Colorado Water Plan: ‘We must have a plan that provides a secure water future for all Coloradans’ — Diane Hoppe

Diane Hoppe at CFWE President's Award Reception 2012
Diane Hoppe at CFWE President’s Award Reception 2012

Here’s a guest column about the urgency behind the Colorado Water Plan, written by Diane Hoppe running in The Greeley Tribune:

The recent flooding in northeast Colorado has drawn our attention to the importance of planning for uncertainty, especially when it comes to water. Whether one lives on the Western Slope or the Eastern Plains, water is what makes Colorado’s productive farms and ranches, our thriving recreational industry, our beautiful environment and our vibrant cities possible.

Despite the recent floods, water is predicted to be in short supply in the future. In the coming decades, there could be a gap between supply and demand of as much as half a million acre-feet per year or more. This scenario is particularly threatening to Colorado’s rural communities. Unless we plan our water future, more agricultural water will be bought to supply our growing cities, drying up hundreds of thousands of acres of productive farmland and jeopardizing the economy and livelihoods of rural Colorado. Northeastern Colorado alone is expected to lose about 20 percent of agricultural land currently under production.

This future is unacceptable. We must have a plan that provides a secure water future for all Coloradans.

The governor recently issued an executive order directing the Colorado Water Conservation Board to develop the Colorado Water Plan. This is an unprecedented undertaking for Colorado, but fortunately much of the work to develop the plan already is done.

During the drought of 2002-03, the state Legislature commissioned the most comprehensive study ever done of Colorado’s current and future water demands and supplies, the Statewide Water Supply Initiative. In addition, in 2005 the state Legislature created the Interbasin Compact Committee, a group of 27 water leaders representing every major river basin and water constituency. It also created nine Basin Roundtables, groups of water leaders in every major river basin that have been taking an in-depth look at their basin’s water challenges. For the last several years, these groups have been engaged in thoughtful dialogue while working hard to understand Colorado’s water challenges and ways they can be addressed.

Colorado’s Water Plan will not be a top-down plan full of state mandates and requirements. Instead, it will be built on the foundation of the work of the Basin Roundtables, the Colorado Water Conservation Board and the Interbasin Compact Committee. That is a strong foundation. Through their work, these groups have reached consensus on a variety of actions that will lead to a better water future, including support for alternatives to permanent buy-and-dry of agriculture, conservation, projects that meet certain criteria and more.

Each basin is in the process of developing water plans for their region. Until these are completed, we won’t know all that Colorado’s Water Plan will include. What we do know is the plan will be balanced and reflect Colorado’s values. The governor’s executive order specifies that the plan must promote: a productive economy that supports vibrant and sustainable cities, viable and productive agriculture, and a robust skiing, recreation and tourism industry; efficient and effective water infrastructure promoting smart land use; and a strong environment that includes healthy watersheds, rivers and streams and wildlife.

The water board will deliver a draft of the plan to the governor by Dec. 10, 2014, and then work with the governor to finalize the plan no later than December 2015.

To provide your insights and perspectives, please participate in the next meeting of your South Platte Basin Roundtable. To learn who the members are and when they meet, visit http://www.cwcb.state.co.us and go to the Interbasin Compact Committee and Basin Roundtable link. You can also submit your comments to the water board by emailing cowaterplan@state.co.us.

For more information, go to Colorado’s Water Plan online at http://www.coloradowaterplan.com.

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.

CWCB Proposed 2014 ISF Recommendations

Apishapa River
Apishapa River

From email from the Colorado Water Conservation Board (Ben Wade):

Pursuant to ISF Rule 5c of the Rules Concerning the Colorado Instream Flow and Natural Lake Level Program, this notice identifies the streams to be considered for instream flow appropriations in 2014. At the January 2014 meeting of the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB), staff may request that the Board form its intent to appropriate instream flow water rights for the streams listed on the attached Instream Flow Appropriation List. The attached list contains a description of the Instream Flow (ISF) Recommendations including stream name, watershed, county, upper terminus, lower terminus, length, and USGS quad sheet name(s).

