As we look forward into 2020, the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) continues the important work of investigating whether a Demand Management program would be feasible and advisable for the State of Colorado. Demand Management is the concept of temporary, voluntary, and compensated reductions in the consumptive use of water in the Colorado River Basin. Any water saved would be used only to ensure compact compliance and to protect the state’s water users from involuntary curtailment of uses.
The Drought Contingency Plan, a suite of agreements among the seven Colorado River Basin States, was executed in May 2019, and provided the opportunity to begin initial discussions about a potential Demand Management program in the Upper Colorado River Basin. All Upper Basin States, including Colorado, are currently conducting their own feasibility investigations. Though these states recognized that Demand Management may be a mechanism for ensuring ongoing compact compliance, they also recognized that significant stakeholder outreach and interstate coordination would need to come first. In the event that Colorado reaches the conclusion that Demand Management is feasible and advisable, all other Upper Colorado River Basin States must agree to key elements before any program could be created.
Colorado’s investigation is guided by the 2019 Demand Management Work Plan, which was adopted by the Colorado Water Conservation Board. The Plan provides a framework for initial stages of the investigation, including: workgroups, regional workshops, and education and outreach.
Since the CWCB’s June 2019 update on Demand Management, the workgroups have met multiple times across the state to identify issues associated with a potential Demand Management program. Workgroups consist of experts in Colorado River issues and water management, along with water stakeholders. All meetings have been open to the public. Meeting details and reports are available on the CWCB website. In addition, the IBCC is aiding in this process by analyzing how principles of equity may be incorporated into any potential Demand Management program, if one is set up. This ongoing work is informing the feasibility investigation.
The second regional Demand Management workshop will be held at the Colorado Water Congress https://www.cowatercongress.org/2020-annual-convention.html on January 29 from 9:00 – 11:30 am. This workshop will provide an update on the feasibility investigation, and an opportunity for attendees to provide feedback on the work completed so far and potential next steps.
We are only in the initial stages of the feasibility investigation. CWCB staff plans to seek additional guidance this summer from the CWCB Board relating to the next steps of the feasibility analysis. Additionally, CWCB staff has reported to the Water Resources Review Committee as requested and continues to work with the Colorado General Assembly to secure funding for the feasibility investigation.
The CWCB recognizes the importance of a thorough investigation, including discussions with Colorado water users, stakeholders, and others across the state. At this stage, we cannot provide a timeline for completion of this feasibility investigation.
Get involved in the discussion:
Attend a workgroup meeting. All meetings are open to the public and provide opportunity for public comment. Attend a regional workshop to hear updates on the feasibility investigation and provide feedback. Reach out to us directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The CWCB would like to thank workgroup members who have spent significant time considering these important issues, as well as the water stakeholders and other Coloradans who have been involved with this investigation throughout the process. The CWCB looks forward to continuing its important work on Demand Management in the New Year.
To provide written comments on demand management, please email email@example.com. For more information from CWCB staff, email Sara Leonard at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Director, Colorado Water Conservation Board
From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel:
Powderhorn Mountain Resort’s goal of adding top-to-bottom snowmaking is dependent on a reservoir and pipeline project.
That project cleared another hurdle on Friday with the announcement of a draft approval.
The draft decision from the Grand Valley Ranger District authorizes the construction of a snowmaking supply pipeline, a pump house, an intake pad, and also the Rim View Connector Trail for mountain biking.
The decision includes an environmental assessment of the project.
The draft decision now initiates a 45-day period where objections can be filed. Individuals who submitted written comments during the combined scoping and comment period in September 2019 have standing to file an objection to the draft decision.
Objections must be submitted by mail, express delivery, messenger service, or hand delivery to Objection Reviewing Officer, USDA Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Region, 1617 Cole Blvd. Bldg. 17, Golden, CO 80401. Email objections can be submitted at SM.FS.email@example.com.
The first phase of the project will connect Powderhorn to Anderson Reservoir No. 2 with a pipeline that can supply up to 140 acre-feet, or around 45.6 million gallons of water, to the snowmaking system.
The environmental assessment and other documentation can be found at http://www.fs.usda.gov/project/?project=56710/
Information: Bryan West, Project Leader, at (303) 275-5276, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Trump administration formally proposed a rule last week that strips away protections that have been in place 50 years for waters all across the U.S. In what is seen as a victory for fossil fuel producers, farmers, and real estate developers, the proposed rule retains protections for large bodies of water, rivers, and streams—but removes safeguards for many wetlands, intermittent streams, and groundwater.
E & E News reports that a group called Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, made up of current and former EPA scientific advisers, has filed a complaint calling for an investigation into the process leading to the new rule, charging that it was based more on politics than science. They claim that the final rule contradicts the overwhelming scientific consensus on the connectivity of wetlands and rivers and streams. They add that officials instructed staff not to submit comments for the record.
