2013 Colorado legislation (HR13-1044): ‘Perhaps a gray future is not such a bad thing, after all’ — Anna Mitchell #coleg


From The Rocky Mountain Collegian (Anna Mitchell):

I do not live in a country where safe drinking water is difficult to come by. Not only is my apartment’s water treated, but I have the means available to take my tap water and purify it further. We have so much clean water that it is used for things that purification is not even necessary for, such as flushing a toilet.

I am fortunate to have access to potable water on command. But that access could be unnecessarily excessive.

For water to be deemed potable, it must undergo an energy-consuming treatment to meet the Environmental Protection Agency’s standards of what is deemed safe to ingest, cook with, and bathe in. However, we use potable water for things like toilet flushing and irrigation despite there being no standards saying our toilet water must be safe to drink.

Greywater, or wastewater that consists of low levels of organic waste, is what drains from bathroom sinks, showers, and washing machines. While graywater is not deemed safe for drinking, there does not seem to be any problems for uses like plant irrigation. Greywater also does not require the same energy-consuming treatment that potable water necessitates.

Water conservationists, led by state Rep. Randy Fischer, have proposed a bill that will recognize graywater systems as a legal process in regions that decide to permit it as such. The bill was recently endorsed by the Colorado Water Congress. While I find water rights to be one of the most infuriating legal institutions in existence, I overall applaud these efforts in sustainability…

My support comes with a few conditions. The amount of effluent, or pollutant run-off, must be kept absolutely minimal. We cannot be initiating sustainability efforts for environmental conservation at the cost of harming the environment in other ways.

There should be absolutely no health concerns that result from having graywater around. The practicality and costs of initiating a system that separates greywater from potable water and black water (water containing large amounts of organic waste, such as from kitchen sinks and flushed toilets) should also be taken into consideration…

Perhaps a gray future is not such a bad thing, after all.

More 2013 Colorado legislation coverage here. More graywater reclamation coverage here and here.

Snowpack/drought news: ‘If the moisture doesn’t come, more cows will go to town’ — Dan McCarty #codrought #cowx

From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (John Stroud):

Locally, as in other parts of the United States, the drought has impacted hay production, availability of rangeland for grazing, and the number of cattle being sent to slaughter, said [Parachute rancher Dan McCarty], noting that the slaughter rate nationally is up 11 percent for January. “If the moisture doesn’t come, more cows will go to town,” he said.

Giving the keynote presentation at Saturday’s gathering of cattle producers from Garfield and Pitkin counties was John Paterson, executive director of producer education for the NCBA. His talk, “How Does Grass, Water and the Consumer Affect Me as a Rancher,” focused on the drought situation in the southwestern United States and elsewhere across the country, and its impact on the beef industry.

“I’m not going to tell you anything you don’t already know. … There are some pretty hard decisions to be made,” Paterson told the gathering of about 60 area cattle ranchers…

At the same time, “I am excited about the cattle business and its future,” Paterson added. “We just have this situation called drought that is keeping us from making some money right now.”

Ranchers can hold out in hopes that the drought situation will change soon, he said. But many are deciding sell off parts or all of their herds in an effort to buy some time, Paterson said.

Aspinall Unit operations meeting recap: Forecasted April-July inflow to Blue Mesa is 370,000 acre-feet #coriver


From email from Reclamation (Dan Crabtree):

Participation: This meeting was held at the Holiday Inn Express in Montrose. Attendees are noted on the distribution list located at the end of these notes. Handouts and presentations are available for review at:


Purpose of Meeting: The purpose of operation meetings which are held in January, April, and August is to gather input for determining upcoming operations of the Aspinall Unit (Blue Mesa, Morrow Point, and Crystal Reservoirs). This input is used in Reclamation’s development of specific operations for the Aspinall Unit and for the overall 24-month study (www.usbr.gov/uc/water/crsp/studies/index.html) for operation of Reclamation projects in the Upper Colorado River Basin, which includes plans for Glen Canyon, Flaming Gorge, and Navajo Units, as well as the Aspinall Unit. Operation of the Aspinall Unit considers forecasted inflows to the reservoirs, hydropower and flood control needs, existing water rights, minimum instream flows, target elevations for reservoirs; flow needs and flow recommendations for endangered fish and other resources; recreation; and other factors. In addition, the meetings are used to coordinate activities and exchange information among agencies, water users, and other interested parties concerning the Gunnison River.

Handouts provided included data on 2012 operations; inflows to the reservoirs for 2012; and projected most probable, minimum, and maximum inflow forecasts for 2013; and potential operations for 2013.

