Sellers and landlords may not know about lead in the pipes.
As a rare flower begins to bloom at Denver’s Botanic Gardens, we think about the role Denver Water played in helping it along.
From Inside Climate News (Bob Berwyn):
Wheat, corn and rice are staple foods for 4 billion people. A new study suggests crop damage from climate change may be far worse than projected as pest risks rise.
Growing swarms of hungrier and hyperactive insects may wipe out big percentages of the world’s three most important grain crops—wheat, corn and rice—even if the world manages to cap global warming at 2 degrees Celsius, the upper-end target of the Paris climate agreement, scientists warn.
The biggest crop losses are expected in temperate areas where global warming will increase both insects’ population growth and their metabolic rates. That includes the major breadbaskets of North America and Europe.
Altogether, the potential scale of the damage is so high, it could threaten global food security, according to research published today in the journal Science.
“We’re turning the dial up in the temperate zones, and insects, for the most part, thrive in a warmer climate,” said co-author and sustainability researcher Josh Tewksbury, director of Future Earth at the University of Colorado. “It gets better and better for them.”
For people accustomed to the pace at which today’s crop-destroying insects migrate, the rapid and widespread changes fueled by global warming may come as a shock. Farmers will need to adapt, Tewksbury said. That could mean overhauling crop rotations, more genetic research and rethinking pesticide use to avoid severe damage.
“Get ready, because the fight is coming to you,” he said.
The researchers project that, globally, crop yield losses for wheat, corn and rice will increase 10 to 25 percent for every degree of global warming. If global temperatures rise 2 degrees Celsius over the 1971-2000 average, they project that the rise in insect pest activity would increase wheat yield losses by a median of 46 percent, corn by 31 percent, and rice by 19 percent.
Those three food crops are staples for about 4 billion people, and account for about 42 percent of direct calories consumed by humans worldwide, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization.
University of Washington climate researcher and co-author Curtis Deutsch explained the impact this way:
“Insect pests currently consume the equivalent of 1 out of every 12 loaves of bread (before it ever gets made). By the end of this century, if climate change continues unabated, insects will be eating more than 2 loaves of every 12 that could have been made,” he wrote.
From The Denver Post (Judith Kohler):
A Colorado coalition of 70 businesses sent a letter Thursday to the state’s congressional delegation asking the lawmakers to support permanently reauthorizing the 54-year-old Land and Water Conservation Fund, which will expire Sept. 30.
The businesses, ranging from a mortgage company to outdoor equipment companies to retail stores, wrote to federal lawmakers that the fund has generated more than $268 million since its inception to help build trails in Colorado, protect fish and wildlife habitat and water supplies, and expand access to public lands for hunters, anglers and other outdoor enthusiasts. Investments in conserving the state’s open spaces and developing parks have helped build what is now a “booming $28 billion outdoor recreation industry” in the state, the businesses said.
The state’s outdoor recreation industry supports 229,000 direct jobs and generates $9.7 billion in wages and $2 billion in state and local tax revenue, according to the Outdoor Industry Association. Colorado’s robust outdoor recreation economy and support for public lands helped draw the Outdoor Retailer trade shows to Denver from Salt Lake City this year…
Colorado Sens. Michael Bennet and Cory Gardner are cosponsors of S. 569, a bill that would permanently reauthorize and fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Reps. Diana DeGette, Jared Polis , Mike Coffman and Ed Perlmutter are all cosponsors of a House version of the legislation. Rep. Scott Tipton recently announced his support for reauthorizing the fund. Reps. Doug Lamborn and Ken Buck didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment by The Denver Post on their positions.
The conservation program is funded through a portion of the fees imposed on offshore oil and gas. Congress has rarely funded the program at its full authorized level of $900 million per year. Congress agreed to extend LWCF for three years after it originally ran out in 2015. This time, supporters want Congress to permanently reauthorize it and commit to fully funding it.
Luis Benitez, director of the Colorado Outdoor Recreation Industry Office, said continuing LWCF “is absolutely vital” to fueling the economic engine that outdoor recreation has become in Colorado and across the nation.
The Colorado coalition calling on lawmakers to support LWCF says it’s particularly concerned about the impact on Continental Divide National Scenic Trail if the program lapses. The trail, which stretches over 3,100 miles from Canada to Mexico along the spine of the Rockies, has gaps where there is no access to public lands. Grants from LWCF are used to acquire land from open or improve access to public lands.
From ColoradoPolitics.com (Marianne Goodland) via The Durango Herald:
U.S. Rep. Jared Polis of Boulder and three other members of Colorado’s House delegation have signed onto the latest effort to urge Congressional leaders to find a way to permanently reauthorize and fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund.
But missing from the letter: the only Republican in Colorado’s House delegation – U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman of Aurora – who has co-sponsored legislation that would do exactly what the letter asks.
The fund, which largely draws on federal offshore drilling, has provided more than $267 million for recreation and conservation projects in Colorado.
Polis – the Democratic candidate for governor – and U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton of Cortez both announced last week they would support full funding, estimated at as much as $900 million per year, plus permanent reauthorization of the conservation fund.
From The Longmont Times-Call (Sam Lounsberry):
Work on the pipeline, known as phase two of the Southern Water Supply Project, is being overseen by Northern Water, which manages Carter Lake as part of the Colorado Big-Thompson Project.
Once complete, the pipeline will improve water quality and delivery reliability compared to the open, above-ground Boulder Feeder Canal that currently brings water from Carter Lake to Boulder Reservoir.
The new pipeline will pump 50 cubic feet per second of Colorado-Big Thompson and Windy Gap Project water, with Boulder receiving the bulk of the water among participants at the Boulder Reservoir Water Treatment plant, the pipeline’s terminus.
Boulder will receive 32 cubic feet per second and bear $32 million of the cost, according to city spokeswoman Gretchen King, while Left Hand Water District — which serves a 130-square-mile area between Longmont and Boulder — will receive 12 cubic feet per second and pay about $8 million for its share of the project…
Left Hand will have another $2 million of cost from the district’s addition of a hydroelectric generator at the intersection of the new Southern Water Supply pipeline and the entrance to the district’s Dodd Water Treatment Plant. The generator will produce enough power to satisfy about a third of the plant’s electricity need, according to district Manager Christopher Smith…
Berthoud and Longs Peak Water District — which serves Boulder and Weld County residents in an area north of Longmont — will each receive 3 cubic feet per second, but on Thursday officials from the town and district could not to provide their share of the costs of the remaining $4 million for the project.
Smith noted the pipeline, which has an estimated completion date of March 2020, will not only further protect water quality, but also will allow year-round water delivery to Left Hand Water District’s Dodd Water Treatment Plant…
“During some portions of the year the pipeline will act as the primary source of raw water for the participants in the project,” the Northern Water release states.
Currently, the Boulder Feeder Canal is offline from Oct. 31 to April 1 annually, Smith said. When the canal is down, so, too, is the Dodd Water Treatment Plant…
When the pipeline is complete, the Dodd Plant will be open year-round.
The first 12 miles of new pipeline, from Carter Lake to St. Vrain Road in Longmont, will parallel the existing Southern Water Supply Project pipeline, which was runs to Broomfield and was completed in 1999.
From St. Vrain Road, the new pipeline will continue south to the Boulder Reservoir Treatment Plant.
Here’s the release from Colorado Parks and Wildlife (Joe Lewandowski):
Due to extremely low flows and concerns about warm water temperatures, Colorado Parks and Wildlife is asking anglers to self-regulate their fishing activities. Effective immediately, CPW is placing a voluntary fishing closure on the Conejos River from noon through the remainder of the day.
This voluntary closure is in place for the section of the Conejos River from Platoro Reservoir down to Broyles Bridge. The voluntary closure will remain in effect until further notice, with a possibility
of an emergency closure to all fishing if conditions worsen. The river is located in the San Luis Valley in south-central Colorado.
“The Conejos River is one of Colorado’s most renowned trout streams,” said John Alves, senior aquatic biologist. “We know that anglers care deeply about this fishery and we need their help to conserve this resource.”
Because of the ongoing drought, the river is flowing far less than the historic flows. Normally at this time of year flows from the outlet at Platoro Reservoir are usually about 60 cubic feet per second. For the last few weeks flows have averaged about 10 cfs, only 19 percent of the historic average. Snowfall last winter of less than 50 percent of average in the Rio Grande basin is the primary reason the river is running so low.
Water temperature is also a concern. At times temperature of the river has risen to 70 degrees which is unhealthy for trout. The temperature of the river is highest from noon throughout the rest of the day. Water cools overnight, so fishing during the morning hours will help to minimize impacts to trout.
Many trout anglers practice catch and release. But in these conditions it is extremely stressful on fish when they are hooked and handled. They might look OK when they swim off quickly after they’re released, but they use a lot of energy when caught and recovery is difficult in low, warm water. With less water there is less habitat available to the fish and warming temperatures means there’s less oxygen available in the water. That can lead to increased trout mortality.
Brown trout, the predominant species in the river, spawn in the fall; so the current river conditions could impact spawning activities.
“This is the first time we’ve made this kind of voluntary-action request on the Conejos. It’s not something we like to do, but it’s the right thing to do and we hope anglers will join us in this conservation effort,” Alves said.
Low flows in the Arkansas River are also worrying. Here’s a report from Bill Folsom writing for KOAA.com. Here’s an excerpt:
Over the summer there has been a series of agreements to release water from reservoirs to maintain the river at a higher level for recreational activities like rafting and fishing. The agreements ended August 15th. “We knew that the river was going to drop,” said Arkansas River Headwaters Manager, Rob White. In days since the river has dropped so low in many spots the river bottom is showing.
Rafting companies are now strategic about what stretches they float. Aquatic Biologist with Colorado Parks and wildlife are monitoring trout in the river. “Kind of keep a watch on those temperatures. If temperatures get to 75, 76 degrees than you kind of need to be concerned,” said White. Currently tracking is happening at three locations. Higher up the river near Buena Vista the water is registering in the mid 60-degree range. At the lowest elevation near Canon City it hits 70 degrees, but still below numbers causing concern.
Days are getting shorter and nights cooler. It is countering the heat of the day.
Aquatic biologists say Brown Trout in the Arkansas spawn toward the end of September. It can actually benefit from the low flow.
From The Craig Daily Press (David Tan):
Additionally, [Elkhead] reservoir operations were modified to release more water to the Maybell gauge to supplement the flow for fish recovery efforts…
Yampa River levels have been critically low, Hinkemeyer said, though he added he believes there were problems with the Deer Lodge meter not measuring correctly.
The city maintains a 4,413 acre-foot pool at the reservoir, Hinkemeyer said, adding that he sees potential for the pool to be an asset for the city and possibly an income generator.
Mayor John Ponikvar said once new city manager Peter Brixius begins work in September, he might want to to revisit the city’s water situation and decide what direction should be taken.
Click here to go to the US Drought Monitor website. Here’s an excerpt:
Frontal systems brought thunderstorms and some heavy rainfall to parts of the Plains, the Midwest, and the South. While rainfall was enough to reduce or alleviate drought conditions in some places, such as Arkansas, northern Missouri, Kansas, Wisconsin, and Michigan, it wasn’t enough in other areas, such as southwestern Missouri and Idaho, as deficits and impacts remain. This past week saw temperatures slightly below average across much of the nation, with areas of eastern Montana and western North Dakota 4-8 degrees F cooler than normal, which helped to slow, but not halt, drought development. Conversely, parts of the Southwest, Texas, and areas along the eastern northern tier of the U.S. were well above their average temperatures. In Texas, notably, the widespread heat exacerbated evolving and ongoing drought…
Conditions along parts of the northern tier of the U.S. bordering Canada continue to deteriorate. This week the remaining area of normal conditions from northwestern North Dakota into northeastern Montana (see West for more information about Montana) was degraded to abnormally dry (D0). The area has missed out on all the rains from the last few storms.and the soil has been very dry, dating back to the previous year’s drought. In Kansas, conditions improved enough to contract D0 in the central and south central part of the state eastward. In east central Kansas, some areas of moderate (D1), severe (D2), and extreme (D3) drought also improved. However, there are still longer-term deficits and impacts remaining in the state. In eastern Colorado, D3 was improved to D2 in Crowley County and northern Otero County, where there were a few isolated thunderstorms in the area over the past week. D2 improved to D1 in southeast Las Animas County and western Baca County, where up to 2 inches of rain fell. Eastern Baca and Prowers Counties also received up to 2 inches of rain, allowing for improvement from D1 to D0. No changes were made this week to the depictions in South Dakota, Nebraska, and Wyoming…
Similar to North Dakota, some areas across the northern tier of Montana continued to deteriorate. The area of abnormally dry conditions (D0) was expanded eastward to connect with the dry area in North Dakota. Also along the northern tier, the two severe drought (D2) areas expanded slightly westward. However, improvements were made in southern Beaverhead, Madison, Gallatin, and Park counties in the southwest where precipitation has been more abundant. Conditions there are now considered normal. Drought continues to plague Oregon and grow worse in areas. This week the area of D2 expanded through most of the southern part of the state. In Utah, D2 improved to moderate drought (D1) across eastern Washington County and western Kane and Garfield Counties. This area has received its typical moisture since the beginning of July. No changes were made this week to the depictions in Washington, California, Nevada, Arizona, and New Mexico. Additionally, no changes were made to the depiction in Idaho, but, as an aside, some precipitation did provide enough relief to Boise to make the region smoke free for the first time in a couple of weeks. Conditions still remain dry…
Over the week beginning Tuesday August 28, the Midwestern states are expected receive the highest precipitation, including northern Missouri, which as been plagued by extreme (D3) and exceptional (D4) drought conditions. Temperatures are forecast to reach the 90s (F), and even the 100s in places, across most of the central and southern tier of the U.S.. The Northeast will begin with temperatures in the 90s, but is forecast to cool into the 70s and 80s by the end of the Labor Day weekend. Daytime highs in the 70s and 80s are also forecast across much of the northern tier. Southern Florida and the central Appalachians are forecast to receive up to 3 inches of rainfall, while most of the West and the High Plains are expecting a quarter of an inch or less, with no rain forecast for much of the region. Looking further ahead at NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center (CPC) 6-10 day Outlook (September 2-6), the probability of dry conditions is highest in the Northwest from southern Alaska into Oregon, northern Idaho, and western Montana., while wet conditions are most likely across the Midwest, Mid-Atlantic, and Northeast. During this period, below-average temperatures may be seen over the much of the forecasted wet areas — upper Northwest into Alaska — while above-average temperatures are forecast for most of the contiguous U.S., especially the eastern half. Looking two weeks out (September 4-10), the likelihood of above-average temperatures is highest in central to southern California and in the eastern third of the contiguous U.S. The probability of below-average temperatures is highest across most of Alaska and Montana. The probability of above-average precipitation is highest over a swath of the central U.S. stretching northeast from New Mexico to eastern North Dakota, Minnesota, and western Wisconsin, with the highest probability of dryness now expected across Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.
Here’s the letter from the Western Governor’s Association:
On behalf of the Western Governors’ Association (WGA), we are writing to express the Governors’ support for reauthorization of the National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS) program under the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and urge you to make consideration of such legislation a priority in 2018. In May 2018, we expressed our support to Senate leadership for S. 2200, the National Integrated Drought Information System Reauthorization Act of 2018.
Western Governors were instrumental in the creation of NIDIS in 2006, and WGA has since worked with NOAA and other partners to champion the system’s implementation. The NIDIS program represents a vital tool in western water management, promoting a coordinated and integrated approach to coping with future drought. Rather than creating a new bureaucracy, the program draws from existing capacity in states, universities and multiple federal agencies, as called for in the original authorizing legislation. NIDIS continues to serve as a cost-effective model for federal-state collaboration in shared information services.
Western Governors are well-acquainted with the significant environmental, economic and social impacts of drought cycles on the West and its communities. The repetitive nature of drought conditions, as well as increased populations and their dependence on limited water resources, continue to push drought to the forefront of western water issues. Adequate measures to manage western water resources in the face of inevitable future drought conditions must be prioritized and implemented. Drought contributes to forest and rangeland fires, impairs ecosystems, degrades agricultural productivity, and poses threats to municipal and industrial water supplies.
The NIDIS program’s forecasting and monitoring activities provide the authoritative, objective and timely drought information that farmers, water managers, decision-makers, and local governments require for effective preparedness and response. NIDIS has established a drought portal on its website (www.drought.gov) where information from state, federal and academic partners is integrated into a single online source of information. Through NIDIS, NOAA is building a network of early drought warning systems and working with local resource managers to identify and address unique regional drought information needs. Federal reauthorization should further strengthen NIDIS with increased focus on soil moisture retention and sub-seasonal forecasting, critical factors in understanding and predicting drought conditions as identified by the Western Governors’ Drought Forum.
Water users throughout the West – including farmers, ranchers, tribes, land managers, business owners, recreationalists, wildlife managers, and decision-makers at all levels of government – must be able to assess the risks of drought before its onset to make informed decisions and implement effective mitigation measures. Western Governors continue to support the NIDIS program and urge the Committee to make its reauthorization a legislative priority in 2018.
Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt (Jerd Smith):
Upper Colorado River restoration project entangled in bitter lawsuit
A rare river restoration project in the Upper Colorado River Basin near Grand Lake is in danger of being stopped because of a lawsuit by environmentalists.
The restoration project has been proposed to compensate the West Slope for environmental damages to the Upper Colorado River caused by a large Front Range water storage project known as Windy Gap Firming.
Sponsored by the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, the new storage project would bring more Colorado River water from Grand County to rapidly growing, water-short towns on the Front Range, including Lafayette, Longmont, Louisville and Broomfield, among others.
The restoration project would reconnect a section of the Upper Colorado River severed by the original Windy Gap dam Northern Water built years ago. But Northern Water said it may halt the restoration work because Save The Colorado, an environmental group, is seeking to stop the large reservoir project in U.S. District Court in Denver.
