Closer but no cigar for #Denver Water — The Mountain Town News #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

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.

From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

Utility says Gross expansion needed for water security for 1.5 million people

Denver Water has been awarded its final federal permit for expansion of Gross Reservoir but may still need a permit from Boulder County.

A permit from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission announced today wraps up all the federal permitting needed to raise the existing 340-foot-tall Gross Dam across South Boulder Creek by 131 feet.

The dam has a hydro plant with a capacity of producing up to 7.6 megawatts.

But the most difficult permit may be the one that it still lacks: a 1041 permit from Boulder County. The Boulder Daily Camera explains that a district court decision affirmed the county’s authority to review the project under a 1973 law. That law, commonly known by his legislative bill title, gives local governments land use authority to review major projects by other governments.

Eagle County used that same authority in 1991 to deny a permit sought by Aurora and Colorado Springs to conduct a major water diversion project from within the Holy Cross Wilderness Area near Minturn and Red Cliff. The two Front Range cities fought the denial but lost and ultimately participated in a collaborative process designed to produce a more acceptable solution. That process is ongoing, with many opposed to the lighter, gentler approach. But by any measure, the current proposal in the Homestake Valley would have much less impact upon the wilderness area .

This case of Gross Dam is different in that the water being diverted only passes through Boulder County. The water would come from Grand County via the Moffat Tunnel. The county itself signed off on the expansion after a lengthy collaborative process that was in many ways modeled after what was created in the wake of the Homestake II denial.

Denver Water in this case committed to a collaborative process called Learning by Doing. The intent is to allow Denver to use its water rights in the Fraser Valley and also in the adjoining Williams Fork Valley but in ways that avoid the harshest of impacts.

The process earned Denver the support of Trout Unlimited, and also some fierce Denver critics such as Kirk Klancke, a Fraser Valley resident.

But some Fraser Valley residents continue to oppose the project. “We don’t have any more water to send to Denver,” says Andy Miller, a Fraser town trustee, as elected members of the governing council are known. “With the water that is being diverted now, we are barely keeping the system alive.”

Miller said additional diversions would mean that at times the only water in the Fraser River will be the releases from the wastewater treatment plants in Winter Park and Fraser. “That’s not enough,” says Miller, a member of the Upper Colorado River Watershed Group.

Denver began pursuing the expansion of the dam after the drought of 2002 exposed the vulnerability of water delivery to Arvada and other suburbs in the northwest metropolitan area that contract with Denver Water for supplies. The next year, Denver began the federal environmental permitting process. Denver already received approvals from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 2016 and 2017.

Colorado’s largest water provider, Denver Water provides water not just for the city’s residents but a broad swath of the metropolitan area, a quarter of the state’s 5.8 million residents.

In a statement, Jim Lochhead, the chief executive of Denver Water, said the FERC permit—it’s technically called an order—brings a comprehensive 17-year federal and state permitting process to a close.

Lochhead also characterized the project as a necessary given the increasing weather variability in a warming climate.

“The project provides the system balance, additional storage and resiliency needed for our existing customers as well as a growing population. We are seeing extreme climate variability and that means we need more options to safeguard a reliable water supply for 1.5 million people in Denver Water’s service area,” he said.

Denver Water’s collection system via the USACE EIS

From The Boulder Daily Camera (Sam Lounsberry):

Denver Water announced Friday it earned its final federal approval to pursue the largest construction project in the history of Boulder County with its planned Gross Reservoir expansion.

If completed, the enlargement would help continue to serve a growing population in the water provider’s jurisdiction amid climate change that is clouding future supply with uncertainty, [Jim Lochhead] said…

An opening brief is due in August for the water agency’s appeal of a Boulder District Court decision that affirmed the county’s ability to review the project under what is known as local government 1041 power, which could result in its ultimate official disapproval by local leaders, or not, if they allow it to move forward…

Denver Water touted that the project has the support of environmental groups such as Colorado Trout Unlimited, The Greenway Foundation and Western Resource Advocates. It also said it has committed more than $20 million to more than 60 environmental mitigation and enhancement projects that will create new habitat and water flow protections for rivers and streams on both sides of the Continental Divide.

“We are committed to working closely with the Boulder County community to ensure safety, be considerate neighbors and retain open, two-way communication channels during this construction project,” Jeff Martin, program manager for the Gross Reservoir Expansion Project, stated in the news release. “We will continue to seek community input on topics such as traffic control plans, hauling traffic schedules, tree removal plans and other construction-related activities.”

The design phase for the Gross expansion is expected to finish by the middle of next year, followed by four years of construction, if approved. It will involve raising the existing 340-foot Gross Dam by an additional 131 feet, increasing reservoir capacity by 77,000 acre-feet, and it will include 5,000 acre-feet of storage dedicated to South Boulder Creek flows that will be managed by the Boulder and Lafayette city governments. Raising the capacity of Gross was a recommendation of environmentalists as an alternative to building a new dam, a proposal that would have created Two Forks Reservoir in the 1980s, the release said.

Boulder Creek. Photo credit: Susan from Alameda, CA, USA – CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2536150

From The Associated Press via KUNC:

Even with federal approval, Boulder County still wants to conduct its own review under local government 1041 power, that could result in the project’s ultimate official disapproval by local leaders.

“We think that it was a well-reasoned decision from the district court and we have strong arguments in defense of the appeal,” County Deputy Attorney David Hughes said. “It’s not uncommon for local governments to use 1041 powers in review of major projects by other governments.”

Denver Water is expecting to appeal the county’s decision and provide an opening brief in August.

Gross Dam

From Colorado Public Radio (Corey H. Jones):

In 2018, some environmental groups sued three U.S. government agencies in an effort to stop the expansion. They argued that it would harm aquatic life and wildlife as well as hinder streamflows, adding that the Colorado River needs to be better protected…

Lochhead has said that Denver Water will only take extra water from tributaries during wet years, avoiding periods of drought.

It’s been a long road for the utility, which began the permitting process for the expansion seventeen years ago. Denver Water plans to finish the design next year, followed by four years of construction.

Final federal approval secured for Gross Reservoir Expansion Project — @DenverWater #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

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.

Here’s the release from Denver Water:

[On July 17, 2020], the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission ordered Denver Water to proceed with design and construction to expand Gross Reservoir in Boulder County.

Seventeen years ago, Denver Water began the federal environmental permitting process that lead to approvals by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 2016 and 2017.

“Obtaining the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission order to move forward with the Gross Reservoir Expansion Project brings a comprehensive 17-year federal and state permitting process — one that involved nearly 35 agencies and organizations — to a close,” said Denver Water CEO/Manager Jim Lochhead. “This order directs Denver Water to move ahead with construction to meet mandated milestones and timelines.”

“Expanding Gross Reservoir is a critical project to ensure a secure water supply for nearly a quarter of the state’s population. The project provides the system balance, additional storage and resiliency needed for our existing customers as well as a growing population. We are seeing extreme climate variability and that means we need more options to safeguard a reliable water supply for 1.5 million people in Denver Water’s service area,” Lochhead said.

The design phase of the Gross Reservoir Expansion Project is expected to wrap up by mid-2021 and will be followed by four years of construction. The project involves the raising of the existing 340-foot-tall Gross Dam by an additional 131 feet, which will increase the capacity of the reservoir by 77,000 acre-feet, and includes 5,000 acre-feet of storage dedicated to South Boulder Creek flows that will be managed by the cities of Boulder and Lafayette.

“We are committed to working closely with the Boulder County community to ensure safety, be considerate neighbors and retain open, two-way communication channels during this construction project,” said Jeff Martin, program manager for the Gross Reservoir Expansion Project. “We will continue to seek community input on topics such as traffic control plans, hauling traffic schedules, tree removal plans, and other construction-related activities.”

The FERC order, along with the permitting conditions put in place by CDPHE and the Corps, further commits Denver Water to implement environmental improvements by putting in place measures evaluated in the environmental assessment issued in February 2018.

The project relies on the expansion of an existing footprint — without the placement of a new dam, reservoir or diversion structure; it also benefits from an original design that anticipated eventual expansion. Increasing the capacity of Gross Reservoir was a specific and formal recommendation from the environmental community as an alternative to construction of the proposed Two Forks Reservoir in the 1980s.

Denver Water has committed more than $20 million to more than 60 different environmental mitigation and enhancement projects that create new habitat and flow protections to rivers and streams on both sides of the Continental Divide as a result of the Gross Reservoir Expansion Project. According to Colorado officials, those commitments will have a net environmental benefit for the state’s water quality.

This project has earned the support of major environmental groups including Colorado Trout Unlimited, The Greenway Foundation and Western Resource Advocates; local, state and federal elected officials (including Colorado’s last five Governors); and major business and economic development groups, among others.

An expanded Gross Reservoir is critical to Denver Water’s multi-pronged approach — including efficient water use, reuse and responsibly sourcing new storage — to improve system balance and resiliency while contributing to water security for the more than 1.5 million people in the Denver metro area.

The FERC regulates the production of hydropower in the United States. As a Federal Power Act project dating back to 1954, expanding Gross Reservoir required the FERC’s approval of Denver Water’s application to amend its hydropower license. This approval and order carry the force of law and are the final federal authority over the reservoir project.

For more information on the Gross Reservoir Expansion Project, visit http://grossreservoir.org.

Denver Water’s collection system via the USACE EIS

The delicate dance of Dillon Reservoir during spring #runoff — @AspenJournlism #snowpack

Dillon Reservoir in Summit County is the largest reservoir in the Denver Water system, holding more than 257,000 acre-feet of water when it’s full. With two outlets — the Blue River and Roberts Tunnel — Denver Water officials say it’s complicated to operate. Photo credit: Denver Water via Aspen Journalism

From Aspen Journalism (David O. Williams):

Denver Water officials increased the release of water from Dillon Reservoir into the Blue River to about 400 cubic feet per second in the first week of May as inflow held steady at about 500 cfs through Monday, May 11. The latter number is expected to steadily rise as spring runoff picks up.

The current forecast from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Colorado River Basin Forecast Center estimates as of May 11 that there is 146,000 acre-feet of water — in the form of snowmelt — that will flow into Dillon Reservoir through July 31. There’s currently 17,500 acre-feet of space in the reservoir, according to Denver Water, so about 128,500 acre-feet will flow out of the reservoir either to the Blue River or Roberts Tunnel by July 31, with an estimated 13,000 acre-feet through the tunnel.

All of these complex calculations are the first steps in a delicate dance Denver Water performs each spring to balance public safety with Denver’s water needs, recreation, hydroelectric demands and obligations to downstream senior water-rights holders.

“Dillon is our biggest reservoir and one of our more complicated to operate,” said Nathan Elder, water resources manager for Denver Water. “Most of our other reservoirs only have one outlet, but Dillon’s got both the outlet to the Blue and the outlet to the Roberts Tunnel, which provides water to the East Slope and down the North Fork (of the South Platte River) to Strontia Springs Reservoir and then to our customers.”

The Roberts Tunnel, finished in 1962 about the same time the old town of Dillon was relocated to its current spot and the Dillon Dam was built, is a 23-mile concrete conduit that diverts water from the Blue River basin on the Western Slope to the South Platte Basin on the Front Range to supply more than 1.4 million Denver Water customers.

Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer’s office

This system is what’s known as a transmountain diversion — one of many that bring water from the Colorado River basin on the west side of the Continental Divide to the state’s population center on the Front Range. What it’s not, Elder said, is a way to avoid dangerous spring-runoff flooding.

“We can’t use Roberts Tunnel as a flood-control option,” he said. “So we’re very careful about the amount of water we take from the West Slope over to the East Slope. And when we use the Roberts Tunnel, we can only take it over to the East Slope if it’s put towards the demand. We can’t just dump it over there to prevent flooding or high flows below Dillon.”

The 2014 Colorado River Cooperative Agreement places a 400,000 acre-foot limit on Blue River water stored in existing or future Denver Water storage facilities on the Front Range.

There are more than 1,000 properties in regulatory floodplains in Summit County, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and quite a few of them are along the Blue as it makes its way northwest through Silverthorne and toward its confluence with the Colorado River near Kremmling.

The Blue River travels north-northwest through Dillon Reservoir to its confluence with the Colorado River near Kremmling. Each spring Denver Water performs a delicate balancing act to accommodate flows from snowpack runoff. Photo credit: Denver Water via Aspen Journalism

Snowpack melting

This time of year, as snowpack begins to melt into local tributaries — the Blue, Snake River and Tenmile Creek all feed Dillon Reservoir from the south — Elder and his team closely monitor snowmelt forecasts and weather reports to coordinate with local officials to prevent flooding.

“Denver Water has worked with the town over the years to release water from Dillon Reservoir at rates between 50 cfs and 1,800 cfs,” said Tom Daugherty, Silverthorne’s director of public works. “They have done a very good job of doing that. Denver Water attends our local meetings concerning snowmelt runoff and inform us of what they expect.”

FEMA designates 2,500 cfs as a 10-year flood level just below Dillon Dam, while 3,350 cfs there would be a 100-year flood level. The amount of runoff pouring into the reservoir varies widely, depending on weather conditions and snowpack, from a low inflow of 410 cfs in the drought year of 2012 to a high of 3,408 cfs in 1995.

The amount of snowpack on the Front Range and rate of melting due to high temperatures or rain events also impacts when Denver Water turns on the Roberts Tunnel and how much water it takes out of Dillon Reservoir. The Blue River Decree dictates that Denver Water needs to keep as much water on the Western Slope as possible and can take water only to meet demand.

“Last year was a good example of that,” Denver Water spokesman Todd Hartman said. “We had so much snowpack on the Front Range that we just didn’t need the Roberts Tunnel water and couldn’t take it because of that demand issue.”

That resulted in higher flows on the Blue below the dam last runoff season.

“It got up to around 1,900 cfs, and we didn’t actually turn on the Roberts Tunnel until the second week in August last year,” Elder said. “That’s after everything on the East Slope filled, and we started dipping into that storage and streamflow dropped off on the East Slope.”

This year, there’s a similarly healthy snowpack above the reservoir and also decent snowpack on the Front Range, but temperatures have been higher and the spring runoff season hasn’t been nearly as wet and cool as last year.

“We have a Snotel (snow telemetry) site on top of Hoosier Pass, which is extremely important for monitoring that basin and for forecasting, and it’s still at 121% of normal right now,” Natural Resources Conservation Service hydrologist Karl Wetlaufer said in early May. “It looks like it did actually have a net accumulation through April and is just really just starting to turn around and melt out now over the last few days with this warm weather.”

The Natural Resources Conservation Service produces snowmelt forecasts used by Denver Water, which also taps into the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration forecast center.

Based on information from Snotel sites, snowpack above Dillon Reservoir peaked at 127% of normal. The forecast center’s inflow outlook for Dillon Reservoir is 104% of average, and the forecast from the Natural Resources Conservation Service was 107% of average.

The first priority for Denver Water is to fill the reservoir to meet customer needs, but it also tries to minimize high flows out of the reservoir via the Blue River and maintain water levels so that the Frisco and Dillon marinas can operate from June through Labor Day. Elder said the minimum operating level for both Dillon and Frisco marinas is 9,012 feet in elevation.

The goal, Elder said, is to get the reservoir to that level or higher by June 12. On May 11, the surface level of the water in the reservoir was at 9,010 feet. The reservoir is full when the elevation of the water, as measured on the dam, is 9,017 feet, which is 257,304 acre-feet of water. At 9,010 feet, the reservoir is holding about 236,232 acre-feet of water.

Release too much and too early — to avoid high flows and flooding downstream — and Denver Water runs the risk of missing the chance to fill Dillon for use by its customers later in the summer season as well as keep the reservoir full for a long boating season. And then there are the downstream hydroelectric factors and calls by senior water-rights holders.

An inspection team leaving the 23-mile Roberts Tunnel east portal in Park County in 2016. The tunnel, which diverts water from the Blue River to the Front Range is inspected every five years. Photo credit: Denver Water via Aspen Journalism

Senior water rights

While the Blue River Decree does not have a volumetric limit on how much water Denver Water can take out of Dillon Reservoir through the Roberts Tunnel to meet its customer needs, the Roberts Tunnel right is from 1946 and is junior to Green Mountain Reservoir and Shoshone Power Plant rights, which limit the ability of Denver Water to divert. The Roberts Tunnel right is for 788 cfs, which is not a storage right but instead a direct-flow right.

So if Green Mountain gets toward the end of its fill season and hasn’t filled and Dillon has diverted, then Denver Water owes water to Green Mountain. Green Mountain Reservoir, located on the Blue River in northern Summit County, was created specifically to compensate the Western Slope for diversions to the Front Range as part of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project.

Then on the Colorado River in Glenwood Canyon, well downstream from where the Blue feeds the Colorado at Kremmling, there’s Xcel Energy’s Shoshone Generating Station hydroelectric plant — which has one of the most senior water rights on the main stem of the Colorado River. A 1902 right draws 1,250 cfs of water downstream to meet the plant’s needs. During dry times of the year, such as late summer, the power plant often places a “call” on the river, meaning junior diverters upstream — including Denver Water — must stop diverting so that Shoshone can get its full allocation of water.

Elder said Denver Water wants to fill Dillon Reservoir quickly enough each spring before any potential Shoshone call. If a call came before Dillon was full, Denver Water would have to release water from Williams Fork Reservoir in order to keep water in Dillon Reservoir. However, Williams Fork can hold only 96,000 acre-feet of water.

“We want (both reservoirs) to fill quick enough that we fill both before that Shoshone power plant call comes on and before the senior call comes on the river, but not too quick that we fill before peak runoff where we get in those high-flow situations,” Elder said. “So it’s a real balancing act there. You’re balancing elevations for marinas, downstream water rights, filling the reservoir safely and then also any potential releases you may need to make from Roberts Tunnel.”

Aspen Journalism, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization supported by its donors and funders, covers water and rivers in collaboration with the Summit Daily News and other Swift Communications newspapers. This story ran in the May 17 edition of the Summit Daily.

#ColoradoRiver Water Users Association Annual Conference recap: “ClimateChange is #water change” — @BradUdall #CRWUA2019 #COriver #DCP #aridification

Lake Mead, behind Hoover Dam, shows the effects of nearly two decades of drought. (Image: Bureau of Reclamation)

From The Sante Fe Reporter (Laura Paskus):

Water wonks, state and tribal officials, attorneys and irrigation district representatives hit the floor at Bally’s Las Vegas Hotel last week. Not to shake loose the slots. But to gamble on the future of the Colorado River.

During the annual meeting of the Colorado River Water Users Association (CRWUA), stakeholders from the seven US states that share the river’s water met to talk about everything from interagency cooperation to cloud seeding, forecasting to tribal water rights.

But even as the impacts of the Earth’s warming are increasingly clear, there’s still a political and practical disconnect between the cause of climate change—the burning of fossil fuels—and the challenges warming poses to water supplies in the western United States.

That decoupling was hammered home by US Department of the Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, who spoke at the CRWUA meeting. During his keynote speech, Bernhardt avoided mentioning climate change.

When pressed by reporters afterwards, he said he “certainly believe[s] the climate is changing.” But he cautioned that forecasting is speculative.

David Bernhardt answers a question about climate change from Luke Runyon, December 13, 2019, Colorado River Water Users Association Annual Conference.

And he praised the role energy development plays in states like New Mexico.

“The president was very clear when he ran for office on his position on energy; he’s for an all-of-the-above approach,” Bernhardt said. “In New Mexico last year, we sent $1.7 billion from federal lands to the state of New Mexico that went to schools and other things. So, when people tell me they want to stop oil and gas development on federal lands, I say ‘Call the governor of New Mexico.'”

Gov Michelle Lujan Grisham’s office could not answer SFR’s questions by deadline about Bernhardt’s claims related to revenues from drilling on federal land in New Mexico and balancing the disconnect between the state’s energy policies—which have spiked revenues—and emissions from that industry, which exacerbate the state’s water challenges.

