CMU Upper #ColoradoRiver Basin Water Forum recap #COWaterPlan

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

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

Colorado’s anticipated completion of a water plan in 2015 might be viewed as a starting point rather than an end point for its state water planning process.

That’s one takeaway lesson that might be learned from similar efforts in nearby states, judging from presentations Wednesday at this week’s Upper Colorado River Basin Water Forum, hosted at Colorado Mesa University by CMU’s Water Center.

Representatives from New Mexico, Wyoming and Utah all described how existing plans in those states have been updated over time — in Wyoming’s case, every 10 years, to incorporate new data.

“It’s sort of an evolutionary process and never stays the same,” said Jodie Pavlica, an engineer with the Wyoming Water Development Office.

In Wyoming, basins currently are revising their plans in preparation for revision of the statewide framework.

“We’re always adding things to our plans. We don’t want them to become stagnant,” Pavlica said.

Colorado is one of the last states in the West to develop a state water plan, something designed to project future needs and how they can be addressed. New Mexico first completed a state plan in 2003, following completion of regional plans within the state, said Amy Haas, acting director of the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission. The impetus for the plans was New Mexico’s battle with El Paso, Texas, over attempts to export New Mexico water, and a Supreme Court determination in a Nebraska case that exports can’t be banned outright but some restraints are appropriate if the state that’s home to the water shows a need for it.

Last year a comprehensive review found that New Mexico’s state plan and regional ones needed full-scale revisions, something now being undertaken.

“They are in dire need of updates,” Haas said.

Todd Adams, deputy director of the Utah Division of Water Resources, said the first Utah state plan he can find was published in 1990, but the state has been doing such planning since the 1960s. Its most recent plan was completed in 2001, and is being updated now, including to address issues such as climate change and tar sands and oil shale development.

James Eklund, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, said in an interview that New Mexico’s experience shows that Colorado will want to keep its plan from becoming stale and revise it regularly enough to avoid the need for massive overhauls.

“If the hydrology changes vastly or your population estimate changes up or down vastly then you have to recalculate the whole thing, figure out if you can get there from here” in terms of fulfilling anticipated water demand, he said.

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

Colorado River basin residents must prepare for the worst of events combining population growth, climate change and increasing demands, the former head of the Southern Nevada Water Authority said Wednesday in Grand Junction.

“Take nothing off the table,” Patricia Mulroy told more than 50 people at the 2014 Upper Colorado River Basin Water Forum at Colorado Mesa University. “All options have to be on the table.”

The year 2014 has so far been a wet one and there will be wet years in the future, but water managers — and individual residents — can ill afford to depend on nature to rescue them during dry years, Mulroy said.

Surviving in dry years will demand ingenuity and foresight, Mulroy said.

“The solutions won’t be found in nature,” she said. “They’ll be found in ourselves.”

The only option that’s unavailable is limiting growth, she said, adding that the key to making the most of the Colorado River is in how it’s used.

The overarching issue, however, is preparation for the most arid of times.

“We do not know how bad, “bad” is,” she said.

Mulroy, now the senior fellow for climate adaptation and environmental policy for Brookings Mountain West at the University of Nevada Las Vegas, said water managers will have to think several steps ahead to prepare for the inevitability of drought years and she urged states and water agencies to develop strategic partnerships.

Colorado River Basin issues have long been exacerbated by differences between the upper and lower basins on the river, not least of them the desire by many in the lower basin to see more water in Lake Mead, the main source of water for many in Arizona, California and Nevada.

The lower basin, however, has to bear that responsibility, Mulroy said.

At the same time, it’s up to the upper basin states, including Colorado, to make sure they meet their obligations, Mulroy said.

How the upper basin can do that is up to it, Mulroy said.

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.

Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies: Election Results and Impacts on the Water Sector

George Washington addresses the Continental Congress via Son of the South
George Washington addresses the Continental Congress via Son of the South

Here’s the release from the AMWA:

[The November 4] midterm elections will remake the look of Congress next year, as the Republican party will control both the House and Senate for the first time since 2006. While votes are still being counted in many parts of the country and many decisions are yet to be made about the new majority’s priorities for the 114th Congress, this memo will provide an early look at where things stand and what AMWA should prepare for heading into 2015.

The Makeup of Congress

Republicans picked up seven U.S. Senate seats outright last night, and appear likely to pick up two more by the time all the votes are counted. The GOP won open seat races in West Virginia, South Dakota, Montana, and Iowa, defeated Democratic incumbents in Arkansas, North Carolina, and Colorado, and successfully defended all GOP-held seats up for election (most notably Kentucky, Georgia, and Kansas).

This gives Republicans 52 Senate seats as of this morning, but the total will grow to 54 if Republican Dan Sullivan holds onto his slim lead over incumbent Democrat Mark Begich in Alaska, and Republican Bill Cassidy defeats Democratic incumbent Mary Landrieu in a December 6 Louisiana runoff election. Meanwhile, Virginia Democratic incumbent Mark Warner holds a slim 12,000-vote lead over Republican challenger Ed Gillespie in a race that appears headed to a recount.

