Three directors step off the CWCB board as their terms expire

Alan Hamel, left, April Montgomery, center, and Travis Smith, right. The three long-serving directors on the Colorado Water Conservation Board are stepping down as their current term ends.
Alan Hamel, left, April Montgomery, center, and Travis Smith, right. The three long-serving directors on the Colorado Water Conservation Board are stepping down as their current term ends.

By Brent Gardner-Smith, Aspen Journalism

DENVER – Three members of the Colorado Water Conservation Board were given a warm send-off by their fellow board members Tuesday as their latest three-year terms on the board came to an end.

Alan Hamel, representing the Arkansas River basin, Travis Smith, representing the Rio Grande River basin, and April Montgomery, representing the San Miguel, Dolores, Animas, and San Juan river basins, are all leaving the board of the state agency charged with planning to meet Colorado’s water needs.

Dating back to 1937, the CWCB board has 15 members, ten of whom are voting members. Eight of the members represent one of the state’s major river basins and the ninth member represents the city and county of Denver.

The tenth voting board member is the director of the state’s department of natural resources, and ex-officio non-voting board members include representatives from the Dept. of Agriculture, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the attorney general’s office, and the state engineer.

The three-year terms of the board’s appointed members are staggered. The members are appointed by the governor and must be approved by the state Senate after approval by the Senate’s agricultural committee. No more than five of the nine members appointed by the governor can be from the same political party and they each must live in the river basin that they represent on the board.

There are no formal term limits on the CWCB board, but Gov. Hickenlooper has imposed an informal two-term limit on the current board.

Citizens interested in serving on the CWCB board must submit applications to the governor’s office and there have been numerous applications already submitted for each of the three open seats, according to CWCB Director James Eklund.

It’s possible that new board members won’t be appointed by the board’s March meeting, so the three board members who stepped down Tuesday may be asked to come back for one more meeting, as their terms officially last until a replacement is sworn in.

Pueblo Reservoir, near Pueblo, a key component of water management in the Arkansas River basin.
Pueblo Reservoir, near Pueblo, a key component of water management in the Arkansas River basin.

Alan Hamel

Hamel was appointed to the CWCB board in 2011 and re-appointed in 2014. A self-acknowledged “water buffalo,” he’s been working in Colorado’s water sector for 57 years, including having served 30 years as executive director of the Board of Water Works of Pueblo. Hamel’s name is also on Pueblo Water’s headquarters building in downtown Pueblo.

“You’re like Yoda,” CWCB Director James Eklund told Hamel Tuesday, reflecting on his young family’s current obsession with Star Wars. “You put everything in the right context.”

The reference didn’t go unnoticed by one CWCB staff member, who quickly developed a graphic with Hamel’s face on Yoda’s body to share with the board in the next section of Tuesday’s meeting.

Jim Yahn, who represents the South Platte River basin on the CWCB board, told Hamel, “You have so much knowledge and so much wisdom.”

Patrica Wells, who represents Denver on the board, and is the general counsel for Denver Water, said Hamel’s “signature self-deprecating sense of humor” was a key part of what made him a good board member.

Hamel, who is unfailingly polite and welcoming to newcomers to the water world, said, “It has truly been an honor to serve on this board. The state is fortunate to have this board.”

The members of the CWCB board do get to know each other quite well while serving on the board, especially as the board meets in different parts of the state every other month, so there is often lots of travel and new shared experiences for the board members.

The current board members also spent an intense several years working together to develop and publish the Colorado Water Plan in December 2015 after the governor called for the CWCB to write the plan in 2013.

The headwaters of the Rio Grande River basin.
The headwaters of the Rio Grande River basin.

Travis Smith

Smith, of the Rio Grande basin, has served on the CWCB since 2005 and served as board chair in 2007 and 2008. Professionally, he is the superintendent of the San Luis Valley Irrigation District, a rancher, and a self-described “ag guy.”

He said he’s learned over the years to listen to his fellow board members.

“We like to think this is the water business, but it’s the people business,” Smith said.

During the formation of the Colorado Water Plan, Smith often said he wanted the plan to read more like a novel and less like a report, and was known for reminding his fellow board members that “words matter.”

Wells, of Denver, said that Smith was the “epitome of a CWCB board member” because while he was an expert on his own basin’s water issues, he also brought a statewide perspective to the board.

Smith noted that he had been appointed to the CWCB board by three different governors, served on the board with five different directors of the Dept. of Natural Resources, and served under three different directors of the CWCB.