With the future of the reservoir now in doubt, Northern Water officials said it may not make sense to proceed with restoring the river channel.
“It’s painful,” said Jeff Drager, Northern Water’s director of engineering.
The reservoir has been under review by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Bureau of Reclamation, Grand County and others for 15 years. The project was within months of starting when the lawsuit was filed last October.
Save The Colorado has been challenging the project for years, saying that no more water should be diverted from the drought-stressed, over-used Colorado River. According to a number of different estimates, more than 65 percent of flows in the river’s headwaters region are already being diverted across the Continental Divide to the Front Range, endangering the river’s health.
For his part, Save The Colorado Executive Director Gary Wockner disagrees with Northern Water’s assessment of the restoration project’s future, saying that a number of agencies and stakeholder groups, including his, will have to weigh in on the project’s fate.
The original Windy Gap Project began supplying Colorado River water to the Front Range in 1985. But it has never been able to deliver the full amount of water it has rights to because storage space in its collection system on the West Slope isn’t always available. The new $570 million reservoir, called Chimney Hollow, would be near Carter Lake in Larimer County.
Environmental groups such as Trout Unlimited, along with several mountain communities and other stakeholder groups, spent years working with Northern Water to develop a set of environmental projects that would help restore the Upper Colorado River watershed. Reconnecting the river channel near Grand Lake was among those environmental projects.
In an open letter to Save The Colorado last December, Trout Unlimited’s Kirk Klancke, president of the group’s Colorado Headwaters Chapter, urged the litigants not to interfere in the decade-long negotiations that have given Western Slope communities more water for streams and helped restore habitat for fish and the bugs they feed on.
“It took 10 years of fighting to get a package of measures that will restore our rivers and prevent additional impacts. The viability of those solutions depends on Windy Gap Firming Project moving forward,” Klancke wrote. Klancke could not be reached for comment this week.
Connecting the channel would make it easier for trout to migrate and would help restore miles of streambed where critical sand and gravel had long been trapped by the dam at Windy Gap Reservoir, supporters say.
But it is the larger question – how to prevent more water from being taken out of the headwaters of the drought-stressed Colorado River – that prompted the lawsuit by Save The Colorado.
The lawsuit is being litigated by the University of Denver’s Environmental Law Clinic, where students overseen by faculty members take on cases that have national environmental implications for free.
The suit is one of three major efforts by environmental groups to halt new water projects that would serve the Front Range. Just last week Save The Colorado filed a “notice of intent” to sue Denver Water over the proposed expansion of Gross Reservoir in Boulder County. This project too would bring additional water from the Upper Colorado River headwaters over to the metro area.
And four years ago, the Environmental Law Clinic filed an unsuccessful suit to stop a project that would free up space in Denver’s Chatfield Reservoir to store more water for metro area cities and South Platte farmers. The students represented the Audubon Society, which argued that the project would remove too many wetlands that provide critical bird habitat. The Audubon Society lost the case last year, but it is currently on appeal in the U.S. District Court in Denver.
Kevin Lynch, the supervising professor for the DU law students, said the law clinic’s work is critical to ensuring that groups that are not politically powerful have their day in court. “We see that as a vital role, giving these groups clout and giving them the opportunity to engage in these processes. And it gives students a chance to work on meaningful real-world litigation,” he said.
That some groups from the environmental community are backing the river channel restoration project doesn’t mean Save The Colorado shouldn’t proceed with its broader mission to stop any additional water from being diverted from the headwaters, Lynch said.
Regardless of the lawsuit, “There is no reason that [Windy Gap proponents] couldn’t do the project anyway…Doing a bypass would be great. They don’t need to further drain the Colorado River to do that,” Lynch said.
But Northern Water’s Drager said the $15 million channel project’s primary reason for being was to mitigate the impact of Windy Gap’s Chimney Hollow Reservoir.
“We don’t have a plan to do the channel project if Windy Gap doesn’t move forward,” Drager said.
Drager said Windy Gap proponents will decide by February whether to proceed with the channel or to halt the design work that is underway now.
Bart Miller, an attorney with the Boulder-based conservation group Western Resource Advocates, declined to comment specifically on the lawsuit. But he said the channel project is important not just because of its restorative effects, but because it demonstrates the power of collaboration between water interests, cities and towns, and environmentalists.
“When we have an extremely dry year like this one, and going forward we’re going to have more of them, this cooperative effort between conservation groups and water providers and interests like Grand County is a very good example of efforts to address these pressing challenges. I hope the effort can continue,” Miller said.
Jerd Smith is editor of Fresh Water News. She can be reached at 720-398-6474, via email at email@example.com or @jerd_smith. Fresh Water News is an independent, non-partisan news initiative of Water Education Colorado.
Click here for all the inside skinny and to register:
The risk of draining a half-full Lake Powell is real. The risk one-third full Lake Mead going lower and triggering big water cutbacks is real. Uncle Sam has told the states to develop drought plans or else the U.S. will do it for them. Speakers and panels from the Southern Nevada Water Authority, the Upper Colorado River Commission, the Colorado River District and others will detail current conditions on the river and what the states plan to do about them. Whether you are a toothbrusher, ag producer, angler or rafter, there’s a lot to care about.
Register now at the discounted rate of $30, lunch buffet included. Early registration ends at 5:00 p.m. on Tuesday, September 11th after which time the cost is $35 at the door.
No cost to students unless partaking of lunch, which is $10.
For information, call Meredith at 970-945-8522 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
David Bernhardt, Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior
John Entsminger, General Manager, Southern Nevada Water Authority
Amy Haas, the new Executive Director of the Upper Colorado River Commission (invited)
Andy Mueller, General Manager of the Colorado River District
Eric Kuhn, Author, retired Colorado River District General Manager, adviser to the Upper Colorado River Commission
Eric Millis, Director, Utah Division of Water Resources and Commissioner to the Upper Colorado River Commission and Chair of the Colorado Basin Salinity Control Commission
Uwe H. Martin, photographer and producer, Bombay Flying Club, Germany
Coyote Gulch plans to be front and center live-Tweeting from the seminar.
From The Arizona Republic (Ian James):
…in a new report, scientists say the situation is just as worrisome upstream at Lake Powell.
The declines there during the past 18 years, they say, also reflect the Colorado River’s worsening “structural deficit.”
The 10 scientists, who make up the Colorado River Research Group, said even though the four Upper Basin states — Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming — haven’t been using all the water they’re legally entitled to, Lake Powell has declined due to extra water releases into Mead.
Those releases, they said, are “the only thing that has kept Lake Mead from dropping into shortage conditions.”
“I want people to know that what’s going on at Lake Mead is very, very closely tied to what’s going on Lake Powell,” said Doug Kenney, the group’s chair and a professor at the University of Colorado. “We’re draining Lake Powell to prop it up.”
The scientists titled their report “It’s Hard to Fill a Bathtub When the Drain is Wide Open.”
The Colorado River basin, which stretches from Wyoming to Mexico, has been drying out during what scientists say is one of the driest 19-year periods in the past 1,200 years. The river has long been over-allocated, with the demands of farms and cities exceeding the available water supply, and the strains are being compounded by growing population, drought and climate change…
The scientists suggested that Lake Powell could bounce back better in wet years if “new operational rules” are developed…
“Better options might be found by thinking outside of this familiar framework. Lakes Mead and Powell, after all, are essentially one giant reservoir,” the group said. “Managing — and thinking — of these facilities as two distinct reservoirs, one for the benefit of the Upper Basin and one for the Lower, now seems outdated.”
From CNBC (Diane Olick):
A new Harvard study claims climate change is altering home values both on the coast and inland, coining the term, “climate gentrification.” “Higher elevation properties are essentially worth more now, and increasingly will be worth more in the future,” according to Harvard’s Jesse Keenan. Universities, climate research groups, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have made dire predictions of sea-level rise in Miami.
A modern glass home sits on the edge of the water in Miami Beach. The ground-level master suite has a soaking tub that looks out to the ocean, and the bedroom’s glass doors allow the owner to roll out of the sheets and onto the yacht. It is listed for sale at $25 million.
Another Miami home sits on a garbage-strewn street in Little Haiti, about five miles inland. Its owner can walk out the front door and see a dead chicken in the street. It is listed for sale at $559,000, but some experts claim it is a better investment than $25 million mansion.
The mansion, while highly desirable and exquisitely appointed, is paradise at a price, because rising tides and increasingly extreme storms may already be lowering its value. On the other hand, the home in Little Haiti, which sits on high ground with little risk of flooding, is appreciating at a fast clip. It has nearly doubled in value in just the past two years, according to Zillow…
The study tracked the values of more than 100,000 single-family homes across Miami going back 45 years…
“What we found is that the higher elevation properties are essentially worth more now, and increasingly will be worth more in the future,” Keenan said. “Populations, including speculative real estate investment will densify in these high elevation areas.”
Universities, climate research groups and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have made dire predictions about sea-level rise in Miami — the ocean overtaking vast swaths of real estate over the coming decades. So-called “nuisance” flooding, when king tides come in on sunny days, is already common in some neighborhoods.
From Tony Haigh (via Twitter):
One of the most intriguing aspects of the U.S. Drought Monitor is the network of observers across the country who contribute data and information each week to help identify the location and intensity of drought. @DroughtCenter @DroughtGov Learn more at http://drought.unl.edu/Publications/News.aspx?id=329
From The Hill (Sandra Postel, Lesli Allison):
In recent weeks, federal officials have warned residents of the southwestern United States that their two major lifelines — the Colorado River and the Rio Grande — will deliver alarmingly low water supplies in the coming months.
This summer, the Rio Grande may actually run dry through Albuquerque, New Mexico, a rarity. Meanwhile by 2020 the Colorado’s biggest reservoir, Lake Mead, stands a 52 percent chance of dropping to the level at which an official shortage is declared, requiring cuts in water deliveries to Arizona, Nevada and Mexico.
As snowpacks dwindle, temperatures warm, and periodic drought dehydrates the West, unprecedented levels of cooperation will be needed if farmers, ranchers, tribal communities, cities and rivers are all to have a degree of water security. That cooperation, in turn, requires some reframing of the water mantra embedded in the minds of just about every producer in the western United States: “Use it or lose it.”
The phrase stems from state laws that say if a water right is not fully put to beneficial use, the owner risks forfeiting the unused portion.
Historically, states considered farming, mining, manufacturing, and supplying drinking water to cities to be beneficial uses of water. Providing water to a river itself was a lower priority, and often considered a waste.
One irrigator in central Arizona describes this traditional thinking as, “divert all you can and use all you can.”
Agriculture accounts for 80 percent or more of water consumption in the western states. While many farmers and ranchers agree on the need to conserve water, existing policies make it hard to do so.
As a result, for decades, thousands of miles of rivers and streams in the West have run low or completely dried up at critical times of the year, decimating fish populations, bird and wildlife habitat, and recreational activities that support rural economies.
In Montana alone, more than 4,000 miles of streams are chronically or periodically de-watered.
But thanks to innovative policies, new collaborations, and smart technologies, zero-sum stalemates are giving way to more flexible water management, benefiting farmers, rivers and local economies at the same time.
In western Colorado, for example, ranchers have partnered with a non-profit water trust to curtail diversions from Colorado River tributaries when streamflows drop dangerously low. This is made possible by a 2013 Colorado law that loosens up the use-it-or-lose-it rule by allowing a water user enrolled in an approved conservation program to forego some water use without losing any water rights. The ranchers still get the water they need, the program protects the rights of other water users, and the river gets more flow to sustain its trout fishery.
In a similar vein, a 2003 Colorado law allows farmers, ranchers and other entities to temporarily loan water to rivers and streams without risking the loss of water rights.
Arizona’s Verde River Valley, a ribbon of green in the desert and a hotspot for migratory birds, is becoming a poster child for smarter water management. Farmers, conservationists and the business community are collaborating to upgrade century-old ditch systems, convert fields from flood to efficient drip irrigation, and shift some acreage to barley, which requires less water in the summer months when the river is hurting most.
As a result, portions of the Verde and its tributaries now flow stronger, enhancing habitats and recreational opportunities, a local beer-maker gets a supply of grain, and irrigators receive all the water they need from a modernized irrigation system.
Another tool gaining popularity in the West is the split-season agreement, whereby a conservation organization or public agency compensates an irrigator to forego water use in the late summer, when rivers are most depleted. A five-mile section of Colorado’s Little Cimarron River will benefit permanently from such an agreement, turning a stretch of previously dry riverbed into a flowing stream, while maintaining the agricultural use of the water right during the most-productive part of the growing season.
Strategies like these can preserve streams while sustaining agriculture and rural economies.
It is time to build on lessons learned from farmers, ranchers, businesses, and conservationists who are moving beyond the win-lose battles of the past and are working together to achieve mutually beneficial outcomes for agriculture, the environment, and local economies.
Before long, the “use it or lose it” mantra may give way to “waste not, want not.”
Sandra Postel is the author of “Replenish: The Virtuous Cycle of Water and Prosperity” and co-creator of the water restoration campaign Change the Course.
Lesli Allison is executive director of the Western Landowners Alliance.
From KUNC (Luke Runyon):
We wade through a creek just downstream from a beaver dam, one of many in this stretch near the headwaters of North St. Vrain Creek. Without the beavers’ work, their engineering prowess, this diverse wetland wouldn’t be here. The valley bottom instead would slowly transform back into a grassy plain and the stream would return to its banks, cutting deeper into the landscape, [Juli] Scamardo says. The whole ecosystem would suffer.
“They definitely are engineers,” she says. “They change their environment to suit them and it also happens to suit a lot of other species.”
Scamardo is a master’s student at Colorado State University, studying how beavers alter landscapes.
Few species manipulate their surroundings enough to make big ecological changes. Humans are one. Beavers are another.
At one point, the rodents numbered in the hundreds of millions in North America, changing the ecological workings of countless streams and rivers. As settlers moved West, they hunted and trapped them to near extinction. Now there are new efforts — not just in Rocky Mountain National Park, but across the Western U.S. — to boost their numbers, and in turn, get us more comfortable with the way they engineer rivers and streams.
The North St. Vrain Creek beavers are a tough bunch.
Heavy snow melt runoff from the jagged peaks of the Front Range frequently undoes all their hard work. On the main creek, away from the marshy wetland, Alex Brooks, a Colorado State University watershed science PhD student, points to a beaver dam made of willows, mud and aspen branches. Last year, the creek blew out the dam. And now it’s back.
“So they were homeless for a little while,” I say, not fully understanding the mechanics of beaver habitats.
“They don’t actually live in these,” Brooks says. “They build these to flood the vegetation … They’ll build lodges where they live. The dams they build all over the place not just where they live.”
“Oh, I feel like that’s a misconception,” I say. “Don’t people think that every dam has beavers inside of it?”
Brooks kindly agrees.
“Yeah, I think that’s probably true,” he says.
Much like us, beavers build dams for their own benefit. They make ponds to protect their lodges and flood areas to increase the vegetation they feed on and use for building materials. While their motivations are selfish, they end up helping their woodland friends, like elk, moose, birds, fish and insects.
Scientists have shown we get lots of benefits, too. Beaver dams improve water quality, trap and store carbon — and in the aggregate could be a significant way of storing groundwater in dry climates.
Beaver reintroduction projects are already underway in Nevada, Utah, Wyoming and Washington state. Sections of Rocky Mountain National Park, and vast swathes of the American West, seem primed for a beaver comeback, Scamardo says, but they’re not showing up.
“So we’re still asking the question of like, ‘What else do you want?’” she says. “Having a beaver psychologist would really be the best for one of these projects but we don’t have any of those.”
From WyoFile (Maggie Mullen):
It’s no secret that water is a problem in the West. Historically, the humble beaver helped maintain wetlands and ponds across the arid landscape but their populations were decimated during the fur trade and their numbers dropped dramatically from 400 million to just 100,000 by the turn of the twentieth century. But Canada’s national animal is making a comeback and scientists think they have an important role to play as our region fights drought.
Too many ranchers and landowners out here, the beaver is a destructive little beast. Not only can it wreak havoc on irrigation systems, it can take down trees, nibble through fiber-optic internet cables, and cause the occasional flood. But if you ask Jeremy Maestas, he said there’s much more to the animal.
“Just through their diligence and 24-hour work ethic, they’re making amazing things happen in the streams,” said Maestas. “And because they’ve been here for millennia, the plants that live here have evolved with their browsing and beavery.”
Maestas is a wildlife biologist and he said the beaver is essentially a walking, talking ecosystem. Instead of just using dams to control water, Maestas said we could also follow the beavers lead. He called it a “sticks and stones” approach.
“Rather than diesel fuel and Tonka toys, we just direct the water to move sediment and grow vegetation, and do all the good things we want the ecosystem to do,” said Maestas.
One of those good things includes storing more water in the ground. Across the Mountain West, most precipitation comes in the wintertime. But when snow melts, it can often be in a hurry. Turning into runoff or rushing down a stream to a bigger river, and far away from where it’s needed.
But if it encounters something like a beaver dam, Maestas said the water gets delayed.
“The longer that we can keep that on the landscape, we increase the productivity of those plants. And ultimately leads to more drought resilience, right? These sponges fill up with water. It’s like putting money in the piggy bank for those lean times,” Maestas said.
Lean times like when you don’t get a lot of snow. Or, when rising temperatures mean snowmelt happens early and the rush of water comes too soon for peak water demand in the growing season…
“But it really isn’t until you get down in the mud and you start building these that you understand the process that you’re trying to fix,” Maestas added.
So one afternoon in early August, about 40 people got their toes wet—and muddy—building a few of these beaver-like dams on a Nature Conservancy testing ground in Wyoming. The group mostly included people from agencies like the Bureau of Land Management and Game and Fish.
“I feel like this is the perfect day to try something new,” said Corissa Busse, who works for The Nature Conservancy in South Dakota.
She and the others spent about a day and a half in the classroom, learning what makes a beaver tick. They won’t have the power of chisel-like teeth, so workshop instructor Joe Wheaton told them to be creative.
