Snowpack news: Good start to the water year

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Although it’s way too early to make a prediction, the water year so far is shaping up better than last year.

“We’re in much better shape than we were at this time last year,” Alan Ward, water resources manager for Pueblo Water, said Tuesday.

All the indicators are good — maybe too good if there is such a thing when it comes to water supply.

Snowpack, boosted again by a storm this week, is above average in both the Arkansas and Colorado river basins.

Pueblo is storing nearly 50,000 acre-feet of water (16.3 billion gallons) in four reservoirs (Lake Pueblo, Clear Creek, Turquoise and Twin Lakes).

“We have more than we’d like at Twin Lakes, but we’re waiting to see how likely a spill (at Lake Pueblo next spring) will be before we move it down,” Ward said.

Lake Pueblo began storing winter water Sunday and is likely to reach capacity in April, when water above a certain level has to be evacuated to make room for flood control.

That depends, however, on whether conditions stay wet over the next few months. The National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center shows it is likely that conditions will be wetter than average through next May.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Lake Pueblo is likely to fill to the brim and some water stored there released to make room for flooding next spring.

The prognosis came Thursday at the meeting of the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District.

“The bad news is the (Army) Corps (of Engineers) will not provide deviation this year,” said Jim Broderick, executive director of the Southeastern district. “The good news is they would be glad to take an informal look at our requests.”

The Corps has granted a deviation from a regimen that requires a certain level in Lake Pueblo by April 15, allowing water to remain in the reservoir until May 1, when flows increase and calls for water typically increase.

By that time, the reservoir is usually swollen from winter water storage and more water from upstream reservoirs that has been moved by the Bureau of Reclamation or other users.

Going into the winter, Lake Pueblo is at 138 percent of average, storing about 185,000 acre-feet of water. If average amounts of water are moved in over the winter, almost 20,000 acre-feet of water stored in Lake Pueblo by then could “spill,” or be released early.

One of the ideas Broderick mentioned was to use a sliding pool, based on the likelihood of flooding, that would allow for additional storage later in the season.

Opening the concept up formally could have the drawback of the need for an environmental impact statement that potentially could result in an even more restrictive storage regime.

This year resulted in nearly record flows on the Arkansas River, said Bill Banks, new chief of the U.S. Geological Survey in Pueblo. Nearly 1 million acre-feet of water flowed past the gauge at Avondale this year, which is at the top of the range over the past 40 years and nearly twice the typical year.

The Corps has granted deviation in storage criteria in recent years, partly for repairs and construction on the Arkansas River levee. That would not be needed this year.

Last spring’s high flows resulted in filling some of the flood-control capacity in Lake Pueblo.

Solar array powering Battlement water plant — The Glenwood Springs Post Independent

Solar panels, such these at the Garfield County Airport near Rifle, Colo., need virtually no water, once they are manufactured. Photo/Allen Best
Solar panels, such these at the Garfield County Airport near Rifle, Colo., need virtually no water, once they are manufactured. Photo/Allen Best

From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Heather McGregor):

Bill Nelson and Michelle Foster, members of the Battlement Mesa Metro District board, cut a bright yellow ribbon Thursday to celebrate the completion of a solar array that will power the district’s water treatment plant.

“I am pleased with the fact that we have clean energy involved here. Solar is a wonderful source of energy,” said Nelson.

The array of 1,422 panels, rated at 440 kilowatts, will power all of the water treatment plant’s electrical demand on a yearly basis. Battlement’s is the fourth water plant in Garfield County to be net-zero for electricity, along with plants in Rifle, Silt and Carbondale.

“Solar energy is good for Garfield County,” said Garfield County Commissioner Mike Samson, noting that solar arrays create employment and pay for themselves with energy production.

“Renewable energy diversifies and builds the economy,” said Stuart McArthur, Parachute Town Administrator and chair of Garfield Clean Energy.

