River series: The state of the river — The Vail Daily #ColoradoRiver


From the Vail Daily (Randy Wyrick):

Lake Powell is being drained to fill Lake Mead, which is being drained by states downstream from it.

Ken Neubecker, executive director of the Western Rivers Institute, has often put it this way: “The West will always be a semi-arid environment, no matter how much we move the water around.”

However, how that water gets moved around is a constant matter of contention for those pulling it from the Colorado River — which is almost everyone who lives in this part of the country…

delphcarpenter

Delphus Emory Carpenter, an early Colorado attorney and rancher, was the first native-born Coloradan to serve in the Colorado state legislature. Carpenter litigated the early conflicts over Colorado River water and saw California developing much faster than Colorado.

“He could foresee a time when all the water would go to California,” said John McClow, general counsel of the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District and one of the West’s foremost water experts.

Carpenter created the Colorado River Compact in 1922 to equitably divide the river’s water among seven Western states — split into the Upper Basin and Lower Basin — and Mexico. Everyone wants a share — and then some.

Sean Cronin and John McClow at the 2014 CFWE President's Award Reception
Sean Cronin and John McClow at the 2014 CFWE President’s Award Reception

“If you use more than your share, you have to pay it back before anyone puts in any more water,” McClow said. “The Compact has been tested but has proven to be pretty adaptable.”

It apportions Upper Basin and Lower Basin each 7.5 million acre feet per year. The dividing line between the Upper Basin and Lower Basin states is Lee Ferry, Arizona. Upper Division states cannot deplete flows at Lee Ferry below an aggregate of 75 million acre feet over any period of 10 consecutive years.

However, at their current rate of consumption, the Lower Basis states would be at 90 million acre feet over 10 years, McClow said.

That water has to come from somewhere, and it’s coming from Lake Powell. However, since 2000, inflows into Lake Powell have only hit the average for three years.

“The problem is that Lake Powell is emptying fast,” McClow said.

Lake Powell is full when its water surface is 3,700 feet above sea level. The last time that happened was 1999. Right now, it’s about 44 percent full…

“Efficiency is improving immensely and rapidly,” McClow said.

In 2000, California was using 5.6 million acre feet. Two years ago, Californians were forced to cut consumption to their allotted 4.4 million acre feet.

“There’s a lot of blood on the floor in California,” McClow said…

In May, forecasts said Lake Powell will fill to 3,610 feet above sea level by the end of this year. Right now, it’s at 3,491 feet, 44 percent full.

“We dodged the bullet,” McClow said.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.

NOAA: Why care about the ocean? Here are just a few reasons.

Give your input on regional stormwater management. Starting 7/1, a regional task force will hold public meetings

Strontia Springs Dam — under the spillway

Mile High Water Talk

Last week we explored the history of the High Line Canal, which begins at a diversion dam on the South Platte River 1.8 miles upstream from the mouth of Waterton Canyon. Roughly five more miles up the canyon is Strontia Springs Dam.

And, as we learned in our trip to Cheesman Reservoir two weeks ago, several Denver Water reservoirs filled this spring during the runoff, including Strontia Springs Reservoir.

Lance Cloyd, Denver Water’s Strontia Springs caretaker, provides an all-access tour of the area with behind-the-scenes vantage points capturing the beauty behind 800 cubic feet per second flowing out of the spillway.

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Conservation: Big water savings in Aspen — Mountain Town News #ColoradoRiver

Smuggler Mine back in the day via GregRulon.com
Smuggler Mine back in the day via GregRulon.com

From the Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

In 1974, Aspen’s future seemed clear enough. The town was growing briskly, the ski industry booming, and by the 1990s the town would need to make major investments to provide water for the future.

With that in mind, town officials filed for storage rights on two upstream creeks, Castle and Maroon, where the municipality already had significant senior water rights. Had the town gone ahead with construction of those reservoirs, the cost today would be roughly $50 million.

Instead, in about 1994, Mayor John Bennett and council members chose a different approach. They would emphasize water savings.

Phil Overeynder, who was the city’s utility manager then, says he has calculated that today water rates would need to be quadrupled to pay for the reservoirs and other infrastructure.

But there was another reason for Aspen to pursue conservation beginning in the 1990s. Overeynder said improved efficiency bolstered the argument that Eastern Slope water providers needed to make do with what they had before expanding diversions. In his eyes, Eastern Slope water providers still have not done everything they can. “Not to the extent it was promised 40 years ago,” he says.

