2020 Colorado Water Congress Annual Convention #CWCAC2020 @COWaterCongress

I attended the Climate Change panel yesterday afternoon and it rocked. There is a general session today on Climate Change. Water Congress is bringing the issue up front and center where an existential crisis should be.

Click here to view the convention hash tag #cwcac2020. (There are others using the same hash tag for Pakistani football (soccer).

2020 #COleg: Legislative Water Priorities in 2020 for #Colorado’s Rivers, Birds, and People — @AudubonRockies #ColoradoRiver #COriver #DCP #aridification #COWaterPlan

Rocky Mountain National Park October 2019. Photo: Evan Barrientos/Audubon Rockies

From Audubon Rockies (Abby Burke):

Policy priorities for the 2020 Colorado legislative session.

Colorado lawmakers returned to the Capitol on January 8th to kick off the 2020 legislative session. Even before bills were introduced, it was clear that the General Assembly will wrangle with issues that will touch every corner of the state and impact the daily lives of Coloradans. Water is one of these key issues.

Despite the optimism from a snowy December, Colorado’s snowpack is now starting to fall closer to average. Although Colorado is perched at 108 percent average snowpack statewide, much of the West Slope remains in drought conditions. With enough snowpack, flurries will melt and become flows for healthy rivers that support all of us. But as water supplies are becoming more unpredictable, sharing a limited water supply—statewide—between urban, rural, agriculture, industry, environmental and recreational needs is the challenge at hand.

Audubon Rockies is working with lawmakers and partners to prioritize water security for people, birds, and the healthy rivers that we all depend upon. Colorado’s birds and people cannot thrive unless our rivers do too. Here are three water priority areas for Audubon Rockies in the 2020 Colorado legislative session.

Funding Colorado’s Water Plan

Water security for Coloradans, birds, and rivers begins with implementing the state Water Plan. In the light of climate change and booming population growth, Colorado’s Water Plan, finalized in 2015, aims to ensure a sufficient supply of water for the various users across the state including environmental, agricultural, municipal, industrial, and recreational needs. Implementing Colorado’s Water Plan is projected to cost $3 billion in total, or $100 million a year over the next 30 years.

In November 2019, voters approved Proposition DD to legalize sports betting and a 10% tax on these casino revenues which will result in an estimated $12 million to $29 million annually, the majority of which will go toward the Water Plan. Proposition DD is expected to generate more than $7 million in new tax revenue for the Colorado Water Plan in 2020, a significant bump up from past funding sources.

At this point, it is not clear how the state will spend these dollars given the various priorities and the considerable Water Plan funding gap. The language in DD was vague and will need refinement and transparency. Stakeholders and lawmakers will likely explore options with the legislature to guide how DD funds are spent on Water Plan implementation.

Audubon will advocate for spending that supports healthy rivers for the birds and people that depend on them, as we support a fully funded Water Plan.

Supporting the Colorado River

In 2019, the Drought Contingency Plan was adopted by the upper and lower Colorado River basin states. One of next steps for Colorado and the other upper basin states is to investigate the feasibility of a demand management program. The Water Resources Review Committee recommended SB20-024 to create a robust public engagement process similar to the development of the Water Plan before adopting any rules or recommendations regarding demand management. While public input is nearly always a positive, this process seems to get ahead of the process established by the Colorado Water Conservation Board’s (CWCB) demand management workgroup. Audubon is monitoring SB20-024.

With Colorado’s water supply becoming more unpredictable and valuable, particularly on the West Slope, concerns were raised by the Water Resources Review Committee to address anti-speculation. Specifically, concerns were raised that agricultural water rights are being sold to entities with no real interest in farming or ranching in Colorado that are holding those rights for future, more profitable transactions. SB20-048, Study Strengthening Water Anti-Speculation Law, would create a working group to explore ways to strengthen anti-speculation laws and report its findings and recommendations to the committee next year. Audubon is in favor of SB20-48 to keep Colorado’s water out of the hands of risky transactions. We need to support our agricultural heritage and the habitats our working landscapes provide.