#AnimasRiver: Superfund on the way for Cement Creek

The Animas flows orange through Durango on Aug. 7, 2015, two days after the Gold King Mine spill. (Photo via www.terraprojectdiaries.com)
The Animas flows orange through Durango on Aug. 7, 2015, two days after the Gold King Mine spill. (Photo via http://www.terraprojectdiaries.com)

From the Associated Press (Dan Elliot):

Southwestern Colorado officials said Friday that they are ready to talk to the Environmental Protection Agency about a federally financed Superfund cleanup of inactive mines, including one that spewed millions of gallons of wastewater and polluted rivers in three states this summer.

It would be an important step toward cleaning up hundreds of idle mines that have been pouring acidic wastewater into the Animas River north of Silverton for years. No laws required mine operators to mitigate environmental damage, and in many cases, the owners simply walked away when mining ceased.

“It’s a direction we’re heading in,” San Juan County Administrator Willie Tookey said of a Superfund designation…

“There really isn’t another process out there that could provide the financial resources for the environmental mitigation that’s needed,” Tookey said.

The Silverton Town Board and San Juan County commissioners are expected to vote Monday on resolutions that would formally open discussions with the EPA and state officials on a Superfund designation.

The EPA and the state have said they would not initiate a Superfund cleanup unless residents agreed.

Town and county officials visited four existing Superfund sites in Colorado this month and found that the process could be difficult but successful.

“When it’s all said and done, the improvements wouldn’t have been able to happen without Superfund, and ultimately it was worth the effort,” Tookey said.

Q&A: A look at the #ColoradoRiver and its role in the West — AP

From the Associated Press (Eliot Spagat):

Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, the nation’s largest drinking water distributor, bought nearly 13,000 acres of remote farms in July for $256 million, rattling farmers but giving it prized rights to the Colorado River.

___

WHY IS THE COLORADO RIVER SO IMPORTANT?

The river, which travels 1,400 miles from Colorado to northern Mexico, is the main source of water for an extremely dry region. In 1922, Upper Basin states of Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming agreed to split deliveries with Lower Basin states of Arizona, California and Nevada. A 1944 treaty gave a fixed amount of water to Mexico.

The Colorado’s reservoirs — including the nation’s largest, Lake Mead, at Hoover Dam — can store 60 million acre feet of water, allowing wet years to position the region for drought.

Colorado River Basin, USBR May 2015
Colorado River Basin, USBR May 2015

Colorado’s #COWaterPlan is making a splash — Environment Colorado

From Conservation Colorado:

When I first heard about a state water plan, I was skeptical as to how useful it would be. I thought about how notoriously difficult it can be to change water policy in Colorado; meetings are long, technical, and only have one person (among as many as 50) representing environmental interests.

However, two things made me optimistic about the plan.

First, the Executive Order required that the plan, and our water policies, reflect our water values. Second, the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) stated that we needed a water plan because “our current statewide water trajectory is neither desirable nor sustainable.” So the plan presented an opportunity for change.

Since Coloradans overwhelmingly prefer solving water challenges through conservation and recycling over diverting more water from our Western Slope rivers, we set out with four basic principles that guided our outreach to citizens and decision makers alike. The plan needed to:

  • Keep Colorado’s rivers healthy and flowing
  • Increase water conservation and recycling in our cities and towns (e.g., statewide conservation goal)
  • Modernize agriculture and water sharing practices
  • And avoid a new, large transmountain diversion.
  • We advocated strongly for these principles at water planning hearings, one-on-one meetings with designated planning representatives, and the public. We heard from roundtable members that they needed more information and data on how to best protect their streams. We heard pushback that a statewide conservation goal was impossible because it would be seen as a “mandate” and “one size fits all” requirement. We heard that more Colorado River water needed to be transported to the Front Range. We kept hearing these things but we kept pushing our principles.

    We persevered.

