On Stressed #ColoradoRiver, States Test How Many More Diversions Watershed Can Bear — KUNC #COriver #aridification

Gross Reservoir — The Gross Reservoir Expansion Project will raise the height of the existing dam by 131 feet, which will allow the capacity of the reservoir, pictured, to increase by 77,000 acre-feet. The additional water storage will help prevent future shortfalls during droughts and helps offset an imbalance in Denver Water’s collection system. With this project, Denver Water will provide water to current and future customers while providing environmental benefits to Colorado’s rivers and streams. Photo credit: Denver Water

From KUNC (Luke Runyon):

The Colorado River is short on water. But you wouldn’t know it by looking at a slate of proposed water projects in the river’s Upper Basin states of Colorado, Utah and Wyoming.

The river and its tributaries provide water for 40 million people in the Southwest. For about the last 20 years, demand for water has outstripped the supply, causing its largest reservoirs to decline.

In the Bureau of Reclamation’s 2012 Colorado River Basin Water Supply and Demand Study, you can pinpoint when the lines crossed somewhere around the year 2002. It’s a well-documented and widely accepted imbalance.

That harsh reality — of the river’s water promised to too many people — has prompted all sorts of activity and agreements within the seven Western states that rely on it. That activity includes controversial efforts in some states in the Colorado River’s Upper Basin to tap every available drop before things get worse.

The utility that owns [Gross Reservoir], Denver Water, wants to increase the size of the dam by 131 feet, and fill the human-made lake with more water from the headwaters of the Colorado River via a tunnel that traverses the Continental Divide.

Imagine a tractor trailer hauling dam-building materials making this turn, Long says.

“If they truck all of this material up our canyon, people in our community are gonna get killed by those trucks. Period,” Long said. “There’s a lot of other issues here but the safety thing should really be a serious priority.”

Long and his wife, April Lewandowski, live near the reservoir in a community called Coal Creek Canyon. Like many of her neighbors, Lewandowski commutes from the sparsely populated canyon to her job on the state’s dense Front Range. Her daily commute on the canyon’s two-lane highway is the same as a haul route for trucks needed to build the dam addition.

Long pulls up to a small parking area that overlooks the dam. It’s a deep wall of concrete, stretched between the tree-lined canyon walls of South Boulder Creek.

“I mean you look at how the land splays out, you can see why they want to (build it),” Long said. “It’s so much wider all the way around.”

If the expansion goes through, the place where we’re standing will be submerged in water. The addition to Gross Dam will raise it to 471 feet in height, making it the tallest dam in Colorado…

Denver Water first started taking an expansion of Gross Reservoir seriously after the dry winter of 2002. Exceptional drought conditions took hold across the Mountain West. The utility’s CEO, Jim Lochhead, said in the midst of those historic dry conditions, a portion of its service area nearly ran out of water.

“This is a project that’s needed today to deal with that imbalance and that vulnerability and to give us more drought resiliency,” Lochhead said.

Since then, Denver Water has filed federal permits to start construction, and negotiated an agreement with local governments and environmental groups on the state’s Western Slope to mitigate some effects of the additional water being taken from the headwaters.

Before leaving office, former Colorado Democratic governor and current presidential hopeful John Hickenlooper threw his weight behind the project, giving it an endorsement and suggesting other water agencies in the West take notice how Denver Water approached the process.

But despite the political heft behind the project, it faces considerable headwinds.

Environmentalists are suing, arguing the expansion will harm endangered fish. A group of local activists say the additional water will spur unsustainable population growth along the state’s Front Range. In recent months, the utility began sparring with Boulder County officials over whether they were exempt from a certain land use permit.

Building a 131-foot dam addition does come with baggage, Lochhead said. But he argued his agency has done its part to address some of the concerns, like reducing the number of daily tractor trailer trips up Coal Creek Canyon and planning upgrades to the intersection where trucks will turn onto Gross Dam Road.

“It is a major construction project. I don’t want to gloss over that. It will have impacts to the local community,” Lochhead said.

Denver Water staff are doing more outreach in the canyon as well, Lochhead said.

“We are committed to the project and seeing it through. We’re also committed despite the opposition to working with the local community in doing this the right way,” he said…

The Gross Reservoir Expansion Project will add 77,000 total acre feet — 72,000 for Denver Water use and 5,000 for an environmental pool that provides additional water for South Boulder Creek during low-flow periods — nearly tripling reservoir capacity.

The latest scuffle with Boulder County has brought the Gross Dam expansion squarely back into public view. At a county commissioner’s meeting in March, residents criticized Denver Water on all fronts, from specific concerns about the construction itself, to broader concerns about water scarcity in the Colorado River basin…

“This project represents an effort by Denver Water … to actually grab water while they can, before federal legislation and management of the Colorado River Basin is imposed,” McDermott said.

