From the Rio Grande Basin Roundtable via The Alamosa Citizen (Chris Lopez):
THE 2015 Colorado Water Plan (CWP) was developed in response to Gov. John Hickenlooper’s 2013 Executive Order and is focused on strategies to address the state’s growing water demands. Alongside the CWP, eight Basin Implementation Plans (BIPs) were also developed in 2015 by the state’s basin roundtables to identify short- and long-term objectives and projects that are critical to meeting each basin’s current and future water challenges.
The original 2015 Rio Grande BIP, developed by the Rio Grande Basin Roundtable (Roundtable), identified several goals aimed at addressing the basin’s major water challenges. Another key focus of the 2015 BIP was identification of projects that would help meet the basin’s water needs and have multiple benefits for water users and the environment.
As conditions change from year to year, updates to the BIP are important. In 2019, the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) worked with the state’s basin roundtables to initiate the first update to the original BIPs. and the roundtables are currently in the final stages of completing this update. The Rio Grande Basin Roundtable selected a local nonprofit watershed group, the Rio Grande Headwaters Restoration Project (RGHRP) to facilitate the BIP Update process. Led by the RGHRP, the Roundtable formed BIP Update subcommittees, made up of diverse local stakeholders, from local, state, and federal agencies to nonprofits, landowners, and community members. The subcommittees were tasked with developing strategies to meet the basin’s water needs, from agricultural and municipal/industrial water use to water administration and water resources education.
The updated Rio Grande BIP features project accomplishments since 2015, new data and analyses related to the basin’s current and future water use, projects and strategies to meet the basin’s water needs, and updated basin goals. Since the publication of the 2015 BIP, a variety of projects have been completed, many of which were funded in part by the Roundtable. During the BIP update process, more accurate agricultural and municipal water use data and well defined environmental and recreational attributes allowed the Roundtable to identify strategies to meet these water needs. Finally, the updated goals center around healthy watersheds and sustainable surface and groundwater that supports the basin’s communities.
CWCB and the Roundtable are seeking feedback on the draft BIP Update, which is currently available on the website: http://engagecwcb.org This public comment period will remain open through Nov. 15.
In what could be one of the biggest requests to the Legislature in years, state water development officials are eyeing $281 million or more to fund agricultural irrigation works, dams, reservoirs, domestic water projects and other programs.
During three days of meetings last week, lawmakers first advanced about $33 million in appropriations recommended by the Wyoming Water Development Office. Funded projects include a few municipal supply projects, numerous irrigation improvements, cloud seeding and a review of aging infrastructure, among other things.
The Legislature’s Select Water Committee then backed a draft bill seeking an additional $95 million from American-Rescue-Plan-Act or general-fund money to establish a statewide water infrastructure grant program.
Then, in an 11th-hour proposal, the legislative committee asked its staff to draft an amendment — or another stand-alone bill — to add another $152.8 million to 2022 appropriations, mostly for five major agricultural dam, reservoir and irrigation projects.
There could be even more added to the almost $153 million amendment or new bill.
“If people have things that they would like to include in that draft, I think that would be appropriate,” Sen. Larry Hicks (R-Baggs) told Select Water Committee co-chairman Rep. Evan Simpson (R-Afton).
Wyoming has turned a corner since facing a diminished state budget due to declines in coal and oil-and-gas tax revenue, Hicks suggested. There’s “a certain amount of money, funds, available,” he said, pointing to the American Rescue Plan Act that seeks to pull the country out of its COVID-19 slump. Additional funds, possibly from rising oil and gas activity, also could be available, he said.
All of which could be used to shore up a water development program that Hicks has said repeatedly has been unfairly plundered by the Legislature.
“By the time we get through this biennium, we will have raided water development account[s] to the tune of about $55 million,” he told lawmakers last week. In recent years, the Legislature directed funds that should have been used for water development, Hicks said, to instead finance other projects and the State Engineer’s Board of Control, which settles disputes over water rights.
Three avenues for appropriations
The Select Water Committee’s three-pronged agenda would fund the $33 million in 2022 water development commission programs, add the $95 million statewide infrastructure grant program using ARPA and general-fund money and spend another $152 million under Hicks’ water development amendment.