    Paddle Salute via The Weekender -- Avery Johnson
    Paddle Salute via The Weekender — Avery Johnson

    This first iteration of Colorado Water Plan is an important step forward for Colorado because it reflects Coloradans’ values and priorities. The plan:

    Sets the first-ever statewide urban water conservation goal;
    Addresses the importance of preserving and restoring our rivers and streams including proposing annual funding for river assessments and restoration work;
    Makes new, large, and controversial large trans-mountain diversions, which harm rivers and local communities, a lot less likely.
    We are seeing conservation prioritized as never before, expanded language on reuse and water banking, and incentives and funding toward “alternative transfer methods” which replace water providers buying up agricultural land and then taking the irrigation water for municipal use. There is broad support for and a greater focus on stream health across the state including funding and the importance of preserving and restoring the environmental resiliency of our rivers and streams.

    We’re excited about the plan and are now focusing our attention to getting it implemented.

    The plan must be executed properly to be effective for Colorado. We also need more detailed and thorough water project evaluation criteria that determine which projects get state support (and which do not). We need to ensure that any tweaks to the state’s permitting authority maintains the strong environmental safeguards that protect our rivers and drinking water.

    As the state implements this plan and looks to make changes to it, we will continue to advocate for what is best for Colorado and best for our rivers. Thanks to Governor Hickenlooper for tackling such a contentious issue as water and developing the first ever state plan!

    Not zero, xeric: Greeley officials to present plan to reduce landscape water use — The Greeley Tribune

    Xeriscape landscape
    Xeriscape landscape

    From The Greeley Tribune (Catharine Sweeney):

    Patrick McDonald came into a hard job.

    In 2002, he left the lush southeast to become the landscape manager for the University of Northern Colorado right as the state hit a historic drought.

    Water allowances plummeted. The football field was in such bad shape, the Broncos quit training there. And yet McDonald didn’t condemn the campus to crunchy brown shrubs and dead grass. He invested in drought-resistant native plants.

    More than a decade later, almost 10 percent of the campus landscape is covered in these plants. Although there are a few cacti, there are tons of sage plants, prairie grasses and colorful bushes.

    “That stuff’s thriving without extra water,” he said.

    All of these practices fall under a gardening philosophy called xeriscape. Although the term can conjure images of a lawn full of gravel, most xeriscapes instead feature flora appropriate for limited and efficient water use.

    Landscaping soaks up about half of Greeley’s water, and as demand continues to creep up on a stagnant supply, officials hope that sooner than later, more residents, even the bulk of them, can transform their own yards using the same kind of plants that a drought inspired McDonald to use at UNC.

    According to Greeley’s records, per capita water consumption has decreased by 22 percent since 2002. Even so, as more people flock to the Front Range, officials now realize replacing shower heads and toilets won’t cut it.

    Various departments teamed up to write the Landscape Policy Plan, a guidebook to establishing the programs and regulations needed to reduce outdoor water use. The guidebook, among other recommendations, asks residents to think beyond their thirsty bluegrass lawns and plant native, drought-resistant greenery.

    The Greeley City Council hasn’t seen the plan. Department heads will present it later this month, and the council should decide whether to sign off on it by year’s end.

    Although planners want to maintain a lot of what we’re used to seeing — tall shade trees, grassy fields for kids and pets — they’d like to see some change too.

    These changes don’t have to be as drastic as one might think, City Manager Roy Otto said. The term “xeriscape” can dredge up images of a yard full of rocks and cacti. But that’s not what it means for northern Colorado.

    Xeriscape calls for replacing imported plants with native ones, not getting rid of them altogether. The High Plains aren’t in a parched desert, Otto said, but they aren’t in the rain-drenched Midwest either.

    FEEDING THE NEED

    Greeley started as an agricultural community in a semi-arid climate.

    Given that, officials always knew the value of conserving water: They put together the city’s first conservation plan in 1905, said Eric Reckentine, deputy director of Greeley Water and Sewer. The plan limited how often residents could water their lawns.