Copies of the Instream Flow Recommendations and Appendices of data submitted into the Official CWCB Record are available for review by the public during regular business hours (8:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.) at the Colorado Water Conservation Board’s Office, located at 1313 Sherman Street, Room 723, Denver, Colorado, 80203. In addition to the CWCB office, copies of the Instream Flow and Natural Lake Level Recommendations are available online at:

http://cwcb.state.co.us/environment/instream-flow-program/Pages/2014ProposedInstreamFlowAppropriations.aspx

More instream flow coverage here.

Increased flows in the Dolores River this summer enable Kokanee spawning

From the Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga):

Last year, there was no run because the lake was so low, explained Jim White, a aquatic biologist with Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

In low water years, the river carves a wide channel in the lake bed that is too shallow for the kokanee salmon to make their way to spawning grounds, 5 miles up river at a specially designed fish hatchery.

But deeper water triggered a run this year attracting bald eagles to the valley and a line of people at the traditional November fish giveaway in Dolores…

The kokanee spawning zone on the Dolores River is a system of ponds that drain into a concrete-formed “raceway”, controlled by gates, sieves, and fish cages. The females lay their eggs in the fine gravel, and then go off and die, becoming a meal for eagles, bears, and otters.

Some eggs are harvested by biologists and raised in the Durango fish hatchery to be distributed to other hatcheries and lakes, including back to the Dolores.

From the hatchery, they float down river and into McPhee Reservoir, with most becoming a meal for predator fish. Those that survive, about 5 percent, spend 3 to 4 years maturing and then make their way to where they were born to lay eggs.

More Dolores River Watershed coverage here and here.

51st State Initiative: Advocates are now looking to legislation and mutual respect to fix the urban-rural divide

51st State Initiative Map via The Burlington Record
51st State Initiative Map via The Burlington Record

From The Denver Post (Monte Whaley):

Proponents of a failed move to secede from Colorado say they will now look to the legislature for help in giving their counties more political clout.

“The issue has not gone away for us,” Phillips County Administrator Randy Schafer said. “We have no voice in how this state is run and we will still try to rectify that.”

Eleven rural Colorado counties voted Tuesday on the question of whether their commissioners should proceed with plans to create a 51st state. Phillips County was one of five counties where the non-binding measure passed.

The other four counties were Cheyenne, Kit Carson, Washington and Yuma. Together, the five counties have a total population of about 29,200.

The measure failed 58 percent to 42 percent in Weld County — population 263,691 — where the 51st state idea first gained traction. Elbert, Lincoln, Logan, Moffat and Sedgwick counties also voted against secession.

Secession critic and retired University of Northern Colorado political science Prof. Steve Mazurana said the notion of breaking up with the Centennial State is all but dead.

“Without Weld County, the efforts to secede will go nowhere, at least for the next decade,” said Mazurana.

Schafer said the 51st state movement will now look to state lawmakers, including State Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, to advance a measure in next year’s legislative session to change statewide representation. Once such proposal is the Phillips Plan which would have representatives elected by county, rather than by population.

But University of Colorado law professor Richard Collins said a series of U.S. Supreme Court decisions in the early 1960s cemented the “one man, one vote” concept into law. Those cases will block any move to put rural counties on par with urban counties, he said.

The counties could also try to reshape the boundaries of legislative districts. But the Colorado Supreme Court said redistricting only happens every 10 years.

“So the next time they can do that is 2021,” Collins said. “These efforts are almost as hopeless as the 51st state movement and I thought that was pretty hopeless.”

State Sen. Greg Brophy — who represents many of the 51st state counties — said the counties that voted against secession were just being “pragmatic.”

“I suspect what they were saying with their vote is they liked Colorado as it is,” said Brophy, who is running for governor against incumbent Democrat John Hickenlooper. “They just want a governor to represent them.”

Hickenlooper said he recognizes the frustration of the 51st state followers.

“While voters in six counties rejected the secession plan, we understand that some rural areas still feel underrepresented and are not being heard,” Hickenlooper said. “We remain committed to listening more and working with local communities all across Colorado.”

