Ted Kowalski: We must act now to protect the future of the #ColoradoRiver #COriver

The Colorado River, not far below the Utah-Colorado state line, and flowing toward the lower basin. Photo credit: Aspen Journalism.

Here’s a guest column from Ted Kowalski that’s running in the Arizon Daily Star:

The Colorado River is the hardest-working river in the Southwest and an economic engine for the entire country.

But it is also a river facing a critical inflection point. Every drop of water that flows down the Colorado is already accounted for and due to a variety of factors — including a growing population and a changing climate — its flows are projected to decline over the next several decades.

These challenges exacerbate the fundamental problem facing the river: Demands on water outstrip supply.

Early forecasts for 2018 are already underscoring these challenges. Due to lower than average snowfall in the Rocky Mountains, the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center this month predicted that spring runoff into Lake Powell, the reservoir that supports the river’s Upper Basin, will be at a 47 percent of average.

The 2018 precipitation and runoff levels are threatening impacts that will reverberate across the western United States. The amount of water flowing into Lake Powell partially determines the amount of water to be released into Lake Mead, the Lower Basin reservoir that provides water to Arizona, Nevada and California.

Lake Mead’s elevation has been hovering at around 1,075 feet, the level at which the federal government imposes shortages on the Lower Basin states, for the last several years. However, with 2018 looking more and more likely to be drier and warmer than average, there is an increased likelihood of declared shortages in the Lower Basin in 2019.

The forecast is a sobering reminder that we need to take further action to secure the long-term future of the Colorado River Basin and the economies and environments that depend on it.

There’s still time for more snow to fall in the winter season, but it would take a significant uptick in precipitation levels to even reach average levels. We simply cannot rely on weather fluctuations to solve a problem that requires more fundamental, long-term solutions, including increased water conservation, flexible water management and better protection of healthy rivers and streams.

It is critical we act now to ensure the Colorado River Basin has the water supply needed to sustain the West’s growing population. Just think about the consequences of inaction — and the potential damage done. The river supports 16 million American jobs, generates $1.4 trillion in economic benefits annually, irrigates nearly 6 million acres of farmland, and supplies drinking water to about 40 million people.

Because the economic and environmental stakes are so high, we must enter a new phase of collaboration, innovation and flexibility when it comes to how we use and manage our water resources in the Colorado River Basin.

The good news is that throughout the basin, policymakers and water suppliers are rallying to address the escalating water-supply crisis through a series of water management strategies, system conservation programs and drought-contingency plans.

Negotiations on these actions are already occurring among the basin states, U.S. federal agencies and Mexico. These drought contingency plans are critical components needed to secure the future of the Colorado River, taking a proactive approach to ensuring that conservation will continue in the basin.

They also demonstrate that water users can develop innovative mechanisms to efficiently manage water supplies.

In Arizona, for example, lawmakers and water users are actively working to identify ways to cut back water use now in order to secure supplies over the long term. Arizona’s drought-contingency planning includes solutions that protect groundwater resources in the state, increases water management flexibility — and does not come at the cost of existing healthy river systems.

It is imperative that this plan, and others, are finalized and implemented in 2018.

The decisions we make in 2018 can protect future generations and revitalize the health of the Colorado River. At the Walton Family Foundation, we know it’s possible to implement these solutions. Moreover, we’re committed to supporting decisions to improve water management within the Colorado River Basin.

We must do more than address immediate challenges and mitigate the damage done during a dry winter. Investing in longer-term solutions and strategies will solidify programs and agreements that sustain the health of the Colorado River, and safeguard the livelihoods of millions of Americans for future generations.

#Snowpack news: South Platte Basin = 91% of average — best in state

Click on a thumbnail graphic to view a gallery of snowpack data from the NRCS.

Here’s the Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map for February 19, 2018 via the NRCS.

Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map February 19, 2018 via the NRCS.

Climate compact birthed in Aspen has coming out party in suburb of Aurora — The Mountain Town News

From The Mountain Town news (Allen Best):

One recent morning I boarded a bus headed for downtown Denver, sure I would miss the first session of the Colorado Communities Symposium: Advancing Clean Energy & Climate Preparedness but confident of soon seeing familiar faces at a familiar destination: the Hyatt Regency. I’ve been to conferences at the hotel across the street from the Colorado Convention Center a dozen times.

I was wrong. There were no familiar faces. An old e-mail explained why. The meeting was at the Hyatt Regency Denver Conference Center, which is in Aurora. I need to read my e-mails more carefully.

Several bus rides and hours later, I got to the hotel near the Anschutz Medical Campus in time to hear Gov. John Hickenlooper make some jokes.

