Go Time for Colorado’s Water Plan: Meeting the Plan’s Funding Goals

Your Water Colorado Blog

By Nelson Harvey, excerpts pulled from an originally published piece in the Summer 2016 issue of Headwaters magazine

go time bugColoradans put far too much work into Colorado’s Water Plan for it to simply gather dust on the shelf of some government office. Yet the plan, whose final draft was released in late 2015, remains a non-binding advisory document. That means those who helped shape it must take responsibility for acting on it as well. In a fourth part of our ongoing series on the water plan’s implementation, we examine what we as a state must do to achieve the goals for one of the plan’s nine defined measurable outcomes: funding. Colorado’s water plan sets the goal of sustainably funding its own implementation.

Read the first parts of the series on meeting the water plan’s conservation goals, meeting the plan’s environmental and recreational goals, and meeting the plan’s storage goals.

Funding: Paying…

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Preparing Denver for multiple futures, not just one

Mile High Water Talk

Water planners must account for potential changes in climate, population, the economy and other variables.

By Kristi Delynko

Not everyone is Marty McFly, making the job of a Denver Water planner a difficult one. We can’t time travel like Marty, though it would sure make it much easier to be a Denver Water planner.

Have you ever wished you could hop in your silver DeLorean with Marty McFly and Doc Brown and travel through time, like in Back to the Future?

For a Denver Water planner, the ability to zip back and forth across decades would certainly make the job of predicting future water demand much easier. “Try telling a planner he can’t predict the future — it’s a hard reality for us to accept,” said Greg Fisher, manager of demand planning. “But the fact is, no one can predict the future with absolute certainty, so we have to be ready for a variety of scenarios.”

Planning is a continuous process at Denver Water, and while we don’t budget…

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Dam good news on environmental flows

westernriverlaw

Given its track record of dam construction in the 20th Century, the Army Corps of Engineers may seem an unlikely source of good news for rivers.  The Corps ultimately built nearly 700 dams across the nation, including some major ones in the West.  (The chapter in Cadillac Desert describing the Corps’ competition with the Bureau of Reclamation to build dams in the western states is titled “Rivals in Crime.”)  Although flood control is the main purpose of Corps dams generally, they also generate hydropower, support navigation, and provide flatwater recreation, among other things.  There is also growing interest in Corps reservoirs (not only in the West) as potential sources of water supply.

Dams can harm rivers in many ways, so it is not surprising that the Corps has a reputation for riparian destruction.  Starting in the 1980s, however, Congress began giving the Corps authority and direction for environmental restoration efforts; today, the Corps clearly…

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Clear Creek Watershed Festival recap

From The Clear Creek Courant (Corinne Westeman):

Saturday’s eighth annual Clear Creek Watershed Festival was a fun and educational experience for children and their parents. More than 20 local businesses, government agencies and nonprofits put together booths and stations for families to visit. For each station visited, the attendee would have her “passport” stamped. A full passport book earned a prize.

The event was started as a way to celebrate and educate the community, specifically children, on the importance of the watershed and how best to keep it clean…

Organizers Chris Crouse and Dave Holm said the festival is a way to teach attendees about watershed use and cleanliness factors, including wildlife/urban balance, high altitude, land-use impacts. The Clear Creek watershed not only supplies water for several communities, they said, it also supplies several breweries and Water World in Federal Heights.

This year, Crouse and Holm said, they tried to promote the event at schools as much as possible, as an opportunity to stimulate learning outside the classroom. And, overall, they anticipated about 500 people to visit the festival throughout the day…

Cannon said the festival is a great way to “get people exposed to what’s going on” in terms of water cleanliness. Cannon displayed various types of bugs from Clear Creek. He said the presence of certain bugs is “used as an indicator of healthy water,” and that it’s important to keep Clear Creek clean and safe.

“Anything that keeps kids connected to the environment is a good, healthy thing,” he said.

Enviros keeping eye on #COWaterPlan follow-up — Glenwood Springs Post Independent

The Colorado Water Conservation Board, after unveiling the Colorado Water Plan in Denver in November 2015. The board includes eight voting members from river basins in Colorado and one voting member from the city and county of Denver. Russ George, far left, represents the Colorado River basin.
The Colorado Water Conservation Board, after unveiling the Colorado Water Plan in Denver in November 2015. The board includes eight voting members from river basins in Colorado and one voting member from the city and county of Denver. Russ George, far left, represents the Colorado River basin.

From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (John Stroud):

Nine months after the much-heralded release of the Colorado Water Plan, conservation groups are watching closely to see that the plan’s water conservation goals are being adequately funded and implemented.

