#COWaterPlan: Gov. Hickenlooper presents the final draft of Colorado’s Water Plan

Colorado- Governor John Hickenlooper Feb. 26, 2012. USDA Photo by Lance Cheung.
Colorado- Governor John Hickenlooper Feb. 26, 2012. USDA Photo by Lance Cheung.

From email from Governor Hickenlooper’s office:

Gov. John Hickenlooper will be joined by James Eklund, Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) Director, Dr. John Stulp, Senior Adviser to the Governor, CWCB Board members and many members of Colorado’s water community to present the final draft of Colorado’s Water Plan at the CWCB meeting at History Colorado Center on Thursday, Nov. 19.

The plan, representing feedback from thousands of stakeholders in both urban and rural communities and an array of agricultural interests, environmentalists, local governments, state lawmakers, business groups and water providers is the end result of the governor’s executive order issued in May of 2013.

Press conference with Gov. Hickenlooper and CWCB Director Eklund following the Colorado Water Conservation Board meeting.

Thursday, Nov. 19, 2015 at 10:00 a.m.

History Colorado Center, The Colorado Room, 1200 Broadway St., Denver.

From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

Colorado officials are unveiling an unprecedented water plan, after a decade of statewide negotiations, that prioritizes water-saving in a $20 billion push to allow population growth in the face of huge projected shortfalls.

State water planners on Thursday will present a roughly 480-page document to Gov. John Hickenlooper.

“Our footing is better now than it has ever been,” Colorado Water Conservation Board director James Eklund said Wednesday.

Priority action for the coming year: figuring out funding. Most of the $20 billion needed by 2050 would be paid by Front Range water providers. State costs of $3 billion to $6 billion — or $100 million a year, Eklund said — could come from new fees, private funders or a water tax if voters approve.

The plan contains:

• A water-saving target of 130 billion gallons a year for cities and industry, left largely on their own to cut water consumption using methods from low-flow appliances to limits on lawn irrigation.

• A goal of increasing reservoir and aquifer storage space for 130 billion gallons and encouraging re-use of wastewater.

• A framework for assessing possible unspecified new trans-mountain diversions of water from the western side of the Continental Divide, when conditions permit, to Front Range cities and suburbs.

• A proposal to develop stream and river protection plans to cover 80 percent of “critical watersheds” by 2030.

• A strategy for slowing the loss of irrigated agricultural land as Front Range utilities buy up water rights — which state officials said threatens 700,000 more acres, or 20 percent of currently irrigated acres statewide. The strategy is to facilitate temporary transfers during wet years with farmers and ranchers retaining water ownership.

• A goal of linking county land use planning with water supply planning so that, by 2025, 75 percent of residents live in communities where new development is tied to water availability.

• Proposals for streamlined permitting of water projects designated by state planners for official support.


“The plan is as actionable as it politically can get,” said Eric Kuhn, manager of the Colorado River District, representing the western side of the state.

The key is how it will be carried out, Kuhn said. “Who decides what they will subsidize?”

Eklund said other priorities for the coming year include working out and facilitating an economically competitive way for farmers to transfer surplus water to cities.

“And we need to fix the permitting system,” Eklund said. “Everyone agrees it is broken.”

Denver Water manager Jim Lochhead noted measurable objectives in the plan. “Now we need to look toward implementation. The plan’s success will depend upon all of us — West Slope, East Slope, agriculture, municipalities and environmentalists — putting aside our individual interests and coming together to do what’s best for Colorado.”

Environment groups welcomed the plan as an important step forward.

It lays out “a new path for water management, a chance to change the status quo approaches,” Western Resources Advocates water program director Bart Miller said. “This will help us be better prepared for the future.”

From The High Country News (Sarah Tory):

On November 19, Colorado’s first state water plan will arrive on Governor John Hickenlooper’s desk. The final document is the product of discussions that began more than a decade ago in every corner of the state about how to use — and protect — Colorado’s rivers, lakes and aquifers.

The plan is significant in other ways as well. Colorado is among the last Western states to develop a comprehensive water plan, a sign that the realities of drought, climate change and growing populations are creating a new urgency for state-level planning.

In the West, water is a private commodity so the tendency used to be to “let things happen as they happen,” says Anne Castle, a senior fellow at the University of Colorado Boulder law school and former assistant secretary for water and energy at the Department of the Interior. Rights-holders could do whatever they wanted with their water, municipalities could go dig a tunnel or buy up farmland to serve their customers and, by and large, states didn’t interfere.


In Colorado, that attitude comes as no surprise. The state aborted its first attempt at a water plan back in early 1980s, a time when Denver Water, the largest – and most powerful – water provider in the state, was pushing to build the massive Two Forks Reservoir…

“They wanted to control their own destiny,” says Eric Kuhn, the general manager of the Colorado River District, which tries to protect Western Slope water.

The hands-off approach meant there was no overarching vision for how water development occurred in the region. But leaving everyone to their own devices only works for a while, says Castle. “It doesn’t work when your supplies are getting tighter and particularly when you’re projecting a gap in supply and demand.”

Colorado finally began planning efforts in 2013, after 14 years of drought and new forecasts that predicted as many as 2.5 million Coloradans could be without sufficient water supplies by 2050. So Governor Hickenlooper directed the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) to oversee the first statewide water plan.

At the time, other Western states were taking similar steps: Idaho and Oregon published state plans in 2012. California, whose plan dates back to 1957, released an updated version last year. But where other states did things top-down, Colorado took a more grassroots approach, asking committees in each of the state’s eight river basins, plus the Denver metropolitan area, to assess their needs, their gaps, and propose solutions. Colorado also opted for extensive public participation – soliciting tens of thousands of comments from across the state.

