Gov. Hickenlooper announces agreement for greater Front Range water storage

Here’s the release from Governor Hickenlooper’s office:

Gov. John Hickenlooper announced today that the State of Colorado and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have signed an agreement that will provide for greater water storage – up to a 75 percent increase for uses other than flood control – at Chatfield Reservoir, a project in the planning and permitting stages for well over a decade and one securing important new water supplies for the Front Range and northeast Colorado.
The Chatfield Reservoir Storage Reallocation Project will help farmers irrigate crops and assist communities working to replace limited groundwater with sustainable surface supplies. The project also has the benefit of storing more Front Range water and easing demand for water from the Western Slope. Importantly, as well, the project increases the capacity of an existing reservoir, reducing the impacts to the environment that could be associated with an entirely new reservoir site.

Possible impacts that may occur from the project, located within the popular Chatfield State Park, will be mitigated to highest standards required by the Army Corps and State of Colorado. Water providers purchasing new storage space in the reservoir are required to mitigate impacts and to place funds for such mitigation in escrow before construction begins. Additionally, no new water will be stored until key on-site recreational and environmental mitigation milestones are complete.

With the signing of the storage agreement, the early phases of mitigation work can begin. The State of Colorado now has the ability to contract with water providers who wish to purchase space in the reservoir. The project will support agricultural partners including the Central Colorado Water Conservancy District and municipal partners, such as the Centennial Water and Sanitation District and other members of the South Metro Water Supply Authority.

More Chatfield Reservoir coverage here and here.

Good intentions gone awry on the #ColoradoRiver — Mountain Town News

Lake Mead water levels via NOAA
Lake Mead water levels via NOAA

From the Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

For Brad Udall, family history and public policy in the Colorado River mingle. His father was Morris K. Udall, a congressman from Arizona who pushed hard for the Central Arizona Project, which was approved by Congress in 1968. His uncle Stewart Udall, a former Arizona congressman, was secretary of Interior when CAP was approved.

Interior is the primary federal agency overseeing water affairs in the Southwest and the parent agency for the Bureau of Reclamation, which has built and administered this hydraulic infrastructure.

Looking back now, he can conclude that both his late father and late uncle as well as many other well-intentioned politicians and policy makers erred in pushing the massive diversion of water from the Colorado River, helping lead to the existing “structural problem” in the basin.

The problem is most evident at Lake Mead, the giant reservoir near Las Vegas created by construction of Hoover Dam in the 1930s. The reservoir would be losing 12 feet a year if only the so-called “normal” releases upstream from Lake Powell had occurred. Powell, in fact, has been releasing more.

Because of upper basin drought more years than not since 2000, Powell is facing challenges of its own, leading to a still-small probability that there will be too little water in the next 10 to 20 years to drive the giant turbines in Glen Canyon Dam. That electricity yields $120 million in revenues for the federal government, paying for everything from transmission lines to the endangered fish recovery program in several of the basin’s rivers.

At Lake Mead, the emergency arrives more rapidly. It now appears the reservoir will be unable to provide water for all existing commitments to the lower-basin states of Arizona, California, and Nevada, said Udall at the recent Colorado River Water Conservation District’s annual seminar.

In his talk, Truth and Consequences of the 1968 CAP Act,” Udall was most focused on 1968, the year that Congress finally approved the CAP along with a variety of other smaller projects in Colorado and other states.

Central Arizona Project map via Mountain Town News
Central Arizona Project map via Mountain Town News

The CAP is a huge project, even now requiring 400 megawatts, such as would be produced by a good-sized coal-fired plant, simply to move the water from the Colorado River uphill to Phoenix and Tucson. With it, Arizona has grown in population form 1.8 million in 1970, about the time construction of the CAP began, to 6.5 million today.

Udall’s talk was fast, rich in history and dense with information alluding to both the complex water history and intricate “plumbing” of the Southwest. You can study his PowerPoint here.

He draws on not only family history, but his own extensive engaged with water issues. He was a guide in the Grand Canyon and a hydraulic engineer in Boulder, Colo., before becoming director of the Western Water Assessment. He recently affiliated with the Colorado Water Institute at Colorado State University.

