A tamarisk eradication spray program begun almost ten years ago along a portion of the Arkansas River has transitioned into a restoration project this year by the Colorado Division of Natural Resources and Parks and Wildlife. Travis Black, Colorado Parks and Wildlife area manager, said a restoration program has begun which will re-seed the areas between Granada and the Kansas State Line. “The area will be re-vegetated with natural grass species along with willow shrubs and we’re planting cottonwood poles as well,” he explained, adding that the eradication program took some hops and skips between the towns along the river to the Kansas border.
Tamarisk, similar to Russian Thistle, is an invasive plant introduced into southeast Colorado decades ago. Unfortunately, it consumes hundreds of gallons of water per plant and is very hard to kill. Its growth along the Arkansas River allowed it to spread, siphoning off thousands of gallons of water and added to the salinity of the river. Another drawback was in flood mitigation as the plant, growing along the banks of the river, restricted the water flow along the channel which created backups and flooding. The trick to effectively killing off tamarisk is patience. Even after a comprehensive spraying program, it takes a minimum of three years to be sure the limbs, seed and especially roots are dead.
A collaboration of a number of groups including the NRCS and Prowers County sought grant funding to finance the aerial spraying of approximately 400 acres to begin with in 2009, but because of increased funding and a lower cost of service, the area was increased to 1,500 acres. Contributing groups included the Colorado Water Conservation Board, Colorado State Land Board, Holly Flood District, Tri-State G & T and the Northeast Prowers Conservation District among others and some private landowners.
Black said, some of the spraying was more effective than anticipated as a lot of the undergrowth was killed off along with the tamarisk and that eliminated the cover for local wildlife species. The revegetation program will help restore the riparian areas to their natural state and habitat. Not all of the funding is complete for the entire stretch of river into Kansas, but the acreage has been cleared along the Arkansas River, especially visible as you cross the bridge along Highway 50 just a few miles west of Holly. He said there’s no end date to the restoration program, but it will continue when new funding streams become available. The dead tamarisk plants were excavated and ground up on the spot, using specialized equipment that is loaned out to projects around the state.
Click through and read the entire article from KUNC (Luke Runyon). Here’s an excerpt:
For many people, spring is a time for deep cleaning, a time to take stock of and prepare for the year ahead. That’s also the case on farms in southern Colorado and northern New Mexico, where farmers spend their weekends banding together to clean out the irrigation ditches that bring snowmelt to their fields.
The clean up, known as the limpieza, is part of an irrigation tradition unique to this region for centuries.
If you irrigate here, Quintana says, you or one of your family members is expected to be here shoveling out muck, removing trash and tree limbs. The limpieza is an annual obligation…
If not for the clean up, water would pool in places it’s not needed, caught up in makeshift dams of trash and vegetation.
Small farm towns in portions of the San Luis Valley, like San Pablo, are organized around acequias, networks of irrigation ditches and canals dug nearly 150 years ago. It’s what makes farming possible in this dry stretch of land. While most Western law views water as property – a commodity people own and trade – acequias see it as a community asset, something tied to the land and shared.
Quintana, 61, grew up on a farm in San Pablo. As an adult, he left for a career in IT, always knowing his family’s land would be here for him to return to. He participates in the annual ditch cleaning now because he always has. But Quintana says there’s a growing sense that it will be difficult to bring the next generation back to the valley to keep the acequias functional and vibrant.
Sharing water in the West
On this day, the limpieza moves fast. The ditch is cleaned, and a group of middle-aged farmers pile into the back of an old pickup truck to head to the volunteer fire station for chicken fajitas.
It’s hard to overstate how radical the idea of sharing water in the West is. Everyone outside an acequia in states like Colorado, Utah, Arizona and Nevada, uses the prior appropriation system for water. That system, where your right to water is given to you based on when you claimed it, doesn’t allow for easy sharing, but it’s the core tenant of acequia management. Distribution of water is based on equity and need, not given out because you claimed it first.
Sharing water sounds easy if snowpack is high and runoff is plentiful. But in times of scarcity everyone within an acequia feels the shortage together.
Acequias vary in their style of governance. A common form is as a civic association, with members, the people who irrigate with water from a particular ditch, a board of directors and at least one employee who runs the ditch. That person is the mayordomo.
