Colorado Water Congress Summer Conference recap, day 2


From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith) via the Aspen Daily News:

Gov. John Hickenlooper told members of the Colorado Water Congress on Thursday that he thinks it’s “unlikely” that public opinion in the state has shifted in favor of a new major dam project being built in the state, even in the face of population growth and drought. He said he has found more support around the state for the idea of increasing the height of existing dams by 5 or 10 feet, which he said can dramatically increase the amount of water stored in a reservoir.

“I think we have a lot of opportunity in those projects, many of which are underway,” Hickenlooper said.

But, he added, “I’m not sure we have enough capacity just doing those projects for all the water we’re going to need.”

He also called for increased water conservation in both the state’s cities and its fields.

The governor spoke on the second day of the Colorado Water Congress’ annual summer convention, which is being held at the Westin hotel in Snowmass Village through today.

Former Congressman Bob Beauprez, who is running against Hickenlooper for governor, is slated to speak this morning at the water conference.

Hickenlooper had the full attention of the members of the water congress on Thursday, as his call for a draft Colorado Water Plan to address the state’s future water needs is supposed to be on his desk by Dec. 10, and the planning process has kept many in the state’s water community busy. The governor noted that the nine different river-basin roundtables have held over 850 meetings to discuss water policy and projects. The Colorado River Basin Roundtable meets monthly in Glenwood Springs, and its next meeting is Monday, Aug. 25 from noon until 4 p.m. Those individual basin plans are now being sifted and sorted to create the draft statewide plan, which Hickenlooper said was met with skepticism when he first proposed it.

“What we kept trying to say is, the most important part of this water plan is the process we use to create it,” Hickenlooper said. “It’s not going to be a small group of people in Denver trying to make decisions on how water should be allocated for the rest of the state. And I think what we’ve seen is that this plan is going to be created by a broad cross section of people from across the state.”

Hickenlooper also called for cooperation among often-warring factions in Colorado’s water world, be they Front Range water providers trying to deliver water to a growing urban population, Western Slope ranchers and farmers working to preserve their rural way of life and the future value of their private water rights, or river-lovers on both sides of the divide fighting to keep water in rivers for fishing, boating or nature’s sake.

“Water can either divide us, or unite us,” Hickenlooper said. “In the end, it’s our choice. I think in this state, we generally choose to collaborate and work together to try and find compromises and make sure that it doesn’t divide us.”

He said that by working together and taking a “calculated and conservative” approach to water planning, the state’s various water factions are, in fact, moving forward.

“While this collaboration isn’t as sexy or glamorous as the bare-knuckled water brawling that we see sometimes in our neighboring states, and sometimes here in the past, this cooperation is effective and I think very productive,” Hickenlooper said. “Collaboration can bear fruit that otherwise would be unobtainable.”

Jim Pokrandt, the director of communications at the Colorado River District in Glenwood Springs and the chair of the Colorado River Basin Roundtable, said it was hard to say if the roundtable members around the state had faith in the emerging water plan.

“Some won’t be happy unless it calls out a project,” Pokrandt said. “Others will always think it is a stalking horse for a project no matter how it handles that issue.”

Pokrandt said the draft plan will at least identify many local water projects and statewide needs. Then, he said, “the real work begins.”

A final water plan is to be complete by December 2015.

And it remains to be seen how well the governor and the Colorado Water Conservation Board, which is in charge of developing the draft water plan, will collaborate with the state legislature.

Last year, state Sen. Gail Schwartz, formerly of Snowmass Village and who now lives in Crested Butte, co-sponsored a bill that would require the Colorado Water Plan to be approved by the legislature, and not just the governor. However, the bill was watered down to require the state’s interim legislative committee on water to hold nine public hearings in the state on the plan this summer. The hearing in the Colorado River basin was held Thursday evening at the Glenwood Springs library, with 10 state legislators who sit on the interim water committee in attendance, along with over 50 citizens.

Pokrandt, as chair of the Colorado basin roundtable, gave an overview of the group’s draft plan. He said a key finding was that another transmountain diversion was not in the best interest of the state at this time, especially as pending projects are already likely to divert an additional 140,000 acre-feet of water from the Colorado basin to the Front Range.