“You’ll have shovels—very useful. You’ll have buckets. Please don’t put the buckets back together without cleaning them first. You’ll have loppers. You’ll have hands. Make sure everybody’s got gloves, everybody’s got eye protection,” said Wheaton.
They brought some untreated fence posts from town to build the dams, but otherwise, they had to use supplies from the area just like a beaver would. That meant willow branches, sticks, stones and mud. The materials allow the structure to be porous. Water can trickle through, but flows will still slow down long enough to soak deep into the ground.
Jeremy Maestas said there’s another big difference between this and a dam.
“We don’t want to be constantly coming back in here with human labor and effort trying to keep it alive,” said Maestas. “So, the sooner we can turn it over to Mother Nature, to do her job, the better off we’re all going to be.”
By Mother Nature, Maestas meant beavers. Once these human-made dams are established, they will re-introduce the animal into the area.
Maestas said this won’t work everywhere, especially in more urban settings, or places where the animal could interfere with infrastructure. But in the right setting, Maestas said, “We’re bringing nuisance animals into areas where they’re wanted.”
That way, he said, maybe beavers can begin to solve the problem of water in the West.
Celebrating Water Quality Month, from mountain to tap.
Source: Water Kept Safe – News on TAP
After a so-so start to the southern Arizona summer “monsoon” season, storms pounded Tucson through early August with almost rhythmic frequency.
It was much the same in the metropolitan Phoenix area, which saw an unusual spate of strong storms moving through Arizona’s south-central Valley on five out of six days beginning on August 7.
On July 18, a an estimated “1,000-year” storm dumped an astonishing six inches of rain on Flagstaff, with 4.5 inches of it pouring down in a span of just two hours.
The summer storm season has been so strong at times…
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The Colorado River Research Group has published a new paper. Click here to read the release. Here’s an excerpt:
Across the Colorado River Basin, the elevation of Lake Mead is a common point of discussion and concern. Even casual observers have come to recognize 1075’–roughly 4 feet below current (late August 2018) levels—as the elevation at which curtailments begin, and for many, the point at which the Colorado River crisis becomes real. As of today, it is highly unlikely that this threshold will be reached on January 1st of 2019, and Lower Basin curtailments will be narrowly avoided for the fourth straight year. But this is not all good news, and is not evidence of successful crisis management. The reality of the situation is that the dominos have already begun to tumble, and the proof lies upstream in Lake Powell.
From 2000 through the end of 2018 (projected), Lake Powell’s elevation will have dropped approximately 94 feet despite Upper Basin consumption only averaging about 4.5 million acre‐feet (maf)/year. Several particularly dry years—including 2018—in a process of continuing aridification contributed to the drop, but ultimately it is the operational rules that are slowly but surely draining Lake Powell. Through 2018, cumulative releases since 2000 from the reservoir will be approximately 11 maf higher than the 8.23 maf/year baseline traditionally utilized by Reclamation (see figure on page 3). Had those excess releases remained in Lake Powell, the lake level would not have declined. However, those extra releases—now governed by the 2007 Interim Guidelines—are the only thing that has kept Lake Mead from dropping into shortage conditions. Current storage in Lake Mead is approximately 10 maf.
Continuing this operational pattern will further drain Lake Powell and erode the benefits associated with its water storage, including Lower Basin water deliveries, Glen Canyon hydropower generation, and perhaps most importantly, the delicate interbasin truce brokered by the Law of the River and made operational by the two massive reservoirs. The structural deficit is the true villain in this story, mixing with the operational rules to drain Lake Powell.1 The process is already well underway. If storage in Lake Powell cannot rebound in an era where the Upper Basin consumes less than two‐thirds of its legal apportionment, then the crisis is already real.
Deciphering the Story of Lake Powell Elevations
Lake Powell entered the 21st century nearly full at 3681’ (21.4 maf), then declined rapidly before stabilizing at an uncomfortably low level (as shown below). Although Lake Powell does not have shortage triggering elevations as does Lake Mead, further elevation declines at Lake Powell prompt a variety of operational issues at Glen Canyon Dam’s hydropower facilities (via vortex and cavitation problems). This likely begins around 3525’ (approximately 5.9 maf); the official minimum power pool occurs at 3490’ (roughly 4.0 maf of live storage). This is significant for more than just hydropower users, as many key environmental and salinity control programs are funded from these hydropower revenues.2 Should the reservoir decline further, Lake Powell would move through the upper, mid and lower operational tiers that dictate the release volumes downstream to restore Lake Mead storage. At 3370’, Powell is at dead pool, and releases of any kind are impossible. To put these numbers in context, Powell is expected to end 2018 around 3587’ (approximately 10.5 maf, or half the 2000 value), while Lake Mead will hover around 1080’ (roughly 10 maf).
In the Lower Basin, the reasons behind Lake Mead declines, and the solution to those declines, is now widely understood: it is all about the structural deficit—i.e., the practice of consuming more water each year (including system losses) than enters the reservoir. Those simple inflow/outflow mathematics also apply to Lake Powell, but Powell ultimately tells a more complex story. For starters, storage in Lake Powell responds to the whims of nature with sudden, dramatic movements. Dry periods, such as 2002‐ 2005 and 2012‐2013, have an immediate impact (as shown above). We will see more of these dry periods, which become especially problematic when the reservoir is already low.3 In fact, 4 of the 10 lowest runoff years in record (going back to 1906 and using estimated values for 2018) have occurred since the turn of this century. Our hydrology is changing; so must our water use practices.
The story told by the wet years, however, is perhaps more illuminating. In reservoirs designed to provide multi‐year carryover storage, declines are expected in dry years, and recovery is expected in wet years. In the case of the Colorado, wet years occurred about 50% of the time in the 20th century, but since 2000 have occurred only 25% of the time. When large inflows do occur, current operational rules immediately trigger large releases. The experience in 2011 is illustrative: inflow was more than 5 maf higher than usual, but so was the subsequent release (as shown below). The inability of Lake Powell to achieve a lasting recovery in the wet years is another causality of how the Lower Basin structural deficit works its way through the operational rules. To view the structural deficit as a Lower Basin and/or a Lake Mead problem is thus much too simplistic; it is central to all the basin’s water supply woes.
Addressing the Lake Powell Problem
The ability of Lake Powell storage to recover in wet years could be enhanced by new operational rules, perhaps including changes to the location of the “balancing tiers” and/or the equalization threshold, the establishment of Upper Basin ICS (Intentionally Created Surplus) programs, and a wide range of other possibilities that reduce water consumption. These items will undoubtedly be discussed further in coming years. Better options might be found by thinking outside of this familiar framework. Lakes Mead and Powell, after all, are essentially one giant reservoir (bisected by a glorious ditch) if not for the Lee Ferry accounting station and the administrative delineation of Upper and Lower Basins. Managing—and thinking—of these facilities as two distinct reservoirs, one for the benefit of the Upper Basin and one for the Lower, now seems outdated. Even tinkering with these familiar elements of basin administration and the Law of the River are categorically off‐the‐table for many interests, but it might be worthwhile to think about what could be achieved in terms of water security, Grand Canyon (and perhaps Glen Canyon) restoration, and other objectives if we allowed ourselves more flexibility in managing (and perhaps modifying) the massive infrastructure investments already in place. Long‐term, we may have no choice to consider reform on this scale.
Currently, the future of Lake Powell—and for that matter, Lake Mead—is largely tied to the drought contingency plan (DCP) negotiations underway in both basins. The primary focus in the Lower Basin continues to be on avoiding deep curtailments, while the Upper Basin is increasingly coming to terms with potentially needing to manage a compact call or, at least, a loss of hydropower generation in Lake Powell. Already, these negotiations are pressing up against the deadline for starting negotiations on version 2 of the Interim Guidelines. For many in the basin, the next generation of Guidelines are the place to adopt a comprehensive solution—a sustainable water budget. This is something the current rules do not provide, even though they have extended the window of time for doing so. The new framework can potentially take many forms, but at a minimum, will need to recognize the linked future of the two basins, and the political necessity of addressing equity concerns among users, sectors, and regions. Admittedly, this is a tall order on a tight deadline, but the recent history of Lake Powell shows us that the status quo is untenable. In different ways, both reservoirs illustrate the same lesson: it is impossible to keep a bathtub full while the drain is left open.
Here’s the release from the Bureau of Reclamation (Patti Aaron/Marlon Duke):
The Bureau of Reclamation has released updated 5-year probability-based planning model projections for future Colorado River system conditions, which underscore the ongoing impact of record dry conditions across the basin. With spring and summer inflow to Lake Powell at only 36 percent of average, this year is one of the driest years in the past 19 years, which is the driest 19-year period in recorded history and one of the driest in the past 1,200 years. These projections show increased risk of declining reservoir elevations over the next 5 years. Specifically, the projections include a 57 percent likelihood for Lower Basin shortage in 2020—an increase from 52 percent from the April results. Furthermore, recently published results from the August 2018 24-Month Study operational model showed that another dry year like 2018 could drop the elevation of Lake Mead by 20 feet or more by mid-2020.
“These model projections further illustrate the continuing trend of drought and increasing dry conditions in the Colorado River Basin,” said Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman. “There is a real sense of urgency across the basin to protect the river’s supply in the face of increasing demand and ongoing drought—I applaud the actions of water managers in all seven states and look forward to completing a comprehensive, basin-wide drought contingency plan before the end of this year.”
These probability projections include considerable uncertainty as the long-term hydrologic assumptions used may not fully represent the possible future inflows that could occur. The Colorado River Simulation System planning model used for these projections is an important long-term planning tool for water managers across the basin. Conversely, the 24-Month Study operational model—which was most recently released on August 15—produces a single projection of reservoir conditions based on current inflow forecasts and reservoir conditions. Projections from the August 24-Month Study were used to determine annual operations for Lake Powell and Lake Mead for 2019. While Lake Mead is near the level that would—for the first time—trigger mandatory cuts to Lower Basin water deliveries, it will continue to operate in normal conditions through calendar year 2019. Annual operations for 2020 will be determined in August of 2019.
The most current 5-year probabilistic projections of future Colorado River system conditions are available at https://www.usbr.gov/lc/region/g4000/riverops/crss-5year-projections.html.
The August 2018 24-Month Study operational models are available at: https://www.usbr.gov/uc/water/crsp/studies/index.html or https://www.usbr.gov/lc/region/g4000/24mo/index.html.
Click here for all the inside skinny from WellOwner.org:
Protect Your Groundwater Day (September 4, 2018) provides an opportunity for people to learn about the importance of groundwater and how the resource impacts lives. Your involvement and passion during the week is what makes PYGWD so successful, and we have put together free marketing materials to help guide you through the event.
From The Colorado Independent (John Herrick):
On June 1, a spark near the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gage Railroad ignited a flame in the Animas River gorge north of Durango. The fire would burn for weeks, torching more than 55,000 acres and filling the air with smoke.
Then came the rain.
“Mother Nature is the one that really helped out,” Bruce Whitehead, executive director of the Southwestern Water Conservation District told a group of water experts and planners at the Colorado Water Congress in Vail this week.
But Mother Nature also wreaked havoc. As the rainwater hit the burn scar and flowed along the dry surface into the Animas and its tributaries, the ash and debris it brought down with it suffocated fish and clogged irrigation ditches, Whitehead said. It also forced the Durango water utility to shut off its water intake due to high turbidity for several days and instead draw from nearby reservoirs.
The fallout of the 416 Fire is an example of how hotter, drier conditions due to climate change are making it tougher to plan water supplies in Colorado. And it is just one example of how the impacts of drought – and the broader effects of “aridification” – are being felt across the state.
For the first time, Aspen has called for stage 2 mandatory water restrictions. This includes limiting lawn watering to no more than three days a week and running sprinklers no more than 30 minutes a day.
There are currently fishing restrictions — some voluntary, some mandatory — on eight rivers in Colorado because of low flows and high water temperatures. Anglers and rafters who make their living on those rivers have had to limit their trips like never before.
Ranchers are selling off their cattle because drought has limited their natural food supplies and caused hay prices to rise.
And there is a potential for a first-ever “call” on the Yampa River, which flows through Dinosaur National Monument. That would limit users from drawing upon the Yampa in order to maintain minimum required flow levels.
These developments have brought a sense of anxiety to the annual meeting of statewide water bosses and watchdogs.
“We are not going to be able to rely on the historical hydrology that occured before 2000 to make decisions going forward,” said Lain Leoniak, a water lawyer in the Colorado Attorney General’s office. “This is a Colorado River system problem.”
A NASA report has found that drought conditions are becoming more common in the Western U.S. Several water experts at this week’s conference scoffed at the term “drought,” preferring instead “aridification,” meaning not just a lack of rainfall, but a wholescale transformation of Western land into a drier landscape.
Colorado is expected to warm 2.5 degrees Fahrenheit by 2050 due to climate change, according to a Western Water Assessment study. As a parable for what to expect, the Water Congress held a panel discussion about Cape Town, a South African city of four million people that nearly ran out of water earlier this year.
Warmer, drier weather in the West has extended the fire season and made forests more prone to burning. It has also warmed up waterways and increased the rate of evaporation from rivers and reservoirs. This creates challenges for both water quality and quantity.
“I think nature could throw curve balls at us that are on the order of Cape Town,” said Brad Udall, a member of the Colorado River Research Group and a water and climate researcher at Colorado State University (also a former Colorado Independent board member). Udall added that “Day zero” – meaning the day water sources run dry – “happens here potentially because a community has only one water source and that source gets hammered for some reason — be it ash or low flows.”
‘I don’t think we have a choice’
Colorado has a statewide water plan, crafted with great fanfare by Gov. John Hickenlooper’s administration. But implementing it has been difficult due to lack of funding and a dearth of knowledge about what to expect in Colorado’s water future.
The Statewide Water Supply Initiative (SWSI), which previously predicted Colorado will run out of water in 2050, began in 2016. A full, updated report is long overdue and now expected in July of 2019.
Russ Sands, senior program manager at the Colorado Water Conservation Board, said population increases and climate change are key factors that determine water supply. The SWSI will include a variety of different scenarios with different water forecasts. Sands said he hopes it will help water planners better prepare for climate change and a variety of potential scenarios.
One scenario is already playing out. Spring snowmelt now comes one to four weeks earlier than it did about three decades ago, according to a 2018 report by the Rocky Mountain Climate Organization. Given earlier seasonal peak snowpack runoff, one strategy is to store the water in a reservoir.
John Porco, the president of the San Juan Water Conservation District, has been trying to build such a reservoir on a diversion off the San Juan River near Pagosa Springs. The project is known as the San Juan Headwaters Project, and previously Dry Gulch. It began in earnest following especially dry conditions in 2002. But it lacks community support. Voters in Archuleta County rejected a mill levy increase last November to help fund the project.
Porco said the reservoir is needed to ensure the community can keep the water to which it has a right under Colorado’s complex water law system. It also could be used to regulate flows of the San Juan for fish and wildlife and boaters, he added.
“If things get really bad, we don’t have a backup,” he said of his community’s current drought preparedness.
But conservationists argue that building more water storage is not the silver bullet.
“Storage is just a bucket,” said Abby Burk, western rivers program manager for Audubon Rockies. “It doesn’t create any new water.”
Instead, Burk said water managers need to be thinking about new ideas for conservation and efficiency.
But, as with reservoirs like the one Porco wants to build, there isn’t much money to get these projects off the ground. Most of the money for water conservation projects comes from the state’s tax on oil and gas production, known as the severance tax. But that funding source is proving to be insufficient and far too volatile because it hinges on fluctuations in oil and gas prices. Tax deductions that oil and gas companies claim also have chipped away at revenues, especially since 2016 following a lawsuit brought by BP America.
As a result, funding specifically for the Colorado Water Plan was slashed this year from $10 million to $7 million. Lawmakers also had to use money from Colorado’s sales and income taxes to keep environmental regulatory agencies operating through the next year.
The two major-party candidates running for Colorado governor hinted at a possible funding plan when they spoke to the Water Congress this week.
State Treasurer Walker Stapleton, a Republican, said there are “opportunities for Colorado to expand revenues” through sports betting and medical marijuana, but noted he wants to fund the water plan without raising taxes. He declined an interview for clarification after his speech, leaving through an exit at the side of the ballroom. His spokesperson did not return an emailed request seeking elaboration on how medical marijuana could pay for the water plan without a tax increase.
Congressman Jared Polis, the Democratic nominee for governor, spoke of a stakeholders’ group working on a funding proposal that includes ideas ranging from sports betting to bottle fees. But he did not say how, if elected, he would prefer to fund a water plan that he deems necessary.
“I look forward to hearing your ideas,” he said.
State lawmakers, in the meantime, are considering new funding ideas.
Sen. Don Coram, a Republican from Montrose who serves on the Agriculture, Natural Resources and Energy Committee, mentioned a water bottle tax, a 25-cent per thousand gallon water meter surcharge, and a sales tax as potential other sources of revenue. He also wants to pay back some of the severance tax money used to balance the budget in prior years. According to a February memo by the Joint Budget Committee, $322 million in severance tax dollars have been transferred to the General Fund since 2001.
“I don’t think we have a choice. We’re not producing any more water. We have to manage the water we have,” Corum told The Colorado Independent at the end of this year’s legislative session in May. “We need money to do that.”
Call on the River
A new forecast by the Bureau of Reclamation estimates that Lake Mead – formed behind Hoover Dam to store Colorado River water for the Lower Basin states of Arizona, Nevada and California – could fall below a critical level by 2020. Currently, the reservoir is just four and a half feet above 1,075 feet, the point at which Colorado and other Upper Basin states may have to release their share of stored water from Lake Powell into Lake Mead in what would be known as a “call” on the River. The 1922 Colorado River Compact requires the Upper Basin — Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico and Utah — to send at least 7.5 million acre-feet per year to the Lower Basin. The so-called Law of the River would require users with newer rights to water to have to give up water first, depending on how curtailments are carried out.