In 1968, he said, it was clear that waters of the Colorado River Basin were being developed beyond the assured capacity of the river to provide. Politicians and policy-makers nonetheless were working without complete knowledge.

“I’m actually humbled about how little we knew in 1968,” he said.

It wasn’t that Udall’s family and others in Colorado, Arizona and other states of the Southwest set out to make bad decisions. “These were actually well-meaning people,” he said.

The structural deficit exhibited by the inexorable draw-down of Lake Mead will only be exacerbated by the drying effect predicted by most computer climate-change models. Climate change, he said, makes the structure deficit apparent sooner and “it probably makes it greater.”

Udall then quoted the late Norris Hundley Jr., who wrote a magisterial history of water projects in the Colorado River Basin and updated it in 2008. “A limited supply of water in a vast, arid … region is hardly a recipe for tranquility,” Hundley had written. “The drafters of the Central Arizona Project were mesmerized by their desire for haste, their personal and political goals.”

“Without authoritative data, they had an opportunity to pick and choose information that best suited their interests and uncertainties, and that’s what they did,” said Hundley.

And the lesson for today?

“I think it’s possible we could be making mistakes based on incomplete knowledge,” said Udall.


After this story was first posted, Brad Udall responded to the questions I [Allen Best] should have asked him in the Q&A in Grand Junction:

“Yes, the (Colorado River) Compact is going to have to be revised. This is as clear as can be,” he said in an e-mail.

Two key elements of the compact are both under Article III:

(a) There is hereby apportioned from the Colorado River System in perpetuity to the Upper Basin and to the Lower Basin, respectively, the exclusive beneficial consumptive use of 7,500,000 acre-feet of water per annum, which shall include all water necessary for the supply of any rights which may now exist.

(d) The States of the Upper Division will not cause the flow of the river at Lee Ferry to be depleted below an aggregate of 75,000,000 acre-feet for any period of ten consecutive years reckoned in continuing progressive series beginning with the first day of October next succeeding the ratification of this compact.

Udall explains that he has studied minutes of the meetings held in Santa Fe, N.M., in 1922, when the compact was drawn up. In his inspection of the meeting minutes, he finds that Colorado representative Delph Carpenter, known as the father of the compact, “was really clear that he wanted a number in III d that would never be operational. And yet that is where we find ourselves, which tells you that something has seriously gone wrong with the allocation.”

As for what mistakes we’re making today, “I would say that the jury is out, but any agreement over fixing the CAP legislation needs to be looked at very carefully,” he says.

“I am worried that any fixes will put states’ preferences first, at the potential expense of the nation. This basin now needs to think about allocations in the context of a healthy regional social/economic/environmental system, not solely just seven states vying for their share of the pie. Everyone who uses this system is guilty of creating the situation we are in now, and everyone is going to have to contribute to a solution.”

Udall’s latter statements about collaboration are similar to those made many times in recent years by Pat Mulroy, the long-time general manager of Southern Nevada Water Authority.

Expect to see something written by Udall in the relatively near future.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.

McPhee Reservoir update: “…inflow from the Dolores River is helping us tremendously” — Vern Harrell

From the Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga):

Recent rains are filling McPhee Reservoir, improving its outlook for next season.The reservoir’s elevation is 4½ feet higher than this time last year, reports Vern Harrell, a Bureau of Reclamation engineer.

“This latest storm produced 1,676 acre-feet of storage,” he said. “Irrigation outflow is pretty much done, and the inflow from the Dolores River is helping us tremendously.”

Carryover storage as of Oct. 1, 2014, is at 34,185 acre-feet, compared with 21,943 acre-feet for the same day last year, an increase of 12,242 acre-feet.

Last year, farmers suffered shortages, receiving just 25 percent of their normal water allocation because of poor snowpack and early hot weather.

This year, farmers from Dove Creek to Towaoc received 90-100 percent of their allocation, and monsoon rains reduced overall irrigation demand.