What McDermott is referring to is a stark disconnect in the Colorado River watershed. States downstream on the river — Arizona, Nevada and California — signed a new agreement in May called the Drought Contingency Plan that keeps them from becoming more reliant on the Colorado River. It requires cutbacks to water deliveries should levels in Lake Mead, the river’s largest reservoir, continue to drop.

Meanwhile, upstream in Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico, no such agreement was made. Those states wound up agreeing to study the feasibility of a program that would compensate farmers to stop irrigating their cropland if reservoirs dropped, with no solid way to pay for it. They agreed too to better coordinate releases from their biggest reservoirs to aid an ailing Lake Powell. While they figure out how to develop those two concepts, the Upper Basin states keep inching along on their development projects to divert more from the river.

The 1922 Colorado River Compact, the river’s foundational governing document, gives Upper Basin states the legal cover to continue developing projects like the Gross Reservoir expansion. In the compact, each basin is allocated 7.5 million acre-feet of the river’s water. Over the decades the rapidly growing and intensely farmed Lower Basin has used much more than that. The less populated Upper Basin has never reached its full allotment. Those state have been using roughly 4.5 million acre-feet for the last 13 years, with the rest flowing downstream for the Lower Basin to use as it sees fit…

Conservation programs tend to be less expensive than massive new projects, [Doug] Kenney said. But additional water supplies stored in reservoirs give more security and reliability. It’s why water leaders push for them, even when the economics don’t make sense.

Denver Water’s collection system via the USACE EIS

Upper #ColoradoRiver Basin #drought contingency plan depends on rights holders bypassing water #COriver #aridification

The looming possibility of mandatory curtailment of water use has raised concerns among Western Slope water managers, who feel that such cuts could harm Western Slope agricultural, such as this hay filed in the Yampa River basin. However, as water levels continue to drop to record lows in Lake Powell, mandatory curltailments are being discussed as a real possibility, especially by Front Range water managers. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

From The Steamboat Pilot & Today (Eleanor C. Hassenbeck):

The collective group of [recently signed] agreements is called the Colorado River Drought Contingency Plan.

It aims to raise the unprecedented low water levels in the largest reservoirs on the Colorado River system, Lake Powell and Lake Mead, to enable them to continue to deliver water and produce hydropower.

In Colorado, it calls for three possible actions:

  • Creating a bank of stored water in federally owned reservoirs upstream of Lake Powell. This water would be released into Lake Powell in order to make sure Colorado continues to meet obligations to deliver a certain amount of water to downstream states under the Colorado River Compact.
  • Increasing cloud seeding and removing deep-rooted, invasive plants that take up a lot of water, such as tamarisk.
  • Creating a voluntary program that would temporarily pay agricultural water users to fallow their land and send water they have a right to downstream. This is called demand management.
  • Of the options on the table, demand management — the option that would pay farmers not to use their water — is the one most likely to impact Routt County…

    Demand management is still only a hypothetical, so the Yampa River Basin could opt out of a program if it doesn’t work for the area.

    The Colorado Water Conservation Board has assembled workgroups on topics related to demand management. These groups are now meeting behind closed doors to develop preliminary reports outlining how the program might work.

    Brown said once these reports are completed and released to the public, there will be opportunities for community members to provide input on the idea. She said there will be the “opportunity for a real, thoughtful conversation, especially in the Yampa and White (river) basins.”

    @USBR: Interior and states sign historic drought agreements to protect #ColoradoRiver #DCP #COriver #aridification

    Here’s the release from the Bureau of Reclamation (Marlon Duke/Patti Aaron):

    The Department of the Interior, Bureau of Reclamation and representatives from all seven Colorado River Basin states gathered today and signed completed drought contingency plans for the Upper and Lower Colorado River basins. These completed plans are designed to reduce risks from ongoing drought and protect the single most important water resource in the western United States.

    “This is an historic accomplishment for the Colorado River Basin. Adopting consensus-based drought contingency plans represents the best path toward safeguarding the single most important water resource in the western United States,” said Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman. “These agreements represent tremendous collaboration, coordination and compromise from each basin state, American Indian tribes, and even the nation of Mexico.”

    In addition to the voluntary reductions and other measures to which the basin states agreed, Mexico has also agreed to participate in additional measures to protect the Colorado River Basin. Under a 2017 agreement, Minute 323 to the 1944 U.S. – Mexico Water Treaty, Mexico agreed to implement a Binational Water Scarcity Contingency Plan but only after the United States adopted the DCP.

    The Colorado River, with its system of reservoirs and water conveyance infrastructure, supplies water for more than 40 million people and nearly 5.5 million acres of farmland across the western United States and Mexico. The reservoirs along the river have performed well—ensuring reliable and consistent water deliveries through even the driest years. But, after 20 years of drought, those reservoirs are showing increasing strain; Lake Powell and Lake Mead, the two largest reservoirs on the system and in the United States, are only 39% and 41% full respectively. And, while the basin experienced above-average snowpack in 2019, the total system storage across the basin began the water year at just 47% full.

