World Resources Institute: World’s 18 Most Water-Stressed Rivers #ColoradoRiver


From the World Resources Institute (Andrew Maddocks/Paul Reig):

The world’s 100 most-populated river basins are indispensable resources for billions of people, companies, farms, and ecosystems. But many of these river basins are also increasingly at risk. As water demand from irrigated agriculture, industrialization, and domestic users explodes, major rivers on several continents are becoming so depleted that they sometimes fail to reach their ocean destinations. Add climate change, nutrient and chemical pollution, and physical alterations like dams and other infrastructure development to the mix and it’s clear that many communities rely on water resources that face an increasingly risky future.

WRI’s Aqueduct project recently evaluated, mapped, and scored stresses on water supplies in the 100 river basins with the highest populations, 100 largest river basins, and 180 nations. We found that 18 river basins— flowing through countries with a collective $US 27 trillion in GDP —face “extremely high” levels of baseline water stress. This means that more than 80 percent of the water naturally available to agricultural, domestic, and industrial users is withdrawn annually—leaving businesses, farms, and communities vulnerable to scarcity…

Decision-makers in many of world’s water-stressed basins have attempted to put management plans in place—with mixed results. The United States’ Colorado River is a prime example of a plan that, while well-intentioned, may ultimately be unsustainable. Starting in Colorado and running 1,400 miles to the Gulf of California, the Colorado River is the 14th most stressed among the world’s most populated river basins, and the sixth most stressed if ranked by size. More than 30 million people depend on it for water. The seven states receiving its water comprised 19 percent of the United States’ total GDP in 2010.

Because of its naturally arid setting—and due to its large and growing number of users and resulting high level of baseline water stress—the Colorado has become one of the most physically and legally managed rivers in the world. It is also under serious duress, exacerbated by a decades-long drought. This imbalance between supply and demand means that the river often runs dry before it reaches the Pacific Ocean—posing significant problems for wildlife, ecosystems, and communities that depend on it.

The Colorado River is an example of a basin where natural water stress is already severe. The complex web of infrastructure and governance structures around the river was, in a sense, created to ensure predictable, steady water supplies in a stressed region. On the other hand, that same development has driven increasing demands for limited supplies. Aqueduct’s country and river basin rankings deliberately do not include the effects of such extensive management, instead focusing on objective measures of underlying hydrological conditions. But the overall picture is clear: Even the most-established, iron-clad management systems start to crumble under increasing scarcity and stress…

What Is Water Stress?

Water stress is the ratio of total water withdrawals to available renewable supply in an area. In high-stress areas, 40 percent or more of the available supply is withdrawn every year. In extremely high-stress areas, that number goes up to 80 percent or higher. A higher percentage means more water users are competing for limited supplies. See the high and extremely high-stress areas highlighted in red and dark red on the maps.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.

Work on the #COWaterPlan continues #ColoradoRiver

Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013
Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013

From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Hannah Holm):

Over the past month, readers of this column have learned about several aspects of the Colorado Water Plan Governor Hickenlooper wants drafted by the end of this year. Articles have focused on the efforts of the planning group for the Colorado River Basin (in Colorado) that seek to address needs for community water supplies, agriculture, and streamflows to support the environment and recreational uses.

Here are a few of the points highlighted the series:

• Many headwater communities lack sufficient reservoir storage to weather a prolonged or severe drought.

• Many farmers and ranchers already suffer from periodic water shortages, even as they fear that additional Western Slope agricultural water will be demanded for urban uses or meeting downstream obligations.

• The health of many streams have already been undermined by diversions, and there is concern that the problem could get worse as water demands continue to grow, with consequences for the recreational economy as well as the environment.

Reconciling these competing demands for water even within the Colorado River Basin is no simple task, and the fact that water-short farms and cities east of the Continental Divide continue to seek relief from the comparatively wet western side adds another layer of complexity.

Nonetheless, the water managers and stakeholders that make up the Colorado Basin Roundtable are forging ahead with assessing potential projects and methods to enhance the security of water supplies to meet all of the basin’s needs. A few of these potential projects and methods include:

• Developing small storage reservoirs in the Upper Basin that can release water to support both community needs and fish needs in times of prolonged drought.

• Acquiring the Shoshone Power Plant in Glenwood Canyon, which holds a very senior water right that plays an important role in keeping water in the Colorado River to run through its hydropower turbines.

• Identifying land-use policies that could reduce the growth of urban water needs.

The Colorado Basin Roundtable is continuing to address these options at meetings every two weeks in Glenwood Springs and is seeking additional input from the public at town hall meetings held throughout the river basin.

