New director of Colorado Water Conservation Board gets to work — @AspenJournalism

The building in Denver, not far from the state capital, that houses the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith):

Rebecca “Becky” Mitchell, the new director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, got right to work this past week.

But she didn’t have to go far, as she was in the same office in Denver she was Wednesday, when she learned that she was selected by the CWCB’s board of directors to serve as the state’s top water official.

Wednesday afternoon, Mitchell was responsible for managing nine employees as head of the CWCB’s water supply planning section.

But Thursday morning, she was responsible for 45 employees across various departments working on climate change, flood restoration, instream flows, loans and grants, the Colorado River compact, and other issues and projects.

Becky Mitchell

Asked midday how her first day on the new job was going, an exuberant Mitchell said, “I’m really nervous and I’m scared” before laughing, and not sounding either nervous or scared.

“I want to do right by the people of the state,” she added.

Range of issues

In her new role, Mitchell, 43, is responsible for small things that can affect regional watersheds, including the Roaring Fork River region, such as grants to help fix irrigation ditches, to big things, like avoiding a compact call from California and Arizona, which could turn off many junior water rights.

The broad priorities of the Colorado Water Plan as put forward by Becky Mitchell in a June 20, 2017 presentation to three Front Range roundtables. The slide reflects the competing priorities in Colorado when it comes to water and rivers.

“I think it’s an excellent choice,” said Jim Pokrandt, director of community affairs for the Colorado River District in Glenwood Springs, who also serves as the chairman of the Colorado River basin roundtable. “And it won’t take any time for her to get to know the issues.”

Praised by CWCB board members for her personality and ability to get things done, Mitchell is the second woman to serve as CWCB director since the agency’s founding in 1937. Jennifer Gimble lead the CWCB from 2008 to ’13 and is now at the Colorado Water Institute at Colorado State University.

More meaningful to Mitchell than gender is that she is the first CWCB department head to rise through the ranks and become director.

She said her first priority is to “get staff set in place and make sure that the goals and directions are clear.”

An organizational chart from a presentation by Chris Sturm of CWCB shows how the agency it fits within the Colorado Dept. of Natural Resources.

Heavy lifter

Mitchell has worked at the CWCB since 2012 and was instrumental in bringing forth the 2015 Colorado Water Plan after an intense, three-year planning exercise.

James Eklund, who served as CWCB director from 2013 until March, and was ultimately responsible for producing the water plan, also praised Mitchell.

“She did a ton of heavy lifting on the water plan, had a great outlook the whole time, and had people working at a high level,” said Eklund, who is now an attorney at the Denver office of Squire Patton Boggs. “That’s not easy to do.”

Patricia Wells, the general legal counsel for Denver Water, who represents the city and county of Denver on the CWCB’s board of directors, added: “Becky was largely responsible for the state water plan, which was an enormous undertaking, and she did it with style and good nature. And even though (she and her staff) worked themselves practically to death — sleeping on cots at the end there — they managed to do it in good spirits.”

She ticked off three challenges Mitchell will face: implementation of the 2015 water plan; producing the next iteration of the Statewide Water Supply Initiative, which is more technical in nature than the policy-driven water plan; and helping to develop a permanent and reliable source of funding to meet the state’s water needs.

Before joining CWCB, Mitchell worked on water policy in the executive director’s office at the Department of Natural Resources. And she’s been a consulting engineer, with bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the Colorado School of Mines.

Mitchell, one of three finalists for the director’s job, was interviewed by the CWCB board in an executive session June 23 and gained the support of the full board, according to board member Heather Dutton, who is manager of the San Luis Valley Water Conservancy District, and represents the Rio Grande River basin on the CWCB board.

“Becky brings with her an incredible intelligence but also a personality that makes her unique and approachable, and she has a big heart,” Dutton said. “Those attributes are going to go really far.”

Mitchell will begin her tenure as head of CWCB with the benefit of the state Legislature having just approved $164 million in the agency’s annual “projects bill.”

The bill includes $130 million for loans for water projects, $9 million for CWCB operations and $25 million to help implement aspects of the water plan.

Mitchell said one of her early goals is to let people know that the water plan is not solely the CWCB’s plan.

“Just because the CWCB was leading the charge to develop the plan, it’s important to recognize that it wasn’t developed only within CWCB, and the responsibility is beyond CWCB,” she said. “It includes all of the people that can make a difference in reducing the supply and demand gap and solving the future of Colorado water. It’s everyone’s responsibility to play a role in that.”

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism is collaborating with The Aspen Times, the Glenwood Springs Post Independent, the Vail Daily and the Summit Daily News on the coverage of water and rivers. The Times published this story on Saturday, July 8, 2017.

From The Summit Daily News (Kevin Fixler):

The Colorado Water Conservation Board is under new management after a rare internal promotion announced this week elevated Becky Mitchell into the director role…

“I’m most excited about building on existing relationships and hopefully working more on those, to locate solutions where people’s needs and desires intercept — that’s where we’re going to find solutions,” said Mitchell. “A benefit of being involved in the water plan’s development is understanding how we move forward with it, and I have some ideas with that.”

