The latest issue of “Fresh Water News” is hot off the presses from @WaterEdCO

Arkansas River Basin via The Encyclopedia of Earth

Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:

A lake on Colorado’s southeastern plains whose salinity levels at times rival those of the Great Salt Lake has residents of a small town ready to do battle with water officials over how to keep its alarmingly salty waters from reaching the Arkansas River.

The 250 or so residents of Lake Cheraw, the town that shares the lake’s name, want the lake to drain because they fear its high levels will damage their farms and homes. When lake levels rise, so do nearby water tables, seeping into basements and farm fields. Eventually that water reaches the Arkansas River.

But to drain the lake, water officials worry, would cause salinity levels in the already salt-burdened Arkansas River to rise high enough to trigger potential legal battles with the state of Kansas, which has a right to a portion of the river’s waters.

The two states’ relationship with the river and its supplies is governed by the much-litigated Arkansas River Compact and both states have spent tens of millions of dollars fighting over who gets how much of the water. The compact also dictates that water crossing the state line be “usable” for Kansas. Highly saline water is a concern because it can cause severe damage to crops.

@ADWR, @CAPArizona And @USBR Respond To Questions About #Drought Contingency Plan #ColoradoRiver #COriver #dcpnow

Colorado River Basin. Graphic credit: Water Education Colorado

From the Arizona Department of Water Resources:

Demonstrating their commitment to address growing risks to Arizona’s Colorado River supply, Arizona and federal water leaders answered questions from the public for nearly three hours last week in central Phoenix.

The July 10 briefing gave the public an opportunity to get answers to their questions about the terms of the Lower Basin Drought Contingency Plan (DCP), a plan designed to bolster water levels in Lake Mead to avoid potentially draconian reductions to Arizona’s Colorado River supply, and to discuss the potential impacts of the DCP in Arizona.

The panel also discussed the uncertainty Arizona faces if the reservoir should fall to critically low water levels such as 1,025 or, even 1,000 feet.

The three presenting agencies – the Arizona Department of Water Resources (ADWR), the Central Arizona Project, and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation – all had technical staff prepared to respond.

The event at the Heard Museum auditorium in central Phoenix was a follow-up to a June 28 public briefing held at the Arizona Historical Society auditorium in Tempe. In all, ADWR and CAP received more than 50 questions at and in the week following the June 28 briefing.

At the meeting, Arizona Department of Water Resources Director Tom Buschatzke emphasized the importance of creating flexibility for the participating states, which he said incentivizes the creation of stored or conserved water, known as intentionally created surplus (ICS), in Lake Mead. That water, he explained, helps raise the elevation in Lake Mead. California currently has about 550,000 acre-feet of stored water in Lake Mead.

As the Director noted at the Heard Museum briefing, California water officials have indicated that if there is not a DCP in place, the state may take all or some of its existing ICS from Lake Mead “to avoid stranding the water in the lake.”

“Having the water potentially stranded during a shortage is a disincentive for the creation of the intentionally created surplus in the first place.”

In all, ADWR and CAP received more than 50 questions at the Tempe event and in the week following the June 28 briefing. CAP General Manager Ted Cooke was asked why California should be allowed to take more than its allocation in a year when Arizona may receive less than its normal 2.8 million acre-foot allocation.

Cooke observed that California is “pre-loading” its DCP contribution obligations in Lake Mead. That, he said, is what that 550,000 acre-feet the state already has stored there represents.

Cooke added that if California still has ICS in Lake Mead by 2026, “that to me is a good thing.”

“That means that they put more water into Lake Mead than they needed to meet their ICS obligations.”

The next public meeting on the DCP is scheduled for July 26 at 1-4 p.m. at Central Arizona Project’s board room, 23636 N. 7th St. in north Phoenix.

There, a newly appointed steering committee will begin the effort to identify ways to help mitigate the impacts of DCP within Arizona, hopefully paving the way for legislative approval in early 2019 for the ADWR Director to approve the DCP on behalf of Arizona. Buschatzke noted that there is recent precedent of Arizona stakeholders coming together to develop creative solutions around Colorado River issues, in the public process that led up to ADWR’s 2006 Shortage-Sharing Recommendation.

“We did it then, we can do it again.”


#ColoradoRiver Day 2018 #COriver

Colorado River Basin. Graphic credit: Water Education Colorado

From Wild Rose Education (Sarah Johnson):

Happy Colorado River Day!