    “The urgency for action in the basin is real, and I applaud all of the parties across the seven states and Mexico for coming together and reaching agreement to protect the Colorado River,” said Burman. “I’m glad to finally say that ‘done’ is done.”

    From The Arizona Republic (Ian James):

    The Colorado River just got a boost that’s likely to prevent its depleted reservoirs from bottoming out, at least for the next several years.

    Representatives of seven Western states and the federal government signed a landmark deal on Monday laying out potential cuts in water deliveries through 2026 to reduce the risks of the river’s reservoirs hitting critically low levels.

    Yet even as they celebrated the deal’s completion on a terrace overlooking Hoover Dam and drought-stricken Lake Mead, state and federal water officials acknowledged that tougher negotiations lie ahead. Their task starting next year will be to work out new rules to re-balance the chronically overused river for years to come.

    Figuring out how to do that will be complicated because the Colorado River, which supplies water for vast farmlands and more than 40 million people, is managed under a nearly century-old system of allocations that draws out more than what flows in from rain and snow in an average year.

    The river’s reservoirs have fallen since 2000 during one of the driest periods in centuries, and global warming is cranking up the pressures by contributing to the declines in the river’s flow.

    “Look at all we have accomplished by working together,” said federal Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman, who signed the agreements alongside the states’ representatives. “All the states should be commended for finding a path forward.”

    She called the deal historic and said it adds an important new chapter to the rules that govern the river.

    “But our work is not done,” Burman said. “We know we have even greater challenges ahead.”

    Federal and state officials began talking about the need for a drought deal in 2013, and the negotiations got underway in 2015.

    The set of agreements includes two separate but interrelated drought contingency plans: one for states in the river’s Upper Basin — Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico — and the other for the Lower Basin states — Arizona, Nevada and California.

    The drought plans are designed to prop up the levels of Lake Mead and Lake Powell, the nation’s largest reservoirs, between 2020 and 2026. Lake Powell is now 40% full, and Lake Mead sits 41% full.

    During the talks on the agreement last year, Lake Mead had appeared headed for a first-ever declaration of a shortage by the federal government. But this winter left the Rocky Mountains blanketed with heavy snow, unleashing a bounty of runoff that’s expected to avert a shortage for another year.

    “One good year is helpful,” Burman said. “But it doesn’t fix a 19-year drought and it doesn’t do anything to predict for us what’s going to happen next.”

    The audience of water managers and government officials broke into applause after the signing and posed for photos with the Hoover Dam, its low water levels starkly outlined, in the background.

    Missing from the celebration was the largest single user of the Colorado River, California’ Imperial Irrigation District, which is suing to challenge the deal.

    A new reality driven by global warming

    Water managers and supporters of the deal have praised the Lower Basin’s Drought Contingency Plan, or DCP, as “bridge solution” to get the region through the next several years until 2026 while reducing the risks of a crash. But they also stress that it’s merely a stopgap measure — a temporary fix on top of the existing 2007 guidelines for managing shortages — and that it will provide a short window of time to start to plan bigger steps.

    “We’re in a moment where we’re going to take a pause and recognize the progress we’ve made. But I think it needs to be a short pause so that we get working on the renegotiation of the guidelines,” said Kevin Moran, who leads the Environmental Defense Fund’s Colorado River program. “I think it’s in everyone’s interest that we move those conversations as quickly as possible forward.”

    […]

    When water officials finished negotiating the last set of rules for dealing with a potential shortage in 2007, they had expected those rules to work through 2026. But only halfway through that period, they realized the measures weren’t nearly strong enough. And that forced them to negotiate the new set of drought agreements to finish off the period…

    Adapting that system to a hotter planet, Moran said, will require posing tougher questions and looking at ways of boosting conservation and managing demand for water across the Colorado River Basin.

    “The modeling looking forward would say we probably ought to be planning for somewhere between 15 and 35% additional reduction in flows driven by climate change,” Moran said. He said climate models present an outlook that is “very dire” and demands action…

    A shortage is unlikely next year

    Cynthia Campbell, a water adviser for Phoenix, said the challenges that lie ahead for negotiators are sobering.

    “They know that they have a daunting task ahead of them, beginning in 2020, to try to come up with new operating rules that are going to keep us sustainable further into the 21st century,” Campbell said. “When they come back, Arizona is certainly going to be on the business end of cuts.”

    There’s no way around that, she said, because the state holds the junior-most position in the water priority system. Under the framework that emerges from the next round of negotiations, she said, the state will probably face bigger reductions during a shortage than under the newly signed drought plan.