To learn more and get details on upcoming meetings, go to

From Steamboat Today (Ren Martyn):

The Yampa White Green Roundtable met last week in Craig to further discuss Northwest Colorado’s Basin Implementation Plan that in July will be sent to the Colorado Water Conservation Board to be implemented into the 2015 Colorado State Water Plan…

The imposing task is how to keep the water in our basin and plan for “wet water,” or water that is in the river system not just on paper.

When compared to other Colorado basins, our basin is relatively undeveloped and has limited water usage and storage. Other West Slope basins in close proximity to the thirsty Front Range metro areas with trans-mountain diversions that take West Slope water to the East Slope, have gone through water planning but their rivers lack a normal hydrologic cycle and are dry in comparison.

A quick look at Winter Park’s [Fraser] River will show the water planning did not achieve “wet water,” and millions of dollars now are being spent trying to convince the owner of the water rights, Denver Water Authority, to leave some water in the river.

Past water planning often relied on median flows for projected calculations, but if you lived here in 2011 and 2012, you understand the difficulty in relying on middle flow values.

In 2011, the Yampa River in Steamboat Springs total flow was 598,000 acre feet, but one year later, total flow was 178,000 acre feet. To add emphasis to this dramatic fluctuation, the lowest recorded flow was in 1977 at 122,000 acre feet. “Wet water” planning is no easy task.

The roundtable is a diverse group representing municipal, energy, industrial, recreational, environmental and agricultural interests. The group recognizes the sustainability of our river system and economic health are at risk and is working diligently to address the needs for existing uses, future growth and recreational and environmental values.

During the past month, the roundtable conducted five public meetings in Steamboat Springs, Craig, Meeker, Rangely and Browns Park. The public process has been a valuable component to the BIP process and additional local public meetings likely may be held as the Colorado State Plan is developed.

On March 6, more than 300 water leaders and members of the public from across the state gathered for the 2014 Statewide Basin Roundtable Summit in Golden. Gov. John Hickenlooper and former Gov. Bill Owens each gave a keynote address highlighting the important work of the basin roundtable process and the development of localized Basin Implementation Plans that will comprise a large portion of Colorado’s Water Plan.

As part of the process, the Yampa, White, Green Roundtable is examining years of consumptive and non-consumptive studies, and with public input, will finalize a Basin Implementation Plan that protects an equitable apportionment of the native floes and helps mitigate the risks of over-development of the region’s water resources.

The diverse interests represented on the roundtable agree that planning for “wet water” is a significant challenge but vital to the future sustainability of Northwest Colorado.

For additional information visit or attend the next Yampa, White, Green Roundtable meeting on April 16 in Craig.

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.

Drought that’s swallowing the western US #COdrought

2014 McPhee Reservoir irrigation water allocation set


From the Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga):

The Dolores Water Conservancy District, which operates McPhee Reservoir, forecasts full-service users will receive at least 15 inches per allocated acre of the 22 inches of a full contractual amount.

“It is an improvement from our last prediction of 11 inches,” said DWCD general manager Mike Preston. “But we will need additional snowpack in the next 6-10 weeks to fill the reservoir and deliver a full supply.”

Water officials emphasize that the 15 inches is the minimum amount expected to be delivered based on current snowpack levels measured at five different locations in the river basin.

According to a March 7 letter sent to irrigators, “If conditions completely dry out, the worst case works out to 70 percent or 15 inches per allocated acre.”

Late summer monsoon rains that recharged the soil is a major factor for the improved outlook.

Instead of soaking into the ground as it did in Spring 2013 due to a extremely dry 2012, snowmelt this year will reach the reservoir more.

“The improved soil moisture will prevent us from totally cratering like last year,” said Ken Curtis, a DWCD engineer.

Last year, full-service irrigators received just 25 percent of their total allocation, or about 6 inches of water per acre. Instead of three cuttings of alfalfa, most farmers harvested just one.

The latest water news is critical for farmers, who begin ordering fertilizer and seed now for the upcoming growing season. Calculations of how much to plow also depend on estimated water supplies.

“If we get a weather build up, it will just improve from the 15 inches,” Preston said…

If the high country received 4-6 inches of snow each week through April, managers predict the reservoir would reach its full irrigation supply.

On the down side, lower elevation snow is lower than normal. Also, because there is no carryover storage from last year’s dry conditions, McPhee reservoir will end very low and lack carry over storage for a third straight year.

More McPhee Reservoir coverage here.