It was on this day, July 25, in 1921 when U.S. federal legislation was passed to officially re-name the river from the “Grande” to the “Colorado”. How many place names can you think of named “Grand”? Grand Canyon, Rio Grande Railroad, Grand Junction, Grand Lake, and the list goes on. They were presumably named before 1921.

I want to share a handful of success stories below from the past couple months. In spite of wildland fires, drought, smokey haze, dangerously low river levels, and the rocky uncertain political landscape there is still a lot to celebrate. I find hope in the people, youth, and organizations/institutions that continue to be consistent, tenacious, and unrelenting in standing firm by their mission of making the world a better place for all each and every day.

Enjoy the rest of the summer and keep praying for rain in western Colorado.

American Rivers Instagram page.

From The Walton Family Foundation:

Working Together for a Healthier Colorado River Basin

For millions across the West, the Colorado River is life. This magnificent river and its tributaries supply drinking water to communities big and small, keep thousands of ranches and farms in business and provide critical habitat for fish and wildlife. But the Colorado is a river at risk.

Water in the West is a series of stories about the people working to address threats to water supply in the Colorado River Basin and find conservation solutions that make economic sense for people and communities. The Walton Family Foundation is working with partners throughout the basin, in the U.S. and Mexico, to ensure healthy rivers by restoring riparian areas, encouraging water efficiency and pursuing flexible, market-based solutions that improve water management.

Enjoy a few photos from the Coyote Gulch archives.

Journey of Water: From flakes to faucets – News on TAP

This four-part series goes behind the scenes to see how water gets to our homes.

Source: Journey of Water: From flakes to faucets – News on TAP

June’s hot, dry conditions have cross-divide consequences – News on TAP

Fires, low rivers and higher bills will mark the summer of 2018. Here’s what Denver Water is doing about it.

Source: June’s hot, dry conditions have cross-divide consequences – News on TAP

Study Session with Elaine Chick — Your Water Colorado Blog

Water Educator Network Member Feature – July 2018 Name and Position: Elaine Chick, Program Manager Organization: Water Information Program Became a WEN Member: March 2017 Watershed: San Juan/Dolores Favorite River: The Lower Dolores River Favorite Water-Based Activity: Rafting Our Favorite Quote from Elaine: “I pretty much had to drink from the fire hose when I first […]

via Study Session with Elaine Chick — Your Water Colorado Blog

Cache la Poudre River: Fort Collins, Greeley, Thornton, and other stakeholders are drafting a plan to mitigate low streamflow

Cache la Poudre River May 2018. Photo credit: Greg Hobbs

From The Fort Collins Coloradoan (Jacey Marmaduke):

A group of Northern Colorado water users and stakeholders is quietly piecing together a plan to prevent that from happening down the road. If the group’s efforts succeed, their plan could increase flows in the Poudre through Fort Collins and beyond. It could also mitigate the impacts of future water storage projects.

The project is somewhere between back-of-the-napkin and final draft stage, but the goal is to create a virtual barter market on the Poudre where cities, farmers and ditch companies can lend their water rights to a stretch of the river before taking it back further downstream. Fort Collins, Greeley, Thornton and other stakeholders are involved in the project, which has been in the works for years.

“All these diverse interests are collaborating and cooperating on an approach to help flows in the Poudre,” said Linda Bassi, the Colorado Water Conservation Board’s Stream and Lake Protection Section chief. “Everyone’s putting all their brain power into it to find a way to make it work.”

The Poudre starts running out of water as soon as it tumbles from the canyon mouth. More than 20 major diversions suck water from the river before it even gets to Fort Collins…

For decades, the river that fostered growth in Northern Colorado communities has been plagued with low flows and dry spots that hurt recreation, tourism, water quality and flood resilience.

Preserving river flows “is not just about ecology and fish,” Fort Collins Natural Areas Director John Stokes said. “It’s also about how we manage this volatile natural system in order to create all the co-benefits we care about.”

The cities, joined by the Cache la Poudre Water Users Association, Colorado Water Trust, Colorado Water Conservation Board and Northern Water, are parsing nearly 50 miles of the Poudre into five segments running from the canyon to the river’s confluence with the South Platte. They’re working together to decide target flows for each section and draft a water court application.

A lot of crucial details still need to be worked out: The water users involved in the plan need to identify “seed water” for the project and figure out where to release it and where to pick it back up. The organizers say it’s crucial to craft a plan that doesn’t infringe on other people’s water rights.

Putting the plan in action could take years, if it works. But Poudre water users have already spent decades trying to tackle the problem of low river flows.