    The latest projections by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation show that in 2020 it’s unlikely a shortage will be declared at Lake Mead. The reservoir’s level now stands at 1,088 feet above sea level, about 13 feet higher than the threshold that would trigger a shortage declaration…

    Critics: Arizona plan is not sustainable

    Arizona water officials have called the state’s internal plan a landmark consensus agreement that effectively “shares the pain” and will address the water shortfall for the next several years.

    But Arizona’s plan has also drawn criticism.

    Some experts and environmentalists are concerned about the plan’s promotion of more groundwater pumping in parts of the state. They say using state money to drill more wells in Pinal County will only lead to declining aquifers. They also argue the state missed an opportunity to do more to encourage conservation.

    “It is positive that the Colorado River basin states are looking at cutting back on river water use, but it is unfortunate that our state has chosen to augment the river water with more groundwater pumping,” said Sandy Bahr, director of the Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon Chapter. “Sadly, the Arizona plan is not sustainable and is designed to keep Arizona doing more of the same — unsustainable and thirsty agriculture and more and more sprawl development.”

    She said looking past 2026, all the states should consider the river’s long-term water deficit, the effects of climate change, and how to do more for conservation while considering the health of the river.

    “It is way past time for a Colorado River sustainability plan that centers on a healthy river that flows all the way to the sea and that provides for people, plants, and animals along the way,” Bahr said. “There is not time for patting ourselves on the back. We need to do more, now.”

    In the meantime, even as the drought has eased across the West with the wet winter, concerns remain that the 19-year run of mostly dry years could continue. Earlier this month, a group of experts in a state advisory group recommended to Gov. Doug Ducey that a declaration of drought in Arizona should remain in effect.

    Tom Buschatzke, director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources, called the Drought Contingency Plan “a huge incremental step forward.”

    “It sets us up to have good conversations about what we need to do to deal with the projections of our drier future, climate change forcing reductions in flow, etcetera,” Buschatzke said. Discussions on the next round of plans should start soon in Arizona, he said, because “keeping the momentum going is really important.”

    Update: May 21, 2019

    From Inkstain (John Fleck):

    Now that we have a DCP, what does this mean in practice?

    According to the most recent Bureau of Reclamation 24-month study, Lake Mead is projected to end 2019 at elevation ~1,085 feet above sea level. Prior to the DCP, Lower Basin water users (Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, California) got a full allocation of water as long as Lake Mead’s elevation was above 1,075. Under the DCP, a new shortage tier has been added between elevations 1,090 and 1,075. The result is that, for the first time in the history of Colorado River management, there will now be mandatory water use reductions on the Colorado River.

    What does this mean in practice? I ran down a quick summary this morning of the relevant data, comparing recent use with the cuts mandated under the DCP. It shows that, at this first tier of shortage, permitted use is less than the voluntary cuts water users have been making since 2015:

    In other words, all of the states are already using less water than contemplated in this first tier of DCP reductions.

    What Does the #ColoradoRiver #Drought Plan Mean for #California? — Public Policy Institute of California #DCP #COriver #aridification

    From the Public Policy Institute of California (Gokce Sencan):

    A much-anticipated plan to address chronic water shortages in the Colorado River Basin was recently signed into law by President Trump. This drought contingency plan (DCP) aims to slow the long-term decline in Lake Mead’s water levels caused by over-allocation of Colorado River water and 19 years of drought, as well as address future water shortages in the basin.

    The DCP is the fruit of a decade of negotiations among the seven basin states to resolve the over-allocation problem through cuts and water storage. (Mexico receives water from the river but is not part of this plan.) California has the largest share of the Colorado, with senior rights to more than a quarter of the river’s average annual flow.

    Graphic credit: The Public Policy Institute of California

    Lake Mead is a water source for 600,000 acres of farmland and 19 million people in Southern California. California agencies can also store up to 250,000 acre-feet of water in Lake Mead.

    Without the DCP, Lake Mead’s water level could drop too low to allow releases from Hoover Dam. As the lake nears this threshold, senior water right-holders in California might be tempted to withdraw their water before it becomes inaccessible. While such a move would be permissible, it would accelerate the drop in the lake level and affect future deliveries for junior water right-holders in the other lower-basin states.

    The DCP eliminates this concern and delivers an orderly and mutually agreed upon method to manage shortages until 2026. It provides assurance against curtailments for water stored behind the dam. This is especially important for the Southern California water agencies, whose ability to store water in Lake Mead is crucial for managing seasonal demands.

    Some significant challenges must still be addressed, however. The Imperial Irrigation District, the largest Colorado River water user, opted out of the plan due to a dispute over funding to restore the shrinking Salton Sea. The district also filed a lawsuit that calls for the DCP to be suspended until an environmental review of the plan is completed.

