Reclamation, Northern Water Reach Tentative Agreement on Windy Gap Firming Project #ColoradoRiver

Here’s the release from the Bureau of Reclamation (Tyler Johnson):

Bureau of Reclamation, Northern Water Conservancy District and Northern Water’s Municipal Subdistrict have been negotiating a contract that would allow the Subdistrict to use excess, or unused, capacity in Reclamation’s Colorado-Big Thompson Project for the Windy Gap Project and future Windy Gap Firming Project.

The 30-day public comment period will open October 8, and close November 7. The comment period provides the public the opportunity to comment on the Contract, Senate Document 80, and Section 14 (Reclamation Project Act of 1939) Determination Memos.

“This project will make more efficient use of existing water rights,” said Reclamation’s Great Plains Regional Director Mike Ryan. “When completed, Windy Gap Firming would provide water storage for 13 municipal providers.”

The contract will allow for the introduction, storage, conveyance, exchange, substitution, and delivery of water for Municipal Subdistrict, Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District and allows the flexibility to move or preposition water from the Colorado-Big Thompson Project in Colorado.

Section 14 authorizes the Secretary of the Interior to enter into contracts for the exchange or replacement of water, water rights, or electrical energy for the adjustment of water rights. Senate Document 80 contains guidelines for Project Facilities operations and Auxiliary Features.

“There has been a need for a storage reservoir for Windy Gap water for more than 25 years,” said Ryan. “We are getting much closer to making that a reality, and making better use of America’s infrastructure, while also creating needed jobs in the process.”

For more information on the contract, Senate Document 80, and Section 14 Determination Memos, contact Lois Petersen at (406) 247-7752 or

More Windy Gap coverage here.

A satellite finds a potent hot spot of global-warming methane over Colorado’s Four Corners

DOI, et al., developing water conservation projects as part of a landmark collaborative agreement #ColoradoRiver

Colorado River Basin including out of basin demands -- Graphic/USBR
Colorado River Basin including out of basin demands — Graphic/USBR

Here’s the release from the Bureau of Reclamation (Rose Davis):

Faced with the increasing probability of shortage on the Colorado River, municipal water providers in Arizona, California, Nevada and Colorado, and the Bureau of Reclamation are implementing a landmark Colorado River System Conservation program.

Beginning today, Reclamation is soliciting water conservation project proposals from Colorado River entitlement holders in Arizona, California, and Nevada. At a later date, water users in the Upper Basin will be invited to participate in this unique agreement.

Central Arizona Project, Denver Water, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, Southern Nevada Water Authority and Reclamation are providing up to $11 million to fund new Colorado River water conservation projects. The projects are intended to demonstrate the viability of cooperative, voluntary projects to reduce demand for Colorado River water. The program is soliciting project proposals from agriculture, and municipal and industrial Colorado River water entitlement holders.

“This partnership demonstrates our commitment to find solutions in meeting the future challenges we face in water supply and demand,” said Reclamation’s Lower Colorado Regional Director Terry Fulp. “Our goal is to put in place a suite of proactive, voluntary measures that will reduce our risk of reaching critical reservoir levels. This pilot program is a good first step toward reaching that goal and, depending upon its success, could be expanded in the future.”

For more than a decade, a severe drought unprecedented in the last 100 years has gripped the Colorado River, reducing water levels in storage reservoirs throughout the Basin and increasing the risk of falling to critically low water levels. In July, reservoir levels in Lake Mead dipped to the lowest level since Hoover Dam was filled in 1937.

“A decade ago, municipal and agricultural agencies in California came together to help the state permanently reduce its use of Colorado River water. The goal of this latest effort is to develop new basin-wide partnerships to expand conservation activities during this historic drought for the benefit of all Colorado River water users,” said Jeffrey Kightlinger, general manager of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.

“With shortage looming on the Colorado River, CAP, with its partners, is taking immediate steps to protect Arizona’s Colorado River supply. The goal of this unique program is to develop new conservation programs from municipal, industrial, and agricultural water users from across the seven states which share the river,” said Pam Pickard, Board President, Central Arizona Project. “The program saves water in Lake Mead and Lake Powell for the benefit of all Colorado River water users and promotes a healthy river system.”