For Aspen, improving water efficiency has several components. The city couldn’t account for 55 percent of the water being sent to customers. There were leaks, lots of them. It was, says Overeynder, a third-world water system. But a lot of water was used to bleed pipes. Water mains were buried deep, but the service lines to individual houses were within the frost line. During winter, homeowners left their faucets running, to avoid freezing. It was city policy to overlook that use.

Over time, these inefficient uses have been eliminated. The rate structure was revised to strongly recommend efficiency.

From 450 gallons per capita daily in 1974, use peaked in 1993 at 516 gallons.

Last year, it was 164 gallons per capita daily.

Use still spikes in summer, but not as much. The water treatment plant expanded in the 1980s has surplus capacity.

More Roaring Fork River watershed coverage here.

“Local entities can also derail projects more readily now than in the past” — Candace Krebs #COWaterPlan

organicdairycows

From the Bent County Democrat (Candace Krebs):

During the third annual Protein Producer Summit, a joint summer business meeting of the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association and the Colorado Livestock Association, four panelists shared a wish list of items they think could improve the state’s ability to fully capture and utilize its water resources…

Last fall’s historic northern Colorado flood sent water surging downstream to Nebraska and Kansas, much of it technically Colorado’s water, although the state could neither capture it nor use it for credit toward meeting compact obligations.

Developing storage to bank that water isn’t as straightforward as it was a generation ago. Conflicting definitions and rules between multiple state and federal agencies have made it increasingly costly and time-consuming to build new reservoirs or refurbish old ones.

Eric Wilkinson, general manager of the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, has spent the last 14 years leading an effort to build two more reservoirs in Northern Colorado at a cost so far of at least $13 million. The Northern Integrated Supply Project has yet to move beyond the permitting stage. Wilkinson wants to see federal agencies grant permits on a parallel basis. He also said better communication is needed between federal agencies and between federal and state agencies.

Chris Treese, manager of external affairs for the Colorado River District — the oldest in the state — recalled that in the early 1980s a special division of state government existed solely to facilitate coordination between state and federal agencies.

“I think that was a real benefit,” he said. “I think that’s a role the state could assume again.”

Local entities can also derail projects more readily now than in the past. Several groups are currently gathering signatures for a local control ballot initiative that Wilkinson said would be like “1041 on steroids,” referring to the act passed in 1974 that gives local land use interests more say in the development of large-scale water projects. The ballot initiative is primarily targeted at oil and gas development but would likely stall future water projects as well, he said…

How to develop more water without overdeveloping is another issue. Joking that he hailed from the “wetter, better side of the mountains,” Treese said the recent compact calls along the Arkansas and Republican rivers had been a wake-up call for everyone. More water capture on the western slope would also lead to more demands on the system…

Farming directly downstream from 3 million hungry (and thirsty) consumers is both a blessing and a curse, said Robert Sakata, a produce farmer from Brighton who is active on water issues. Sakata is the only ag producer to serve on the Denver metro water roundtable but he called it a valuable experience at a time when farming’s long-term sustainability is pitted against the growth of municipalities.

Sakata said at one point he joked with Aurora officials that instead of buying his water, they should buy his farm and then hire him to farm it. That way the city could have locally grown produce with the option of growing less in dry years when the municipality needs more water. “I was only half-joking,” he said during the panel.

Better water conservation by cities won’t address shortages without causing new problems, he added. “As cities become more efficient, there’s less water downstream,” he said.

That puts pressure on water rights holders at the end of the line to sell now “while there’s still some value” in those rights, added Sakata, who is on the board of two ditch companies. His water rights only convey about a third of the water they once did.

Currier said he wrestled with whether it was possible to stem the “buy and dry” scenario that permanently transfers water from farms to cities without infringing on private property rights.

“Should we make it harder to sell ag water rights? Should there be incentives to keep water in agriculture?” he wondered aloud.

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.

South Platte and Metro roundtables #COWaterPlan update

Basin roundtable boundaries
Basin roundtable boundaries

From The Fort Morgan Times (Marianne Goodland):

The Colorado Water Plan draws upon a decade of work by the state’s eight basin roundtables, the Interbasin Compact Committee and the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB). It also incorporates information from the 2010 Statewide Water Supply Initiative, which predicted the state will have a gap between water supply and demand of about 500,000 acre feet of water by 2050, with the largest gap projected for the South Platte River Basin.

