Historically Left Out, #ColoradoRiver Tribes Call For More Sway In Western #Water Talks — KUNC #COriver

Many Indian reservations are located in or near contentious river basins where demand for water outstrips supply. Map courtesy of the Bureau of Reclamation.

From KUNC (Luke Runyon):

“It’s time to protect Lake Mead and Arizona,” the state’s Republican governor, Doug Ducey, said in his state of the state address in January 2019. He spoke to lawmakers in the midst of uncomfortable, emotional discussions at the statehouse in Phoenix about who gets access to water in the arid West, and who doesn’t.

“It’s time to ratify the Drought Contingency Plan,” Ducey said to a round of applause.

The multi-state deal was the first issue Ducey brought up in the speech, and indicated it should be the legislature’s first priority. The deal was designed to keep the Colorado River’s largest reservoir — Lake Mead outside Las Vegas — from dropping rapidly and putting the region’s 40 million residents in a precarious position.

Within weeks Arizona finished its portion of the plan. Tribal leaders in the state didn’t receive any accolades in Ducey’s speech. But a recent Arizona State University report suggests they should have. The report’s authors said without the actions of two tribes — the Gila River Indian Community and the Colorado River Indian Tribes — the deal would’ve likely collapsed.

“We know that you have to live in harmony with your surrounding community, with the water resources, you have to respect that,” Gila River Indian Community governor Stephen Roe Lewis said after Ducey’s speech.

To get the deal across the finish line, Lewis’s tribe agreed to lease a portion of its water to the Central Arizona Groundwater Replenishment District, which supplies water for new homebuilding in the Phoenix and Tucson metro areas. The Colorado River Indian Tribes agreed to fallow cropland on its reservation, which spans the Arizona-California border, and leave the unused water in Lake Mead.

“This is a legacy, history making moment for all of Arizona,” Lewis said.

Arizona’s portion of the Drought Contingency Plan became a unique example in the basin of tribal leaders asserting themselves in broader discussions about the river’s management. Historically, tribes in the Colorado River basin have been marginalized and ignored, left out or outright banned from discussions of Western water development.

With the drought plan done, some tribal leaders say their water rights can’t be ignored any longer, and that it’s irresponsible of Western water leaders to leave them out of large multi-state agreements. And a recently finished federal study is amplifying tribes’ call for a seat at the table to negotiate the river’s future.

“Early on, five years ago, the tribes didn’t think, well, how do we participate in this process?” said Daryl Vigil, member of the Jicarilla Apache Nation in northern New Mexico, and acting director of the Ten Tribes Partnership, an organization that represents the interests of 10 Colorado River basin tribes.

“But, I think given the nature of the senior nature of tribal water rights, they absolutely needed to be involved in that process,” Vigil said.

In December 2018, the federal government released the Tribal Water Study, which looked at water use within tribes, and projected future demands. One big takeaway from the report gained attention across the Southwest: On paper, tribes have rights to about 20% of all the water in the Colorado River watershed. Tribes aren’t using all the water they have rights to, but they plan to, which will have ripple effects throughout the entire southwestern watershed, Vigil said…

Celene Hawkins, who heads up The Nature Conservancy’s work on tribal water issues in the Colorado basin, said while tribes were largely left out of the negotiating process that led to the 2007 guidelines, the tone is different now. (The Nature Conservancy receives funding from the Walton Family Foundation, which also supports KUNC’s Colorado River coverage)

“I am hearing more conversation throughout the basin about tribal inclusion in the process,” Hawkins said. “I don’t know how it’s going to look yet, but there seems to be a commitment to doing better by having the tribal voices at the table this time.”

When the tribes show up to negotiate, they’ll be entering the room with some of the most senior water rights in the basin, which comes with their own level of value and power. Selwyn Whiteskunk, who manages water issues for the Ute Mountain Ute tribe in southern Colorado, said he plans to push for more flexibility in the tribe’s water rights portfolio.

Montrose: Aspinall Unit operations meeting January 23, 2020 #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

The next Aspinall Operations meeting will be on Thursday, January 23rd, at the Holiday Inn Express in Montrose. Start time is 1:00.

Aspinall Unit

Montrose Councillors get briefing by @USBR and @BLM_CO regarding future Paradox Valley salinity operations

Paradox Valley Location Map. Credit: Bureau of Reclamation

From The Montrose Press (Katharhynn Heidelberg):

The main injection well for salinity control in the Paradox Valley is hearing the end of its useful life, prompting a draft document spelling out actions to take.