The governor’s spokeswoman also could not provide a response to Bernhardt’s statements before deadline…

Brad Udall: “…latest version of my 4-Panel plot thru Water Year (Oct-Sep) of 2019 of the #coriver big reservoirs, natural flows, precipitation, and temperature. Data goes back or 1906 (or 1935 for reservoirs.) This updates previous work with
@GreatLakesPeck

In 2017, a peer-reviewed study showed that warming was already causing flows on the Colorado River to decline. Between 2000 and 2014, flows averaged 19% below the 1906-1999 average, and scientists found that one-third of those losses were due to higher temperatures, rather than changes in precipitation. They also wrote that if warming continues, the Colorado River’s flows will drop even more—20 to 35% by 2050, and 30 to 55% by 2100.

A follow-up study in 2018 showed that even though annual precipitation in the Colorado River Basin increased slightly between 1916 and 2014, flows declined by 16.5 % during that same time period—due in large part to “unprecedented basin-wide warming.”

“Climate change is water change,” says Bradley Udall, one of the co-authors of both those studies. Udall is a senior water and climate research scientist at the Colorado Water Institute at Colorado State University.

In arid landscapes like the US Southwest, warming affects river flows, snowpack, soil moisture and even the amount of water crops and forests need to survive.

“In our case, [climate change] means these longer, hotter droughts that threaten the Rio Grande and the Colorado River system in ways that are unprecedented,” Udall tells SFR.

“If you’re going to reduce the risk of water shortages for humans and nature, you’ve got to solve the climate change problem.”

And, he says, solving the climate change problem means stopping fossil fuel production: “You can’t solve climate change if you’re going to continue to pursue fossil fuel production willy-nilly.”

And yet, drilling is booming across the world, including in New Mexico. And that development has consequences.

Per capita annual carbon dioxide emissions and cumulative country emissions. Data from the Global Carbon Project. Nature. Data from the Global Carbon Project

Earlier this year, the World Meteorological Organization showed that carbon emissions have continued to increase. According to a story in the BBC, “Using data from monitoring stations in the Arctic and all over the world, researchers say that in 2018 concentrations of CO2 reached 407.8 parts per million (ppm), up from 405.5ppm a year previously. This increase was above the average for the last 10 years and is 147% of the “pre-industrial” level in 1750.” Not only that, but methane emissions continue to rise, as well—and is now at 259 % what it was before the Industrial Revolution.

Meanwhile, global temperatures continue to ruse. The latest numbers from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration show that the three-month season of September through November 2019 ranked second-warmest on record for the globe—with a global temperature of 1.69°F above average. Already, New Mexico’s average annual temperature has increased by 2°F—just since the 1970s.

Continued warming will have continued impacts across the US Southwest. And even after last winter’s robust snowpack, the basin’s reservoirs, system-wide, sit at just over half-full. The two largest reservoirs, Lake Powell and Lake Mead, are 52 % and 40 % full, respectively. A second year of good snowpack, Udall estimates, would put the system at perhaps 60 % full…

Asked to rectify that with the president’s statements about climate change as a “hoax” and his attacks on climate science, Bernhardt reiterated that Trump has been an “exceptional leader on western water issues.”

“I think it’s very hard to go back and find presidents who have given clear direction in memos to the secretaries, [that] say ‘Get on with it. Solve these situations,'” he said, referring to Trump’s 2018 presidential memorandum on reliable water supplies in the western US. In that memo, the White House directed federal agencies, including Interior, to “work together to minimize unnecessary regulatory burdens and foster more efficient decision-making so that water projects are better able to meet the demands of their authorized purposes.”

Bernhardt also directed the US Bureau of Reclamation to launch its review of the 2007 interim guidelines at the beginning of 2020.

Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman supports collaboration and cooperation between Basins within the confines of the Compact. (Source: Water Education Foundation)

From The Las Vegas Review Journal (Shea Johnson) via The Boulder City Review:

U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman said Dec. 11 that Nevada has been a national leader in water conservation by reducing demand on the Colorado River and investing in infrastructure over the past two decades.

In Las Vegas for the Colorado River Water Users Association’s annual conference, Burman declined to say, however, whether she sees Nevada’s share of the river’s water increasing, even though it draws the least amount of water than any other state.

Instead she said Mexico and seven Southwestern states served by the river were focused on working within the existing rules and regulations, known as the “Law of the River.”

In an interview with the Review-Journal, Burman said that “desalination is going to be part of the answer” to reducing draws on the river, noting that California has already made major investments on that front, and talks between Mexico and lower basin states have questioned whether desalination is possible in that country.

“We all really need to be looking at an all-of-the-above approach,” she said about viable long-term solutions to river sustainability…

The three-day annual conference culminated with a tour of Hoover Dam with federal officials. It followed a keynote speech by Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt.

Gross Reservoir Expansion Project update

Gross Dam enlargement concept graphic via Denver Water

From TheDenverChannel.com (Jace Larson):

The project will require significant construction over seven years to increase the reservoir’s holding capacity to 119,000 acre-feet of water.

When built, the dam will be the tallest in Colorado.

Denver Water says the additional space is needed to spread out capacity outside of Denver for the water utility used by 1.4 million people in the city and its surrounding suburbs.

The proposed construction project is not without opposition from neighbors and environmentalists who say they will endure years of construction on a water project that will never provide water to their taps.

“Boulder County is going to host this reservoir but gets no water from it. We derive no benefit from it. We only pay the price of having this thing in our county,” said Tim Guenthner, who lives just above the dam in a subdivision of about 1,000 people.

Denver7 decided to take a 360 look at this issue and gathered perspectives from five people connected to the proposed construction project…

Boulder County Commissioners have also taken a stance that Denver Water must get local permits before it can start the project.

Denver Water spokesman Travis Thompson said Denver Water doesn’t believe the law requires that and points out it has undergone numerous environmental studies and worked through the state permit process. This issue will likely be decided by another judge…

Denver Water’s Gross Dam project manager, Jeff Martin, acknowledges the project will cause noise for neighbors.

“Well we don’t hide from the fact there’s going to be some disruption from the noise, but we are looking at ways of minimizing that noise,” Martin said.

As an example, Denver Water decided to move the quarry needed to make cement to a portion of the lake that will be covered by water once more capacity is added. The original plan had the quarry on a portion of land jetting out into the lake.

Have an on-site quarry will also mean less truck traffic.

Martin said even with conservation efforts, Denver Water needs more capacity. He said experts have provided the water utility with data showing there will be 5 million more people in Colorado by 2050.

Denver water has 90% of its storage lakes west and south of the metro area, but only has 10% up north. This new dam project will add significantly more water storage north of the city.

“That’s important because if we have a catastrophic event or a drought in one of the systems, it leaves us depending on the other system,” he said. “What we want to do is create a little bit more balance and put more water in Gross Reservoir. This project is going to triple the size of the reservoir.”

[…]

Kirk Klanke is a member of Trout Unlimited, an environmental group seeking to protect and restore rivers across the country.

His perspective is one many wouldn’t expect from a member of the environmental group. He’s a supporter of the new dam.

“I think it’s extremely selfish to think we shouldn’t grow,” he said.

He says Denver Water has the legal right to build more capacity someplace. Gross Reservoir is the best option.

“Raising an existing dam has far less environmental damage than building a new one somewhere else,” Klanke said.

He says Denver Water has agreed to put significant effort into protecting the Colorado River. When it is hot out, river temperatures rise if there’s only a little water flowing.

Denver Water has agreed to keep water in the river during those periods and fill the lake during spring runoff. It will also draw water at different places in the river to minimize the impact to one area.

Gross Reservoir. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

Moffat Collection System Project update: “Our problem is rooted in demand and resiliency” — Jeff Martin

Gross Reservoir , in Boulder County, holds water diverted from the headwaters of the Colorado River on the West Slope. The reservoir is part of Denver Water’s storage system. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

From The Colorado Sun (Amanda K. Clark):

Raising the 55-year-old dam near Boulder is essential to keep a stable water supply in a changing climate, utility says. Residents insist conservation could be just as effective.

Denver Water — Colorado’s largest and oldest utility company — in July 2017 received one of the final permits needed to raise Gross Reservoir Dam by 131 feet to increase water storage capacity by 77,000 acre-feet, or an additional 25 billion gallons of Western Slope water…

The expansion, in the works for more than a decade, is part of the company’s long-term plan to help meet increasing water demands along the Front Range and buffer customers from future water-supply variability due to climate change…

Denver Water has been met with sustained opposition from Boulder County residents and a handful of environmental groups who say the utility can address its water needs through expanded water conservation efforts on the Front Range.

But with Colorado’s population growth showing no signs of slowing, water conservation may be inadequate to address projected shortages in the coming decades.

Other concerns raised by opponents include sustained disruption to surrounding residents, increased traffic, health concerns and environmental impacts to fish and wildlife.

Gross Reservoir is filled primarily from snowmelt that flows from the Fraser River, a tributary of the Colorado River. The water is transported underground from west of the Continental Divide to the east by a pipeline called the Moffat Water Tunnel.

The controversy over the Gross Reservoir expansion, estimated to cost $464 million, echoes an all-too-familiar story: a highly contentious discussion of tradeoffs that has rippled across the Western United States for decades.

As cities and states across the West grapple with swelling population alongside diminishing water supplies as a result of climate change, water-resource agencies such as Denver Water are faced with the delicate task of balancing the health of ecosystems with municipal, agricultural and recreational needs…

Jeff Martin, Denver Water’s project manager for the expansion project, doesn’t skirt around the controversy. He recognizes that the project is going to cause disruption and says that Denver Water has worked with the residents to find ways to minimize the project’s impact.

“This has been a process,” Martin said. “We started in 2004, it took 13 years to move through the environmental assessment and permitting process. And we’ve made a lot of changes and adjustments to our plans since the beginning.”

“No single solution is out there,” he said. “Our problem is rooted in demand and resiliency, and what I mean by resilience is that we have to make sure we have the water when we need it, and where.”

[…]

For Patty Limerick, director of the CU Boulder’s Center for the American West and former Colorado Historian, you can’t talk about water issues on the Front Range without first looking back in time.

When early white explorers arrived here, they deemed the Front Range unfit for settlement due to lack of water. Today, 1.4 million Denver residents have access to clean drinking water due in large part to Denver Water’s enormous infrastructure web that diverts water from the South Platte, Blue, Williams Fork and Fraser river watersheds to be stored in a network of reservoirs spread over eight counties, including Dillon, Strontia Springs and Cheesman.

“One thing that I find fascinating, and is important to talk about, is the incredible amount of engineering that had to occur to make any of this possible in the first place,” Limerick said.

“We, as a society, have to recognize the improbable comfort that was made possible by a taken-for-granted, but truly astonishing, water infrastructure that was put in place a hundred years ago.”

[…]

“The year 2018 was very similar to what we would expect to see under a climate change regime. And that was a very intense but short-term drought,” said Taryn Finnessey, senior climate change specialist with the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

“We saw some reservoirs in the state declined by 50 percent in a three- to four-month period. So that obviously could not be sustained multiple years in a row,” she said. “Water providers are increasingly integrating climate change models into their water supply projections. They know that what we’ve seen in the past might not fully represent what we might see in the future. Denver Water is one of the more advanced utilities when it comes to this.”

Finnessey says it’s not just about how much precipitation falls from year to year. It also has a lot to do with increasing temperatures, contributing to the long-term drying out of the West, a phenomenon scientists are referring to as aridification. As temperatures rise, more moisture is sucked up by the atmosphere through evapotranspiration, leaving less viable water for humans-use in the system.

“We are planning for infrastructure that will be built in the next 20 years, that is supposed to last for the following 100 years,” said Reagan Waskom, director of Colorado State University’s Colorado Water Institute. “Our world is changing significantly faster than that. And not in a linear way. How do we adapt to that?

“Water managers have to plan for extremes,” he added. “A year like this year is an argument for reservoirs. Even with climate change, you’re still gonna have some good years. And we need to be able to capture it and save it for the bad years, whether that’s in underground aquifers or in reservoirs.”

Denver Water’s collection system via the USACE EIS

Gross Reservoir expansion makes sense — Boulder Daily Camera

The dam that forms Gross Reservoir. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

From the editorial board (Quentin Young) of the Boulder Daily Camera:

Denver Water serves 1.4 million people in Denver and surrounding communities, and that figure will rise substantially in the coming decades. As more residents demand service, climate change increasingly will exert its own strain on the water supply. One of the primary ways the utility plans to meet this imminent challenge is by expanding one of its northern storage facilities, Gross Reservoir, in the foothills southwest of the city of Boulder.

The project has met with intractable opposition. It’s the subject of lawsuits and uncertain government reviews. Neighbors are scandalized by the prospect of years of disruptive construction, and some environmentalists contend the project won’t even be able to perform its intended purpose.

But a dispassionate consideration of the project leads to the conclusion that Denver Water’s plan to expand Gross Reservoir is a reasonable and responsible measure, provided the utility proceeds with the utmost sensitivity to the residents who would be impacted by construction and with the expectation that increased storage is no substitute for continued conservation efforts.

The roots of the project go back to the proposed Two Forks Dam. Denver Water had proposed storing water from the Colorado and Platte rivers by building a 615-foot dam southwest of Denver near Deckers. But a coalition of environmental groups successfully opposed the project, which the Environmental Protection Agency spiked in 1990. Environmentalists argued at the time that a better option would be for Denver Water to expand a storage facility it already operated: Gross Reservoir.

Gross Dam enlargement concept graphic via Denver Water

Now that the utility is following opponents’ former advice, environmentalists have changed their mind about Gross. The project would raise Gross Dam by 131 feet to 471 feet, roughly tripling the reservoir’s current capacity of 41,811 acre-feet (for comparison, Denver Water’s largest reservoir, Dillon, has a capacity of more than 257,000 acre-feet). Critics say the expansion would result in the state’s tallest dam, and much of the opposition focuses on the project’s substantial environmental impact. It would require years’ worth of noisy construction, traffic and the removal of about 650,000 trees. The reservoir pulls water from the headwaters of the Colorado River, and critics argue that the utility should refrain from further depleting that waterway, which runs all the way to the Gulf of California and is subject to the Colorado River Compact, an agreement that governs water allocation in seven states that rely on the river as an invaluable resource. Population growth in the Southwest has stressed the river, and climate change is expected to further compromise the river’s capacity to deliver water to users. Some Gross expansion opponents even assert that there won’t be enough water available from the Colorado River Basin to fill a bigger reservoir. And anyway, the opponents say, water needs can be met through conservation rather than dam-building.

Construction to expand Gross Reservoir would indeed bring acute hardship to nearby residents, and concern for local environmental damage should not be dismissed. But construction is temporary, and the environmental impact seems less intolerable than merely regrettable when weighed against the project’s purpose of ensuring for decades the delivery of a vital resource to thousands of people.

Utilities should be judicious in exercising their rights to Colorado River Basin water, but the volume associated with the proposed Gross expansion is relatively small. The entire Denver Water utility accounts for less than 2% of the state’s total water use, while it serves about 25% of the population. As part of planning for the expansion, Denver Water worked with West Slope communities in the Colorado River Basin to earn support for the project, efforts that in 2012 resulted in the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement. The CRCA, which depends on final approval of the Gross Reservoir expansion, calls for Denver Water to help restore habitats and maintain flows in the Fraser River, a Colorado River tributary in Grand County. Some West Slope officials so favor implementation of the CRCA that a Grand County commissioner in March warned of “a ton of litigation” were Boulder to block the Gross expansion.

Colorado River flows will almost certainly decrease due to climate change in future decades. A widely cited 2017 study suggests the river increasingly will be subject to droughts, and flows could drop more than 35% by the end of the century because of higher temperatures. But this doesn’t necessarily constitute an argument against expanding Gross. No one can claim with certainty that flows would drop such to render useless an expanded reservoir, but Denver Water would certainly be justified in viewing the threat of persistent droughts and lower flows as a reason to increase storage capacity, since there’s more incentive to collect water during the fewer occasions it’s available. The utility would be seen to have failed customers were it to find itself with nowhere to store precious water to which it had rights.

That Denver Water should do more to promote conservation gets no argument here. The utility’s customers have already demonstrated that they can get by splendidly with reduced volume — they’re using about 20 percent less water today than 15 years ago, according to Denver Water CEO Jim Lochhead — and there’s much room for further conservation. But conservation has limits, and Denver Water says it won’t be able to meet future demand solely by this method. In Denver alone, the current population of 729,000 is expected to swell by more than 20% in just 20 years. Besides, the project is meant not just to add yield to the utility’s system but also stability. The vast majority of Denver Water’s storage is in the south part of its system, and forest fires near those facilities, such as the Buffalo Creek Wildfire in 1996, have exposed a vulnerability that an expanded Gross would address.

The proposed expansion of Gross Reservoir has provoked waves of protest from Boulder County residents, and the county has asserted what it claims is its right to review the project. Known as a 1041 process, the move is contested by Denver Water. But though Denver Water doesn’t serve Boulder-area residents, water users throughout Boulder County every day enjoy the use of water pulled from the Colorado River, and water customers in such Boulder County communities as Longmont, Louisville, Lafayette, Erie and Superior are participants in the proposed Windy Gap Firming Project, which involves the construction of a whole new reservoir, not just an expansion, west of Carter Lake to store water from the Colorado River Basin. (That project similarly is tied up in litigation.)

Denver Water has already secured the bulk of required regulatory approvals for the expansion of Gross Reservoir. A final decision from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, whose staff has already recommended approval, is pending. Denver Water needs the FERC approval, because Gross also serves as a hydroelectric facility. Roadblocks include a lawsuit brought by a coalition of environmental groups that is led by Save the Colorado and Boulder County’s 1041 review.

Boulder County officials have a legitimate interest in reviewing what would be the largest construction project in county history, and they are encouraged to take an exhaustive look at Denver Water’s plans. Any objections to the expansion of Gross Reservoir, however, should be based on factors intrinsic to the proposal, not on a mere preference for Gross to be left alone.

Quentin Young, for the editorial board, quentin@dailycamera.com, @qpyoungnews

Denver Water’s collection system via the USACE EIS

Save the Colorado is allowed to intervene in @DenverWater lawsuit v. @BoulderCounty

Workers build the Moffat Tunnel in the 1920s.

From The Loveland Reporter-Herald (Sam Lounsberry) via The Denver Post:

An environmental group’s motion to intervene in a dispute between Denver Water and Boulder County over the proposed expansion of Gross Reservoir was granted by a judge on Tuesday.

Court documents show Boulder District Judge Andrew Ross Macdonald will allow the group, Save the Colorado, to enter the case as a party on behalf of Boulder County, the defendant in the suit.

Denver Water filed the complaint against the county after it decided the utility would have to subject its controversial proposed dam expansion — which would be the largest construction project in the county’s history — through the county development approval process.

The case is still moving through court, with Denver Water trying to avoid subjecting its project to county [1041 regulations].

The Shoshone hydro plant went down, but flows in the #ColoradoRiver stayed up — @AspenJournalism #COriver

The penstocks feeding the Shoshone hydropower plant on the Colorado River in Glenwood Canyon.

From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith):

The Shoshone hydropower plant on the Colorado River east of Glenwood Springs was not producing power for most of last week [April 7, 2019], but regional water managers went with the flow and — thanks to an “outage protocol” — honored the plant’s senior water rights anyway.

Plant operators with Xcel Energy notified state, federal and regional water managers April 5 that they needed to inspect a leak in a diversion tunnel adit, or access point. To do so, they would be slowly shutting the flow of water to the plant’s two 7.5 mega-watt (MW) turbines and taking the plant offline.

The facility’s two-mile-long tunnel runs through cliffs in Glenwood Canyon and moves water from behind a dam on the river to the penstocks above the plant, which is just upstream of the boat ramp for the Shoshone run. The plant, which Xcel began powering down April 5, was offline by April 8.

The plant stayed offline until Friday, when the leak in the tunnel was fixed and the plant began powering back up, according to Michelle Aguayo, a media-relations representative at Xcel.

The outage at what Xcel calls the Shoshone Generating Station did not affect local or regional power customers, because other electricity on the grid system made up for the loss of the plant’s capacity, Aguayo said.

Outage lifts call

The Shoshone plant and boat ramp on the Colorado River. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

In response to the plant going offline, officials at the state division engineer’s office lifted the call on the river on April 8. If the hydro plant is not in operation, the water right tied to it is not being put to beneficial use and cannot be administered, or legally enforced.