The Poudre was the birthplace of western water law, a notoriously complex system that allows people who possess older or “senior” water rights to use their water before junior users. Seniority becomes important during dry times when there might not be any water left for the users at the end of the line.

Our water laws have allowed cities, farmers and industry to coexist along the Poudre, but the system can make it hard to keep water in the river.

“There really isn’t any water out there that isn’t going to be managed and used and owned by somebody,” Stokes said.

The Colorado Water Conservation Board is the only entity in the state allowed to hold a water right purely for the purpose of preserving or enhancing river flows. Everyone else must prove they’re using the water for something else, like municipal drinking supply or irrigation.

The board has a couple ways to protect water in rivers: It can create a new, junior water right, or it can buy an older water right from someone else.

“Both of those have limitations,” said Emily Hunt, water resources manager for city of Thornton. “Appropriating new water rights on a stream that’s already stressed isn’t going to get you very far, because you’re at the end of the line. And acquiring senior water rights requires a willing seller and money.”

The new approach is different because it would basically allow water users to temporarily sell or lease their water to the Colorado Water Conservation Board. That means the water would be protected from diversions or exchanges and the user that loaned the water would be able to take it back downstream.

“There’s currently no mechanism to protect that flow from point A to point B,” Hunt said. “That’s the real issue. If entities are going to voluntarily do this, we want to make sure the water is protected.”

The planning group was born as a sub-group of the local Poudre Runs Through It work group. Colorado Water Trust, a statewide group that works to restore river flows, pitched the concept. It’s essentially a scaled-up version of the program that allows the Colorado Water Conservation Board to purchase senior water rights, said Zach Smith, Colorado Water Trust’s staff attorney.

Building the legal foundation for the water transactions ahead of time will simplify the process, and the program will also offer flexibility because people who participate won’t be obligated to put water in the program every year, Smith said.

“Colorado already has a water market,” Smith said. “Water rights are property rights, and they’re bought and sold all the time. A program like this just gives the environment a seat at the table.”

The group could submit its application to Colorado water court as early as next year. Group leaders plan to conduct more outreach with Poudre River water users to help them nail down the specifics of the plan.

“People are committed to solving the problem,” Hunt said. “This is one approach. It has some legs and we hope it keeps them, but by no means are we there yet.”

@SenBennetCO and @SenCoryGardner push for permanent reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund

Mystic canyon on the Yampa River: Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

From Sens. Bennet and Gardner via the The Boulder Daily Camera:

As thousands of outdoor enthusiasts attend Colorado’s Outdoor Retailer Summer Market this week, it reminds us that the wild and scenic spaces surrounding us are not just an important part of our state’s heritage and identity; they drive our economy. That is in no small part thanks to the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF).

For over half a century, LWCF has used a portion of federal offshore energy revenues — at no cost to taxpayers — to conserve our lands, water, and open spaces and protect the outdoor recreation opportunities they offer.

But now this fund, which has maintained broad, bipartisan support since its inception, is in danger of expiring at the end of September.

LWCF has invested over $268 million in Colorado, leading to the protection of iconic landscapes like Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park and lesser-known gems like the Ophir Valley in the San Juan Mountains.

Core to its model, LWCF also empowers communities — not Washington — to set conservation priorities.

Through matching funds to state, local and tribal governments, LWCF investments have expanded public access to lakes, built trails and neighborhood parks, and created opportunities for kids to learn outside. To take one example, the Montbello Open Space in Denver’s northeast corridor — funded by LWCF and set to open this fall — will offer outdoor recreation opportunities to underserved families that previously had none.

LWCF also lends support to critical habitats in danger of being lost. When a ranch in the San Luis Valley considered exporting its waters out of the region, LWCF helped fund the purchase of that ranch, ensuring the long-term protection of the valley’s agriculture, wetlands and wildlife. Those acres became the Baca National Wildlife Refuge, a key piece of the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve ecosystem and a major draw for outdoor and wildlife enthusiasts.

Put simply, LWCF works. It is a time-tested and effective way to boost the economy and increase tourism in an industry responsible for $28 billion in consumer spending and 229,000 direct jobs in our state.

Yet Congress has never permanently authorized or fully funded it. In the Senate, we have cosponsored legislation that would permanently reauthorize the program and prevent the chipping away of its funding each year. We must harness the program’s bipartisan support and pass this bill before LWCF expires.

