April Montgomery elected chair of CWCB

April Montgomery via Southwestern Water
April Montgomery via Southwestern Water

From The Telluride Daily Planet (Collin McRann):

San Miguel County resident April Montgomery is the newest chair of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, a 77-year-old agency that provides policy direction on water in Colorado.

Montgomery, a longtime Telluride and Norwood resident, was elected to the position in March. She will serve one term. She has served on the board since 2009, helping to protect the state’s water resources by working on watershed protection, stream restoration, drought planning and water project financing.

Montgomery also served as the San Miguel County representative on the Southwestern Water Conservation District for more than 12 years before becoming the representative for the Southwest Basin Roundtable on the CWCB. Though the chair position will only last for one year, Montgomery’s board position is a three-year term, and she said there are many water issues that need to be addressed.

“The Dolores River is something that I think is of interest to people in our region,” Montgomery said. “There’s a lot of work right now trying to figure out how to provide enough water to protect threatened species that are in the Dolores River, and we are looking at in-stream flows for that protection.”[…]

Montgomery said a number of issues will be facing the board this year, including water distribution across the state and developing a draft Colorado Water Plan — part of the state’s effort to create its first-ever comprehensive water strategy.

“The draft plan is due by the end of November, and the full plan will be completed in 2015,” Montgomery said. “This is an unprecedented effort and it requires a lot of effort, from the ground up, on what’s going to be incorporated in the plan with each of the basin roundtables.”

She said everything from future water needs to where the state’s populations are expected to grow will all need to be studied for the plan.

“The plan will provide a road map for Coloradans to use and protect limited water supplies, as well as balance Colorado’s water priorities, including healthy watersheds and the environment, recreation and tourism, municipal water supplies and drinking water, as well as productive agriculture,” she said.

Montgomery was first appointed to the CWCB by former governor Bill Ritter, and later reappointed by Gov. John Hickenlooper. She currently lives on Wright’s Mesa and she has lived in the Telluride area for 23 years.

Montgomery works as programs director for the Telluride Foundation. She has a bachelor’s degree in government from the University of Virginia and received her law degree from the University of Virginia in 1989, and she is currently a member of the Colorado Bar.

More CWCB coverage here.

Estimated 6,500 gal of Niobrara oil spilled from train into S Platte — Josh Zaffos

CWCB: The next Water Availability Task Force May 16 #COdrought

droughtmonitorcolorado

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

The next Water Availability Task Force meeting will be held on Friday, May 16, 2014 from 9:30-11:30a at the Colorado Parks & Wildlife Headquarters, 6060 Broadway, Denver in the Bighorn Room.

More CWCB coverage here.

Grand County “State of the Rivers” meeting May 13 #ColoradoRiver

Historical Colorado River between Granby and Hot Sulphur Springs
Historical Colorado River between Granby and Hot Sulphur Springs

From the Sky-Hi Daily News:

Many claim that we are now living in a “new normal.” In fact, there is no “normal” when it comes to our rivers. In the last 12 months we have gone from heavy autumn rains, enjoyed abundant late-season snow and are now faced with earlier record river flows.

How are water managers reacting to this incredible variability? And what might we anticipate in the near future? There may seem to be plenty of water to satisfy for now, but how does this year’s supply affect longer-term needs? These questions will be the subject of a public outreach and education meeting sponsored by Grand County and the Colorado River District.

The public can learn more about this season’s outlook for river flows, reservoir levels, overall water yields and the status of the longer-term drought at this annual “State of the River” meeting set for 6 p.m. on Tuesday, May 13, at Mountain Parks Electric, 321 W. Agate Ave., Granby.

Water experts from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, Northern Water, Denver Water and the Colorado River District will present detailed information related to operations of area reservoirs and how they may affect river flows.

Lastly, Eric Kuhn, General Manager of the Colorado River District, will talk about Colorado’s effort to create a statewide water plan and western Colorado’s perspective on the questions of supply versus demand, the future of the Colorado River basin and other regional river basin issues.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.

2014 Colorado legislation: Sharp divisions over what the potential effects of SB14-023

Colorado instream flow program map via the Colorado Water Conservation Board
Colorado instream flow program map via the Colorado Water Conservation Board

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Charles Ashby):

Depending on who’s doing the talking, a bill that won final approval in the Colorado Legislature on Monday either could take away some people’s water rights or do nothing of the kind.

The debate was over SB23, which was introduced by Sen. Gail Schwartz, a Snowmass Village Democrat whose district includes Delta County.

