A Sustainable Solution for Meeting Colorado’s Water Needs Through 2050

I first reported about this report on Wednesday. Here’s an analysis from Alan Prendergast writing for Westword. Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

The challenge is daunting. The population of eleven Front Range counties is expected to swell by another 2.5 million people by 2050, pushing municipal water needs to more than a million acre-feet of water a year. That’s about 365,000 acre-feet more than the available supply. But Filling the Gap makes the case for pragmatic planning now rather than panic later.

Some additional dams and diversion projects are deemed acceptable by the report’s authors. But the Upper Colorado River Basin is already quite stressed by the Moffat, Windy Gap and Colorado-Big Thompson projects, leaving anemic streams and declining water quality. Fully two-thirds of the native waters from the region are drained into the Front Range these days, and city planners have their eyes on much more.

But the new study calculates that much of the increasing demand can be met through common-sense conservation strategies, better cooperation among agricultural and municipal interests, and other measures that don’t involve tapping deeper into overextended supplies.

 

Edwards: Eagle Valley chapter of Trout Unlimited general membership meeting March 8

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From the Eagle Valley chapter of Trout Unlimited via the Vail Daily:

The Eagle Valley chapter of Trout Unlimited will hold a general membership meeting Tuesday, featuring a film, “Grand Canyon Adventure: River at Risk,” by MacGillivray Freeman Films. The meeting will be held at Berry Creek Middle School in Edwards. The film celebrates the Colorado River and potential water shortages in the west by year 2050. The film uses the Colorado as a metaphor for what’s happening all over the world and as a way to show how delicate water systems can be and how everything is interconnected. The meeting is open to the public and will also cover annual Eagle Valley Trout Unlimited membership business, awards presentations and giveaways.

The meeting is scheduled from 6-8 p.m. and is open to the public. To learn more, call 970-470-1844 or e-mail alex@eaglevalleytu.org.

More Eagle River watershed coverage here and here.

Basin Roundtable Summit

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The Interbasin Compact Committee, the Colorado Water Conservation Board and the Colorado Foundation for Water Education hosted a summit for the basin roundtables yesterday in Westminster. Discussion centered around the IBCC strategy report drafted and sent to Governor-elect Hickenlooper last fall that identifies four approaches — conservation, alternative ag transfers, identified projects and new supplies — for solving Colorado’s anticipated water supply gap.

I didn’t make the morning sessions but Chris Woodka from The Pueblo Chieftain was there. Here’s his report. From the article:

[Governor Hickenlooper said], “The next four or five years . . . this is the point in Colorado history where we have a chance to get this done,” Hickenlooper told the Roundtable Summit. “We can find a long-term solution for the state’s water future.”

The summit is the first gathering of members from all nine basin roundtables formed as part of the Interbasin Compact Committee process in 2005. About 300 attended the meeting. Hickenlooper said the state should increase conservation, protect the environment, encourage agriculture and develop water supplies — all goals in an IBCC framework to deal with the state’s water. The state should cut red tape to allow water projects to move ahead and remain open to private investment.

The question of private investment was posed by Jeris Danielson, a member of the Arkansas Basin Roundtable and a former state engineer. Danielson also is a consultant for Aaron Million, who has proposed building a multibillion-dollar pipeline from Flaming Gorge Reservoir in Wyoming to serve Colorado’s Front Range. “To solve the state’s water problems takes money,” Danielson said, and noting that state and federal governments are running low on cash. “Are you willing to work with private developers?”

“We have to be careful bringing in private capital as part of the solution,” Hickenlooper said. “I don’t have a problem with bringing private capital into the picture, but we need to make sure their goals line up with the state’s goals.”

Hickenlooper pledged to keep water funds whole with the entire state picture in mind. Water funds in the past two years have been raided to balance other parts of the state budget.

The group then broke up for table discussions facilitated by the IBCC members to brainstorm implementation of the IBCC strategy document.

At the concluding session IBCC Director, John Stulp, summarized some of the themes that came out of the table discussions:

“We favor keeping people from dying from thirst, we do not support lawn watering.”

“Some think that conservation should be mandated” (Stulp quipped, ” We don’t always agree on everything.”)

“How do we develop a water market?”

“Is there a need to increase infrastructure for both agricultural and municipal systems to facilitate alternative ag transfers?”

