Colorado River basin: What should governance look like going forward?

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Update: Here’s a look at the Grand Valley and their take on Colorado River governance, from Honora Swanson writing for From the article:

A new report out shows that our state will need twice as much water in 2050 as we do right now. The Colorado River Conservation District Board estimates 10 million more people could come to Colorado in the next 40 years. And with those people, comes a big demand for water.

The article is about the SWSI 2010 Update released last Friday by the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

Here’s a look back at last month’s meeting of the Colorado River Water Users Association Annual Conference with a bit of analysis of the basin thrown in, from Brett Walton writing for Circle of Blue Water News. From the article:

In Las Vegas last month, at the annual meeting of the Colorado River Water Users Association—the only organization bringing together stakeholders from each of the seven basin states—opponents and supporters made their views known during a speech by Doug Kenney, the director of the Western Water Policy Program at the University of Colorado-Boulder.

Kenney was invited to Caesar’s Palace to share the first-year findings from his study on water governance in the Colorado River Basin. His message: in a new era of water scarcity along the river—where supply and demand lines have already crossed—traditional water management practices will need to be fundamentally changed.

New options for managing the Colorado include establishing provisions for year-to-year agreements with states and farmers to avoid shortages. They also include improvements in the efficiency of river operations, or by river augmentation, which means adding new supplies from a slew of sources—some viable, some expensive, and some fanciful: desalination, river diversions, and weather modification, respectively.

Kenney’s governance study is just one of several such assessments—carried out by academics and federal agencies, as well as state and regional water management authorities—suggesting the need for new ways to manage water flows. The studies are providing a new legal and scientific foundation for defining existing water rights within states, clarifying laws and regulations about how shortages on the river would be handled, and evaluating options for increasing the basin’s water supply and reducing demand.

Kenney argued that the states of the upper basin—Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming—are the most vulnerable if future flows are as low as predicted because the river’s legal structure gives priority to Mexico and the lower basin states of Arizona, California and Nevada.

More Colorado River basin coverage here.

CWCB: Statewide Water Supply Initiative 2010 update

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Just in time for the CWCB meeting and the Colorado Water Congress Annual Convention this week the CWCB has released the updated SWSI 2010 report. You can download it from the CWCB here. From the executive summary:

Colorado faces significant and immediate water supply challenges. Despite the recent economic recession, the state has experienced rapid population growth, and Colorado’s population is expected to nearly double within the next 40 years. If Colorado’s water supply continues to develop according to current trends, i.e., the status quo, this will inevitably lead to a large transfer of water out of agriculture resulting in significant loss of agricultural lands and potential harm to the environment.

Providing an adequate water supply for Colorado’s citizens, agriculture, and the environment will involve implementing a mix of local water projects and processes, conservation, reuse, agricultural transfers, and the development of new water supplies, all of which should be pursued concurrently. With this Statewide Water Supply Initiative (SWSI) 2010 update, the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB or Board) has confirmed and updated its analysis of the state’s water supply needs and recommends Colorado’s water community enter an implementation phase to determine and pursue solutions to meeting the state’s consumptive and nonconsumptive water supply needs.

Here’s a report from the Colorado Independent (David O. Williams):

Colorado will need up to 1 million more acre-feet of water than it currently uses if, as projected by the report, the state’s population balloons to 10 million by 2050. The fastest areas of growth will be on Colorado’s Western Slope, where the prospect of increased traditional energy production – as well as a speculative oil shale boom – looms large in any water discussion.

The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel [Gary Harmon] reports the state’s demands for municipal and industrial water “could exceed supply by as much as 630,000 acre-feet by mid-century,” according to the report released Friday.

More CWCB coverage here.

Arkansas Valley Super Ditch: The Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District board agrees to form a committee to look at how winter water fits in the project

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District agreed to coordinate formation of the committee at its meeting Thursday, as part of a $225,000 grant request for the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District on behalf of the Super Ditch. The grant was approved last week by the Arkansas Basin Roundtable, which forwarded it to the Colorado Water Conservation Board. It will be accompanied by a letter of dissent from roundtable member Dan Henrichs, superintendent of the High Line Canal.

Henrichs and some others on the roundtable objected to the grant because the Super Ditch exchange application is in Water Court and the information could be used in the case. Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Ark district, said the information would be available for anyone to use, and most roundtable members agreed that it is better to know how agricultural water can be quantified for exchange, storage and transfer.

Winter water is just one piece of the grant. The program was established by a court decree to allow irrigators to store water from Nov. 15 to March 15 each year. Water can be used later in the growing season, when flows are typically diminished…

[Southeastern Executive Director Jim Broderick] said the Division of Water Resources, Southeastern, the Bureau of Reclamation and winter water participants need to meet to see how using winter water in programs like Super Ditch that sell water through lease agreements. Henrichs was on hand to make sure winter water interests are included. “We have to work out winter water before it’s put out before the whole world and becomes a battle,” Broderick said. “We want the process to be inclusive.”

More Arkansas Valley Super Ditch coverage here and here.

Snowpack news: Drought conditions persist on the eastern plains

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Snowpack remains heavy in the northern mountains and much of the Western Slope, while the Arkansas River basin continues to move into severe drought. Statewide, snowpack remains at 125 percent of average, but it’s too early to make projections about water supply. The Arkansas River and Rio Grande basins hover near average precipitation, while the South Platte and southwest corner of the state are slightly above average. The Colorado River and its tributaries are well above normal…

To illustrate the importance of later spring snows, snowfall in the upper part of the Arkansas River basin was at 60 to 75 percent of peak so far, said Pat Edelmann, of the Pueblo office of the U.S. Geological Survey. The southern mountains are at only 20 to 30 percent of peak, while the Roaring Fork basin, which provides supplemental diversions to the Arkansas River, is at 50 to 75 percent of its peak…

Ski areas are reporting healthy bases of snow, with 74 inches at Wolf Creek, 64 inches at Monarch and 54 inches at Ski Cooper. Snotel sites operated by the Natural Resources Conservation Service show snow depths up to 7 feet at higher elevations, with 3 to 4 feet at most lower sites on the Western Slope. In the southern mountains, there is less than 2 feet in most places. Snow water equivalent, the moisture content of snow, is 8 to 36 inches in most places, but under 6 inches in the southern mountains…

Storage in upper reservoirs — Lake Pueblo, Clear Creek, Turquoise and Twin Lakes — is anywhere from 100 to 140 percent of average, which Trinidad Lake is only 70 percent of average and John Martin Reservoir is at 30 percent.