In the House Republicans have gained a net of 14 seats so far, though 15 more remain too-close-to-call or headed to a runoff as of this morning. Analysts say the party appears on track to hold at least 246 House seats next year – which would mark the party’s largest majority since the 1940s.

Notable Winners and Losers

Democratic Rep. Tim Bishop of New York – Ranking Member of the House Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee and a strong proponent of investing in water infrastructure (particularly the Clean Water SRF) – was defeated in New York’s First Congressional District. Also losing was House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Ranking Member Nick Rahall of West Virginia and Colorado Senator Mark Udall, who served on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

On the Republican side, Nebraska Rep. Lee Terry is trailing Democratic challenger Brad Ashford by about 4,000 votes in a still too-close-to-call race. Rep. Terry serves on the Energy and Commerce Committee and is the lead sponsor of H.Res. 112, a resolution marking the importance of tax-exempt municipal bonds. And defeated outright was Florida Republican Steve Southerland, who has been a harsh critic of EPA and its “Waters of the U.S.” proposal.

Pulling out a win was Oregon Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley, who earlier in the year found himself in a competitive race but ultimately defeated his Republican challenger by a comfortable 17-point margin. Sen. Merkley serves on the Environment and Public Works Committee and was an early advocate for the new “Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act” (WIFIA) pilot program.

Committee Ramifications

The election results will lead to some shuffling on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, where Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) is expected to take Rep. Rahall’s place as Ranking Democrat and Rep. Donna Edwards (D-Md.) appears in line to take Rep. Bishop’s spot as lead Democrat on the Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee. T&I Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Penn.) and Water Resources and Environment Chairman Bob Gibbs (R-Ohio) each won reelection and are expected to maintain their gavels.

Michigan Republican Fred Upton will return as Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and New Jersey’s Frank Pallone is expected to succeed the retiring Henry Waxman as Ranking Democrat. Leadership of the Environment and Economy Subcommittee – which has direct oversight of SDWA – appears likely to remain unchanged with Chairman John Shimkus (R-Ill.) and Ranking Democrat Paul Tonko (D-N.Y.) each winning reelection.

Wholesale changes are in store for Senate committees, as the Republican takeover of the chamber will allow GOPers to replace their Democratic counterparts as chairmen. Most notably for the water sector Oklahoma Republican James Inhofe will be the new Chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, bumping Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) to Ranking Member, while Arkansas’ John Boozman is likely to replace Maryland’s Ben Cardin as Chairman of the Water and Wildlife Subcommittee.

The Policy Landscape of the 114th Congress

While Republicans will be able to drive policy discussions on Capitol Hill for the next two years, their majorities in both chambers will fall well-below veto-proof margins – thereby requiring some degree of cooperation with Democrats and President Obama. Senate Republicans will also have to deal with possible filibusters from members of the new Democratic minority – many of whom will be eager to pay back the GOP for what they saw as an excessive use of the filibuster in recent years.

Looking ahead, lawmakers will return to Washington next week for what could be a brief lame duck session, where a budget measure to keep the government operating beyond December 11 is expected to pass easily. But once newly-elected members are sworn in to begin the 114th Congress the water sector will be affected in a number of ways:

  • If Republicans and Democrats aim for compromise early next year, a comprehensive tax reform bill could be on the agenda. Earlier tax reform proposals have included plans to raise revenues by reducing the tax benefits of municipal bonds – a policy that would have the side effect of increasing infrastructure borrowing costs for local communities. AMWA should be prepared to take part in a major effort to defend municipal bond tax benefits and educate lawmakers on its role for financing infrastructure. This effort will be complicated by the possible loss of Rep. Lee Terry, who sponsored the resolution in support of municipal bonds that served as a rallying point on the issue.
  • The newly-Republican Senate and the more-conservative House will probably take a fiscally conservative approach to writing FY16 appropriations legislation – especially when it comes to agencies like EPA. This could translate to less funding availability for the SRF programs and the new WIFIA pilot, so AMWA will need to brief lawmakers on the economic and job-creating value of water infrastructure investments.
  • Appropriations legislation could also serve as a vehicle for Republicans to attach riders undoing controversial policies, such as EPA’s “Waters of the U.S.” proposal and the agency’s greenhouse gas regulations. Appropriations riders could also be used to attack possible administration efforts to impose “inherently safer technology” (IST) reviews or mandates on water and chemical facilities through Section 112(r) of the Clean Air Act. However, these and other riders would probably draw veto threats from President Obama, thereby forcing Republicans to decide if fights on these issues are worth risking a potential government shutdown.
  • The Republican majority will virtually ensure Congress takes no action on divisive issues such as stand-alone legislation to impose “IST” mandates on water treatment facilities and measures to regulate greenhouse gas emissions or otherwise address climate change. Democratic-backed legislation to reauthorize the Drinking Water SRF also faces an uncertain future, even though a similar version of the bill unanimously passed the House in 2010 before dying in the Senate.
  • Looking to 2016 and Beyond

    Because it is never too early to look ahead to the next election, there is already talk in Washington that the GOP’s new Senate majority could be short-lived. When voters head to the polls in 2016 Republicans will have to defend a slew of competitive seats in states that generally trend blue in presidential election years (including New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Illinois, Wisconsin and Florida). Running the table in these races could tip the Senate’s balance of power back in favor of Democrats – something that might motivate GOP senators from these states to spend the next two years searching for issues on which to reach across the aisle in the spirit of bipartisanship.