Augustin “Roy” Esquibel is the mayordomo for the ditch cleaned today. When he arrives at the fire station for lunch, he takes the time to shake everyone’s hand, and jokes that he’ll have to walk a lot more ditches to work off these fajitas.
He motions down the street, toward the church of San Isidro, the Catholic saint of farmers. This valley is sustained by agriculture, he says. Everyone here is either currently farming or a descendent of farmers. The land today is used to mostly grow hay or other grasses for cattle and horses, with some wheat and dry beans grown as well. As a water steward, Esquibel says his faith guides his decisions.
FromThe Norwood Post (April 19, 2018) by Regan Tuttle:
For decades, town officials have wondered if a raw water system might be possible. Now — after three years of study, group collaboration, grant applications and awards, engineering, numerous public meetings, and more — Norwood will complete its raw water system by end of summer. That means next spring, many people (those that purchased raw water taps for their residences) will be running a sprinkler, watering a garden, planting vegetable patches and growing flowers. And the system, officials say, also has other benefits…
Experts say that for farming and gardening, raw water is ideal. Raw water attracts pollinators, like bees and butterflies, and plants and flowers flourish quite well with the microbes and other naturally occurring particles present in it.
“Putting treated water on a plant, we take out the ingredients that a plant likes, the things that are good for them,” Norwood’s Public Works Director Tim Lippert said. “Using treated water on plants and vegetation isn’t a good thing. Raw water already has the nutrients in it.”
Because it doesn’t go through the treatment process, it’s a cheaper utility to deliver than potable water. Lippert said that in addition to being affordable, raw water is easy to manage, because no regulation of it is needed (other than making the pipe it comes out of purple, to distinguish it from treated water). Raw water is a seasonal product, available only during the growing season…
HOW NORWOOD’S SYSTEM CAME TOGETHER
It’s taken a community of people and organizations coming together to make Norwood’s raw water system possible. From the beginning, officials in the Norwood Water Commission and the Public Works Department had wondered if the town could make the project plausible. Lippert said the town explored the idea some 20 years ago, but citizens weren’t ready for it then.
He said that in the last few years, officials began to revisit the idea and wondered if the town’s existing water shares could be put to use as a raw water utility service for residents. The town does own 119 shares of Gurley water (managed by Farmer’s Water Development).
In 2015, town officials reopened the conversation with members of the Norwood Water Commission, Farmers Water and other regional water groups.
The first step included the Colorado Water Board Conservancy awarding a $47,000 grant to the Town of Norwood in 2016 to support a feasibility study on the project. (SGM, of Durango, did the study and continued with the engineering work.)
Along the way, the Norwood Lawn and Garden Group, spearheaded by Clay Wadman, who owns a home in Norwood and who wanted to see the project succeed, worked on education and outreach in town. The garden group worked to help the town sell residential raw water taps and supported Norwood in the fundraising process.
Soon, grants began rolling in from the Southwest Water Conservation District ($175,000), San Miguel Water Conservancy ($5,000), the Telluride Foundation ($5,000) and San Miguel County ($25,000). In 2017, the Department of Local Affairs made a decision to give Norwood’s project around $690,000 in a matching grant to make raw water in Norwood a reality.
The Town of Norwood also put money in — around $68,000 for final engineering — from the town’s reserves to move the project along. In 2017, town officials also budgeted $25,000 for the project; they’ve earmarked another $200,000 from the capital improvement fund if those funds are needed.
Norwood’s Town Administrator Patti Grafmyer said seeing the raw water system come to fruition is quite an accomplishment for the town.
“The idea of a raw water system has been discussed for many years, but with the help of a grant from CWCB, Norwood was able to complete a feasibility study. From the feasibility study came the grassroots Norwood Lawn and Garden Group, which became the public outreach group that assisted the Town of Norwood and Norwood Water Commission in this project,” she said. “There are so many people who were key players in this project. This project is the product of teamwork. So many people have shown their support for the raw water system.”
OTHER BENEFITS OF UNTREATED WATER
While it’s true that utilizing raw water makes flower and vegetable gardening possible, officials say it offers additional benefits, such as helping to increase property values.