LWCF is a critical tool for fulfilling our basic responsibility to give the next generation the same opportunities our parents and grandparents gave to us. It is time for Congress to stop the serial, short-term extensions of this program and make LWCF permanent with the full dedicated funding it deserves.

Climate Prediction Center: El Niño Watch (70% chance during winter 2018-19) #ENSO

Here’s the diagnostic discussion from the Climate Prediction Center:

ENSO Alert System Status: El Niño Watch

Synopsis: ENSO-neutral is favored through Northern Hemisphere summer 2018, with the chance
for El Niño increasing to about 65% during fall, and to about 70% during winter 2018-19.

ENSO-neutral continued during June, as indicated by slightly above-average sea surface temperatures (SSTs) across the central and eastern equatorial Pacific. The latest weekly Niño indices were between +0.3°C and +0.6°C, except for the Niño-1+2 index, which was -0.2°C. Positive subsurface temperature anomalies (averaged across 180°-100°W) continued over the past month, and the volume of anomalous warmth now extends to the surface in the eastern part of the basin. Convection remained suppressed near the Date Line and was near-average over Indonesia. Low-level wind anomalies were near average across the equatorial Pacific Ocean, except in the east- central Pacific, where anomalies were westerly. At upper-levels, winds were easterly over the east-central Pacific and near the International Date Line. Overall, the oceanic and atmospheric conditions reflected ENSO-neutral.

The majority of models in the IRI/CPC plume predict ENSO-neutral to continue through the Northern Hemisphere summer 2018, with El Niño most likely thereafter. The forecaster consensus favors the onset of El Niño during the Northern Hemisphere fall, which would then continue through winter. These forecasts are supported by the anomalous subsurface warmth across the eastern half of the tropical Pacific Ocean. In summary, ENSO-neutral is favored through Northern Hemisphere summer 2018, with the chance for El Niño increasing to about 65% during fall, and to about 70% during winter 2018-19 (click CPC/IRI consensus forecast for the chance of each outcome for each 3-month period).

From The Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo) via The Cortez Journal:

Southwest Colorado may escape the arid grip of the La Niña weather pattern, with forecasters saying there’s a good chance El Niño, and the moisture it brings, will return this fall.

One of the major dictators of weather in Southwest Colorado is surface water temperatures in the eastern-central Pacific Ocean that come in cycles known as the “El Niño-Southern Oscillation climate pattern.”

When surface water temperatures in the ocean are colder than normal, a La Niña pattern kicks in. La Niñas typically bring above-average temperatures and little, if any, precipitation to Southwest Colorado.

This past year has been a classic La Niña pattern, with little snowpack and virtually no precipitation, resulting in one of the driest years in Southwest Colorado’s recorded history.

Since April, the region has been listed in “exceptional drought” – the most intense drought category, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. As of Tuesday, the region still holds this listing.

However, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center released some good news recently: El Niño, which holds the promise for more moisture, could be on its way.

The opposite of La Niña, an El Niño, which often brings Southwest Colorado winters with plentiful snowfall, occurs when surface water temperatures in the Pacific Ocean are warmer than normal, which results in a better chance for precipitation.

Michelle L’Heureux, a climate scientist for NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center, said Southwest Colorado has been in a “neutral” weather pattern since the effects of La Niña subsided a few months ago.

This map of a typical El Nino weather pattern shows Colorado right on the edge of moisture impacts. (Courtesy: National Weather Service)


“What we’ve come to understand with climate change is that hydrology is expected to take a turn for the worst” — Pat Wells

Colorado Springs Collection System via Colorado College.

From The Colorado Springs Independent (Pam Zubeck):

olorado Springs Utilities is trumpeting a water-sharing deal involving several parties in the Lower Arkansas River Valley. The agreement is the first of its kind in the state, aligns with the Colorado Water Plan’s edict to share water among users and helps the city secure a water supply for decades to come.

But several people in the valley are skeptical, saying the agreement could transfer irrigation water for crops, much like the so-called “buy and dry” deals of the 1970s and 1980s that exported Crowley County farmers’ water rights held in mountain lakes to municipalities along the Front Range, thereby decimating agriculture.

“Any time water leaves the lower valley it’s a great concern,” says former Bent County Commissioner Bill Long, who’s advising current commissioners on the matter.

But Springs Utilities officials say it’s another step toward assuring adequate water supplies for the city’s population, which is expected to swell to 740,000 people by 2070. Despite the 2016 activation of the controversial Southern Delivery System water pipeline from Pueblo Reservoir, the city needs more water, they say.