    In the past 11 decades, ways to conserve have advanced. Greeley still has watering restrictions, but they’re more organized. Companies have developed more efficient toilets, washers, shower heads and irrigation systems, and the city issues rebates for residents who use them. The water and sewer department offers various educational materials and services, from DVDs to water audits.

    Greeley has offered xeriscape services for years, and even has a few demonstration gardens, but as the demand for water continues to grow, it is getting more attention.

    Planners project the Denver region’s population will grow from 3.5 million to almost 6.6 million people by 2050, according to city documents. That will grow water demand by 110,000 acre-feet. An acre-foot is roughly 326,000 gallons, how much an average household uses in a year. Even if all water storage projects are permitted and constructed — which studies show happens only 70 percent of the time — water suppliers can only get access to about 64,000 more acre-feet. Greeley officials, and others, are getting the message: There isn’t any more water.

    STICKING AROUND

    Natural brushes and prairie grasses won’t be the only green left in Greeley. Planners want to maintain some high water-use plants.

    No one, for instance, is going to chop down all the trees, said Community Development Director Brad Mueller said.

    “We know that trees perform an important function beyond looking nice,” he said.

    Tree cover is one way to prevent what environmental scientists call heat islands.

    When buildings, roads, and other infrastructure replace open land and vegetation, the surfaces that once let water soak through and stay moist become impermeable and dry. They soak up the heat and let it fester. These changes cause urban regions to become warmer than their rural surroundings, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

    It’s unreasonable to think there should be no areas with bluegrass, Mueller said. Wood chips and rough lavender gardens don’t make for a fun place to sit or play. People with children or pets should have some grass on their properties. Parks will have it, as well.

    HOW XERISCAPE WORKS

    Ruth Quade, the director of water conservation for Greeley, assembled a xeric demonstration garden outside of the city hall annex at 1100 10th St. to show residents they can start small.

    It’s only a few yards long and about a yard wide. There are a few demonstration gardens in town, most of which are almost an acre in size, Quade said.

    “It can be overwhelming,” she said.

    Xeriscape as a practice has seven principles: plan ahead, limit turf areas, improve soil, irrigate efficiently, choose low water use plants, use mulch and maintain the landscape.

    It sounds like a lot of work, but Quade said the downtown garden took about three days to set up.

    Instead of working with a landscape architect on a plan or working to design one herself, she used a Garden in a Box kit from the Center for Resource Conservation. The sustainability-focused nonprofit offers a catalogue of xeric plant packages for about $100 (Greeley residents get a discount). It offers the plants, “plant-by-number” design instructions and a manual on how to care for them.

    They also sell drip irrigation kits, which are a vital part of xeriscape. Instead of spraying the entire space, little hoses leak into a plant’s roots.

    Using this system on a xeric garden instead of a traditional sprinkler on turf can reduce water use by up to 60 percent.

    Another vital component is mulching. Although some xeric gardens use rock and gravel, many planners prefer organic mulches, such as wood chips. The mulch reduces weeds while protecting plants from harsh weather.

    WHAT’S IN THE PLAN

    The document going to city council this year doesn’t have any regulatory power. It defines policy goals to get each department and the city council on the same page going forward, Mueller said.

    The plan has three parts: education, incentives and regulation.

    Quade has worked on xeriscape education for years, she said. Her materials started getting more attention in 2002, when a harsh drought started.

    Now she gets to expand her efforts. The demonstration garden was just the first in a line of projects she’s going to tackle.

    One of the undertakings she’s most excited about is a website that would give landscapers and residents a guide to more than 300 drought-resistant, native plants.

    Teaching people how to maintain those gardens is one of the city’s biggest opportunities, he said. After all, if you don’t know how to care for those plants, it won’t matter that you set it up.