The call for water that is tied to the Shoshone plant’s most senior water right from 1902 means junior upstream diverters have to forego storing or diverting enough water to keep 1,250 cubic feet per second of water available for the plant.

Without the call, and the outage protocol, more water could be diverted under the Continental Divide or kept in upstream reservoirs, and less would flow through Glenwood Springs.

Ruptured penstock

The blown-out penstock in 2007 at the Shoshone plant. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

The outage protocol concept was prompted by the increase in outages at the Shoshone plant starting in 2004. It took on greater importance when a penstock at the plant ruptured in 2007.

The protocol was given a trial run in 2010, formalized in 2012 as part of the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement, and then signed as a stand-alone agreement in 2016.

Parties to the protocol include the Colorado River Water Conservation District, the Bureau of Reclamation, Denver Water, Northern Water, Aurora and other entities.

Protocol days

Number of days the Shoshone outage protocol, or ShOP, was in effect, and stages of the agreement.

According to Don Meyer — who is a senior water-resources engineer at the Colorado River District, which is based in Glenwood Springs — the protocol was in effect from April 8 until the call came back on the river on Sunday.

And he said it worked as intended, with the parties cooperating in an amiable manner.

“Without the outage protocol, the river probably would have been impacted,” Meyer said.

He also didn’t think most upstream operators changed how they were managing their water, because the protocol meant they were still working against a need to keep flows on the river at 1,250 cfs, even with the plant offline.

Fortuitous flows

The river rose, on its own, during the time the plant was out. But the outage protocol also helped boost flows.

The river’s level was also helped by a short warm spell that caused flows at the Dotsero gage, where the flow to Shoshone is measured, to rise above 1,250 cfs starting the day that the plant first started powering down on April 8.

By April 10, the river had risen to 1,750 cfs. But then cold weather dropped the river back under 1,250 cfs on Sunday, as forecast, just when the plant was powering back up and the call was coming back on.

If the plant had been down longer, and flows had stayed low due to cool mountain weather, the outage protocol could have mattered more to the flows in the river.

Meyer said that when the plant was offline for repairs in 2012, the outage protocol kept the river through Glenwood from falling below 1,000 cfs for about two weeks in late June of that notably dry year.

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism covers rivers in collaboration with The Aspen Times, the Glenwood Springs Post Independent, the Vail Daily, the Summit Daily and the Steamboat Pilot. The Post Independent and The Times published this story on April 16, 2019.

Down on the Ground in the Anthropocene City-State — Colorado Central Magazine

George Sibley

Full disclosure, I have written articles for the magazine in the past.

Here’s a look at Denver Water’s Moffat Collection System Project and the Boulder County Commissioner’s hearing on 1041 jurisdiction from George Sibley that’s running in Colorado Central Magazine. Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

An interesting thing happened mid-March in Boulder which the media seem to have mostly missed. Commissioners from Grand County showed up at a noisy Boulder County commissioners’ hearing on a West Slope-to-East Slope transmountain water diversion project – to testify on behalf of the project. It is probably the first time ever, in the generally contentious history of Colorado water development, that the people in a basin of origin have supported a transmountain diversion project that people in the basin of destination oppose.

Although this is a story from just beyond our Central Colorado boundaries, it is a story of interest to anyone in the West who is wondering how, or even if, we are going to finally leave the 20th century and venture into the 21st and the Anthropocene Epoch we keep trying to pretend we haven’t brought on ourselves.

The report on the Boulder County hearing sounded like your usual 20th century public hearing on the kind of issue that seems almost structured to pit environmentalists against the developers of something or other – a hearing in which no one has to listen because everyone already knows what everyone else is going to say.

The issue in this case pits the usual Front Range environmental organizations against a public utility that everyone loved to hate through the 20th century, Denver Water (DW). DW wants to enlarge the Gross Dam and Reservoir it built in the 1950s in the foothills near Boulder, to hold some additional water it wants to import from the West Slope – its “Moffat Firming Project” which would bring a third more water on average through its Moffat Tunnel Project from the Fraser and Williams Fork Rivers in the Upper Colorado River watersheds…

For the West Slope and Grand County, DW is both funding and actively participating in planning and executing a Learning by Doing process – essentially, an adaptive management process of active experimentation in learning how to live with less water. Some of it is more conventional work providing funding and expertise to water treatment districts and irrigation districts needing to use less water more efficiently.

But some of it will actually be what strikes me as “creative environmentalism”: Actually reconstructing some streams to function ecologically with a permanent reduction of water – call it “downsizing” the stream to fit the unignorable realities of the future. Channels are narrowed and deepened to cool the waters, helping both the aquatic ecosystem and the human economy of floaters and fishermen; riparian vegetation is planted to shade the stream and stabilize banks; meanders are induced to give a healthy stability and resilience for the foreseeable diminished future. Half a mile of the Fraser near U.S. 40 has been so ‘remodeled’ and is open to public inspection (and fishing). DW has committed millions to this work. (The CRCA can be found online by browsing for the name in full.)

@DenverWater appeal of @BoulderCounty’s 1041 decision about the Moffat Collection System Project scheduled for March 14, 2019

The dam that forms Gross Reservoir. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

From The Longmont Times-Call (Charlie Brennan):

Thursday looms as an important day for both proponents and opponents of an expansion at Gross Reservoir, as Boulder County commissioners meet to hear Denver Water officials make the case that the massive project should not be subject to the county review process.

Denver Water, which serves about 1.4 million customers in the Denver metro area, but none in Boulder County, had hoped to start construction this year on a project to raise the Gross Reservoir Dam in southwestern Boulder County by 131 feet to a height of 471 feet and expend the reservoir’s capacity by 77,000 acre-feet.

The project is subject of a federal lawsuit filed by a half-dozen environmental groups, and still must also obtain a licensing amendment at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in order to go forward.

Boulder County Land Use Director Dale Case on Oct. 22 issued a finding that Denver Water’s plans were subject to the county’s so-called “1041” review process, a decision Denver Water asked without success for Case to reconsider, before finally appealing the question to the commissioners.

Commissioners will hear Denver Water’s appeal starting 4:30 p.m. Thursday in a public hearing expected to last at least four hours. It will take place in the commissioners’ third-floor hearing room at 1325 Pearl St. in Boulder.

In-person sign-ups to speak will be taken beginning an hour in advance of the hearing, and commissioners are expected to issue a decision that night.

Moffat Collection System Project update: “I think their position is pretty clear” — Jim Lochhead #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Denver Water is seeking approvals from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the state of Colorado to expand Gross Reservoir, which is southwest of Boulder. The 77,000 acre-foot expansion would help forestall shortages in Denver Water’s water system and offer flood and drought protection, according to Denver Water.

From The Sky-Hi News (Lance Maggart):

On Wednesday a collection of six environmental advocacy groups – Save the Colorado, the Environmental Group, Wildearth Guardians, Living Rivers, Waterkeeper Alliance Inc. and the Sierra Club – filed a lawsuit in Colorado’s federal district court against the proposed Gross Reservoir Expansion Project, alternately called the Moffat Firming Project…

The legal process surrounding Gross Reservoir has deep significance to Grand County. The county serves as the source for much of the water Denver Water relies upon, which is transported out of the county through the Moffat Tunnel near Winter Park Resort. The county is also party to a collaborative water management group called Learning By Doing. The group looks to improve river habitat in Grand County by conducting environmental water projects and through other means.

The lawsuit filed by the environmental groups does not name Denver Water and instead is directed at the US Army Corps of Engineers, the Department of the Interior and the US Fish and Wildlife Service. The 57-page complaint lays out 32 separate specific claims related to alleged violations of the National Environmental Policy Act, the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act.

The alleged violations claimed by the environmental groups cover a wide range of technical issues related to the formal processes by which large construction projects, such as the Gross Reservoir Expansions, are approved by federal agencies. Many of the claims made by the environmental groups revolve around allegations that the Corps of Engineers, Interior Dept. and US Fish and Wildlife failed to exercise independent judgment related to claims made by Denver Water about the project.

“Denver Water’s proposal to build the largest dam in Colorado history will hurt the 40 million people in six states and two countries who depend on the Colorado River – a critical but disappearing, resource – for their water supply,” said Daniel E. Estrin, general counsel and advocacy director at Waterkeeper Alliance. “Waterkeeper Alliance stands united with our many Colorado River Basin Waterkeepers who are fighting to protect their waterways and their communities from this senseless and destructive water grab.”

For their part officials from Denver Water said the court filing did not surprise them.

“We expected it,” Jim Lochhead, CEO of Denver Water, said. “This is a really critical project for Denver Water. In the last 15 years we have come close to running out of water a couple of time at the north end of the system.”

Lochhead noted that those two incidents came in 2002 and 2013.

While Denver Water is not directly named in the lawsuit Lochhead said the organization will be entering the lawsuit to “provide our own perspective on the adequacy of the approvals.”

“We are confident the federal agencies follow regulations and federal law,” Lochhead said. “I think a court will uphold the findings by those agencies.”

When asked whether he believed Denver Water and the environmental groups who oppose the Gross Reservoir Expansion Project could reach some form of compromise agreement Lochhead answered, saying, “I think their position is pretty clear.”

“If I was to look at the one thing that changed the most in my public life, it’s the collaborative approach” — Gov. John Hickenlooper

Here’s an in-depth look at Gov. Hickenlooper’s legacy from Marianne Goodland writing for The Colorado Springs Gazette. Here’s an excerpt:

In a fast-growing state that places greater demands on its water supply each day, a state that regularly faces withering droughts, Hickenlooper has spent his eight years in office navigating water issues and leading the development of a state water plan that Denver’s chief water official calls a “real act of political courage.”

But not everyone believes the governor has made all the right choices on water. Colorado still faces daunting water-supply challenges. Some say Hickenlooper should have done more to promote dams and reservoirs and there’s no clear way to pay for the ambitious state water plan he fostered.

Still, many give Hickenlooper credit for reshaping how Colorado deals with water.

“He was the first governor to put water at the forefront,” said veteran northern Colorado water manager Eric Wilkinson.

Hickenlooper’s legacy may depend on what is done with the water plan that he is leaving for his successor. Colorado Politics talked to members of Colorado’s water community to see what they think his legacy in water looks like – and the governor weighed in on that, too.

US Drought Monitor June 25, 2002.

The beginnings

When Hickenlooper became mayor of Denver in July 2003, the state was already entering the second year of a record-setting drought. Gov. Bill Owens, in his 2003 State of the State address six months earlier, claimed the 2002 drought was the worst in 350 years, with most of Colorado in what the U.S. Drought Monitor called “exceptional drought,” the worst stage in their rankings.

So water got into the future governor’s mind early on, although as mayor, his control was limited primarily to appointing commissioners to Denver Water, the state’s largest water utility.

But as he saw it, he wasn’t dealing with just Denver’s water. It was water that belonged to the entire state, he said.

At the time, state officials were also trying to figure out how to solve the water problem. In the midst of devastating drought, the General Assembly and Owens began working on several ideas that still hold water today, including a new assessment of Colorado’s water supply, known as the Statewide Water Supply Initiative (SWSI)…

In the 2005 session, the General Assembly approved a law setting up groups known as basin roundtables, which divided Colorado into nine regions, each representing a major river, plus one for Denver.

But the groups weren’t required to work with each other. There were differences among the regions, including claims from the Western Slope that the Denver area was seeking more “transmountain diversions” to channel water from the Colorado River and other western waters through the mountains to the Front Range. That claim still sticks today.

And there were long-standing hard feelings over what happened about 15 years earlier, when ski towns joined forces with environmentalists to help defeat a major Denver reservoir project…

Two Forks was a proposed dam on the South Platte River that would have created a million acre-feet reservoir, flooding 30 miles of canyon from Deckers south to the river’s confluence with its north fork.

Advocates said the project was vital to supplying growing metro Denver. But environmentalists sounded the trumpets, complaining of the potential drowning of much of Cheesman Canyon with its prime fishing, hiking and kayaking areas, and the Environmental Protection Agency vetoed a permit for the project in 1990.

Denver Water, which exhausted its appeals of the rejection in 1996, was forced to shift to conservation rather than looking for major new water supplies from storage.

That’s the environment that Hickenlooper walked into as mayor. And that’s when his water legacy started, says Eric Kuhn, who has spent 40 years working on the Colorado River, including as general manager of the Colorado River Water Conservation District.

It was then, he said, that the groundwork was laid with Denver Water board members to build cooperation with Western Slope water providers.

Knowing that Denver Water controlled a quarter of the state’s water supply, it meant new conversations with the Western Slope water community. Those discussions started in 2006 between Denver Water and 42 Western Slope partners, ranging from water providers to local governments to ski resorts.

That eventually became the groundbreaking Colorado River Cooperative Agreement, first reached in 2011 and signed by all parties by 2013. The agreement resolved at least some of the historic fights over the Colorado River. It focused on efforts to improve the river’s health and looked for ways to provide additional water supplies to Denver Water…

Hickenlooper got one other big advantage during his time as mayor: The Denver Water board selected a new general manager, Jim Lochhead, who would continue the agenda set forth by the board and with Hickenlooper’s vision in hand. That took place in 2010.

Hickenlooper “made very thoughtful appointments” to the Denver Water board, including people like Tom Gougeon, John Lucero and George Beardsley, Lochhead told Colorado Politics. They were “really strong leaders with the ethics for moving Denver Water forward but with having us take a far-sighted approach with the Western Slope,” he said.

Part of a strategic plan

Hickenlooper says he tackled water issues again shortly after being elected governor in November 2010. The state found itself in another multi-year drought starting in 2011, and that’s when Hickenlooper asked if drought would be the new normal and how Colorado would deal with it.

He talked to other governors to research the best practices they employed, and found that what Colorado lacked was a comprehensive water plan, which he called a “serious vacuum” in the state’s framework. It was a risky proposition, given that Coloradans were historically polarized around the issue of water, he said.

There were things – like boosting water conservation – that he knew would be difficult. He knew rural Colorado’s farmers and ranchers did not want to be told what to do. “We couldn’t deny people the right to sell their property,” he said, referring to water rights. But the plan would look at how to incentivize farmers to at least temporarily lease their water rather than sell.

With the traditional east-west divide over water evolving with the completion of the Colorado River agreement, the time to strike came early on in Hickenlooper’s first term. He began asking his cabinet about a water plan.

According to James Eklund, who first served as Hickenlooper’s senior deputy legal counsel and then as director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB), the governor was asked if he was willing to spend his political capital by wading into the water wars.

“Some governors only touch (the issue) on a superficial level,” Eklund told Colorado Politics. Previous governors would go to the Colorado Water Congress (the state’s leading water advocacy organization), pound the table, say that water is the lifeblood of the West and then get out.”

After the discussions with the other governors, that wasn’t going to be Hickenlooper’s way. “We have no choice but to treat this as a serious discussion” and to engage in strategic planning, according to Eklund.

Hickenlooper – a former restaurateur – looks at everything through a business lens, Eklund said. That meant that if water is so important to Colorado’s bottom line and there isn’t a strategic plan, that’s not acceptable.

In May 2013, Hickenlooper announced he would task Eklund and the CWCB to come up with a state water plan…

In November 2015, the water plan was unveiled after more than 30,000 public comments from all over the state. “We wanted to make sure all the interests were represented, not just conservation,” Hickenlooper said. “We also put in water storage,” meaning reservoirs, but that also ruffled the feathers of environmentalists, he said.

Hickenlooper said he was most pleased with the ability of the basin roundtables – set up in that 2005 legislation – to take the long view, especially for groups historically polarized over water.

According to many in the water community, it’s the statewide water plan that most defines Hickenlooper’s water legacy…

‘Water at the forefront’

The water plan attempts to address what is now expected to be a 1 million acre-feet shortage of water in Colorado by 2050, based in part on projected population growth of another 3 to 5 million people on top of the state’s current population of 5.6 million.

It focuses on a number of strategic goals: 400,000 acre-feet of water to be gained through conservation, another 400,000 to be gained through new or enhanced storage (dams and reservoirs), and the rest from other steps, such as agricultural water sharing.

The plan has its detractors who have criticized it for lack of specific objectives in how to achieve those goals. And some lawmakers believe the General Assembly has been shut out of the process and that storage gets short shrift.

Senate President Pro Tem Jerry Sonnenberg of Sterling told Colorado Politics that he’s been frustrated with the plan’s lack of attention to storage and that there hasn’t been enough emphasis on how to avoid “buy and dry” – the practice of buying up agricultural land for its water rights and then draining the land dry…

Sonnenberg disagrees that the water plan is a positive legacy for Hickenlooper.

“He tried to put the plan together and it didn’t get a lot of attention other than from the environmental community that wants to make sure we leave more water in the rivers. If you want to be a water leader with a water legacy, you must support water storage that is paid for by the communities planning for growth,” Sonnenberg said, citing the Northern Integrated Supply Project (NISP), which plans two reservoirs – Glade, near Fort Collins and Galeton, east of Greeley.

Sonnenberg complained that the governor has not yet endorsed those projects, although Hickenlooper did endorse two other reservoir projects two years ago: Chimney Hollow, near Loveland, and expansion of Gross Reservoir, near Boulder.

But Eric Wilkinson, who recently retired as general manager of Northern Water, which runs NISP, does believe in Hickenlooper’s water legacy.

“He was the first governor to put water at the forefront,” Wilkinson told Colorado Politics. He was pleased with Hickenlooper’s endorsement of Chimney Hollow, a Denver Water reservoir project, which he said tells federal agencies that the project has cleared Colorado’s permitting and is ready to go forward. That was part of the state water plan, too, Wilkinson noted.

ilkinson also pointed to the people Hickenlooper put in charge of water issues as part of the legacy: Stulp, Eklund and Becky Mitchell, the current head of the CWCB; and both of his heads of the Department of Natural Resources, first Mike King and now Bob Randall.

In the water plan, the balance between conservation and new storage is a pragmatic solution for the state’s future, Wilkinson said. “We need to have a greater ability to manage the water resources, and to do that, conservation is first, but infrastructure is very much needed. The water plan calls that out.”

The timing was right and the leadership was right, Stulp told Colorado Politics.

Hickenlooper saw what had been taking place for the past seven to eight years, after the formation of the basin roundtables, which came up with projects for their own regions. The time was right to pull all that together, Stulp said.

Eklund, now with the law firm Squire Patton Boggs, is still involved in water issues, partly as Colorado’s representative on the Upper Colorado River Commission. He said Hickenlooper’s legacy isn’t only about the water plan; it’s also where he positioned Colorado internationally on water issues.

Colorado’s position as a headwater state that provides water to 18 downstream states and Mexico means “we punch above our weight on water policy,” Eklund said. The eyes of the water-stressed world are on the Southwest United States.

Colorado finally has a platform in that discussion by coming up with the water plan, which he called a “gold standard” for water planning. Other states and nations can look at what Colorado is doing and judge for themselves, he said.

Colorado now speaks with one voice on water, said Mitchell, who was in charge of water planning prior to becoming the CWCB’s latest director.

“The default starting point now on water talk is cooperation, not confrontation,” she told Colorado Politics.

The water plan shows what’s possible, she added, when people with polarized perspectives and faulty assumptions sit down together, listen and speak with civility and respect…

Hickenlooper told Colorado Politics he hopes the next governor recognizes the funding gap for implementing the plan. The General Assembly has so far devoted about $17 million over the past two budget cycles to funding projects in the water plan, but it’s a drop in the bucket compared to the need, which is estimated at around $20 billion.

Water providers are expected to shoulder most of that, but the state’s obligation is expected to be around $3 billion, at $100 million per year for 30 years, starting in 2020.

No one, including Hickenlooper, has come up with a solid plan for where that money is coming from. Lots of ideas have been floated, such as changes to the state’s severance tax structure on oil and gas operations – a no-go with Senate Republicans – bottle taxes, water tap fees and the like.

Hickenlooper said he believes funding for the water plan is sufficient for the next few years, but there is a gap, and at some point, the state will need to spend more money on water infrastructure…

That political courage, and part of the legacy, as Lochhead sees it, is that Hickenlooper opened the door for the next governor to come in and pick up where Hickenlooper ended and made it a little safer for a governor to jump into water issues.

So how does Hickenlooper view his legacy in water?

