Basin, state plan for future water needs — the Valley Courier #COWaterPlan

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

From the Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

As more people move to Colorado, the state is trying to make sure there will be enough water for them once they get here. Recognizing Colorado’s population will only continue to grow in future years, the state is developing a water plan encompassing all nine river basins including the Rio Grande Basin in the San Luis Valley. Last year the governor issued an executive order requiring the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) to complete a statewide water plan by December 2015.

About halfway through a statewide tour of the river basins, the state legislative committee heading up the water basin plan effort held a public meeting in Alamosa last week to see what local residents thought of the plan so far. There will be further public meetings in the future and the public may submit comments electronically at the web site:

State Representative Randy Fischer, who is chairman of the legislative water resources review committee, encouraged comments to be made by October 1. He said the legislature does not have a role in formally adopting the water plan. The Colorado Water Conservation Board will adopt the plan in draft form by December of this year followed by the final water plan next year after additional public meetings.

CWCB Member Travis Smith said the drought of 2002 prompted the state legislature to really look at water supplies and future water needs.

“We have a water shortage issue and we have more people coming to Colorado,” he said. “We would like to preserve agriculture and Colorado’s values.”

One consensus developing from the basins around the state is that each basin wants to keep the water it has, and each basin has future needs of its own on top of the statewide needs to serve a growing populace.

“Export is a big deal here,” Water Educator Judy Lopez told the legislators as a mes- sage from the group for which she served as spokesperson . “We will rise and fight it.”

The Rio Grande Basin water plan is being developed under the jurisdiction of the Rio Grande Roundtable, which hired DiNatale Water Consultants to develop the basin plan. Members of the roundtable and other local residents have spent numerous hours compiling a draft plan that sets out specific goals for the basin and how they could be accomplished in the future.

Of the 14 specific goals of the plan, highlights include: protecting and restoring sustainability , watershed health and water quality; abiding by existing water rules such as the doctrine of prior appropriation , state water regulations and the interstate compacts; creating infrastructure such as storage for long-term water needs; sustaining the basin’s agricultural economy; developing projects with multiple benefits ; preserving wildlife habitats and wetlands; providing water-related recreational activities; and continuing to educate the public about water.

The proposed plan also provides a template for those wishing to submit water projects for funding in the future. The template sets up a matrix of basin plan goals so the applicant can see how the potential project meets and measures up to those goals.

See the local plan at and read more about the statewide plan at

During last week’s public meeting regarding the plan, participants shared their ideas of how they believed the plan could be improved and what they believed was important to consider in future water planning.

Rancher and Colorado Parks/Wildlife Commissioner Dale Pizel urged the group to use the plan once it is formulated and not leave it on a shelf. He said he hoped this would be a plan that would be dog-eared with use and marked up for future changes to make it better.

“I want the plan to be used, and I want it to change, and I want it to go on because it is necessary if we are going to deal with problems of Colorado population and loss of agriculture,” he said.

Rio Grande Roundtable Chairman Mike Gibson urged the legislative committee to be involved after the state plan is completed.

“Let this process continue. Present it to the governor. Then the legislature should step in. For the statewide plan to work we will need to be considering changing some of the constraints that are out there today that would prohibit it from being implemented ” like regulations about new infrastructure.”

Comments coming out of the group discussion process included:

