From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Will Grandbois):
Many talking points touched on the need for the rural mountain West to have a seat at the table, particularly on issues relating to public lands and the economy. Major talking points included regulations on gas and coal development, water usage and diversion, and the need to attract business on this side of the Continental Divide.
The scale of the conversation ranged from the hyper-local to the global. When the discussion touched on oil and gas development in the Thompson Divide, Hickenlooper, who has a geology background, expressed doubt about the area’s production potential, but acknowledged he wasn’t an expert.
When it came to global climate change, he was more vehement.
“Climate change is serious. Colorado has a lot at risk,” Hickenlooper asserted. “Half our water storage is in snowpack, and we don’t have clear places for reservoirs if we have to make up for that.”
The issue of water is a fraught one, with growing resentment for ongoing diversion of Western Slope water to the more populated Front Range. Hickenlooper was sympathetic, but challenged the idea that litigation is the best means of combatting further diversion.
“If you want to change a culture, you can’t just sit there and throw stones at each other,” he said. “Every discussion, whether it’s on the West Slope or the Front Range, needs to start at conservation.”[…]
In the end, nothing was decided at the meeting. The governor has little direct authority to implement programs that pull from the state coffers. Still, the assembled roundtable seemed gratified at the dialogue.
Rep. Coram even ventured a lighthearted comment before they adjourned.
“Empty your bladder before you go,” he quipped. “No water leaves the Western Slope.”
Governor Hickenlooper was receptive to finding solutions to the problems. He said he’s been working to combat federal control of lands, is a proponent of exploring energy development in the potential Bookcliff Coal Mine north of Fruita and will continue urging various water basins throughout the state to come together and hash out a sensible water plan.
“I think we’re all seeing that people of goodwill can sit down and listen to the other side and say ‘all right, let me think about how we can get you what you need’,” Hickenlooper said about a Colorado water plan.
Wendy Ryan stood in front of a room packed with water professionals and offered this historical perspective. In the last 1,400 years, the last 14 years were not the driest. But it’s as dry as it has ever been. Ryan is with the Colorado Climate Center at Colorado State University. She and her peers were curious about drought and wanted data, not anecdotes.
So Ryan and the Climate Center crew collected data from the years 762 through 2005, poring over records and studying tree rings, to calculate precipitation during those vast expanses of time before computers measured this sort of thing. They found that we’ve had 14 similar dry stretches during that millennia and a half. But this 14-year stretch is as dry as any of them.
“It was among the driest,” Ryan said.
Temperatures have been above average since the 1980s, Ryan said.
“The last 14 years have been a drought,” said John McClow, General Counsel of the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District and one of the West’s foremost water experts…
The rivers flowing into Lake Powell are running 105 percent of normal, Ryan said, so it’ll fill a little bit. It’ll need to, [John McClow] said. Lake Powell is 45 percent full right now, McClow said. This year, for the first time in several years, it should receive more water than it releases — if it keeps raining. The years 2012-13 were the two driest years since they started keeping records 140 years ago, McClow said. Two more consecutive years like that would leave Lake Powell so low it would be unable to generate electrical power.
“People in seven states would see their power cut. They’d be forced to pay double to quadruple for power for at least eight years,” McClow said.
If that happens, it would take 12 years for Lake Powell to refill, assuming those are normal water years…
Snowpack is a fickle thing. In the Colorado River basin — that’s Eagle County and the Central Rockies resort region — it was 19 percent of normal in the drought year of 2012, and 83 percent last year. It was 121 percent this year.
On the other hand, the last four years were slightly wetter than normal, based on the average of the last 30 years, Ryan said. But it also depends on where you’re measuring. The Colorado River Basin was hammered with 223 percent of the median snowpack and 180 percent of last year’s. At the other end of the state, the drought continues. The Rio Grande basin saw just 39 percent of the median snowpack.
From email from the Colorado Water Congress (Fiona Smith):
The Colorado Supreme Court published an opinion today declaring that Initiative 103 (Public Trust Resources) may not proceed towards the 2014 Ballot. A 4-3 majority holds that the Title Board lacked authority to proceed with a substituted designated representative when one of the proponents could not attend the rehearing. This decision validates a May 1 appeal by the Colorado Water Congress (CWC) and Coloradoans for Responsible Reform.
Initiative 103, by Phil Doe and Barbara Mills-Bria, proposed to establish an “inalienable right” of the people of Colorado to clean air, clean water (including groundwater), and the preservation of the environment and natural resources (called “Public Trust Resources”), as common property of all people, including future generations. It would require the state, as trustee of Public Trust Resources, to conserve and maintain them for the benefit of all the people. CWC and over 70 supporting entities from around the state opposed this Initiative on the grounds that it was unwise, unnecessary, expensive and disruptive to the responsible allocation and stewardship of Colorado’s water resources.