All water conserved under this program will stay in the river system, helping to boost the declining reservoir levels and protecting the health of the entire river system. The municipal agencies and the federal government agree that collaborative action is needed now, to reduce the risk to water supplies, hydropower production, water quality, agricultural output, and recreation and environmental resources across the entire Colorado River basin. The Colorado River and its tributaries provide water to nearly 40 million people for municipal use, and the combined metropolitan areas served by the Colorado River represent the world?s 12th largest economy, generating more than $1.7 trillion in Gross Metropolitan Product per year.

This first call for proposals is for Lower Basin parties. Upper Basin proposals will be requested in the future.

“We are pleased to see the momentum established in the lower basin. We look forward to a similar process starting soon in the upper basin with our partners along the Colorado River, including The Colorado Cattlemen’s Association, Colorado Farm Bureau, Colorado River District, Southwestern Water Conservation District, The Nature Conservancy and Trout Unlimited. Together, we will identify and fund pilot programs that demonstrate the viability of cooperative, voluntary compensated means to reduce water demand,” said Jim Lochhead, CEO Denver Water.

Reclamation is currently requesting project proposals for 2015 and 2016 funding allocations. The due date for the responses to the solicitation is November 17, 2014. Following the two-year period, Reclamation and the municipal agencies will evaluate the effectiveness of the conservation projects funded by this program and determine if the successful programs could be expanded or extended to provide even greater protection for the Colorado River system.

“Managing the Colorado River requires a cooperative and concerted effort between diverse stakeholders, and this pilot program furthers that collaboration and provides another tool we can use in response to the drought,” said John Entsminger, General Manager, Southern Nevada Water Authority. “This program is the mechanism for developing a wide array of adaptable and scalable conservation projects to provide real benefit to the overall river system.”

Chatfield Reservoir water supply project OK’d by feds, faces lawsuit — The Denver Post

Proposed reallocation pool -- Graphic/USACE
Proposed reallocation pool — Graphic/USACE

From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

Federal water engineers on Thursday launched the long-planned and controversial Chatfield Reservoir water supply project, closing a deal with Colorado sponsors.

Audubon Society opponents filed a lawsuit in federal court trying to block construction.

A reallocation of the South Platte River water that is captured in the reservoir, created in 1975 for flood control, is expected to add 2.8 billion gallons a year to water supplies.

But the project will inundate 10 percent of the premier state park.

Col. Joel Cross, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Omaha district commander, signed an agreement with the Colorado Department of Natural Resources and the Colorado Water Conservation Board — clearing the way for state-supervised construction after 15 years of negotiation.

“This completes the study and gives approval to move forward. This is a huge milestone,” Army Corps of Engineers project manager Gwyn Jarrett said.

Colorado natural resources director Mike King on Oct. 6 signed for the state. Colorado water supply planners have estimated that, by 2050, the state’s population probably will grow to between 8.6 million and 10.3 million people, up from 5 million in 2010. Today’s water supplies are expected to fall short by 390,000 to 450,000 acre-feet.

“As we look to meet our state’s future water needs, taking advantage of existing infrastructure and maximizing yield from Chatfield is by far the most environmentally responsible option available,” King said.

“This project will not pull any additional water from the West Slope, and the environmental impacts can and will be mitigated through an aggressive plan to ensure that Chatfield remains a tremendous recreational and wildlife viewing site,” he said. “At the same time, the new project will provide additional water to the already stressed farms and communities along the South Platte.”

The 20,600 acre-feet of water stored in Chatfield Reservoir, located 25 miles southwest of downtown Denver, has been reallocated for municipal and industrial water supply along with other purposes, including agriculture, environmental restoration, recreation and improving fish habitat.

Federal engineers said using Chatfield to augment water supplies is better than building a new dam and reservoir elsewhere.

The plans say the water level will rise by up to 12 feet and the project will provide an average of 8,539 acre-feet of water (about 2.8 billion gallons) for municipal, industrial, environmental and agricultural use.