The Kurtex Management Company, which owns Norwood’s Cottonwood Creek Estates, purchased 31 residential taps for raw water. Wadman has said the system there will no doubt transform the look of the neighborhood: rocky areas that comprise the lots can be replaced with landscaping, and raw water at each residence will sustain the lawns. At the same time, Cottonwood Creek Estates’ residents will have the option of gardening and producing their own food.
I’m excited to endorse Amy, she has been a tireless champion for Colorado in her role at the Water Trust. Here’s the press release from Amy’s campaign:
Amy Beatie, Executive Director of the Colorado Water Trust since 2007, announces her endorsement by statewide and local leaders in the Democratic primary for State Representative in Denver’s House District 4. The endorsements come from Ruth Wright, second woman ever in Colorado to become the House Minority Leader, a role that she held from 1986-1992; Gail Schwartz, former State Senator from Crested Butte; and Jeni JAMES Arndt, current State Representative from Fort Collins.
Although she had been considering running for public office for some time, Beatie’s campaign began to truly take shape after her graduation from the Emerge triaining program of 2016, a program that trains progressive women to run for office. “Seasoned leadership matters now more than ever. I have dedicated my career to public service and working tirelessly for Colorado’s environment, but for years I had been feeling such a strong push to do more. I want to be part of helping create a cohesive, progressive, and strategic Democratic party in this state. This incredible northside community also wants someone who will improve our education system, our healthcare system, and our environment. Having been in leadership for most of my career, I’ll be ready to hit the ground running on day one.”
Sen. Schwartz endorsed Beatie saying that, “Amy has dedicated her career to the preservation of Colorado’s natural resources and public service to the people of Colorado. She has distinguished herself as the leader of one of Colorado’s most effective conservation organizations for over a decade. As a former State Senator, I know that Amy’s proven ability to work with diverse interests and communities, along with a deep background on statewide issues, will make her an excellent representative.”
Beatie successfully guided the Colorado Water Trust over the last decade to return over 7 billion gallons of water to over 375 miles of rivers and streams in the State of Colorado and Jeni Arndt, State Representative from Fort Collins, was impressed with Beatie’s knowledge of the state’s water issues. “Effectively managing our state’s water is critical to our shared future. Amy has been a leader on water conservation in Colorado for a decade and having her knowledge and experience in the legislature would be an invaluable contribution to our state’s efforts to plan for one of the most valuable resources in our state.”
Ruth Wright, second woman ever to become the House Minority Leader, a role that she held from 1986-1992, and former board member at the Colorado Water Trust spoke glowingly of Beatie’s ability to lead. “Amy has taken the Trust from an organization on the brink of closing and turned it into one of the most successful environmental organizations in the state. Amy infused the Trust with her vision and passion and I can see that same vision and passion in her run for the state house.”
FromAspen Journalism (Lindsay Fendt) via The Aspen Times:
Low snowpack and a dry spring have pushed most of Colorado into a record-breaking drought.
According to an update by the U.S. Drought Monitor on Thursday, most of the state is at some level of drought, while extreme or exceptional drought — the two worst categories — now cover one-third of Colorado.
The Department of Natural Resources also projected worsening conditions for June in their drought update released Monday afternoon.
The conditions have heightened wildfire risk in some areas while areas already consumed by fire are at risk of flash floods if too much rain falls on the unstable soils of the land’s burn scars.
“We as a state are looking at the trifecta of flood, fire and drought right now,” said Taryn Finnessey, co-chair of the state’s Water Availability Task Force, during the group’s meeting Thursday. “We are definitely juggling a lot of what-ifs.”
According to the Natural Resources Conservation Service, the statewide snowpack was the second-lowest on record, while temperatures for May were the second-highest.
This combination led snow to melt early across Colorado, with some areas losing their snow as much as three weeks earlier than normal. Precipitation also has lagged, reaching only 70 percent of normal for the year.
This perfect (lack of a) storm has rivers running low across the state. In mid-May, the Colorado River saw “some of the lowest peak flows in history,” according to Jim Pokrandt with the Colorado River District.
River levels remain well below normal, and last week rivers in the Roaring Fork Watershed were only flowing between 22 and 45 percent of normal. These conditions persist throughout the entire Upper Basin of the Colorado River and have drained Lake Powell to 52 percent of its normal level.
WATER TEMPS UP
The low flow rates also have led to above normal river temperatures, which can endanger fish populations and may lead to fishing bans later in the season.