Instream Flow

For the second year, Colorado lawmakers will see the return of two similar bills attempting to expand the instream flow program. Since 1973, the instream flow program has given the CWCB the unique ability to hold instream flow rights—water rights with the sole purpose of preserving the natural environment by remaining in streams or lakes. First, HB20-1037, Augmentation of Instream Flows, is essentially a rerun from last year with key benefits for the Cache la Poudre River near Fort Collins. The bill permits the CWCB to use water for instream flow purposes, if the water has been decreed for augmentation without seeking a further change of use in water court. (Augmentation water restores water uses that are out of priority.) This would create a new pool of water, with lower administrative costs, which could be available for instream use.

The second bill, HB20-1157, Loaned Water For Instream Flows To Improve Environment, looks to expand the existing instream flow loan program. Under the current law the instream flow loan program allows water right holders to loan water for three years out of a 10-year period to the CWCB to preserve water for rivers where there is an existing instream flow water right. The current program participation is not renewable.

HB20-1157 looks to expand the instream flow loan program by increasing the years of participation from three to five years in a ten-year period, and allow for two additional ten-year renewal periods. It also supports greater notification to local water users, provides for an expedited process to address water-short river emergencies, and adds a longer term procedure for loaning water to instream flow decreed river segments for improvement of the environment. The instream flow loan program is completely voluntary and allows greater flexibility for the water right holder to use their property right in a beneficial way.

In 2019, a similar bill to HB20-1157 passed the House of Representatives only to die in Senate Committee. Perceptions around the potential impacts to soil health from fallowed fields and on historical irrigation return flows from leaving water in stream rather than applying it on the land may have caused the bill to fail. With robust engagement and input from Audubon, partners, stakeholders and the Colorado Water Congress over the past year, bill sponsors are more optimistic for successful instream flow loan expansion in 2020.

Audubon supports multiple tools in the toolbox to support healthy rivers, agriculture, and economies. HB20-1157 and HB20-1037 bring greater flexibility and beneficial options for rivers and water right holders.

A new Colorado bill would allow water users to divert less water during dry years, helping to keep rivers flowing. Amid climate change, our rivers need this kind of flexibility. Urge your representative to support HB20-1157.

Guest Column: Should a water management plan be developed for the White River? — The Rio Blanco Herald-Times #COWaterPlan #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridificatiion

White River Basin. By Shannon1 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=69281367

Here’s a guest column from the White River Conservation District that’s running in The Rio Blanco Herald-Times:

The State of Colorado adopted the Colorado Water Plan in 2016. The Plan proposes to create a water management roadmap to achieve a productive economy, vibrant and sustainable cities, productive agriculture, a strong environment and a robust recreation industry. Specific to protecting and enhancing stream flows, the plan calls for 80% of locally prioritized rivers to be covered by Stream Management Plans (SMP) by 2030.

Through this effort, locally-led groups are encouraged to develop plans that will help meet the above 80% goal. The Water Plan initially encouraged only SMPs using biological, hydrological, geomorphological and other data to assess the flows or other physical conditions that are needed to support collaboratively identified environmental and/or recreational values.

However, experience across the State has shown the need to incorporate a more holistic approach including consumptive uses (agriculture, municipalities, energy, etc.). These types of plans are often called an Integrated Water Management Plan (IWMP). The local community is encouraged to determine what they want to accomplish and then find the right planning effort to help them achieve their goals.

The White River and Douglas Creek Conservation districts embarked on an effort in 2019 to identify what local needs can be met through the development of a plan and to determine community support for this effort. The districts are working with a Planning Advisory Committee (PAC) made up of 16 individuals representing agriculture, municipalities, industry, environment, recreation and land/water right holders. The committee is well balanced geographically within Rio Blanco County and members have strong knowledge of water rights, water quality and quantity concerns, water planning efforts, and local customs and cultures.

During December, district staff conducted approximately 25 interviews of local citizens identified by the committee. Questions developed by the committee were used for the interviews. The information gathered from the interviews are being used to develop a starting point for the much broader discussion within the community during January…

More information on the process and Planning Advisory Committee is available on the districts’ website at http://www.whiterivercd.com. Please contact the district office at 970-878-9838 with any questions. We look forward to your input.

Submitted by White River Conservation District

Frontline Youth: Fighting for Climate Justice: “I feel like, as long as we’re fighting we’re winning”

From the Climate Justice Alliance:

Black and Brown youth speak for themselves to tell their stories as a part of an intergenerational movement for liberation from all extractive systems and industries.