Republican River Basin ‘State of the Basin’ symposium recap


From The Yuma Pioneer (Bill Boas):

“The aquifer is depleting rapidly…should we be concerned?” That was the label on several cases of half-filled bottles of drinking water served with lunch at the “State of the Basin Symposium” held this past Monday at the Wray High School Auditorium from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

The symposium was sponsored by the Conservation Committee of the Republican River Water Conservation District (RRWCD).

About 250 people packed the auditorium to hear prominent speakers from Colorado, Kansas, and Nebraska present a situation report on water issues affecting the Republican River Basin’s many thirsty users. When water is short, state lines become battlegrounds and the recent legal battle between Colorado, Kansas, and Nebraska points to a future that can’t be “business as usual” for Great Plains water users.

Principal speakers included; Congressman Cory Garner, who was rescheduled from 4 p.m. to 1p.m.; Colorado Supreme Court Justice and water law expert Gregory Hobbs; Dick Wolfe, Colorado State Engineer; Scott Steinbrecher, Colorado Assistant Attorney General; officials of water conservation districts in adjacent Kansas and Nebraska; and experts from academic and private water engineering firms.

With population growing, and water supplies fixed, aggressive water conservation practices surfaces as one humanly manageable variable in the complex climatic, hydraulic, legal, and distribution environment of the Republican River Basin.

More Republican River Basin coverage here.

The Rio Grande River Compact Commission meets today

Rio Grande and Pecos River basins
Rio Grande and Pecos River basins

From the Associated Press via the Houston Chronicle:

The tension is expected to be thick Thursday as top water officials from New Mexico, Colorado and Texas gather for an annual meeting focused on management of the Rio Grande.

Texas and New Mexico are in the middle of a legal battle before the U.S. Supreme Court over groundwater pumping along the border. The federal government is weighing in, claiming that groundwater falls under its jurisdiction and should be considered part of the massive system of canals and dams that deliver water to farmers in southern New Mexico and Texas.

It could be years before the court makes a decision, but some experts say the case could set precedent when it comes to state rights in the drought-stricken West.

In the meantime, farmers in southern New Mexico who are deciding whether to plant crops or leave their fields fallow are on “pins and needles,” said Scott Verhines, New Mexico’s top water official.

“Certainly the litigation, the threat of litigation, the fear of what’s going to come out of all this is clouding everybody’s ability to work toward a solution,” he said. “I think very unfortunately that we find ourselves fighting and not solving.”

Verhines will be among those gathering for the Rio Grande Compact Commission meeting. The decades-old compact spells out how much river water the states must share.

More Rio Grande River Basin coverage here and here.

Southern Delivery System on track to be online in 2016

The new north outlet works at Pueblo Dam -- Photo/MWH Global
The new north outlet works at Pueblo Dam — Photo/MWH Global

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

he Southern Delivery System is on course to begin operating in 2016.

“It will be complete for testing purposes in 2015,” SDS Permit Manager Mark Pifher told the Lower Arkansas Conservancy District in an impromptu update Wednesday.

SDS is a 50-mile pipeline from Pueblo Dam to Colorado Springs. When completed, it will serve Colorado Springs, Fountain, Security and Pueblo West. Nearly all of the pipeline is in the ground, and construction has begun at three pumping stations, including one near Pueblo Dam, Pifher said. While all parts of SDS will be complete by next year, the system will require months of testing before it is put into use.

“When it’s finished, the water won’t be delivered,” Pifher said. “It won’t be pushing water to customers until 2016.”

The Lower Ark district has been in negotiations for years with Colorado Springs on the impacts of SDS, particularly increased flows on Fountain Creek. Pifher updated the Lower Ark board on the progress of stormwater meetings in Colorado Springs.

A committee of El Paso County citizens is working toward putting a stormwater enterprise proposal on the November ballot. Fees would be about the same as under the former enterprise, which Colorado Springs City Council abolished in 2009, Pifher said.

The Lower Ark board also got a review of the U.S. Geological Survey of dams on Fountain Creek from USGS Pueblo office chief David Mau. Noting the study was funded by Colorado Springs (under its 1041 agreement with Pueblo County), Pifher said an alternative for 10 side detention ponds south of Fountain held the most promise for reducing flood impacts on Pueblo. Pifher also downplayed the immediate impacts of SDS on Fountain Creek.

“When we turn it on, it will carry 5 million-10 million gallons per day,” Pifher said.

Over 50 years, that will increase flows up to 96 million gallons per day.

“It will take some time to grow into demand on that system,” Pifher said.

More Southern Delivery System coverage here and here.