Even so, Eric Kuhn, a retired manager of the Colorado River Water Conservation District, said compacts are only agreements to agree. He seemed worried about total supplies in a complex Western water law system that divided water rights between Western states nearly a century ago and in which farmers and ranchers often have higher water priority than urban and suburban users.
“Deep uncertainty implies that you have to be flexible,” said Kuhn. “Nature may not care if you have a decree or not.”
From the Associated Press (Dan Elliott) via The Glenwood Springs Post Independent:
The drought-stressed Colorado River carried even less water than expected this summer, increasing the odds of a shortage in the vital river system in 2020, federal water managers said Friday.
The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation said the chances of a shortfall in Lake Mead, the river’s biggest reservoir, are now 57 percent, up from the 52 percent projected in May.
The river and its tributaries serve 40 million people and 6,300 square miles of farmland in Mexico and the U.S. states of Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Wyoming and Utah. A nearly two-decade drought, coupled with rising demand from growing cities, has reduced the amount of water available in Lake Mead and the river’s other big reservoir, Lake Powell.
If the surface of Lake Mead drops below 1,075 feet above sea level, some deliveries would be cut under agreements governing the system. Arizona, Nevada and Mexico would have their shares reduced first in a shortage.
A shortage has never occurred in the river.
“There is a real sense of urgency across the basin to protect the river’s supply in the face of increasing demand and ongoing drought,” said Brenda Burman, chief of the Bureau of Reclamation.
The forecast worsened because Lake Powell, which is upstream from Lake Mead, collected about 500,000 acre-feet (600 million cubic meters) less water than expected between April and July, said Patti Aaron, a spokeswoman for the bureau. One acre-foot is enough to supply a typical U.S. family for a year.
That means Powell will be up to 5 feet lower than expected, with less water available to release into Lake Mead…
The Bureau of Reclamation dates the Colorado River region’s drought to 2000, but some researchers have said the river might be experiencing a longer-term shift to a drier climate, called aridification.
From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Liz Forster):
Last week, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicted a 70 percent chance of an El Niño for the 2018-19 winter. Tom Di Liberto, a meteorologist with NOAA, said it’s too early to say with confidence the strength of the climate variation event.
“As we move into the fall, our models and the ocean-atmosphere conditions will be clearer and we can better determine how strong the El Niño will be,” he said. ”The stronger the El Niño, the more consistent with the general pattern of an El Niño this winter will be.”
Colorado straddles the jet stream as it runs across the northern and southern tiers of the United States, and scientists have not been able to find corollary data between El Niño events and the snow conditions in Colorado.
“In general, I don’t tend to make a whole lot out of El Niño predictions in terms of snow conditions in Colorado because we’re right in that inflection point,” Molotch said.
He continued, “You also have to remember that the Sierras, the mountains in the Pacific Northwest and others in the western Rockies are really efficient in squeezing snow out of these storm systems. By the time those storms get to Colorado, you don’t have a significant amount of snowfall.”
Even if Colorado’s winter definitively sways with the northern or southern jet stream, the characteristics ascribed to El Niño events are influenced by other climactic and weather elements that are unique to a specific winter season.
”We don’t necessarily see storms moving to the same places and in the same direction winter-to-winter in a normal year, which is also the case for an El Niño year,” Di Liberto said. “Every winter has other factors that can tweak the characteristics of a general El Niño.”
As Colorado awaits its uncertain snow season, the state is expected to remain in drought through the end of November with above-average temperaturesThe seasonal drought outlook for Aug. 16 through Nov. 30 produced by the Climate Prediction center forecast drought to persist but improve in the southern part of the state, but to persist without improvement in the central and northwest corner.
El Paso County — which currently is a mosaic of abnormally dry, moderate drought and severe drought — sits in the latter of the two predictions.
From The Albuquerque Journal (Maddy Hayden):
Recent rainfall has done little to assuage long-term drought conditions throughout New Mexico.
“We’re still seeing these long-term lingering effects,” National Weather Service senior hydrologist Royce Fontenot said Tuesday in conference call. “The very dry winter and spring have done a lot of damage to the environment.”
Some monitoring stations, Fontenot said, went more than 100 days without measurable precipitation since October, and “it really seemed like someone turned off the tap” to the start of the monsoon season, so they are still at a precipitation deficit.
The worst drought conditions in the country are centered over Colorado, Utah, Arizona and northwestern New Mexico, as well as north-central New Mexico, where precipitation levels are well below normal.
That area remains in exceptional drought.
Conditions have also worsened in the Roswell area, which is now in extreme drought.
The portion of the state in exceptional drought decreased from 15.68 percent last month to 14.54 percent.
Much of the rest of state has improved to severe and moderate drought conditions.
On Wednesday, the board of the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority voted to lease 20,000 acre-feet of water from Abiquiu Reservoir to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation for $2 million to keep the Rio Grande flowing through Albuquerque, largely for the protection of endangered species…
John Stomp, chief operating officer of the water authority, said that without rain and this intervention, the Rio Grande would likely have soon gone dry from the Bernalillo Bridge to Central Avenue.
Last week, the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District announced it was expecting to run out of storage reserves by the end of this week.
By catching some of the 20,000 acre-feet that leaks from the Rio Grande into their drainage systems – and thanks to Wednesday’s rain – that day may now come on Sunday or Monday.
“We’re in the position now where every little bit helps and it should be a good thing for us,” said David Gensler, water operations manager for the district. “We’ve managed to kick the can down the road a little bit.”
One of the reservoirs the district uses for storage, El Vado, is at just 6 percent of capacity.
As storage runs out, farmers around the state have had to cut back on irrigation.
The lack of rainfall has curtailed grass and hay growth.
From The Summit Daily (Deepan Dutta):
El Niño can shift jet streams south, pushing cooler, wetter weather into Colorado’s backyard, whereas La Niña usually shifts the jetstream north and brings the opposite — hotter, drier weather — to the western U.S. La Niña was one of the reasons for the drought and wildfires across the west this summer…
Even in an El Niño year, other factors, such as local temperatures and the exact path of the jet stream that separates the cool and dry air, may be more important than the broader pattern occurring in the Pacific, and even a minor jetstream shift can change local day-to-day weather patterns.
From the New Mexico Political Report (Laura Paskus):
Earlier this week, the [Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District] had already announced it anticipated entering Prior and Paramount Operations—when it can only meet the irrigation needs of about 8,800 acres of pueblo lands, which have the most senior water rights in the valley.
That includes the pueblos of Kewa, Cochiti, San Felipe, Santa Ana, Sandia and Isleta. Because the pueblos were here long before any of the valley’s other communities, when Congress passed an act in 1928 supporting the irrigation district’s creation, it noted that the water rights to those pueblo lands are “prior and paramount to any rights of the district.”
The pueblos have worked with the irrigation district and federal water officials this year, according to MRGCD, managing Prior and Paramount waters to “support regular irrigation as long as possible, for the benefit of all irrigators.”
No quick end to Article VII
Poor snowpack and low runoff has also forced other water users on the Rio Grande to exhaust their supplies. As of Thursday, for example, Elephant Butte Reservoir is at just 5.5 percent of its capacity, holding just over 107,000 acre feet of water.
In May, New Mexico entered into Article VII restrictions when combined storage in Elephant Butte and Caballo reservoirs dropped below 400,000 acre feet. Under Article VII of the Rio Grande Compact, that means Colorado and New Mexico can’t store water in any upstream reservoirs built after 1929—including El Vado.
“We will anxiously watch the snowpack this winter in hopes that it will provide some relief for the next year,” said U.S. Bureau of Reclamation spokeswoman Mary Carlson. “If we exit Article VII restrictions at all next year, it likely won’t be until June at the earliest.”
She added that means storage in El Vado will be limited to Prior and Paramount water for pueblo lands and then relinquishment credit water for MRGCD until the combined storage in Elephant Butte and Caballo rises above 400,000 acre feet.
That will be a long climb, she said. Projections currently show Elephant Butte and Caballo will have about 75,000 acre feet at the end of this season.
“Of course we will gladly anticipate any forecast that calls for above average precipitation,” she said. “We will hope for the best, but manage our supplies cautiously as we are aware that forecasted precipitation, especially with above average temperatures, doesn’t always provide as much benefit as we’d like.”
El Niño conditions favor, but don’t guarantee, a wet winter for NM
During the monthly National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration climate briefing on Thursday, climate and weather experts noted El Niño conditions have a 70 percent chance of developing in the fall, and they forecasted wetter-than-normal conditions in the southwestern United States for November, December and January.
“We’re more likely to have El Niño than not,” said Dan Collins, meteorologist and seasonal forecaster at NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center. But, he added, the predicted El Niño doesn’t look to be a strong one.
By tracking temperatures in the Pacific Ocean, scientists attempt to forecast what will happen across land surfaces. Typically, during El Niño conditions, the track of winter storms coming off the Pacific moves southward. For the swath of land from southern California eastward across the southern part of the U.S. to Florida, El Niño conditions can mean more winter storms. That is, it sets up the conditions for wetter weather but doesn’t guarantee them.
During Thursday’s climate briefing, Jake Crouch, a climate scientist with NOAA, pointed out that the contiguous United States had its 11th-warmest July on record—and there were record warm temperatures across much of the West, including in New Mexico.
The first seven months of the year were also warmer than normal. For the 25th consecutive year, Crouch said, January-to-July temperatures nationwide exceeded the 20th century mean. And New Mexico and Arizona experienced their warmest years to date in 124 years of record-keeping.
That warming trend will likely continue across the West through the fall, particularly in the Four Corners states.
“What El Niño tends to bring us is actually somewhat cooler temperatures, and so when we see a forecast of warmer-than-normal temperatures, that mostly reflects warming trends,” said David Gutzler, a climate scientist and professor in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences at the University of New Mexico. “But this year, that forecast is tempered somewhat by El Niño.”
Even as the climate continues its warming trend, there will be natural variability in weather patterns from year to year—swings between wet years and dry years. That’s different from changes in the climate, which relate to long-term averages.
NOAA also forecasted an improvement through the fall and winter in drought conditions across the Four Corners, including New Mexico and Arizona.
Gutzler said it’s worth being cautious about that, since drought outlooks are based on local precipitation and don’t take into account things like reservoir storage, which relies upon snowpack.
“I’ll be an optimist and say, [based on what we know] historically, if El Niño develops as projected and persists through the winter, the odds get shifted somewhat toward good snowpack conditions,” he said. But another important question for water managers—and users—is what happens at the end of winter and in early spring.
Warm winters, and early springs mean that snowpack melts too early and too quickly.
“I don’t think one wet winter solves all of our long-term water challenges, but I don’t want to dismiss how great it would be to get a really healthy snowpack,” he said. “We will root for a wet winter—I will, anyway.”
From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith):
Water managers from around the state gathered for a three-day meeting of the Colorado Water Congress this week and were told it was time to develop a plan to cut back on water use in Colorado in order to prevent a compact call on the Colorado River.
At the heart of such a plan is a reduction in the use of water by agriculture — on a voluntary, temporary and compensated basis — in order to send more water downriver to bolster levels in Lake Powell.
If the giant reservoir, which is now 49 percent full, drops much lower, then Glen Canyon Dam, which forms Lake Powell, will not be able to produce electricity or release enough water to meet the terms of the 1922 Colorado River Compact, which requires Colorado, Wyoming and Utah to send water to California, Arizona and Nevada.
Colorado state officials are now taking steps to put together a “demand management” plan to bolster reservoir levels but are also careful to say the plan may still not be necessary, depending on how much snow falls in coming winters.
During a panel on the topic on Friday, Aug. 24, Lain Leoniak, an attorney in the Colorado attorney general’s office, said state and regional water managers were now engaged in what amounts to “emergency response planning.”
“The goal is to identify methods to provide additional security to the entire Colorado River system to address this unprecedented hydrology that we’re experiencing, and have been since 2000,” Leoniak said.
There are three main elements of a such a regional drought contingency plan: short-term releases of water from the big reservoirs above Lake Powell, including Flaming Gorge, Navajo and Blue Mesa reservoirs; cloud-seeding to produce a deeper snowpack; and “demand management.”
“Demand management is defined as the temporary, voluntary and compensated reductions of diversions to conserve water that would otherwise be consumptively used, when and if it is needed,” Leonick told the crowd at the Water Congress meeting.
State water officials, led by staff at the Colorado Water Conservation Board, have been reaching out to water managers and users around the state over the past few months, trying to figure out how such a plan might work. And this year’s hot drought has added urgency, and relevance, to their work.
One such regional demand management effort, known as the System Conservation Pilot Program, has been underway over the past four years and has been paying willing ranchers and farmers about $200 per acre-foot of conserved consumptive use.
‘Reduction in use’
But the program has also identified the need for a way to track, or shepherd, the saved water as it makes its way downstream to Lake Powell.
It’s also shown a need for a new legally identified pool of water in the big federal reservoir so that the upper basin states of Colorado, Wyoming and Utah can get credit for their water-saving efforts.
During the Friday discussion of demand management at the Water Congress meeting, Bruce Whitehead, the general manager of the Southwestern Water Conservation District, based in Durango, sought to put such an effort into plain terms.
“This is a reduction in use,” Whitehead said.
Whitehead also pointed out that “there are statewide usages of Colorado River water” and voluntary reductions of use of Colorado River water now diverted under the Continental Divide to the Front Range are going to have to be part of the solution.
“In tough times like this, we have to learn to work together,” he said.
Andy Mueller, the general manager of the Colorado River Water Conservation District, seconded the theme.
“Our fear is that we’re not working cooperatively, and openly, in a very informed manner as a state, and we’re going to end up putting the West Slope agriculture as the sacrificial lamb on the alter of the Colorado River,” Mueller said. “And our belief is that will, in the short term, hurt the West Slope. In the long term, it will hurt the state.”
Lee Miller, an attorney for the Southeastern Water Conservancy District, which is based in Pueblo and imports water from the Colorado River basin, said it will be important to develop a demand management plan that has flexibility built into it, especially in the early years.
“The key part of this is that we have to have a framework that is flexible, one that allows us to make changes,” Miller said. “When we start making demands, and start making bright lines, ‘no this, no that,’ we put ourselves in a very difficult position to adjust in uncertain times.”
Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism is covering the Colorado River basin in collaboration with the Vail Daily, The Aspen Times, and other news organizations. The Vail Daily published this story on Saturday, Aug. 25, 2018.
Click here to read the latest update from the Colorado Water Conservation Board (Ben Wade):
In response to persistent and prolonged drought conditions throughout the southern half of the state and along the western border, the Governor activated the Colorado Drought Mitigation and Response Plan for the agricultural sector on May 2, 2018, additional information can be found HERE.
With only six weeks left in the 2018 water year, October through July of this year has been the second warmest and the fifth driest October through July period in the 123 year record. However, statewide values poorly convey the stark contrast across the state. July and August to-date have been as much as 5 degrees above average in parts of western Colorado, while the northeastern plains have been near normal with some isolated record low temperatures. Monsoon rains have brought beneficial moisture to some regions including the San Luis Valley and Arkansas Basin, however the Northwest has seen limited precipitation resulting in worsening drought conditions. This week brought nearly an inch of rain to parts of Mesa County, yet the 2018 water year remains the driest year on record for the Grand Mesa; indicating long term deficits continue to dominate.
■ SNOTEL water year to-date precipitation statewide is 67 percent of average, but ranges from 47 percent of average in the Southwest basins to 85 percent of average in the South Platte River Basin. The Rio Grande is at 53 percent of average; while the Gunnison is at 56 percent and would need 512 percent of average precipitation between now and September 30th to reach normal levels. The Arkansas is faring slightly better at 62 percent, while the northern basins of the Colorado and Yampa- White are at 76 and 75 percent of average, respectively.
■ High temperatures, and below average precipitation have led to increasing water demand across much of the state. Reservoir storage, statewide is at 86 percent of normal, with the Arkansas, Colorado, Yampa-White, South Platte and Rio Grande all near normal levels, despite recent declines. However, the Southwest basins of the San Miguel, Dolores, Animas & San Juan, and Gunnison have seen significant decreases in reservoir storage and are now at 52 and 64 percent of normal, respectively.
■ Warm water temperatures, coupled with low flows continue to stress fish populations, with continued fish kills reported and state hatcheries are struggling to keep up supplies, many of these areas are also impacted by ash flows and post fire related water quality issues. Water users have been working collaboratively across the state to maintain flows, where possible, and voluntary fishing restrictions are the most widespread the state has seen.
■ Agriculture has been heavily impacted this growing season by both high temperatures, drought, and hail. Irrigation canals are being shut off early due to lack of supply, and fail and prevent crop acreage is high. Hay production is down and range conditions poor, producers are concerned about finding enough feed for cattle resulting in continued sell off.
■ Some small water systems are being impacted by both continued dry conditions resulting in limited supply, and some reports of water hauling to meet demands. Restrictions, both voluntary and mandatory have been enacted in some communities, with Front Range water providers better situated than small west slope communities with limited storage.
■ Long term forecasts indicate an increased likelihood of above average temperatures for September through November. Southwestern Colorado is forecast to continue to benefit from additional monsoon moisture and has an increased likelihood of above average precipitation into Fall.
■ An El Niño watch has been issued, meaning there is a greater than 70 percent chance of an El Niño developing, which could bring an increased chance of wet extremes for southern Colorado beginning this Fall, however the Northwest corner remain an area of big concern going into the fall, as El Niño can result in dry conditions to the north.
Click here to read the presentations.
From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith):
The Front Range water district that wants to build the Chimney Hollow Reservoir and pull more water from the Colorado River is delaying construction bids and issuing revenue bonds, citing a lawsuit by Save the Colorado, the Sierra Club and other environmental groups challenging federal approvals for the project.
The Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District had hoped to have the project, now estimated at $570 million, under construction by early 2019 and completed by 2023, but now it is uncertain when construction will begin because of the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Denver late last year.