Hicks’ call for $152 million — the largest funding avenue — could be added to the ARPA bill or emerge as a separate stand-alone measure, according to discussion by the committee. It would see $35 million go toward the Alkali Reservoir near Hyattville in Big Horn County, the cost of which has increased from $35 to $59 million.
Another $30 million would go toward the Leavitt Reservoir expansion, an additional $25 million would armor the Fontenelle Dam to increase its usable capacity and $21.8 million more would help resolve the collapse of the Goshen irrigation tunnel.
Hicks’ proposed amendment or stand-alone bill also would earmark $30 million to help rebuild the dangerous LaPrele Dam above Douglas. The proposed appropriation also would infuse several other water development accounts with $11 million.
The next largest block of funds advanced by the Select Water Committee last week — $95 million from ARPA money for a statewide infrastructure grant program — would be disbursed by the Wyoming Water Development Office in coordination with two other state agencies. The Office of State lands and Investments, which oversees drinking water funds, and the state Department of Environmental Quality, which is responsible for aspects of wastewater projects and discharges, would be involved with the grants.
Grants would be limited to $7.5 million per project and they would cover 85% of the cost of a proposal.
Funds appropriated through the ARPA bill could be constrained by the caveats in that federal rescue program, however. The federal emergency COVID-19 relief program funds water infrastructure programs that appear to be directed mainly toward domestic and municipal drinking water and wastewater programs, not agricultural and irrigation dams, reservoirs and canals.
ARPA funds are being distributed according to an interim rule that in one clause specifies investments will be made for “projects that improve access to clean drinking water [and] improve wastewater and stormwater infrastructure systems.”
The Select Water Committee’s third avenue for funding grew from the Water Development Office and Commission’s annually scheduled advancement of water programs that this year totals about $33 million. Those projects involve everything from new and ongoing cloud seeding and a review of its effectiveness to municipal and domestic water supply projects, irrigation and agricultural programs and a statewide assessment of crumbling infrastructure.
What about the infrastructure bill?
During last week’s meetings there was little if any discussion regarding the $1 trillion infrastructure bill President Joe Biden signed into law Monday. But earlier this year the Select Water Committee wanted that measure to include provisions for water development in the state.
“As we start to see an infrastructure bill develop … it’s certainly something that we’ve conveyed to our congressional delegation that water is a big issue in Wyoming,” Hicks said in April, “and that we’d like to see a significant component in any infrastructure bill.”
Although he stopped short of endorsing the federal infrastructure bill, Hicks asked Wyoming legislative staff to stay in touch with the congressional delegation in Washington, D.C., and to get updates.
On Aug. 10, U.S. Sens. John Barrasso and Cynthia Lummis provided one public update when they voted against the infrastructure bill, which passed the Senate 69-30. On Nov. 5, U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney also voted against the infrastructure bill as the measure passed the House 228-206.
To further buttress water development and prevent what developers see as a raid on funds, Hicks and Wyoming Water Development Office Director Brandon Gebhart in April proposed an explanatory program to be presented to “anybody willing to listen.”
Such a presentation may “enlighten some people in the Legislature,” Gebhart said. Hicks called the planned presentation “education” for lawmakers and said it should come during the first day or two of the 2022 legislative session.Last week’s funding proposals did not include several other ongoing projects — including a proposal to build a 280–foot-high dam on the West Fork of Battle Creek above the Little Snake River in Carbon County, and a plan to lower New Fork Lake by some 21 feet to provide late-season irrigation. While those were not immediately included in Hick’s amendment, they are on a $414-million wish list of water infrastructure projects reviewed by WyoFile that the state assembled earlier this year.
WyoFile is an independent nonprofit news organization focused on Wyoming people, places and policy.
Precipitation was the star of the show across the contiguous United States in October 2021, according to the latest monthly climate summary by NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information. Much of the country received more than 100 percent of their average precipitation, and in many states, precipitation totals were much higher than average. Overall, the month ranked ninth-wettest October in the historical record.