I tell this story partly so you can laugh at my ineptitude. But it’s instructive in this way. It gave me cause to wonder why the familiar had been forsaken. One reason, I learned later, was that the environmental practices at the Aurora location were considered better than the downtown hotel. The parking garage, for example, had charging stations for electric cars.

But I got two of the three right on my own. One was that the suburban location came cheaper. Also, it was in the suburbs, not in Denver—and certainly not in Boulder.

This was a symbolic calculation. As one former state official told me, all of Colorado’s political battles are won or lost in the suburbs. Earlier in the weekend, I had attended an event in Lakewood at which Leslie Glustrom prepped people in how to submit testify before the Colorado Public Utiltiies Commission in line with her thinking. Her precise argument before the PUC here is less important than her observation that “one letter from (Denver suburb of) Westminster is worth 3,000 from Boulder).

This e-magazine from which this website posting was extracted, Mountain Town News, is for mountain towns, not Denver suburbs, but the story about this conference began in a mountain town about this time last year. Aspen Mayor Steve Skadron had been to Paris in late 2015, and he returned home with an idea and a zeal. He wanted to move the needle on climate change action in Colorado.

Aspen is already a member of a group called Colorado Communities for Climate Action, an advocacy group with many of the familiar suspects: Boulder, Fort Collins and Telluride, but also Vail and several other mountain towns and counties along with several Boulder suburbs. The group takes positions at the State Capitol. It is administered by the Rocky Mountain Climate Organization.

The new group that came out of the meeting one snowy day last May in Aspen is called the Compact of Colorado Communities.

Broadening the tent

There were familiar suspects, but it was not strictly a meeting of mountain town people. There were a couple of Denver suburbs, even a city manager from a farm town. That farm town from a deeply red part of Colorado never has joined, I don’t think, but there was at least interest.

Aspen organized the conference but Daniel Kreeger, the Miami-based director of the Association of Climate Change Officers, was immediately the administrator.

Then, in July, Hickenlooper announced an executive order that put at least some meat on the bones of his soft-pedaled declarations about the need to address climate change. It provided some specific goals, even if many activists I talked to then seemed to think that Hickenlooper has failed to show true leadership relative to the risk of climate change.

It’s relevant to this story to note that when Hickenlooper made his announcement at Red Rocks Amphitheater, among those in attendance was Steve Hogan, the mayor of Aurora, Colorado’s third most populous city (Colorado Springs is second).

The new Colorado Compact got together with the state government to create the conference, which is to be an annual thing, as per the charter of the Colorado Compact. But the state has more resources than does the Colorado Compact.

As for Aurora as the site of the first conference, Taryn Finnessey, the lead person in the Hickenlooper administration on climate change, confirmed that Aurora’s suburban location was a careful calculation. Cost was the primary motivation, but there was also a message: this was just not a Denver-focused event.

Finnessey said that the state recognizes that action cannot solely be driven by gubernatorial executive orders. Towns, cities and counties under Colorado law have reserved authority, such as over building codes. There has to be conversation, Finnessey said.

The conference lineup of speakers and panelists was impressive: Hickenlooper and Jim Lochhead from Denver Water and many others. More impressive yet were those in-the-trenches people, such as the panel that talked about how to integrate carbon reduction into agriculture.

Did this event broaden the tent? Yes, it seems, if only modestly. Many of the faces were familiar, those people from places deeply concerned about climate change. Mountain towns were amply represented, suburbs somewhat less so. But I hear that the city manager of Craig, a coal town, was there, as was somebody from Grand Junction.

Nobody from Colorado Springs showed up, according to what I heard, and there were no cowboy hats that I noticed, no confusion with a American Farm Bureau gathering. (Not to be confused with the Farmers Union, which is much more accepting of climate science, I think).

Talk about other reasons

I asked one assistant city manager of a suburb between Denver and Boulder what it would take to get some of his purplish neighboring jurisdictions to such a conference.

“Don’t talk about climate change,” he said. “Talk about why doing this stuff makes sense for other reasons.”

In one of the sessions, I heard the same thing: get rid of the words “clean energy” and instead talk about resilience.

One individual, a county commissioner from Saguache County, in the San Luis Valley, one of the state’s poorest regions, said that economic vitality trumped concern about climate change. Understandably so.

But for Vail, as town manager Greg Clifton pointed out, the changing climate that already seems to be shortening winters and replacing snow with rain, is an economic threat, too.

It’s a conundrum that continues to perplex me: How do you address climate change while not talking about it? But yes, it’s true—for some people, climate change sours any potentially constructive conversation. The protocol for this conversation is complicated.

Has this tent in Colorado broadened? Yes, that was apparent at the conference. But it’s still a relatively small tent. And, as one county commissioner from the I-70 Corridor said to me, when do we get beyond talking to action?

That’s always the question coming out of call-to-action conferences. Will good come out of the hallway conversations, the bullet points of to-do actions for energy, transportation and other subject areas taped to the walls?