“We are exploring developing additional supplies from the Arkansas River basin to diversify our portfolio,” Pat Wells, Springs Utilities’ general manager of water resources and demand management, says. “We are acquiring these water rights as a first step to plan for the future.”

Essentially, the complicated deal gives Utilities access to 2,000 acre feet of water — more than enough for 4,000 households per year — for five out of 10 years from water rights held by the Lower Arkansas Water Management Association. LAWMA, which is entitled to use the water for the other five years, is a member-owned nonprofit that replaces water to the Arkansas River for its members’ depletions caused by irrigation pumping.

The city bought 2,500 LAWMA shares owned by Arkansas River Farms at $3,500 per share, or $8.75 million. The city also paid LAWMA $1.75 million for 500 acre feet of water storage in a former gravel pit in the Lamar area, giving LAWMA flexibility to manage its water rights.

Utilities can place a call on the water any February for that year, and LAWMA is allowed to say “no” for one year in 10. Utilities would take the water through a series of exchanges that involve Pueblo Reservoir.

As Utilities senior project manager Scott Lorenz says, “LAWMA is betting that by doing the deal with CSU they will not only immediately benefit from the 2,000 acre feet in five out of 10 years, but they will also have set in place a replicable model that will allow them to further increase their water portfolio.”

Don Higbee, LAWMA general manager, described it this way in a news release: “We will gain a more reliable water supply that will increase crop yields for the average shareholder in both wet and dry years. If we are collaborating with municipalities for water, we are not competing with them for water. The alternative is we risk buy and dry, which permanently removes water from the valley. This agreement keeps water in the valley.”


Exporting water, even periodically, makes Mauch nervous, because the 113-mile-long canal serves 94,000 irrigated acres between La Junta and Lamar. Those acres are owned by roughly 200 farmers. “It remains to be seen how it works out for the Fort Lyon Canal, Bent County and the neighbors,” [Dale Mauch] says.

That’s because there are ancillary promises tied to the deal. Arkansas River Farms, which sold water rights as part of the Utilities plan, has vowed to revegetate acreage left without water in the years Utilities uses it, Long says. The farming operation also has said it would build a $40 million dairy and a commercial tomato greenhouse, erect irrigation sprinklers to more efficiently water their acreage in dry years and plant native grasses, as well as provide Bent County a $1.7 million letter of credit and some cash to cover lost property taxes. Property taxes are lower on dryland acreage than irrigated.

“If they [Arkansas River Farms] fulfill their commitments, then it will have success for both parties,” Long says. “If they do not complete revegetations and they do not do the economic mitigation they propose, then we’ll be sorely disappointed and definitely on the short end of the stick.

“The commissioners understand things change,” Long adds, “and we need to use water more efficiently down here, and what Arkansas River Farms has proposed will provide that. If they don’t deliver, I think it would be difficult to do another one like this one.”

And that’s important, because Lorenz says valley water-rights owners and Utilities hope the LAWMA agreement is just the beginning.

Many water users want to explore such agreements, Lorenz says, as they try to secure supplies amid climate change, which adds uncertainty to how much water is available in any given year.

“The partnership allows them [LAWMA] to start to meet that gap both through the additional water and storage,” he says. “If this project is successful CSU will have a path forward to acquire part of the water it needs in the future, as will LAWMA. When it comes to developing future water supply, the status quo isn’t working.”

The Colorado Water Plan specifically calls for water sharing, dubbed “alternative water transfers,” which will benefit agriculture and municipal users. The goal, it says, is to seek contributions from the farming industry while “maximizing options for alternatives to permanent agricultural dry-up.”

In other words, Lorenz notes, “The state of Colorado says, ‘Work things out, so we don’t have to impose things on you.’ This is the first shot at that.”

Utilities gets most of its water from the Western Slope through trans-mountain transfers, but one of those sources, the Colorado River Basin, isn’t producing water to adequately supply the appropriations already committed to.

“There is increased competition for limited water supplies, and our existing system has not yielded as much as we thought back in 1996,” when the SDS project was first conceived, Wells says.

Noting that Utilities used to consult the historical record and assume the past would repeat in the future, Wells says, “What we’ve come to understand with climate change is that hydrology is expected to take a turn for the worst, so we’re mitigating our risk for our customers.”

The deal with LAWMA now goes to water court for approval, although Utilities can use the water pending that approval. That’s good, Lorenz notes, because drought conditions might require Utilities to call on the water as early as next year.

Straight line diagram of the Lower Arkansas Valley ditches via Headwaters