    The lawsuit alleges that the Metropolitan Water District (MWD), which would contribute most of the water required to fulfill California’s obligations under the DCP in times of system-wide shortage, unlawfully approved the DCP. IID claims that MWD did not consider the “sources of water that would be necessary for [it] to fulfill its commitment and the environmental effects associated with obtaining water for those sources.” The outcome of this lawsuit is uncertain.

    Currently, the Colorado supplies about a third of all water used in Southern California’s urban areas. The region’s water agencies are taking steps to develop more local supplies and increase water efficiency to help them meet water demand if DCP cuts are triggered during a future water shortage.

    The plan won’t cause immediate water cuts. This year’s wet winter means that Lake Mead’s elevation, currently 1,090 feet above sea level, may remain above the 1,045-foot threshold at which the mandate is triggered for California. But the basin states now have a plan in place to address the next dry spell.

    Graphic credit: Public Policy Institute of California

    Checking the water jug that is #LakePowell — @AspenJournalism #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    A kayaker makes her way down the San Juan River, which delivers water from Colorado, New Mexico and Utah to Lake Powell. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith):

    Anybody who has gone camping in the desert for more than a day has asked the same questions that John Currier, the chief engineer at the Colorado River Water Conservation District, has been obsessing about the past 18 months.

    How much water do we have left?

    How much water have we been using?

    How much water will we have if our friends join us and they don’t bring water?

    And while many campers ask these questions standing over a 5-gallon plastic jug, for Currier, the water-storage vessel he’s concerned about, Lake Powell, holds 24 million acre-feet of water.

    But the giant reservoir, formed by Glen Canyon Dam, was under 40 percent full the last week of April.

    And a lot of water is still being released from the reservoir, more demands on the water are expected, and the water supply above the reservoir, in the sprawling Colorado River system, is expected to decrease.

    So Currier, along with John Carron of Hydros Consulting in Boulder, has been asking questions familiar to all campers, but asking them on a much larger scale. And with a lot more at stake.

    How much water in Western Slope rivers is currently being depleted, or consumed, mainly through irrigation and transmountain diversions?

    How much more water is likely to be consumed on the Western Slope, and the upper basin states of Utah, Wyoming and New Mexico?

    If more water is consumed on the Western Slope and the upper basin, what does that do to the risk of Lake Powell falling below 3,525 feet above sea level? That level is beneath the intakes to the dam’s hydropower plant, aka minimum power pool.

    To try to get the answers, Hydros has developed a water model for the river district’s “risk study” that uses information from two other hydraulic models: one used by Colorado called StateMod, which includes detailed information about water rights and use in Colorado; and the other used by the Bureau of Reclamation called Colorado River Simulation System, which provides a regional look at the river system.

    “To the best of my knowledge, I don’t think anybody has ever practically linked StateMod with CRSS, so I think the work that Hydros is doing here is out in front of anything anybody has gotten done,” Currier told the River District’s board of directors, who represent 15 Western Slope counties, on April 15. “And they are just now really getting into the guts, the interesting stuff, of the study.”

    Detailed results from the risk study are slated to be shared June 20 in Grand Junction at a regional meeting of Western Slope water users and providers.

    Lake Powell, and an increasingly familiar bathtub ring. Photo credit: Aspen Journalism/Brent Gardner-Smith

    Studying the options

    To handle the supply side of the scenarios, Hydros is using the recorded hydrology from 1988 to 2015, a period that was drier than even the most severe climate-change models show. As such, it’s called the “stress test” hydrology.

    To model potential future depletions, Hydros has taken guidance from a series of programmatic biological opinions, or PBOs, done in various river basins as part of managing endangered fish populations.

    The study is focused on the five major river basins on the Western Slope that contribute water to the Colorado River system above Glen Canyon Dam: Yampa, White, Colorado, Gunnison and San Juan.

    With supply-and-demand assumptions in hand, Currier said the model can be asked a question on many people’s minds in Colorado: How might consumptive use of water be curtailed or reduced on either a mandatory or voluntary basis in order to maintain targeted elevations at Lake Powell, such as minimum power pool at 3,525 feet?

    Minimum power pool makes a good target elevation for the model, because not only is the produced electricity valuable, but the elevation level also serves as a good proxy for staying in compliance with the 1922 Colorado River Compact.

    If Lake Powell stays above minimum power pool, there is almost zero chance the compact will be violated, Currier told the river district board.

    Colorado also is studying curtailment options using its own methodologies, but unlike the River District, it is not releasing its findings due to concerns of potential litigation.

    The Front Range Water Council, an ad-hoc group of the largest water providers between Fort Collins and Pueblo, is also conducting studies that ask questions similar to those being asked by the state’s curtailment study and the river district’s risks study, according to Currier.

    The river district’s model is exploring two ways a potential mandatory curtailment in Colorado could be implemented, or administered, by the Division of Water Resources.

    The first way is based on the priority system in Colorado of first in time, first in right.