    Tearing up and replacing landscape is expensive, and officials hope to ease the burden by offering incentives like they do now for toilets and washing machines.

    Regulations will change slowly.

    Greeley already requires lawns be half covered in plants. That’s not going to change, Mueller said. Covering a lawn entirely in rocks would not only make the area hotter, but it would also look ugly.

    New rules haven’t been pinned down. Officials are tossing a few ideas around, such as a cap on the amount of land the thirstiest plants can cover and a xeriscape certificate requirement for landscapers.

    Many new regulations will only affect businesses at first, Mueller said. City agencies have more control over commercial projects than they do over private ones.

    WHO ELSE?

    UNC’s xeric goals were codified years ago in its own landscape master plan. It gave McDonald a directive: At least 25 percent of the new or renovated landscape has to be xeric. Now almost 8 percent of the campus is covered in low-water use plants, including a 5-acre demonstration garden.

    Plants native to the Front Range are pretty easy to come by, he said.

    That might be because xeriscape is becoming more popular.

    The Xeriscape Garden at Denver Water. Xeriscaping is a cost-effective way to save water and beautify your yard.
    Xeriscape demonstration garden at Denver Water

    “We’re seeing a lot of improvement in the area,” said Mark Cassalia, a conservation specialist for Denver Water. “They’re really getting the bigger picture.”

    The organization coined the term “xeriscape” in 1981 while working with Associated Landscape Contractors of Colorado. Now it’s taking off throughout the state and country.

    “We’re actually paying a little money to help people change their landscape,” said Renee Davis, a water conservation specialist at the city of Fort Collins.

    The city started a pilot program this summer to help residents change over to xeriscape. They focused on helping with design and helping buy plants. Next year, Davis said, they’re going to narrow their focus to plant acquisition and maintenance.

    Rebates cover a small part of the plant cost. The goal: get residents who are on the fence to fall to the right side.

    “We try to put in just a little money to get people excited and help them out,” Davis said.

    They also offer guidance on keeping the plants healthy, especially regarding watering them.

    “Replacing a toilet is something you can pay someone to do and it can take less than an hour,” Davis said. “Changing a landscape? Well, that’s more like a bathroom remodel.”

    Conservation easements: The best way to protect Southern Colorado’s land and water from being dried up by urban development — The Pueblo Chieftain

    saguachecreek
    Saguache Creek

    From The Pueblo Chieftain editorial staff:

    THE BEST way to protect Southern Colorado’s land and water from being dried up by urban development is the strategic use of conservation easements to preserve both environmental quality and the local economy.

    Conservation groups already are investing wisely in preserving the environment, land and water in the San Luis Valley.

    In the early years of this century, the Nature Conservancy, a national conservation group, supplied the impetus to permanently protect the Baca Ranch from greedy water speculators by jump-starting the $30 million purchase of the ranch. Congress followed by establishing the nearby Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, thus preserving the valley’s great natural asset forever.

    Other large ranches in the San Luis Valley are being protected by similar conservation efforts.

    On Nov. 3, the Del Norte-based Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust, Colorado Open Lands and the Western Rivers Conservancy announced creation of a $2 million San Luis Valley Conservation Fund. The goal is to take care of the land and water, as well as fish and wildlife habitat along the Rio Grande, through the valley.

    Conservation will have a positive lasting effect on the San Luis Valley.

    Now conservation groups need to cast their eyes east and north to the Lower Arkansas Valley. This agricultural region is living proof that farmers have been the first human contributors to conserving land and water of irreplaceable value to the economy, food production and natural wildlife habitat.

    We appreciate the Palmer Land Trust’s promising plan that, in the trust’s own words, “focuses on a 1.75-million acre landscape in the western Lower Arkansas Valley. Delineated by the Arkansas River and its southern tributaries, the planning area extends from Canon City in the west to Rocky Ford in the east, and from the city of Pueblo in the north to Colorado City in the south.”

