As water levels fall, collaborative partnerships rise — The La Junta Tribune-Democrat

From The Ag Journal (Candace Krebs) via The La Junta Tribune-Democrat:

A central theme of every Colorado Ag Water Summit is collaboration, and the latest gathering was no exception. A series of panels discussed how to work collectively to foster more water storage, ensure future funding opportunities and support beneficial policies that will keep the water flowing in agriculture even as an ominous regional drought persists.

Welcome snow greeted participants at the in-person event in Winter Park the same day as Denver received its latest first snowfall on record. Winter snow accumulation has been alarmingly low across much of the West in recent years, with the state’s designated Colorado River compact negotiator, general counsel for the Upper Gunnison Water Conservancy John McClow, sharing sobering graphs of plunging inflows into reservoirs Mead and Powell since 2000.

With challenges so immense, strategic partnerships — between urban and rural interests and even between regions and states — are no longer a luxury but an imperative, according to many of the speakers on the two-day program that was simultaneously broadcast online.

Indicative of this trend was a panel moderated by Terry Fankhauser, chief executive of the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association, which included colleagues from the environmental community, including Aaron Citron, senior policy adviser for The Nature Conservancy; Ted Kowalski, senior program officer for the Walton Family Foundation; and Brian Jackson, senior manager of western water for the Environmental Defense Fund.

Fankhauser said the group had been meeting informally for four or five years to explore how to use collective resources and political clout to gain support for water improvement projects with multi-purpose benefits. Getting to know each other personally while hashing out various positions was essential to building trust, he said…

Along with collaboration, another theme was creativity.

New reservoirs to capture surplus water have long been on the wish list of many agriculturalists, but the water storage of the future will probably look different than the storage of the past, according to one panel.

Scott Lorenz, senior project manager for Colorado Springs Utilities, said converting old gravel pits across the Lower Arkansas basin into water holding facilities had turned a former liability into a positive…

Combining the new pits with rehabilitation of existing structures could create a more dynamic, flexible system better suited to dealing with the droughts of the future, he said.

One benefit is the ability to move water from lower elevations in the winter to higher elevations in the summer to reduce evaporative losses, he said.

On-farm micro-storage is also becoming more popular in the Arkansas basin, he added, noting that many individual farmers are obtaining federal EQIP (environmental quality incentive) conservation funds to help make improvements.

Asked about underground storage, in which treated water is pumped into aquifers, the panelists said it was not a cheap or easy replacement for surface storage but could help augment it.

With limits on water, existing water users will need to find creative ways to share it. Municipal water managers emphasized their interest in working with irrigation districts to keep land in production.

Parker Water and Sanitation District Director Ron Redd said his district’s environmental mitigation efforts were focused on preserving rural culture rather than trout streams or whitewater rapids. Parker recently formed a partnership with the Lower Platte district, which will involve capturing excess spring runoff in Prewitt Reservoir in northeastern Colorado and then piping the water to Parker Reservoir. The goal is to reduce the fast-growing suburb’s reliance on non-renewable aquifer water while also supporting smaller municipalities along the way by helping them build new treatment plants…

That project centers on developing a new water right rather than just sharing some of the water back to where it originated, such as a Colorado Springs program that returns water to farmers along the Lower Arkansas five years out of ten.

McClow said ongoing river compact negotiations by the seven states that share the Colorado River would also require give-and-take.

One existing bone of contention is that the upper basin, which includes Colorado and Wyoming, is charged for evaporative losses, while the lower basin is not.

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