    Say the state, in order to not violate the compact, set a goal of sending 100,000 acre-feet of water a year to Lake Powell from the Western Slope, water that otherwise would have been used or consumed.

    And say the state began curtailing water rights, starting with the most junior rights, and proceeded down the list of rights, by date, until it reached rights that carry a date prior to Nov. 24, 1922, when the compact was signed.

    Such pre-compact water rights are exempt from its terms.

    How far down the list would the state have to curtail to put 100,000 acre-feet in Lake Powell?

    And which junior rights, in each the five basins, would be curtailed first?

    For example, almost all of the 600,000 acre-feet of water diverted through transmountain diversions was developed after 1922, and so the Front Range cities and farmers relying on that water are vulnerable to a compact call.

    Knowing how a mandatory curtailment, administered in priority, rolls out “would really be useful for a lot of users,” Currier said.

    Another way to potentially administer a curtailment is to do it on a pro-rata basis

    For example, of all of the post-compact depletions occurring in Colorado, 70% are happening in the Colorado River basin proper, which includes flows above Grand Junction.

    Currier said, for example, that a preliminary model run shows if the state wanted to curtail 300,000 acre-feet of post-compact water today, do so on a pro-rata basis among the Western Slope basins, the Colorado basin would have to come up with 69% of the water. And the White River basin would have to come up with just 1% of the water.

    Currier said the results of the risk study will not only help how a mandatory curtailment would be implemented, it will also help inform how a voluntary program could be set up.

    The CWCB is currently developing such a “demand management” program,” as are the other upper basin states. Colorado’s program is to be voluntary, temporary, compensated and equitable between basins and water users.

    The framework for the nascent demand management programs was approved recently approved by an act of Congress, along with a series of other DCP agreements.

    As part of DCP, the upper basin secured the option of storing 500,000 acre-feet of water in Lake Powell in a new regulatory pool that is exempt from the 2007 interim guidelines that now dictate how water is stored and released from Lake Powell.

    The guidelines have a goal of equalizing the levels in both Powell and Mead, and upper basin water managers say the result is that more water is being released from Powell, to the benefit of Mead, and is reducing the upper basin’s operating cushion in Lake Powell.

    This new pool of water in Powell must come from actual savings in water use, or water that otherwise would have been consumed by agriculture or cities, but instead was not used and was sent downriver to Lake Powell.

    The Colorado River, in a reflective mood, in Westwater Canyon, en route to Lake Powell. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    Key questions

    Today across the Western Slope, an annual average of 2.6 million acre-feet is being depleted, or consumed, according to StateMod. And the risk study estimates an average annual increase in depletions of 287,000 acre-feet.

    The Colorado River basin, above Grand Junction, accounts for 1.2 million acre-feet of those depletions, the Gunnison for 575,000, the San Juan for 500,000, the Yampa for 197,000 and the White for 62,000.

    The estimated 287,000 of total future average depletions on the Western Slope represents an 11 percent increase in water use, Currier said.

    If that 11% increase is applied to the current use in the other upper basin states, it means another 390,000 acre-feet of water could be depleted in the future above Lake Powell.

    Which leads to the posing of a series of questions to the Hydros model, and reflected in a chart that shows how different measures lower the risk of reaching minimum power pool.

    Let’s say an additional 390,000 acre-feet of water is developed in the upper basin, the dry stress-test hydrology is applied over 25 years, and the upper basin reservoir re-operations, recently approved by Congress as part of a drought contingency planning program, are not yet in effect. What, then, happens to Lake Powell?

    Well, this scenario shows there is a 17% chance that Lake Powell will fall below 3,525 feet, or minimum power pool. The risk study calls this the “baseline, future” scenario.

    Now, let’s say that the new 390,000 acre-feet of depletions are made, but the drought contingency planning measures are applied, including releasing water from three big upper basin reservoirs.

    This scenario, called “DCP, future,” cuts the risk level at Lake Powell to 10 percent.

    Now, say that no new water is developed, or consumed, but the DCP measures are not yet in place.

    That scenario, “baseline, current,” cuts the risk to about 5%.

    And finally, assume that no new water is developed, but the DCP water conservation and supply measures are in place.

    The risk drops to about 3%, in the “DCP, current” scenario.

    “You get down to maybe a 3% chance that you’re going to drop below 3,525,” Currier said.

    Given the 3% risk factor, should the upper basin also shore that number up by adding 500,000 acre-feet of water into a new demand-management pool?

    If demand management — difficult and expensive to implement — is going to provide only a small pillow against minimum power pool, is it worth doing?

    If it helps answer the question, Currier said the 500,000 acre-foot demand-management pool at Powell amounts to 8 feet of additional elevation, once the reservoir has dropped to 3,525 feet.

    “We’re not talking a huge pillow here to save us, with 500,000 acre-feet,” Currier said.

    But he noted that trying to fill that pool could still yield benefits.