• Be sure the plan recognizes and upholds the doctrine of prior appropriation.
• The plan calls for sustaining the confined and unconfined aquifers, but it should also call for restoring the aquifers.
• Using water for multiple benefits and diversified ways is critical and requires cooperation among water users and agencies.
• The plan should not only address future human needs but also the needs of wildlife and riparian habitat.
• Consider recreational and environmental water uses/ needs.
• Soil health is also connected to watershed health and should be considered.
• Perhaps the basin plans should address trans-mountain diversions, some of which are occurring already. However , there is concern about new diversions from this basin to the Front Range or elsewhere, and attempts to do so would meet with resistance. Perhaps the state should keep the status quo regarding current trans-mountain diversions.
• The Valley has many outdated water infrastructures requiring repair or replacement , and the basin water users hope the state plan and the Colorado Water Conservation Board will continue to financially support those needs.
• New and repaired reservoirs are crucial to meeting future water needs, and the state should be more flexible with its regulations to allow such facilities to be improved, expanded, replaced or newly constructed.
• There must be more storage in this basin. A reservoir at the state line would be beneficial , for example.
• It is important to find ways of making existing storage facilities more effective both in this basin and statewide.
• Give the water planning process sufficient time to develop sound, well-reasoned workable plans.
• Streamline the permitting process for water projects going before the state for funding.
• Accurate forecasts are crucial to this basin and the irrigators who are under constant call to meet Rio Grande Compact obligations, so it is vital to maintain technology and resources such as SNOTEL sites to provide as accurate forecasts as possible. Use technology to better measure water uses as well.
• If this basin uses its water more effectively and carefully it could help meet water needs in other parts of the state where the population is expected to increase in future years. However, if water is transferred from this basin to supply urban development, the water should be used effectively and not excessively in those developments.
• Consider the economic impact locally and statewide of increasingly more agricultural acreage being fallowed and take into account that some of that fallowing in this basin is an intentional means to restore the aquifer per state mandates.
• It is important to find ways to decrease water usage and conserve water, not just locally but throughout the state, so the existing supplies can be better utilized.
• Land use planning should be integrated into the water plan.
• Address climate change in the water plan.
• Maybe the state should look to outside water sources, such as the Mississippi River, for new water to meet increasing population demands.
• Consider the relationship of solar energy development to water, or the lack of it.
• Consider oil/gas development in the state water plan.
• It is important for this basin and its agricultural economy to prevent a “buy and dry” acquisition of farmland.
• The state water plan should acknowledge the unique characteristics of each basin and that each basin is different.

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.

#ColoradoRiver Basin states release triennial water quality review — Casper Star-Tribune

Colorado River Basin
Colorado River Basin

From the Casper Star-Tribune (Trevor Graff):

The Colorado River Basin states are completing a required triennial review of water quality standards in that river. The forum of basin states released its report earlier in the month. As an upper basin state, Wyoming plays a large role in helping to prevent the rise of salinity in Colorado River waters.

The state’s agricultural producers can often decrease the amount of salt in the river by choosing more efficient irrigation practices that don’t use as much water.

“By reducing the salt, it reduces the damages to water users and the cost of treatments associated with salinity,” said David Waterstreet, program manager for the water quality division of the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality. “This allows us to develop water in the upper basin states and meet our requirements with moving water to Mexico.”

Wyoming officials said the new report wouldn’t change the state’s implementation of measures aimed to curb salinity.

“The meat of it hasn’t changed in a number of years, but to fulfill the requirement of the Clean Water Act, we undergo a triennial review,” said Lindsay Patterson, natural resources program supervisor at the DEQ.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.

Weekly Climate, Water and Drought Assessment of the Upper #ColoradoRiver Basin #COwx #COdrought

Click here to read the current assessment. Click here to go to the NIDIS website hosted by the Colorado Climate Center.

From The Denver Post (Jesse Paul):

The grass is green in Denver, the foothills are lush and Colorado’s rivers are running high. This is the summer of rain.

Above-average rainfall statewide has let those who work in utilities, parks and recreation and agriculture soak up the relief falling from the sky. Feet of rain have dropped in parts of the state this year, filling reservoirs, lessening wildfire risks and quashing fear of droughts like the one that has left California thirsty.

Rain has helped Rocco Snart reclaim the sleep he’s lost over the past few years as wildfires swept through the state. Snart, the acting section chief overseeing wildfire management for the Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control, has been able to recover from years of “chronic fatigue” as he rests easy knowing that monsoon weather has kept the land he oversees saturated.

“It certainly modified the landscape for fire in 2014,” Snart said. “Frankly, it’s been a welcomed relief.”

Rainfall totals recorded at Denver International Airport were 4 inches above normal between May and August, representing a roughly 51 percent increase over the average. Nearly a foot of rain fell at the airport over 48 rainy days during that time, according to the National Weather Service in Boulder.

“Overall, the state has had above-average precipitation,” said Kyle Fredin, a weather service meteorologist.

“This was just kind of a nice summer.”

Fredin says the increased precipitation and cooler temperatures can be attributed to sub-tropical moisture that drifted into Colorado leading up to what forecasters are expecting to be an El Niño year.