    No such competitive environment appears on the horizon in the House, where partisan redistricting has created an environment where most Republicans represent overwhelmingly conservative districts, and most Democrats hail from strongly liberal ones. Most political observers expect the House of Representatives to remain firmly in Republican hands at least through 2020, when the results of the next census will give state lawmakers a chance to once again redraw House district lines.

    More 2014 Colorado November election coverage here.

    Taos to host 2014 Congreso de las Acequias

    Taos Pueblo via Burch Street Casitas
    Taos Pueblo via Burch Street Casitas

    From The Taos News:

    The New Mexico Acequia Association (NMAA) will have its 15th annual membership meeting, Congreso de las Acequias, Saturday, Nov. 15, at the Sagebrush Inn in Taos.

    The theme of this year’s statewide gathering of acequia leaders is “Poco a poco se anda lejos: Honoring Centuries of Acequia History & Celebrating 25 Years of Acequia Advocacy.”

    The meeting is an opportunity to pass resolutions to guide the association, and to elect members to the 11-person Concilio.

    The association says it hopes to continue building the movement throughout the state, protecting our land and water resources for future generations of acequia farmers and ranchers.

    Acequias serve families and so they are inherently intergenerational. This year’s event will feature youth activity areas that will accommodate children, from toddlers to teenagers. Kids are encouraged to attend so they can be exposed to acequia issues at an early age. Registration is free for children 12 years and under.

    For more information or to register for the event visit lasacequias.org. You can also call Paula Garcia with the New Mexico Acequia Association at (505) 231-7752.

    The event is co-hosted by the Taos Valley Acequia Association and the Taos Soil and Water Conservation District. Event sponsors include USDA Farm Service Agency and Natural Resource Services, Taos Soil and Water Conservation District, Trader Joe’s, American Friends Service Committee, Rancho de Chimayo, Los Alamos National Bank, Santa Cruz Farm, and La Asociacion de las Acequia del Valle de Mora.

    The initial incarnation of NMAA took place as early as 1989, followed by the organization formally establishing itself in 1990. This effort was made by various acequia leaders concerned primarily about the transfer of water rights out of acequias and changing the use of those water rights away from agriculture to other purposes such as subdivisions, resorts, and industrial uses. Working as volunteers the original group of NMAA leaders formed vital communications networks to resist the growing trend toward the commodification of water in the 1990s.

    More Rio Grande River Basin coverage here.

    Reclamation plans environmental high flow release from Glen Canyon Dam #ColoradoRiver

    November 2012 High Flow Experiment via Protect the Flows
    November 2012 High Flow Experiment via Protect the Flows

    From Arizona Public Media (Zachary Ziegler):

    Staring Monday, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation will increase the amount of Colorado River water Northern Arizona’s Glen Canyon Dam releases.

    On a normal November day, the dam lets out no more than 9,000-cubic feet of Colorado River water each second.

    But by Monday night, 37,500-cubic feet per second of Colorado River water will work its way downstream and through the Grand Canyon.

    The release will last until Friday as part of an experiment to see whether high water flows could rebuild sandbars downstream, said Glen Knowles, who is with the Bureau of Reclamation.

    This is the third year in a row a high flow release from the Glen Canyon happens and it appears to be working.

    Knowles said bureau scientists are seeing an increase in fresh sediment showing up on sandbars and along the banks of the Colorado River downstream from Glen Canyon Dam.

    More endangered/threatened species coverage here.

    Reclamation Announces Public Meeting on Lake Durango Water Pipeline

    Lake Nighthorse via The Durango Herald
    Lake Nighthorse via The Durango Herald

    Here’s the release from the US Bureau of Reclamation (Phillip Rieger/Justyn Hock):

    Reclamation announced today that the public is invited to attend a meeting about La Plata West Water Authority’s proposal to construct a 4.6-mile raw water pipeline from Lake Nighthorse to Lake Durango. The meeting is on Tuesday, November 18 at 6 p.m., in the Eolus Room at the Durango Community Recreation Center.
    The purpose of the public meeting is to provide information about the pipeline project. Under the National Environmental Policy Act, Reclamation is required to disclose the environmental impacts of the proposal and is in the process of developing an environmental assessment. Reclamation is seeking input from the public regarding issues or concerns that should be considered in the environmental assessment.

    LPWWA is proposing the water pipeline to meet the current and future needs for domestic water supply in western La Plata County. The proposed right-of-way project crosses lands administered by Reclamation as well as private property.

    Reclamation will consider all comments received prior to preparing a final environmental assessment. Written comments can be submitted to Phillip Rieger Bureau of Reclamation, 185 Suttle St. Ste. 2, Durango, CO 81301.

    More Animas-La Plata project coverage here.