Stulp, farmer and former director of the Colorado Department of Agriculture, mentioned that he had recently read that civilization, “must produce as much food in the next 40 years as we have in the last 10,000 years.”

More coverage from The Denver Post (Bruce Finley). From the article:

“It doesn’t have to be a trade-off if we’re smart and figure out how to do this in an equitable manner,” said T. Wright Dickinson, a rancher on the 27-member board charged with finding a statewide water solution. Thursday’s forum of the Inter basin Compact Committee marked the first time representatives from nine river basins have confronted their task together in a process state lawmakers launched in 2005…

“We can obtain a fair amount of water supply from conservation and re- use,” said Mark Pifher, Aurora Water’s director and chairman of the Front Range Water Council. “But as a state we need to look at water available in the Colorado River Basin and develop it to the extent of our (interstate) compact entitlement.”[…]

Rod Kuharich, director of the South Metro Water Supply Authority, which represents 15 suburbs dependent on groundwater wells, said the goal would require “draconian” enforcement and said 300,000 acre- feet would be more realistic. “Is this really a role the state government should be playing? To control your water use? I fear trees dying,” Kuharich said. “When you start to limit the amount of lawn irrigation, the existing landscape is going to change. You’d need to provide a water source for those trees.”

During an afternoon session dealing with non-consumptive use a panel discussed successes that have been realized over the past few years. The big problem, according to Colorado Basin Roundtable member, Caroline Bradford, is quantifying the non-consumptive needs of wildlife and riparian environment. It will take time to do the science and there is not enough effort and funding, she says.

A representative from Colorado Ducks Unlimited spoke about recharge/habitat projects on the Lower South Platte River.

A project with the town of Brush for example, “Runs water to 600 acres of wetlands.” The Colorado Department of Wildlife leases the land from Brush, and, “We get a lot of Ducks off that property.” The cost per acre foot for Brush is around $17 he said.

Speaking generally he said, “Landwoners love it,” wetlands increase land value, create a better place to hunt and add a fair amount of ag production as well.

I’m not sure if any of the walls between basins are coming down but it is apparent that the roundtable members are more focussed on solutions rather than protecting parochial interests. It’s taken 5 years to get to this point and now they have 5 years to develop a plan to meet the gap.

Bump and update From The Durango Herald (Joe Hanel):

Just five years ago, the east-west tension about water was so potent that no one could have contemplated such a gathering. But on Thursday, Gov. John Hickenlooper charged the water experts with developing a statewide solution that will overcome regional water conflicts. “This is the point in Colorado history when we have an opportunity to get this done, to actually have a long-term sustainable vision for our water,” Hickenlooper said.

Colorado never has had a statewide water strategy. Instead, growing cities buy water from farmers and the dry eastern side pumps it through controversial tunnels from the Western Slope. Most water experts agree that without changes, cities will dry up the farms and mountain valleys…

A statewide water roundtable known as the Interbasin Compact Committee released a controversial report in December that dominated Thursday’s agenda. The report calls for a greater role for state government in water policy, both in mandating strict conservation for cities and in speeding up the slow process of building major water projects.

Reaction to the report has been mixed. Some people complain the conservation requirements are not strict enough, while others say they are too strict, including a proposed new law that homeowners install water-efficient appliances before they sell their houses. People from Western Slope river roundtables have said that even if the state requires cities to pay extra for water transfers, no amount of money is enough to compensate for the loss of water, according to a written summary of comments gathered the last two months at public meetings around the state.

More IBCC — basin roundtables coverage here.

Snowpack news

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From the Natural Resources Conservation Service (Mike Gillespie):

The latest surveys of Colorado’s mountain snowpack indicate continued favorable conditions for next spring and summer’s water supplies. According to snow surveys conducted by the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), the statewide snowpack continues this year’s trend of above average conditions and is 115 percent of average as of March 1. Basinwide snowpack totals are above average across most of the state with the only basins reporting below average conditions confined to the river basins in southern Colorado, according to Allen Green, State Conservationist with the NRCS.

Probably the most significant aspect of February’s weather events was the overall improvement in areas of the state, which up until this month, had been fairing quite poorly. Snowpack totals in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and throughout the Rio Grande River Basin improved significantly this month, yet snowpack totals remain below average throughout this region. For many measurement sites in this area these February storms were the first significant snowfalls of the year. The Rio Grande Basin snowpack totals have the lowest basinwide snowpack percentage in the state at 88 percent of average.