On the West Coast, much of the above-average precipitation came in the form of atmospheric rivers—temporary, well-defined bands of water vapor that stretch like a river from the tropics or subtropics to higher latitudes and which are pushed along by strong winds. At least one of the events, taking place on October 24, was ranked as a “Category 5” event by researchers at the Western Weather and Water Extremes group at Scripps Institution. Parts of the state set a new record for wettest 24-hour period. Meanwhile, the East Coast was battered by a Nor’easter that generated heavy rain, flash flooding, and power outages in the coastal Mid-Atlantic.
The soaking of multiple Western states—California, Oregon, Washington, Nevada, Idaho, and Wyoming—provided some relief in the intensity of the long-lasting drought that has parched the region over the past year. Still, nearly half the contiguous United States was in some level of drought at the start of November, and it intensified in locations that were missed by the month’s generous precipitation, including parts of Texas, eastern Colorado, Michigan, and the Carolinas.
According to NCEI, the average temperature across the Lower 48 was the sixth-warmest on record, 2.9 degrees Fahrenheit (1.6 degrees Celsius) warmer than the 20th-century October average of 57.0 degrees. The warmth was widespread, stretching from the Rockies all the way to the East Coast. However, October was cooler than average for the West Coast part of the Southwest.
For more details on the U.S. climate in October, see NCEI’s State of the Climate report. For more information on drought conditions, visit Drought.gov.
Here’s the release from the Colorado Department of Natural Resources (Chris Arend):
The Colorado Department of Natural Resources (DNR) announced today the launch of the Colorado Strategic Wildfire Action Program and highlighted the special collaboration with their partners, the Department of Corrections (DOC), State Wildland Inmate Fire Team (SWIFT).
Colorado Strategic Wildfire Action Program (COSWAP) was created after the devastating 2020 fire season by the Colorado legislature through the bi-partisan supported SB21-258. COSWAP is designed to quickly move state stimulus funds to start on-the-ground work on fuels reduction projects including funds for landscape scale strategic wildfire mitigation projects in strategic wildfire prone communities in Colorado.
“Colorado is one lightning strike, one unattended fire, and one drought season away from our next mega fire, said Dan Gibbs, Executive Director, Colorado Department of Natural Resources. “The devastating 2020 fire season taught us that the status quo of our forest health and wildfire mitigation programs were no longer going to cut it and our state and federal partners needed to do more, and quickly.”
“Thanks to the leadership of Governor Polis, bi-partisan support in the Colorado legislature, and strong inter-agency collaboration, we have launched the Colorado Strategic Wildfire Action Program, identified priority areas, and are going to be moving funds to on-the-ground projects and deploying hand crew teams from CDOC and the Colorado Youth Corps within months of legislation being signed”, Gibbs added.
The COSWAP is housed under DNR in coordination with the Colorado State Forest Service (CSFS) and the Division of Fire Prevention and Control (DFPC) in the Department of Public Safety. It includes a special collaboration with State Wildland Inmate Fire Teams (SWIFT) within the Department of Corrections (DOC) and Colorado Youth Corps Association (CYCA) to be deployed as hand crew teams to jump-start critical on-the-ground forest health and wildfire mitigation work throughout Colorado.
“We are excited about the opportunity to partner with DNR to not only provide an important public service through this mitigation work, but also to offer incarcerated individuals an opportunity to gain skills, save money, and prepare for a successful re-entry into the community once their sentence is complete,” said DOC Executive Director Dean Williams. “Many of these crew members have responded to some of the largest natural disasters in the state and they find purpose and dignity in the work they do. With the increased risk of fires in Colorado and across the nation, we know that this partnership with DNR will help provide critical support.”
Since its inception in 2002, SWIFT crews and fire mitigation teams have been involved in relief for most of Colorado’s biggest disasters. From the devastating Northern Colorado floods to the recent Cameron Peak (2020) and Morgan Creek (2021) Fires, these teams have helped to safeguard land, life and homes. There are currently 95 incarcerated individuals who are working in the SWIFT program. The Department anticipates increasing the number of crews to include 160 incarcerated individuals to help meet project needs.