From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Patrick Malone):

Voters passed secession initiatives in five rural, northeastern counties, while six counties rejected them. Perhaps more important than how many counties adopted the proposal was one that didn’t — Weld, the most populous and economically influential county where secession was on the ballot.

The five counties that passed secession measures have a combined population of 29,056. Even the least populous state in the nation, Wyoming, has 563,626 residents. Counties that rejected secession have 330,119 residents combined — 263,746 of whom live in Weld.

“There’s no doubt that if Weld had voted for this (Tuesday) night, it would have been a much different story,” said Weld County Commissioner Sean Conway, an architect of the 51st-state movement. “But the voters have spoken. We need to respect the voters’ wishes and look for other avenues to have that discussion.”

The new course for the movement is already taking shape, and it doesn’t involve leaving Colorado — quite the opposite. Conway said the next step is modeled after the measure voters passed in Phillips County on Tuesday, which would add seats in the state Legislature from rural Colorado.

That’s a tall order. It would require a constitutional change in the way legislative seats are apportioned. That would require approval by voters statewide. Before it could even reach the ballot, two-thirds of the Legislature or a sufficient number of petition signatures that would require plenty of urban support is necessary.

In other words, 51st-state organizers would need help from the parts of Colorado they sought to cast off if they are to elevate their political influence…

Instead of fortifying the urge to shake loose, Conway says the secession experiment has reminded rural Coloradans of the need to embrace the rest of the state — and hope that it reciprocates.

“The word came down from the voters: We’re proud to be Coloradans, and we love our state,” he said. “There’s nobody with guns in the street. Everybody got a chance to vote, and at the end of it all, everybody respects each other, even if they don’t agree.”

More 51st State Initiative coverage here.

Secretary Jewell Applauds President’s Intent to Nominate Neil Kornze as Director of the Bureau of Land Management

Photovoltaic Solar Array
Photovoltaic Solar Array

Here’s the release from the Department of Interior:

Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell today praised President Obama’s intent to nominate Neil G. Kornze as Director of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). If confirmed by the U.S. Senate, Kornze would head a bureau that manages more than 245 million acres of public land under a multiple-use and sustained yield mission.

“Neil has helped implement forward-looking reforms at the BLM to promote energy development in areas of minimal conflict, drive landscape-level planning efforts, and dramatically expand the agency’s use of technology to speed up the process for energy permitting,” said Jewell. “For more than a decade, Neil has been a key player in many of the nation’s major natural resource policy issues and has a reputation for being creative and results-oriented. His record at the BLM is marked by an inclusive approach and an openness to new ideas as the agency supports efforts to foster economic opportunities through safe and responsible energy development and increased access to the nation’s system of conservation lands.”

Kornze has led the BLM since March 1, 2013, as Principal Deputy Director, overseeing its conservation, outdoor recreation and energy development programs. Prior to this role, Kornze served as the BLM’s Acting Deputy Director for Policy and Programs since October 2011. He joined the agency in January 2011 as a Senior Advisor to the Director and has worked on a range of issues, including renewable and conventional energy development, transmission siting and conservation policy. He also has been active in tribal consultation, especially regarding oil, gas and renewable energy development in Indian Country.

Kornze played a key role in developing the Western Solar Plan, which established 17 low-conflict zones for commercial solar energy development and also identified lands appropriate for conservation, and the agency’s approval of 47 solar, wind and geothermal utility-scale projects on public lands, as a leader of the Department’s Renewable Energy Strike Team. When built, these projects add up to more than 13,300 megawatts – enough electricity to power 4.6 million homes and support 19,000 construction and operations jobs. He also has been a leader in reforming BLM’s oil and gas program, including the upcoming launch of a nation-wide online permitting system that could significantly reduce drilling permit processing times, and in the bureau’s efforts to enhance and increase visitors to the diverse system of national conservation lands.

Before joining the BLM, Kornze was a Senior Policy Advisor to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, working on renewable energy, mining, water, outdoor recreation, rural development and wildlife conservation issues. He worked closely on developing and helping pass critical national legislation, including the Omnibus Public Lands Act of 2009 and the reauthorization of the Secure Rural Schools and Payment-in-Lieu-of-Taxes programs. Raised in Elko, NV, by a family with a long history in mining, Kornze has a master’s degree in International Relations from the London School of Economics and is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate with a degree in Politics from Whitman College in Walla Walla, WA.