“It turned out to be a good water year,” Harrell said.

On Sept. 29, the Dolores River hit a record peak of 1,060 cubic feet per second — up from 100 cfs the day before — because of a massive rainfall event in the San Juan Mountains over the weekend. The previous record on that day was 626 cfs in 1927. On Oct. 1, the river at Dolores was flowing at 456 cfs, a boatable level.

Also this fall, significant upgrades to McPhee’s irrigation infrastructure will begin. The Bureau and the Dolores Water Conservancy District secured $4.5 million in funding for the improvements.

Automated pumping stations at Fairview, Pleasant View, Ruin Canyon, Cahone, and Dove Creek are all slated for upgrades, said DWCD engineer Ken Curtis.

The majority of the funding ($4 million) for the upgrades comes from revenues generated at the Glen Canyon hydro-electric power plant. DWCD pitched in $465,000.

“The Colorado Basin Power funds were used to pay for new reservoir projects, but there are no more of those, so now it distributes the money for upgrades and maintenance of existing facilities,” Curtis said.

The Fairview Pumping plant, which feeds off the Dove Creek canal, will receive the first overhaul at a cost of $1.6 million.

“The $500,000 needed for installation came in and construction is slated to begin in November,” Harrell said.

Now that the farming season is over, three variable-speed pumps and their 500-horsepower motors will be replaced, along with electronics and transformers.

The Fairview station delivers irrigation water through underground pipelines to 8,000 acres of farmland southwest of Yellow Jacket…

A wet fall and some carryover storage is a good sign for boaters as well. Officials say the reservoir needs an above-average winter snowpack to fill.

More Dolores River watershed coverage here.

Colorado’s river economy worth $9 billion — High Country News #COWaterPlan #ColoradoRiver

From the High Country News (Sarah Tory):

When Governor Hickenlooper issued his executive order last year to create a state Water Plan, he charged the Colorado Water Conservation Board with the task and they, in turn, looked to the Basin Roundtables for their ideas about what the overall plan should include. The goal said, James Eklund, the Board’s Director, was to tackle Colorado’s water problems “as one unit.”

That’s the theory at least. But with the Roundtables dominated by municipal and agricultural interests, other groups are struggling to make their voices heard.

On September 10, a group of Colorado business leaders made their case for the “river-based economy” at the Colorado Water Conservation Board meeting in Glenwood Springs, where members of the public could comment on draft sections of the plan.

The setting was fitting: nearby, the rugged Glenwood Canyon runs alongside the busy I-70 corridor. A good portion of the town’s economy revolves around people coming to fish and raft on the Colorado River which carves through the canyon walls, but that river, like so many on the West Slope – where the majority of Colorado’s water lies – is shrinking. Every year, 180 billion gallons of water are sucked from rivers flowing west of the Continental Divide through a vast system of tunnels and pipes to thirsty farms and cities along the dry Front Range.

Now, faced with a growing gap between water supply and demand, they need more. In their draft plans, released in July, East Slope Basins like the South Platte emphasize the need “to consider new Colorado River supply options to meet future water demands” – which means keeping open the possibility of pulling more water from west to east through new transmountain diversions. But those plans, say members of Colorado’s outdoor recreation, real estate, and tourism industries, jeopardize a $9 billion dollar economy that hinges on healthy rivers – and supports more than 80,000 jobs in the state.

Graphic via the High Country News
Graphic via the High Country News

A report commissioned by Protect The Flows found that if the Colorado River was a company, it would rank 155th on the 2011 Fortune 500 list (those numbers are based just off of the revenue and jobs provided by the outdoor recreation industry), ahead of General Mills and US airways. It would also be the 19th biggest employer on the list.

“It’s really pure economics for us,” says Dennis Saffell, a realtor from Grand County. Factoring in all the indirect beneficiaries of Colorado’s rivers means the true economic value is likely much greater, he added, citing a recent report that found declining river flows across the Southwest could significantly hurt home prices…

Protect Our Flows wants the statewide plan to place more emphasis on smart water management and remove the option of building new transmountain diversions. The group is pressing the Colorado Water Conservation Board to set concrete statewide conservation goals in the Water Plan, especially for towns and cities – something most other Western states have, but Colorado is lacking.