The Denver area saw below-average rainfall in the summers of 2012 and 2013, years that included devastating wildfires and last fall’s floods. Devoid of any major natural disasters thus far — thanks in great part to plentiful rainfall — 2014 has been a gift-wrapped present for Coloradans.

“I’ve definitely surfed a lot more waves on the South Platte River than ever before,” said Alex Mauer, a sponsored stand-up paddle surfer who works at Confluence Kayaks in Denver. ” I’ve seen a crazy number of tubers.”

Mauer thinks the rains have encouraged people to head out on the river.

“We haven’t seen flows like this for a few years,” he said. “Me and all my friends have been waiting for it.”

Denver Water reservoirs are at 95 percent normal capacity overall, and the city has diverted up to 91 percent less water from the Western Slope than average, said Stacy Chesney, a spokeswoman for the utility. Customers also have saved about 5 billion gallons of water — using 10 percent less than usual — this year.

Chesney called those statistics “historic.”

In Colorado Springs, where residents last year were held to strict water restrictions, utilities officials say they have extra storage and that water consumption to date has ballooned.

“We’re in a much better place than we were in last year,” said Patrice Lehermeier, a spokeswoman for the utilities provider.

The Colorado wheat crop is averaging about 60 bushels per acre, an increase from the 25 to 30 bushels farmers have been able to yield in years past, according to Meagan Schipanski, an assistant professor at the Colorado State University’s agriculture school in Fort Collins.

“It’s been great for agriculture in Colorado,” said Ron Carleton, deputy commissioner of the Department of Agriculture. “The moisture that we’ve gotten throughout the summer and late spring, combined with the above-average snowpack this winter, has given our producers the resources that they need.”

Experts say monsoonal weather hasn’t ended water-use issues or the extended drought. In southeast and southwest Colorado, for instance, drought conditions remain.

And the high water has come at a cost for some.

“It’s going to take several years of above-average precipitation to make a difference,” said Doug Kemper, executive director of the Colorado Water Congress.

Heavy rainfall — paired with this year’s snowmelt — has been blamed for contributing to the 14 deaths on Colorado’s rivers and creeks this summer, including a robber in Pueblo who drowned after he tried to evade police by jumping into an Arkansas River spillway.

“This is the worst year on record that I’m aware of,” said Matt Robbins, statewide spokesman for Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

Rainfall recorded at Denver International Airport

May – 3.51 inches, 1.39 inches above normal

June – 1.82 inches, .16 inches below normal

June – 3.85 inches, 1.69 inches above normal

August – 2.73 inches, 1.08 inches above normal

Normal rainfall from May-August is 7.91. We had 11.91 inches of rainfall at DIA between May and August.

Source: The National Weather Service in Boulder

“It’s a well thought out proposal that we’ve been working on for two years” — Dennis Hisey #COpolitics

Fountain Creek Watershed
Fountain Creek Watershed

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

El Paso County voters will decide in November whether to implement a fee to provide $39 million annually for stormwater protection by creating the Pikes Peaks Regional Drainage Authority. Commissioners Tuesday finalized an intergovernmental agreement and placed the issue on the ballot on a 5-0 vote.

“It’s a well thought out proposal that we’ve been working on for two years,” said Dennis Hisey, chairman of the commissioners. “It’s a vehicle that will put our stormwater protection on track with other communities throughout the state.”

The 11-member authority would include the mayor of Colorado Springs, five members appointed by Colorado Springs City Council, two members appointed by commissioners and one each from Fountain, Manitou Springs and Green Mountain Falls.

The authority would collect up to $39 million in 2016 through fees collected on property within the Fountain Creek watershed. The fee would be determined based on impervious surface area, density, land use and ownership, according to the IGA. Over the next 20 years, the money would go toward a $700 million list of projects, and after that, a smaller fee would pay for maintenance. The average homeowner would pay about $7.70 per month.

Mayor Steve Bach opposes the fee, which he calls a tax, and has suggested alternative ways to finance improvements Colorado Spring needs and is obligated to make under its permits for the Southern Delivery System. Colorado Springs City Council supported the IGA by a 7-2 vote.

“We’re expecting a robust campaign,” Hisey said. “Any time you ask for money, there’s a need to educate the voters and make your case.”

More stormwater coverage here.