“It has been a great ride,” Smith said, observing that he sees “a new era of cooperation” in Colorado water.

A view of the Dolores River below Slickrock.
A view of the Dolores River below Slickrock.

April Montgomery

Montgomery, representing the southwest corner of the state on the CWCB since 2009, often brought more of an environmental perspective to the board than other members. A resident of Norwood, she works professionally as the vice president of the Telluride Foundation and sat on the Southwestern Water Conservancy District board for 12 years.

“I call you all friends now,” Montgomery told her fellow board members. “And I appreciate how much we listen to each other.”

Montgomery was praised by Wells for “working tirelessly” on CWCB issues and for taking an “enormous amount of care.” John McClow, who represents the Gunnison River basin on the board, said he valued the “fresh and valuable” perspective she brought to the table, and Eklund noted the “skill and diplomacy” Montgomery deployed in dealing with the complicated issues in her corner of the state.

As a parting gesture, Montgomery gave the CWCB board members and CWCB staffers a gift of a small jar of honey from bees that she keeps.

Ty Wattenberg, a rancher representing the North Platte River basin on the board, told Montgomery her gift of honey was her way of hoping he’d “sweeten up.”

The CWCB board was scheduled to wrap up their January meeting by mid-afternoon on Tuesday. Their next meeting is on March 22 and 23 in Greeley.

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

Upper Colorado River Basin month to date precipitation through January 22, 2017 via the Colorado Climate Center.
Upper Colorado River Basin month to date precipitation through January 22, 2017 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.

@CWCB_DNR: January 2017 #Drought update

Click here to read the update (Taryn Finnessey, Tracy Kosloff):

Following a warm a dry autumn, winter has brought significant precipitation to the entire state, along with occasional cold snaps. As a result, all basins have experienced dramatic snow accumulation and are now well above normal for snowpack. Increased precipitation has also helped to alleviate drought conditions in many regions of the state, although moderate and severe drought remains on the eastern plains. Reservoir storage is above average and at this time water providers and agricultural producers have no significant concerns entering into the spring snow accumulation months.

  • Statewide water year- to- date snowpack as of January 18 is at 156 percent of average, representing a dramatic change from two months ago when snowpack accumulation was off to a much later than normal start. . The Yampa & White currently has the lowest snowpack in the state at 141 percent of normal while the basins of the Southwest have the highest snowpack at 170 percent of normal.
  • All basins received well above average precipitation in December ranging from a low of 144 percent in the Yampa & White to a high of 187 percent in South Platte. January to-date has seen even more accumulation ranging from a low of 236 percent of average in the Rio Grande to a high of 345 percent of average in the South Platte. Statewide December precipitation was 168 percent of average and January to date is at 280 percent of average.
  • Reservoir storage statewide remains high at 105% of normal. The Yampa &White River basins along with the Southwestern basins have the highest storage levels in the state at 118 and 114% of average, respectively. The Upper Rio Grande has the lowest storage levels at 86% percent.
  • Temperatures in northern areas of the state reached record lows of -48 degrees Fahrenheit (Walden) during recent cold snaps; while some SNOTEL sites are reporting 400+ percent of normal accumulation. On the plains the presence of snow on the ground provides insulation and protection to crops, like winter wheat, during these arctic blasts.
  • The Surface Water Supply Index (SWSI), calculated based on January 1 streamflow forecast and reservoir storage, is near normal statewide.
  • Despite heavy precipitation statewide, much of the eastern plains remain in some level of drought classification following a warm and dry fall. 20 percent of the state is currently experiencing abnormally dry conditions (D0) while 35 percents is classified as moderate drought (D1), less than 1 percent of the state, mostly in Lincoln County, is experiencing severe drought. This is an improvement from recent conditions.
  • A weak La Niña was diagnosed for late 2016, but forecasts indicate that it is unlikely to last and instead El Nino conditions are projected to develop during the spring. The development of a strong El Nino would favor increased precipitation for Colorado; however it is unclear if this will be a strong event.
  • Short term forecast show less active systems through the end of the month that are likely to result in dryer conditions than we have seen during the first half of January.
  • Globally 2016 was the warmest year on record, in Colorado 2016 was the 5th warmest year on record.
  • Colorado Drought Monitor January 17, 2017.
    Colorado Drought Monitor January 17, 2017.