“If I was to look at the one thing that changed the most in my public life, it’s the collaborative approach,” the governor said. “This is everyone’s issue.”

Projects underway to bridge #Colorado’s water supply gap

From Water Deeply (Matt Weiser):

At least seven major new reservoirs and water diversion projects are being planned in Colorado, which had a population of 5.6 million in 2017. Many would continue the controversial practice of diverting water across the Rocky Mountains from the state’s Western Slope, where the majority of Colorado’s precipitation falls, to its more arid Front Range, where people are flocking to Denver, Boulder, Fort Collins, Longmont and increasingly sprawling suburbs.

The water projects have been inspired partly by the Colorado Water Plan, an effort by Governor John Hickenlooper to solve a projected water deficit of 560,000 acre-feet by 2050, or enough to serve more than 1 million households. The plan calls for 400,000 acre-feet of new water storage and an equal amount of water conservation.

The plan is only two years old. But critics say it has prioritized gray infrastructure – new dams, pipelines and pumps – over green projects like water conservation and sustainable land use…

The state water plan does not recommend any specific water development projects. But Hickenlooper has personally endorsed several of them. He also appointed all the voting members of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, the entity that oversees the Water Plan and awards grants for water projects.

Greg Johnson, chief of water supply planning at the Water Conservation Board, said the state’s plan emphasizes conservation just as much as new water supply projects. But he said the latter may be more more pressing in some cases.

“Some of the bigger projects that are in permitting right now are helping meet really critical supply needs that a lot of those faster-growing northern Front Range suburbs have, where they’ve got new developments going up all over the place,” Johnson said. “They have maybe a 10- or 15-year horizon to get some of those things done.”

One of the water developments endorsed by the governor won a $90 million loan in 2017 from the Water Conservation Board – the largest loan in the board’s history. Known as the Windy Gap Firming Project, it proposes a new reservoir called the Chimney Hollow Reservoir near Longmont to store Colorado River water diverted through an existing tunnel under the Continental Divide.

The loan covers nearly one-fourth of total costs for the project, which is proposed by the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District.

As its name implies, the project is intended to “firm up” existing Colorado River water rights held by a dozen Front Range cities. The cities already draw on these water rights, but can’t fully tap them in some years because of storage limitations. The new 90,000 acre-foot reservoir will solve this problem and allow them to divert the river almost every year.

The project would result in diverting 30,000 acre-feet more water out of the Colorado River every year than is currently diverted…

Other major projects in the works include the Moffat Collection System, a plan by Denver Water to expand Gross Reservoir to hold 77,000 acre-feet of additional diversions from Colorado River headwaters streams; and the White River Storage Project, a proposal for a new reservoir of up to 90,000 acre-feet in the northwest corner of the state, near the town of Rangely…

Greg Silkensen, a spokesman for the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, said the Windy Gap project is vital to many fast-growing Front Range communities that have lower-priority water rights.

“The Colorado economy is just crazy. Everybody and their brother is moving here,” Silkensen said. “There is a great deal of environmental mitigation that will go forward if the project is built. There’s going to be a lot of benefit to the Upper Colorado River if it does go through.”

Those projects include stream habitat restoration in the Colorado River and water quality improvements in Grand Lake, part of the existing Western Slope diversion system.

Steamboat “State of the River” meeting recap

From Steamboat Today (Tom Ross):

“The key with Lake Powell is that it is our river savings account,” Andy Mueller told a gathering of more than 200 people who packed into the Steamboat Springs Community Center Tuesday night for the Steamboat State of the River meeting, less than 50 feet from the banks of the Yampa River…

Less understood, Mueller said, is the Colorado River District’s stake in power generation at Glen Canyon Dam, where water levels are coming perilously close to dropping below the intakes for the power plant.

“It really starts with power generation at Lake Powell,” Mueller said. “That dam is a cash register for those of us on the river. It pays for the Colorado Endangered Fish Program, which allows all of us in Colorado to continue to divert water while the endangered fish are being protected.”

[…]

Mueller told his Steamboat audience that agricultural water rights continue to be of preeminent importance in the district.

“On the Western Slope, try to picture what it would look like without ag. It is a very different world if we don’t have irrigated agricultural land,” he said. “That’s where the water is. Eighty percent of the water consumed on the Western Slope is in ag. We have to protect this agriculture, and a lot of that has to do with agricultural water rights.”

[…]

The district represents about 28 percent of the physical land mass in Colorado but is home to just 500,000 of the 5 million people in the state. And 57 percent of the water produced statewide comes from the Colorado River District…

Lake Powell, backed up by Glen Canyon Dam, just above the Grand Canyon, is where the Rocky Mountain states, including Utah, Wyoming and the northern portions of Arizona and New Mexico store water to ensure they can meet their obligations to send water to the lower basins states including California, Nevada and southern New Mexico and Arizona.

As of 1999 the reservoir was almost full. But subsequent drought years, notably 2002, drew the reservoir down. It took until 2012 to slowly re-build storage in the vast reservoir, but snowpacks in the Colorado Basin have not been generous since.

As winters have grown milder, river flows are sapped and extended growing seasons are also resulting in plants absorbing more of the available water.

“We’re working on cloud seeding, but you have to have storm events in order to hit them with the silver iodide,” Mueller said.

“It isn’t the #drought draining #LakePowell as much as it is the overuse” — Andrew Mueller #ColoradoRiver #COriver

Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer’s office

From The Montrose Press (Katharhynn Heidelberg):

Less water in the stream means less comes into large and critical impoundments such as Lake Powell, which Mueller said is already being “equalized” with Lake Mead. The latter is being drawn down by overuse, not just drought.

“They’ve been draining the savings account at Lake Mead for them (users), and, the way it works, they’ve also been draining Lake Powell,” Mueller said. “ … It isn’t the drought draining Lake Powell as much as it is the overuse and the lower supply of water going in.”

Colorado must be aware of that because of its requirements under the Colorado River Compact to deliver a set amount of water right below Glen Canyon Dam.

“There’s accounting that goes on. Every year, we know exactly how much water is delivered. At a point in time … we can see very clearly, we have a significant risk of not being able to deliver that water,” Mueller said. “When we can’t deliver that water, we will get a call, or a curtailment, coming up the river.”

He said it appeared as though most of those present Jan. 19 have pre-compact water, or senior rights, that are not obligated to be called out. Most municipalities have rights junior to the compact — but they also have the right of condemnation through an involuntarily “buy and dry” process.

“Those (municipal) fire hydrants and those faucets, my guess is, are going to get water in the time of curtailment. That’s the municipal preference in our state constitution,” Mueller said.

To-date, the state hasn’t actually had to determine how this consideration would be applied — in fact, mum’s the word at the state level, Mueller added.

“The reality is, many of the Front Range providers would have rights junior to the compact,” Mueller said. These providers divert about 650,000 acre-feet a year to the Front Range out of the Colorado River Basin, including, at times, the Upper Gunnison.

The Front Range is constantly on the lookout for additional supply, but that’s not the only thing to keep in mind, Mueller said. Front Range providers will continue to supply current municipal needs in that populous part of the state.

The question becomes: What happens in the event of a curtailment when municipalities have the right of condemnation?

“They have the right to come over and buy ag rights. They don’t even have to build a pump. They can just run the water down the stream into Lake Powell. They can dry up the agricultural — buy and dry involuntarily,” Mueller said.

Locals under the Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association are not necessarily safe from condemnation just because the association is under a right held by the federal government, he said.

Although municipalities cannot condemn against federal property, it’s not certain whether the U.S. Secretary of the Interior would ultimately be comfortable with not delivering water to the lower basin, where the greater population provides a congressional delegation many times the size of the Western Slope’s, Mueller explained.

“The question really is, how do we prevent that from happening?” he said.

“We don’t have the answer yet, but we are studying a number of different mechanisms where we can use voluntary efforts by our agricultural producers on the Western Slope, combined with voluntary efforts of ag users who depend on transmountain diversions on the Eastern Slope; industrial providers on the East Slope, and municipal providers on the East and West Slope, to voluntarily curtail their uses ahead of time and bank that water somewhere and then be able to prevent a curtailment from ever occurring.”

These, Mueller explained, are “thoughts,” not absolutes.

Detailed Colorado River Basin map via the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

Moffat Collection System Project will impact forest surrounding existing Gross Reservoir

The dam that forms Gross Reservoir, located in the mountains west of Boulder. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

From The Boulder Daily Camera (Charlie Brennan):

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is expected to rule early next year on what would be the biggest public works project in Boulder County history, exceeding the original construction of the Gross Reservoir Dam, which was completed in 1954.

The tree removal plan outlined in Denver Water’s FERC application states that all trees and their associated debris on about 430 acres along 12.5 miles of shoreline will have to be removed in the course of the expansion, which is envisioned as being completed by 2025.

Denver Water spokeswoman Stacy Chesney said the agency has estimated that “the density of the forest ranges from approximately 150 to 1,800 trees per acre. Based on these initial plans, we estimate up to 650,000 trees will need to be removed in the area surrounding Gross Reservoir.”

In a recent interview, Denver Water President Jim Lochhead vowed that every aspect of the project’s completion is being designed and executed with an eye toward mitigation of its impacts on the high country environment and those who depend on it for their recreation or call it home.

“We recognize that this is a major construction project and it has adverse impacts to the community,” said Lochhead, whose utility serves 1.4 million in Denver and many of its suburbs — but not Boulder County.

“We are trying to understand exactly what those impacts are, and see what the needs of the community are, and do everything we can to help address them.”

Referencing project manager Jeff Martin, Lochhead said, “Whether it’s traffic, hauling on the roads, whether it’s noise associated with the quarry, whether it’s the tree removal issues, it’s Jeff’s job to make sure it goes in a way that we’re doing the best that we can by the local community.”

Martin said: “We recognize the brutal aspects of the project. We don’t want to hide from those. That’s not our objective.”

Stressing that Denver Water intends to factor the concerns of reservoir neighbors into its planning of what’s officially known as the Moffat Collection System Project, Martin said, “We look forward to getting that feedback, seeing how we can make it into the most palatable project we can, and turn it into, maybe not reducing all the impacts, but for the greater good, reducing them as much as we can.”

[…]

A 48-page plan for the required tree removal prepared by Denver Water describes a mix of ponderosa pine, Douglas fir and Rocky Mountain juniper.

According to data the agency compiled in 2005, most of the trees at that time were 20 to 50 feet high, with a breast-high diameter ranging from 4 to 14 inches.

“Because of the topography, e.g., very steep slopes, rock outcrops, etc., several more complex tree removal (logging) systems will need to be used, and some temporary roads will need to be constructed to remove the trees,” the plan states.

It estimates that 50,000 tons of forest biomass are expected to be produced during the required clearing for the expansion of Gross Reservoir, which is to see its dam raised by 131 feet, expanding the reservoir’s capacity by 77,000 acre feet to a total storage capacity of 118,811 acre feet.

While noting that, “Traditionally, most of the slash would have been piled and burned in place,” the plan acknowledges that, “Today, burning large quantities of forest residue, in close proximity to residential areas, is problematic in the extreme.”

Allen Owen, Boulder District forester for the Colorado State Forest Service — a contracted forest resource management partner to Denver Water through the Forests to Faucets program — said he had been unaware of the number of trees Denver Water is planning to pull out of the Gross Reservoir area, or that it will involve the leveling of all growth on 430 acres of shoreline.

He doubts it would actually reach the 650,000 figure.

“That would mean 1,500 trees per acre over the entire 430-acre unit, and I know that’s not the case,” he said. “The stand densities vary all around the perimeter of the shoreline. There are areas that are nothing but solid rock, with no vegetation on it, to units that may have those number of trees. But there are not that many trees over the entire 430 acres. The number seems high.”

Owen expects state foresters will be involved in plotting how the trees’ removal proceeds.

“It’s something way beyond the ability of the Colorado State Forest Service,” he said. “I would consider that a big logging job, on very steep slopes, with very poor access. It is going to be very difficult, at best.”

Martin discussed three different potential scenarios, including removal by truck, burning and burial of felled lumber, or some combination of those strategies.

In cases where trees are located on small rock bluffs, Denver Water’s current removal plan notes, “the use of helicopter may be necessary.”

Denver Water believes new emerging technologies may pose options for removal that weren’t contemplated when its plan was authored.

“One of the things we’ve committed to is developing a process with public input … going out and getting some public input and some stakeholder input and that includes the U.S. Forest Service, the Colorado state forester and Boulder County, and developing some concepts … and then seeing what fits best for the community from there, and then moving forward with the plan,” Martin said…

Denver Water points to steps it is taking to mitigate the effects of construction wherever possible, and also emphasizes measures that it contends offers some in Boulder County a benefit. Lochhead and Martin touted the provision of a 5,000-square-foot environmental pool in the expanded reservoir, to be available for replenishing South Boulder Creek for the benefit of both Boulder and Lafayette at times when it is running dangerously low.

“That’s kind of a neat partnership there,” Lochhead said.

That does not mean that Boulder supports the Gross Reservoir expansion — but nor does it oppose it.

“Boulder has a neutral position on the overall expansion,” said Boulder’s source water administrator, Joanna Bloom.

“If the project somehow falls apart, then Boulder will continue to try to establish the streamflows on South Boulder Creek through other means,” Bloom said…

Boulder County’s stance on the expansion is more complicated.

The county filed extensive comments on both the draft and final environmental impact statements in the Army Corps of Engineers’ review process, and doesn’t agree that the EIS adequately addressed “the myriad of impacts” that would result for Boulder County and its citizens.

On March 23, the county filed an unopposed motion to intervene in the FERC approval process. One of the points the county addressed at length in that intervention relates to tree removal — and its arguments are based on the presumption of a far more modest, but still significant, removal of trees, at a total of 200,000.

“County roads (Flagstaff Road, Magnolia Road and others) are windy with low volume residential traffic and would be inappropriate for use by trucks hauling trees,” the county argued.

“In addition, it may not be possible to safely navigate SH 72 with trucks full of trees. These heavily laden trucks will cause damage to the roads and present safety concerns for road users.”

Moreover, the county contends Denver Water’s project must come through its land use review process, while the utility maintains that the county’s role is superseded by the FERC review process.

Until that conflict is resolved, the county is tempering its remarks, pro or con, on the Gross Reservoir project, so that it will not be seen as having prejudged any application Denver Water might make in the future through the county’s land review process.

Martin recalled that Denver Water worked extensively with Boulder County in 2012 exploring a potential intergovernmental agreement to facilitate the reservoir expansion.

While such a pact was ultimately rejected by Boulder County commissioners by a 3-0 vote, Martin said, “What we did receive was a lot of information from Boulder County and the public on how we need to shape the project in order to meet the needs of both the community and Boulder County.”

However, independent of the environmentalists’ planned federal lawsuit, there might be a need for another judge to sort out the critical question of whether Denver Water’s plans for tree removal and many other aspects of its reservoir expansion must pass through the county’s land use review process.

“I would say that it is likely that it will take litigation, because neither party is willing to give up its position,” said Conrad Lattes, assistant county attorney for Boulder County. “We need some neutral third party to decide this for us.”

However, on a warm and sunny day back before the chill of approaching winter descended on Colorado’s high country, Denver Water’s brass were flush with optimism.

Martin said that for Denver Water, it’s not just about getting the project done.

“We’re also looking at the social responsibility,” he said, “making sure that when it’s said and done, that we did it in the right way; that we could look back and say we did everything within reason and practicality to make this really the most environmentally, socially responsible project we can.”

Gross Dam enlargement concept graphic via Denver Water

State gives Aspen officials until Dec. 29 to answer dam questions

The location of the potential Maroon Creek Reservoir, just below the confluence of East and West Maroon creeks, where a beaver dam now backs up water. The Maroon Bells are well within view from the dam site.

By Brent Gardner-Smith, Aspen Journalism

The city of Aspen now has until Dec. 29 to provide a “substantive” response to central questions raised by state officials in water court regarding the city’s efforts to develop dams and reservoirs on upper Maroon and Castle creeks.

The questions raised by the state include whether the city can get a permit for the dams, if it can build the dams in reasonable time, if it has a specific plan to build them, and if it needs the water the reservoirs would hold.

After a status conference on Nov. 9 in water court in Glenwood Springs regarding two due diligence applications the city filed in December 2016 for the two potential dam-and-reservoir projects, a water court referee said, for the second time since August, that the city must provide a substantive response to key issues raised by the state.

Susan Ryan, the referee in Division 5 water court, said the city must do so whether or not it is able to reach settlement agreements with the 10 opposing parties in the two cases.

“It is going to require a written response to that summary of consultation regardless of whether or not settlement is reached with all the opposers in the case,” Ryan said during the status conference. “And so I just wanted to clarify that that is what I typically require in every water case and that is what I will require here.”

A summary of consultation in water court can be a routine review of a water rights application by two state officials, the division engineer, who administers water rights, and the water court referee, who functions as an administrative judge and seeks to resolve cases, if possible, before they are sent to a water court judge.

But the twin summaries of consultation released on Jan. 23 concerning the city’s diligence applications for the Castle and Maroon creek reservoirs raised threshold questions.

They said the city “must demonstrate that it will secure permits and land-use approvals that are necessary to apply the subject water rights to beneficial use” and the city must show it “will complete the appropriations within a reasonable time.”

They also said “a specific plan is in place to develop the subject water rights,” that the city “must demonstrate substantiated population growth in order to justify the continued need for these water rights” and that the city is “not speculating with the subject water rights.”

Maroon Creek Reservoir would hold 4,567 acre-feet of water behind a 155-foot-tall dam and encroach on portions of the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness. Castle Creek Reservoir, as currently decreed, would hold 9,062 acre-feet of water behind a 170-foot-tall dam, and would also flood some land in the wilderness boundary.

In two diligence applications filed on Oct. 31, 2016, the city told the court it has “steadily applied effort to complete the appropriation” of the conditional water rights for both of the reservoirs over the past six years, and that it has done so “in a reasonably expedient and efficient manner under all the facts and circumstances.”

In July, the city said it was seeking a way to transfer decreed storage rights to locations other than the decreed locations on Castle Creek and Maroon Creek.

On Nov. 7, city of Aspen voters rejected a ballot question that would have given the city the go-ahead to issue $5.5 million in general obligation bonds to purchase a 60-acre parcel in Woody Creek to use for water storage, in conjunction with the gravel pit operated by Elam Construction.

But city officials, before the vote, had stated they intended to buy the Woody Creek parcel whether the ballot question was approved or not. A recent study for the city found that between 1,000 acre-feet and 8,000 acre-feet of water could be stored using varying combinations of the land the city intends to buy and the gravel pit.

Also in July, the city filed brief responses to the summaries of consultation. But in August the water court referee said the city’s effort fell short.

A wetland that would be flooded under the potential Castle Creek Reservoir. The reservoir would stand across the main channel of Castle Creek, about two miles below Ashcroft.

City not eager to file response

During the Nov. 9 status conference, the city’s water attorney, Cynthia Covell of Alperstein and Covell, told Ryan the city would still prefer not to lay out its case in a substantive response at this stage of the proceedings.

“Since the last status conference the city has been working to finalize the reports that it has needed to assist in the settlement process, including its supply-and- demand risk assessment study, and its evaluation of one or more alternative storage sites that are not located in federal wilderness areas or on Castle Creek or Maroon Creek,” Covell said.

Covell said the city has only this week received responses from all 10 of the opposing parties to a Sept. 20 settlement proposal from the city, and that the City Council was scheduled meet in executive session Monday to discuss the responses.

“So at this point, Aspen would like to devote its time and resources to seeing if we can reach a settlement by the end of the year, we hope in both cases,” Covell said.

Attorneys in the cases said in August the main sticking point in the settlement negotiations was that the city wanted to keep open its options regarding transferring rights tied to the potential Castle Creek reservoir, while opposing parties want the rights for the potential reservoirs fully removed from both valleys.

During the status conference, after determining it was still the city’s position that it would prefer not to provide substantive answers at this time, Ryan asked the opposing attorneys what they thought.

“I frankly don’t buy the argument that it’s a hiccup or roadblock in terms of settlement,” attorney Paul Noto said. “I actually feel that it may lay some cards on the table that may in fact help settlement.”