    First, it could show the lower basin states that the upper basin states can actually use less water, and securely get it to Lake Powell — which might lead the lower basin states to agree to an even larger demand-management pool.

    Also, it could help water users in Colorado figure out how to use less water on a voluntary basis.

    If they do that, they might be able to camp out a little longer with the water they have.

    Aspen Journalism covers rivers and water in collaboration with The Aspen Times and other Swift Communications newspapers. The Times published this story on Monday, April 29, 2019.

    ID sues to halt #ColoradoRiver #drought plan signed by @POTUS, says officials ignored #SaltonSea — The Palm Springs Desert Sun #DCP #COriver #aridification

    Salton Sea screen shot credit Greetings from the Salton Sea — Kim Stringfellow.

    From The Palm Springs Desert Sun (Janet Wilson):

    The petition, filed in Los Angeles Superior Court, alleges violations of the California Environmental Quality Act by the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, and names the Coachella Valley, Palo Verde and Needles water districts as well. It asks the court to suspend the Lower Basin Drought Contingency Plan until a thorough environmental analysis has been completed.

    “The logic in going forward without (us) was that the (drought plan) couldn’t wait for the Salton Sea,” Henry Martinez, IID general manager, said in a statement. “This legal challenge is going to put that logic to the test and the focus will now be where it should have been all along — at the Salton Sea.”

    Martinez said in an interview that the district also had to act because of the continuing threat of possible mandatory water cuts, especially to farm districts like IID, if Metropolitan and others can’t meet their obligations. MWD committed to keep 2 million acre feet of water in the reservoirs under the plan, and its general manager, Jeffrey Kightlinger, has said his staff concluded this year’s healthy precipitation meant they could do it.

    But Martinez said that was a short-term fix. “When you go through a drastic drought, you have to keep cutting back and cutting back. It is our opinion that Met cannot supply all of the water … that would be required,” he said. If mandatory cuts were ordered, “politically, urban water users are the heavyweights at the end of the day. … Humans will beat out plants.”

    IID’s petition alleges that MWD wrongly committed to enter into agreements on behalf of itself and all other California contractors.

    In a statement, Kightlinger said, “We are disappointed that the Imperial Irrigation District is using litigation as a tool to block implementation of the Drought Contingency Plan. Parties on the Colorado River need to collaborate during this time of crisis, not litigate.”

    […]

    IID was cut out of the drought plan after MWD stepped in and said it would contribute its rural neighbor’s required share of water in drought years. The districts had previously signed contracts technically making the swap possible.

    In his statement, MWD general manager Kightlinger said, “During our negotiations on the Drought Contingency Plan, it was our goal to find an approach that had no adverse impacts on the Salton Sea. That goal was achieved — the contributions to Lake Mead that will be made by Metropolitan and others will not decrease water going to the sea.”

    Reclamation and state water officials, including California, signed a joint letter to Congress requesting the drought plans be approved on March 19, without IID. The legislation passed rapidly and overwhelmingly, and was signed into law by Trump on Tuesday. Mexico will also be a party per a previous agreement. State representatives now need to finalize their approvals.

    The ripples of IID’s lawsuit were felt in the Arizona legislature on Wednesday, where top water officials gave an update on the drought plan to the Senate Committee on Water and Agriculture. Arizona Department of Water Resources Director Tom Buschatzke testified that although the potential impact of the lawsuit was unknown, he doesn’t see it affecting much. He is encouraging more dialogue to bring IID back into the deal.

    “They’re choosing right now to go down this path, but from my perspective, this will not prohibit us in moving forward and signing the Drought Contingency plan,” he said.

    Buschatzke said the focus is on implementing the Drought Contingency Plan as is. If MWD doesn’t sign as a result of the litigation, others will “assess where we’re at” then.

    IID’s Martinez said that the timing of the lawsuit the same day as Trump signed the legislation was coincidental. The district was up against a deadline to act once Metropolitan’s board voted to approve taking on IID’s share of water, he said.

    Here’s the release from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (ebecca Kimitch/Maritza Fairfield):

    Jeffrey Kightlinger, general manager of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, issues the following statement on Imperial Irrigation District’s legal challenge alleging violations of the California Environmental Quality Act.

    “During our negotiations on the Drought Contingency Plan, it was our goal to find an approach that had no adverse impacts on the Salton Sea. That goal was achieved – the contributions to Lake Mead that will be made by Metropolitan and others will not decrease water going to the sea. Moving forward, we remain committed to working with our partners on the Colorado River and with the federal government to secure funding and lasting solutions to the challenges of the Salton Sea.

    “The Drought Contingency Plan will help stabilize Colorado River supplies for seven states and Mexico for the next eight years while we find lasting solutions in the basin that ensure the people, crops and ecosystems that rely on the river have a reliable water supply for generations.

