#COWaterPlan Pueblo meeting recap: “I feel like I have a bull’s-eye on my back” — farmer Doug Wiley

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

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The ideal state water plan: Don’t destroy the farms; keep the faucets flowing; be prepared for emergencies; leave some water in the river for fish; and teach future generations why water is so important. At least according to the crowd of 60 people who showed up Tuesday at Pueblo Community College for the final public outreach meeting of the Arkansas Valley Roundtable.

The most poignant moment of the evening came when farmer Doug Wiley spoke, quite eloquently, about the importance of agriculture to the Arkansas River basin: “My family has been putting water to good use near Avondale for 100 years, but I feel like I have a bull’s-eye on my back. . . . We call it a water plan, but it’s broader than that. It’s a free-for-all, but there’s not much farmland. We have to preserve it. . . . I think we should be talking about how we fallow parts of the cities in a drought.”

It was the one comment that drew applause from a group that grazed freely on a verdant field of topics.

A state water plan is being written by the Colorado Water Conservation Board on the order of Gov. John Hickenlooper. It’s due by the end of the year. The Arkansas Basin plank of that document is due by the end of this month. The primary purpose is dealing with a shortfall of water, which for the Arkansas Valley means supplying enough water each year by the year 2030 to serve a city the size of Pueblo. Most of that need will be in El Paso County. But filling that need means working with other needs.

Pueblo Chieftain Assistant Publisher Jane Rawlings and Pueblo City Councilwoman Eva Montoya talked about the need to control flooding on Fountain Creek caused by that growth.

Ben Wurster of the local Trout Unlimited chapter said water providers need to provide more water and operate Pueblo Dam more efficiently in order to preserve the Arkansas River fishery below the dam.

And perhaps most unexpectedly, Donna Stinchcomb, curator of the Buell Children’s Museum spoke on the need to reach out to the next generation in connection with an upcoming fall program on how artists view water: “We’re looking for children’s programs that connect them to water.”

Betty Konarski, the chairwoman of the roundtable, summed it up: “It’s a precious resource, the basis for life, and we have to make sure we will have enough.”

Meanwhile, here’s a report about the Colorado Water Plan from Marianne Goodland writing for The Fort Morgan Times. Here’s an excerpt:

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.

From KKTV (Gina Esposito):

Residents talked about flooding conditions around Fountain Creek and ways to store water during the hot and dry months. This includes ways to improve forest health and conditions after a wildfire. They also talked about they can improve the quality of delivering water to small towns.

“If we’re going to remain a vital community and economic secure, we are going to have to look how water impacts our water, our food,” the chair of the Arkansas Basin Roundtable, Betty Konarski, said.

Their input, as well as the input from similar meetings across the state, will help craft a state water plan that Governor Hickenlooper requested to improve water conditions. The governor issued an executive order last year to develop a statewide water plan. Each water basin in the state is in charge of creating a Basin Implementation Plan (BIP).

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.

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