The BLM has an annual budget of $1.1 billion and 10,250 employees who carry out a multiple-use and sustained yield mission to sustain the health, diversity and productivity of the public lands – mostly in 12 western states – for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations. The BLM hosts more than 59 million visits annually and administers the National System of Public Lands, which encompasses about 13 percent of the total land surface of the United States and more than 40 percent of all land managed by the federal government. BLM also manages 700 million acres of sub-surface mineral estate across the nation.

From the Denver Business Journal (Mark Harden):

Environmental groups praised the choice.

“Neil Kornze will bring his western upbringing and values, combined with conservation knowledge, experience, and judgment to the director’s office at BLM,” said Trevor Kincaid of the Denver-based Center for Western Priorities. “Mr. Kornze’s record of finding compromise between divergent positions makes him an ideal candidate for the challenges facing BLM.”

Kornze faces confirmation by the U.S. Senate. U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, told the Salt Lake Tribune that while “the fact that Mr. Kornze is from the West is a good thing,” he plans to bring up such issues as sage grouse management and hydraulic fracturing as Kornze’s nomination is considered.
In Colorado, some 1.7 million acres of BLM land are habitat for the greater sage grouse, whose dwindling numbers have led state and federal officials to weigh restrictions on energy development and grazing to protect the bird.

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

A former adviser to Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., will head the nation’s largest land-management agency, if Neil Kornze is approved by the Senate. President Barack Obama nominated Kornze to head the Bureau of Land Management on Thursday. The agency last had a permanent chief in May 2012.

Kornze’s nomination won quick support from U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., who cited in a statement his office’s good working relationship with Kornze.

“Being from the West and having demonstrated experience in the Congress and at the bureau make him a qualified candidate for the job,” Bennet said. “We’re looking forward to hearing more about how his priorities for the BLM will help our state balance the need for responsible energy development with recreation and the protection of our public lands and wildlife habitat.”

Kornze grew up in Elko, Nev., and has headed the Bureau of Land Management since March 1. He joined the agency in 2011 as a senior adviser to Director Robert Abbey, working on renewable and conventional energy development and conservation policy. He worked previously with Reid.

U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., is reviewing Kornze’s nomination, Udall’s office said.

Kornze’s position on state water rights is an important issue, U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Colo., said in a statement.

Tipton has criticized the BLM and U.S. Forest Service for demanding state water rights in exchange for permits to graze or operate on federal lands.

“It’s critically important that the director of the BLM understands the importance of multiple-use of public lands, and strives to achieve a balance of conservation and responsible use of the abundant natural resources on those lands,” Tipton said in a statement.

Western Colorado is dependent on the bureau’s energy policies, David Ludlam of the West Slope Colorado Oil and Gas Association said.

“So the responsibility falls to our community to reach out to Mr. Kornze early, often and constructively to open up access to the natural gas reserves so fundamental to our economy and quality of life,” Ludlam said.

The BLM’s Grand Junction Field Office administers about 1 million acres in Mesa and surrounding counties, including U.S Forest Service lands it manages for the mineral deposits beneath them.

The BLM administers more than 245 million acres of public lands nationwide.

S. 1630: Water Rights Protection Act — Full text of the bill now available at GovTrack.us (NSAA vs. USFS)

Copper Mountain snowmaking via ColoradoSki.com
Copper Mountain snowmaking via ColoradoSki.com

If you are like me, these football afternoons are best when you have the text of a water bill winding through Congress to read. Click here to read US Senator John Barrasso’s companion bill to US Representative Scott Tipton’s bill (H.R. 3189).

More NSAA vs. USFS coverage here. More water law coverage here.

The state interim water resources review committee proposes ‘flexible water markets’ water right

How to install a hydro alternator
How to install a hydro alternator

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The state interim water resources review committee gave the green light to five bills at its meeting on Oct. 30. It tabled six other bills.