Today, between 450,000 and 600,000 acre feet of water is sent from the basin to the east each year.

A chief finding of the basin’s plan is that “high conservation, (water) reuse and linking water supply to land use” are in the best options for the state.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

One candidate evoked the strong connection of water to Colorado’s past and the need to preserve more of it for the future. The other talked about a coming global crisis and the need for America to become an international leader for water development. This particular stop on the campaign trail was the summer convention of the Colorado Water Congress. U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, a Democrat, is facing Republican challenger U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner in the November election. Both are perennial favorites of the state’s leading water group, but took different approaches to argue how they would best serve the state’s water interests.

“How are we going to meet the needs of our people, our farmers and our communities if we don’t build storage,” Gardner said.

The federal government impedes water development in Colorado and represents a danger to water rights within the state, Gardner said.

Gardner talked about his family’s five generations as store owners and implement dealers in Yuma, and said federal policies endanger that way of life.

“Will our children have the same type of opportunity if we don’t change the way we’re doing things?” he asked.

Udall countered that it’s not enough for Colorado or the United States to look after just its own needs. Instead, the country has the opportunity to provide global leadership in confronting future shortages.

“When it comes to water, we are living beyond our means and that is a dangerous situation,” Udall said.

Climate is changing because of human activities at the same time world population is increasing, creating new stress on water supplies. As shortages grow, stability in foreign governments diminishes, he said. While that’s a threat to U.S. interests, it’s also an opportunity for American companies to be innovative while reaching out to help solve the problem. In the process, there would be goodwill toward the U.S., Udall said.

Closer to home, he said Colorado must protect its interests on the Colorado River and to resist federal attempts to tie up state water rights.

“I’ve made it one of my top priorities to protect Colorado water,” Udall said. “We have to make sure liquid gold is always available.” cwoodka@chieftain.com Will our children have the same type of opportunity if we don’t change the way we’re doing things?

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A bill that would allow water saved from farm efficiencies to support instream flows — vetoed this year by Gov. John Hickenlooper — could be resurrected in the next legislative session. The interim water resources review committee heard testimony Wednesday from some who opposed the measure and said a pilot program might be workable. There is still opposition to the bill, however.

“I think we got an idea of why they’re opposing the bill,” said state Sen. Gail Schwartz, D-Snowmass Village, after the hearing.

The bill, SB14-023, proposed allowing water savings from agricultural improvements to be donated on a temporary basis to the Colorado Water Conservation Board for instream flows, without diminishing the water rights of those who contribute water. It was an attempt to encourage conservation while not penalizing farmers under the state’s “use it or lose it” system. The law applied only to the Colorado River and its tributaries, but could affect junior water rights, including transmountain diversions, such as those used by the Pueblo Board of Water Works or Fryingpan-Arkansas Project.

John Stulp, Hickenlooper’s water adviser, said a scaled-back pilot program to see the impact of such donations of water rights is now being considered.

“Our concern is of possible damages to intervening diverters,” said Carlyle Currier, vice president of the Colorado Farm Bureau. “They could spend a lot of time and money trying to defend themselves in water court.” In overappropriated basins, such as the Arkansas and South Platte rivers, the concept would not work, but there are conditions where senior water rights would not be harmed and junior rights even improved in the Colorado River basin.

Terry Fankhauser, executive vice president of the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association, was more supportive of the bill, saying it is a tool that could help keep farmers and ranchers in business. The group’s membership is split over the costs of water court, but argued costs could be reduced if the CWCB picked up the tab for engineering costs.

“We believe the full range of issues was addressed in the bill,” said Doug Robotham, Colorado water project director for the Nature Conservancy. He also voiced support for the pilot program.

Montrose farmer Mark Catlin said he considers the bill a “jaundiced” attempt to change state water law. He disagreed with other speakers about whether farm efficiencies decrease consumptive use, because all water in a system is reused many times.

“A water right is how much water you can divert, and it’s dangerous to go into ag and change the way it works,” he said. “The calling right is at the headgate. Is the state of Colorado going to be a partner?”

More 2014 Colorado November election coverage here. More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.

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