This will inundate 10 percent of the 5,378-acre Chatfield State Park, which draws 1.6 million visitors a year.

Lengthy reviews and negotiation among federal engineers, state officials and water users led to plans to mitigate adverse impacts.

The plans describe new habitat for birds and replacement of park structures and roadways. State officials said water providers purchasing storage space in the reservoir must place funds to pay for mitigation work in an escrow account before construction begins. And no new water can be stored until on-site recreational and environmental work is done.

The Army’s assistant secretary for civil works, Jo-Ellen Darcy, has deemed the Chatfield project “technically sound, environmentally acceptable and economically justified.”

Bird-watchers opposed it. Cottonwoods that serve as bird habitat likely will be lost.

The Audubon Society of Greater Denver this week filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court, arguing that federal authorities arbitrarily dismissed better alternatives and that the Clean Water Act allows only the least-damaging alternative. It argues that federal documents show the “dependable yield” of water from the project is zero and that project reviewers’ “segmentation” in evaluating impacts led to an improper analysis.

“They need to take another look at alternatives they dismissed,” Audubon Society member Gene Reetz said. “Everybody realizes that demands for water are growing. And, especially with climate change, water is going to be very short. We all have to get more serious about conservation.”

More Chatfield Reservoir coverage here.

City’s efforts to conserve Roaring Fork highlighted — Aspen Journalism

Map of the Roaring Fork River watershed via the Roaring Fork Conservancy
Map of the Roaring Fork River watershed via the Roaring Fork Conservancy

From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith):

The city of Aspen’s efforts in the summers of 2014 and 2013 to leave more water in the Roaring Fork River as it flows through central Aspen were highlighted Wednesday at the 2014 Sustaining Colorado Watersheds Conference in Avon.

David Hornbacher, the city of Aspen’s director of utilities and environmental initiatives, told a crowd of over 50 people at a conference session on “collaborative water management” that Aspen’s partnership with the Colorado Water Trust to add more water to the river was “innovation for a stream in need.”

The annual watershed conference is sponsored by the Colorado Watershed Assembly, the Colorado Foundation for Water Education and the Colorado Riparian Association It attracts professionals from watershed organizations, such as the Roaring Fork Conservancy, regional water districts, municipalities, and other entities from Colorado’s water world.

During his presentation, Hornbacher said that due to water diversions upstream of Aspen, sometimes less then 10 percent of the Roaring Fork’s natural flow is left by the time it reaches Rio Grande Park near downtown Aspen.

And in the dry years of 2002 and 2012, the river through Aspen on many summer days was well below 32 cfs, which is the level the Colorado Water Conservation Board has determined is necessary to protect the river’s environment “to a reasonable degree.”

In an effort to help the situation in 2013 — which was expected to be drier than normal — city officials worked with the nonprofit Colorado Water Trust to review the municipality’s portfolio of water rights and see if it could add some water to the river, if necessary.

After reviewing its options, the city council approved entering into a “non-diversion agreement” in 2013 with the Water Trust.

Under a senior 1889 water right, the city has the right to divert up to 10 cfs at the Wheeler Ditch, and normally uses the water to irrigate parkland, to bring water to Aspen’s downtown malls, and to send water through the stormwater system in Rio Grande park Hornbacher said the city was able to modify its normal routine in those areas in order to leave 2 to 3 cfs in the river instead.

In 2013, the river dropped below 32 cfs in July On July 9, the city modified its usual irrigation practices on the Wheeler Ditch and began bypassing 2 to 3 cfs of water and letting it run down the river instead of being diverted.

This year, the city once again entered into a non-diversion agreement with the Water Trust and stopped diverting 2 to 3 cfs of water on August 21 after the river first dropped below 32 cfs.

While 2 to 3 cfs is a relatively modest amount of water, Hornbacher noted, it is a “significant increase” when the Roaring Fork’s flow has been reduced to around 15 cfs, as is frequently in the case in late summer.

The Water Trust helped cover some of the costs of the project, including installing temporary water measuring gauges on the river near the Rio Grande Park in order to monitor results.