The Fish and Wildlife Service flow recommendations for endangered fish were completed in 2003 and a final Aspinall Operations EIS and Record of Decision have been completed. Therefore operations to meet the flow recommendations have begun. In addition, the water right for the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park has been quantified and adjudicated. These operation meetings are used to discuss proposals for long-term operation plans to address these and related resource management issues.


General: Blue Mesa Reservoir capacities are described in meetings as follows: The reservoir holds 940,700 acre-feet (af). Active capacity is 748,400 af; inactive capacity is 81,100af; and dead storage is 111,200. Live capacity is the active plus inactive, which totals 829,500af. Discussions during operation meetings use live capacity.

Gunnison Basin Reservoirs: In 2012, Paonia and Silver Jack were the only Reclamation reservoirs to fill because of the limited runoff; and similar conditions are predicted to occur in 2013. Presently Taylor Park is 53% full; Ridgway 66%; Paonia 7%; and Silver Jack 19%. Inflow forecasts for 2013 are 63% of average to Ridgway; 60-65% to Taylor Park and 65% in the North Fork basin.

2012 Operations: The actual April through July inflow to Blue Mesa Reservoir was 206,000 af, the third lowest since 1937. The years 1977 and 2002 were lower. The April-July runoff at the Whitewater gage near Grand Junction was only 18 percent of average. Maximum content of Blue Mesa in 2012 was 543,000 af in April. Based on the May 1, 2012 inflow forecast to Blue Mesa, the Black Canyon National Park water right called for a 1-day peak of 814 cfs, which was met by an 845 cfs peak at the end of June. Flow Recommendations for endangered fish called for a 900 cfs peak in 2012 at Whitewater and this corresponded to the 900 cfs baseflow target for June and July which was met.

Black Canyon flows from August-September, 2012 were in the 600 cfs range and lowered to 320 cfs in October and remained there for the rest of the calendar year.

Flows at Whitewater Gage held up well through the fall eventually dropping to around 750 cfs in late December.

2013 Operations: Precipitation in the Gunnison Basin in October and November, 2012 was well below 50% of normal; December precipitation was near normal.

As of January 23rd, snowpack in the Gunnison Basin is only 62 % of the long-term average. (We would need 138% of average for the next 5 months to reach an average year). The inflow forecast to Blue Mesa is now 55% of the long-term average.

Blue Mesa content is now 327,000 af and has gained only 2,000 af through the winter.

As of January 15th, the forecasted April-July inflow to Blue Mesa is 370,000 af which is considered a Dry Year category and would be expected to be exceeded in 92 % of years.

If this inflow forecast holds true, it would represent the 5th lowest inflow since Blue Mesa was constructed (1977, 1981, 2002, and 2012 were lower).

Black Canyon National Park peak flow will be based on May 1 forecast; if the present forecast is maintained the peak would be 1016 cfs. However, a drought provision in the water right (based on the previous dry year and low Blue Mesa content) reduces this peak to 768 cfs.

Flow Recommendations call for a 900 cfs peak at Whitewater in a Dry Year based on the present forecasted inflow. This again, is equal to the baseflow target of 900 cfs for June and July.

Under most probable conditions, Blue Mesa is expected to reach 7476 feet in elevation (480,000 af content) which is 43 feet short of filling.

Average monthly Black Canyon flows during January through April are expected to be around 300 cfs and then increase to 500-650 cfs in the spring and summer.

It should be noted that snowpack conditions can change significantly after January and projected operations should be considered preliminary at this time.

Weather Forecasts: The National Weather Service projected some precipitation in the short-term but below average in the 8-14 day period. Last fall El Nino conditions were projected but did not materialize. Conditions are now near neutral and historically such conditions have resulted in a wide range of precipitation conditions; however, below average precipitation for the remainder of the winter is possible.

Above average temperature conditions are projected for the basin for the remainder of the winter (however, valley inversions may make you think otherwise).

Drought conditions in the Gunnison Basin are expected to persist.

Special Flow Requests: None.


State Engineer: In 2012 the Uncompahgre River was under call upstream from the M&D Canal beginning May 2. The Gunnison River gage at Gunnison reached record low flows. The North Fork basin and Grand Mesa water conditions were very low and carryover in private reservoirs is very low.

CRWCD: Discussing possible drought response with some of the large senior water right holders. State of the Gunnison River meetings will be held again this year: June 3 in Montrose and May 13 at Colorado Mesa University.

Upper Gunnison District: Lake San Cristobal work has been completed which increases available storage by 950 af.

National Park Service: Despite projected low reservoir levels, should still be good recreation opportunities at Blue Mesa.