    The Lower Arkansas Valley looks to Palmer Land Trust success and also needs others, such as the Nature Conservancy and Colorado Cattlemen’s Trust, to add their considerable weight to more extensive conservation easements.

    Remember, farming and ranching are the most time-tested contributors to conservation of the environment — wildlife habitat, recreation and scenic vistas — that draw people to the beautiful state of Colorado.

    The advantages of conservation easements are numerous, extending to farmers and ranchers, especially. They can receive outside income to commit to staying on the land in irrigated agriculture in perpetuity. It’s a great disincentive to settling for a one-time payoff from selling their permanent water rights to be transferred north to urban areas.

    Conservation easements are a win-win proposition. Now we need the conservation experts to pitch in and help save the future of the Lower Arkansas Valley.

    #COWaterPlan: Boiling down the #Colorado Water Plan — Aspen Journalism

    Photo: Andrea Karson via Aspen Journalism
    Photo: Andrea Karson via Aspen Journalism

    From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith):

    There are 16 pages in the Colorado Water Plan devoted to the “Critical Action Plan.”

    With the action plan’s language lightly rinsed and boiled down, a recipe of potential solutions emerges. See below.

    Reduce the projected 560,000 acre-foot gap between water supply and demand to zero.

    To do this, the state will support new supply projects through the regional basin roundtables and will collaboratively manage the Colorado River against a compact call.

    Achieve 400,000 acre-feet of water conservation by 2050.

    To do this, the state suggests that cities develop integrated water conservation plans and that the legislature require efficient residential sprinklers.

    By 2025, 75 percent of Coloradoans will live in communities that have incorporated water-savings actions into land-use planning.

    To do this, the state will train interested local government officials on the subject.

    Share at least 50,000 acre-feet of agricultural water using voluntary alternative transfer methods by 2030.

    To do this, the state will educate farmers and ranchers about lease and sale options, encourage ditch-wide planning, fund irrigation repairs, develop “flow agreement” language, figure out how to track saved water in the river, and explore additional funding.

    Attain 400,000 acre-feet of water storage through projects in the works.

    To do this, the state will provide financial support for storage projects, prioritize loans and grants, try and streamline the permitting process, participant in the NEPA process, assign a lead state agency and sign an MOU with other involved state agencies.

    Cover 80 percent of the locally prioritized lists of rivers with stream management plans by 2030.

    And cover 80 percent of critical watersheds with watershed protection plans by 2030.

    To do these things, the state will work to prevent listing under the Endangered Species Act, study recreation and develop stream management plans.

    The state will also “develop common metrics for assessing the health and resiliency of watersheds, rivers and streams,” along with trying innovative techniques, providing support for watershed master plans, and prioritizing projects in master plans.

    Investigate options to raise $100 million ($3 billion by 2030) starting in 2020.

    To do this, the state will seek an amendment to expand the CWCB loan program to cover other projects, explore private-public partnerships, provide lower interest loans for projects, provide $1 million a year for stream management plans, and create a new all-in funding plan.

    Engage Coloradoans statewide on at least five water challenges (identified by Colorado Water Conservation Board) that should be addressed by 2020.

    To do this, the state will create a fund so basin roundtables can spend money on public relations, survey Colorado citizens on water, and create an innovation award program.

    Under a category called “additional” the CWCB says it will produce the Statewide Water Supply Initiative 2016, which is already underway.

    And that it will continue to work with the basin roundtables on their regional basin plans.

    The CWCB will also plan for climate change disaster, work on re-use projects and quietly pursue necessary legislation.

    Here’s a video version from the CWCB: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TzbnuvNKUNU

    Colorado’s Water Plan will need everyone to pitch in, officials say — The Denver Post

    From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

    Colorado adopted a landmark $20 billion water plan Thursday to try to accommodate rapid population growth by conserving more, reusing more, storing more and sharing more between farmers and cities — and diverting less from west to east across the mountains.