Montrose County commissioners, who met on Wednesday afternoon with several representatives of the Bureau of Reclamation and Bureau of Land Management, raised concerns over scenic and recreational values, seismic activity and energy use that would come into play, depending on which of four scenarios the Department of Interior selects to address salt loading.

“Some of the concerns I have is the aesthetics of it,” Commissioner Roger Rash said, referring to an alternative in the agencies’ draft environmental impact statement that calls for several large evaporative ponds.

Commissioner Sue Hansen, meanwhile, was concerned about private land bordering the proposed sites for new salinity control facilities, as well as seismic activity…

Agencies offer strategies

The first alternative in the Dec. 6 draft EIS is no action: salinity control would stop in the Paradox Valley.

Alternative B calls for a new deep injection well, under which brine would be collected and piped to the existing surface treatment facility and, from there, piped to a new deep injection well and injected into unpressurized sections of the Leadville Formation.

Two proposed areas were analyzed as possible locations for the new well. One includes a combination of BuRec land and BLM-administered land on Skein Mesa.

The second area is on BLM-administered land on Monogram Mesa or Fawn Springs Bench.

Each site would require rights of way or withdrawals of BLM land and a variety of infrastructure; additionally, the Monogram Mesa site would require BuRec to acquire 49 acres of private land.

Potential Gunnison sage-grouse habitat implications were noted, although the draft EIS did not deem these to be significant.

If Alternative B is selected, new seismic investigations would be completed to determine the final site of the well; this would require additional analysis under the National Environmental Policy Act.

Alternative C would control salinity through several evaporation ponds and piping. It would require a 60-acre landfill that could be as tall as 100 feet above ground…

The draft EIS acknowledges the ponds and landfill would “negatively affect the visual landscape of the Paradox Valley” and would not conform with the BLM Uncompahgre Field Office’s resource management plan, so an amendment to that plan would be required…

Alternative C would also have the most indirect effect on cultural resources and on wildlife, particularly migratory birds…

Rash said the proposed mitigation itself wasn’t visually appealing, either, particularly putting netting over the evaporative ponds; McWhirter said that would only be feasible for one of the ponds.

The draft EIS also looked at zero-liquid discharge technology, Alternative D.

Under it, brine would be piped to a treatment plant consisting of thermally driven crystallizers to evaporate and condense water from brine, resulting in a solid salt and freshwater stream. The salt would also go to a 60-acre landfill.

There would be 80 acres of permanent surface disturbance, requiring the withdrawal of 267 acres of BLM-administered lands, further, 56 acres of private land would have to be obtained.

Alternative D would also use the most energy — 26,700 megawatts per hour for electrical energy use and 4.2 million CCF (hundreds of cubic feet) of natural gas per year.

Hansen asked about seismic activity related to injection activities and was told it’s not usually significant — although there was a 4.5 magnitude earthquake close to the current injection well — and that seismic activity is indeed associated with the injection drilling…

Summary of alternatives

• A (no action): 95,000 tons of salt per year no longer removed from Dolores and Colorado Rivers; induced seismicity; increase in downstream salinity numeric criteria.

• B (new injection well): removal of up to 114,000 tons of salt per year; induced seismicity; drilling under Dolores River Canyon Wilderness Study Area (if sited on Skein Mesa location); 22-mile pipeline and pumping stations to transport brine with high hydrogen sulfide concentration (if sited on Monogram Mesa location).

• C (evaporation ponds): Removal of up to 171,000 tons of salt annually; 540-care surface evaporation ponds; wildlife mortality; non-conformance with BLM’s Resource Management Plan; 60-acre salt disposal landfill…

• D (zero-liquid discharge technology): Removal of up to 171,000 tons of salt annually; significant energy requirement; 60-acre salt disposal landfill…

The draft environmental impact statement is available online at http://www.usbr.gov/uc/progact/paradox/index.html.

Comments may be submitted until 11:59 p.m., Mountain Time, Feb. 4. Those interested may submit comments by email to paradoxeis@usbr.gov or to Ed Warner, Area Manager, Bureau of Reclamation, 445 West Gunnison Ave, Suite 221, Grand Junction, CO 81501.

Paradox Valley via Airphotona.com

#LakeMead at its highest elevation since 2014, shortages still loom #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification #DCP

Intake towers for power generation at Hoover Dam December 13, 2019.

From The Boulder City Review (Celia Shortt Goodyear):

The water at Lake Mead is projected to be at its highest level in years, but the drought is still not over, according to the Bureau of Reclamation.