    @WaterCenterCMU webinar: “River Health and Riparian Resilience” January 25, 2017

    Click here to register. From the website:

    The rivers that roll past our cities, towns, homes, and highways are reflections of all things that happen upstream and uphill. In this lecture, we will learn to see rivers as a sum of their parts, learning the roles, forms and functions of water, sediment, and vegetation. Blue, the role of water, mobilizing and shaping; Brown, the role of sediment, filling, re-routing and building; and Green, growing, holding and slowing all things mobile. From this context, we will launch into discussions of river health, riparian resilience in the face of climate change, and what we can do to protect habitats critical to fish and wildlife and our riverside communities. We’ll see river cameos of the hard-working Dolores, the now-famous Animas, and the unfettered wildness of the Yampa.

    Presented by Dr. Chris Rasmussen of EcoMainstream Contracting, and hosted by Abby Burk of Audubon Rockies.

    @usfs: Trees Reduce Building Energy Use in U.S. Cities

    Smith Ditch Washington Park, Denver
    Smith Ditch Washington Park, Denver

    From the US Forest Service:

    If not for urban trees, energy used for heating and cooling homes in the United States would be more than 7 percent higher. New research by USDA Forest Service scientists and partners found that urban/community forests save approximately $7.8 billion annually in reduced energy costs associated heating and cooling residential buildings.

    Lead author David Nowak of the USDA Forest Service’s Northern Research Station and co-authors estimated that in the conterminous United States, urban/community forests reduce electricity use by 38.8 megawatt hours (MWh) and heating needs by 246 million British Thermal Units (MMBtus). The reduction in power use generates an additional value of $3.9 billion annually through reduced emissions of various pollutants from power plants. Tree cover in urban/community areas in the United States is estimated at 35.1 percent and varies from 9.6 percent in Nevada to 67.4 percent in Connecticut. How this tree cover is oriented around buildings affects building energy use.

    The study, “Residential building energy conservation and avoided power plant emissions by urban and community trees in the United States,” was recently published in the journal Urban Forestry and Urban Greening and is available at: https://www.nrs.fs.fed.us/pubs/53420

    “With more than 80 percent of Americans living in urban area, this research underscores how essential urban forests are to people across the nation,” said Tony Ferguson, Director of the Forest Service’s Northern Research Station and the Forest Products Laboratory. “Forest Service science is contributing to communities valuing and managing the 138 million acres of trees and forests that grace the nation’s cities, towns and communities.”

    The states with greatest energy cost savings were Florida ($643 million), Texas ($601 million), and California ($410 million). States with the lowest energy cost savings were North Dakota ($13.3 million), Wyoming ($14.2 million) and Vermont ($18.2 million). Focusing just on the more densely populated urban areas, which occupy 3.6 percent of the conterminous U.S. (not urban/community, which occupies 6.4% of conterminous U.S. land), total annual energy savings would drop to $4.7 billion and avoided emissions to $2.3 billion. Average value of energy savings per hectare of tree cover in U.S. urban/community areas is $455 per year, plus $228 per year from avoided emissions.

    “Urban forests are investments for cities and homeowners that can directly reduce costs in urban areas and save homeowners money,” said Nowak. “This study provides state and national estimates on reduced energy use due to trees to help give decision-makers a better understanding of the benefits of trees and their value to communities.”

    Co-authors include Alexis Ellis of the Davey Institute, Nathaniel Appleton, and Northern Research Station forester Eric Greenfield.

    @springsgov: TABOR surplus — stormwater or taxpayer refund?

    Colorado Springs with the Front Range in background. Photo credit Wikipedia.
    Colorado Springs with the Front Range in background. Photo credit Wikipedia.

    From KOAA.com (Greg Dingrando):

    Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers has made a change to his plan on how to spend the city’s $9 million surplus.

    With the TABOR law, how to spend the money will ultimately be up to the voters, but the city can request to use it.

    Originally, if he got voter approval, the mayor was wanting to spend all of the money on storm water improvements. But the alternative option of $50 in pocket would have likely been more appealing to voters.

    With Colorado Springs’ ongoing flood issues and looming lawsuits from Pueblo, the decision was pretty easy for some voters.

    “I’d say fix the storm water,” resident Craig Lindal said “I’d go with storm water. Help get more drains in so there’s not as much floods and stuff,” resident Juan Lopez said…

    Suthers proposed the city should get $6 million for storm water and the remaining $3 million plus will go back to the voters.

    “I think its also nice to reward consumers spending that money and refund as much as we can,” Suthers said, all while addressing what he calls the city’s top priority. “This allows us to make investment in an area we have significant legal problems and hopefully solve that problem.”