    “We are disappointed that the Imperial Irrigation District is using litigation as a tool to block implementation of the Drought Contingency Plan. Parties on the Colorado River need to collaborate during this time of crisis, not litigate.”

    #Colorado studies options after @POTUS signs #drought contingency plan — @AspenJournalism #DCP #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    A view of the Colorado River flowing into the still waters backed up by Glen Canyon Dam at the top of Lake Powell. The reservoir is now 37 percent full, but is expected to rise this year as an above-average snowpack turns into an above-average runoff in the Colorado River basin. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith):

    [The President] tweeted this week that he “just signed a critical bill to formalize drought contingency plans for the Colorado River.”

    It was the first time that Trump had ever mentioned the Colorado River in a tweet.

    And the drought contingency planning, or DCP, bill the president signed Tuesday had been whisked through Congress in just six days.

    For water managers used to working in slow-moving “water time,” it was a surprise to see the federal legislation necessary to implement the DCP agreements happen so fast, and compelling for the Colorado River to be in President Trump’s hands, however briefly.

    “That did go through fairly quickly, and in a relatively non-confrontational manner,” Andy Mueller, the general manager of the Colorado River Water Conservation District, told the district’s board of directors Tuesday morning during a quarterly meeting.

    And by the end of the meeting, Mueller was announcing that Trump had just tweeted about signing the bill.

    The brief DCP bill authorizes the Interior secretary, now David Bernhardt of Rifle, to implement the DCP agreements negotiated by water managers in the upper basin states of Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and New Mexico and the lower basin states of California, Arizona and Nevada.

    Perhaps less surprising to regional water managers was that the Imperial Irrigation District, which is the biggest user of water in the lower basin, wasted no time and filed a lawsuit Tuesday in an effort to halt, or at least influence, the DCP agreements. The district is seeking funding to help restore the shrinking Salton Sea and had been vocal in its dissent when the DCP bill was before Congress.

    It is not clear yet how Imperial’s lawsuit will affect the still unfolding DCP process, but James Eklund, who represents Colorado on the Upper Colorado River Commission and would sign the DCP agreements for Colorado, said Tuesday he was still optimistic the agreements would be signed this month.

    If the DCP agreements are finalized, it means Colorado and the upper basin states could store up to 500,000 acre-feet of conserved water in Lake Powell, and other upper basin reservoirs, and do so in a new regulatory framework that shields the water from the current operating guidelines dictating how Lake Mead and Lake Powell are operated.

    Those guidelines, which sunset in 2026, seek to balance the levels of the two big reservoirs, which have been falling due to a 19-year drought, of which this past snowy winter was a welcomed exception. (The Bureau of Reclamation announced Monday that it was forecasting runoff into Lake Powell would be 112 percent of average, up from 43 percent of average in 2018.)

    In balancing the levels of Lake Powell and Lake Mead, the upper basin states feel that the guidelines require the release of too much water from Lake Powell, and they want to create a savings account they control in the big reservoir to raise the surface level and protect against a violation of the Colorado River Compact, which requires the upper basin to deliver a set amount of water to the lower basin.

    With the passage of the DCP legislation, that savings account in Lake Powell is almost a reality, as is authorization for the Bureau of Reclamation to release water from Flaming Gorge, Blue Mesa and Navajo reservoirs down the Green, Gunnison and San Juan rivers to help keep Lake Powell above minimum power pool.

    And next comes the part where the upper basin states each have to figure out a demand management, or water-use reduction program, to fill their new water savings account.

    The conserved water is supposed to come from the reduction of consumptive use, which in Colorado means it will mainly come from applying less water to fields, pastures and urban lawns.

    In Colorado, it is the job of the Colorado Water Conservation Board to figure out how, and if, to start up a demand management program.

    To investigate its options, the state agency plans to create eight small working groups to tackle various aspects of demand management, and officials have given people until the end of day Friday to express interest in serving on the various work groups, which are expected to meet throughout the year.

    Mueller, the manager of the Colorado River District, has informed the CWCB that the district wants to place a staff member on every one of the eight work groups, given the importance of the potential demand management program to the 15 Western Slope counties the district covers.

    The River District’s board wants to ensure that a demand management program is voluntary, temporary, compensated and equitable for water users across the state.

    And while the CWCB has adopted a policy that includes those goals, it has confirmed that the state also is studying how an involuntary reduction in water use might happen if necessary to avoid violating the Colorado Compact.

    “The state has been working on a study that evaluates the legal elements of compact compliance,” CWCB Director Rebecca Mitchell said Thursday. “This is being done through a variety of evaluations that focus on avoiding the need for compact compliance and for options that the state engineer may want to take into consideration in case administration of the compact is necessary to address a compact deficit on the Colorado River.”

    Aspen Journalism covers rivers and water in collaboration with The Aspen Times and other Swift Communications newspapers. The Times published this story on Friday, April 19, 2019.