#COWaterPlan: “We’re going to add a storage goal, a measurable objective” — James Eklund

Barker Meadows Dam Construction
Barker Meadows Dam Construction

From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

Objections from Front Range cities are forcing state officials to make a last-minute overhaul of Colorado’s water plan and pledge to build new reservoirs that enable population growth.

Aurora, Colorado Springs, Denver and Northern Water providers also are demanding that the state detail plans for the diversion of more water across mountains to the Front Range.

That puts them at odds with western slope residents, who on Tuesday weighed in with their own demand that Gov. John Hickenlooper block diversion of more water…

Colorado Springs lambasted it as “guardrails without a road” — a list of what Colorado must not do — and said it was biased against cities and failed to direct action to meet growing needs.

Springs utilities officials issued a 14-page critique demanding corrections to secure city support, asserting that “one or more new transmountain diversions will ultimately need to be constructed to address Colorado’s water supply gap.” The plan “should include an affirmative statement that it is state policy to develop additional storage.”[…]

The state’s chief planner said in a Denver Post interview that 46 staffers are scrambling to fix the plan and include a massive new commitment for new reservoir storage of 130 billion gallons.

That’s equal to what planners propose to gain from city water-saving such as less watering of lawns.

But there’s still no consensus over where water to fill new reservoirs would come from to meet a projected 2050 annual shortfall of 163 billion gallons.

Aurora shares some of Colorado Springs’ concerns about lining up sufficient supplies and storage, Aurora Water director Marshall Brown said. It also is disappointed the plan emphasizes urban conservation when agriculture uses 85 percent of water statewide, Brown said.

“We’re still committed to making progress on conservation but that progress isn’t going to be enough to solve the water deficit,” he said.

Northern Water also urged state planners to make changes, contending increased diversion from the western slope “has got to be on the table,” spokesman Brian Werner said. New reservoirs are essential, he said.

Denver Water manager Jim Lochhead favored “a more specific action plan” from the state, adding that Denver is optimistic a final plan will help meet water challenges.

Meanwhile, 1,500 western Colorado residents petitioned Hickenlooper opposing more siphoning to Front Range cities and suburbs.

“That water’s our livelihood. Our ranchers use it. Farmers use it. We use it for recreation, tourism,” said Bryan Fleming, mayor in the town of Silt.

“We stand together. We cannot afford to lose any more water on this side of the mountains. We understand they have water issues but we need to come to a comprehensive plan with conservation. We need to watch building and developers should have to secure water before building.”

A Colorado Water Plan lacking support from Front Range cities and suburbs, where 80 percent of the state’s 5.3 million people live, could be hard to implement, forcing state lawmakers to try to manage water scarcity.

Colorado Water Conservation Board director James Eklund said he’s aware of Front Range cities’ objections and acknowledged the current plan contains no target for increased reservoir storage.

“We’re going to correct that,” he said. “We’re going to add a storage goal, a measurable objective.”

Ensuring new storage space to hold 130 billion gallons would address “a huge chunk of the gap” between water expected to be available and expanded demands, Eklund said.

Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer's office
Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer’s office

Meanwhile Citizens for West Slope Water are against another transmountain diversion. Here’s a report from Gary Harmon writing for The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel:

The soon-to-be completed first version of the Colorado water plan should reject a new diversion of water from the Western Slope to the Front Range, according to a group of Western Slope stakeholders.

Citizens for West Slope Water on Tuesday delivered a petition to Gov. John Hickenlooper calling for the water plan to recognize that no more diversions are practical.

“The simple truth is that the Western Slope in Colorado has no more water to give,” said Michael Langhorne, president of Rifle Regional Economic Development Corp. “The impacts of additional transmountain diversions to the Front Range would be an economic disaster for us. Our families, our local economies and our very lives depend on the responsible use of our water resources, and I believe we should first be looking for ways to conserve and re-use water across the state.”

The petition contained almost 1,500 signatures of Western Slope opponents of transmountain diversions, the organization said.

The existing network of diversions now sends as many as 600,000 acre feet of water from the west side of the Continental Divide to the east side.

As currently drafted, the state water plan includes provisions under which transmountain diversions could be discussed, but there is no prohibition and the plan isn’t binding.

The petition calls for the plan to recognize the priority of modernizing and maximizing municipal conservation and re-use.

The petition cites a letter from the Associated Governments of Northwest Colorado that says growth on the Front Range could outstrip existing water needs by 600,000 acre feet by 2050.