The new rule, which will be implemented in 60 days, is sure to be challenged in court by environmental groups and some state attorneys general. The outcome, if it makes it to the Supreme Court, is not certain. One environmental law expert told Politico that conservative justices on the Court may not like the way the Trump administration ignored both science and the experts it picked to advise the EPA.
From Aspen Journalism (Heather Sackett):
The directors of the Colorado River Water Conservation District are revisiting a recommendation to ask voters to restore part of the district’s original mill levy.
River District General Manager Andy Mueller recommended at the district’s quarterly board meeting this week asking voters in the November 2020 election to raise the district’s property tax rate from a quarter-mill to a half-mill, taking its budget from roughly $4 million to $8 million.
That works out to 50 cents for every $1,000 of assessed property value.
According to a memo from Mueller, the River District has taken steps over the last year to reduce expenses — which have climbed at a rate of 3% per year — such as putting a grant program on hold, instituting an early retirement program to reduce the number of full time employees and reducing its fleet of vehicles by two. These efforts, however, are not a long-term fix to what Mueller called a structural deficit.
Mueller’s recommendation seeks to remedy a dwindling general fund caused by the bane of many Colorado taxing districts: the Taxpayer Bill of Rights and Gallagher Amendment, which restrain the growth of government by placing limits on the amount of taxes allowed to be collected. The River District gets 97% of its revenue from property taxes.
“It’s not with lack of thought that I’m recommending this board consider asking the voters, appropriately under TABOR, to support a tax increase,” Mueller told River District directors. “We want to see that money going to partners on the West Slope and projects that span the scope of our water improvement needs.”
Some directors said they supported the measure, which was first publicly discussed at a February 2019 meeting.
“I think it’s obvious this is a necessary step forward,” said Karn Stiegelmeier, who represents Summit County.
Others agreed about the need to increase the River District’s revenue but expressed doubt a tax measure could pass in western Colorado’s more conservative counties, such as Mesa, Montrose and Delta, especially in a presidential election year with high turnout.
“I think we face a really difficult battle,” said Tom Alvey, who represents Delta County. “There are a number of tax-averse areas on the Western Slope.”
The River District was created by the state Legislature in 1937 to protect and develop water supplies in 15 Western Slope counties, including Pitkin, Garfield and Eagle. County commissioners appoint its directors to three-year terms. The Glenwood Springs-based organization works to shape Colorado water policy and advocates for keeping water on the Western Slope.
Even though the River District plays an important role in Colorado water planning, its financial might has lagged behind its political clout. A revenue increase would help remedy that, Mueller said.
“What we are trying to do is respond to the public’s concerns about (a secure water future) and be the leader at the table and not just with our skilled staff and political influence, but also with money,” he said.
But before the tax money can start rolling in, voters have to know what the River District is and what it does. To that end, staff has undertaken a rebranding of the River District to help voters connect what it does with its name. Staff has stepped up efforts with social media, a newsletter and video featuring Mueller and West Slope water users, and is also planning a series of webinars and workshops around the 15 counties.
“We are trying to help people realize there is an agency charged with protecting two-thirds of the West Slope and assist in the long-range planning for water supply and helping them realize while we may not touch their daily lives, how important that work is,” Mueller said.
In addition to Mueller, the River District employs attorneys, engineers, hydrologists, legislative lobbyists and communications specialists to protect the West Slope’s water interests.
Directors did not make a decision at this week’s meeting on whether to put the tax question on this year’s ballot. Instead, they agreed to continue to research the issue and discuss it with their constituents.
“I would need some time before I say yay or nay,” said Steve Acquafresca, who represents Mesa County. “I need some time to talk to people and consider the issue.”
Aspen Journalism collaborates with The Glenwood Springs Post-Independent and other Swift Communications newspapers on coverage of rivers and water. This story ran in the Jan. 24 edition of the Post-Independent, The Aspen Times and The Vail Daily.
From The Boulder Daily Camera (John Spina):
On the surface, HB20-1072 [Concerning a requirement that the university of Colorado study potential uses of emerging technologies to more effectively manage Colorado’s water supply, and, in connection therewith, making an appropriation, conditioned on the receipt of matching funds from gifts, grants, and donations] appears basic, proposing the state match $40,000 in research funding for the University of Colorado and Colorado State University to study water management technology like remote sensors, cellular and satellite telemetry, areal observation, water resource forecasting and blockchain documentation.
Despite the relatively small dollar amount, the results from this study, said Evan Thomas, the director of the University of Colorado Boulder’s Mortenson Center and co-author of the bill, could create a better understanding of the entire state’s water portfolio and allow for more informed conversations about what can be done to preserve it.