In those basins west of the Continental Divide, snowpack totals decreased for the second consecutive month in February. Across the San Juan, Animas, Dolores and San Miguel basins, these decreases were large enough to lower the percentages to below average for the first time this year. Elsewhere across the state, particularly across the northern basins, these declines were less severe leaving snowpack percentages at above average levels.

The latest surveys once again illustrate the strong disparity between this year and last year’s snowpack conditions. With this year’s snowpack totals well above those of last year in most basins, only southwestern Colorado continues to report less snowpack than last year at this time. Statewide totals remain well above those measured on March 1, 2010.

Now, with only about one-quarter of the winter snow accumulation season remaining, most of the state can bank on seeing average to above average spring and summer runoff. The outlook for water supplies remains good to excellent across the Yampa, Colorado, South Platte Gunnison and Arkansas headwaters. “About the only basins likely to see below average runoff this year are the Rio Grande, the southern tributaries of the Arkansas River, and the southwestern basins”, said Green. The one advantage in the San Juan, Animas, Dolores and San Miguel basins lies with their slightly above average reservoir storage which will help to supplement expected lower water supplies.

Click on the thumbnail graphic above and to the right for the NRCS table of snowpack and reservoir storage levels by basin.

More coverage from Bill Jackson writing for The Greeley Tribune. From the article:

Adding to concerns is the latest outlook for March-May by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Climate Prediction Center. That outlook calls for a more than 33 percent probability of above-normal temperatures and below-normal precipitation, which does not bode well for the state’s Eastern Plains. Some areas have received decent moisture, but dry conditions, particularly in the southeast part of the state, could result in wildfires this spring and summer, NOAA said…

But the latest statewide surveys by officials with U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, indicate continued favorable conditions for the spring and summer water supplies, said Allen Green, state conservationist with the NRCS in Denver. The state’s snowpack is 115 percent of the long-term average as of March 1 and is 131 percent of last year’s numbers on the same date. The four main basins in the northern mountains, however, range from 121 percent of average on the South Platte to 131 percent on the North Platte. Compared to last year, however, the four basins — which includes the Colorado and Yampa/White — are at 153-183 percent of 2010…

The northern snowpack means there probably will be more water coming off the snowpack than can be stored in Lake Granby. That lake is the primary storage facility of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project, which brings a supplemental water supply over the mountains to 30 cities and towns in northeastern Colorado along with irrigation water for about 693,000 acres of farmland. Brian Werner, spokesman for Northern Water, which manages the Colorado-Big Thompson, said two meetings already are scheduled with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation next week to the determine the best options for Lake Granby. “The simple math is that there’s going to be too much water coming into the collection system on the Western Slope this spring than we can either store and/or bring over to the east side,” Werner said. Letting water out of Granby back into the Colorado River could begin within the next couple of weeks to make room for at least some of the expected runoff this spring.

From the Summit County Citizens Voice (Bob Berwyn):

The March 1 anowpack in the Colorado River Basin was at 128 percent of normal, near the level it’s been at all year, and local weather watcher Rick Bly reported above-normal precipitation total for February to add to that total. For the month, Bly tallied 26.3 inches of snow, 11 percent more than the historic average of 23.5 inches. Melted, that snow added up to 1.85 inches of water, about 8 percent above the average 1.71 inches for the month.

For the year-to-date, total snowfall at Bly’s Breckenridge weather station is 136.1 inches, well above the year-to-date average of 101.5 inches and surpassing last year’s total winter snowfall of about 126 inches — but far from any records. As recently as 1995-96, 220 inches of snow had piled up in Breckenridge by March 1. The snowpack water-equivalent for the year-to-date at Bly’s gauge is 11.15 inches, a whopping 41 percent above the historic average of 7.52 inches. And that’s with the snowiest month yet to come, Bly said, adding that March has historically been reliable for steady snowfall, even in many otherwise dry years. The average snowfall for March is 25.52 inches and the biggest March on record was in 1899, with 120.4 inches — that was the winter that Breckenridge residents had to tunnel their way down Main Street. In the modern era, one of the biggest Front Range storms on record spilled over the Continental Divide to deliver 47.5 inches in March 2003. That was the storm that began on St. Patrick’s Day and dropped more than 80 inches on Evergreen, triggering avalanches near Georgetown and shutting down I-70 for several days.