Noto is representing American Rivers, Colorado Trout Unlimited, and the Roaring Fork Land and Cattle Co. in the Maroon Creek case, and the two environmental groups in the Castle Creek case.

Also opposing the city in the cases are Western Resource Advocates, Wilderness Workshop, Pitkin County, USFS, Larsen Family Limited Partnership in the Maroon Creek case, and Double R Creek Ltd. and Asp Properties LLC in the Castle Creek case.

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism is collaborating with The Aspen Times on coverage of water and rivers. The Times published this story online on Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2017.

Water managers seek certainty in Colorado Basin — @AspenJournalism

The Colorado River, not far below the Utah-Colorado state line, flowing toward the lower basin.

GRAND JUNCTION — Bringing more certainty to an unruly and unpredictable Colorado River system was a common theme among water managers speaking at the Colorado River District’s annual seminar Friday­­.

Although the drought that has gripped much of the Colorado River Basin for the past 16 years has eased up a bit, population growth and the long dry spell have pushed the river’s supplies to the limit, with every drop of water in the system now accounted for.

Meanwhile, the effects of climate change on the Colorado’s future flows are still a big question mark, and it could mean wide variability in the years to come, with periods of punishing drought followed by a sudden record-setting wet year, as California recently experienced.

Bill Hasencamp, general manager of Colorado River resources for the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, described how in April 2015, snowpack in the Sierras was at an all-time low. But by this spring, it was at an all-time high, after a winter of heavy precipitation.

The change in snowpack eventually led to huge fluctuations in water prices – from $1,800 per acre-foot at the height of the drought to just $18 per acre-foot this year, Hasencamp said.

That kind of turbulence places enormous pressure on the Colorado River Basin’s big municipalities, which must secure their water supplies for millions of people, said Eric Kuhn, the general manager of the River District, which is based in Glenwood Springs and helps protect western Colorado’s water resources.

Kuhn is retiring next year and was making his last formal presentation as general manager of the river district. As he heads into retirement, he’s working on a book with author John Fleck about the history of managing the Colorado River and the creation of the Colorado Compact.

“The reality is — and we all have to accept this — big-city providers need certainty,” he said. However, Kuhn said he didn’t think that means more transmountain diversions from the Western Slope.

The most obvious source of additional water for cities is agriculture, which holds the lion’s share of senior water rights on the Colorado River, but no one is eager to see rural areas sacrificed for urban growth, Kuhn said.

So, he added, water managers throughout the basin are figuring out ways to adapt 19th-century water laws to a 21st-century reality.

The upper Colorado River below the Pumphouse put-in.

System conservation

Cooperative agreements between irrigators and municipalities are one option, providing cities with additional sources of water during dry periods.

Already, a three-year pilot initiative called the System Conservation Pilot Program has shown that farmers and ranchers are open to using less water in exchange for compensation.

Beginning in 2014, four of the big Colorado River Basin municipalities and the Bureau of Reclamation contributed $15 million to fund water conservation projects throughout the basin.

The program was in limbo after this year while officials worked out some issues, but Hasencamp said Friday that the funders have agreed to continue the pilot program for another year, in 2018.

For water managers, these kinds of flexible arrangements, along with rigorous water efficiency, recycling, and reuse efforts, are the key to finding “certainty” on an inherently volatile river system.

Still, those solutions will not be easy.

As Bill Trampe, a longtime rancher from Gunnison County, explained, less irrigation often comes with unintended consequences such as diminished return flows to the river and nearby fields.

And as Lurline Underbrink Curran, the former county manager for Grand County, described, efforts to heal the destructive impacts of existing water diversions on the Fraser River, a tributary of the Colorado, means accepting that future diversions will in fact take place.

“We tried to form friendships that would help us do more with what we had,” she said.

California’s Salton Sea presents another dilemma, which reaches back up into Colorado River system.

The salty inland lake, created by an accidental breach in an irrigation canal, is drying up.

Since 2002, the state of California has been paying the Imperial Valley Irrigation District to keep the Salton Sea on life support by delivering 800,000 acre-feet of water, but that initiative expires at the end of this year.

Continuing the water deliveries means using up more of the Colorado River’s dwindling supplies, but letting it dry up means exposing local residents to a lakebed full of toxic dust.

None of these problems is new, but as many of the speakers at the river district’s annual seminar explained, water managers now have more tools than ever before to address those challenges — and new urgency with which to apply them.

Recent successes include the successful negotiation of an updated binational water agreement between the U.S. and Mexico, called Minute 232, that is expected to be signed this month. It will outline how the two countries share future shortages on the Colorado River.

“We’re at a point where we can work together, and the success we’ve had is from collaboration,” said Becky Mitchell, the new director of the Colorado River Conservation Board. “It’s really all hands on deck.”

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism is collaborating with the Glenwood Springs Post Independent, the Aspen Times, the Vail Daily and the Summit Daily News on coverage of rivers and water. The Post Independent published this story in its print edition on Sunday, Sept. 17, 2017. The Aspen Times published it in its print edition on Monday, Sept. 18, 2017. The Vail Daily published it in its print edition on Sept. 18, as did the Summit Daily News.

Interview: Jim Lochhead #ColoradoRiver #COriver

Jim Lochhead

Here’s an interview with Jim Lochhead from Cathy Proctor and The Denver Business Journal. Click through and read the whole thing. Here’s an excerpt:

As metro Denver grows, what’s the outlook for its water supply? We went to the source to ask.

Denver Water is the state’s biggest water utility, ensuring that 1.4 million customers in Denver and many surrounding suburbs have enough clean water for drinking, showering, cooking and yard watering.

Jim Lochhead was appointed its CEO and manager in 2010, after working for decades as a lawyer negotiating water rights and uses across the nation.

He sat down with me to talk about Denver’s water future. Here are some highlights.

What challenges lie ahead?

We’re doing an integrated resource plan, a 50-year look ahead to the challenges we face and how we face them — but it’s scenario planning, rather than math. Before, we looked at the past and how much water was available, figured how many people there would be in the future and did the math. But saying “we just need to get more water” doesn’t work anymore. The future will not look like the past for a number of reasons.

On the supply side, there may be more extended droughts, greater severity of weather events, and a warming climate. For demand, we’ve seen demand dropping due to our campaign for water conservation, but it’s also through more efficient fixtures and more density in the city — which means more efficiency.

Economics plans a part to, we could have economic downturns or just chug along, or the millennials moving into the downtown apartments might move to the suburbs. We’re creating different scenarios for all that.

Army Corps of Engineers approves Gross Dam expansion — @DenverWater

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.

Here’s the release from Denver Water (Stacy Chesney):

Army Corps of Engineers issues record of decision and 404 Permit

Following 14 years of careful study, evaluation and deliberation, the Army Corps of Engineers has approved Denver Water’s request to raise Gross Dam in Boulder County. The additional water stored in Gross Reservoir will help prevent future shortfalls during droughts and helps offset an imbalance in Denver Water’s collection system.

The approval comes in the form of a record of decision and 404 Permit — two documents required by the federal government as part of the National Environmental Policy Act.

“Denver Water appreciates the Corps’ dedication and commitment to careful study of the anticipated impacts of this project,” said Denver Water CEO Jim Lochhead. “We will complete this project responsibly, as evidenced by our actions during the public process and the resulting robust environmental protections we’ve agreed to along the way. We’re proud to be doing the right thing.”

The existing dam was built in the early 1950s and was designed to be expanded in the future to increase water storage capacity. The Gross Reservoir Expansion Project approval completes this original vision.

Expanding Gross Reservoir is a major part of Denver Water’s long-term plan to deliver safe, reliable water to the people it serves now and into the future. The project is part of Denver Water’s multi-pronged approach that includes conservation, reuse and responsibly sourcing new supply.

“Issuance of this permit will unlock significant resources that will allow us to do good things for the river and the environment,” said Mely Whiting, counsel for Trout Unlimited.

In accordance with existing agreements, including the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement and Grand County’s Learning By Doing, and conditions in the 404 Permit, Denver Water will provide millions of dollars to improve watershed health in the critical Colorado and South Platte River Basins. Lochhead said these commitments are one reason that last year Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment found that the project will have a “net environmental benefit” on the state.

The project has earned key endorsements from Gov. Hickenlooper, state and federal lawmakers, major environmental groups, local mayors and city councils, chambers of commerce and economic development corporations, county elected officials and water interests on both sides of the divide.

“The next milestone we anticipate is approval by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission of Denver Water’s hydropower license amendment application at some point next year,” said Jeff Martin, Gross Reservoir Expansion program manager. “In the meantime, Denver Water continues to make significant investments in setting a firm foundation for the project’s overall success by recently hiring Black and Veatch as the owner’s representative. We are also in the process of procuring a design engineer.”

Preconstruction activities, including dam design and geotechnical work, are expected to begin in 2018. The entire project is expected to be completed in 2025.

Visit http://grossreservoir.org to read more about the project and http://denverwaterTAP.org for additional information.

From The Associated Press via The U.S. News & World Report:

The Army Corps of Engineers announced late Friday it granted the project a permit under the federal Clean Water Act.

The $380 million project involves Gross Dam in the foothills about 5 miles southwest of Boulder.

Water Education Colorado 2017 President’s Award Reception

The Denver Art Museum was the location for The Colorado Foundation for Water Education’s President’s Award Reception yesterday evening.

Eric Kuhn received the Dianne Hoppe Leadership Award and Drew Beckwith was honored as an Emerging Leader.

Each year when I attend this event I am struck by the camaraderie shown by the water folks here in Colorado. Water really does bring us together to find solutions, and at the end of the day we have so much to agree on. Water for Ag, water to drive the economy, water for the fish and bugs. It takes a great number of people to meet the water needs of the Headwaters State, collaboration is key, and this event helps us to connect.

Jim Lochhead introduced Eric Kuhn and detailed his accomplishments while leading the Colorado River District. The Colorado River Cooperative Agreement and the Windy Gap Firming agreement were at the top of the list. Lochhead also praised Mr. Kuhn as one of the two most influential persons in the Colorado River Basin along with Pat Mulroy.

Drew Beckwith

Eric Hecox told us about Drew Beckwith’s influence on the Statewide Water Supply Initiative. Eric credited Mr. Beckwith for poring over the workbooks, questioning assumptions, and advocating for conservation.

Drew is an accomplished water educator himself choosing video in the Drew in a Canoe series. He helped get the public on board with legislation passed in 2016 to legalize rain barrels.

People that install rain barrels are, “More connected to water,” he said.

This is always a great event to attend. Thanks Jayla, Caitlin, Jenny, and Stephanie.

“We’re kind of at the cliff right now in the Colorado River Basin” — Matt Rice

Denver Water's collection system via the USACE EIS
Denver Water’s collection system via the USACE EIS

From Colorado Public Radio (Nathaniel Minor):

Colorado’s economy depends on water: where it is, where the people who need it live and work, who has rights to it. Fights over those needs are a core part of the state’s history, and they tend to follow a pattern. So in some ways, the fight over the Fraser River in Colorado’s Grand County is familiar.

Denver Water holds unused water rights on the river, which starts in the shadow of Berthoud Pass and courses down the western side of the Continental Divide past Winter Park, Fraser and Tabernash to join the Colorado River outside of Granby.

Workers pose for a photo in the Moffat Water Tunnel in this 1930 photo.
Workers pose for a photo in the Moffat Water Tunnel in this 1930 photo.

The agency, looking at the booming population and economy in Denver, now wants to exercise those rights. That means taking more water from the river, piping it under the Indian Peaks and sending it into Gross Reservoir near Boulder.

Some conservationists and environmental groups are crying foul, saying that the river has already been overtaxed (about 60 percent of its existing flow is already diverted to slake Denver’s growing thirst) and it’s time to let the river alone.

But the fight’s pattern is taking some unfamiliar twists and turns. Influential groups like Trout Unlimited and American Rivers, who’ve historically fought diversion projects, support this one. In exchange, Denver Water says it will will help protect and enhance what’s left of the Fraser River.

That compromise has fractured traditional lines in Colorado’s conservation and environmental advocacy community, and fostered new alliances. While these organizations more or less agree on their ultimate goal — to protect and restore the environment — the strategies they use are very different. The big question that divides them: When to compromise?

Denver Water Extends An Olive Branch

stoptwoforksdampostcardfrontcirca1988

Decades ago, environmentalists were not at the top of list of Denver Water’s concerns when it would try to build dams and add capacity. In the 1980s, environmental groups pushed back on a huge proposed dam called Two Forks.

“[Denver Water] told us in so many words: ‘We’re the experts. You’re little environmentalists. Get out of the way,’ ” Dan Luecke, then head of Environmental Defense Fund’s Rocky Mountain office, told High Country News in 2000.

Then, in 1990, an EPA veto torpedoed the project at the last minute.

“That was really a turning point for our organization,” said Kevin Urie, a scientist who’s worked for Denver Water for nearly 30 years. “I think we realized with the veto of Two Forks that we needed to think about things differently.”

He believes that while Denver Water has long taken environmental impacts into consideration with its plans, it didn’t engage with local stakeholders — like conservation and environmental groups and Western Slope governments — until after the Two Forks project died.

There’s a demographic change underway as well: Many of the Denver metro area’s new residents also want to play in Western Slope rivers on the weekends. That has pushed Denver Water leadership to put a larger emphasis on environmental stewardship, Urie said.

But all those new residents still need water. Denver Water delivers water to about 1.4 million people across the metro, about double what it did some 60 years ago. Conservation efforts have kept overall demand relatively low in recent years. But with more people moving to Denver every day, Denver Water expects its demand to rise 37 percent by 2032 from 2002 levels.

The Fraser River is key to Denver Water’s plan to head off a shortfall in the relatively near future. The agency wants to divert half of the remaining flows from the Fraser and its tributaries through the Moffat Tunnel to Gross Reservoir near Boulder. (The proposed expansion of Gross has started its own fight, which CPR News’ Grace Hood chronicled last month.) It would be treated at the agency’s plant in Lakewood, and eventually delivered to customers across the metro.

The agency expects to have all of its necessary permits by 2018 and construction could begin in 2019 or 2020. But to get those permits, Denver Water has agreed to be part of a group that includes Grand County officials and environmentalists called “Learning by Doing.” These different players are often at odds when it comes to water issues.

Urie said Denver Water’s participation shows its desire to do right by the environment and local stakeholders. They’ve helped fund an ambitious project that will engineer the Fraser River’s flow on a nearly mile-long stretch between Fraser and Tabernash, squeezing it to make it narrower, deeper and colder — and thus healthier.

But is that what’s best for the river?

Urie thought about that question for a minute, and then chose his words carefully:

“Clearly the system would be better if we weren’t using the water resources for other uses. But that’s not the scenario we are dealing with,” Urie said.

Trout Unlimited Sees Opportunity

The Fraser River project’s biggest booster is Kirk Klancke, president of the Colorado River Headwaters Chapter of Trout Unlimited. For him personally, it’s a way to help a river that he’s lived near and played in for 45 years.
“I can’t talk about it without getting all emotional. My life’s been spent on this river,” he said.

He sees it as a chance to restore a part of the river popular with anglers called the Fraser Flats. Here, the brush-lined river levels out after tumbling through the pine forests of Berthoud Pass.

His playground is popular with others, too. Grand County is a short one- to two-hour drive from Denver. From fly fishing to alpine and nordic skiing to snowmobiling, it’s a tourist-based economy. And in Klancke’s eyes, all of that rests on the health of its water.

He’s watched the river dwindle and get warmer as more water has been pulled out of it. And that’s changed how his family has used it. When his children were young, they could stay in the river for only a minute or two.

“They’d come out and their lips would be purple and they’d be squealing,” Klancke said. “Now I throw my grandchildren in the river and they’re not in a hurry to get out. We spend up to an hour in a pool in the river.”

He’s watched this river that means so much to him get sicker and sicker; warm, shallow channels aren’t suitable for native fish and bugs. For years, he blamed the deteriorating environment on the Front Range and its water managers.

“I was a little radical because I urinated in diversion ditches. It’s about all I knew to do. I’ve matured quite a bit since then,” he said.

His turning point came when he got involved with Trout Unlimited.

“I loved their approach,” he said. “They were able to look at it in someone else’s shoes, which is what all mature people do. And then, move forward with opening up conversation.”

Such conversations are what led to the Fraser Flats project, Klancke said. When flows are low, like they were this fall, the river is shallow as it stretches across its native bed. The new channel will allow the river to recede and stay deeper — and cooler.

Essentially, that stretch of river will be turned into a creek. On its face, downsizing a river doesn’t sound like a big victory for environmentalists. But that’s not how Klancke looks at it. During peak flows in the spring, Klancke points out, the river will be nearly just as wild as it is now.

And moreover, Denver Water has to stay involved in the Learning by Doing group. So if environmental issues arise down the road, Klancke said the agency will be there to help solve them.

Is it a compromise? Yes, Klancke admits. But water managers own water rights in the upper Colorado Basin that they’ll use — with or without his blessing. The right to divert water for “beneficial uses” is enshrined in the Colorado Constitution.

“We have to face reality here,” Klancke said. “There is no more mighty Upper Colorado. There’s only keeping what’s left healthy.” [ed. emphasis mine]

WildEarth Guardians Stakes Out Moral High Ground

Like Klancke, Jen Pelz, wild river program director for WildEarth Guardians, has had her own evolution in thought toward environmental causes. Earlier in her career, she was a water lawyer in Denver who represented clients like the city of Pueblo that were taking water from Western Slope rivers.

But eventually she felt a pull toward environmental advocacy. Pelz credits that with childhood days spent on the banks of a tributary to the Rio Grande in New Mexico.

“It was kind of the place that I could go just be myself,” she said. “I developed a really strong connection to the river there.”

She was drawn to the confrontational, no-holds-barred approach used by WildEarth Guardians. The group is known for its headline-grabbing lawsuits. Most recently they sued the federal government over haze in Western Colorado and leases to coal mines.

The approach seems to be working, at least by WildEarth Guardian’s measure. The haze lawsuit ended in an agreement where a coal mine and coal-fired power plant in Nucla, south of Grand Junction, will shut down in the next six years. A power plant in Craig, Colorado will shut down one of its units too.

“We’re willing to not be liked by the general public, or by particular industries,” Pelz said. “And I think it takes that kind of moral integrity and just knowing where you stand on the issues, to really push the envelope.” [ed. emphasis mine]

Pelz is not interested in compromise on the Fraser River. She faults Trout Unlimited for starting negotiations at the wrong place. In her view, the baseline shouldn’t be where the river is now with about 60 percent of it being diverted. The conversation needs to start with the river at its natural flows, she said.

“The harm has already been done,” Pelz said.

If the Fraser River is going to be saved, she says, it’ll happen by letting more water back into the river — not by taking more out. As the climate warms, she says the river will need all the help it can get.

“Let’s start dealing with it now. Let’s have that hard conversation now, not 50 years from now when there’s no water left to have a conversation about,” she says.

Pelz says her organization, and another group called Save the Colorado, are considering litigation once final permits are approved. That could happen in 2018.

Such tactics doesn’t make Pelz a lot of friends. She said she’s been ostracized from her former clique of water lawyers. It’s hard for her to get meetings with government regulators.

WildEarth Guardians’ relationship with the greater environmental community is similarly strained. She said Denver Water is more willing to meet with environmentalists now because they’ve softened. And she’s upset with what Trout Unlimited has become in the eyes of regulators.

“Trout Unlimited has been deemed by Denver Water and the state of Colorado as being the environmental voice,” Pelz said. “They get invited to the table because they have this role in communities, which I don’t think is a bad thing, but they don’t necessarily represent all of the different interests in the environmental community.”

As a result, she said, groups like hers are being left out of the conversation.

“They don’t talk to us. They don’t ask us what we think. And I’ve called them. And I’ve had meetings with them. I’ve asked them what they think. And they’ve told me they don’t like our approach. And I understand that. But I think that it works both ways.”

Pelz said it can be hard to be out “towing the left line.” Everybody likes to be liked, she said. But she’s decided that over the long run, her methods are what will make a difference. To do anything else would be surrender.

“I don’t want to have to explain to my kids that I gave up the fight for this river that is the namesake of our state, the state they were born in, because I was willing to compromise,” she said. “We may not win, but damn we are going to try.”