The bill is designed to allow ranchers to implement water conservation measures on nonconsumptive water and donate that water for in-stream flow use without losing rights to the water they still own.

Supporters of the measure, all Democrats, say it is entirely voluntary and is intended to increase stream flows to benefit aquatic life and the environment.

Republicans, however, said it will have the unintended consequence of stealing junior water rights from people downstream from those ranchers who implement such water-saving measures as lining their ditches.

They argued that the bill creates a new water right — a saved water right — and could lead to junior water users having no water in a stream, saying that once water is designated for in-stream flow, it can’t be used for anything else.

As a result, those junior water rights owners will have to go to court to protect their water rights, Republicans said.

“The argument that this has not created a new water right is just absolutely wrong,” said Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling. “We’re creating a conserved water right, and the future of that conserved water right may be to absolutely eventually sell that conserved water right, which is somebody else’s water.”

The House Democratic sponsor of the measure, Rep. KC Becker, D-Boulder, said opponents are completely wrong about what it will do.

“There’s a lot that has been said about this bill that isn’t at all true,” Becker said. “This bill simply gives irrigators incentive to conserve water without running the risk of abandoning that water. It is a purely voluntary bill. It does not steal anyone’s water. It doesn’t do that.”

Still, some lawmakers had hoped to persuade the House to kill the bill and send the measure back to draft because not everyone in the water community agrees it is the right thing to do.

The Colorado Water Congress and the Colorado ranchers association, for example, supported the measure. Several other water users, such as Aurora Water and several water conservation groups, opposed it.

The bill, however, passed on a narrow 35-30 vote, with only two Democrats joining Republicans opposing it. The measure cleared the Senate in March on a 25-9 vote.

“The water community came to us and the environmental community also had their say, and they just didn’t agree,” said Rep. Bob Rankin, R-Glenwood Springs. “We tried to divert water 30 years ago and had these same problems of upstream juniors and downstream juniors and in-stream flow have been with us for a long time.”

The bill heads to Gov. John Hickenlooper for his signature. It is unknown if he will sign or veto it.

More 2014 Colorado legislation coverage here.

#COWaterPlan: “We’ve gotten awfully good at taking water away from agriculture” — Eric Wilkinson #ColoradoRiver

Flood irrigation in the Arkansas Valley via Greg Hobbs
Flood irrigation in the Arkansas Valley via Greg Hobbs

From The Greeley Tribune (Eric Brown):

A northern Colorado water official expressed concern this week that talks of bringing more Western Slope water across the Continental Divide might take a backseat to other aspects of the long-term, comprehensive Colorado Water Plan.

The statewide water plan — put in motion by Gov. John Hickenlooper and expected to be complete in 2015 — takes into account all aspects of water use in the state, such as further conservation efforts and new water-sharing arrangements between cities and agriculture, among many other efforts aimed at avoiding the large water shortages the state is forecast to face by 2050.

A number of things have been agreed upon in the talks, but building new water-supply projects has long been a hot-button issue — particularly projects that would bring water from the Western Slope to Eastern Slope users.

Discussions Tuesday and Wednesday between representatives of all of Colorado’s river basins made limited progress on the topic.

During the meeting, Eric Wilkinson, general manager of the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District in Berthoud, expressed concern Tuesday that, because of its controversial nature, trans-mountain water diversions seem to be taking a backseat to other aspects of the long-term water plan.

Wilkinson stressed that without more water going to Eastern Slope users, agriculture in particular will suffer.

“We’ve gotten awfully good at taking water away from agriculture,” said Wilkinson, referring to the ongoing buy-and-dry issue taking place in Colorado, particularly on the Eastern Slope.

The purchasing of water rights from ag producers leaving the land is a comparatively inexpensive way for cities to acquire needed water.

Because of that, however, Colorado is on pace to see as many as 500,000 to 700,000 acres of irrigated farmland dry up by 2050, according to the Statewide Water Supply Initiative study, released in 2010.

With much of Colorado’s ag production taking place in northeast Colorado — particularly in Weld County, which ranks in eighth in the nation for its production — it’s the region that could be hit the hardest.

“If we investigate the possibility of bringing more water over here from the West Slope, and we’re told ‘it can’t be done,’ that’s fine,” Wilkinson said in an interview after the meeting. “But we at least need to be looking into it … and putting as much effort into that as we are other things, like conservation, and every other leg of the stool in these water talks.”