Lake Mead’s elevation is around 1,092 feet, which is the highest it has been since May 2014, but it is still only 42% full, said Patti Aaron, public affairs officer for the bureau’s Lower Colorado Basin Region.

“Drought isn’t determined by the amount of water in Lake Mead,” Aaron said. “We would need to see at least two to three back-to-back years of above-average hydrology, hopefully more, to say we are out of the drought. There isn’t a set definition of when drought ends.”

There have not been two back-to-back good years since the late 1990s.

Aaron said the higher water levels are due to a wet November and December, causing an above-average inflow into the lake.

“Regarding the rising lake levels, this is part of the normal seasonal trend in which cooler weather reduces water orders from Lake Mead,” she said.

She added that the water level will decline by nearly 20 feet in the spring and summer because water orders will increase before the elevation rebounds later in the year.

The higher water levels are also due to conservation by the lower basin states and Mexico. The Lower Basin Drought Contingency Plan, which took effect on Jan. 1, requires water savings contributions by the United States and Mexico.

Aaron said voluntary conservation activities added about 9 feet to Lake Mead’s elevation last year.

The latest “E-Newsletter” is hot off the presses from the Hutchins Water Center

Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:

SNOWPACK ABOVE RUNOFF FORECAST

Official forecasts for spring runoff into Upper Colorado Basin reservoirs are below average, despite an above-average snowpack. This is due to low soil moisture resulting from a dry summer and fall. Details are in this forecast discussion from the Colorado Basin River Forecasting Center.

Aspinall Unit operations update: Blue Mesa Reservoir within one foot of icing target

From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

Releases from the Aspinall Unit were decreased to 1100 cfs on Thursday, January 2nd. Blue Mesa Reservoir elevation ended the year within a foot of the icing target. Releases will be maintained at this level for the near future with possible adjustments made when new runoff forecast information becomes available. Flows in the lower Gunnison River are currently above the baseflow target of 1050 cfs. River flows are expected to stay above the baseflow target for the foreseeable future.

Pursuant to the Aspinall Unit Operations Record of Decision (ROD), the baseflow target in the lower Gunnison River, as measured at the Whitewater gage, is 1050 cfs for January through March.

Currently, there are no diversions into the Gunnison Tunnel and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon are around 1100 cfs. Current flow information is obtained from provisional data that may undergo revision subsequent to review.

Blue Mesa Reservoir

Who should pay for water conservation in the West? Water managers wade into discussion — @AspenJournalism #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification #DCP #CRWUA2019

Seen from the air, Glen Canyon Dam holds back the Colorado River to form Lake Powell. The state of Colorado is looking into how to fund a program that would pay irrigators to reduce their consumptive use in order to send water downstream to a savings account in Lake Powell. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

From Aspen Journalism (Heather Sackett):

Water managers from throughout the Colorado River Basin took the stage at the Colorado River Water Users Association conference earlier this month to talk about conserving water in the face of the twin threats to the river: increasing demand and climate change.

The state of Colorado is currently exploring a water-use-reduction program that is largely designed to pay farmers and ranchers on the Western Slope to voluntarily conserve water. While there’s still debate whether such a program should be implemented, the first question many ask is how to pay for such a program. In recent months, some water managers have come up with innovative ways to fund the controversial water-use-reduction plan — known as demand management — that wouldn’t rely entirely on taxpayers.

The drought contingency plan, which water leaders inked at last year’s annual CRWUA meeting, set up a reserve account of 500,000 acre-feet of water that the Upper Basin — Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico — could use to store water in Lake Powell as an insurance policy against dwindling reservoir levels.

In November, Colorado voters passed Proposition DD, which is projected to funnel roughly $16 million a year to the Colorado Water Conservation Board, or CWCB, by taxing sports betting. Demand management is one of the two things money from Proposition DD could fund (the other is Water Plan grants).

However, it’s widely accepted that $16 million is not enough to fund either of those things in their entirety. Demand management needs other sources of money.

Although the Glenwood Springs-based Colorado River Water Conservation District still isn’t convinced that a demand-management program is the right approach for the Western Slope, general manager Andy Mueller told the Las Vegas crowd that the Upper Basin has to reduce its water consumption — and explore creative solutions to accomplish that.

“I often talk about the Lower Basin overuse and how that’s driving the problem, and I will say they in the Lower Basin need to fix that problem,” Mueller said. “I will also say we in the Upper Basin … need to reduce our use. The science is pretty clear. Water we all thought was there even 15 years ago is not going be there. You can’t have water for the environment and the people if we are not reducing consumptive use throughout the basin.”