In addition to fighting fires, the crews are trained in sustainable mitigation development and maintenance following the standardized methods of construction commonly used by state, federal and local land management agencies. The crew members bring knowledgeable and willing hands to the task.
“Developing partnerships with agencies such as Dept of Natural Resources, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, Colorado State Forest Service, Dept of Corrections and local counties is critical in accomplishing forest health and fire mitigation goals within Teller County. And let’s not forget private land owners whether they own 1 acre or 500 acres. Collaboration is the key to accomplishing such large projects,” said John Geerdes, Executive Director, Coalition for the Upper South Platte. “Coalition for the Upper South Platte is a non-profit that is primarily grant funded and focuses on pre-fire mitigation, forest health, post fire rehabilitation and more. We have used SWIFT crews in the past when our work called for hand crews rather than mechanical thinning. They have always done an outstanding job for us and I look forward to ways we can use them in the future under this new program.”
A key aspect of the COSWAP was the formation of a Rapid Fuels Reduction Assessment (RFRA) team which was a unique partnership composed of experts from the Department of Natural Resources, Colorado State Forest Service, Division of Fire Prevention and Control, U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, National Parks Service, and the Colorado Forest Restoration Institute at Colorado State University.
The team was instigated by a bi-partisan letter from state, federal, and federal representatives asking for federal resources and partnership to address Colorado’s pressing forest health and wildfire mitigation challenges.
The RFRA team conducted a comprehensive risk analysis to identify the most strategic landscapes in the state for wildfire mitigation and fuel reduction projects.
Strategic Focus Areas include: Boulder, Douglas, El Paso, Jefferson, Larimer, La Plata and Teller counties, plus Rocky Mountain Restoration Initiative focal areas.
The pilot project at Dome Rock State Wildlife Area highlighted an important initiative for Colorado Parks and Wildlife to conduct forest health projects that will benefit important wildlife habitat while also providing important thinning and mitigation work to protect local communities at risk.
“This work at Dome Rock will improve the habitat for bighorn sheep that lamb in the wildlife area,” said Cody Wigner, CPW Area Wildlife Manager for the Pikes Peak region. “Thinning will open up the forest canopy and create greater visibility for the sheep and other wildlife. That will make them more comfortable and more likely to use the wildlife area because they can spot predators more easily. Improved habitat means more wildlife which is the ultimate goal for our state wildlife areas.”
SB21-258 was a result of priorities set out in the Colorado Recovery Plan by the Governor and the Colorado legislature, allocating a total of $25 million of stimulus funds to immediately address Colorado’s forest health and wildfire challenges. The $17 Million for COSWAP project implementation included more than doubling DOC SWIFT crews and significantly increasing Colorado Youth Corps forest health mitigation work throughout Colorado. A large portion of funds will also go to landscape-scale wildfire mitigation projects conducting critical work such as reducing hazardous fuels, forest thinning, developing fuel breaks and clearing evacuation routes. All funds must be obligated by June 30, 2023.
Additional SB21-258 funds gave long-term sustainable support to the Colorado State Forest Service Forest Restoration & Wildfire Risk Mitigation (FRWRM) Grant Program, a complimentary fund and new investment for CSFS Forest Business Loan Fund to support Colorado timber businesses. Additionally the bill called for an organizational assessment of state wildfire mitigation programs which also will be led by staff from DNR in partnership with the Colorado State Forest Service and Division of Fire Prevention and Control.
“This partnership represents the best of the Colorado spirit, putting young people to work while protecting the lives and livelihoods of millions of Coloradans,” said Scott Scott Segerstrom, Executive Director, Colorado Youth Corp Association. “This investment from DNR will help build the next generation of wildland firefighters, grow our outdoor recreation economy, and respond to the existential threat of climate change. Young people serving in their local communities for the benefit of all is something for which every Coloradan can be proud.”
The $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill signed by President Joe Biden yesterday will include full funding for efforts to provide clean water to tribal nations.
Over the next five years $3.5 billion will head to the Indian Health Services water and sanitation construction program to pay for tribal clean water projects.
