#GlenwoodSprings secures #water right for #whitewater parks: Agreements with opposers allow for future water development — @AspenJournalism

A view looking up the Colorado River from the pedestrian bridge over the river, just upstream of the river’s confluence with the Roaring Fork River. The location is one of three sites where the City of Glenwood Springs plans to build a whitewater park using a water right for recreation. CREDIT: BRENT GARDNER-SMITH/ASPEN JOURNALISM

Click the link to read the article on the Aspen Journalism website (Heather Sackett):

After a lengthy water court battle, the city of Glenwood Springs has secured a conditional water right for three potential whitewater parks on the Colorado River.

The new recreational in-channel diversion, or RICD, water right is a win for Colorado’s river recreation community, even though the city had to make concessions to future water development to get it.

The new water right is tied to three proposed boating parks: No Name, Horseshoe Bend and Two Rivers. The City plans to build a park at just one of the sites. The whitewater parks would be able to call for higher flows during certain times of year — 1,250 cubic feet per second from April 1 to Sept. 30; 2,500 cfs between June 8 and July 23 and 4,000 cfs for five days between June 30 and July 6.

The different flow rates would allow beginner, intermediate and expert boaters to all enjoy the boating structures, which have yet to be built. The five days of high flow would allow Glenwood to host a competitive event around the Fourth of July holiday.

The decree granted by water court judge James Berkley Boyd on March 23 is the culmination of nine years of work for Glenwood Springs, crafting agreements or otherwise settling with all parties that had filed statements of opposition in the case.

“We know outdoor recreation is a big part of our local culture and local economy so being able to have this opportunity to expand options and enhance options for our river recreation is really exciting,” said Bryana Starbuck, public information officer for the city of Glenwood Springs.

The city will now begin looking at designs for each of the three sites, investigating potential funding options and choosing the one that is the best fit, Starbuck said. The city will have to reapply to water court in six years to show it’s making progress on the parks to maintain the conditional right.

Glenwood Springs joins a handful of other Colorado communities with RICDs for human-made whitewater features, including Steamboat Springs, Pueblo, Fort Collins, Golden, Avon, Breckenridge, Durango, Aspen, Basalt and Carbondale.

Hattie Johnson, Southern Rockies stewardship director for American Whitewater, said in a prepared statement that this is an incredible victory for river recreation.

“The Colorado River through Glenwood Canyon is an iconic stretch of whitewater that attracts residents and visitors from far and wide,” she said. “This was an important case to ensure the Colorado River, the heart of the Glenwood Springs community, will continue to be enjoyed well into the future.”

“The Homestake Partners (Aurora Water and Colorado Springs Utilities) and Glenwood Springs worked very hard over a long period of time to reach the negotiated conclusion embodied within the stipulated Decree entered by the Water Court,” read a prepared statement from Greg Baker, manager of public relations for Aurora Water.

A map filed by the city of Glenwood Springs showing the locations of three proposed whitewater parks. The city recently secured a recreational in-channel diversion (RICD) water right to build the parks.

Agreements with opposers

To get its water right, the city had to negotiate agreements with a long list of other water users and entities who opposed it, including the Colorado Water Conservation Board and Front Range water providers like Denver Water and Colorado Springs Utilities.

According to its decree, Glenwood Springs made allowances for future water rights that have not yet been developed.

A RICD water right’s power comes from its ability to place a “call.” In theory, once built, if the whitewater parks were not receiving the full amount of water they are entitled to, the city could “call out” other junior water rights users upstream, who would have to stop diverting water until the parks got their full amount.

But the decree includes a provision called “Yield Protection for New Water Rights,” which lays out restrictions on the city’s ability to call for its water during dry years. It allows 30,000 additional acre-feet of water to be developed over the next 30 years, which would be protected from a call above 1,250 cfs. As long as a new water rights holder could prove with real-time stream gauge monitoring data that they are not getting their full amount because of a call placed by Glenwood Springs for the 2,500 cfs amount, then Glenwood has to cancel the call.

This would kick in only in years when the 50% exceedance probability for streamflow in the Colorado River at Dotsero is less than 1.4 million acre-feet from April through June, according to forecasts from the National Resources Conservation Service. The provision would apply to water rights younger than Dec. 31, 2013, which is the appropriation date for the city’s water right.

Glenwood Springs also cannot use the RICD water right as the basis to oppose any future water development upstream on the Colorado River or its tributaries.

These agreements, which allow for some level of future water development by upstream parties that will not be subject to the restrictions created by a RICD, have been included in other recently completed RICDs, like Pitkin County’s whitewater waves in Basalt.