Despite drought conditions, most water providers have been able to meet demand, and statewide reservoir storage remains at levels slightly above average. Still, some municipalities have had to tighten their belts.
The city of Aspen declared a Stage 1 water shortage May 18 after flows peaked about three weeks early on Castle and Maroon creeks, which provide most of the city’s drinking water. Stage 1 requires all city property to reduce their water use by 10 percent and urges the rest of the community to voluntarily reduce their water use. But even with improvements in efficiency, water demand hasn’t fallen.
“It’s an interesting thing, because when you have a dry year you need more water for your landscaping,” said Margaret Medellin, Aspen’s utilities portfolio manager. “But we don’t want people to dry up their landscaping right now. We think it’s important for the community and for fire prevention.”
According to Medellin, the inch of rain the city saw last weekend alleviated irrigation demands somewhat, but it would not help much on the supply side. While the city is able to meet demands for now, Medellin said it was likely that the city would declare a Stage 2 water shortage toward the end of the summer, an unprecedented drought measure in Aspen that would impose mandatory water restrictions on the community.
Pitkin County issued a Stage 1 fire ban earlier this month and reminded people last week that even with soaking rain June 16, the ban is still in effect and conditions are dangerous.
The situation is most dire in the state’s southwest, where some areas are the driest and hottest they’ve been since the dust bowl in the 1930s.
So far, the San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan Basins have received only 31 percent of their average precipitation for the year, and monitoring sites from Grand Mesa to Mesa Verde National Park have reached record lows for both peak snow accumulation and precipitation.
These dry conditions have helped fuel wildfires in the region, including the 416 Fire, which burned more than 34,000 acres near Durango and is the fifth largest wildfire in Colorado history.
In the southwest, the drought has forced some ranchers to sell off their cattle and has prevented some farmers from planting.
These losses prompted Gov. John Hickenlooper to activate the Drought Mitigation and Response Plan for agriculture at the beginning of May. The mitigation plan charges state officials with coordinating local plans to prevent agricultural losses.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture also has designated 33 of Colorado’s 64 counties as primary natural disaster areas, allowing farmers to apply for financial relief at the end of the season.
Despite these interventions, state agencies expect more cattle sell-offs and crop failures unless conditions improve.
The governor has not yet activated the municipal interventions laid out in the Drought Mitigation and Response Plan, but he may later in the summer. While the state government does not have the power to institute mandatory municipal water restrictions, this section of the plan would allow for more coordination and water sharing between municipalities.
While the situation is expected to worsen throughout June, July and August could bring some improvements, with the National Weather Service predicting a strong monsoon season.
“The monsoon is often a savior,” Pokrandt said. “We will just have to wait and see.”
The conventional calculation of Colorado River shortage risk, which people like me frequently report, shows a 51 percent chance of Lake Mead dropping into “shortage”, below the magic trip line of elevation 1,075 at which mandatory cutbacks kick in, in 2020. But a new approach to modeling risk, which lots of folks (*cough* me *cough*) think more accurately represents the changing climate, shows a significant risk of a much quicker drop in Lake Mead’s levels, blowing quickly past 1,075, with a greater than 50 percent chance of dropping below 1,050 sometime in 2020. Absent actions to reduce water use, Lake Powell has a greater than one in four chance of dropping near power pool (the level at which it could no longer generate electricity) by the mid-2020s.
It is to the Bureau of Reclamation’s credit that they’re not only running the new modeling methodology in parallel with the more traditional approach, but that they’re doing this in a very public way, presenting both last week at the Basin States principals meeting in Santa Fe as part of the federal effort to get negotiations over water use cutbacks back on track.
Here’s the Mead graph showing the traditional modeling approach (the blue) and the newer “stress test” (shown in red):
I like this graph (kudos to Carly Jerla and the other wizards at the Bureau for coming up with such a clear visualization) because of how intuitively it shows how different the answers are when you use the two different approaches. Especially visually striking is the probability “cloud” showing the statistical range of possibilities. The old blue approach shows a decent chance of wetness refilling reservoirs. The newer red approach not only offers no such blue bits of optimism, but shows some statistically credible chances of Lake Mead seriously tanking very soon.
The difference between the two modeling approaches gets to the heart of the importance of the “period of record” you use to analyze river flows in support of decision-making.