    Suthers said it could also protect the city down the road. For the next five years the city has to pay $17 million a year on storm water to avoid getting sued. Suthers said using money from the surplus will save general funds in the future.

    “Being able to apply the $6 million now in good times to save and invest that will shield us from having to make any cuts if there’s a downturn a couple years from now,” Suthers said.

    The council will vote on the proposal Tuesday to put it on the April ballot. Either way, voters are in a pretty good position. If they say no to the city, roughly $50 will go back to each household through a utility bill reduction. If voters say yes, the city gets $6 million for storm water and each household would get about $20 back.

    Battlement Mesa: Folks are fighting injection well application

    Parachute/Battlement Mesa area via the Town of Parachute.
    Parachute/Battlement Mesa area via the Town of Parachute.

    From Aspen Public Radio (Elizabeth Stewart-Severy):

    Earlier this month, the contractor Battlement Mesa Partners asked Garfield County to allow zoning for an injection well in a residential neighborhood. Injection wells are used for disposal of wastewater generated from fracking.

    Three citizens groups in the area are concerned about protecting the health of the water supply. The Colorado Oil and Gas Commission approved permits for two well pads in the Battlement Mesa neighborhood last fall, but those permits do not include injection wells.

    Garfield County is accepting public comment through Thursday, Jan. 26. Comments can be sent to Glen Hartmann at the Garfield County Community Development Department at ghartmann@garfield-county.com. The issue will be heard by the Garfield Planning and Zoning Commission on Feb. 8 at 6 p.m.

    Steve Acquafresca joins @ColoradoWater board

    Colorado River District land area.
    Colorado River District land area.

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

    Former Mesa County Commissioner Steve Acquafresca will represent Mesa County on the agency that is on the front line defending Western Slope water rights, replacing a current commissioner, John Justman…

    Acquafresca said he and Justman share many misgivings about various developments in water policy, in particular “water banking,” or paying farmers to let their land lie fallow, or unplanted and unirrigated, so that the water that would otherwise have irrigated those acres remains in the river…

    Acquafresca previously represented Mesa County on the River District board while serving as a commissioner. McInnis ran for his seat when Acquafresca became term-limited in 2014 and the two are Grand Junction neighbors…

    Mesa County should not be alone to contribute to keeping up the water level at Lake Powell, which has dropped in recent years, Acquafresca said…

    The other 14 counties in the district and Front Range diverters must share in any efforts to increase the amount of water flowing into Utah and Lake Powell, Acquafresca said.

    Burlington: Republican River rule making hearing February 9, 2017

    Downtown Burlington (2014) via Wikipedia.
    Downtown Burlington (2014) via Wikipedia.

    From the Colorado Division of Water Resources:

    The State Engineer has initiated the process to develop rules and regulations for water diversion, use, and administration for compact purposes within the Republican River Compact Groundwater Model Domain as approved by the U.S. Supreme Court in Kansas v. Nebraska & Colorado, Number 126, Original. The rulemaking will consider the requirement to offset impacts in excess of Colorado’s apportionment under the Republican River Compact as determined under the Final Settlement Stipulation, and work to ensure that all users of waters accounted for in Colorado’s Republican River Compact Accounting have a stake in ensuring ongoing compact compliance.

    As part of this rulemaking process, the State Engineer has formed a Special Advisory Committee to seek advice and recommendations on the rules and regulations under consideration. This committee, comprised of volunteers representing users and interests throughout the Republican River Basin, will be asked to attend monthly meetings in the basin hosted by the State Engineer, and will work with the State Engineer, in an advisory capacity, on draft rules and regulations. These meetings will be open to the public and will include presentations related to the rulemaking followed by general discussion and work/review of draft rules.

    The next meeting is scheduled to occur on February 9th, 2017 (10:00 AM – 3:00 PM) in the Recreation Room at the Burlington Community and Education Center (340 S. 14th St, Burlington, CO).

    Additional information regarding this rulemaking, including draft rules, can be found on this page as it becomes available. If you are a water user or represent a water user in the basin and you would like to join the Special Advisory Committee, or you would like to be added to a distribution list for future information about this rulemaking, please contact Chris Grimes at 303-866-3581 ext. 8253 or chris.grimes@state.co.us.

    This rulemaking is not to be confused with the Rules and Regulations Governing the Measurement of Ground Water Diversions Affecting the Republican River Compact, Within Water Division No. 1, as adopted by the State Engineer on September 16, 2015; a rule set that focuses on measurement devices (meters) and annual reporting requirements. These rules can be found here.