Despite risk of unprecedented shortage on the #ColoradoRiver, @USBR commissioner sees room for optimism — @WaterEdFdn

Brenda Burman. Photo credit: USBR

From the Water Education Foundation (Gary Pitzer):

Western Water Notebook: Commissioner Brenda Burman, in address at foundation’s water summit, also highlights shasta dam plan

The Colorado River Basin is more than likely headed to unprecedented shortage in 2020 that could force supply cuts to some states, but work is “furiously” underway to reduce the risk and avert a crisis, Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman told an audience of California water industry people.

During a keynote address at the Water Education Foundation’s Sept. 20 Water Summit in Sacramento, Burman said there is opportunity for Colorado River Basin states to control their destiny, but acknowledged that in water, there are no guarantees that agreement can be reached.

“While you can’t control weather, you can’t control climate in many ways, what we do know is that we can look at the risk ahead and we can find ways to address that risk,” she said.

In a talk that touched on Reclamation’s work across the West, Burman also said California needs more water storage to take advantage of exceptional runoff years and pointed to the Bureau’s proposal to raise Shasta Dam as one solution.

The first woman commissioner in Reclamation’s 116-year history, Burman, 51, lauded the “great tradition” of cooperative efforts by stakeholders to maintain the Colorado River’s viability even as people have begun to contemplate the potential impacts of a coming crisis.

“Everybody has come together, and we are working furiously about how do we address that risk, how do we buy it down, how do we control our own destiny,” she said. “We are very close and very hopeful of coming to terms this year with a deal on the Colorado River … where everybody is taking a little bit of a hit, finding more flexibility, but knowing that the future may hold more difficult problems.”

Should dry conditions continue this winter, Reclamation projects a 57 percent chance of a shortage declaration in 2020, which would be the first time that has ever occurred. Under the first tier of a shortage declaration on Lake Mead, Colorado River water deliveries, primarily to Arizona, would be cut. The seven Colorado River Basin states — California, Nevada, Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming — have responded with pending drought contingency plans that are centered on the idea that all water users, not just those with junior water rights, have a stake in keeping the system whole.

“When you look at the risk that’s being faced on the Colorado River, I commend the senior water users who have stepped up,” Burman said. “Senior users on the Colorado River system have very much stepped up and said, ‘We recognize this risk and we are willing to come to the table to figure this out.’”

The overseer of the Central Valley Project (CVP) and the vast apparatus of the Colorado River Storage Project, Reclamation employs about 5,000 people in maintaining 475 dams and 337 reservoirs across 17 Western and Great Plains states.

Burman assumed her duties amid a whirlwind of water policy activity in California as a new federal administration began to establish its priorities for managing the CVP. The emphasis of that task, which includes the proposed raising of Shasta Dam, was crystallized in August when Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke called for a plan to maximize water supply deliveries from the CVP to farmers in the San Joaquin Valley. Asked about the plan at the Water Summit, Burman said work on it is still underway.

Burman lamented the inability of the current water storage system in California to take advantage of the runoff that comes during exceptionally wet years, such as 2017.

“There is a huge reliability problem on this system,” she said. “There is not enough infrastructure and we don’t have enough places to put water, whether it’s above ground or underground. It is time for us to take a look at what is available and what is affordable for increasing the capacity of this system so that the water supply is more reliable in dry years.”

She called the proposed raising of Shasta Dam, which has been discussed for more than 20 years and is controversial in some corners, “by far the most cost-effective project” for creating a water supply.

“If you raise the dam by 18 feet … you can actually have an incredible effect,” she said. “You can produce over 600,000 acre-feet of new capacity and new space in that system. If we had filled that up in 2017, that would have helped so much this year. It would have helped with meeting our responsibilities to fish and meeting the responsibilities to our contractors.”

CVP contractors south of the Delta support the idea of raising the dam because the extra storage could help with their supply during tight times and provide the necessary water for embattled salmon populations.

Some environmental and fishery organizations and the nearby Winnemem Wintu Tribe oppose raising the dam.

In a March 2018 letter to some congressional leaders, Natural Resources Agency Secretary John Laird wrote that a dam raise “would violate California law due to the adverse impacts that project may have on the McCloud River and its fishery.”

In addition to her time as a deputy commissioner with Reclamation and a deputy assistant secretary at Interior, Burman’s 25-year career has been spent with the Salt River Project in Arizona, Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, The Nature Conservancy and the office of Arizona Senator Jon Kyl.