Chris Menges, a climate and sustainability analyst/planner for the city of Aspen, says the Compact of Colorado Communities offers members resources.

“The Compact is about giving member communities in Colorado the resources and capacity they need to do this beneficial work without being prescriptive about what the motivations should be and without being prescriptive about what exactly implementation should look like.”

In other words, he adds, the Compact provides the tools and resources to leverage the opportunities of the clean energy economy in each community in the way that makes most sense for them.

The curriculum offered by the Compact was developed by experts over several years to increase the core competencies of staff members of organizations belonging to the Compact. One of the next steps for the Compact will to begin rolling out this capacity-building approach to member communities.

Aspen, he added, helped launch the Compact, “but we never administered it. The members do, and we are one of more than 20 members.”

Finnessey says the action items are being assembled, with a report expected during the week or two. That summary should help identify the actions around energy, rural development, and economic vitality that state officials will prioritize for action during Hickenlooper’s final months in office. He is term-limited, a new governor to take office in January.

Traction

What has come out of this talking that Steve Skadron instituted a year ago except for more talking?

It’s hard for me to say, except to offer my hunch that yes, the needle is moving. Menges had the same intuitive sense about this conference devoted to the intersection of state and local government, private-sector utilities and NGOs.

Fast enough? I’m an optimist who reads all the pessimistic reports about climate change. What I heard encourages me.

As for the Aspen-Aurora link mentioned earlier, I am reminded of John Denver. He was and still is strongly associated with Aspen, his adopted home. But his funeral in 1997? It was in Aurora, where his mother was living.

Has the Central Arizona Water Conservation District exceeded it’s deal-making authority? #ColoradoRiver #COriver

The Central Arizona Aqueduct delivers water from the Colorado River to underground aquifers in southern Arizona. UT researcher Bridget Scanlon recommends more water storage projects like the aqueduct to help protect against variability in the river’s water supply. U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

From The Arizona Star (Tony Davis):

Two former Arizona water directors told the State Auditor General’s Office last year that the agency that runs the Central Arizona Project exceeded its authority under state law.

The former directors, Rita Maguire and Herb Guenther, said recently that they told state auditors the Central Arizona Water Conservation District (CAWCD) legally overstepped its bounds.

The district did so, they said, by negotiating two rounds of water-storage deals with Southern California’s Metropolitan Water District (MWD) and a Nevada water agency in the 1990s and a third deal with the Southern California district in 2015.

The Arizona Department of Water Resources (ADWR) wasn’t informed of these deals until they had either been approved or until negotiations were far along, Maguire told the Star, adding that she’s concerned about this deal setting a precedent for future Colorado River users to ink similar deals on their own.

“It’s the state of Arizona’s entitlement to Colorado River Water. The CAWCD is a delivery agent, delivering the water on behalf of their customers,” Maguire said. “Their customers are only in three counties. If they can do that, what is to prevent other users from doing the same?”

Along the Colorado River in Arizona, plenty of parties have the same or even more senior rights to river water as the CAP does, said Maguire. They include the cities of Kingman and Yuma and the Yuma irrigation districts, among others.

“If they acted like CAWCD cutting deals with the Metropolitan Water District, that has ramifications that could affect the state,” she said. “That’s why it’s important that the state has oversight authority, to make sure everybody’s interests are attended to.”

Current ADWR Director Tom Buschatzke also raised concerns to auditors about what he termed a questionable action: that the Central Arizona Water Conservation District’s general manager disclosed confidential information from a district board executive session. Under state open meetings law, all information discussed in executive sessions must remain confidential, with limited exceptions.

The auditors didn’t agree with any of the concerns. The audit concluded in December that the Central Arizona Water Conservation District is generally following the law and other established procedures for how it spends money and manages the $4 billion CAP water project.

A CAWCD spokeswoman, Crystal Thompson, said the district properly coordinated its efforts on the 1990s deal with the state water department. The 2015 deal was never consummated, but the district fiercely defended its legality last year when it became publicly known.

This dispute is now being addressed in new legislation.

A bill introduced recently by state Sen. Gail Griffin, a Sierra Vista Republican, would require legislative approval of any transfer of Arizona water out of state.

It would also require ADWR and the three-county CAP water district to notify each other if they’re involved in any Colorado River water negotiations, including interstate agreements or agreements with the U.S. government.

Two weeks ago, the Star reported that the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation had told state auditors the CAP water district has illegally diverted Colorado River water that should have gone to Indian tribes to a related agency that recharges water into the aquifer for new development.

Big dig under I-70 clears path for future water delivery – News on TAP

A $90 million water pipeline is tunneling its way through Jefferson County.

Source: Big dig under I-70 clears path for future water delivery – News on TAP