American Rivers Finds Room To Maneuver

When Matt Rice, Colorado River basin director for American Rivers took the job a few years ago, he made the decision to put aside his dreams for what he really wanted. Instead, he focuses on what he thinks he can actually pull off.

“In a perfect world, I’d like to see all the wild rivers in this country and in this state flowing freely and filled with fish, doing what rivers should do,” Rice said. “It’s not realistic.”

But he acknowledges that groups like WildEarth Guardians can make his job easier at times. When Guardians files a lawsuit and makes a bunch of people mad, a group like his can step in and talk with state regulators and businesses. Guardians essentially provides cover for groups closer to the political center, he said.

“Their advocacy pushes everybody, not just conservation organizations, kind of further to the left. And I think that’s good,” Rice said.

But there’s a downside. Lawsuits and sharply worded press releases can sting, and are not easily forgotten. And Rice worries that aggressive tactics from far-left groups lead to skeptical parties like ranchers or Front Range water managers lumping all environmentalists together.

“That has the potential to undermine the progress we’re making,” he said.

Looking To The Future

A screenshot from the website for Colorado's Water Plan.
A screenshot from the website for Colorado’s Water Plan.

With the publication of last year’s Colorado Water Plan, a first for the state, officials are trying to turn the page on Colorado’s long fight over water. The plan, which officials describe as a roadmap to sustainability, stresses collaboration between competing interests and conservation of the increasingly precious resource.

“Now is the time to rethink how we can be more efficient,” Gov. John Hickenlooper said at the water plan’s introduction in November 2015.

Diverting more water should be the last-possible solution, Hickenlooper said. That’s welcome news to environmentalists like Matt Rice of American Rivers.

Rice said they are supportive of the Fraser River diversion plan for the same reasons Trout Unlimited is, though they aren’t part of the Learning by Doing group. But he hopes the Fraser diversion, and another major project in the works called Windy Gap, are the last trans-mountain diversion projects.

There just isn’t enough water on the Western Slope, he said. And if another one comes up, Rice said they’ll fight it with everything they have.

“We’re kind of at the cliff right now in the Colorado River Basin,” he said.

Collaboration and compromise will certainly be part of environmentalism’s future in Colorado. But as groups like WildEarth Guardians continue to find success in the courts, the advocacy ecosystem has room for other strategies too.

CWCB and city of Aspen oppose Maroon Creek Club water rights application

A map showing the location of four ponds on the Maroon Creek Club's golf course for which the club is seeking refill rights. The ponds are located between Maroon Creek and Buttermilk Mountain.
A map showing the location of four ponds on the Maroon Creek Club’s golf course for which the club is seeking refill rights. The ponds are located between Maroon Creek and Buttermilk Mountain.

By Brent Gardner-Smith, Aspen Journalism

ASPEN – The Colorado Water Conservation Board and the city of Aspen are objecting to an effort by the Maroon Creek Club to broaden a 1989 water right so it can refill four ponds on its private golf course as it sees fit.

Both the CWCB and the city have filed statements of opposition in the water court case, which was filed in Division 5 Water Court on Aug. 10.

Maroon Creek LLC has told the court it is not asking to expand the 1989 water right, but is instead seeking “determination of surface water rights” regarding potential refill rights for four ponds, arguing that the 1989 right includes a refill option.

The ponds are usually filled once a year with water diverted from Maroon and Willow creeks, via the Willow Creek Ditch and the Herrick Ditch under the club’s 1989 water right.

But both the state and the city are concerned that in seeking such a determination, the club will actually expand its water right, and do so despite an earlier settlement agreement that sets a cap on the amount of water that the ponds can store in a year.

The four ponds can hold between 4.7 acre-feet to 13.6 acre-feet of water and altogether can store 35.1 acre-feet.

Two of the ponds are on the Buttermilk Mountain side of Highway 82 and two are on the clubhouse, or north, side of the highway. The ponds were built in the 1990s when the club’s golf course was shaped by a fleet of earthmovers.

Overall flow into the ponds, per the club’s 1989 water right decree, is not to exceed 4 cubic feet per second at any one time from the two irrigation ditches that feed them.

The Willow Creek Ditch can divert 10 cfs from Willow Creek, a tributary of Maroon Creek that enters at T-Lazy-7 Ranch. And the Herrick Ditch can divert 60.86 cfs from Maroon Creek, which is a tributary of the Roaring Fork River.

Maroon Creek LLC concedes the original decree is silent as to refill rights, but points to an amended 
application from the 1989 case that says “the reservoirs will be filled and refilled, in priority, as needed.”

“The explicit reference to reservoir refill indicates the original applicant’s intent to alter the presumptive one-fill rule with respect to the reservoirs,” states the “application for a determination” from Maroon Creek LLC. “Further, the reservoirs are on-ditch structures and are part of the greater Maroon Creek Club golf course. Keeping the reservoirs full through refill is ‘consistent with and implicit in the normal operation’ of key golf course ponds, which provides further evidence that reservoir refill was intended to be a part of the final decree in the original case.”

Attorneys with Garfield and Hecht in Glenwood Springs prepared the water court filing. And Andrew Hecht, a founder of and a partner in Garfield and Hecht in Aspen, is the manager of Maroon Creek LLC.

Looking over the Maroon Creek Club golf course from Tiehack on Dec. 5, 2016. One of four ponds on the course is visible, barely, in the foreground.
Looking over the Maroon Creek Club golf course from Tiehack on Dec. 5, 2016. One of four ponds on the course is visible, barely, in the foreground.

City and state file statements

The Colorado Water Conservation Board, which owns instream flow rights in Maroon Creek and the Roaring Fork and Colorado rivers, filed a detailed statement of opposition in the case on Oct. 27.

“The principle that reservoirs are limited to one fill per year is well-established in Colorado water law,” states a filing from the CWCB, prepared by attorneys general for the state of Colorado. “Therefore, absent specific language in a decree to the contrary, a decreed right to fill a reservoir is limited to a single filing per year.”

The CWCB argues that the 1989 water rights held by the Maroon Creek Club were the result of a stipulated agreement in the water court case that created the rights, and as such are explicitly limited to a single fill of each of the four reservoirs.

“The decree unambiguously awards a single fill,” the CWCB says.

And addressing any potential decision to the contrary, the CWCB told the court it “should reject an interpretation which is contrary to the long-accepted single-fill rule.”

The CWCB holds instream flow rights on Maroon Creek and on the Roaring Fork and Colorado rivers.

Water attorneys for the city of Aspen also filed a statement of opposition in the case.

“Aspen owns numerous water rights decreed for diversion from Maroon Creek and the Roaring Fork River and its tributaries, including certain water rights that Applicant [Maroon Creek LLC] has contracted for use on the property that is the subject of this application, which may be injured by the requested determination of surface water rights,” the city told the court.

As such the city says Maroon Creek LLC “must prove that the request for determination of surface water rights does not create a new water right or expand the decreed amount of use of the water rights” from the 1989 decree.

A status conference in the case is set for Dec. 22.

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism, the Aspen Daily News, and Coyote Gulch are collaborating on coverage of water and rivers. The Daily News published this story on Monday, Dec. 6, 2016.

#ColoradoRiver: Moffat Collection System Project update #COriver

Denver Water's collection system via the USACE EIS
Denver Water’s collection system via the USACE EIS

From The Wall Street Journal (Jim Carlton):

Next year, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is expected to decide whether to issue a permit to triple the capacity of Gross Reservoir in the Rocky Mountain foothills, with additional shipments of about 18,000 acre feet of water a year from the Colorado River watershed. An acre foot is enough water to meet the annual needs of an average family of five.

That is one of the last regulatory barriers for utility Denver Water’s $380 million project, for which district officials say they hope to break ground in 2019 to help ensure local water supplies.

“We have an obligation to supply water,” said Jeff Martin, Denver Water’s manager of the project, as he stood recently atop a 340-foot concrete dam that is to be raised by 131 feet under the plan. “It’s not an option to not have water.”

[…]

The Corps of Engineers is expected to decide next year on a proposed new “Windy Gap” project in Colorado, which would divert up to another 30,000 acre feet a year to the Front Range, the heavily populated area where the Rocky Mountains rise up from the plains.

In addition, more than 200,000 acre feet would be diverted for proposed projects in Utah and Wyoming…

Water officials in California and other lower basin states say they aren’t overly concerned about more diversions upstream, because a 1922 compact requires the upper basin states to deliver them about 7.5 million acre feet a year, or one half the river flow set aside for human use north of the U.S.-Mexico border. Much of that water is stockpiled in Lake Powell on the Arizona-Utah border.

With the Colorado running much lower than when the compact was signed, water experts say there is less water to divert.

“So long as their development doesn’t impinge on their release to us, that is their business,” said Chuck Cullom, a program manager at the Central Arizona Project in Phoenix, which pulls from the river and stands to lose a fifth of its deliveries if a shortage is declared on the Colorado. “If it falls below that, then they would have to figure out how to manage their demand.”

Don Ostler, executive director of the Upper Colorado River Commission, which oversees use of the river in the upper basin states of Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and New Mexico, agreed that new diversions increase the risk of shortages.

“The more you develop, the more a severe drought can affect you,” said Mr. Ostler. “But we are able to live with a certain amount of shortage.”

In Denver, water officials don’t feel they have much choice but to seek more Colorado water.

In 2002, tons of sediment from a forest fire clogged one of Denver Water’s reservoirs during a drought. “We came close to running out of water in the northern end of our system,” said Jim Lochhead, chief executive officer of Denver Water, a utility that serves 1.4 million people.

That crisis helped prompt the district in 2003 to undertake the Gross Reservoir expansion, which would store more water from an existing tunnel that transfers Colorado River water from the west side of the Continental Divide.

Denver officials pledged to only take the water in wet years and release more into streams when it is dry—measures that drew praise from some conservationists…

Gov. John Hickenlooper in July gave the state’s approval, calling the dam’s expansion vital. “The state’s responsibility is to ensure we do the right thing for Colorado’s future,” the Democratic governor said at the time, “and this project is vital infrastructure for our economy and the environment.”

The dam that forms Gross Reservoir, located in the mountains west of Boulder. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism
The dam that forms Gross Reservoir, located in the mountains west of Boulder. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

#ColoradoRiver: Doing more with less water — Allen Best #COriver

From Aspen Journalism (Allen Best) via The Aspen Daily News:

Denver Water implements ‘Learning By Doing’ program in the high country

A decade ago, Kirk Klancke had hard, cold feelings about Denver Water. A stonemason for 35 years who moved to the Fraser Valley in 1971, he was passionate about the outdoors, particularly fly-fishing, and was outraged by depleted flows of the Fraser River and tributary creeks below a network of transmountain diversions.

Listening to Denver Water’s plans to step up diversions from these Colorado River tributaries, Klancke would seethe.

Today, Klancke almost gushes with compliments.

“Denver has been a treat to work with,” Klancke said one day in August at his home near Tabernash, located eight miles from the Winter Park ski area.

Denver Water still intends to divert more spring runoff. But what has won Klancke’s support is the utility’s commitment to an adaptive management program called Learning By Doing.

Part of the program includes about 30 people conferring weekly to address water issues in the upper Colorado River basin upstream from Kremmling, where up to 80 percent of the water may soon be diverted to the arid side of Colorado along the Front Range.

The conference call is modeled on a similar weekly call used to coordinate water deliveries, including from Ruedi Reservoir, to protect endangered fish in the Colorado River in the Grand Junction area.

During those calls, information is exchanged by water managers, and sufficient deliveries are usually ascertained. And decisions are made by consensus.

So far in the Learning By Doing effort, Denver Water has shown a willingness to juggle its diversions in response to conditions on the once-pristine streams in Grand County.

For example, in late July, Klancke noted warm water and dying fish in Ranch Creek, a tributary of the Fraser River. He told Denver Water about the low flows, but he didn’t really expect a response. To his surprise, utility officials offered to rejigger its diversions to make the flows in Ranch Creek last longer.

“It really helped Ranch Creek a lot,” says Klancke, the president of the Colorado River headwaters chapter of Trout Unlimited.

Learning By Doing is partly about manipulating diversions in the most environmentally friendly way possible, Klancke says. In the past, that wasn’t a concern “because they have just been operated like plumbing.”

The program is now gaining some notice in other headwater valleys, including the Roaring Fork, which is also substantially dewatered by transmountain diversions built in the 1930s and 1960s.

Pitkin County Commissioner Rachel Richards, who has focused for years on water issues, says Learning By Doing “clearly is a sound concept, modifying approaches based on science and data feedback. But we’re not sure we’ve seen enough actual implementation to judge whether it’s a valid tool.”

As you go

Learning By Doing is like a river trip without a precise itinerary. It acknowledges broad impacts to water-dependent ecosystems from Denver Water’s existing transmountain diversions and those of others. However, it doesn’t presume to know exactly how to lessen the impacts of existing diversions, let alone impacts of new ones.

The Moffat Firming project, which sparked the Learning by Doing effort, is being proposed by Denver Water. The nearby Windy Gap Firming project, on the main stem of the Colorado River below Granby, is a proposal from Northern Water. Both projects are part of Learning By Doing, although Northern is not a signatory to the underlying agreement for the program, the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement.

Both firming, or expansion, projects were conceived many years ago, but they were pushed forward after the 2002 drought. The drought crystalized Denver Water’s worries that it couldn’t supply enough water to its northern service area.

As such, Denver Water has proposed to divert more water from tributaries of the Colorado River and send it through its existing Moffat Tunnel system to an expanded Gross Reservoir, which is in the mountains southwest of Boulder.

The two big transmountain diversion systems in Grand County managed by Denver Water and Northern Water, plus several smaller ones, have annually removed an average of 67 percent of the water in the Colorado River below Windy Gap, according to the final environmental impact statement on the Windy Gap firming project.

The two proposed expanded diversions would bump that up to a combined 80 percent. By comparison, about 40 percent of water in the upper Roaring Fork and Fryingpan headwaters goes east, not west. That’s significant, but the upper Colorado River has been hit even harder.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the final decision-maker on both the expanded Moffat and Windy Gap diversions, now expects to issue decisions on the proposals in 2017.

The political landscape

The agreement that yielded Learning By Doing is grounded in political realities.
Denver Water needed Western Slope support to get more water. But to get it, the utility had to acknowledge a moral responsibility to address the impacts of existing diversions. That responsibility is now reflected in a legal agreement.

Denver Water initially submitted models about the effects of its proposed increased diversions. Trout Unlimited and other environmental groups were skeptical.

“A lot of water has been taken out of these rivers,” says Mely Whiting, an attorney for Trout Unlimited. “We were not convinced any model was going to be able to predict what would happen [with increased diversions] or what will happen with climate change.”

The message to Denver Water, she says, was “if you want more water, you have to fix problems we already have, and you have to make sure we don’t have more problems. That’s what we believe Learning By Doing is all about.”

Will the Colorado River actually end up being better off after the diversions?

“I think so,” Whiting says. “That’s the goal. That’s what we’re shooting for.”

But the upper Colorado River basin may never be as pristine as it once was.

“The goal is not to make it natural,” says Whiting. Instead, Learning By Doing aims to “make it better.”

Other environmental advocates reject this reasoning.

“Grand County got bad legal advice,” says Gary Wockner, executive director of Fort Collins-based Save the Colorado. “The river is already drained and depleted, and climate change is just going to make it worse. When you’re heading for a cliff in your car, the first thing to do is take your foot off the accelerator.”

Water conservation, Wockner contends, “is always cheaper, easier and faster than trying to build a massive new dam, as is buying and sharing water with farmers.”

Trout Unlimited sees things differently.

“We have said ‘yes, let’s conserve,’ and we do everything we can to really engage in pushing forward conservation,” Whiting said. “But we also need to figure out how to best protect the river with its projects moving forward.”

Might the parties that divert water from the Roaring Fork River watershed, which include Colorado Springs, Aurora and Pueblo, as well as irrigators in the Arkansas River Valley, ever feel a moral obligation to address the impacts of their diversions?

Chris Woodka, a former water reporter and the new issues management coordinator for the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District in Pueblo,
was at least willing to consider the question last week.

Southeastern manages the Fry-Ark project, which diverts water from Hunter Creek and a string of tributaries in the upper Fryingpan River basin.

“We’re probably not going to suggest anything that would take less water,” Woodka says. “But if we are asked to do something, we would certainly look at it. But our primary obligation is to bring supplemental water to the Arkansas basin.”

And an important factor for the Roaring Fork watershed to consider may be this: Learning By Doing is the result of a proposal to increase transmountain diversions and is not simply born of a desire to better manage the streams already depleted by them.

Improving relations

Denver Water, the Western Slope, and environmental groups have long had an adversarial relationship.

And when the utility initiated the federal review process in 2003 for expansion of its transmountain diversions through the Moffat Tunnel, Eric Kuhn, general manager of the Colorado River Water Conservation District in Glenwood Springs, sent a proposed “global settlement” to Denver Water.

Denver Water rejected the specific proposal, but not the idea and submitted a counter-proposal in what then became an extended negotiation.

Soon, headwaters counties — especially Grand, Summit, and Eagle — came to agree that there had to be a global agreement among the affected counties in response to Denver Water’s proposal. Mediated negotiations began in 2007 involving 43 parties, most of them located on the Western Slope.

A key figure representing Grand County in the process was Lurline Underbrink Curran, a county native who became a planner and then the Grand County manager, a position she recently stepped down from.

Working with Denver Water, Curran decided, could yield more benefits than a courtroom brawl. But developing trusting relationships took time.

Curran, known for being plain-spoken and direct, credits the directors that Gov. John Hickenlooper appointed to the Denver Water board when he was mayor of Denver. She said they were able to acknowledge an important truth.

They were “willing to step back and go, ‘Well, we have had a huge impact and if at all possible we need to improve the area that we take the water from,’” she said.

Denver Water, in turn, shared modeling studies with Grand County after securing a promise that the models wouldn’t be used against it legally.

‘A really big deal’

Grand County also commissioned its own expensive stream management plan that brought science to the argument.
Paul Daukas, environmental planning manager for Denver Water, was impressed by that plan.

“It givers them the science, so they can frame their needs and wants in a scientific way,” he said. “That plan became the foundation for Learning By Doing.”

Learning By Doing is included in the 2013 Colorado River Water Cooperative
Agreement, the result of the long negotiating process with Denver Water.
And Curran says Learning By Doing puts Grand County, with its multiple tasks, on par with Denver Water, an agency with a singular focus.

“That is a really big deal,” Curran says.

Denver Water and the Windy Gap sponsors aren’t legally required to participate in Learning By Doing until they get all their federal permits.

Nonetheless, in 2011, they joined the state, Grand County and other partners to begin to explore how to do more for rivers with less water.

Diminished flows distress the web of life found in rivers. Macroinvertebrates — bugs — live in the gaps between rocks in rivers. Reduced flow means less velocity, and sediments are not swept from between the rocks. Less room for bugs means fewer of them, and fewer bugs means fewer fish.

Klancke, the avid fly-fisherman, can point to reaches of river in Grand County where President Dwight Eisenhower snagged big trout during summer vacations in the 1950s.

But now he can also point to segments of the Fraser River where summer flows, depleted by diversions, are too shallow for the width of the channel, resulting in water dangerously warm for fish and the bugs they depend upon.

“They heat up in ways they never did before,” says Klancke of the tributaries in Grand County. “Seventy degrees is the limit trout can withstand.”

One recent response has been to narrow a section of the Fraser River’s channel for nine-tenths of a mile and add riffles and pools. The ongoing Fraser Flats project will cost $201,000, with various parties, including a private landowner, chipping in.

Denver Water’s portion of the Fraser Flats project is only $50,000, part of $2 million earmarked for aquatic habitat improvements under the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement. The agreement says that Denver Water will provide $11 million to Grand County in all.

That agreement also obligates the utility to bypass 1,000 acre-feet that it could divert. The water is to be used for environmental purposes in the Fraser Valley.
After the work is done at Fraser Flats next year, stream temperatures and other indicators will be monitored for several years.

The procedure, explains Denver Water’s Daukus, is to see what benefit has occurred, “so that when we go to the next project, we can see what has worked and what won’t work.”