A graduate of the University of Arizona College of Law, Burman was a judicial clerk for the Wyoming Supreme Court and Coconino County Superior Court in Arizona.

She began her career as a park ranger at Grand Canyon National Park. In her testimony last year to the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, she talked about the lessons learned from that experience.

“In the canyon, we counted on scarce springs in the backcountry for our water supply, and on the rim we counted on a rickety old pipeline that often broke to bring water from Roaring Springs up to the rim and the tourist area,” she said. “It was a learning experience that taught me the value of water and the hard work it often takes to get it.”

As warming strains #NM’s water supplies, ‘status quo’ no longer works — New Mexico Political Report #RioGrande

Historical storage Elephant Butte Reservoir as of September 26, 2018 via Water Data for Texas.

From the New Mexico Political Report (Laura Paskus):

The Rio Grande Compact, which divides water among Colorado, New Mexico and Texas was signed in 1938. And New Mexico’s water laws today are still based on codes that the territorial legislature passed in 1907.

But as the climate changes and warmer temperatures affect the state’s rivers, reservoirs and aquifers, the same tactics and strategies that may have helped New Mexicans weather dry times over the past century won’t keep working. And perhaps no place in the state offers such a stark reminder of that fact than the reservoir behind this dam. After a dry winter and hardly any snowmelt this spring, Elephant Butte Reservoir is at three percent capacity, storing 58,906 acre feet of water as of September 24.

Historically, people tend to listen to what they want to hear, rather than what they need to hear: What they need to hear is that our laws do not reflect hydrology and our hydrology is changing for the worse, and if we do not manage it, it will manage itself,” says Phil King, an expert on hydrology and the relationship between surface and ground water in southern New Mexico. “I would much rather correct the system ourselves through management than let nature do it’s cold, hard reality fix,” adds King, a professor of civil engineering at New Mexico State University and a consultant to the Elephant Butte Irrigation District, or EBID.

Stopping the ‘death spiral’

EBID serves about 8,000 farmers in the Rincon and Mesilla valleys in southern New Mexico, from Arrey to the border town of Santa Teresa. If you’ve eaten chile from Hatch or pecans from Mesilla, fed alfalfa to your horses or poured milk from a New Mexico dairy into your coffee, you’ve consumed water that EBID’s farmers divert from the Rio Grande and Elephant Butte or pump from the aquifer.

For roughly a century, EBID farmers have supplemented irrigation water with groundwater. Without it, they would not have survived the drought of the 1950s. But they pumped during the wet years, too, including throughout the 1980s and ‘90s. Then, beginning around 2003, about four years into the Southwest’s current drought period, pumping ramped up even more.

That’s a problem, especially in the Rio Grande Valley, where river water recharges the groundwater, and pumping water from the aquifer makes it even thirstier for river water.

With both the surface water and the groundwater strained, the system suffers a double-whammy, King says. That causes a positive feedback or what King calls a “death spiral.”

Even though scientists, engineers, hydrologists and farmers know the two are intertwined within the same system, in New Mexico, groundwater and surface water are managed separately. King calls that “hydrological folly.”

“We’ve got some major rethinking to do with New Mexico water law: Status quo is not an option,” he says. “I think what people need to understand is we are facing conditions that mankind has not faced here before.”

And the only way to reverse that death spiral is to use less water.

The drying riverbed of the Middle Rio Grande near the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge on April 4, 2018. Photo credit: USBR

Vail Symposium presents #The Law of the #ColoradoRiver: Conflict and Collaboration on Thursday, Oct. 3, 2018

From the Eagle River Watershed Council via The Vail Daily :

The mighty Colorado River is a source of life flowing through seven Western U.S. states and Mexico, providing water to nearly 40 million people; it’s the backbone of agriculture, tourism, recreation, irrigation and hydropower industries in the West.

The river basin has a complex history of governance at the state, federal and local level known as the “Law of the River.” Famously over-allocated at the time of signing, the Colorado River Compact of 1922 is the cornerstone of the Law of the River and dictates the management of the river’s flows between Upper Basin and Lower Basin states.

How do water managers take on an already over-allocated river with growing stressors such as drought, climate change and an ever-growing population? What will happen if water levels continue to drop in Lake Powell and Lake Mead? What is a “compact call” and what will it mean for Western states, as well as Eagle County as a headwaters community?