Trout Unlimited: Relief Ditch Diversion restoration work is 35% complete and should be done by end of March. Will provide safer boat passage and improved diversion operations.

Delta County: Because of 2012 and 2013 dry conditions, very concerned with fire conditions this year. Noted that Larimer County was under Red Flag condition today.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife: Dan Kowalski has accepted a research position with CPW and his replacement has been selected.

Power Office: Normal maintenance of Aspinall dams and powerplants underway. No special projects.

UVWUA: South Canal hydropower project is under construction and some power may be produced this summer. Fish deterrent at the Gunnison Tunnel entrance has been completed and will be operated in 2013.

Western: Generation limited to 6 hours per day at Morrow Point and Blue Mesa. Crystal is generating using the 300 cfs release. Anticipates purchasing lots of energy this year due to dry conditions; prices are not too high this year. Had a high flow event at Glen Canyon; the high releases will be compensated with lower releases. Requested that National Park and endangered fish peaks be coordinated into one peak operation.

FWS: In January, the FWS proposed the Gunnison Sage Grouse as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. Comments on Federal Register notice are due March 12. Holding public meetings.

Tri-County: Ridgway is 15,000 af lower than January average. Releasing 30 cfs to preserve storage and will remain at 30 cfs until Uncompahgre Project needs water. Hydropower project is under construction and may produce some power by end of year.

BLM: 2012 was fairly slow year in the Gunnison Gorge…low flows make rafting very technical. Noted increase in fishing and recreation downstream from the North Fork confluence.

USGS: Gunnison River at Gunnison will now record water temperature.

Snow and Avalanche Center: One dust event last November 9th. Snowpack very low on study sites.

Next Meeting: April 25th at Reclamation’s Office in Grand Junction.

More Aspinall Unit coverage here.

Forecast news: Strong winter storm will bring widespread snow to western Colorado #codrought #cowx

From the National Weather Service Grand Junction office:






Snowpack news: Morgan County irrigator’s eyes are on the mountains #codrought


From The Fort Morgan Times (Dan Barker):

Most of the water used for crops comes from the mountain snowpack, and the snowpack for the South Platte River Basin was only at 62 percent of average as of Wednesday, according to the National Resource Conservation Service snow report. The South Platte River Basin feeds Morgan County reservoirs and agricultural ditches…

At the beginning of January, NCRS reported reservoir storage at only 77 percent of average and 69 percent of last year. The 2013 water year got off to a very slow start in the mountains of Colorado. As of Jan. 1, Colorado’s statewide snowpack was 70 percent of average and 91 percent of last year’s readings, according to Phyllis Ann Philipps, State Conservationist, with the NRCS…

Mountain precipitation was 112 percent of average for December, but due to exceptionally dry conditions in October and November statewide total water year to date precipitation remains below average, NCRS says.

In October and November, Colorado received only 50 and 41 percent of average precipitation respectively.

Statewide year to date precipitation was at 68 percent of average as of Jan. 1. Basins in southern Colorado have the greatest deficits. The San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan basins reported only 59 percent of average year to date precipitation on January 1. The Upper Rio Grande and Arkansas basins recorded 62 and 61 percent of average for year to date precipitation respectively.

So far this winter season has been dominated by high pressure weather systems and a jet stream that has not cooperated. Jan. 1 snow surveys confirm that snow accumulation is below average for this time of year across the state. In early January, total accumulation ranged from 82 percent of average in the Yampa and White River basins, to 61 percent of average in the Arkansas basin. The South Platte River basin reported 67 percent of average and the Colorado River basin reported 68 percent of average.

Due to last spring’s well below average snowpack and subsequent low stream flow volumes throughout most of the state, reservoir storage is currently well below average throughout Colorado. Statewide reservoir storage at the end of December was just 68 percent of average and 38 percent of capacity.

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dave Buchanan):

Call it gloom and doom, or simply an unvarnished look at the future, but there wasn’t much to smile about after Thursday’s meeting to discuss summer water supplies in the Gunnison, Uncompahgre and North Fork Valley river basins. Every four months state and federal water managers gather to talk about water availability in the three adjacent regions, with attention focused on Blue Mesa Reservoir, the key impoundment in the area. With the 2013 water year nearly three months old and last year’s drought conditions predicted to linger across western Colorado, indications are this year may wind up as one of the five-driest in nearly 40 years.

Summer water supplies rely on a healthy snowpack building throughout the winter, but October and November, which historically contribute about 25 percent of the year’s snowpack, saw little precipitation fall across the upper Gunnison Basin. “There was not enough (precipitation) to get the snowpack started,” said hydrologist Erik Knight of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

Precipitation picked up significantly in December but largely in the wrong places. “December precipitation was 120 percent of average, but most of it was at lower elevations,” Knight said.