But Wockner of Save the Colorado thinks Grand County settled for a “terrible deal.”

“The two dam and diversion projects would take over a billion dollars of water over to the Front Range,” he says, referring to the Moffat and Windy Gap firming projects.

“Grand County settled for about one percent of that in mitigation costs, which is a fleecing of money as well as water.”

As for the “channel enhancement” at Fraser Flats, he sees only a narrowed irrigation ditch.

“The Fraser and Colorado rivers need more water, not less,” Wockner says.

Still, proponents say Learning By Doing provides a model. They say it requires commitment by people to be stewards of rivers in their backyards. It requires mechanisms for addressing problems. It requires cooperation among diverse partners. And it requires compromise.

Denver Water’s most important change, says Klancke, may be a new focus. Instead of a singular focus on delivering water to customers it may now have a broader focus that includes maintaining the health of the basin of origin, he says.

“That’s the culture they’re changing,” he said. “I won’t say it’s successful until the scientists say it’s healthier than it used to be. But we’re headed in the right direction.”
Richards, of Pitkin County, is still not sure Learning By Doing has sufficient teeth to compel change.

“It will depend,” Richards said, “on whether what is learned actually ends up changing what the water diverters do.”

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism and the Aspen Daily News are collaborating on coverage of rivers and water. More at http://www.aspenjournalism.org.

#Colorado, #Wyoming Move Forward with #ColoradoRiver Diversions — Public News Service #COriver

Fontenelle Reservoir and Dam, at Green River. Kemmerer, WY - USA March 12, 2016. Photo credit ruimc77 via Flickr.
Fontenelle Reservoir and Dam, at Green River. Kemmerer, WY – USA March 12, 2016. Photo credit ruimc77 via Flickr.

From The Public News Service:

Wyoming has moved one step closer to getting more water for ranching, agriculture and industrial development.

The U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources has advanced a bill that would allow the state to take an additional 125,000 acre-feet of water from the Green River at the Fontenelle Dam…

State officials say expanding the Fontenelle is necessary for farmers and ranchers who need a reliable water supply to keep crops and livestock healthy.

They feel the measure would also be an economic incentive for new businesses to grow and create jobs in southwestern Wyoming…

[Gary Wockner] notes Wyoming isn’t the only state trying to get more water from a shrinking source.

He points to a proposal by Denver Water to expand the Gross Dam that would remove an additional 5 billion gallons annually from the Colorado.

While upper-basin states may technically have rights to the water, Wockner says the challenges of a changing climate and 16 years of drought can’t be ignored.

The dam that forms Gross Reservoir, located in the mountains west of Boulder. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism
The dam that forms Gross Reservoir, located in the mountains west of Boulder. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

#ColoradoRiver: “Killing the #Colorado” spotlights new solutions — American Rivers #COriver

killingthecoloradotrailerscreenshot

From American Rivers (Sinjin Eberle):

I have noticed a lot of chatter lately about the situation at Lake Mead. Dramatic overuse, prolonged drought, and the effects of increased temperatures have led to a historically low volume of water stored in the largest reservoir on the Colorado River. One of the most critical components of water in the west is less than 40% full. Yet while some people scramble for a quick fix or point fingers, others see the long game and note the optimism that working together for smart, sustainable solutions can bring. There is hope, there is a roadmap, and together we have the knowledge, skill, and foresight to make it happen.

Lake Mead behind Hoover Dam December 2015 via Greg Hobbs.
Lake Mead behind Hoover Dam December 2015 via Greg Hobbs.

The Discovery Channel recently produced a new documentary, Killing the Colorado, a made-for-TV version of the lengthy ProPublica series of the same name. The show is excellent, comprehensive, and features a number of voices that you may not expect to be featured in a film about the environment. Imperial valley agricultural producers, water managers, a red-state Senator and a blue-state Governor – all identifying problems facing the basin, and most putting forth an optimistic view that a human-caused predicament can be solved with human-inspired ingenuity.

One quote in particular is poignant – there is a scene with Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper in his office flipping through a binder full of historic water compacts. Upon his observance of the generations of water agreements, he remarks “The thing you realize when you go through these [water] compacts, is that everyone is in this together.” Given the situation facing Lake Mead, a growing chorus of voices around Lake Powell, the birth of the Colorado Water Plan, and a recognition that heathy rivers support healthy agriculture and sustainable economies, we truly are all rowing the same boat together in the Colorado Basin.

Lake Powell via Aspen Journalism
Lake Powell via Aspen Journalism

But, how can Lake Mead affect Colorado from a thousand miles downstream? Well, due to the Colorado River Compact of 1922, headwaters states like Colorado must send a certain amount of water to the Southwestern states of Arizona, Nevada, and California – it’s the law of the river, and the law of the land. And since when the Compact was developed, California was a fast growing destination, it has priority and can “call” for water if needed. For years, California has had the luxury to get much of the surplus of water that Colorado and Wyoming have sent downstream to be stored in Lake Powell and Lake Mead. But now with prolonged drought, a fast-growing population across the entire Southwest, and a substantial agricultural economy (especially in the Imperial Valley), the era of surplus water is over. As such, Lake Mead is directly connected to Colorado, whether we like it or not, and that connection is the Colorado River.

Killing the Colorado does a fantastic job over nearly an hour-and-a-half of highlighting a variety of colorful characters who have recognized that shortage and a lack of water will change everything in the future – that future is now. But while both the show and the written article are excellent at highlighting the situation, they don’t delve deeply into what I think is most important – that real solutions do exist, and we know how to implement them, it simply takes our collective will to get them moving. Solutions like urban and agricultural conservation and efficiency, like reuse and recycling, like innovative water banking and flexible management practices, like continuing the shift towards renewable energy (solar and wind don’t devour cooling water like natural gas and coal plants require). But while these efforts all seem daunting and out of an individual’s control, there are actions that each of us can take every day that together, make a huge difference. Like buying and installing your own rain barrel for your outside plants and flowers, like supporting your local farmer at the farmer’s market – small things that have a great impact, especially when we all do them together.

Solutions do exist, and as Arizona Senator Jeff Flake said “The drought over the past couple of years has awakened all of us to the future we have if we don’t do better planning. There are many things that are out of our control…Planning is so important. Conserving. Recharging. Water banking. Water markets. These are all important things that have to take place.

Let’s get started!

The Yampa River flows through the Carpenter Ranch. Photo courtesy of John Fielder from his new book, “Colorado’s Yampa River: Free Flowing & Wild from the Flat Tops to the Green.” -- via The Mountain Town News
The Yampa River flows through the Carpenter Ranch. Photo courtesy of John Fielder from his new book, “Colorado’s Yampa River: Free Flowing & Wild from the Flat Tops to the Green.” — via The Mountain Town News

#ColoradoRiver: The Plan to Strengthen Denver’s Water Supply — 5280.com #COriver

Gross Dam enlargement concept graphic via Denver Water
Gross Dam enlargement concept graphic via Denver Water

From 5280.cm (Amy Thomson):

Considering the Denver region is growing by an average of 4,500 new residents per month, a large sector of the population likely doesn’t remember the catastrophic 2002 drought. The most severe water shortage since the Dust Bowl, snowpack and soil moisture were at all-time lows, and we remained in a dry period until 2006. Luckily, with water restrictions in place, we never actually ran out of water—we just got really close.

“We realized that we had an immediate need to correct a vulnerability in our system,” Denver Water CEO Jim Lochhead says. That’s when Denver Water started planning the Gross Reservoir Expansion Project, and after more than a decade of negotiations, the project (which was recently endorsed by Gov. John Hickenlooper) is underway.

But will it be enough? The short answer is yes—as long as Denverites work on strengthening their water conservation practices. Lochhead was pleased to note that when a storm comes through the Mile High City, there is a noticeable drop in outdoor water use, because well-informed residents are turning off their sprinkler systems. Denver residents have managed to reduce water consumption by more than 20 percent in the last 15 years, even with a 15 percent increase in population, according to Lochhead.

The decrease is not enough to mitigate the risk of drought, however. As Colorado’s largest water utility, the Denver Water system is made up of two collection systems—the Northern and the South Platte—and they are incredibly imbalanced. About 80 percent of the water comes from the south system, leaving the north very vulnerable to low rainfall or wildfires. During the notable dry years of 2002 and 2013, clients in the north end were lucky their taps continued to flow.

“We were literally only one drought away from a major problem in our system,” Lochhead says, noting that as recently as 2013, the system was virtually out of water in the north-end.

#ColoradoRiver: “..in the Colorado Constitution, the Continental Divide doesn’t exist” — Jim Pokrandt

Denver Water's collection system via the USACE EIS
Denver Water’s collection system via the USACE EIS

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

A proposal to divert Colorado River water to Denver recently has won the endorsement of Gov. John Hickenlooper and the approval of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

But Denver Water’s Gross Reservoir expansion project may be just as notable for its general lack of opposition west of the Continental Divide. That’s thanks to a wide-ranging agreement, effective in 2013, in which Denver Water obtained concessions including a promise that numerous Western Slope parties to the agreement wouldn’t oppose the expansion project. In return, Denver Water made a number of commitments to the Western Slope.

Now Western Slope interests are working on a similar agreement with Northern Water and others on what’s called the Windy Gap Firming Project, which would store Colorado River water in a proposed Boulder County reservoir.

These approaches represent a far cry from how the Western Slope used to respond to transmountain diversion proposals.

“This is the new paradigm. It’s not the old school. In the old school it was like … we’ll see you in court,” said Jim Pokrandt of the Colorado River District, a party to the 2013 Denver Water deal.

For Denver Water, what’s called the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement provided greater certainty for its customers through means such as resolving longtime disputes regarding West Slope water. For the Western Slope, the deal meant dozens of obligations by Denver Water, such as millions of dollars in monetary payments to various entities, protections of Colorado River flows and water quality, a commitment to further water conservation and reuse efforts by Denver Water customers, and a provision aimed at helping assure maintenance of historic flows in the Colorado River even when the Shoshone Power Plant in Glenwood Canyon is not operating. That hydroelectric plant has a senior right helping control flows in the river.

Another key point in that deal is a promise that Denver Water and its customers won’t try to further develop Colorado River water without agreement from the river district and affected counties.

The cooperative agreement has 18 signatories but more than 40 partners, primarily West Slope governments, water conservation and irrigation districts, and utilities. Among them are the Ute Water Conservancy District and multiple irrigation districts in Mesa County.

Pokrandt said the 2013 deal is a win-win for both sides of the Continental Divide.

“That said, yes, more water would be moving east” if the Gross Reservoir project proceeds, he said.

The project, also sometimes called the Moffat Collection System Project, would nearly triple the capacity of the Boulder County reservoir. Denver Water is targeting water in the Fraser River, a tributary of the Colorado.

“Right now there are some periods of time when Gross Reservoir is full at its current size and their water rights are in priority but they can’t take any more water,” Pokrandt said.

The project has an estimated cost of $380 million, and Denver Water hopes to obtain the remaining major permits by the end of next year. CDPHE in June certified that the project complied with state water quality standards, and Hickenlooper endorsed it last week.

“The state’s responsibility is to ensure we do the right thing for Colorado’s future, and this project is vital infrastructure for our economy and the environment,” Hickenlooper said in a news release. “The partnerships and collaboration between Denver Water, the West Slope and conservation organizations associated with this project are just what the Colorado Water Plan is all about.”

That recently adopted plan in some respects took its lead from the Denver Water/Western Slope deal in seeking to address the state’s future water needs in a cooperative rather than confrontational manner statewide.

Pokrandt conceded that not everyone loves the Gross Reservoir proposal…

Trout Unlimited takes a more positive view of the Gross Reservoir project, pointing to its inclusion of a “Learning by Doing” program requiring monitoring of the health of the Fraser River and adjusting operations as needed. The Gross Reservoir proposal envisions drawing water from the Western Slope in wetter years and seasons, but providing the Colorado River watershed with extra water during low flow periods and investing in restoration projects.

“Moreover, Denver Water has entered into partnerships on the Front Range to ensure that the project alleviates chronic low-flow problems in South Boulder Creek. Both sides of the Divide benefit,” David Nickum, executive director of Colorado Trout Unlimited, said in a news release…

Denver Water Chief Executive Officer Jim Lochhead said in a news release, “The Denver metropolitan area is tied to the economic and environmental health of the rest of the state, and Denver Water is committed to undertake this project in a way that enhances Colorado’s values.”

Pokrandt said Western Slope water interests face the reality that under the state Constitution the right to appropriate water shall not be denied if the water can be put to beneficial use and a party can obtain the necessary financing and permitting.

“There’s not a legal stance to say no, so that’s why the river district was even formed in 1937, was to negotiate these things, because no is not an answer in the legal arena because of the Colorado Constitution,” he said.

When it comes to water rights, Pokrandt said, “in the Colorado Constitution, the Continental Divide doesn’t exist.”

#ColoradoRiver #COWaterPlan: “Having this additional storage enables that flexibility” — Jim Lochhead #COriver

Denver Water's collection system via the USACE EIS
Denver Water’s collection system via the USACE EIS

From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

This formal backing completes the state’s environmental reviews for the Moffat project, 13 years in the making, clearing the way for construction — if remaining federal permits are issued. Denver Water and opponents from Western Slope towns and nature groups reached a compromise aimed at enabling more population growth while off-setting environmental harm.

It is a key infrastructure project that will add reliability to public water supplies and protect the environment, Gov. John Hickenlooper wrote in a letter to Denver Water manager Jim Lochhead.

It “aligns with the key elements of Colorado’s Water Plan,” Hickenlooper wrote. “Denver Water and its partners further our shared vision for a secure and sustainable water future while assuring a net environmental benefit in a new era of cooperation.”

Denver would siphon 10,000 acre-feet a year, on average, more water out of Colorado River headwaters, conveying it eastward under the Continental Divide through a tunnel for more than 20 miles to an expanded Gross Reservoir southwest of Boulder. By raising that reservoir’s existing 340-foot dam to 471 feet, the project would increase today’s 41,811 acre-feet storage capacity by 77,000 acre-feet — more than doubling the surface area of the reservoir…

For more than a decade, Denver Water has been seeking permits, including federal approval for construction affecting wetlands and to generate hydro-electricity at the dam.

“During dry years, we won’t be diverting water. It is a relatively small amount of water. … It is a water supply that Colorado is entitled to develop,” Lochhead said in an interview.

The increased storage capacity “allows us to take water in wet times and carry it over through drought periods. It gives us operational flexibility on the Western Slope. … Having this additional storage enables that flexibility.”

Colorado leaders’ formal endorsement follows a recent Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment decision to issue a water quality permit for the project, certifying no water quality standards will be violated. Hickenlooper has directed state officials to work with federal water and energy regulators to expedite issuance of other permits. Denver Water officials said they expect to have all permits by the end of 2017, start construction 2019 and finish by 2024…

…Trout Unlimited and other conservation groups call the project a realistic compromise considering the rapid population growth along Colorado’s Front Range.

“If the state needs to develop more water, they need to do it in a less-damaging, more responsible way — as opposed to going to the pristine headwaters of the South Platte River, which is what the Two Forks project was going to do,” TU attorney Mely Whiting said.

“We’ve put things in place that will make Denver Water be a steward of the river,” Whiting said. The agreement hashed out between Denver Water and conservationists “does not specifically say they have to tweak the flows to help the environment. It does say they have to monitor, for water temperature and macroinvertebrates. And if there’s a problem, they are responsible for figuring out why and they need to do something about it. It does not say exactly what they have to do but they have to fix any problem.”

Gross Dam enlargement concept graphic via Denver Water
Gross Dam enlargement concept graphic via Denver Water

From The Colorado Independent (Marianne Goodland):

Gov. John Hickenlooper has officially endorsed a project to expand Boulder County’s Gross Reservoir, a move he hopes will improve Colorado’s water capacity for the next several decades.

The endorsement was considered a formality; Hickenlooper wrote to President Barack Obama four years ago, asking for the president’s help in speeding up the process for Gross and other water projects.

Colorado is predicted to face a gap of more than one million acre-feet of water by 2050, according to a 2010 estimate that many believe may be on the low end. One acre-foot of water is the amount of water it would take to cover the field at Mile High Stadium from endzone to endzone with one foot of water. That’s 325,851 gallons of water. The average family of four uses about half an acre–foot of water per year.

Hickenlooper couldn’t give his formal okay for the expansion of the reservoir, which is northwest of Eldorado Springs, until the state’s Department of Public Health and Environment had completed its review that certifies the project would comply with state water quality standards.

At 41,811 acre feet, Gross is among the state’s smallest reservoirs. It’s operated by Denver Water, supplied by water coming from the Fraser River on the west side of the Continental Divide through the Moffat Tunnel.

The expansion would allow the reservoir to collect another 18,000 acre-feet of water, enough to supply 72,000 more households per year. The estimated cost is about $380 million, which includes design, management, permitting, mitigation and construction.

The Gross expansion has been in the works for more than 13 years, with its first permits applied for in 2003. If all goes according to plan, the permitting process will be completed in 2017,with construction to begin in 2019 or 2020. The reservoir could be fully filled by 2025, according to Denver Water spokesman Travis Thompson.

In his letter to Denver Water, Hickenlooper called the Gross project key to serving more than 25 percent of the state’s population. It will “add reliability to our public water supply, and provide environmental benefits to both the East and West Slopes of Colorado,” he said.

Aye, there’s the rub: the Western Slope, whose residents fear that anything that will divert more water from the Western Slope to the Eastern Slope will cut into their water supplies. They also worry that more diversions of Colorado River water will make it more difficult to satisfy multi-state compacts with southwestern states that rely on water from the Colorado River, of which the Fraser is a tributary.

But Jim Lochhead, head of Denver Water, told The Colorado Independent that any further diversions will require buy-in from folks on the Western Slope.

It’s part of an arrangement between Denver Water and 17 Western Slope water providers that has been in development for the past six years, Lochhead said. “We’ve worked extensively with the West Slope to develop the Colorado River cooperative agreement,” which will make the environment and economy of Western Colorado better off, he said.

The agreement addresses impacts of Denver Water projects in Grand, Summit and other counties, all the way to the Colorado-Utah border.

Lochhead hopes the Gross Reservoir project will be a model for cooperation, with benefits for both sides of the Continental Divide.

And the cost? The budget for the agreement starts at $25 million and goes up from there. That first funding goes to Summit and Grand counties for enhancement projects, which includes improved water supply for Winter Park, Keystone and Breckenridge ski areas. Lochhead said the locals will figure out exactly how to spend the money, and that Denver Water isn’t dictating what those counties will do with it beyond setting some parameters for protection of watersheds, the area of land that drains to a particular body of water.

Denver Water has also committed to making improvements to the Shoshone Power Plant on the Colorado River near Glenwood Springs, and improvements to wastewater treatment plants all the way to the western state line to enhance area water quality.

“We have an extensive list of commitments to partner with the Western Slope, to do the right thing,” Lochhead said.

The Gross Reservoir expansion is critical to Denver Water’s future needs, as Lochhead sees it, because its improved capacity will allow the water utility to operate its system with more flexibility. That’s most important for Denver Water’s attention to environmental concerns, both on the Western Slope and for South Boulder Creek, which flows out of Gross Reservoir.

“The state’s responsibility is to ensure we do the right thing for Colorado’s future, and this project is vital infrastructure for our economy and the environment,” Hickenlooper said in a statement today. “The partnerships and collaboration between Denver Water, the West Slope and conservation organizations associated with this project are just what the Colorado Water Plan is all about.”

Added Lochhead in a statement Wednesday: “The Denver metropolitan area is tied to the economic and environmental health of the rest of the state, and Denver Water is committed to undertake this project in a way that enhances Colorado’s values.”

The dam that forms Gross Reservoir, located in the mountains west of Boulder. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism
The dam that forms Gross Reservoir, located in the mountains west of Boulder. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

#ColoradoRiver: Gov. Hickenlooper endorses Gross Reservoir Expansion Project — @DenverWater #COriver

The dam that forms Gross Reservoir, located in the mountains west of Boulder. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism
The dam that forms Gross Reservoir, located in the mountains west of Boulder. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

Here’s the release from Denver Water (Stacy Chesney/Travis Thompson):

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper has officially endorsed Denver Water’s proposed Gross Reservoir Expansion Project as a model for achieving a balanced approach to environmental protection and water supply development through an inclusive and collaborative public process.