The traditional (blue) approach uses historic river flows from 1906 to 2015 as the basis for a statistical simulation of the range of possible futures given current reservoir levels. This is classic “stationarity” – assume the future will be like the past. The specific model then uses what’s called the “index-sequential method” (ISM), which is a bog standard way of modeling the statistics of river flows.
The new approach (red), which has come to be known as the “stress test”, is based on the view of some water managers and scientists that the old full-record approach is understating risk, because the past climate – especially in the case of the Colorado River that exceptionally wet first quarter century of the record – is putting more water in the river in your simulations than we can realistically expect any more because of a warming climate. The stress test still uses the ISM, but instead of the full record, it uses 1988-2015, which seems more like a modern climate than the full thing back to 1906.
Click here to listen to the weekly highlight podcast from H2O Radio. Here’s an excerpt from the transcript:
The House of Representatives passed a Farm Bill last week by just two votes. While many objected to its work requirements for recipients of food assistance, others were critical for its effects on the environment. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, the bill repeals clean water safeguards and exempts companies that spray pesticides into waterways. It also exempts chemical makers from enforcement when pesticides harm or kill endangered species including some bees, and it prohibits local communities from adopting their own pesticide laws, if they are more strict than federal standards. Further, the House bill would exempt public lands from wildlife and water conservation safeguards. And EcoWatch reports that it would allow mining and logging in Alaskan forests.
A spokesperson for the Center for Biological Diversity said in a release that the act is a “stunning gift” to the pesticide industry with staggeringly harmful implications for wildlife. The House bill now goes to the Senate, which may vote on it next week.
In a fast-growing state that places greater demands on its water supply each day, a state that regularly faces withering droughts, Hickenlooper has spent his eight years in office navigating water issues and leading the development of a state water plan that Denver’s chief water official calls a “real act of political courage.”
But not everyone believes the governor has made all the right choices on water. Colorado still faces daunting water-supply challenges. Some say Hickenlooper should have done more to promote dams and reservoirs and there’s no clear way to pay for the ambitious state water plan he fostered.
Still, many give Hickenlooper credit for reshaping how Colorado deals with water.
“He was the first governor to put water at the forefront,” said veteran northern Colorado water manager Eric Wilkinson.
Hickenlooper’s legacy may depend on what is done with the water plan that he is leaving for his successor. Colorado Politics talked to members of Colorado’s water community to see what they think his legacy in water looks like – and the governor weighed in on that, too.
When Hickenlooper became mayor of Denver in July 2003, the state was already entering the second year of a record-setting drought. Gov. Bill Owens, in his 2003 State of the State address six months earlier, claimed the 2002 drought was the worst in 350 years, with most of Colorado in what the U.S. Drought Monitor called “exceptional drought,” the worst stage in their rankings.
So water got into the future governor’s mind early on, although as mayor, his control was limited primarily to appointing commissioners to Denver Water, the state’s largest water utility.
But as he saw it, he wasn’t dealing with just Denver’s water. It was water that belonged to the entire state, he said.
At the time, state officials were also trying to figure out how to solve the water problem. In the midst of devastating drought, the General Assembly and Owens began working on several ideas that still hold water today, including a new assessment of Colorado’s water supply, known as the Statewide Water Supply Initiative (SWSI)…
In the 2005 session, the General Assembly approved a law setting up groups known as basin roundtables, which divided Colorado into nine regions, each representing a major river, plus one for Denver.
But the groups weren’t required to work with each other. There were differences among the regions, including claims from the Western Slope that the Denver area was seeking more “transmountain diversions” to channel water from the Colorado River and other western waters through the mountains to the Front Range. That claim still sticks today.
And there were long-standing hard feelings over what happened about 15 years earlier, when ski towns joined forces with environmentalists to help defeat a major Denver reservoir project…
Two Forks was a proposed dam on the South Platte River that would have created a million acre-feet reservoir, flooding 30 miles of canyon from Deckers south to the river’s confluence with its north fork.
Advocates said the project was vital to supplying growing metro Denver. But environmentalists sounded the trumpets, complaining of the potential drowning of much of Cheesman Canyon with its prime fishing, hiking and kayaking areas, and the Environmental Protection Agency vetoed a permit for the project in 1990.
Denver Water, which exhausted its appeals of the rejection in 1996, was forced to shift to conservation rather than looking for major new water supplies from storage.