A commitment in the Colorado Water Plan to at least explore trans-mountain water diversions could help such projects, if feasible, get off the ground quicker, which is vital, Wilkinson said, considering that those projects — when factoring in planning, permitting and actual construction — take decades to complete.

The disagreement over trans-mountain water diversions between Eastern Slope and Western Slope water officials and users goes way back.

About 80 percent of the state’s population lives on the Eastern Slope but about 80 percent of the state’s water supplies — primarily snowmelt in the mountains — sits on the West Slope.

To meet the needs of the growing Front Range and northeast Colorado’s robust ag industry, Eastern Slope water providers have long built projects that bring water across the Continental Divide.

There are now more than 30 such projects bringing about 450,000 to 500,000 acre feet of water each year from the Western Slope to the Eastern Slope, Wilkinson noted.

Many on the Western Slope have expressed concern and want the Eastern Slope to stop diverting more of its water.

While only about 20 percent of the population lives on the Western Slope, the Western Slope has its own water demands to meet, mainly its legal obligation to make sure several states downstream from Colorado receive certain amounts of water.

Meeting those needs, while also contributing to those of Colorado’s Eastern Slope, is stretching the Western Slope thin, water officials from that part of the state say.

At the same time, though, many northeast Colorado water officials stress they’re set to face their own water crises, and more trans-mountain diversions, if feasible, would make a huge dent in solving the problem.

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

A representative of Front Range water providers told a Western Slope contingent Monday that Colorado can’t close its future supply gap through conservation alone, and other efforts need to include working on a potential new transmountain diversion project. But several participants at a meeting of the Colorado River Roundtable remained leery of any such idea, including what’s being called a breakthrough proposal that would limit such a project to diverting water only in wet years. The roundtable, covering the six-county mainstem of the Colorado River Basin, was meeting as it continues to prepare final recommendations for what it wants to see in a state water plan to meet future needs.

Much of the debate in that planning process has centered on the potential for further Front Range diversions of Western Slope water. Early this month, the Front Range Water Council told the Colorado Water Conservation Board that plan needs to contain an assurance rather than just the hope that a new Colorado River diversion project would be part of the plan.

Mark Pifher of Colorado Springs Utilities told those attending Monday’s meeting that the concern stemmed from an idea discussed by basin roundtable leaders that water supply might be put at the bottom of a sequential list starting first with conservation, then transfers of agricultural water, then completion of already-planned projects, with no assured pursuit of new supply. Instead, all four concepts should be worked at simultaneously so Front Range utilities can know that “there’s some certainty that new supply will be there when you need it, if you need it,” he said.

He outlined a number of ways those utilities already are pursuing all four approaches to addressing water needs, including by having cut per-capita water use by 20 percent. But he said studies suggesting the Front Range can entirely meet future needs through conservation is wrong, and that it’s just a question of when more supply will be needed.

“The world’s not going to stop in 2040 or 2050 or 2060. Demand is going to develop,” he said.

While Front Range utilities want to be able to count on Western Slope water to help meet that demand, one of the themes the Colorado River Roundtable is settling on is that at least the mainstem six-county basin already has given up plenty of water to the Front Range and has no more left to develop.

The state Interbasin Compact Committee is hoping a compromise might be reached through the idea of a new water project providing no firm yield of water, with diversions occurring only in years of above-average precipitation. The concept is receiving some Front Range support.

Carlyle Currier, a Mesa County resident who sits on the committee, said many on the Western Slope long have said it needs protection from diversions in dry years.

“I think this (new idea) offer certainly opened the door to that and went in the direction we’ve been talking” about, he said.

But several who attended Monday’s session questioned whether the region can afford to give up water even in wet years. They pointed to low water levels at Lake Powell, which states in the Upper Colorado River Basin use to help meet compact obligations to states in the Lower Basin.

“Shouldn’t high-water years be when we start to replenish Lake Powell?” asked Rachel Richards, a Pitkin County commissioner.

She said wet years also provide the environmental benefit of variety in stream flows from year to year if the water isn’t being diverted. And if the Western Slope builds more storage of its own, it needs to make sure it has the ability in high-water years to fill those reservoirs, she said.

Despite the widespread reservations within the roundtable about more transmountain diversions, they generally agreed Monday that they need to at least be willing to discuss the possible conditions of such diversions so decisions aren’t made without their involvement. Several suggested that one condition governing wet-year diversions should be the current water level at Lake Powell.

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.