“Our original schedule was to be out to bid about right now and we would be selling bonds right now,” Jeff Drager, Northern’s director of engineering, said earlier this month.
Chimney Hollow Reservoir is at the core of what’s known as the Windy Gap Firming Project. Northern, through its affiliated municipal subdistrict, plans to build the 90,000 acre-foot reservoir to provide a “firm annual yield” of 30,000 acre-feet of water from the Colorado River to nine Front Range cities, two water districts and a utility.
About 9,000 acre-feet a year of additional water is expected to be diverted from the headwaters of the Colorado River as a result of the project.
The 346-foot-tall dam, which would be the third tallest in Colorado, is located between Loveland and Longmont in Larimer County next to an existing reservoir, Carter Lake.
Drager said since the litigation was filed last year Northern has taken the opportunity to do more engineering and design work on the dam, including the upcoming drilling of 40 holes to further explore softer rock found at the location of the left abutment of the dam.
“We’re now scheduled to be at a point where we could go out to bid for construction and issue bonds probably in February or March,” he said.
But at that point Drager said Northern would have to see what progress has been made in the lawsuit.
“If I had to guess,” he said, “I’d say we’ll be slowed down.”
The parties in the lawsuit are waiting for the judge in the case to rule on if the voluminous administrative record in the case is complete, including on a motion to add a recent report commissioned by Save the Colorado on actual water use, and if motions to intervene in the case by Northern, the Colorado Department of Natural Resources and the city of Broomfield will be accepted…
The lawsuit contends that a review of the proposed project by the Bureau of Reclamation and the Army Corps of Engineers under the National Environmental Policy Act was flawed and that the resulting approvals should be overturned.
The federal review of the project began 2003. Reclamation issued its approval in 2014 and the Corps issued its approval in May 2017.
Five nonprofit environmental groups filed a lawsuit in October, including Save the Colorado, Save the Poudre, Living Rivers, the Waterkeeper Alliance and WildEarth Guardians. The Colorado chapter of the Sierra Club joined the lawsuit in November.
“The Windy Gap Firming Project is an apt example of inadequate analysis and poor decision-making that will ultimately result in significant new diversions from the Colorado River to provide the Front Range with unneeded water supply,” the environmental groups told the court in a recent brief.
The delay in issuing bonds means that the 12 entities paying for the project will have to contribute $10 million in cash to allow Northern to keep the project moving forward, instead of using money expected to be available after selling municipal bonds. The 12 entities have put in $34 million to date toward the project.
“We had hoped that our funding for 2019 was going to come from sale of the bonds and starting construction, but because of the litigation that we have, that’s delayed a little bit,” Drager told Northern’s board of directors at a meeting in Berthoud on August 9. “That $10 million will be provided by the participants in early 2019 and that should carry us through, we hope, until we are ready to put the project out to bid and sell the bonds to pay the rest of the cost.”
Northern owns and operates the Colorado-Big Thompson Project, which includes the huge Lake Granby Reservoir and the Adams Tunnel that sends over 200,000 acre-feet of water of Colorado River each year under Rocky Mountain National Park to the east slope.
The C-BT Project also diverts water pumped up from the relatively small 445-acre-foot Windy Gap Reservoir, built in the early 1980s to serve as a pumping forebay on the Colorado River, just below its confluence with the Fraser River in Grand County.
But Windy Gap is limited in how much water it can deliver because of its junior water rights and instream-flow obligations below the dam.
Northern says Chimney Hollow Reservoir will allow it to pump water from Windy Gap in wetter years and store the water until needed in drier years by the 12 participating entities, which include Broomfield, Greeley, Longmont and Loveland.
But the environmental groups say the federal agencies reviewed the proposed project with an overly narrow focus on how to fix the Windy Gap project and not on other potential ways to meet Front Range water demands.
“Reclamation did not seriously consider reasonable alternatives to provide water to Windy Gap participants and allowed (Northern) to plow ahead with its original choice — the firming project — and double down on its busted bet,” the lawsuit states.
Reclamation and the Corps told the court in May that the agencies conducted “an independent evaluation” and concluded the project “is needed to meet a portion of the existing and future water needs of the growing east slope municipalities.”
Northern, on its website, points out “the project has been approved by the U. S. Bureau of Reclamation, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Grand County, Colorado Parks and Wildlife and endorsed by Gov. John Hickenlooper. It also has support from several environmental groups such as Trout Unlimited.”
The support from some environmental organizations, including Trout Unlimited, stems from the mitigation measures designed to reduce its impact on the Colorado River headwaters, including a new bypass, or connectivity, channel that will allow more of the river to flow past the Windy Gap Reservoir.
Lurline Underbrink Curran, the former county manager for Grand County, has also appealed to Robert Kennedy, Jr., of Waterkeeper Alliance, to drop the lawsuit.
“Any lawsuit that delays or stops this work is a detriment to the Colorado River,” Currant wrote in Oct. 2017. “If the Windy Gap Project does not go forward, the hard-won concessions evaporate, and the Colorado River will continue to degrade.”
Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism is covering the Roaring Fork and Colorado River basins for The Aspen Times. The Times published this story on its website on Tuesday, Aug. 21, 2018, as did the Glenwood Springs Post Independent.
From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith):
After getting two signed settlement agreements from the United States on July 23, the city of Aspen now has agreements with all of the parties contesting its conditional water storage rights in the Castle Creek valley, and with all but one of the parties opposing its rights in the Maroon Creek valley.
During a status conference in water court Tuesday about the two cases, the city’s water attorney, Cindy Covell of Alperstein and Covell, told the court that of the 10 opposing parties in the two cases, only one, Larsen Family LP, has yet to sign a settlement agreement with the city.
Covell also told the water court referee and opposing attorneys in the two cases, that she “appreciated everybody’s hard work and assistance in getting the Castle Creek case resolved, and as far as we’ve gotten on the Maroon Creek case. It was a real team effort and everybody was very helpful.”
The city now intends to ask the referee to move a proposed water-rights decree in the Castle Creek Reservoir case to a water court judge for review and expected approval.
And the city hopes to soon send a similar decree to the water court judge in the Maroon Creek Reservoir case.
Margaret Medellin, a utilities portfolio manager in Aspen’s water department, said the city is still talking about detailed language with the attorney for Larsen Family LP.
“I wish we had that last signature so we can really celebrate, but it seems like we keep having to push that out,” she said.
Craig Corona, the attorney for Larsen Family LP, told the court Tuesday, “I believe we are making progress in getting toward resolution.”
James DuBois, an attorney in the environmental and natural resources division of the U.S. Justice Dept. in Denver, said Wednesday he could “confirm that the United States has entered into stipulations in both 16CW3128 and 3129,” the Maroon Creek and Castle Creek reservoir cases.
The agreements in both cases allow the city to try to transfer as much as 8,500 acre-feet of its conditional water storage rights from the Castle and Maroon creek valleys to four potential locations between Aspen and Woody Creek in the Roaring Fork River valley, and do so without opposition from the parties in the cases.
The agreements also provide that if the city fails in its attempts to move the water rights out of the Castle and Maroon creek valleys, it is barred from returning to the originally decreed locations.
The city has said that all of the parties in each case need to sign agreements in order for the deals to be struck.
Rob Harris, an attorney at Western Resource Advocates who also represented Wilderness Workshop in the cases, said Tuesday he was pleased to “finalize the deal as it applies to Castle Creek.”
“This means there won’t be a big dam in that valley and that’s a win for the city, residents and anyone who cares about this place,” Harris said. “And now we’re looking forward to hopefully seeing the Maroon Creek case resolved in the same way.”
The cases began almost two years ago when the city filed periodic “diligence applications” with the state in an effort to maintain its 1971 rights for the reservoir.
The Maroon Creek Reservoir would hold 4,567 acre-feet of water behind a 155-foot-tall dam about 3 miles below Maroon Lake. The Castle Creek Reservoir would hold 9,062 acre-feet of water behind a 170-foot-tall dam about 3 miles below Ashcroft.
A total of 10 parties filed statements of opposition in the two diligence cases.
On Tuesday, the court set another status conference in the Maroon Creek case for Oct. 16, but did not set one in the Castle Creek case.
Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism is covering rivers and water in the Roaring Fork and Colorado River basins in collaboration with The Aspen Times and other news organizations. The Times published this story on Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2018.
From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):
Guzman Energy Group—the financier of Taos-based Kit Carson Electric Cooperative’s bid to develop renewable energy sources—this week announced it has secured $130 million from two Colorado-based investors, Boulder-based Vision Ridge Partners and Denver-based Zoma Capital.
Guzman gained attention in the Rocky Mountains in 2016 when it paid Tri-State Generation & Transmission a $37.5 million exit fee to break Kit Carson’s contract.
The co-operative had previously been committed to buying 95 percent of its electricity from Tri-State, a Denver-area based wholesale supplier now made up of 43 electrical co-operatives in Colorado, New Mexico, Wyoming and Nebraska. Included are the cooperatives serving Crested Butte, Telluride, Durango, Wolf Creek and several other ski areas.
Several of the co-ops serving mountain communities have discussed, either informally or in elections, the idea of seeking buy-outs of their contracts with Tri-State.
Tri-State remains heavily reliant on coal-based generation. Kit Carson, with the aid of Guzman, has set out to develop the solar potential of northern New Mexico.
Kit Carson and Guzman say that hitching their wagon to solar, instead of coal, will save the co-op’s 30,000 members $50 million to $70 million during the next decade.
With Guzman as financier, Kit Carson plans to develop up to 35 megawatts of small solar arrays by 2022. That will meet 35 percent of all electrical demand and 100 percent during daylight hours on sunny days.
Guzman has made it clear it is interested in providing energy services to other such as it is now providing for Kit Carson. Last March, for example, company representatives spoke about what Guzman could offer Pueblo, Colo., at a forum hosted by Pueblo’s Energy future.
Electricity for Pueblo is provided by Black Hills Energy, but the city council has adopted a 100 percent renewable energy goal. Pueblo recently has retained a firm to study how it might go about ending its contract with Black Hills.
It’s not clear just how important these investments are to Guzman’s plans. One individual in the co-op world interpreted the announcement as further proof that smart money is moving toward rapid development of renewable energy. But another individual, also speaking off the record, was more skeptical of the importance of the money to Guzman. In this view, this isn’t enough money to allow the company to pick up new clients as it did with Kit Carson. In this view, Guzman is and will remain a niche player.
About the investors:
Zoma Capital was co-founded by Ben and Lucy Ana Walton. Zoma Capital, based in Denver, invests in a broad range of market-based sustainable solutions addressing environmental and social challenges, with an emphasis on energy, water and community development, and with a geographic focus on Colorado and Chile.
Zoma’s website says that in Colorado in the realm of energy, it is focused on “accelerating energy technologies to create a more efficient, responsive and modernized electric grid.”
Ben Walton is the grandson of Walmart founder Sam Walton and, an architect by training, was reported by Business Insider in 2013 to be living in Aspen.
“Guzman energy’s efforts to realign the energy economy—in unique bilateral markets in New Mexico, Colorado and beyond—aligns with our dedication to investing in a more efficient, responsive and modernized electric grid,” said Melissa Cheong, chief investment officer of Zoma Capital in a prepared statement.
Vision Ridge Partners, which is based in Boulder, is a fund of $430 million that in 2014 launched a Sustainable Asset Fund with Capricorn Investment Group and the Grantham Foundation for the Protection of the Environment, according to the firm’s website. It was founded by Reuben Munger in 2008.
“At Vison Ridge, we focus on opportunities that are good for the environment that we also believe can deliver strong financial returns,” said Munger in a prepared statement. “And with Guzman Energy having been very vocal in sharing its long-term mission of making communities thrive and be more competitive, we see this as an excellent fit.”
Guzman describes itself as a full-service energy company whose services include providing wholesale power, energy trading and hedging services.
“We offer communities—empowered by their desire for a more sustainable and competitive energy future—a path to achieve their goals,” said Chris Riley, president of Guzman Energy.
“We accomplish this via a focus on renewables, mixed when necessary with traditional fuel types; smart-grid tech; increased efficiencies; battery storage; and more, thereby leading the efforts to transition our energy economy into the renewable age.”
Riley grew up in Utah, the son of a coal miner.
From ColoradoPolitics.com (Marianne Goodland) via The Cortez Journal:
A new forecast from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation shows signs that water levels at Lake Mead, which supplies water to three southwestern states and northern Mexico, could drop so low by next year that it could eventually result in a demand for more water from the Colorado River and from the upper basin states, including Colorado, that rely on the big river.
The ever-increasing shortages in those three southwestern states could eventually mean water shortages in Colorado, too.
The Bureau of Reclamation forecast estimated that Lake Mead, located on the Nevada-Arizona border, will need a release of 8.23 million acre-feet of water from Lake Powell, which is about 300 miles north on the Arizona-Utah border. Both reservoirs rely on the Colorado River for their water supplies.
That water release, likely to happen by 2020, will keep water levels at Mead at around 1,075 feet. That’s the minimum water level required to provide to supply enough water for the 40 million residents of southern California, Nevada (including Las Vegas) and Arizona, including Phoenix.
Why would that matter to Coloradans, especially those on the Front Range?
Lake Powell is Colorado’s insurance policy, says James Eklund, the Colorado representative on the Upper Colorado River Commission, an interstate agency that includes Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and New Mexico. The commission manages the Upper Colorado River and is working on what to do when water shortages downstream start demanding more water from its upstream source.
“A healthy Lake Mead means a healthy Lake Powell,” because Lake Powell stores water for Colorado and its fellow upper river states.
The Colorado River not only provides water to Nevada, Arizona, California and northern Mexico. It also supplies about half of the water that comes out of Front Range faucets and sprinklers. That happens through a series of tunnels, known as transmountain diversions, that cut through the mountains and over the Continental Divide and eventually fill many of the reservoirs along the Front Range.
The time may be coming when Colorado will be asked to share more of its water with the southern states.
In 1948, the seven states through which the Colorado River flows signed a compact that today requires the four Upper Colorado River states to send about 7.5 million acre-feet of water per year to the three lower states and Mexico. Las Vegas, for example, gets 90 percent of its water from Lake Mead. The reservoir is also a major water supply for Phoenix and Los Angeles.
In good water years, the upper Colorado River states send about 9 million (sometimes more) acre-feet down to Lake Powell and on to Lake Mead.
Eklund said sending less wanter isn’t necessarily good. The 8.23 million acre-feet forecast for 2020 is a sign of the sad shape of the river system, he said. There just is not enough water headed to Lake Mead. The Bureau of Reclamation estimates the chances of a shortage at Lake Mead in 2020 at 52 percent, Eklund said.
Everyone relies on the Colorado, he said. A shortage in the lower Colorado states means Colorado and the Upper Colorado River states are going to learn what it is like to live with shortages year after year.
“We don’t have the luxury of having the nation’s two largest reservoirs above us” like the Lower Colorado states do, Eklund explained. “We have snowpack – Mother Nature’s reservoir – but that’s a variable supply,” as Coloradans learned in this drought year.
There is also financial risk tied to shortages at Lake Mead that could affect Colorado and its Upper Colorado neighbors, said Taylor Hawes of the Nature Conservancy. Once Mead drops, and Powell drops with it, that could impact Powell’s ability to generate hydropower, and that means money, Hawes said.
Hydropower at Lake Powell generates revenue that repays the Bureau of Reclamation for a variety of water-related projects in the Upper Colorado states. If that revenue goes away or at least drops substantially, that is a bill that Colorado taxpayers will have to cover for projects tied to Endangered Species Act compliance, for example.
The underlying issue, Hawes said, is that the western United States is in a 19-year drying trend. “We used to say it’s a drought. After 19 years, we can say this is a pattern and trend that is punctuated by super dry years like 2002 and this year.”
One thing that might help stave off the shortage, or at least help all the seven states better prepare for a shortage, is drought contingency planning.
“We have to plan for the situation when there’s a shortage declared and that Mead and Powell are compromised,” Eklund explained. “We have to prop up our insurance policy in Lake Powell, either by pushing more water down there or by using less, and probably a combination of the two.”
Contingency planning has been in the works, one set for the upper states and another for the lower, for more than a year. Eklund said both groups hope to have that done by the end of this year. “Those plans have to work together.”
Hawes also points to the drought contingency plans being prepared by the interstate agencies as a way of preparing for what is coming, but there is one other plan that has not yet started, and that is one specific to Colorado.
The state of Colorado needs its own contingency plan, once the Upper Colorado plan is in place, Hawes said. It could look at, for example, statewide curtailment or reduction of water use, once those region-wide drought plans are implemented.
Conservation is another tool that Colorado citizens will also have to embrace more than they do now, said Ted Kowalski, who is with the Walton Family Foundation’s Colorado River Initiative.
As Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper has said, “every water conversation has to start with conservation,” Kowalski told Colorado Politics. “This is underscored by the current conditions.”
Kowalski has been involved in an incentive program for water savings that he said over time could make a significant difference in the water levels for both Lake Mead and Lake Powell.
The urgency at Lake Mead on the cusp of a declared shortage in 2020 “means we need to get our house in order on how to meet obligations by reducing water use,” Kowalski said. He has been involved in a system conservation pilot program, started three years ago, with a pool of money from Denver Water, the Walton Foundation, the Bureau of Reclamation and other water providers.
Under that program, farmers, ranchers and cities willing to conserve for the benefit of the entire system are paid to do so. Over the program’s three years – it is now heading into a fourth – water saved in the Upper Colorado states total somewhere between 25,000 to 40,000 acre-feet, about the size of Dillon Reservoir (when full). “We’ve seen the seeds of a water bank,” Kowalski said. The next step is to find sustainable funding.
The cost has not been cheap: The first two years, the program cost $11 million, the third year was $10 million, and this year the program will need $14 million. As Kowalski sees it, the cost is small compared to what the Colorado River means to the nation’s economy. It represents about 20 percent of the nation’s GDP, he said.