The state water plan will likely include a conceptual framework that set the terms for how any proposed transmountain diversion will be handled, said James Eklund, executive director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, which is drafting the water document.

The framework rightfully has been praised by county commissioners and water officials on both sides of the state, Eklund said,

“To be clear, absent this framework approach, the status quo is the standard fistfight in water court that leaves everyone unhappy,” including West Slope Citizens for Water, Eklund said.

From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith) via The Aspen Times:

Officials at the Colorado Water Conservation Board are going to add more action items with deadlines to the final Colorado Water Plan by the board’s next meeting on Nov. 19 and 20 in Denver.

Final public comments on the draft water plan were due by Sept. 17. And on Oct. 6, the Colorado Water Conservation Board met in a five-hour work session to go over the latest draft of the state’s first official water-supply plan.

At that meeting, board members told staff to add to the plan specific “measurable objectives” with “date certain” deadlines, according to James Eklund, the director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

The board wants to see “clear measurable goals” for water conservation, water storage, land use and other issues, Eklund said, noting that Gov. John Hickenlooper also wants to see action items with deadlines.

“He was very clear that we cannot surrender the momentum we’ve developed during the drafting of the water plan,” Eklund said.

The final water plan is due on Hickenlooper’s desk by Dec. 10, but Eklund said he and his staff are working hard to get the document finished and approved by the board at its next regular meeting, set for Nov. 19 and 20 in Denver.

“It’s a target date,” said Eklund of Nov. 19, noting that the CWCB was slated to meet at the History Colorado Center and approval of the state’s first statewide water plan there would be a fittingly historic moment.


Alan Hamel, a board member, told the members of the Arkansas River basin roundtable on Oct. 14 about a number of actions that are now to be included in the final water plan, according to an Oct. 16 article in the Pueblo Chieftain.

The action items included “obtaining an additional 400,000 acre-feet of (water) storage by 2050, reducing the municipal (water supply) gap from 560,000 acre-feet annually to zero by 2030,” and “setting a goal of 400,000 acre feet of urban conservation by 2050,” according to the Chieftain.

Hamel also said the list of such action items in chapter 10 of the water plan was to be trimmed from 200 items to 36, according to the Chieftain article, which was written by veteran water reporter Chris Woodka.

The potential addition of these and other specific action items has caught the interest of officials at the Colorado River District, which met Tuesday in Glenwood Springs.

Erik Kuhn, the director’s general manager, told the district’s board that he had talked Monday with Eklund about the addition of new action items into the plan and told him he would like to see and comment on the list before they are included in the final water plan.

The River District, which closely guards Western Slope water, is also concerned with “what happens next” after the water plan is approved.

Kuhn posed a question in a memo to his board that many people in the state also are asking.

“Will the plan sit on the shelf, collect dust and largely be ignored?” Kuhn wrote. “Or, will we find a way to use it as a template and move forward?”

Kuhn said one key is if the Colorado Water Conservation Board will help or hinder the state’s river basin roundtables as they get started on water projects identified in various “basin implementation plans” developed as part of the water plan process.

Other issues raised by Kuhn include where the state will find the money to pay for both water projects and environmental protections and if a statewide water conservation goal of 400,000 acre feet of water is feasible — especially given the doubts voiced by several Front Range municipal water providers.

In a Sept. 17 comment letter to the board, the River District also raised a series of concerns, including the need to avoid a “compact call” from lower basin states, whether measures to reduce the use of water by agriculture will be effective and the need to improve coordination of local land-use policy and water supply.

The district also addressed the emerging concept of developing “stream management plans” to better understand how water diversions in the state’s rivers are affecting the environment. The district suggests that the $1 million budgeted by the state for such plans is likely not enough.

Also Tuesday, a group called Citizens for Western Slope Water said it had delivered a petition to Hickenlooper and Eklund signed by 1,500 residents of western Colorado, including many citizens from Grand Junction and Durango.

“The Western Slope in Colorado has no more water to give,” the petition states. “We the undersigned western Colorado residents, strongly urge you to oppose any new transmountain diversion that will take more water from the Western Slope of Colorado, as you develop Colorado’s Water Plan. We cannot solve our state’s future water needs by simply sending more water east.”

Aspen Journalism has been collaborating with The Aspen Times and the Glenwood Springs Post Independent on coverage of rivers and water. More at http://www.aspenjournalism.org.

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