Governor Hickenlooper orders work to begin on Colorado Water Plan — draft due December 2014

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Gov. John Hickenlooper’s charge to the Colorado Water Conservation Board to develop a state water plan could have the same sort of impact as the 1969 overhaul of state water law. “It is major, and truly significant,” said Alan Hamel, the Arkansas River basin representative on the CWCB. “There is the need to not only look out for growth, but to deal with climate change and the validity of our water systems.”

Hickenlooper unveiled an executive order last week at the board’s meeting in Grand Junction that directs the CWCB to deliver a draft plan to him no later than Dec. 10, 2014. It will be completed by Dec. 31, 2015. “Throughout our state’s history, other water plans have been created by federal agencies or for the purpose of obtaining federal dollars,” Hickenlooper said in his written order. “We embark on Colorado’s first water plan written by Coloradans, for Coloradans.”

While the order is no surprise — Hickenlooper has talked about having a plan in place by 2016 for months — it clearly defines the CWCB as the lead agency in developing the plan. Hickenlooper also incorporated other state agencies into the planning process, including the Department of Natural Resources, which includes Parks and Wildlife; the Department of Public Health and Environment, which includes the Water Quality Control Commission; the Water Resources and Power Development Authority, which like the CWCB can make water project loans; the Department of Agriculture; and the Colorado Energy Office, which will incorporate the water-energy nexus. The plan also directs the CWCB to include input from the Interbasin Compact Committee and basin roundtables, because they have developed a grassroots approach and a framework for discussing water issues.

However, the plan suggests a more top-down approach to coordinate, streamline and align existing state processes with input from state water groups — much the same way the CWCB used to create the Statewide Water Supply Initiative reports.

It also comes during a shakeup in CWCB leadership. Executive Director Jennifer Gimbel will leave in June and the selection process for her replacement has already begun.

The biggest major change in state water law came in 1969, when the state Legislature revamped the law to combine tributary groundwater and surface rights. Changes since then have been influenced by court decisions more than decisions by the executive branch.

Other sweeping changes came in 1937, when the CWCB was created in response to the Colorado-Big Thompson Project, and through sweeping federal programs like the Clean Water Act in 1972.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Storage must be a key part of any statewide water plan, because other goals such as conservation, more efficient supply and water quality cannot occur without it. “There is an underlying understanding that storage is needed and it will be a vital component of a state water plan,” said Alan Hamel, who represents the Arkansas River Basin on the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

The state has been looking at water strategies that include conservation, completing existing and proposed projects and sharing water. Those things can’t happen unless the state has enough places to keep water until it’s needed, Hamel said.

Hamel is just one vote on the board that Gov. John Hickenlooper has charged with developing a state water plan by 2016. But he has been a consistent voice for increasing storage since he led the push for the Preferred Storage Options Plan as president of the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District in the late 1990s.

He mentioned a new idea for the Arkansas River basin during an interview this week: A summer storage program. In the 1970s, after Pueblo Dam was built as part of the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project the Southeastern district crafted a winter storage program that allows farmers to store flows from Nov. 15 to March 15. The same concept could be used during extremely wet summers to capture and save water for both municipal and agricultural use, Hamel said.

The major difficulty in developing a plan is the state’s prior appropriation system, which allocates water according to its first historic use. Large storage projects like Lake Pueblo provide flood control by capturing excess water, but also decrease the peak flow of rivers, which can hurt junior rights. The key is to develop an accounting system, as the winter storage program did, that would protect junior rights, Hamel explained.

Hamel also pointed out that the CWCB already is working toward other aspects that eventually will be in the plan. One of those efforts is developing water-sharing arrangements, such as the Arkansas Valley Super Ditch, through demonstration projects under HB1248, already signed into law by Hickenlooper.

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

Colorado water officials are to draft a state water plan by December 2014 under an executive order issued on Wednesday by Gov. John Hickenlooper. The plan calls on the Colorado Water Conservation Board to head the planning process, working with other state agencies, river basin roundtables and other organizations to preserve agriculture in rural Colorado and while accommodating population growth.

The water conservation board met Wednesday in Grand Junction.

“Colorado deserves a plan for its water future use that aligns the state’s many and varied water efforts and streamlines the regulatory processes,” Hickenlooper said in a statement. “We started this effort more than two years ago and are pleased to see another major step forward. We look forward to continuing to tap Colorado’s collaborative and innovative spirit to address our water challenges.”

Ute Water Conservation District General Manager Larry Clever said the response to the governor’s call was guarded. “The devil’s in the details,” Clever said.

According to the Statewide Water Supply Initiative, the gap between water supply and demand could exceed 500,000 acre feet by 2050.

The report is to be complete by 2015.

More CWCB coverage here.

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