One finding from the two summers of the program was that while it did raise the volume of water in the river, it did not appreciably drop the temperature of the water in the reach, which could have been beneficial to fish in the river.

Amy Beatie, the executive director of the Denver-based Water Trust, which works to restore and protect streamflows, said it helped Aspen developed a matrix of its water rights and the available tools and techniques it could possibly use to leave more water in the river.

All options had some degree of risk to the value and sanctity of Aspen’s water rights, Beatie said, but the city was comfortable with the risk of a “non-diversion agreement,” which did not include a trip through Colorado’s expensive and slow water court system.

She said the approach developed by the Trust was a flexible and quick way for Aspen to achieve its environmental goals But she added this was a pilot program and progress should not be seen as success.

“This is not a permanent solution and Aspen has long said that this water right can’t be a permanent solution because of the way the Colorado water law system works in regard to abandonment,” Beatie said, “but at least for the first two years, they were willing to take the risks of how their water right is quantified in the future by putting this water back in the river.”

One aspect of Colorado’s water law is “use it or lose it,” as limited use of a water right can come back to haunt the owner of a right who someday goes to sell or change the use of their water.

Hornbacher, after his presentation, said that if the city was willing to take the risk of leaving water in the river under certain circumstances, then other upstream diverters might as well.

The city and the Water Trust are now talking about whether the program should be implemented in 2015 for a third time.

Hornbacher said the city needs to consider if it is willing to take on the additional risk to its water rights posed by a third year of the effort, and it remains to be seen how dry next summer might be.

During the same session at the conference on collaborative water management, a consultant working on water efficiency and conservation plans with the municipal water utilities in Aspen, Snowmass Village, Basalt, Carbondale and Glenwood Springs gave an update on that effort.

Updated water plans for each city are nearly complete and a regional plan is now coming together in draft form, said Beorn Courtney of Element Water Consulting, Inc, who is helping put the plan together with assistance from the Roaring Fork Conservancy and the Ruedi Water and Power Authority.

On Tuesday at the watershed conference, James Eklund, the director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, gave an update on the draft Colorado Water Plan, which is due on the governor’s desk by Dec 10 Eklund said public comments on the draft chapters of the plan — posted at wwwColoradowaterplancom — are due by Friday, Oct 10.

Eklund stressed that the draft plan will not include a call for a departure from the state’s “prior appropriation” system for managing water rights, which is based on the premise of “first in time, first in right.”

More Roaring Fork River coverage here and here.

Video: Farmer from Colorado Supports Clean Water — Rocky Mountain Farmers Union

Here’s the release from the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union:

In advance of the October 18 anniversary of the Clean Water Act, the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union (RMFU) today released a new video in support of the proposed Waters of the U.S. clean water rule. The video stars fifth-generation San Luis Valley rancher and farmer Alfonso Abeyta, and uses with permission of the band R.E.M., their song, “Cuyahoga,” about the Ohio river that caught fire (although not the first time) in 1969. The fire and subsequent Time magazine coverage motivated Congress to pass the Clean Water Act in 1972.

“That’s why it puzzles me when some politicians in Washington don’t want to protect America’s streams and wetlands,” Abeyta says in the video. “You can’t grow food without water. You can’t live without water. Without water, nothing survives. I’m not thinking about myself; I’m thinking about my grandkids. I want them to be healthy and have clean water like I had growing up. I think it’s our job to protect it.”

R.E.M. is well-known for its leadership on clean water and countless environmental issues, so it is no surprise that the group authorized the use of its poignant song in this powerful PSA.

“This common-sense guidance protects clean water for our farms and families, and provides greater certainty for landowners,” said Rocky Mountain Farmers Union President and farmer Kent Peppler. “The White House should finalize the clean water rule.”

Approximately 117 million people – one in three Americans – get drinking water from public systems that rely on seasonal, rain-dependent, and headwater streams, which would be protected by the clean water rule. The RMFU video is being shared through social media including Facebook (Rocky Mountain Farmers Union) and Twitter (@RMFUnion), with policy-makers directly, and is available online at

The public comment period for the clean water rule closes November 14th, 2014.

More Environmental Protection Agency coverage here.