The Colorado River at No Name, above Glenwood Springs, and just off of I-70 near the No Name rest stop. This is one of three sites where the City of Glenwood Springs plans to build a whitewater park with a newly secured water right for recreation.

Water for recreation hard to secure

The backbone of Colorado’s of water law, known as prior appropriation, is the concept that older water rights get first use of the river. But even though RICDs have only been around for about 20 years and are therefore junior to major agricultural and transmountain diversions, RICDs still often end up making concessions to allow future water development.

That is partly because the CWCB is tasked with making sure RICDs, which help keep water in the river channel, don’t prevent the state from developing all the water it legally can under the Colorado River Compact.

“I think in a perfect world you would have a more clear delineation of recreational rights like this one,” said Bart Miller, healthy rivers program director for environmental conservation group Western Resource Advocates. “If they are applying for water, they should be treated the same as any other right, that is, when they come along, they get their place in line and they get water appropriate for that time.”

Securing water for recreation has proved challenging in Colorado, where agriculture and cities have long dictated water policy, even as river recreation represents a growing segment of the state’s economy.

In 2021, after being met with opposition, river recreation proponents scrapped a proposal that would have let natural stream features like a rapid secure a water right for recreation. A second proposal earlier this year that would have allowed municipalities to create a “recreation in-channel values reach” has also been tabled and will not be introduced at the legislature this session.

“That’s something I think we can aspire to, to have rights for recreation and the environment be on an even playing field with all the other rights in the state,” Miller said. “I think it’s really important to the state of Colorado to recognize and support recreational water rights and recreational uses.”

Aspen Journalism covers water and rivers in collaboration with The Aspen Times and the Glenwood Spring Post-Independent. This story ran in the March 6 edition of The Aspen Times and Glenwood Springs Post-Independent.

Large declines in #snowpack across the U.S. West — NOAA #runoff

Click the link to read the article on the Climate.gov website (Michon Scott and Rebecca Lindsey):

In many watersheds in the western United States, more water is stored in the mountain snowpack than in the region’s human-built reservoirs. As climate has warmed, spring snowpack across the American West has declined by nearly 20 percent on average between 1955 and 2020—and by significantly more at some individual locations, according to an analysis by the U.S Environmental Protection Agency.

Observed change in April snowpack—historically the month of peak snow volume—across the western United States from 1955–2020. Locations where April snowpack has increased appear in blue, with larger dots for bigger increases. Locations where April snowpack has decreased appear in brown, with larger dots indicating bigger declines. Map by NOAA Climate.gov based on USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service snow data provided by the EPA.

Changes in snowpack mean changes in streamflows, which affect millions of Americans who rely on snowpack for drinking water and crop irrigation. Declining snowpack also increases fire risk and impairs hydropower production.

“From 1955 to 2020, April snowpack declined at 86 percent of the sites measured,” according to the EPA summary. “Decreases have been especially prominent in Washington, Oregon, northern California, and the northern Rockies. In the Northwest (Idaho, Oregon, Washington) all but four stations saw decreases in snowpack over the period of record.”

Observed changes in the timing of peak snowpack from 1982–2020. Locations where snowpack is peaking earlier in the year appear in pink, and locations where snowpack is peaking later in the year appear in green. Map by NOAA Climate.gov based on USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service snow data provided by the EPA.

One way to think about the Western snowpack is that it’s like a five-year old’s Halloween candy. If you are five years old and control that candy yourself, there’s a good chance it will be gone in days. If your mom holds on to it for you, she will dole it out to you slowly and responsibly, making it last a lot longer. In the West, precipitation that falls as snow and persists in mountain snowpack is like mom-managed candy: it remains available months later to keep rivers and streams flowing through dry summer months.

In many places, however, it’s not just the amount of snow that’s changing; it’s also the timing of the melt. When the melt starts and finishes early, streamflow may be out of sync with both human water demands and ecological processes like fish spawning. According to the EPA:

“About 81 percent of sites have experienced a shift toward earlier peak snowpack… .This earlier trend is especially pronounced in southwestern states like Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah. Across all stations, peak snowpack has shifted earlier by an average of nearly eight days since 1982…, based on the long-term average rate of change.”


These maps are based on an annual climate change indicator from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Supported with funding from the Climate Observations and Monitoring Division in NOAA’s Climate Program Office, the indicator is based on analysis of snow observations kept by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Resource Conservation Service for more than half a century. The indicator is one of dozens the agency uses to track the U.S. impacts of global warming and climate change.