“These technologies offer greater transparency, which can often lead to greater trust,” Thomas said. “Right now you just have a bunch of ditch riders, people you have to pay to go around and look at meters on people’s lands, and it’s expensive, it’s not done very often, the meters aren’t that good, and the farmers are suspicious. It’s adversarial.”
As a result, many water rights holders have strongly resisted any sort of change of use for fear of unintended consequences that could end up interrupting their supply.
Furthermore, because water rights can be reduced if the entire allotment is not put to beneficial use each year, Blake Cooper, Boulder County’s agricultural resource manager, said farmers use as much water as they can, when they can, because they don’t know if it will be there later in the season.
“But,” Thomas said, “if you have more objective and more regular measures of water use and availability, as well as forecasting, and if you could be paid to conserve water instead of being penalized for using less water, it starts to create market incentives that will facilitate relationships (among water users) and let us to be a lot smarter and proactive about making sure that water is available year-round and year over year.”
While these markets already exist, with more robust data on how much water a right holder is using, how much water is currently available, and how much is forecast for later in the season, Thomas said right holders could trade water “quarterly, monthly, or even weekly potentially,” with more certainty it will not effect their own supply later in the year.
Dan Lisco, a hay farmer in Boulder County, installed remote soil moisture monitors on his farm last year. Because he could see when soil moisture was high and wouldn’t absorb any more water, he was able to turn off his center pivot irrigation system for several days throughout the season.
Not only did Lisco say this allowed him to save a little water and nearly eliminate runoff, which can lead to nutrient pollution and soil erosion, but it also cut down on pumping and electricity costs, which helped cover the costs of the monitors.
According to Phytech, the company that makes soil moisture monitors deployed by Lisco, the monitors can reduce a farm’s water use by up to 40%.
With the new technology discussed in House Bill 1072, Lisco could have extrapolated how much less water he was using and how much water was forecast for the rest of the season, then sold off any excess water to another farmer or environmental group looking to keep more water in the river to improve recreation opportunities and wildlife habitat.
From The Rocky Mountain Collegian (Serena Bettis):
Most loud sounds heard around Fort Collins late at night are typically from partying college kids or trains — not wild animals.
This is not the case for Coloradans living in Moffat County, where Colorado Parks and Wildlife officials confirmed a wolf pack sighting Jan. 19, according to a Jan. 22 press release.
During the investigation of an animal carcass surrounded by wolf-like tracks, CPW officers attempted to locate the wolves and heard distinct howls in the area. The press release said they observed six wolves through binoculars about 2 miles away from the carcass.
“After watching them for about 20 minutes, the officers rode in to get a closer look,” said JT Romatzke, CPW northwest region manager, in the press release. “The wolves were gone, but they found plenty of large tracks in the area.”
Gray wolves have not inhabited Colorado since roughly the 1930s when, according to the CPW website, they were “systematically eradicated” through trapping, shooting and poisoning to keep them from killing livestock.
Initiative 107, which will be on the November 2020 state ballot, proposes the reintroduction of gray wolves onto designated lands west of the Continental Divide. The initiative would require a CPW commission to implement a plan to restore and manage gray wolves; prohibit the commission from imposing any land, water or resource restrictions on private landowners; and fairly compensate owners for losses of livestock caused by gray wolves.
“We’re pretty convinced that they’re at least making themselves somewhat at home in that spot,” CPW Public Informations Officer Rebecca Ferrell told FOX31 Denver.
The wolves were spotted in northwest Moffat County, which is about 300 miles away from Fort Collins. It is possible the wolves came from neighboring Wyoming or Utah, though CPW has not released any information on that matter.
Wolves are capable of traveling long distances, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service website, meaning they even could have traveled from a Montana or Idaho Wolf Recovery Area.
The press release said that while wolves remain federally protected, they are also under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The gray wolf is still considered an endangered species by FWS, and killing a wolf can result in federal charges.
CPW urges the public to immediately contact them if anyone sees or hears wolves or finds any evidence of wolf activity in Colorado. CPW’s website has a wolf sighting form that must be filled out on a computer and not a mobile device.
Serena Bettis can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @serenaroseb.
Water Education Colorado Trustees Meeting
1. “WEco recognizes the presence of physical, economic, and cultural barriers that influence access to water education and lead to a lack of diverse representation and overall participation in the water sector.
2. WEco acknowledges a broad and diverse range of relationships and interdependencies of different people and cultures with water and the natural environment.
3. WEco will strive to be more effective by building a leadership team and network of partners that are represented of Colorado’s diverse population and which fosters an inclusive, safe, equitable and supportive environment, full of learning and sharing and free of harassment, prejudice, and discrimination.
4. WEco commits to responsible and ethical collection and use of data and information gathered for all projects.”
Adopted January 24, 2020.
Greg Hobbs 1/24/2020