWCB finance chief Kirk Russell told lawmakers only half-jokingly that, “I’m glad the question wasn’t ‘Are you done yet and why not?’”

    Feature photo of James Eklund, then head of the CWCB and Gov. John Hickenlooper, holding up a copy of the state water plan for its November, 2015 rollout. Photo by Marianne Goodland.