The higher watersheds, where snows accumulate to feed the summer irrigation season, received very little moisture. “We were in a hole for the first two months” of the Nov. 1–Oct. 31 water year, Knight said.
And by January 1, “we hadn’t gained any ground,” he said.

Forecasters each year try to judge the expected inflow into Blue Mesa Reservoir during the peak runoff period of April through July to allow water users to make spring and summer irrigation plans. The Jan. 1, 2012, runoff forecast called for 450,000 acre-feet of inflow, but “we ended up with 206,000 by end of July,” Knight said.

This year’s Jan. 1 forecast is less, calling for Blue Mesa Reservoir to receive 370,000 acre-feet by the end of July. “It’s always hard to compare this year with history, but we could end up at 206,000 or less or more, but we’re still looking to be dry,” Knight said.

February through April historically are the snowiest months, but in 2011 the snowpack still was growing into May. “That year was so late we had another three or four weeks of accumulation,” Knight said. “And then 2012 went the other way” when the snowpack started to fall in early April.

The real crunch comes at the May operations meeting, when more is known about the winter’s snowpack. Still, the forecast puts 2013 up there (or down there) with the water-short years of 1977, 1981, 2002 and 2012.
No one at Thursday’s meeting expressed much hope the precipitation hole won’t just get deeper.

Aldis Strautins, a hydrologist with the National Weather Service in Grand Junction, said the long-term drought outlook for the Gunnison Basin has the region in extreme to severe drought conditions. “There’s really not much good news,” he said.

Dave Kanzer, water resources engineer for the Colorado River Water District, said everyone should expect “a pretty challenging year.”

Knight said the upper Gunnison Basin would have to receive 138 percent of its average precipitation just to make average. “Based on where we are today, this year is way behind” the pace set in 2002 and 2012, Knight said. He predicted if the Upper Gunnison Basin were to receive just the average amount of snow for the rest of the winter, “We’ll end up at 70–80 percent of average” snowpack.

Given the long-term moisture forecasts, “we might be happy just to get to average,” Knight said

From 9News.com:

The latest drought statistics for Colorado say the state should expect a warm and dry late winter and spring. Unfortunately, that could lead to a severe wildfire season. Colorado is one of 10 states in the middle of a severe drought. Half of the state is in the second-worst level of drought.

CMU: ‘Learn all about water in February’ — Hannah Holm #coriver


From the Grand Junction Free Press (Hannah Holm):

What better way to spend three cold, dreary winter evenings than immersing yourself in water issues?

You’ll get your chance in February with the Water Center at CMU’s annual water course, which is intended to bring all interested citizens up to speed on how water is managed in our region, with particular attention to recent developments in water policy and management. The course will be held in the University Center Ballroom from 6 to 9 p.m. Feb. 11, 18 and 25 — all Mondays.

Session one will focus on Colorado water law, history and culture. Kirsten Kurath, an attorney at Williams, Turner & Holmes, PC will open the session with an orientation to Colorado water law and what water rights issues are of most concern to Grand Valley water users. Then, Colorado Supreme Court Justice Gregory Hobbs will take the stage to discuss the culture and history of Colorado water.

In addition to being a judge, Hobbs is also a poet and the author of the book “Living the Four Corners: Colorado, Centennial State at the Headwaters,” which reviewer Tom I. Romero II described as “a collection of poems, oral testimony, multicultural teaching, inspired reflections, robust exchange, and legal reasoning about the great rivers and the varied people who comprise Colorado.”

Session two will focus on cooperative initiatives for water management and river health. These include initiatives for salinity control, riparian restoration, canal hydropower and improving flows for native fish in the Dolores River. John Sottilare of the Bureau of Reclamation with discuss salinity control projects, which seek to keep irrigation water from leaching salt from our valley’s soils into the river, where they cause problems for farmers downstream.

Tamarisk Coalition staff will discuss their efforts to work with a wide variety of stakeholders to remove tamarisk along riverbanks and restore native vegetation. David Graf, with Colorado Parks & Wildlife, will discuss the Lower Dolores River Implementation, Monitoring and Evaluation Plan for Native Fish, which is the product of several years of discussions among numerous stakeholders.

Session three will focus on current water policy issues. Chris Treese of the Colorado River District will give us a rundown of the water bills introduced in the state legislature this session, which include proposals on agricultural water conservation and the reuse of graywater (that’s water that’s already been used once in your house, somewhere other than the toilet). Then we’ll learn about how the statewide process to figure out how to fill an anticipated gap between water supply and demand from Jacob Bornstein, a staffer for the Colorado Water Conservation Board. We’ll finish off the evening with a discussion of new water quality monitoring requirements for oil and gas drilling.