Both Mackey and Saffell noted that although most of the Basin Roundtables recognize the economic value of healthy rivers, far fewer have actually quantified those benefits – or included specific language to protect stream flows. Since each Basin’s recommendations lay the foundation for the statewide plan, it’s essential that all of them include concrete standards.

But the river advocates are up against some strong, well-entrenched political forces. They pointed to the big agriculture and municipal interests that drive a large chunk of Colorado’s economy – and hold much of the power at the Basin Roundtables.

In comparison, the recreation economy is “the new kid on the block,”, says Mackey, who grew up skiing on wood skis and cable bindings. “I’m a sixty year old man and Patagonia, The North Face, the Vail Ski Resort – these companies grew up in my lifetime,” he added. “So we really need to push our way into the conversation.”

And there’s another challenge: Colorado’s water laws. Most were written in the late 1800’s and though a few modifications have occurred over the years, the laws still reinforce a “use it or lose it” mentality, which makes it difficult to implement conservation strategies. Thanks to those laws, says Saffell, farmers and cities have a legal right to keep using more water.

Think of it this way, he added: if we had the same traffic laws as we did 150 years ago when the water laws were written, it would be utter chaos. Most laws change to accommodate new realities, says Saffell, “but for some reason our water laws are untouchable.”

Instead, “we need to get away from this concept that any water left in the river is wasted water because it’s not being put to beneficial use,” he said.

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.

Six water bills on their way to #COleg for 2015 session but not water flex-marketing

Colorado Capitol building
Colorado Capitol building

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A flex marketing bill, similar to one that stalled in the state Legislature earlier this year, failed to make it out of the interim water resources review committee this week. Discussion of the bill snagged on a section that would prohibit transfers between basins in the state, as members of the committee deadlocked in a 5-5 tie at a meeting in Denver Tuesday. Seven votes were needed to move the legislation forward in 2015.

The legislation still could be brought forward if an individual sponsor is found. The idea came out of a South Platte study of water use co-sponsored by the Colorado Corn Growers, Aurora and Ducks Unlimited, and is being promoted primarily by water lawyer Andy Jones.

The flex water right proposed in the legislation would allow agricultural water rights to be used for multiple purposes — including municipal, industrial and recreation — under either a court decree or in a substitute water supply plan. It would allow water to be taken off the land through fallowing or deficit irrigation — a largely untested concept — for five years in every 10. The bill has raised concerns about speculation, which were addressed in the revised version by adding that continuation of agriculture would be the primary purpose of the water right. It also contains a section that would allow a judge to review whether a flex water right would harm other water rights after it has been decreed, presumably placing the filing of a protest and burden of proof on the owner of the water right claiming injury.

Water rights now are decreed after applicants prove or reach agreements that assure other rights will be mitigated for possible damages.



Six bills dealing with water issues are headed for the Colorado General Assembly in 2015, following action by the interim water resources review committee. Bills are not yet numbered.

Water issues in land-use planning: Directing the Colorado Water Conservation Board and Department of Local Affairs to provide water education to land-use planners.

Rain harvesting: Refining legislation in 2009 that allowed the CWCB to conduct up to 10 pilot projects for collection of rainwater by new developments. It would reduce the amount of replacement water required.

Dawson aquifer: Repeals an augmentation requirement for the Dawson Aquifer (part of the Denver Basin aquifers) to continue the current standard of replacing actual depletions.

Water-table lowering: Requires CWCB and the state engineer to administer two pilot projects to lower South Platte water tables in northeastern Colorado.

Invasive phreatophytes: Creates a five-year grant program from the noxious weed management fund to control invasive species such as salt cedars and Russian olives.

Groundwater appeals: Allows additional evidence to be presented when appealing decisions by the state groundwater commission or the state engineer.

More 2015 Colorado legislation coverage here.