If the program launches on a grander scale, “it could ensure water sustainability” for the southwestern United States, he added.
As the state’s Air Quality Control Commission has agreed to look into establishing emission standards for new cars in Colorado, there’s a group working to gather signatures in support of stricter standards to the members.
Environment Colorado is a statewide citizen advocacy group with a stated mission protecting our land, water and air. News5 saw the group in Acacia Park talking to people about their initiatives.
One of their goals is to increase the number of cars on the road with clean technology built in to reduce emissions.
However, the accepted emission level is still under debate. The standards would not apply to cars already under sale or used vehicles.
The Air Quality Control Commission is set to decide on new standards in mid-November.
Click here to go to the US Drought Monitor website. Here’s an excerpt:
Areas of low pressure brought heavy to excessive rainfall to many parts of the U.S. during this past drought week (August 14-21). Some storms brought more rainfall to already inundated areas such as the Northeast, but some activity occurred over drought regions badly in need of moisture, including the Central and Southern Plains, the Midwest, and the South. Other areas, especially along the northern tier of the country, continued to dry out amid a combined lack of rainfall and anomalously high temperatures. Some areas of northern Michigan and Wisconsin averaged daily maximum temperatures 6-8 degrees F above their typical average for this time of year…
Drought has plagued this region, but heavy, and in some instances, extremely heavy rainfalls, (ranging from 1 to 6 inches or more) brought much needed relief as most areas saw vast improvements or, at the very least, no degradation. In extreme northeastern Arkansas, several counties experiencing D2 conditions received 6 or more inches of rain over the past week. In facet, enough rain fell over the state that widespread 1-category improvements were made. Many stations received record rainfall for the month of August, including Long Pool (12.35 inches), Clinton (12.41 inches), and Murfreesboro (12.11 inches), leading to much improved conditions across the state, with no primarily drought and only lingering long-term dry conditions. Similarly, Oklahoma saw drought conditions fade as heavy rains fell, bringing normal conditions back to a large swath of the state stretching from the northwest to the southeast. Conditions also improved in Louisiana, northern, and western Texas, while dryness spread in southeastern Texas…
Similar to the Midwest, the northern tier of the High Plains saw conditions continue to dry out over this past week, exacerbated by high temperatures in some areas. Mercer County, North Dakota, for example, saw temperatures reach 104 degrees F on two days and 10 consecutive days of upper 90s. Crops have been impacted as soil moisture is depleted, with very dry topsoil and subsoil. There are reports of corn burning and severely stressed soybeans, among other impacts. As such, areas of abnormal dryness (D0), moderate drought (D1), and severe drought (D2) were expanded in various parts of the state. Eastern Montana saw an expansion of D0, including along the North Dakota border. Nebraska and Kansas, on the other hand, were the recipients of heavy rainfall events, which led to improvements across their drought regions. Although rainfall was 2-6 inches in several inches in places, long-term dryness persists across parts of the regions and thus was not adequate to erase all drought. However, two category improvements (D3 to D1) were made in southeastern Kansas, for example, as the rain did vastly improve conditions there. In Colorado, D1 was reduced in El Paso and Douglas Counties, which received 1 to 4 inches of rain over the past few weeks, improving conditions there….
Most of the West continues to experience dry conditions and drought, with dozens of wildfires burning record acreage; however, while conditions remain poor, no areas required further degradation this week. The only change made this week occurred in far eastern New Mexico, where rainfall was 1 inch or more above average for the week. This allowed for 1-category drought improvements of extreme drought (D3), severe drought (D2), and moderate drought (D1)…
Over the next week, beginning Tuesday August 28, up to 2 inches of rain is forecast for western Colorado and western New Mexico, where extreme (D3) and exceptional (D4) drought conditions prevail. No rain to less than half an inch are forecast for most of the remainder of the West. Between 0.1 and 2 inches are forecast for most of the rest of the U.S. at this time. Looking further ahead at NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center (CPC) 6-10 day Outlook (August 26-30), the probability of dry conditions are highest in the Plains, with a bullseye over western Oklahoma, while wet conditions may occur along the northern tier of the U.S., the Pacific Northwest, and Alaska. During this period, below-average temperatures are expected in the West while above-average temperatures are forecast for the eastern two-thirds of the country, particularly stretching from the Midwest to the Northeast. Looking two weeks out (August 28 – September 3), above-average temperatures are expected across the eastern two-thirds of the U.S. and stretching across the southwestern U.S./Mexico border. Below-average temperatures are expected over most of the West. The probability of above-average precipitation is highest over the North and Northwest with the highest probability of dryness expected over western Oklahoma.
Here’s the release from the Bureau of Reclamation (Mary Carlson):
In response to ongoing severe drought, the Bureau of Reclamation and partnering water management agencies have reached several agreements intended to keep the Middle Rio Grande wet through the Albuquerque reach for the remainder of this year.
In 2018, Reclamation set aside $2 million to lease water from the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority’s San Juan-Chama Project supply to preserve flows through the Middle Rio Grande. Both entities will work closely to ensure continued Rio Grande flows through Albuquerque this summer and fall. San Juan-Chama Project water is diverted across the continental divide from the Colorado River basin. The City of Santa Fe is also partnering on this operation to help mitigate water loss impacts to the Rio Grande near Santa Fe.
“This is an extremely dry year with one of the lowest snowpacks on record,” said Reclamation’s Albuquerque Area Office Manager Jennifer Faler. “In an effort to effectively balance water needs within the Middle Rio Grande, we’ve joined forces with key water management entities to reach these very important agreements at a critical time.”
Although a historically low spring runoff resulted in some parts of the San Acacia reach drying in the beginning of April, actions taken by the agencies should keep much of the Middle Rio Grande flowing later this summer and fall.
“As water supplies run low in northern reservoirs, it’s important for the public to understand that this agreement is essentially what’s keeping water flowing in the Albuquerque reach of the Rio Grande,” said Trudy E. Jones, Albuquerque City Councilor and Chair of the Albuquerque/Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority’s governing board.
The leased water will help maintain flows from Cochiti Dam to downstream of Isleta Diversion Dam when the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District’s irrigation storage is exhausted, which could be late this week or early next week. Reclamation will seek additional funding in 2019 for continued leasing.
The Six Middle Rio Grande Pueblos, which have the most senior water rights in the Middle Valley, are also participating in extending available water supplies. The Pueblos, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District and Reclamation agreed to use water stored in El Vado Reservoir that would normally be reserved for ensuring a supply for Pueblos to meet district-wide irrigation demands in exchange for a reserved amount of MRGCD’s San Juan-Chama Project water for late season needs.
“Because of the unusually dry conditions, the Pueblos wanted to cooperate with other agencies this year, and agreed to use our senior water rights to stretch available water supplies for everyone, to the greatest extent possible,” said Governor James Richard Bernal, Pueblo of Sandia. “Long-term solutions to water supply shortage issues and protection of senior rights to water need to be identified.”
Releases of San Juan-Chama Project water will supplement the very low natural Rio Grande flow and will include water released to ensure that the Pueblos can continue to irrigate. Without adequate rains, MRGCD will divert required flow to first meet the most senior water users on the lands at Cochiti, Santa Domingo, San Felipe, Santa Ana, Sandia, and Isleta Pueblos and then for non-Pueblo irrigators as conditions allow.
“The fact that the agencies and the Pueblos worked so well together to judiciously store and use both Rio Grande and trans basin San Juan-Chama water in a historically dry year speaks to the importance of optimizing reservoir operations and irrigation diversions to extend in-river flows well beyond what the 2018 natural runoff would have provided,” said Mike Hamman, CEO of the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District.
Audubon New Mexico is also participating in water operations this summer. Audubon has leased 990 acre-feet of San Juan-Chama Project water that is being released from Abiquiu Dam in support of the proposed operations in cooperation with all water management agencies.
From The New Mexico Political Report (Laura Paskus):
Under the one-time lease, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation will pay the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority $2 million for 20,000 acre feet of water stored in Abiquiu Reservoir. The water will be used to keep the river flowing from below Cochiti Dam, through Albuquerque and downstream of the Isleta Diversion Dam.
During the meeting, John Stomp, chief operating officer of the water authority, assured board members it has that water to spare…
The agreement between the federal government and the water authority notes that the $2 million should be used for implementing the city’s 100-year water plan.
After a poor snow season in the mountains, the Middle Rio Grande started drying in early April, when it normally runs high with snowmelt. Monsoon rains have sporadically revived river flows this summer, but a long stretch still dried from the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge north toward Socorro. The river also dried near the Pueblo of Isleta.
“The Bureau of Reclamation stepped up to the plate, as did Santa Fe and the water authority, and we’re joining forces,” Stomp said. “We’ve all been working together to try to keep the river wet and stave off litigation, take care of endangered species and protect the river—that’s what we’re trying to do.”
Under the federal Endangered Species Act, water managers must ensure two rare species, the Rio Grande Silvery Minnow and the Southwestern Willow Flycatcher, don’t move further toward extinction. In the past, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service mandated minimum flow requirements through the Albuquerque reach of the river. In 2016, the agency updated its 2003 plan for the silvery minnow. Now instead of following flow requirements, Reclamation is supposed to try to manage the river to improve fish densities.
The Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District will soon be out of irrigation water, and Stomp said MRGCD “did its part” to try and benefit river flows as much as possible this year. And the City of Santa Fe is helping mitigate water losses to the river near the city.
Reclamation spokeswoman Mary Carlson said the Rio Grande would have dried through Albuquerque earlier this summer if everyone hadn’t cooperated.
She said MRGCD and the pueblos coordinated water movement with Reclamation, and she commended efforts by the water authority, too. “This lease agreement between Reclamation and the water authority is a tremendous effort on the part of both parties to keep the Albuquerque reach wet through the rest of this very dry year,” she added.
The water being leased is stored in Abiquiu Reservoir and comes from tributaries of the San Juan River, a tributary of the Colorado River. That water is piped through tunnels to the Chama River, which flows into the Rio Grande in Española. The San Juan-Chama Project was built decades ago, and before Albuquerque built its drinking water project, 110,000 acre-feet of San-Juan Chama water supplemented the native flows of the Rio Grande each year.
MRGCD officials estimate the district will cease regular deliveries to most irrigators within the next week. Most of its stored water in El Vado Lake has been depleted, about two months before the typical end of irrigation season.
Once the lake’s storage reaches a particular threshold, MRGCD will enter “Prior and Paramount Operations,” which means it can only meet the irrigation needs of about 8,800 acres of pueblo lands, which have the most senior water rights in the valley. That includes the pueblos of Kewa, Cochiti, San Felipe, Santa Ana, Sandia and Isleta. Because the pueblos preceded any of the valley’s other communities, when Congress passed an act in 1928 supporting the irrigation district’s creation, it noted that the water rights to those pueblo lands are “prior and paramount to any rights of the district.”
MRGCD officials and Reclamation’s Carlson have both noted the pueblos worked to help the district and water managers this year.
In a statement, Pueblo of Sandia Gov. James Richard Bernal also spoke to the need for cooperation this year, and for long-term solutions. “Because of the unusually dry conditions, the Pueblos wanted to cooperate with other agencies this year, and agreed to use our senior water rights to stretch available water supplies for everyone, to the greatest extent possible,” he said. “Long-term solutions to water supply shortage issues and protection of senior rights to water need to be identified.”
From The Pueblo Chieftain (Peter Roper):
A water-sharing agreement between Colorado Springs Utilities and an Arkansas Valley water management group would give that city access to an additional 2,100 acre feet of Arkansas River water a year — an agreement that concerns some regional water users.
That would be in addition to the 50 million gallons of Arkansas River water that Colorado Springs gets each day through the Southern Delivery Service pipeline from Lake Pueblo.
“The deal means another 7,500 shares of water will be leaving Bent County in the future,” argued Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservation District. “And that’s a step toward drying up that county.”
According to news reports, what Colorado Springs has done is buy 2,500 shares of water from Arkansas River Farms, a Littleton-based agriculture company. That purchase makes it a member of the Lower Arkansas Water Management Association.
That’s a nonprofit group of Arkansas River water users. Essentially, it has the job of seeing that water pumped up from groundwater wells is replaced into the river.
The deal that Colorado Springs wants approved calls for a shared use of its 2,500 shares of water between the management group and the city. Over a 10-year-period, the city would have the use of that water for five years, with the management group getting it the other five years.
City officials have said the shared-use plan would help guarantee Colorado Springs has additional water supplies in drought years.
A spokesman for the water management group said the deal would require Colorado Springs to pay for additional storage near Lamar for those years when the city is using the water.
Officials with Colorado Springs Utilities have fended off complaints that this might dry up areas in the Arkansas Valley by noting that the water management group would share authority over the water.
Winner said it is likely his organization, the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservation District, will intervene when the question comes before a state water court for approval. That is likely to be a few years away, he acknowledged.
The next step for the water-sharing plan is to get the approval of the Fort Lyon Canal Co. The water management group has been buying water from that company for its augmentation program and Fort Lyon currently doesn’t allow its water to be routed to cities.
The second step is to get approval from the state water court, which will review any deal to ensure that no other water rights are damaged.
From Wyofile (Angus M. Thuermer Jr) via the The Gillette News-Record:
The draft bill discussed by the committee would limit water banking to the Green River and Little Snake River drainages, Wyoming’s Colorado River tributaries, a restriction many legislators opposed. It states that water may be banked “for any beneficial use including use for drought contingency planning and use for water compact security.”
One goal is to help ensure that the state can meet water-supply obligations under the Colorado River Compact that says Wyoming and other upper-Colorado basin states must let certain volumes flow downstream. Delivering the owed water could, without banking, require reducing irrigation or other uses in the upper basin — a prospect that’s increasingly worrisome given a 16-year drought period between 2000 and 2015.
Under the bill, water could be placed in a bank or reservoir for up to 10 years by a person with a valid water right. But “no person shall acquire any new or enlarged water right through the use of the water banking program,” the draft states (see below).
In addition to making storage for drought and compact compliance, the bill should include another provision not yet articulated, Sen. Larry Hicks (R-Baggs) said. That would be to allow banked water to be used for endangered species conservation.
Hicks told committee members a water banking bill would also allow Wyoming, among other things, to account for water it conserves. Today, for example, the state gets no credit toward its compact obligations for water that Wyoming ranchers leave in the stream via a pilot program to increase late-season river flows by paying ranchers not to irrigate after haying season.
Once that conserved water leaves Wyoming, it becomes “system water” available to other states and users, he said. Consequently, it can’t be “shepherded” to Lake Powell with Wyoming’s brand — for release past the Lees Ferry gauge with credit to the state…
“The reason [the conserved Wyoming water] is system water [is] we haven’t shown a beneficial use … we can’t claim it,” Hicks told members of the Select Water Committee and Water Development Commission in Gillette on Friday. “Once we establish a water bank and establish a beneficial use to that water, it’s no longer system water. That water now belongs to the State of Wyoming.”
Hicks didn’t immediately convince all members of the committee and commission the bill is necessary. Cheyenne attorney Karen Budd-Falen, whose family owns a ranch near Big Piney in the Green River drainage, appears to be among the commissions skeptics. Her family participated in the pilot conservation program that’s now in its fourth year.
In 2018, the pilot program is anticipated to conserve 14,617 acre feet in Wyoming and generate $2.2 million to users who temporarily forego a portion of their annual diversions, according to information from the Wyoming State Engineer’s office — all without water banking legislation.
Budd-Falen said she understands some ranchers don’t like the program, funded by the Bureau of Reclamation and municipal water providers. But it made sense for her ranch, she said.
“The money was good and we’re cutting hay anyway [and not irrigating], so why not get paid,” she said. “I don’t know why we need a water banking system to do what we’re doing this year. We don’t have any storage to put the water anywhere.”
Hicks said a water banking bill would allow Wyoming “to “track the trickle” that irrigators conserve through such programs. “Then you get into shepherding,” he said, whereby Wyoming can get credit for its contribution to flows at Lees Ferry.
For Wyoming, the biggest benefit could be the claiming of unappropriated water, Hicks said. “This gets to the whole ability of the State of Wyoming to exercise our full rights under the Colorado [River Compact] or any other compact,” he said…
Such uncredited outflow happens at a rate of at least 400,000 acre feet a year, he suggested.
“What it potentially allows us to do,” Hicks said of a water bank, “is take that 400,000 acre-feet that currently leaves Wyoming. We’re now going to color that,” or give it Wyoming’s brand, he said. “We’re going to put it in Fontenelle Reservoir or any other basin down the road that we want to.
“It would allow us to claim that water in the water bank and claim that use,” Hicks said. The water in the bank would be held by the State of Wyoming. Anybody in the Colorado River drainage could come to Wyoming and say they need to acquire so many acre feet, Hicks said.
“If we had 50,000 acre feet … and we had an agreement with Bureau of Reclamation to deliver it to Lake Powell, that would be $10 million to the state of Wyoming,” Hicks said. He used a value of $200 an acre foot to calculate the value, saying he’s heard that price is “very close” to what ranchers in the pilot conservation program are receiving.
But Budd-Falen questioned whether new state government claims like those Hicks described could leave others short-changed.
“That makes me nervous,” she said of the state claiming a beneficial use for previously unappropriated water. “If the State of Wyoming goes out and starts tagging the unappropriated water … if I need a new water, where do I get my new water?
“I hate having it designated as a beneficial use because that means somebody else that comes in … that needs that water … can never get it,” Budd-Falen said. She supports Wyoming keeping control of its unappropriated water, she said, but, “I’m not convinced for the need for water banking for a beneficial use.”
Others questioned whether the draft bill contradicted one of its intended purposes. It states that the legislation would allow no person to claim a new or expanded water right, yet Hicks said he sees it as allowing Wyoming itself to claim a new beneficial use.
Budd-Falen also said the maximum 10-year transfer of water rights into a bank would make such rights unusable for endangered species preservation, contrary to Hick’s goal. “You cannot cut off an endangered fish’s water after 10 years,” she said.