For Castle, that fact alone makes Colorado’s water plan stand out. In the old days, discussions about water took place behind in smoke-filled backroom meetings without public input. “The public process has been an important and unique part of it – messy though it is,” she says.

From Circle of Blue (Brett Walton):

The plan itself is broad but thin. Though Colorado has a long history of local control over development, the Colorado plan is a first attempt to write a comprehensive narrative about water use that boosts the state’s influence in deciding actions to ensure water supply.

The need is urgent. Colorado, like other western states, is experiencing rapid ecological and social change. It is one of the fastest growing states in the country. Snowfall and precipitation are increasingly erratic and temperatures are rising. State planners forecast a municipal water supply shortfall by 2050 that could equal 560,000 acre-feet, or 60 percent more than current demand. Farmers and rural communities, accustomed to controlling most of the state’s water, now feel the pressure of urban growth as cities vie for new water supplies. Rafting guides, fishing groups, and environmental advocates worry that protections for river flows are too weak.

To ensure adequate water is available for all uses, the Colorado plan recommends a range of responses: increasing reservoir storage by raising the height of existing dams, investing in water-saving practices, and facilitating transfers of water from farms to cities in ways that do not shatter rural economies. The plan also attempts to calm the conflict between several combative constituencies: politically powerful cities on the Front Range that want more water diverted across the Continental Divide, mountain towns on the Western Slope of the Rockies that are leery of an urban water-grab, and the farm sector, which consumes 89 percent of the state’s water.

The plan will not endorse specific projects, such as a controversial diversion of water across the Rockies, according to James Eklund, the state’s chief water planner…

A number of changes were made to Colorado’s water plan since a second draft was published in July. The water board added a list of “measurable objectives,” which establish targets for the plan’s main strategies. The targets include:

  • 400,000 acre-feet of municipal and industrial water conservation by 2050
  • 400,000 acre-feet of new storage capacity by 2050
  • 50,000 acre-feet of agricultural water transfers that do not permanently dry up farmland
  • Develop protection plans for 80 percent of critical watersheds by 2030
  • Raise $US 3 billion in state funding by 2050 to help implement the plan
  • Incorporate water planning into local land-use plans that cover at least 75 percent of the state’s population
  • “If we hit the measurable objectives, we’re going in the right direction,” Eklund told Circle of Blue. “We think that by addressing the supply side with storage and the demand side with conservation we can cut that deficit by 2030.”[…]

    To implement the plan, a mix of new legislation, board policies, and local responses will be necessary. A number of actions will take place immediately following approval, to “strike while the iron is hot,” Eklund said. The state will begin assessing potential locations for storing water underground and for expanding existing reservoirs. Officials will work with local districts and utilities to boost conservation. They will also seek to lower the legal barriers for land fallowing agreements, temporary leases, and other means of temporarily moving water from farms to cities. Currently these methods require more paperwork and bureaucratic maneuvers than outright purchases of a water right.

    The measures are necessary because consequential changes are coming. Colorado’s population is expected to swell by 73 percent by 2050, to 9.2 million. If the world keeps pumping carbon into the atmosphere, Denver’s climate may be more like Albuquerque’s by then. As such, completing the water plan only opens the door to more discussion and debate.

    “It feels like we’re ending a marathon, crossing the finish line and having the gun go off for the next marathon,” Eklund said.

    Right helps to restore [Alamosa] river — The Pueblo Chieftain

    Alamosa River
    Alamosa River

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Matt Hildner):

    Efforts to restore the Alamosa River passed another milestone earlier this month when the water court in the San Luis Valley signed off on an in-stream-flow right.

    The decree issued to the Alamosa Riverkeeper allows the storage of up to 2,000 acre-feet in Terrace Reservoir that can be released after irrigation season when the dam’s headgates would otherwise be closed.

    “The development of a fishery has already started to revitalize the local economy and reconnect the community to the river,” said Cindy Medina of Alamosa Riverkeeper.

    Medina’s group, along with the Colorado Water Conservation Board, applied for the right.

    The restoration of the fishery comes more than three decades after pollution from the Summitville Mine created a dead zone on a stretch of the river above the reservoir.

    The cleanup of Summitville and the installment of a permanent water-treatment plant there thanks to federal stimulus funds in 2009 improved water quality above the reservoir to allow for fish stocking.

    The return of the fishery even prompted Jose Trujillo to open a bait and tackle in Capulin.

    “The locals are very excited to see what the fishing conditions will be in the lower part of the river near town,” she said.

    The in-stream-flow right could allow the fishery to improve below the reservoir by providing water to the river after the end of the traditional irrigation season.

    The group currently holds about 500 acre-feet and would have to buy more water to reach the limit of the right.

    Medina said the flows, which have been operated on a temporary permit, have extended the river enough to reach Gunbarrel Road, which sits roughly a mile west of Capulin.

    She’s hopeful that once the riverkeeper has bought enough water to fulfill the right it would extend the river another 4 miles outside irrigation season.

    In addition to restoring the river, Medina said the in-stream flows also would bolster groundwater levels in the area.

    She said that fact helped gain the support of the Terrace Irrigation Co., which owns the reservoir, and other irrigators in the area.

    Summitville Mine superfund site
    Summitville Mine superfund site

    Snowpack news: Colorado mostly bluish

    Click on a thumbnail graphic below to view a gallery of snowpack data from the Natural Resources Conservation Service. At Tuesday’s CWCB Water Availability Task Force meeting Karl Wetlaufer reported that the NRCS has had some network problems this week so I haven’t included the Basin High/Low for the San Miguel, Dolores, Animas, and San Juan basins. The Westwide Snotel maps shows the sw corner of Colorado as coming in at 142% of the 1981-2010 median.