Hydroelectric generation: Sets up guidelines for licensing of hydro projects.

Flexible water markets: Creates a new type of water use, subject to water court approval and consumptive use diversion limits.

Grants for wastewater treatment: Clarifies guidelines for using severance tax money for small communities water and wastewater plants.

Removal of Division of Water Resources printing requirements: Allows more use of electronic copies of reports, rather than requiring printed copies.

Opposing federal special use permit terms: Specifies that water rights obtained by the United States government as a condition of a permit are presumed to be speculative, forfeited but not necessarily abandoned. The right reverts to the prior owner and retains its original priority.

More coverage (Chris Woodka):

Legislation that could allow water rights to be changed for indefinite purposes is expected to be introduced in the next state legislative session. The new law could affect the Pueblo Board of Water Works shares on Bessemer Ditch as well as the Arkansas Valley Super Ditch.

Flexible water markets would be authorized as a new type of water right under a proposed bill that got a green light from the interim water resources committee on an 8-2 vote at its final meeting in October.

State water law now requires an end user to be identified to avoid speculation. The anti-speculation doctrine is a powerful legal tool. For instance, it was employed as the major legal argument for stopping water transfers from the Fort Lyon Canal by High Plains A&M in a 2003 case that was upheld by the state Supreme Court in 2005.

The new bill would allow changes of use of irrigation water rights through fallowing, reduced cropping, deficit irrigation and other alternatives to full irrigation that do not result in permanent dry-up or irrigated lands. Unlike previous attempts at legislation, the bill would still require a court process to determine the historic consumptive use of the water for crops. Only that portion can be removed from a water system, even under existing law. A water right could be used for agriculture, municipal, industrial, recreation or environmental uses in alternate years under the legislation.

The interim committee also wants legislation that would look at property tax implications for partially irrigated farmland, as well as ditchwide quantification of water rights when only some are used for a different purpose.

A flex use water right could be useful in changing Bessemer Ditch water rights purchased by the Pueblo water board in 2009. Under flex marketing, land that was historically irrigated could remain in production rather than drying up the land.

“The board is interested in maintaining flexibility for municipal or agricultural use by whatever mechanism, whether it’s this bill or something else,” said Paul Fanning, legislative administrator for the Pueblo water board.

The bill also could have implications for the Arkansas Valley Super Ditch, which is looking at methods to lease water from lands that are temporarily dried up.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Farmers in the Lower Arkansas Valley want to be able to use their own water to supplement wells, but see legal and engineering hurdles. So, with the help of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District, they are seeking legislation to change replacement requirements for wells.

“We’re not trying to expand our water right, but just continue what we have been doing under the substitute supply plan,” said Paul Casper, a farmer who is a board member of the Holbrook Canal Co. “We want to use our own water on our own land.”

The legislation would allow a farmer to use surface water from existing water rights as replacement water for well depletions on the same ground, provided it already has been part of a well augmentation plan. As it stands now, farmers are required to file for a change of use in water court after operating for 10 years under a substitute water supply plan.

Casper said that is too expensive and takes time. The new law would allow farmers to use water that had already been permitted or decreed for replacement use without a court filing.

Because the law faced opposition from the legislative committee of the Colorado Water Congress, the Lower Ark district pulled it from consideration by the interim water resources committee. But it plans to push for passage of the bill when the Legislature convenes in January.

“We’ve already had engineering over a 10-year period to show that no one’s water rights have been injured,” said Alan Frantz, a Rocky Ford farmer and member of the Catlin Canal board. “The state is requiring additional engineering and lawyers to take it through court.

“In two years, the augmentation group on the Catlin already has spent $300,000 on engineering, and we’re not even close to court,” Frantz said.

Farmers in the future will need to grow more food, even as their sources of water diminish, Frantz said. To grow higher value crops farmers need a steady supply of water throughout the years. Wells provide that at time surface water falls short.

Tyler Karney, manager of the Ordway Feedyard, agreed.

“Any obstacle in front of farmers needs to be removed,” Karney said. “This legislation is helpful to farmers. We need to take the barriers away.”

More 2014 Colorado Legislation coverage here.