Aspinall Unit forecast for operations April 7, 2022 — Reclamation #GunnisonRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Click the graphic for a larger view.

Tribes assert #water rights on #ColoradoRiver Basin: 1922 Colorado River Compact that divided resources between states left out Native Americans — The #Durango Herald #COriver #aridifcation

Lake Nighthorse and Durango March 2016 photo via Greg Hobbs.

Click the link to read the article on The Durango Herald website (Jim Mimiaga). Here’s an excerpt:

The Ute Mountain Ute and Southern Ute tribes of Southwest Colorado are fighting for water, including an effort to reclaim rights flowing downstream to other users. Ute Mountain Chairman Manuel Heart and Southern Ute Council member Lorelei Cloud presented their perspectives and plans for water management during a session of the Southwestern Water Conservation District’s annual meeting last week in Durango…

Native Americans did not gain U.S. citizenship until two years after the 1922 Colorado River Compact divided Colorado River water between upper and lower basins. Now, the 1922 compact is under review for water management changes in the mega-drought era and has a 2026 deadline for new interim guidelines. This time, tribes are asserting their water rights and demanding to be included in negotiations about how Colorado River Basin water is divided…

From the 2018 Tribal Water Study, this graphic shows the location of the 29 federally-recognized tribes in the Colorado River Basin. Map credit: USBR

Thirty tribes within the Colorado River Basin hold 25% of the water rights, but some of the water has not been available for use or has not been recognized as tribe-owned.

“When the laws were made, we were not included; we were an afterthought. We know (tribes) have 25% or more of that water,” Cloud said. “If tribes were to put that water to use, it will be a major impact for those downstream who have been using it for free. As tribes put our water to use, there will be less water down river.”

Cloud said the Southern Ute Tribe has 129,000 acre-feet per year of federally reserved water rights on seven rivers that run through its reservation, but it only has the capacity to divert 40,600 acre-feet per year. The tribe stores water in Vallecito, Lemon and Lake Nighthorse reservoirs…

Ute Mountain Ute Chairman Manuel Heart said his tribe is also continuing its fight for water rights. He is chairman of the 10 Tribe Partnership, a coalition of tribes working to protect their water rights and provide input on Colorado River Basin water management.

Atmospheric levels of powerful greenhouse gas #methane rose by a record amount (17 parts per billion) last year – highest annual increase since start of measurements in 1983 — World Meteorological Organization

Methane emissions 2021 via WMO

#FortCollins City Council mulls an unusual path for preventing oil and gas development — The Fort Collins Coloradoan #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

Downtown “Old Town” Fort Collins. By Citycommunications at English Wikipedia, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=50283010

Click the link to read the article on the Fort Collins Coloradoan website (Jacy Marmaduke). Here’s an excerpt:

One way or another, Fort Collins City Council is interested in limiting oil and gas activity as much as possible in the city’s boundaries and growth management area. What’s less clear is how they’ll try to do it. The city could adopt regulations, currently being drafted by staff, that effectively ban new drilling in city limits. It could incentivize the plugging and abandoning of wells or leverage new state rules to do so. Or Fort Collins could pursue another idea that attracted some City Council members’ attention at a March 22 work session: What if the city bought all the mineral rights in Fort Collins?

“I’m talking about buying out the operators who own the oil and gas,” Mayor Jeni Arndt said at the work session. “That just seems like an elegant solution that is probably cheaper than all these rules and regulations and potential lawsuits for takings.”


Staff are investigating the feasibility of Arndt’s idea while continuing to work on the regulations and considering how to facilitate the plugging of inactive or low-producing wells. Ralph Cantafio, a Colorado attorney who specializes in oil and gas, told the Coloradoan the buy-out idea seems “wildly impractical.”


But first, a rundown of the city’s draft regulations. Staff have been working on them since 2019, with the process drawn out as they awaited new state regulations on everything from setbacks to financial assurances. A 2018 state law gave municipalities the right to adopt oil and gas regulations that are stricter than the state standards and triggered the overhaul of the state’s regulations. City staff are considering draft regulations that would allow drilling only in areas with industrial zoning, located at least 2,000 feet from homes, parks, natural areas, schools, hospitals and anything defined as “occupiable space.” The 2,000-foot standard, unlike the state’s regulations, would leave no room for exceptions. It’s based on a Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment study that found the greatest health risks of living near oil and gas wells were for those living within 2,000 feet of the site. No land in city limits meets all the city’s draft requirements, so they would essentially prohibit new drilling. Council members haven’t expressed any discomfort at that possibility, pointing to the 2013 ballot measure where about 55% of voters supported a five-year moratorium on fracking.