Specifically, Mitchell imagines boosting ownership and responsibility from various interests in achieving conservation and storage goals set forth in the plan through increased collaboration. Education and outreach campaigns to produce methods that help address the supply-demand gap as the state’s population is projected to more than double to 10.5 million by 2050 are other components she sees as key parts of her job…

Mitchell, who holds a bachelor’s of science and master’s in environmental science and engineering from the Colorado School of Mines, and has worked in both the public and private sectors as a consulting engineer, agrees that the obstacle in financing is the largest to overcome to expand implementation. She believes, however, that a large budgetary commitment — tens of millions of dollars toward projects — from the state Legislature in the most recent session speaks volumes about its commitment to ultimately seeing the plan through.

“Funding was definitely called out in the water plan and is something we’re aware of, because it’s expensive to implement all of these things on the ground,” said Mitchell. “It’s not just the Water Conservation Board’s responsibility, though. The Legislature said very loudly and clearly there needed to be a diverse focus on use of those funds, to address the supply-demand gap, storage, and strategies for conservation, land-use and drought planning. The funding is set aside to tap storage, but also for across the board to find ways to move the needle on our water future.”

Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013

Army Corps of Engineers approves Gross Dam expansion — @DenverWater

The Gross Reservoir Expansion Project will add 77,000 total acre feet — 72,000 for Denver Water use and 5,000 for an environmental pool that provides additional water for South Boulder Creek during low-flow periods — nearly tripling reservoir capacity.

Here’s the release from Denver Water (Stacy Chesney):

Army Corps of Engineers issues record of decision and 404 Permit

Following 14 years of careful study, evaluation and deliberation, the Army Corps of Engineers has approved Denver Water’s request to raise Gross Dam in Boulder County. The additional water stored in Gross Reservoir will help prevent future shortfalls during droughts and helps offset an imbalance in Denver Water’s collection system.

The approval comes in the form of a record of decision and 404 Permit — two documents required by the federal government as part of the National Environmental Policy Act.

“Denver Water appreciates the Corps’ dedication and commitment to careful study of the anticipated impacts of this project,” said Denver Water CEO Jim Lochhead. “We will complete this project responsibly, as evidenced by our actions during the public process and the resulting robust environmental protections we’ve agreed to along the way. We’re proud to be doing the right thing.”

The existing dam was built in the early 1950s and was designed to be expanded in the future to increase water storage capacity. The Gross Reservoir Expansion Project approval completes this original vision.

Expanding Gross Reservoir is a major part of Denver Water’s long-term plan to deliver safe, reliable water to the people it serves now and into the future. The project is part of Denver Water’s multi-pronged approach that includes conservation, reuse and responsibly sourcing new supply.

“Issuance of this permit will unlock significant resources that will allow us to do good things for the river and the environment,” said Mely Whiting, counsel for Trout Unlimited.

In accordance with existing agreements, including the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement and Grand County’s Learning By Doing, and conditions in the 404 Permit, Denver Water will provide millions of dollars to improve watershed health in the critical Colorado and South Platte River Basins. Lochhead said these commitments are one reason that last year Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment found that the project will have a “net environmental benefit” on the state.

The project has earned key endorsements from Gov. Hickenlooper, state and federal lawmakers, major environmental groups, local mayors and city councils, chambers of commerce and economic development corporations, county elected officials and water interests on both sides of the divide.

“The next milestone we anticipate is approval by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission of Denver Water’s hydropower license amendment application at some point next year,” said Jeff Martin, Gross Reservoir Expansion program manager. “In the meantime, Denver Water continues to make significant investments in setting a firm foundation for the project’s overall success by recently hiring Black and Veatch as the owner’s representative. We are also in the process of procuring a design engineer.”

Preconstruction activities, including dam design and geotechnical work, are expected to begin in 2018. The entire project is expected to be completed in 2025.

Visit http://grossreservoir.org to read more about the project and http://denverwaterTAP.org for additional information.

From The Associated Press via The U.S. News & World Report:

The Army Corps of Engineers announced late Friday it granted the project a permit under the federal Clean Water Act.

The $380 million project involves Gross Dam in the foothills about 5 miles southwest of Boulder.

CPW bid dollars come up short, Lonetree Reservoir to close to the public next season

Lonetree Reservoir near Loveland, Colorado | Photo credit photokayaker via Flickr.

From The Longmont Times-Call (Pamela Johnson):

Lonetree Reservoir will close to the public next summer as Colorado Parks and Wildlife, which has operated a recreation area there since the 1970s, was outbid for the lease by a private bidder.

“We’re certainly disappointed,” Mark Leslie, northeast regional manager for Colorado Parks and Wildlife, said in a press release. “We negotiated as best we could for a 20-year lease, but we were outbid in the end.”

Colorado Parks and Wildlife did not identify who won the bid, and representatives of the Consolidated Home Supply Ditch Co, owner of the reservoir southwest of Loveland, could not be reached Friday…

Lonetree Reservoir has been open to the public for fishing, nonmotorized boating and other outdoor activities for decades as Colorado Parks and Wildlife, formerly the Colorado Division of Wildlife, has held the lease there since the 1970s.

The state agency’s 20-year-lease expired last summer, and the parks agency negotiated a one-year extension to this summer to work on negotiations.

The public agency, however, was not able to bid as much as a private entity and will hold the lease only through June 30, 2018. No public access will be allowed after that date.

For now, fishing and recreation will remain as under the existing regulations…

fish biologists are working on a plan for the best method and time to remove all the fish and stock them in other public waters.

Army Corps of Engineers approves Gross Dam expansion – News on TAP

Long-awaited project will increase water storage on north side of collection system and deliver environmental benefits.

Source: Army Corps of Engineers approves Gross Dam expansion – News on TAP