That’s the environment that Hickenlooper walked into as mayor. And that’s when his water legacy started, says Eric Kuhn, who has spent 40 years working on the Colorado River, including as general manager of the Colorado River Water Conservation District.
It was then, he said, that the groundwork was laid with Denver Water board members to build cooperation with Western Slope water providers.
Knowing that Denver Water controlled a quarter of the state’s water supply, it meant new conversations with the Western Slope water community. Those discussions started in 2006 between Denver Water and 42 Western Slope partners, ranging from water providers to local governments to ski resorts.
That eventually became the groundbreaking Colorado River Cooperative Agreement, first reached in 2011 and signed by all parties by 2013. The agreement resolved at least some of the historic fights over the Colorado River. It focused on efforts to improve the river’s health and looked for ways to provide additional water supplies to Denver Water…
Hickenlooper got one other big advantage during his time as mayor: The Denver Water board selected a new general manager, Jim Lochhead, who would continue the agenda set forth by the board and with Hickenlooper’s vision in hand. That took place in 2010.
Hickenlooper “made very thoughtful appointments” to the Denver Water board, including people like Tom Gougeon, John Lucero and George Beardsley, Lochhead told Colorado Politics. They were “really strong leaders with the ethics for moving Denver Water forward but with having us take a far-sighted approach with the Western Slope,” he said.
Part of a strategic plan
Hickenlooper says he tackled water issues again shortly after being elected governor in November 2010. The state found itself in another multi-year drought starting in 2011, and that’s when Hickenlooper asked if drought would be the new normal and how Colorado would deal with it.
He talked to other governors to research the best practices they employed, and found that what Colorado lacked was a comprehensive water plan, which he called a “serious vacuum” in the state’s framework. It was a risky proposition, given that Coloradans were historically polarized around the issue of water, he said.
There were things – like boosting water conservation – that he knew would be difficult. He knew rural Colorado’s farmers and ranchers did not want to be told what to do. “We couldn’t deny people the right to sell their property,” he said, referring to water rights. But the plan would look at how to incentivize farmers to at least temporarily lease their water rather than sell.
With the traditional east-west divide over water evolving with the completion of the Colorado River agreement, the time to strike came early on in Hickenlooper’s first term. He began asking his cabinet about a water plan.
According to James Eklund, who first served as Hickenlooper’s senior deputy legal counsel and then as director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB), the governor was asked if he was willing to spend his political capital by wading into the water wars.
“Some governors only touch (the issue) on a superficial level,” Eklund told Colorado Politics. Previous governors would go to the Colorado Water Congress (the state’s leading water advocacy organization), pound the table, say that water is the lifeblood of the West and then get out.”
After the discussions with the other governors, that wasn’t going to be Hickenlooper’s way. “We have no choice but to treat this as a serious discussion” and to engage in strategic planning, according to Eklund.
Hickenlooper – a former restaurateur – looks at everything through a business lens, Eklund said. That meant that if water is so important to Colorado’s bottom line and there isn’t a strategic plan, that’s not acceptable.
In May 2013, Hickenlooper announced he would task Eklund and the CWCB to come up with a state water plan…
In November 2015, the water plan was unveiled after more than 30,000 public comments from all over the state. “We wanted to make sure all the interests were represented, not just conservation,” Hickenlooper said. “We also put in water storage,” meaning reservoirs, but that also ruffled the feathers of environmentalists, he said.
Hickenlooper said he was most pleased with the ability of the basin roundtables – set up in that 2005 legislation – to take the long view, especially for groups historically polarized over water.
According to many in the water community, it’s the statewide water plan that most defines Hickenlooper’s water legacy…
‘Water at the forefront’
The water plan attempts to address what is now expected to be a 1 million acre-feet shortage of water in Colorado by 2050, based in part on projected population growth of another 3 to 5 million people on top of the state’s current population of 5.6 million.
It focuses on a number of strategic goals: 400,000 acre-feet of water to be gained through conservation, another 400,000 to be gained through new or enhanced storage (dams and reservoirs), and the rest from other steps, such as agricultural water sharing.
The plan has its detractors who have criticized it for lack of specific objectives in how to achieve those goals. And some lawmakers believe the General Assembly has been shut out of the process and that storage gets short shrift.