General Manager of the Colorado River Water Conservation District Andy Mueller speaks at the district’s annual seminar in 2018. Mueller told the audience the Upper Basin needs to reduce its consumptive use at the Colorado River Water Users Association conference in Las Vegas earlier this month. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

Who should pay?

So, if nearly all water users on the Colorado River, including those in the Lower Basin — California, Nevada and Arizona — would stand to benefit from a demand-management program, who should pay for it?

Not Colorado taxpayers, Mueller said, at least not entirely.

“Eighty million (dollars) a year would need to be out there in payments to get the appropriate amount of water in Lake Powell,” he said. “That cost to taxpayers is too high. So you turn to: Who else benefits from us creating a storage account in Lake Powell?”

One answer: power providers in both the Upper and Lower Basin states, who all need Lake Powell to remain above 3,525 feet, the minimum level required to continue generating hydropower. Some Upper Basin power cooperatives such as Western Area Power Administration, which sell power to local communities, including Aspen and Glenwood Springs, purchase hydropower generated at Lake Powell. Adding a small demand-management surcharge to customers’ bills is something that should be explored, Mueller said.

“Power customers should share in the costs of us storing for demand management,” Mueller said.

Another potential source of funds could be nonprofit environmental groups, since sending more water downstream to Lake Powell would also benefit stream health. The federal government, whose Bureau of Reclamation operates Lake Powell and Lake Mead, also has a role to play, Mueller said.

But no matter where the money comes from, Mueller said it must be channeled through the CWCB in a heavily regulated market to prevent speculation by private buyers.

“We have been very clear it needs to be a guided market if it’s going to happen, with lots of thoughtful, proactive rules to prevent lots of serious consequences,” he said.

This field in lower Woody Creek is irrigated with water that eventually flows into the Colorado River. The state of Colorado is exploring how to fund a program that would pay irrigators to reduce their consumptive use in order to send water downstream to a savings account in Lake Powell. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

State-led exploration

The CWCB currently has a workgroup devoted to exploring how to fund demand management. The group has met twice so far, but CWCB facilitator Anna Mauss said the two biggest questions the group is grappling with are these: how much water is needed and what would the cost be. The workgroup, she said, will dive deeper into funding strategies at the next meeting, scheduled for the end of January.

“We are baby-stepping into this, trying to be diligent,” Mauss said. “It’s really just looking at scenarios at this point.”

The state is also encouraging innovative ideas from the private sector. The CWCB recently awarded $72,000 to 10.10.10, a Colorado Nonprofit Development Center project that aims to tackle “wicked problems” in water and climate. Under the program, 10 entrepreneurs will, over 10 days, attempt to tackle 10 systemic issues that are not adequately addressed by government, organizations or institutions.

“Yes, we are looking at demand management, and it could be one of the wicked problems we address,” said Jeffrey Nathanson, president of 10.10.10.

Water from the Colorado River irrigates farmland in the Grand Valley. The state of Colorado is looking into how to fund a program that would pay irrigators to reduce their consumptive use in order to send water downstream to a savings account in Lake Powell. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

Platform for payment?

While some people work on finding sources of funding, others are already creating a platform to pay irrigators once the money is in place. Southwest Colorado water managers Steven Ruddell and David Stiller think a reverse auction to compensate water users for using less is the best way to go.

A reverse auction, which features many sellers (farmers and ranchers) and one buyer (the state of Colorado through the CWCB), would allow water-rights holders to set the lowest price they are willing to accept to voluntarily send their water downstream. According to Ruddell and Stiller’s paper on the subject, a reverse auction would remove paying for demand management from a political process and move it into a market-based process that lets water-rights holders bid the fair-market value of their water. It would also keep costs down for the CWCB.

Ruddell and Stiller presented their reverse-auction idea at the Upper Colorado River Basin Forum at Colorado Mesa University last month.

“We’ve tried to bite off a small piece of demand management by suggesting we use an auction that people are familiar with,” Ruddell said. “It’s used to determine the value of something, especially in the ag world.”

There are still many questions surrounding how a demand-management program might be paid for.

“There are all sorts of options,” Mueller said. “We shouldn’t just focus on raising taxes in our state.”

Aspen Journalism collaborates with The Aspen Times and other Swift Communications newspapers on coverage of water and rivers. This story appeared in the Dec. 30 edition of The Aspen Times.

Click here to view the Twitter hashtag #CRWUA2019 from the conference.