“The plan is only as good as how it gets put into place and gets applied throughout the different basins,” Bart Miller, Healthy Rivers Program director for Western Resource Advocates, said in a recent interview with the Post Independent.

A key step in that process comes this week as the Colorado Water Conservation Board holds its bimonthly meeting in Edwards at the Lodge and Spa at Cordillera.

Today, the Board Finance Committee meets to take a look at the finances for CWCB activities over the coming year, including implementation of the various elements of the water plan through the remainder of this year. Board members will also be taking a tour of Deep Creek near Dotsero, which has been deemed suitable for federal Wild and Scenic designation.

On the agenda for the regular board meeting Wednesday and Thursday will be a range of topics including a strategic planning session, reports from the directors of the nine river basins and, to start things off at 8:30 a.m. Thursday, a progress report on the steps taken since last November when the water plan was first presented to the CWCB. Included as part of that discussion will be an update on the “vision, timeline and status” of the Statewide Water Supply Initiative, which is a key aspect of the water plan.

“The urgency for having this plan in place for Colorado is every bit as strong as when the plan was written,” Miller said of the multi-year planning effort that led to the release of the water plan by Gov. John Hickenlooper last December.

Already, the state population has grown by another 100,000 people over the past year and is expected to double to nearly 10 million people by 2050, Miller noted.

“Drought remains an issue in Colorado and around the west, and some of the very reasons for the plan coming into being are even more pronounced,” he said.

Among the key conservation provisions in the plan was to achieve a savings in Front Range urban water usage of 400,000 acre feet of water and establishing stream management plans for most of the priority rivers in the state.

“In particular streams, the objective was to identify what the problems are with that stream, and to lay out options,” Miller said. “That’s an important first step in figuring out what the rivers need for long-term health.”

Theresa Conley of Conservation Colorado said it comes down to securing implementation funding for those stream management plans to be developed.

Initial funding for the water plan was the “darling bill” of the last state legislative session, but it was just the beginning, Conley said.

The state Legislature earlier this year allocated $5 million for plan implementation in 2016. But it’s estimated some $175 million will be needed over the next five years to truly implement different aspects of the water plan, she emphasized. Especially as drought conditions worsen in the Colorado River Basin downstream from Colorado, the conservation measures built into the water plan intended to stave off more Front Range water diversion projects become even more critical, Conley said.

“There has been some progress with implementation, but there’s not a lot happening yet with the conservation goals,” Conley said. “It has not moved forward with the gusto that we would like to see.

“The more we plan now, the better off we will be able to respond to crises,” she said.

Local measures such as water sharing between different types of users and water recycling projects go a long way toward that effort, she added.

Miller also added that much work still needs to be done regarding the conceptual framework for new transmountain diversion projects that was a big part of the water plan.

“There needs to be a lot more scrutiny for those types of proposals, and criteria for when the state would fund any project proposals,” he said. “A lot of this will be decided very soon, and it could end up being a very good year for the plan next year if the budget gets approved, and if certain criteria get applied to that funding.”

Weekly Climate, Water and #Drought Assessment of the Upper #ColoradoRiver Basin #COriver

Upper Colorado River Basin precipitation month to date through September 16, 2016 via the Colorado Climate Center.
Upper Colorado River Basin precipitation month to date through September 16, 2016 via the Colorado Climate Center.

Click here to read the current assessment. Click here to go to the NIDIS website hosted by the Colorado Climate Center.

Rocky Mountain NP glacier loss a threat to water supply — the Fort Collins Coloradoan

Tyndall Glacier Rocky Mountain National Park via the SummitPost.org.
Tyndall Glacier Rocky Mountain National Park via the SummitPost.org.

From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Jacy Marmaduke):

Rocky Mountain National Park’s glaciers are shrinking away.

And that’s a big problem — not only for the park’s scenic splendor, but also for Colorado communities that rely on water from the Poudre, Colorado and Big Thompson rivers, which are fed by meltwater from dozens of glaciers and glacierlike features strewn about the park.

For decades, Mother Nature has protected them from unfavorable conditions, but as the park’s temperatures climb and the promise of heavy winter snowfall grows more uncertain, the park’s glaciers and glacierlike features have slowly and unsteadily started to shrink.

A single decade of prolonged drought and warm summers could spell the beginning of the end for RMNP’s glaciers, according to one park ecologist. It’s already happened in California, where about a decade of drought and warming temperatures have pushed Yosemite National Park’s glaciers to near extinction.