During the past year, the basin roundtables and the CWCB have held dozens of town meetings on the water plan, seeking input from citizens and organizations interested in the state’s water future. Those meetings wrapped up in April, and then the basin roundtable members went to work to develop their basin implementation plans (BIPS), that will be submitted to the CWCB at the end of July. Those plans will be incorporated into the draft Colorado Water Plan, which is due to the Governor at the end of the year. The plan is to be finalized by December, 2015.

In addition to the basin implementation plans, the state water plan will include a “framework” document that outlines the issues to be addressed. The CWCB has already released eight draft chapters of this framework document this year, with four coming out in the last month. The most recent drafts covered water quality, conservation and re-use, and alternative agriculture to urban transfers. The drafts will be updated based on input from the BIPs.

The draft on agricultural transfers focused on alternative agricultural transfer methods (ATMS) and current efforts to develop more creative solutions to “buy and dry.” The draft noted several ATMs are already in place and more are on the way. These include deficit irrigation, water co-ops, water banks, water conservation easements; and flexible water markets, which was proposed in the 2014 legislative session but failed to clear the Senate. Another ATM, farrowing-leasing, which would allow for farrowing of irrigated farmland with temporary leasing of water to municipalities, is being studied under legislation passed in 2013.

More than 1,000 emails and documents have come in to the CWCB, addressing the draft chapters. Almost half of the responses came from stakeholders in the South Platte River and Metro Denver districts.

Most of the comments received by the CWCB have come either through emails to cowaterplan@state.co.us or through a webform on the water plan website, coloradowaterplan.com. CWCB staff responded to all of the comments, even those that might not be financially or technically feasible. One such comment said the state should cover its reservoirs with a thin membrane “similar to bubble wrap” to slow evaporation. Another suggested that the state halt all housing development along the Front Range.

A handful of comments addressed agricultural use, including responses that encourage more efficient irrigation systems and pointing out that agriculture is far and away the biggest user of water. But one commenter suggested a new form of “buy and dry.” Kristen Martinez of Metropolitan State University of Denver said the city of Denver could pay for businesses and residents to xeriscape their lawns, similar to a plan implemented by the city of Las Vegas. She also recommended the city of Denver invest in more efficient irrigation systems for farmers, as a trade-off for buying up agricultural water rights.

“…agriculture stands as the biggest water user, but farmers should not be the only ones to feel the pain of supply and demand,” Martinez wrote. “Most Denverites don’t give heed to the serious task of stewarding their water — not as a farmer must. Why aren’t local industries or municipal users being asked to sacrifice their lifestyle or adjust their operations?…can Colorado’s water plan please ask urban users to take ownership of their consumption, in addition to solving it by diverting farm water?”

Sean Cronin, director of the St. Vrain & Left Hand Water Conservancy District, chairs the South Platte River Basin roundtable, and pointed out that the South Platte and Metro Denver basin are collaborating on a joint BIP.

Cronin noted that although they are submitting a joint BIP, the two districts are quite diverse and one size will not fit all. “Water is very local!” he said recently. Feedback in the town meetings has been very different throughout the two districts. In Sterling, for example, he said the focus was on agriculture. In Longmont, people spoke about groundwater because of the well issues in the area. Denver’s focus was more on municipal conservation and recreational/environmental concerns.

So how will the two roundtables come up with one BIP, given the divergent views? Cronin said that they knew going into the process it would be difficult to address all of the different interests and cultures surrounding water. “It’s incredibly challenging to par it down to one solution that will make everyone happy,” he said. Cronin believes the draft BIP will instead reflect the diverse interests of the basin districts…

A recent presentation on the BIP by the roundtable to Colorado Counties Inc. laid out the plan’s major premise: “You can’t have conservation without storage, and you can’t have storage without conservation.” Even with the “Identified Projects and Processes” already in discussion (which came out of the 2010 SWSI), the gap in the South Platte would at best be reduced to about 100,000 acre feet of water, and many of those solutions are years, and maybe decades, away.

And that raised red flags for environmental groups, with one warning Coloradans that the BIP will further endanger the rivers of the South Platte basin…

Cronin encourages people to continue to submit comments through the South Platte Basin Roundtable website (http://cwcb.state.co.us/water-management/basin-roundtables). Public comments also will be accepted on draft versions of the plan through September, 2015, and can be submitted through the Colorado Water Plan website noted earlier.

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.