CWC will now shift its energy towards Initiatives 75 and 89, both of which are of concern to Colorado’s water community. A 5-2 Supreme Court majority decided today that Initiative 89 may proceed towards the 2014 Ballot. The Court similarly confirmed Initiative 75 last month. Each will require 86,105 valid signatures to be placed on the ballot in November.
Initiative 75 would strengthen “local control,” allowing local governments to adopt environmental regulations that override state laws, including the laws that limit and balance local governments’ regulation of water facilities. Initiative 89 would combine this local control theme with a Public Trust Doctrine, declaring “common property” in Colorado’s water and environment and obligating state and local government to conserve these resources as trustees. In his dissenting opinion today, Justice Gregory Hobbs cautioned that “Initiative #89 proposes to create an entirely unprecedented form of public trust duty requiring state and local governments to ‘conserve’ what are predominately privately held resources… [It] would upend the existing regulatory balance and thrust private property owners and governments into an uncertain future.”
The Colorado Water Stewardship Project, a special project of CWC, will continue to monitor Initiatives 75 and 89 and inform water stakeholders of the serious implications of amending the constitution to create a Public Trust Doctrine in Colorado.
The so-called “public trust doctrine” measure, No. 103, had drawn opposition from the Colorado Water Congress, representing water users across the state, and the business-backed group Coloradans for Responsible Reform.
The high court ruled Monday that the Title Board, which reviews ballot proposals, made a mistake when it allowed the backers of No. 103 to have a substitute fill in during a hearing on the measure.
The court said that state law “does not allow designated representatives who are unable to attend a Title Board meeting to substitute alternates to serve in their place. Instead, the Title Board must delay its considerations until the next meeting at which both of the designated representatives who were so designated at the initial stages of the initiative process are able to attend the Title Board meeting.”
The ruling means that the proposal can’t be considered for the 2014 ballot because the Title Board is no longer meeting for the 2014 election cycle, said a spokesman for the Colorado Secretary of State’s office.
The backers of the proposal were Phil Doe and Barbara Mills-Bria. But Mills-Bria couldn’t attend a meeting of the Title Board because she as traveling to an out-of-state funeral, according to the court ruling.
The court said the Title Board should have postponed its hearing on No. 103 until Mills-Bria could attend rather than allowing a designee to fill in.
The proposal sought to establish a common property right to “clean air, clean water, including ground and surface water, and the preservation of the environment and natural resources.” It also would have required the state to conserve and maintain those elements for the benefit of all people.
The Colorado Water Congress said it opposed the initiative on the grounds that it was “unwise, unnecessary, expensive and disruptive to the responsible allocation and stewardship of Colorado’s water resources.”
The Colorado Water Congress said it would shift its resources to oppose Initiatives No. 75 and 89.
No. 75 is a proposal by the Colorado Community Rights Network that would allow cities to ban any for-profit business that community leaders don’t want to see in their towns.
No. 89, which says that Coloradans have a right to clean air, water and scenic values, is one of nine proposals that are backed by U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, D-Boulder.
The Colorado Supreme Court has rejected challenges to proposals No. 75 and No. 89, meaning supporters have until Aug. 4 to collect more than 86,105 valid signatures in order to have the initiatives placed on the fall ballot.
More 2014 Colorado November election coverage here.
With Southern Delivery System nearing completion, Colorado Springs is going to work on a plan to provide water for the next 50 years.
“There is a lot of uncertainty in the West when it comes to water,” Leon Basdekas, project manager for Colorado Springs Utilities integrated water planning, told the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District board Friday.
Utilities’ last water plan was in 1996 and focused almost entirely on supply. It provided options about how to develop water rights that Colorado Springs obtained in the Arkansas Valley during the 1980s. Among the options were direct reuse, reservoirs and pipelines. The water plan eventually led to SDS, a $940 million pipeline from Pueblo Dam to Colorado Springs that will be completed by 2016. Those types of options still will be considered.
“Everything is on the table,” Basdekas said.
But the new plan also will look at demand, water quality, infrastructure, energy, regulation, legal issues and public opinion, he added. The goal is to develop a sustainable future supply that also respects social values, Basdekas said.
Among the biggest challenge is managing risk during climate change. Severe drought in 2012-13 was only one indication of how future water supplies could be affected.
At the same time, Colorado Springs is looking for as much public input as possible as it begins looking at the next 50 years.
“We need public involvement, so we just don’t go into a dark room and come out with a plan,” he said.