“It’s sad to say, but most mountain glaciers are predicted to be gone by the end of the century,” said Dan McGrath, a Colorado State University research scientist. “I find it hard to believe (Rocky Mountain’s glaciers) could survive given the predicted warming and likely changes in precipitation.”

RMNP glaciers have always yo-yoed in size, partially melting in summer heat and regaining mass from winter flakes. The park has 30 glaciers, according to USGS topographic maps, but some of them technically aren’t glaciers anymore. Between the 1990s and 2005, the glaciers started to shrink at an increasing rate — perhaps faster than “at any other time in the historic record,” according to a 2007 Portland State University study.

And the park’s glaciers don’t have a lot of wiggle room. Its glaciers are tiny compared to well-known glaciers in Alaska, Greenland and elsewhere. RMNP’s biggest glacier is about 31 acres, the size of six Old Town Squares, and the smallest is smaller than two football fields, according to the 2007 study.

Scientists have no idea how the park’s glaciers have changed in volume over time and have only a limited record of how they’ve changed in area. McGrath wants to fix that.

He’s conducting a two-year study to find out how the glaciers have changed in area and volume since 2005 using historic maps, climate records, photographs and present-day measurements to fill the gaps in scientific understanding of the glaciers.

McGrath and his team are focusing mostly on the well-known Andrews and Tyndall glaciers but will monitor about 10 other glaciers along the Front Range. They’ll use electromagnetic waves to measure snow accumulation and ice thickness of the glaciers. With cutting-edge laser technology, they’ll create unprecedented 3D models of the glaciers. And they’re setting up timelapse cameras near stakes planted in the glaciers to study the timing of their shrinkage.

McGrath has discovered that Andrews and Tyndall glaciers are roughly the same size they were in 2005. They grew in 2010 and 2011 because of heavy snowfall but shrunk after that.

To get a better understanding of the glaciers’ timelines, McGrath will pore over climate models to see what’s in store for temperature and precipitation in the park’s higher elevations. It’s clear that warming will continue, but climate models are less certain about how precipitation will change over time in the Rocky Mountains.

Preliminary results from an ongoing study by Glenn Patterson, a CSU geosciences Ph.D. candidate, and Steven Fassnacht, a CSU snow hydrology professor, suggest that snowfall has decreased more in the park’s higher elevations than its lower areas.

Warming temperatures will melt more of the glaciers in summer, but warming temperatures’ larger impact could come in autumn and spring. A bump of a few degrees when temperatures are near the freezing point can turn snow into rain.

“Of all the things I’m worried about for glacier health, it’s that threshold,” McGrath said. “It can be 30 degrees and you get snow, or it can be 34 degrees and you might be getting only rain. That is going to dramatically alter both the behavior of the glacier and the mass balance. That’s universal.”

The final piece: McGrath’s team will study how glacier melt influences rivers, measuring streamflow and collecting water samples to see how much water glaciers contribute to rivers.

Downstream impacts are worth studying because the Colorado, Big Thompson and Poudre rivers are fed largely by snowmelt and groundwater. The park’s year-round snowfields have particularly important downstream impacts, and the snowfields behave a lot like glaciers.

Even a small loss in the snow and ice that feed Northern Colorado rivers would be a huge blow to Fort Collins and other nearby communities that rely on their water. The gradual melting of perennial snowfields bolsters late summer and fall streamflow, said Paul McLaughlin, an ecologist at the park’s Continental Divide Research Learning Center, and our water storage system depends on those established patterns. Changing water volumes and temperatures can irreparably damage delicate river ecosystems.

The strange thing about these glaciers is they shouldn’t really be here.

The park gets too warm in summer and not enough snow falls on them naturally, McGrath said. But most of the glaciers live in cirques that protect them from the summer sun, and aggressive winds shuttle snow across the Continental Divide, dumping between 5 and 10 times more snow on the glaciers than they would get from the sky alone.

“There’s something of a climate disconnect,” McLaughlin said. “In these systems where the glaciers have already retreated to these shady areas, there’s kind of a time lag in which the glaciers may persist even though the temperatures are getting warmer. But at some point in the future, we would expect they’ll reach a tipping point where they would quickly disappear.”

[…]

McLaughlin said the best-case scenario for the glaciers would be a future with less greenhouse gas emissions.

“We have the opportunity as humans to manage the amount of carbon dioxide we’re producing and putting into the atmosphere,” he said. “That will have an effect on our climate moving forward, and perhaps on the lifespan of our glaciers.”