On top of that, the infrastructure bill increases funding to the Environmental Protection Agency’s clean water programs, which will leave $868 million for tribes to build on or create better water treatment systems, along with training and technical assistance.
One proposal missing from the massive federal infrastructure package is the proposal by Rep. Melanie Stansbury for $200 million that would have fully funded the Rio Grande Pueblos Irrigations Improvement Project. The amendment was cut during negotiations in the House.
“Pueblo leaders in our district and beyond identified the need for long-overdue funding for Pueblo irrigation systems,” Stansbury said in a statement. Despite the funding being axed from the final bill Biden signed yesterday, there is still more than $440 million for tribal climate programs and $25 million for tribal drought projects. “We will keep working to secure funding in partnership with our Pueblo and tribal nations,” Stansbury said.
Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez praised the funding that will come to tribal communities.
“Safe drinking water is a basic human need, and the consequences of not having access to reliable potable water supplies are long-lasting and destructive,” he said.
“In the most powerful country in the world, as many as 40% of homes on the Navajo Nation lack this essential service that most Americans take for granted.”
– Jonathan Nez, Navajo Nation President
The money is welcome and just the first step in a list of solutions brought forth by the Tribal Clean Water Initiative, a group of advocates and tribal officials working on the priorities of a similar effort in the Colorado River basin.
The group is pushing the White House to create a better relationship with tribal government communities by listening and addressing their needs when it comes to water infrastructure.
Their premise is focused on what they call a “whole government” approach that outlines ways for the federal government to have better discussions with tribal governments to better understand their needs.
Tanana said tribes being able to operate and maintain drinking water systems is a big part of self-determination.
“Ensuring clean drinking water for Native Americans is part of the unfinished business of our Republic,” she said.
Source New Mexico is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Source New Mexico maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Marisa Demarco for questions: email@example.com. Follow Source New Mexico on Facebook and Twitter.
The St. Vrain and Left Hand Water Conservancy District (SVLHWD) and the Left Hand Water District have announced a new agreement that will allow sharing Colorado-Big Thompson (“C-BT”) project water for the next decade.
The agreement allows the Left Hand Water District to receive critical water supplies for the growing number of people it serves and provide drought protection. This is the first long-term water sharing agreement between the districts.
“Our number one goal is to ensure safe, reliable water for our customers and this helps continue that,” said Christopher Smith, General Manager of the Left Hand Water District. “Water sharing is the future and I am proud of this mutually beneficial agreement that could serve as a model for others,” he added.
The Left Hand Water District will make an annual payment for the option to lease water from St. Vrain and Left Hand Water Conservancy District. In years that the option is exercised, an additional payment based on the amount of available water would be made.
“When the voters approved 7A last year, they said they wanted to protect drinking water,” said Sean Cronin, Executive Director of the St. Vrain and Left Hand Water Conservancy District. “This creative solution reflects what our constituents want: smart, local solutions and partnerships that ensure reliable drinking water for our local communities”.
About the St. Vrain and Left Hand Water Conservancy District
St. Vrain and Left Hand Water Conservancy District (District) was formed in 1971. For fifty years the District has facilitated and implemented water programs and services and takes a comprehensive look at how all these components work together. Specifically, the District protects water quality and drinking water sources, safeguards and conserves drinking water, supports growing of local food, identifies creative solutions for storing water for dry years, and works with partners and leads in efforts to maintain healthy rivers and creeks.
As a local government, non-profit agency formed at the request of our community under state laws, the District serves Longmont and the surrounding land area or basin that drains into both the St. Vrain and Left Hand Creeks.
About the Left Hand Water District
The Left Hand Water District was originally created in 1962 as a private non-profit water supply company and was then established as a division of local government under Title 32 of the Colorado Revised Statutes (CRS) in 1989. With a 7 member Board of Directors and a staff of 27 employees, the District serves a population of over 20,000 people in a 100 square mile area of Boulder and Weld Counties. Of the nearly 7800 individual taps, over 90% serve single and multi-family residential properties.
Heading into the cold season w/ La Niña kicking into high gear, the numbers in the south-central US are worrisome – not to mention the lingering issues on the northern High Plains and emerging #drought in the Carolinas.