The committee and commission also debated whether the bill should apply only to the Colorado River drainage — meaning the Green River and Little Snake Rivers in Wyoming — or statewide. A consultant to the Legislative Service Office that drafted the bill recommended it apply only to the Colorado River drainage. Lawmakers appeared to favor a statewide application.
Hicks brought the bill to the Select Water Committee as a courtesy, he said, because its members had attended a meeting on the topic with the Joint Agriculture, State and Public Lands and Water Resources Committee in Pinedale in June. That committee is sponsoring the draft bill and will formally consider it in September.
Meantime, lawmakers suggested complexities in the potential legislation be hammered out by a subcommittee, “We could cause quite a little bit of harm if it wasn’t put together and discussed thoroughly, ” Sen. Curt Meier (R-LaGrange) said.
Hicks agreed. “Everybody in the Colorado River basin is talking about this,” he said, “so we’ve got to get it right the first time.”
WyoFile is an independent nonprofit news organization focused on Wyoming people, places and policy.
From Steamboat Today (Eleanor C. Hasenbeck):
Colorado Division of Water Resources Division Engineer Erin Light delayed a call on the river, which would curtail users according to the doctrine of prior appropriation. The delay comes as water managers wait to see if increased flows in the upper Yampa reach Dinosaur.
The Yampa River has never been placed on call.
“The last pumps on the river were sweeping the river,” Light said of her Tuesday visit to the lower Yampa. “If you can imagine, literally, the Yampa River getting to the point that all the water has been taken out of it, is frightening and monumental. It never has happened.”
The Colorado Division of Water Resources places a call on a river when water rights owners do not receive the amount of water they have a legal right to. When a call is in place, some water users are forced to reduce or stop their use in order to send enough water downstream to fulfill the older water right.
Though reservoir releases have boosted flows in the upper Yampa near Steamboat Springs and Craig, it’s not clear if or when that water reaches the state line. Water managers aren’t positive that the gauge measuring flows at Deerlodge Park in Dinosaur National Monument has been providing an accurate reading.
On Tuesday, flows at Deerlodge Park fell to about 35 cubic feet per second. On Wednesday, it was up to about 70 cfs. Historically, the river flows at 351 cfs on the same date.
“It’s very extremely dynamic what we’ve got going on here,” Light said. “Obviously the rains affect everything. As much as we love the rain, it makes it difficult to see what’s going on in the system and what effects it’s going to have, but the reservoir water that was in the river before is now being reduced.”
The Colorado Water Trust has been releasing reservoir water to increase flows for aquatic habitat and recreational use. Tri-State Generation and Transmission added a significant boost in flows with released reservoir water to maintain power generation at Craig Station. As weekend rain has increased flows, the organizations have slowed their releases.
“They only have so much contract water, and they have to manage and budget that contract water for times when it’s critical for their purpose,” Light said.
Last week, total releases from Stagecoach Reservoir jumped from 65 cfs to 125 cfs, Light said. This fell back to 70 cfs Wednesday. Releases from Elkhead Reservoir between Hayden and Craig were also reduced, from 75 cfs to 25 cfs.
“The reservoir water and the rainwater has hit Craig, and it has hit Maybell, but it’s just not getting to Deerlodge,” Light said. “I’m hoping it will.”
The first to be curtailed are those that do not have a water right or do not have a measuring device on their water intake. Then, users with the newest water rights are curtailed, followed by those with older rights…
Light said the fact that, if it occurs, this would be the first call on the Yampa, and that has made her and the water users on the river “very cautious.”
“We’re very hesitant about this scenario,” Light said. “Who wants to be the one that’s been tagged as being the first one to actually request administration by our office?”
From The Vail Daily (Scott N. Miller):
George Brauchler is in the persuasion business — he’s a lawyer, after all. On Wednesday, Aug. 22, he made the case for his candidacy for Colorado attorney general to a mostly full room at the 60th annual Colorado Water Congress at the Hotel Talisa…
Wednesday, Brauchler talked about his background and his philosophy about how the state’s top law enforcement officer should do that job…
Speaking to a group of people focused on water rights, Brauchler said part of his job is protecting the state’s water rights from federal interference. Another part is negotiating when it comes time to talk about multi-state compacts, such as the one governing the Colorado River.
Brauchler said he’s gained a keen appreciation of how water rights are viewed in different parts of the state. Speaking in Delta recently, Brauchler said he was asked about prosecuting victims of theft. The punchline, as most longtime Western Slope residents know, is “Denver’s stealing our water.”
As he’s traveled the state, Brauchler said he’s come to believe that areas outside the Interstate 25 corridor between Pueblo and Fort Collins increasingly see themselves as part of a “second Colorado.”
In a conversation after his presentation, Brauchler said he’d like to bring some of his office’s resources to those other parts of the state. He questioned why so many state offices have to be “a horse and buggy ride” away from the state capitol.
Click here to view the Twitterhash tag #cwcvail18. Make sure to click on the “Latest” button to see all the Tweets.
From Western Resource Advocates:
Western Resource Advocates President Jon Goldin-Dubois released the following statement today on the Trump administration’s proposal to gut the Clean Power Plan by dismantling the federal government’s framework for cutting greenhouse gas pollution.
“The Trump administration is backing away from action on climate change as communities across the West struggle through years of record drought and a summer choked with wildfire smoke – both fueled by global warming. We need leadership on climate change at the federal level. Today’s action is further abdication of the responsibility to act on climate to protect our health, livelihoods, and future generations. Fortunately, smart utilities in the West and nationwide are moving in the opposite direction, motivated by market forces and public demand for clean energy. We urge the administration to take its head out of the sand, listen to Westerners, consumers, and the marketplace, and honor its responsibility to cut carbon emissions.”
From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Amy Hamilton):
In what may be the first time ever, the city of Grand Junction on Tuesday imposed mandatory outdoor water use restrictions, as the ongoing drought has drained area reservoirs and rivers that will struggle to refill if the state endures another dry winter.
The city’s roughly 9,700 domestic water customers can only water lawns and gardens and use outside water three times each week for the remainder of August. Indoor water use is not restricted.
Residents can only water twice a week in September and once a week in October. City officials dubbed the water program 3-2-1 to help residents remember to scale back the weekly days of water usage in the ensuing months.
Residents can choose which days of the week to water outdoors.
Water providers across the Grand Valley are supporting Grand Junction’s efforts, but no other mandatory water restrictions were set in place Tuesday for users who receive water from the Ute Water Conservancy District, the town of Palisade or the Clifton Water District.
Low reservoir water levels, extreme drought and extended hot weather conditions, combined with a lack of monsoonal wet weather usually seen this time of summer, contributed to Grand Junction’s decision to call for mandatory water restrictions, said Randi Kim, city utilities director.
“What we don’t want is if the drought continues and we don’t have the runoff in the spring, we’d be tapping into our water reserves,” Kim said. “We want to be sure we have enough water to carry over into the next year.”
Grand Junction, like other local water providers except Clifton Water District, obtains its water from Grand Mesa. Grand Junction receives most of its water from Kannah Creek, which typically runs at 60 cubic feet per second. The creek now is running at 8 cfs and the city is barely able to get its full allotment of 7.8 cfs, Kim said.
Kim said reservoir levels are as low as they were during the 2012 drought, but city officials had been waiting for forecasted monsoonal, wet weather before considering stricter water restrictions this year. When the late summer monsoons didn’t materialize, city officials opted to instate the mandatory restrictions.
From MSU Denver Red (Cory Phare):
As you read this, you’re surrounded on all sides … by water.
Even in the driest of climates, it’s everywhere, found in gaseous form as an integral part of Earth’s hydrosphere. And though not as apparent as its solid and liquid counterparts, vapor may prove a crucial tool in the future of sustainable humanitarian and agricultural infrastructure.
“There’s largely untapped water resource all around us,” said Michael May, a senior sustainable-systems engineering major at Metropolitan State University of Denver. “It was intuitive to ask about accessing it – and how to put it to use in a dry environment.”
With nearly half of Colorado experiencing extreme drought, potential solutions to scarcity have never been more timely.
One approach that water futurists such as May are interested in is coupling “horizon materials” – those that aren’t yet feasible to scale – with existing technologies to bridge the gap between imagination and reality.
“Think about silica-gel packets that come with new shoes; they absorb moisture, and you can extract the water, but it requires too much energy to do so at scale,” May said. “Right now, though, there are some promising studies happening in this area, and we could see a potential increase by an order of magnitude – 10 times over on the low end.”
Another budding area of development is community partnerships to harvest that ever-present vapor around us.
“We brought in an expert who talked about technologies like fog nets for air-based extraction,” said Jennifer Riley-Chetwynd, director of marketing at Denver Botanic Gardens and co-director of the One World One Water Center at MSU Denver. “That planted the seed – if we could use renewable resources to harvest water without burning fossil fuels, it would be a game-changer.”
After subsequent research, Denver Botanic Gardens then acquired several atmospheric-water-capture devices, called SOURCE, from Arizona-based Zero Mass Water.
The apparatus uses solar-electric and solar-thermal panels to power fans that draw in ambient air; vapor is then passed through a condenser and collected via an onboard reservoir.
In addition to three at its York Street headquarters and one at its Chatfield location, Denver Botanic Gardens donated a device to MSU Denver, currently outside the Jordan Student Success Building (another was donated to University of Colorado-Boulder as well).
May was also involved in the equipment deployment as a guest lecturer for a CU Boulder environmental-design class.
Though SOURCE is devised to provide potable water to drink, Denver Botanic Gardens is also the first location to test modified versions for irrigation purposes, with one located next to the Hive bistro for a tasty slice of stewardship.
“The garden we’re using it in is producing squash, tomatoes, herbs and other ingredients you can order on your pizza,” Riley-Chetwynd said.
This is all more than pie-in-the-sky, too – the implications are international.
Take the scenario facing Africa, which is home to 1.2 billion people; that number is expected to more than double by 2050. And the impact of that will be felt everywhere, said Aaron Brown, Ph.D., professor of mechanical engineering technology.
“We all need water to live, and a huge population explosion is going to happen on the poorest continent,” he said. “These kinds of problems are often best solved from a mulitidisciplinary perspective, and here at MSU Denver we look at research in humanitarian technologies for vulnerable populations.
“We’re training students to address the nexus of energy, water, food and health in a holistic, systems way.”
That’s Brown’s approach to this fall semester’s Sustainable Development Strategy course. Following up on a 2016 trip to Bhopal, India, where students worked in a local integrative-health clinic, the class is a launching pad for a study-abroad effort that will map geographic information systems’ health data compared with water delivery and water tables to see if there’s a correlation between pollution migration and health.
It’s part of a comprehensive community-based conservation conversation. And though using technology such as atmospheric water capture to irrigate beyond small plots of land isn’t currently viable, future research is encouraging.
“If you can pull two to three liters of water from the air in Denver, with 25 percent humidity, that’s really promising for more-humid environments,” Brown said.
For May, whose continued commitment to advancing sustainable solutions included a recent Colorado Science and Engineering Policy Fellowship, coupling innovative material with emerging practices is less of a silver bullet than one of many silver BBs, as he quoted John Stulp, Gov. John Hickenlooper’s special policy advisor for water.
And thanks to partnerships such as the one between MSU Denver and Denver Botanic Gardens, today’s water stewardship is built to scale for tomorrow’s world.
“The shared knowledge resources we can access directly led to us being asked to join the United Nations’ Global Framework on Water Scarcity in Agriculture,” Riley-Chetwynd said.
“The bottom line is that we’re stronger together.”
From the Navajo Nation via the The Navajo Hopi Observer:
Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye met with Interior Department representatives Aug. 16, to discuss the framework for a settlement of Navajo water rights on the main-stem Colorado River and the Little Colorado River (LCR).
Also present at the meeting, held at the Office of the President and Vice President, were Navajo Nation Council Speaker LoRenzo Bates and various Council delegates. Navajo leaders met with the Secretary’s Indian Water Rights Office (SIWRO), an agency that operates under the Interior Department.
The Navajo Nation and the Hopi Tribe have been negotiating water rights for the Colorado River and LCR for decades without substantial resolution.
“We’re ready to move forward on this and we have been,” Begaye told SIWRO officials. “Establishing Navajo water rights to the main-stem and LCR is critical to the future of the Navajo Nation. I’ve been advocating for water allocations for homes, businesses and tribal operations, and for funding to build a pipeline to provide water to communities in the Western Agency.”
In June 2017, the Udall Foundation provided mediation between the Navajo Nation and the Hopi Tribe to work toward agreeable terms in a settlement. Although the tribes were able to gain certain consensus on some issues, they failed to come to an agreement.
Begaye said the negotiation process is now back at square one.
“When it comes to LCR, we go full circle. We’ve come to this impasse before,” he said. “We have a good relationship with Hopi, but this is an area we can’t seem to agree on. However, when it comes to water rights and how they affect the future of our people, this settlement is paramount.”
Begaye said the SIWRO, the Navajo Nation and the Hopi Tribe need to consider alternatives in reaching a settlement.
“Maybe there is another way of looking at this. Yet still, Navajo is ready to move on with a settlement,” Begaye said.
From The High Country News (Jessica Kutz):
Access to public lands have caused St. George to become one of the fastest-growing metro areas in the country.
In 1861, Mormon Church leaders dispatched 309 families from Salt Lake City to the arid southwestern corner of Utah, telling them to grow cotton. The plan to settle this inhospitable desert region was part of a larger church-led effort to colonize the southern part of the state. The water-intensive crop never took off, but the community of St. George did, and today it is one of the fastest-growing metropolitan areas in the country. In the past two years, St. George has added nearly 12,000 new residents to a population of approximately 153,000 people, many of them drawn by the city’s mild climate and access to public lands. But all this growth has stoked some rising tension over water and land in this former farm town.
And many of the resulting problems will land right in the lap of Adam Lenhard, the new city manager, who started his job in February. On a warm summer day not long ago, he gazed over a seemingly endless expanse of newly shingled rooftops. “In some ways, St. George is just being discovered,” he told me. “A lot of us have been coming here for decades, and now it really feels like there is this spotlight and people are really just moving in.”
We were overlooking the community of Little Valley, where, as in many of St. George’s neighborhoods, rapid development is one of the challenges facing Lenhard. Alfalfa fields have been dug up for baseball diamonds and pickle-ball courts, and former ranchland is now covered by new tract homes.
One of these homes, Lenhard said, was being built for his family, which will be moving soon from Layton, Utah. Lenhard said he’d thought about relocating to St. George ever since he spent several vacations exploring nearby Zion National Park — one of Utah’s “Mighty Five” — and the red rock formations of Snow Canyon State Park, just 23 miles from the city center. Such places are a big draw here, in a county that is 75 percent public land, and, as a newcomer himself, Lenhard is deeply sympathetic to the motivations of many of his constituents. “Growth is a two-edged sword,” he said. “It brings jobs, quality of life, better amenities. But we have to preserve what has brought people. … We have to find the right balance as we grow.”
While amenity-driven growth in the West is most often associated with ski towns like Telluride, Colorado, or Jackson Hole, Wyoming, places like St. George have discovered that access to public lands — from slickrock deserts to mountainous wilderness to national parks and monuments — has become a migration magnet. This trend is playing out in communities across the region, according to John Shepard, director of programs for the Sonoran Institute. In the Old West, people’s migratory patterns were driven by jobs created by mining, timber and other resource-based economies, but today, people are moving because of the region’s “natural amenities, great outdoors, open space and wild lands,” he said. It’s no surprise that Utah, Idaho, Arizona, Oregon and Nevada are all seeing a spike in the number of new residents.
While retirees still make up a large percentage of new arrivals, St. George’s diversified economy is also attracting a new workforce, with employment in construction, hospitality, health care and manufacturing seeing the biggest upticks, according to a report compiled by the Utah Department of Workforce Services. “We’ve got growth pervasively across all age groups, mostly fed through migration,” said Pamela Perlich, director of demographic research at the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute. The city is also preparing to become the state’s next high-tech hub, with the creation of Tech Ridge, a mixed-use development designed to attract companies from across the country.
County-to-county migration-flow data from 2015 show that nearly 30 percent of new residents come from Utah’s crowded Wasatch Front, according to a report from the institute. The highest numbers of out-of-state residents are coming from California and Nevada, largely because they can take advantage of St. George’s lower cost of living. “The dynamic of being able to cash in your equity in California and move into other places … St. George has definitely been a beneficiary of that type of migration,” Perlich said. If this keeps up, the county is expected to house more than half a million people by 2065. That’s a lot of people struggling over limited resources of water and land — to say nothing of the preservation of the area’s agricultural heritage. Not surprisingly, this has added to the tension.
ON A LATE AFTERNOON IN JUNE, parents watched as their children splashed in a moat-like water feature in St. George’s Town Square Park, wading through channels and jumping between jets of water. Amid the watery revelry, one could almost forget that St. George is located in one of the driest states of the country; Washington County has an annual rainfall of just 16 inches per year. A majority of the county’s water comes from the Virgin River. Now, with droves of new residents moving in, long-term residents are worried that this precious and vulnerable resource could be drained, leading to water shortages.
That’s why in 2006, the Washington County Water Conservancy District announced plans to pursue a controversial pipeline connecting Lake Powell to southwest Utah. The nearly $1.5 billion project would divert 86,000 acre-feet of water from Lake Powell over 140 miles of desert into the county. The pipeline, which has yet to be approved, would provide security for the community’s future, said Ron Thompson, the district’s general manager. Supporters say the county needs to diversify its water sources. “Right now, our growing population is dependent on this one water source, which is really variable,” said Karry Rathje, the district’s public information manager.
Opponents of the project point out that even as the city’s population has grown, water use has actually gone down. According to figures released in June, the county decreased its consumption of potable water by over 1 billion gallons between 2010 and 2015, thanks to conservation measures and the conversion of irrigated agricultural land into housing developments. Groups like Conserve Southwest Utah, a local nonprofit, say even more can be done. That includes raising the county’s water rates, which remain some of the lowest in the United States.