More info: http://ClimateJusticeAlliance.org/youth

This 7 minute video showcases the beauty and joy of young people who come from a long legacy of intergenerational leadership, grounded in community. They are fighting against the culprits of climate change and climate destruction in their own communities, and winning! Frontline youth are also an integral part of the creative and innovative solutions to the climate crisis that are grounded in our communities’ cultural practices and reclaiming the traditions of our ancestors. In Frontline Youth: Fighting for Climate Justice you’ll learn more about what climate justice means to them and get a glimpse into their lives and struggle for a better world.

#CentralCity councillors approve 2020 budget

Central City back in the day

From The Mountain Ear (Patrice LeBlanc):

The council looked over Resolution No. 19-32: A resolution approving a General Fund purchase of Development Fee Credits from the Water Enterprise Fund for issuance to a City Economic Development Incentive Program. The City loaned funds over a number of years from the General Fund to the Water Fund for operational and capitol expenses.

The current fiscal year end balance on the loan is $819, 205. The City intends to establish a program that can provide economic incentives to the development projects.

City Manager Daniel Miera explained the process to the Council. The payback plan will change from 20 years to 11 years. Mayor Fey asked Miera if the City is forgiving the balance of the loan from the Water Fund. Miera replied that the Water Fund will still be owed to the City, but it will come in a different form.

Alderman Aiken wanted to know if the City charges interest on the loan, and Miera reported that no interest was charged. Alderman Hidahl thought this was a creative solution and an advantage for the City to encourage development. Mayor Fey agreed and felt the incentive program should be used for the core of the city rather than exterior development. The Resolution passed 5-0…

Miera was asked if the water budget was too high. [Daniel Miera] responded the budget shows a positive operating fund, for which the city has been striving for many years. It has been in the negative in years’ past.

#Snowpack news: While it has been dry along the Front Range, #GrandJunction snowfall is close to normal

Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map via the NRCS.

From NBC11News.com (Nikki Sheaks):

According to the National Weather Service, Grand Junction has accumulated 10.9 inches of snow. Normally, around this time, there would be 11.9 inches. Across the state, snowpack in the mountains is doing a little better than normal.

“When you look at the snowpack in the mountains, which is where all of our water comes from, the mountains statewide, in Colorado, are averaging about 110 percent of normal,” said Matthew Aleksa, Meteorologist for the National Weather Service.

There has been 5.3 inches of snow, so far, for the month of January.

‘Our voices are not being heard’: #Colorado town a test case for #California #PFAS victims — The Los Angeles Times

PFAS contamination in the U.S. via ewg.org

From The Los Angeles Times (David S. Cloud):

When Wendy Rash was diagnosed in 2005 with a thyroid disorder, chronic fatigue and other ailments, her doctor couldn’t explain her suddenly failing health.
Soon, other family members became ill. Her brother-in-law contracted fatal kidney cancer. Her father-in-law developed esophageal cancer. Then her 32-year-old son began having severe kidney problems.

It wasn’t until 2016 that scientists tested the tap water they had been drinking and found it was contaminated with man-made chemicals known as per-fluorinated compounds, part of a family of chemicals called PFAS. The chemicals were traced to firefighting foam from a nearby military airfield, one of hundreds of Pentagon bases nationwide that for decades may have contaminated drinking water used by tens of thousands of people.

“We had no clue,” said Rash, 58.

The role played by PFAS in the family’s illnesses is not known. Studies have shown a link between the chemicals and a range of health problems, including an elevated risk for some cancers, but they have not established a clear cause-and-effect relationship.

Widefield aquifer via the Colorado Water Institute.

Rash’s family history of illnesses is common in Fountain, a Colorado Springs suburb flanked by mountains and military bases. And the scientific uncertainty about how much risk residents face has only worsened the anxiety many feel, as Fountain and surrounding towns have become a center of the growing national furor over the possible health effects of ingesting PFAS.

Congress is trying to expand regulation of the chemicals. Earlier this month, the House voted 247 to 159 in favor of a bill requiring the Environmental Protection Agency to designate PFAS as hazardous substances, which would free up funds for the cleanup at contaminated sites.

But the Trump administration has threatened to veto the bill, saying in a Jan. 7 statement that such a move would force high compliance costs on businesses and states, and that the EPA, not Congress, should make the decision.