    “Now is the time to rethink how we can be more efficient,” Gov. John Hickenlooper said at a ceremony embracing the roughly 480-page document…

    State officials emphasized a practical consensus that emerged after a decade of river basin negotiations. In a drought-and-flood-prone West where clean water increasingly is coveted, they contend Colorado residents are best served by rallying around a common plan.

    Hickenlooper urged immediate work with everybody chipping in to implement the plan: residents shortening showers, lawmakers cooperating to ensure funds and fine-tune laws, utilities thinking regionally about effects of diversions, and farmers forging alternatives to selling their water rights to cities.

    And the governor swiftly placed the plan into the context of an intensifying Western water struggle.

    “The Western governors have agreed that we’re all going to work on water together,” Hickenlooper said, referring to pressure California’s water crunch puts on an over-subscribed Colorado River. “None of us knows with any certainty how that drought is going to continue and spread.”

    If Colorado ramped-up water conservation, with the incorporation of water into land-use planning and reservoir construction done right, the controversial diversion of more water across mountains won’t be necessary, Hickenlooper said — even with the 5.3 million population projected to nearly double by 2050.

    Front Range cities rely on 24 tunnels and ditches to divert an average of 262 billion gallons of water a year west-to-east across the Continental Divide. This practice depletes streams and rivers, hurting ecosystems.

    Diverting more to satisfy growing Front Range urban needs ought to be “the last possible use,” Hickenlooper said, adding state leaders’ goal is “where the water is, it stays.”

    Environment groups and utility officials agreed a unified state stand may help prevent the federal government and other Colorado River Basin states from driving water decisions.

    “Colorado has the ability to greatly influence what happens along other stretches of the Colorado River,” said Jon Goldin-Dubois, president of Boulder-based Western Resource Advocates.

    Putting forth an unprecedented, detailed state plan “gives Colorado leverage in those interstate conversations,” he said…

    Denver Water manager Jim Lochhead, pointing to a 20 percent drop in water consumption over the past 10 years despite population growth, said water-saving goals can be reached “without sacrificing quality of life.”

    Lochhead anticipated benefits of changing land use in cities. “As we get denser … that’s going to reduce our overall water use.”

    The plan depends on voluntary compliance since the Colorado Water Conservation Board lacks regulatory power. Colorado’s state engineer and the state Department of Public Health and Environment are the main state regulators around water.

    Hickenlooper said the plan, if implemented, will “create a motivating context” for using water more efficiently out of self-interest.

    “I’m not a huge fan of regulation,” he said. “This is designed so that we won’t need as much of the formal regulation we have now.”

    coloradotransmountaindiversionscu
    Colorado transmountain diversions via the University of Colorado

    From Colorado Public Radio:

    Hickenlooper’s administration encouraged water managers — and users — from around Colorado to formulate the plan over a two-year period. James Eklund, head of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, led the effort. He told Colorado Matters on Wednesday the state favors more “carrot” and less “stick” in its approach to achieving the storage, conservation, distribution and management.

    For example: The plan sets a specific conservation goal for cities but not for agriculture.

    “The reason we don’t set a conservation goal for agriculture is because the [agricultural] user has got to produce a crop,” he said. “And if you’re asking them to conserve water, that means they are fundamentally diverting less water and growing less crop. That is a private property right in Colorado.”

    “The challenges that we face as a state on water are so large that we have to really be hitting on all cylanders.” Eklund said. That includes pushing for new legislation and executive rulemaking, starting with his request for more flexibility in how the Colorado Water Conservation Board can spend the money it gets in appropriations from lawmakers each year.

    “This is a moment for Coloradans to be proud,” Eklund, said Thursday at the plan’s unveiling. “For 150 years water has been a source of conflict in our state.”

    coloradowaterplanexecutivesummaryfinal112015

    From The Durango Herald (Peter Marcus):

    “Now is the time when you rethink how you can be more efficient in the water you use,” Hickenlooper said during a ceremony at History Colorado, which was chosen as a location to highlight the historical significance of the water plan.