All this growth is having a serious impact on land use. The region’s post-settlement character is rooted in an agricultural tradition, but agrarian outposts like Little Valley are rapidly being erased. In response, local resident Nicole Hancock, who grew up in what she calls her “beloved fields,” started the Washington County Agricultural Development Committee. The county committee, which will be composed of 18 to 20 members, was approved for funding in May, with its mission to preserve farmland and promote agriculture education.
Eventually, it might help people like Sherrie Staheli, a fourth-generation farmer from Washington Fields who has seen her farm, once 1,500 acres, encroached on by subdivisions and retirement communities. “Never in a million years would I think we’d have houses this close to us,” said Staheli. Yet the pressure to sell the land has been unrelenting; Staheli’s own family sold some parcels for profit and others because more and more road easements through the property were being approved. “People built out here because of the beauty of these fields,” Staheli said, “but they don’t like what comes with it.”
EVEN MORE DEVELOPMENTS are being planned in other parts of the county. One of them, called Desert Color, will eventually house an estimated 30,000 residents on state trust lands. The plans include a lot of “smart-growth principles,” such as xeriscaping and walkable amenities to reduce driving needs, said Jane Whalen, a resident of nearby Hurricane and a community organizer.
In 2006, Whalen and other residents worked with officials to create a set of principals to guide the region’s growth. Other master-planned communities being built by the new St. George Airport, south of the city, will eventually run up to the Arizona state border, site of some of the last developable land within city limits. Such developments mean less open space for wildlife migration corridors and fragmented habitat for mule deer, quail and pheasants.
Even where it isn’t directly overtaking habitat, St. George’s sprawl puts pressure on wildlife. The 62,000-acre Red Cliffs Desert Reserve, for example, was established in 1996 to protect the Mojave Desert tortoise, a federally listed threatened species. The reserve is governed by a county conservation plan, part of a compromise that unlocked over 300,000 acres of protected habitat for the development of housing, freeways and shopping centers.
In another sign of the times, state lawmakers are now reviewing that agreement. A new bill, the so-called “Desert Tortoise Habitat Conservation Plan Expansion Act,” was introduced by Utah Republican Rep. Chris Stewart in April. If passed, that “conservation” bill could transform the tortoise’s habitat — a stark landscape of lava flows, cinder cones and desert brush — into a five-lane highway. No one doubts that if it’s built, more traffic will come.
Jessica Kutz is an editorial fellow at High Country News.
Click here for all the inside skinny:
Join Water Education Colorado on September 18 for a 5th anniversary, full-day tour of the 2013 flood-affected zone along the Front Range (to begin and end in Loveland). Jump on the bus with lawmakers, water managers, attorneys, engineers and members of the public to get an up-close look at various recovery projects. Participants will learn about the initial actions that were taken to protect lives and property as well as the subsequent projects that were undertaken to recover and build resilience. View the draft agenda here, then hurry and reserve your spot today. Seats are limited!
From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith):
The U.S. Forest Service is questioning whether the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District ever will be able to get approval to build six potential diversion dams and related tunnels and conduits in the Fryingpan River basin that are located on USFS land above 10,000 feet within the Holy Cross Wilderness.
In a statement of opposition filed last month in Division 5 water court in Glenwood Springs, attorneys for the USFS said it “cannot authorize development of these six conditional water rights … because they lie within a congressionally designated wilderness. Only the president has authority to approve water developments within the Holy Cross Wilderness.”
The USFS statement of opposition, which was the only one filed in the case (18CW3063), also said “as currently decreed, the subject water rights raise questions as to whether they can and will be perfected within a reasonable time.”
The opposition statement was submitted July 31 in response to a periodic diligence application filed with the water court by Southeastern on May 28.
Southeastern is seeking to maintain its conditional water rights that are part of the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project. The rights were decreed in 1958. Six of the rights are within the Holy Cross Wilderness, which was designated in 1980, but most are outside of it.
Southeastern, which is based in Pueblo, owns and manages the water rights for the Fry-Ark Project, which was built by the Bureau of Reclamation.
The six diversion dams inside the Holy Cross Wilderness would allow for the diversion of 10 cubic feet per second from an unnamed tributary of the North Fork of the Fryingpan River, for diversion of 135 cfs from Last Chance Creek and for 10 cfs from an unnamed tributary to Last Chance Creek, for 85 cfs from a creek called Slim’s Gulch and for 85 cfs from an unnamed tributary of Slim’s Gulch, and for 50 cfs from Lime Creek.
In all, the six conditional rights in the wilderness would allow for 375 cfs of additional diversions in the Fry-Ark Project.
The diversion structure on Lime Creek would be near pristine Halfmoon Lake, which is above Eagle Lake.
Chris Woodka, who is the issues management coordinator at Southeastern, said the conditional water rights in the wilderness “are like a bargaining chip that we really don’t want to give up.”
“If they could be developed at some point, we would still be interested in developing them, as far as getting the yield from there,” Woodka said. “But can we get more of a yield from the system using the mechanisms we have in place? Probably.”
Maximizing limited yield
The Fry-Ark Project today includes 16 diversion dams and 26 miles of tunnels and conduits on the Western Slope that move water from the Hunter Creek and Fryingpan River basins to the centrally located Boustead Tunnel, which can divert as many as 945 cfs under the Continental Divide.
The water is sent to Turquoise Reservoir near Leadville and then farther into the Arkansas River basin for use by cities and irrigators.
The six potential dams and tunnels in the Holy Cross Wilderness would connect to the existing Fry-Ark Project at the Carter Creek dam and tunnel, which is the most northerly point of the system. It was completed in 1981.
James DuBois, an attorney in the environment and natural resources division at the Justice Department and who filed the USFS statement of opposition, said he could not discuss the case.
DuBois filed a similar statement of opposition in a 2009 diligence filing for Southeastern’s conditional rights.
In that case, the USFS eventually agreed, in a 2011 stipulation, that Southeastern would study “the potential for moving its conditional water rights off of wilderness lands” during the next six-year diligence period, which ended in May.
It also would look at other ways to increase the project’s “authorized yield.”
Under the project’s operating principles, the authorized yield of the Fry-Ark Project is limited to diverting 120,000 acre-feet in any one year, and to diverting no more than 2.35 million acre-feet over a 34-year rolling average, or an annual average of 69,200 acre-feet.
From 2010 to 2015, the project diverted an average of 63,600 acre-feet, indicating there is more yield to be gained.
This year, a dry year, about 39,000 acre-feet was diverted. In 2011, the last really wet year, 98,900 acre-feet was diverted, according to an annual report on the Fry-Ark Project prepared by the Bureau of Reclamation.
Improving existing facilities
In accordance with the 2011 stipulation, a study on how to get more water out of the system was done by Wilson Water Group and presented to Southeastern in April.
In the presentation slides, Wilson Water told Southeastern’s board of directors that “analysis indicates contemplated project yield could be met through existing infrastructure and software upgrades.”
Another option studied was to move the six rights in the Holy Cross Wilderness downstream and out of the wilderness. However, Wilson Water said it would require pumping stations to lift the water back up to Fry-Ark system and the “cost per-acre feet is likely prohibitive.”
Despite the finding that improving the existing system would increase the yield on the project, Southeastern voted in April to file for diligence on the six conditional rights within the wilderness, along with other conditional rights, telling the court that “while the construction of certain conditionally decreed project features has not yet been started, there is no intent to abandon these features or any of the conditional water rights … .”
Upon learning of the diligence application this week, Will Roush, the executive director of Wilderness Workshop in Carbondale, said “the Holy Cross Wilderness is a completely inappropriate location” for the development of the conditional water rights.
“Lime Creek, Last Chance Creek and the surrounding lands and tributaries provide amazing opportunities for solitude and the rare opportunity to experience a landscape and alpine watershed free of human infrastructure and without the diversion of water,” Roush said.
An informational memo on the diligence case was presented to the Southeastern board of directors on Aug. 16, and there was no discussion of the case by the board.
An initial status conference in the diligence case has been set for Sept. 18.
Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism is covering the Roaring Fork and Colorado river basins in collaboration with The Aspen Times. The Times published this story on Saturday, August 19, 2018. This version of the story corrected the date of the earlier stipulation between Southeastern and USFS, which was reached in 2011, not 2012, when the case was closed.
From The Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo):
Project to clean nearly 30 mines in 5 years has drawn criticism
The Environmental Protection Agency will not release public comments before it makes a final decision on a proposed plan to clean up 26 mine sites over the next five years in the Superfund area near Silverton.
In June, the EPA released the proposed plan, which identified quick action projects the agency wants to take while it comes up with a long-term plan for improving water quality in the upper Animas River. The proposed plan is expected to cost about $10 million.
“We’ve got years’ worth of investigations to do,” Rebecca Thomas, the EPA’s project manager, said in a previous interview. “These early actions are not intended to be a final remedy. They’re no-brainer activities to help get the water clean and reduce the amount of loading.”
The release of the plan kicked off a 30-day public comment period, which was extended another month in response to requests by the public. The comment period ended Wednesday.
When The Durango Herald asked EPA officials to review public comments, spokeswoman Cynthia Peterson said the public comments and the EPA’s response won’t be made available for review until the EPA makes a final decision.
“All significant comments, and EPA’s responses to those comments, will be compiled in a responsiveness summary. The responsiveness summary will be included in the final decision document – the Interim Record of Decision. The Interim Record of Decision will be published once the agency has had a chance to review and consider all comments received.”
Withholding of public feedback and the agency’s replies until after a final decision is made is in contrast with other comment periods the EPA has held. In 2015, for example, comments were posted in real time for the listing of the Superfund site.
“In some instances, such as federal rule-makings, comments can be made available in real time,” Peterson wrote. “However, significant comments on a site-specific Record of Decision are released in a responsiveness summary with the decision document.”
From The Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo):
Despite ash flows and mine waste, the river is resilient
It’s been a rough couple of years for the Animas River.
This weekend marks three years since the river, which runs through the heart of Durango, endured a massive mine waste spill from a blowout at the Gold King Mine. The waterway turned an electric orange and gained international attention.
The Aug. 5, 2015, spill brought to the forefront the longstanding issue of toxic metals leeching into the Animas River from legacy mining in its headwaters around Silverton.
This year has been an especially vicious dagger into the Animas.
A winter that never showed up in the San Juan Mountains resulted in one of the lowest snowpack years in recorded history. Then, through spring and early summer, extreme drought tightened its stranglehold on Southwest Colorado.
The Animas River saw its third lowest peak flow in more than 100 years of recorded history, and one of its earliest, hitting a high of about 1,000 cubic feet per second in May. Typically, the river peaks at about 4,700 cfs in early June.
Fish and other aquatic life were already stressed from low flows and high water temperatures when ash runoff from the 416 Fire burn scar came tumbling down north of Durango.
The dark-chocolate colored waters suffocated fish, which desperately washed ashore seeking oxygen. Though an official population survey won’t be conducted until this fall, it’s estimated thousands of fish died.
A raw sewage spill last week at Santa Rita Park was an extra twist of the dagger.
A river without fish
For some perspective, it’s likely aquatic life is either all but gone or dramatically depleted through the entire 126-mile stretch of the river from the headwaters in Silverton, down through Durango to the Animas’ confluence with the San Juan River in Farmington.
In recent years, the river from Silverton to Bakers Bridge (about 15 miles north of Durango) has been basically considered a dead zone because of toxic metal-loading from leeching mines.
The ash flows during the month of July killed most of the fish in the river through Durango. Even the most tolerant species – carp – was found dead along the river’s banks.
Fish in this stretch of the Animas River have been unable to reproduce because of a combination of factors, such as high water temperature and mining pollution. The fish that do live in the river are stocked by Colorado Fish and Wildlife.
The Southern Ute Indian Tribe declined to comment about how fish are doing in the Animas through tribal lands. Attempts to reach a biologist with New Mexico Fish and Game were unsuccessful. The Animas, however, has all but dried up before it reaches the San Juan River.
“It’d be unusual if everything was dead, but it’s probably to the point where it’s virtually that way,” said Jim White, an aquatic biologist for Colorado Parks and Wildlife.
But despite the onslaught of doom and gloom, there is reason to be optimistic: Rivers are resilient, and steps are finally being taken to make significant strides in the cleanup of the Animas River.
Improving water, habitat
After the Gold King Mine spill, for instance, the Environmental Protection Agency (which triggered the blowout while working at the inactive mine) declared a long-awaited Superfund listing, which will clean up nearly 50 mining sites around the Animas River headwaters.
Already, a temporary water-treatment plant built in 2015 has shown improvement in water quality downstream, said EPA spokeswoman Cynthia Peterson, though it’s too soon to know its effect on aquatic life…
While ash flows have decimated fish populations, research has shown aquatic species rebound quickly after wildfires, said Scott Roberts, an aquatic biologist for Mountain Studies Institute.
From ColoradoPolitics.com (Marianne Goodland):
Note: I will not be at the conference Tweeting away this year. I’m depending on all you other Tweeters to keep me informed.
The three-day conference, which starts Wednesday at the Hotel Talisa in Vail, is expected to draw more than 300 water policy experts as well as local, county and state officials who handle water issues…
Drought issues will be a key discussion topic this week, said Doug Kemper, the group’s executive director. Drought has hit the southern half of the state pretty hard, Kemper said.
“You’re looking at record low flows in some areas,” especially around Gunnison, he said. “We came into this year universally above average in every river basin, but will exit this water year in a different condition.”
Negotiations with the six other states that draw water from the Colorado River are at a critical point, Kemper said, even as a new governor and attorney general are coming to Colorado.
The conference will hear from the major candidates for both offices, marking the first time that many in the water community will meet them. They’ll likely be asked how they view the state water plan, whether the next governor will have a special water adviser, as Gov. John Hickenlooper has, and how they view the work of the basin roundtables, which carry much of the workload for the water plan.
Funding for the plan also is in question. Kemper said it’s still unclear whether funding will come from grants or loans and whether it will be spent on infrastructure, wastewater treatment or environmental protection.
The congress will meet Wednesday with Republican attorney general candidate George Brauchler, followed by Republican gubernatorial candidate Walker Stapleton.
Thursday, Democratic attorney general candidate Phil Weiser will speak to the congress.
U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, the Democratic gubernatorial candidate, is to address the group Friday.
Congressional candidates also will visit: Republican U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton will be at the congress Thursday, and Democratic opponent Diane Mitsch Bush will address the congress Friday.
Thursday, the Legislature’s interim water resources review committee will hold its August session at the congress. The committee is to review funding for the state water plan, the Colorado River compact and drought contingency plans for the Colorado River.
Thursday’s keynote address, “A New Culture of Certainty at EPA,” will be delivered by Doug Benevento, the EPA Region VIII administrator, and comes on the heels of a federal court order Thursday that the Trump administration reinstate the Obama administration’s “Waters of the USA” rule.
From The Arizona Daily Star (Tony Davis):
The total stored is nearly 3.6 million acre-feet of water in 28 sites across Pima, Pinal and Maricopa counties. That’s well over two years worth of CAP deliveries. They’ve stored another 600,000 acre-feet for Nevada.
The total tab has topped $330 million for the state and the Central Arizona Project to design and build storage basins and recharge water in them by artificial means.
But all that work has left a key detail unsettled: how to withdraw the bank’s water when needed.
No wells or other infrastructure exists to pump the water from recharge sites where nearly 25 percent of the water-bank water is stored, including one of the system’s largest recharge facilities. While water is also banked in some of the cotton, alfalfa and grain fields served by CAP water, and they do have infrastructure to get the water out, many of these facilities are far from urban and tribal users…
Tucson is better primed than most cities for water-bank recovery. The water bank has put more than two years worth of the city’s water needs into city-owned recharge basins in the Avra Valley, many miles west and northwest of the city limits.
City wells to pump that water out are already in place. But that’s mainly because Tucson Water’s original delivery of CAP water in the 1990s was so problematic that it had to switch to something more innovative and farsighted like recharging its supply. The city first delivered corrosive CAP water that rotted out many homeowners’ pipes. That fiasco led to a citizen-backed initiative requiring the city to recharge CAP water rather than run it through a treatment plant.
But in general, many major questions about water-bank recovery remain unanswered. They include: How, when and where will the water be recovered? Who will recover it? How will this be done legally, meeting contractual obligations? How much will it cost?
The water-bank water is stored mainly for the benefit of Tucson and Phoenix and their suburbs, and tribes such as the Gila River Indian Community and the White Mountain Apache Tribe. (The Tohono O’odham Tribe near Tucson is not in line for water-bank water.) Water users along the Colorado River also have a claim to some of the bank’s water.
There is a recovery plan, done in 2014, but to many city water agencies, it’s longer on concepts than details: “It’s a plan to plan,” says Kathryn Sorensen, the city of Phoenix’s water service director. She is secretary for the Arizona Water Banking Authority’s governing commission, and one of many municipal water officials who has pushed hard for a more thorough plan…
The 2014 plan reflects the longstanding, conventional wisdom that CAP cutbacks to cities and tribes wouldn’t start until the mid-2030s at the earliest.
Today, the outlook for Lake Mead and the river in general is worse. Shortages cutting off agricultural water are expected in the early 2020s. Urban shortages are considered possible by the mid-2020s and maybe even 2022, under the worst-case, least-likely scenario.
So water officials are now grappling with the nitty-gritty details of putting together a more complete recovery plan, perhaps by the end of 2018.
The effort is being led by a committee representing various water utilities and other interests, and shepherded by the Central Arizona Water Conservation District, which runs CAP, the Arizona Department of Water Resources and the Arizona Water Banking Authority, which manages the water bank.
Wally Wilson, water service manager for the suburban Metro Water district, said that the big questions about recovery weren’t addressed before, “to the chagrin of many.”
“One thing we know when it comes to water, Arizonans are very innovative,” Sorensen said. “There are a lot of difficulties and a lot of uncertainties. But I know we’ll get there.”