The Vail Symposium presents The Law of the Colorado River: Conflict and Collaboration on Thursday, Oct. 3, at Hotel Talisa in Vail with experts John McClow, Anne Castle, Pat Mulroy and Eric Kuhn. The panel is intimately involved in the management of the Colorado River Upper and Lower basins and will present answers to these questions as well as the innovative strategies being implemented to combat the growing threats to the river such as the Drought Contingency Plan, System Conservation Pilot Program, Minute 319 & 323 and more.

The program starts at 6 p.m. and costs $25 in advance and $35 at the door. Tickets are available at

“The Colorado River is a lifeblood in our community both recreationally and in terms of agriculture,” said Kris Sabel, executive director of the Vail Symposium. “We’re pleased to be able to host such a timely and enlightening discussion in partnership with the Eagle River Watershed Council.”


Anne Castle is a senior fellow at the Getches-Wilkinson Center for natural resources, energy and the environment at the University of Colorado, focusing on western water policy issues. From 2009 to 2014, she was assistant secretary for water and science at the U.S. Department of the Interior where she oversaw water and science policy for the department and had responsibility for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the U.S. Geological Survey.

Eric Kuhn was, until earlier this year, the general manager of the Colorado River District, a position he held since 1996. Kuhn started employment with the Colorado River District in 1981 as assistant secretary engineer and has served on the Engineering Advisory Committee of the Upper Colorado River Compact Commission since 1981. From 1994 through 2001, he served on the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

John H. McClow is a graduate of the University of Colorado and Colorado Law. He has practiced law in Colorado since 1973. He has represented the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District since 1991, becoming full-time General Counsel in 2006. He is a member of the Board of Directors and is past president (2014) of the Colorado Water Congress and is vice-chair of its State Affairs Committee. He served as Colorado’s Commissioner on the Upper Colorado River Commission from 2013-14.

Pat Mulroy is a former senior fellow at the Metropolitan Policy Program. In addition, she serves as the senior fellow for climate adaptation and environmental policy at UNLV’s Brookings Mountain West. She is a founding chair of the Western Urban Water Coalition, and she was a founding member of the Water Utility Climate Alliance. She served on the Board of Directors for the National Water Resources Association and with the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies first as treasurer (2009-2011) and then as president (2011-2013).

Moderator Holly Loff has served as the executive director of Eagle River Watershed Council since 2013. Under her direction, the Watershed Council set and continues to implement a strategic organizational path that focuses on advocating for the health of the watershed, focusing on education, fostering collaboration and securing diversified funding.

Fountain Creek “Creek Week” September 29 through October 7, 2018

UCCS Clean the Stream Team at the 2015 Creek Week. Photo via the Fountain Creek Watershed, Flood Control and Greenway District.

Click here for all the inside skinny and register:

Make some memories and make a difference!
3,000 Fountain Creek Watershed residents will come together from
Saturday, Sept. 29th – Sunday, Oct. 7th
from Monument to Pueblo,
and everywhere in between to clean our watershed!

View the list of events and clean-ups by clicking here.

12th Annual Restoring the West Conference on October 16-17, 2018 at Utah State University

The City of Boulder’s Open Space and Mountain Parks Department (OSMP) has begun a major restoration project that will improve native fish habitat in Boulder Creek and restore natural areas surrounding the creek. This ecological project also will repair damage from the 2013 floods by returning Boulder Creek to its pre-flood channel, and will include the planting of more than 11,000 native trees and shrubs. These plantings will help improve the creek’s sustainability and resiliency, and help mitigate damage to private and public property during future floods. These efforts are occurring in two areas east of Boulder. Photo credit the City of Boulder.

From (Click through to sign up for the email list for updates):

Overcoming land management and restoration challenges to achieve sustained yield of multiple uses on public lands will be the focus of the 12th Annual Restoring the West Conference on October 16-17, 2018 at Utah State University. By law the U.S. Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, and many other governmental agencies must manage their lands for “sustained yield” of “multiple-uses” like outdoor recreation, range, timber, watershed, and wildlife and fish “without … impairment of the productivity of the land”. Demand for these resources on public lands, and for ecosystem services and other previously unanticipated outputs, is increasing greatly. Management has gotten more complicated as uses and users have increased. At this conference researchers and managers will share ideas about and examples of compromise, collaboration, and creativity that can improve management and restoration of public lands for sustained yield of the many resources we value. The conference will include two days of plenary sessions and an evening social including a poster session. We hope you will join us in October – stay tuned for more information, agenda details, etc.

This conference is organized and sponsored by Utah State University including USU Extension Forestry, the Department of Wildland Resources, the Quinney College of Natural Resources, and the Ecology Center. Support also comes from the Western Aspen Alliance.