Senate President Pro Tem Jerry Sonnenberg of Sterling told Colorado Politics that he’s been frustrated with the plan’s lack of attention to storage and that there hasn’t been enough emphasis on how to avoid “buy and dry” – the practice of buying up agricultural land for its water rights and then draining the land dry…
Sonnenberg disagrees that the water plan is a positive legacy for Hickenlooper.
“He tried to put the plan together and it didn’t get a lot of attention other than from the environmental community that wants to make sure we leave more water in the rivers. If you want to be a water leader with a water legacy, you must support water storage that is paid for by the communities planning for growth,” Sonnenberg said, citing the Northern Integrated Supply Project (NISP), which plans two reservoirs – Glade, near Fort Collins and Galeton, east of Greeley.
Sonnenberg complained that the governor has not yet endorsed those projects, although Hickenlooper did endorse two other reservoir projects two years ago: Chimney Hollow, near Loveland, and expansion of Gross Reservoir, near Boulder.
But Eric Wilkinson, who recently retired as general manager of Northern Water, which runs NISP, does believe in Hickenlooper’s water legacy.
“He was the first governor to put water at the forefront,” Wilkinson told Colorado Politics. He was pleased with Hickenlooper’s endorsement of Chimney Hollow, a Denver Water reservoir project, which he said tells federal agencies that the project has cleared Colorado’s permitting and is ready to go forward. That was part of the state water plan, too, Wilkinson noted.
ilkinson also pointed to the people Hickenlooper put in charge of water issues as part of the legacy: Stulp, Eklund and Becky Mitchell, the current head of the CWCB; and both of his heads of the Department of Natural Resources, first Mike King and now Bob Randall.
In the water plan, the balance between conservation and new storage is a pragmatic solution for the state’s future, Wilkinson said. “We need to have a greater ability to manage the water resources, and to do that, conservation is first, but infrastructure is very much needed. The water plan calls that out.”
The timing was right and the leadership was right, Stulp told Colorado Politics.
Hickenlooper saw what had been taking place for the past seven to eight years, after the formation of the basin roundtables, which came up with projects for their own regions. The time was right to pull all that together, Stulp said.
Eklund, now with the law firm Squire Patton Boggs, is still involved in water issues, partly as Colorado’s representative on the Upper Colorado River Commission. He said Hickenlooper’s legacy isn’t only about the water plan; it’s also where he positioned Colorado internationally on water issues.
Colorado’s position as a headwater state that provides water to 18 downstream states and Mexico means “we punch above our weight on water policy,” Eklund said. The eyes of the water-stressed world are on the Southwest United States.
Colorado finally has a platform in that discussion by coming up with the water plan, which he called a “gold standard” for water planning. Other states and nations can look at what Colorado is doing and judge for themselves, he said.
Colorado now speaks with one voice on water, said Mitchell, who was in charge of water planning prior to becoming the CWCB’s latest director.
“The default starting point now on water talk is cooperation, not confrontation,” she told Colorado Politics.
The water plan shows what’s possible, she added, when people with polarized perspectives and faulty assumptions sit down together, listen and speak with civility and respect…
Hickenlooper told Colorado Politics he hopes the next governor recognizes the funding gap for implementing the plan. The General Assembly has so far devoted about $17 million over the past two budget cycles to funding projects in the water plan, but it’s a drop in the bucket compared to the need, which is estimated at around $20 billion.
Water providers are expected to shoulder most of that, but the state’s obligation is expected to be around $3 billion, at $100 million per year for 30 years, starting in 2020.
No one, including Hickenlooper, has come up with a solid plan for where that money is coming from. Lots of ideas have been floated, such as changes to the state’s severance tax structure on oil and gas operations – a no-go with Senate Republicans – bottle taxes, water tap fees and the like.
Hickenlooper said he believes funding for the water plan is sufficient for the next few years, but there is a gap, and at some point, the state will need to spend more money on water infrastructure…
That political courage, and part of the legacy, as Lochhead sees it, is that Hickenlooper opened the door for the next governor to come in and pick up where Hickenlooper ended and made it a little safer for a governor to jump into water issues.
So how does Hickenlooper view his legacy in water?
“If I was to look at the one thing that changed the most in my public life, it’s the collaborative approach,” the governor said. “This is everyone’s issue.”