So come out and join us! We’ll even feed you fruit and cookies while you learn. And keep you awake with coffee.

The cost is $45 for the whole series or $20/session. We will provide certificates of completion for those who attend the whole series, and are seeking accreditation to provide continuing education credits for lawyers, teachers, water system operators and Realtors. Scholarships are available for high school students and K-12 teachers, and admission is free for CMU students and employees. For complete details, go to http://www.coloradomesa.edu/watercenter or call the Water Center at 970-248-1968.

This is part of a series of articles coordinated by the Water Center at Colorado Mesa University in cooperation with the Colorado and Gunnison Basin Roundtables to raise awareness about water needs, uses and policies in our region. To learn more about the basin roundtables and statewide water planning, and to let the roundtables know what you think, go to http://www.coloradomesa.edu/WaterCenter.

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dave Buchanan):

Whether it’s simply a coincidence or divine intervention, the water course being offered next month by the Water Center at Colorado Mesa University comes at an opportune time. The three-seminar series on water law, policies and management begins Feb. 11 with other sessions Feb. 18 and 25.

It seems a lot of people last year would have profited from knowing more about how water policy, and specifically the doctrine of prior appropriation, decides who gets water in a year when there isn’t enough to go around.

Bob Hurford, state Division of Water Resources engineer for Division 4 in the Gunnison River Basin, said Thursday many people holding water rights were surprised last summer when the expected irrigation water never arrived. Speaking during Thursday’s Aspinall Unit operations meeting in Montrose, Hurford said it was people who had moved into the region within the past decade and hadn’t gone through a year of
under-supplied and over-appropriated water. “People were saying, ‘But I own water rights, why aren’t I getting any water?’ ” Hurford recalled. “They couldn’t understand why they didn’t have water and yet the farmers did.”

Hurford said the water shortages appeared much earlier than most people expected. “If you didn’t take your water before May 1, you probably weren’t getting it,” he said. “The Uncompahgre Valley was on call by May 2.”

It was particularly severe in the North Fork Valley, which Hurford called “extremely, highly over-appropriated,” where water rights dating to 1882 take precedence over those coming later. That means those using the Fire Mountain Canal, with 1934 water rights, saw its water dry up after mid-July. “People were outraged,” Hurford said. “But it’s because they didn’t understand how prior appropriation works.”

With this year’s water year shaping up as challenging or more so than 2012, the Water Center’s seminar series is bound to help. Information is available at http://www.coloradomesa.edu (http://www.coloradomesa.edu), click on Water Center.

More education coverage here.

The latest One World One Water Center newsletter is hot off the press


Click here to read a copy of the latest newsletter from One World One Water.

More education coverage here.

Arkansas Valley Super Ditch: ‘It puts the risk for delivery on the cities’ — John Schweizer


From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Farmers want a higher price if a lease with Aurora goes through this year. The boards of the High Line and Catlin canals met with the Arkansas Valley Super Ditch Thursday evening and agreed to a base price of $1,070 per acre for leasing water. The price could increase if the yield of water is greater. “It puts the risk for delivery on the cities,” Super Ditch President John Schweizer said of the pricing strategy. In traditional water deals, the price has been been set per acre-­foot.

Aurora, under a 2010 agreement with the Super Ditch, offered $500 per acre­foot to lease up to 10,000 acrefeet of water this year. Its storage has dropped below 60 percent, which triggers the city’s ability to lease more water from the Arkansas River basin under its 2003 agreement with the Southeastern Colorado and Upper Arkansas water conservancy districts.

But commodity prices for hay and corn — the primary crops grown in the Arkansas Valley — have increased since 2010. In addition, a prolonged drought has reduced water supply for the farmers.

To provide water, farmers must dry up crop land. “When you’re drying up the land, the yield depends on the type of water year,” Schweizer said. Because of differences in water rights, the yield per acre varies from ditch to ditch as well. The base price reflects crop values, but if the water yield per acre increases, so will the lease price, Schweizer said.

The Super Ditch board has agreed to cap land fallowing at 30­-35 percent per farm. “That keeps it evenly distributed,” Schweizer said. “When we get into the leasing mode, it will help keep the land in the valley in production.”

If the Aurora lease goes through, the Super Ditch hopes to have a substitute water supply plan in place by May. A pilot program to lease water in 2012 failed because of delays in getting a state­-approved plan in place prior to the irrigation season.

More Arkansas Valley Super Ditch coverage here.