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.”