    “I do think the cultural shift is underway, and I think those conversations, and everyone looking at how they can use water more efficiently, is critical,” the governor said…

    Even with the collaboration, fights emerged, with a group of Western Slope officials recently expressing concerns that the plan would lead to transmountain diversion, in which water from western Colorado is used for municipalities along the Front Range. But the governor said the plan would actually minimize a need to divert water from rural Colorado, which is critical to agricultural needs.

    “There ought to be ways to make sure we have sufficient water to satisfy the growth along the Front Range without diverting the water across the mountains,” Hickenlooper said. “If we are successful in going through this water plan, it will not be necessary.”

    April Montgomery, a member of the Water Conservation Board representing the San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan rivers in Southwest Colorado, who attended the ceremony, said a process has now been established in the hopes of avoiding transmountain diversion. Steps must first be taken before diversions are agreed upon, including considering protecting future growth, development and the environment…

    In some ways, the work of the plan begins now. Officials must pursue projects that meet the municipal water gap, provide safe drinking water, prioritize conservation and promote reuse strategies. Ideas include reducing lawn watering and evaluating storage options.

    But with a $20 billion price tag, crossing the finish line will be difficult. State lawmakers this year have been encouraged to get the ball rolling with funding and outlining projects. The Hickenlooper administration has been careful not to prescribe too much in the plan, instead creating a vision for policymakers to act on.

    Sinjin Eberle, with Durango-based American Rivers, also attended the ceremony, expressing optimism the water plan will help agricultural interests in Southwest Colorado.

    “Keeping more water in the rivers keeps more security and more predictability for agriculture and making agriculture more sustainable,” he said.

    mountsoprissinjineberle

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

    Years of efforts by countless Coloradans reached fruition this morning with the completion of Colorado’s first water plan.

    The Colorado Water Conservation Board unanimously approved the plan.

    The plan looks at potential gaps between supply and demand in future decades and addresses conservation, reuse, storage and other means of filling those gaps. A key, and controversial, component of the plan provides a framework for discussing possible further diversions of more Western Slope water to the Front Range.

    Those involved in the plan say it is the product of the largest act of civic engagement in the state. Roundtable groups from individual river basins held numerous meetings on the plan, which also elicited more than 30,000 comments submitted by the public.

    From the Sterling Journal-Advocate (Jeff Rice):

    Gov. John Hickenlooper promised a “speedy review of this plan” Thursday morning after receiving Colorado’s first ever comprehensive state-wide water plan.

    In remarks during a press conference at Historic Colorado, Hickenlooper emphasized the spirit of cooperation among Colorado’s disparate water interests in formulating the plan. He said that no longer will Colorado’s water needs be met at the expense of agriculture…

    After the formal presentation, Diane Hoppe, chairwoman of the CWCB board of directors, told the Journal-Advocate that the plan is “a good way to look at our future.”

    “This is a way forward,” Hoppe said. “This is how we deal with a growing population, and stretching our limited water resources.”

    Joe Frank, general manager of the Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District, said he’s happy with the emphasis the plan places on off-channel water storage.

    “The only way to capture all of the water that we’re losing is to dam the river, and that’s just not going to happen,” Frank said. “But water storage doesn’t have to be above ground, either. Underground storage, recharge and augmentation are also important.”

    Don Ament, former Colorado Agriculture Commissioner who has represented Colorado in water negotiations with Nebraska, Wyoming, and the Department of the Interior in developing a recovery plan for the South Platte River, said he likes the plan because it dovetails with his group’s work.

    “This is a big piece of the puzzle for what my group is doing,” Ament said after the news conference. “There is a lot of excitement (in the water community) about this, and I think it provides some good momentum to carry forward with developing our water resources. This is a real good thing.”