The endorsement follows the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s issuance of a Section 401 Water Quality Certification on June 23, 2016, which ensures compliance with state water quality standards. The certification confirms that Denver Water’s commitment to extensive mitigation and enhancement measures for the project will result in a net environmental benefit.

“The state’s responsibility is to ensure we do the right thing for Colorado’s future, and this project is vital infrastructure for our economy and the environment,” said Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper. “The partnerships and collaboration between Denver Water, the West Slope and conservation organizations associated with this project are just what the Colorado Water Plan is all about.”

The Gross Reservoir Expansion Project — also known as the Moffat Collection System Project — will strengthen Denver Water’s system against drought and climate change by nearly tripling the capacity of Gross Reservoir, located in Boulder County.

“Colorado is a growing and dynamic state,” said Denver Water CEO Jim Lochhead. “Denver Water has the critical responsibility to sustain over 25 percent of the state’s population and the majority of our economy for decades to come.”

Since 2003, Denver Water has been involved in federal, state and local permitting processes to evaluate the proposed project and develop ways to not only mitigate identified impacts, but also to enhance the aquatic environment and the economy of Colorado. The 401 certification — one of the major regulatory requirements — recognizes and builds upon other existing Denver Water agreements such as the landmark Colorado River Cooperative Agreement, Learning by Doing cooperative effort and the Grand County Mitigation and Enhancement Coordination Plan.

“The Denver metropolitan area is tied to the economic and environmental health of the rest of the state, and Denver Water is committed to undertake this project in a way that enhances Colorado’s values,” said Lochhead.

Denver Water expects to secure all of the major permits for the project by the end of 2017. The estimated cost of the project is about $380 million, which includes design, management, permitting, mitigation and construction.

Visit http://grossreservoir.org to read more about the project and http://denverwaterblog.org for videos with voices from a few of the many project supporters including, Gov. Hickenlooper, Western Resource Advocates, Trout Unlimited, Colorado Water Conservation Board and Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

Here’s a post from Brent Gardner-Smith (Aspen Journalism) dealing with the subject but with a West Slope angle.

#COWaterPlan: Time to get started on implementation

James Eklund and Governor Hickenlooper roll out the Colorado Water Plan, Thursday, November 19, 2015 via The Colorado Independent
James Eklund and Governor Hickenlooper roll out the Colorado Water Plan, Thursday, November 19, 2015 via The Colorado Independent

From The Denver Post (Jim Lochhead, Jon Goldin-Dubois):

The big question now is, what steps do we need to take to secure Colorado’s water future? The answer lies in Chapter 10: the “Critical Action Plan” that includes important, measurable objectives, goals and actions.

This chapter calls for reducing the future gap between water supply and demand by continuing water conservation and reuse efforts, incorporating water-saving actions into land-use planning, working to preserve agricultural economies while increasing flexibility and efficiency, creating stream and watershed protection plans, and increasing education and outreach.

These ideas are well thought out, reasoned and critical to implement. And the legislature took a few baby steps on some of these earlier this year. It legalized capturing rainwater through residential rain barrels, and it increased the ability of Front Range agricultural water users to retain their water rights but share some of their water with other users in times of need. The legislature also allocated $5 million to the CWCB to begin implementing the water plan.

However, now is not the time to claim success or, conversely, to throw in the towel. Now is the time to use the collective attention, work and energy of the tens of thousands of citizens who helped shape the plan and those who work daily on water issues in the state to push through critical parts of the plan to ensure a secure water future for Colorado.

Fortunately, we don’t have to reinvent the wheel to get this done. We have proven examples on how to kick-start, incubate, and work cooperatively to implement the water plan’s suggested actions.

For instance, the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement between Denver Water and West Slope local governments, water providers and ski areas will enhance the health of streams in the Colorado River Basin while allowing Denver Water to strengthen its system against drought and climate change by enlarging Gross Reservoir. As a result, the project actually benefits both sides of the Great Divide. Future projects like the expansion of Gross Reservoir that include appropriate mitigation are part of the solution. They should receive state support and funding because they can align with the state’s water values and the plan’s well-articulated criteria for being sustainable, collaborative and cost-effective. Indeed, the plan’s criteria should be applied to all project proposals — including the $5 million noted above — to ensure public funds are spent wisely.

Most importantly, we can take simple, immediate actions to increase water-use efficiency. The governor can accelerate reuse, graywater, and green infrastructure by funding the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to update its regulations. He can work to remove barriers to water reuse and green stormwater management and use. He can improve river health by setting a time frame for the CWCB and basin roundtables to establish priority lists of rivers that should have local stream management plans done. And, he can support water banks — to better facilitate sharing water for a multitude of purposes — in key river basins…

Jon Goldin-Dubois is president of Western Resource Advocates. Jim Lochhead was appointed Denver Water’s CEO and manager in 2010.

Lost Man Creek finds its way back to Roaring Fork River

Flows in the main stem of the Roaring Fork River on Tuesday, June 14, 2016 below the diversion dam on the upper Roaring Fork. The flows shown heading toward Aspen, about 250 cfs, include  flow from  Lost Man Creek and  the main stem of the Fork.
Flows in the main stem of the Roaring Fork River on Tuesday, June 14, 2016 below the diversion dam on the upper Roaring Fork. The flows shown heading toward Aspen, about 250 cfs, include flow from Lost Man Creek and the main stem of the Fork.

by Brent Gardner-Smith, Aspen Journalism

ASPEN – On Tuesday, June 14 the Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co. turned out the flow of Lost Man Creek into the main stem of the Roaring Fork River, instead of sending it under the Continental Divide to Twin Lakes Reservoir.

Lost Man Creek is a major tributary of the upper Roaring Fork River and nearly its entire flow is typically diverted through the Twin Lakes Tunnel.

The creek flows out of sweeping high country valley and runs into Lost Man Reservoir. It’s then diverted into a canal and dumps into the main stem of the Roaring Fork River behind a dam.

That dam doesn’t form a reservoir, but instead diverts water from both Lost Man Creek and the Fork into a tunnel under Green Mountain and then, after another stretch of canal, into Grizzly Reservoir.

Once water from Lost Man Creek and the main stem of the Roaring Fork reaches Grizzly Reservoir it joins water from Lincoln, New York, Brooklyn and Tabor creeks and normally flows into the Twin Lakes Tunnel. The water in the tunnel daylights into Lake Creek and flows down to Twin Lakes Reservoir in Twin Lakes, Colorado.

From Twin Lakes Reservoir, all of the water collected and diverted by what’s officially known as the Independence Pass Transmountain Diversion System is sent to Aurora, Colorado Springs, Pueblo West, Pueblo and fields in the lower Arkansas River basin.

But due to constraints in its water rights, Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co. is being forced to curtail its diversions from the Indy Pass system, which means in all, 600 cfs of native flows will be turned out Wednesday and will flow either into the main stem of the Fork or upper Lincoln Creek, which flows into the Fork just above the Grottos.

On Tuesday, just flows from Lost Man Creek and the Fork were turned out from the diversion system, adding about 250 cfs to the Fork as it flowed past Lost Man Campground.

On Wednesday, the flows from the Lincoln Creek side of the system will be added to the released native flow of water heading downstream toward Aspen.

The Twin Lakes Tunnel, which has been diverting over 600 cfs since June 6, is set to be closed at noon Wednesday, according to Kevin Lusk, the president of the board of Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co. and a senior engineer with Colorado Springs Utilities, which owns 55 percent of the water diverted from the upper Fork.

The Twin Lakes Tunnel is expected to be closed for two to three week and the return of native flows to the Fork – for the second year in a row – may flood the North Star Nature Preserve and create what some locals called “Lake North Star.”

Last year, when the Twin Lakes Tunnel closed, the Fork peaked at the “Roaring Fork Near Aspen” gauge at 1,680s cfs on June 18.

Tuesday evening, flows in the Fork at “Roaring Fork Near Aspen” gauge, at Stillwater Drive, were at 640 cfs, up from 400 cfs before the flow of Lost Man Creek was returned to the Fork.

With the addition of Wednesday of about 350 cfs coming down Lincoln Creek, the flows at Stillwater Dr. could reach the 1,000 cfs range. The Fork, at its confluence with the Colorado River in Glenwood Springs, was flowing at 4,150 cfs on Tuesday night.

Hot and sunny weather expected over the next week in the Aspen area will also likely drive up the flow in the river.

Lost Man Creek, on June 14, 2016, flowing out of the high country near Independence Pass in the upper Roaring Fork River basin. Just below this point the creek reaches Lost Man Reservoir.
Lost Man Creek, on June 14, 2016, flowing out of the high country near Independence Pass in the upper Roaring Fork River basin. Just below this point the creek reaches Lost Man Reservoir.
Looking upstream from the dam across Lost Man Creek that forms Lost Man Reservoir, on Tuesday, June 14, 2016.
Looking upstream from the dam across Lost Man Creek that forms Lost Man Reservoir, on Tuesday, June 14, 2016.
The canal that moves water from Lost Man Reservoir, under SH 82, and into the main stem of the Roaring Fork River, just above a river-wide diversion dam across the Fork.
The canal that moves water from Lost Man Reservoir, under SH 82, and into the main stem of the Roaring Fork River, just above a river-wide diversion dam across the Fork.
A view from the dam across the main stem of the Roaring Fork River - just above Lost Man Campground - and the entrance to the tunnel under Green Mountain. That tunnel normally leads the water to Grizzly Reservoir and to the Twin Lakes Tunnel.
A view from the dam across the main stem of the Roaring Fork River - just above Lost Man Campground - and the entrance to the tunnel under Green Mountain. That tunnel normally leads the water to Grizzly Reservoir and to the Twin Lakes Tunnel.
Flows in the main stem of the Roaring Fork River on Tuesday, June 14, 2016 below the diversion dam on the upper Roaring Fork. The flows, shown heading toward Aspen, include about 250 cfs from  Lost Man Creek and  the portion of the main stem of the Fork that was previously being diverted.
Flows in the main stem of the Roaring Fork River on Tuesday, June 14, 2016 below the diversion dam on the upper Roaring Fork. The flows, shown heading toward Aspen, include about 250 cfs from Lost Man Creek and the portion of the main stem of the Fork that was previously being diverted.
The flows in the half-mile-long section of Lost Man Creek between Lost Man Reservoir and the Roaring Fork River. The tail end of Lost Man Creek has been reduced to a trickle for decades. Above Lost Man Reservoir, the creek is too deep to wade across safely. Below the reservoir, it's easy to step over.
The flows in the half-mile-long section of Lost Man Creek between Lost Man Reservoir and the Roaring Fork River. The tail end of Lost Man Creek has been reduced to a trickle for decades. Above Lost Man Reservoir, the creek is too deep to wade across safely. Below the reservoir, it's easy to step over.

#ColoradoRiver: Say hello to Grand County Learning by Doing #COriver

Here’s an introductory video.

Click here to go to the website. Here’s an excerpt:

The Grand County Learning By Doing Cooperative Effort (LBD) is a unique partnership of East and West Slope water stakeholders in Colorado.

LBD emerged from the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement, a five-year negotiation that became effective in 2013 and will be fully implemented with the successful construction of the Moffat Collection System and Windy Gap Firming Project. The agreement establishes a long-term partnership between Denver Water and Colorado’s West Slope, including several water utilities, nonprofit organizations and government agencies.

A Governance Committee oversees the LBD activities, with one voting member from each of these organizations:

  • Colorado Parks and Wildlife
  • Colorado River District
  • Denver Water
  • Grand County
  • Middle Park Water Conservancy District
  • Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District
  • Trout Unlimited
  • A Technical Committee, made up of representatives from the Governance organizations, as well as government agencies, regional water utilities and other partners, advises on LBD efforts and activities.

    Glenwood Springs paddling toward whitewater parks, but rapids ahead

    Looking up the Colorado River from the mouth of the Roaring Fork River. One of three proposed whitewater parks would be built in the river just upstream of the pedestrian bridge.
    Looking up the Colorado River from the mouth of the Roaring Fork River. One of three proposed whitewater parks would be built in the river just upstream of the pedestrian bridge.

    By Brent Gardner-Smith, Aspen Journalism

    GLENWOOD SPRINGS — In its effort to secure water rights for three proposed whitewater parks on the Colorado River, the city of Glenwood Springs has reached formal or conceptual agreements with a list of opposing parties in the water court case, including Denver Water, but it’s still facing opposition from Aurora and Colorado Springs.

    “We have a number of parties that have already settled,” said Mark Hamilton, an attorney with Holland and Hart representing Glenwood. “And while there are still some significant question marks, we think the process so far has been productive and continues to be productive.”

    Since December 2013, the city has been seeking a recreational in-channel diversion (RICD) water right tied to three whitewater parks on the popular Grizzly-to-Two Rivers section of the Colorado River, at No Name, Horseshoe Bend and the upper end of Two Rivers Park.

    The two wave-forming structures in each of the three whitewater parks would operate under a common water right that could call for 1,250 cubic feet per second of water from April 1 to Sept. 30, 2,500 cfs of water for up to 41 days between April 30 and July 23, and 4,000 cfs on five consecutive days sometime between June 30 and July 6.

    The 1,250 cfs level is the same as the senior water right tied to the Shoshone hydropower plant, which is upstream from the three proposed whitewater parks. Glenwood officials have previously said, however, that 2,500 cfs is a better level for boating and floating than 1,250 cfs, and the city wants the flows of 4,000 cfs for five days around the Fourth of July to hold expert whitewater competitions.

    But Aurora and Colorado Springs, both as individual cities, and together as the Homestake Partners, have told the water court that Glenwood is seeking more water than it needs.

    “Glenwood has ignored the law limiting a RICD to the minimum flow necessary for a reasonable recreation experience, and instead has reverse-engineered its proposed RICD to tie up half the flow of the mainstem of the Colorado River,” the Front Range cities said in a June 2015 statement filed with the court.

    And the cities, which own conditional water rights upstream of Glenwood, said that the city’s proposed water right “would dramatically and adversely affect the future of water use in the Colorado River drainage, if not the entire state.”

    Hamilton has met twice this year with representatives of Aurora and Colorado Springs, most recently on April 22 in Denver, to see if a deal can be worked out on how much water is appropriate.

    “We’re talking,” said Joe Stibrich, the water resources policy manager at Aurora Water. “But, we’ll see where it goes.”

    “There are ongoing negotiations and discussions that seem to be productive at this time,” said Kevin Lusk, principal engineer at Colorado Springs Utilities. “Whether or not we can reach agreement, of course, is really up to how those discussions go.”

    A status conference with the water court referee is set for June 23. The referee could then decide to send the application up to James Boyd, the judge who hears Division 5 water court cases in Glenwood Springs, or the parties in the case could ask for more time to keep talking before heading to trial.

    “We are actively communicating with Colorado Springs and Aurora concerning the possible development of additional call reduction provisions in order to protect future yield to their systems,” Hamilton said. “And we remain hopeful that a stipulated decree may be able to be entered after completion of these ongoing negotiations.”

    Glenwood has recently worked out a “call reduction provision” with Denver Water.

    “There has been a lot of progress on our end with the RICD discussions,” said Travis Thompson, a senior media coordinator at Denver Water. “In fact, in the collaborative spirit of the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement (CRCA), Denver Water has agreed to allow Glenwood Springs to exceed 1,250 cfs under certain conditions.”

    In the CRCA, signed in 2013, Denver Water agreed not to oppose a future recreational water right application if it did not seek flows greater than 1,250 cfs. But given that Glenwood is also seeking 46 days at 2,500 cfs and five days at 4,000 cfs, above the relatively consistent flow of 1,250 cfs, Denver did file a statement of opposition in this case.

    Glenwood and Denver have now agreed that Glenwood would reduce its call for the whitewater parks to 1,250 cfs if continuing to call at a higher rate, such as 2,500 cfs, would limit a potential future water project that is described in the CRCA as providing 20,000 acre-feet to the East Slope.

    Staff at Denver Water approved such an agreement with Glenwood on March 9, according to Thompson, and Hamilton said a copy would soon be filed with the court.

    A map filed by the city of Glenwood Springs showing the locations of three proposed whitewater parks. The city is seeking non-consumptive recreational in-channel diversion (RICD) rights tied to six rock structures built in the river, two in each of the three parks.
    A map filed by the city of Glenwood Springs showing the locations of three proposed whitewater parks. The city is seeking non-consumptive recreational in-channel diversion (RICD) rights tied to six rock structures built in the river, two in each of the three parks.

    Other opposers

    Glenwood enjoys the support of three “opposers” in the case: American Whitewater, Western Resource Advocates and Grand County, as the entities have filed statements “of opposition in support,” which is an option in Colorado’s water courts.

    And Glenwood has now filed formal agreements in water court that it has reached with five other true opposers with a range of issues: Glenwood Springs Hot Springs & Lodge Pool, Inc., BLM, Grand Valley Water Users Association, Orchard Mesa Irrigation District, and Ute Water Conservancy District.

    The Glenwood Hot Springs Lodge & Pool is concerned about the project disrupting the deep Leadville limestone aquifer that provides its hot water.

    But they’ve reached an agreement with the city that allows them to review construction plans for the wave structures at the Two Rivers Park location and requires the city to monitor the resulting wave structures for five years to watch for scouring of the riverbed, among other provisions.

    And an agreement between Glenwood and the BLM was filed with the court in June 2015. It says that if the city needs to cross BLM property to create a whitewater park in Horseshoe Bend then the city will go through the required federal land use process.

    The city has also signed a memorandum of understanding with CDOT that moves issues coming from the use of land at the No Name rest area on I-70 out of water court and into a future potential land-use application.

    “One of the conditions is that the city will have to work with CDOT as they move forward with building the whitewater park, as the (No Name) location falls in CDOT right-of-way,” said Tracy Trulove, a communications manager for CDOT. The agreement has yet to be filed with the court.

    A graphic presented to the Glenwood Springs city council in December showing the size and timing of the city's water right application on the Colorado River. The large dark blue block at the bottom represents a seasonal base line flow of 1,250 cfs. The smaller block on top represents 46 days at 2,500, the narrow dark blue spike is 5 days at 4,000 cfs.
    A graphic presented to the Glenwood Springs city council in December showing the size and timing of the city's water right application on the Colorado River. The large dark blue block at the bottom represents a seasonal base line flow of 1,250 cfs. The smaller block on top represents 41 days at 2,500, the narrow dark blue spike is 5 days at 4,000 cfs.

    District support

    The city is also close to finalizing agreements with the Colorado River District, the town of Gypsum, and the West Divide Water Conservancy District, according to Hamilton.

    Peter Fleming, general counsel for the Colorado River District, which represents 15 West Slope counties, said staff at the district is now comfortable with proposed settlement language in the Glenwood case.

    And he said once the district’s initial goals in a RICD case are met, the district often stays in the case on the side of the applicants “in order to support the right of its constituents to use water for recreational purposes that will support and/or enhance the local economy.”

    “We anticipate that such participation may be necessary in the Glenwood Springs RICD case,” Fleming said.

    At the end of the list of opposers is the Colorado Water Conservation Board, a state agency whose board of directors in June 2015 recommended against the proposed RICD after concluding it would “impair Colorado’s ability to fully develop its compact entitlements” and would not promote “the maximum beneficial use of water” in the state.

    “While we stand by our initial decision on this RICD, we’re encouraged that the applicants are actively seeking resolution with stakeholders and hope they will resolve the issues we raised,” James Eklund, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, said this week.

    Eklund said the CWCB staff will likely reconsider Glenwood’s proposal after it has reached agreements with other opposing parties in the case, and if staff is satisfied, bring the proposed decree back to the board.

    “Water for recreation in Glenwood Springs and around Colorado is essential and we want to make sure all RICDs strike the right legal, design, and safety balance,” Eklund said.

    Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism and the Aspen Daily News are collaborating on coverage of water and rivers in Colorado. The Daily News published this story on Saturday, April 30, 2016.

    Denver Water official says more West Slope water projects ‘not on our radar’

    The dam that forms Gross Reservoir, located in the mountains west of Boulder. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism
    The dam that forms Gross Reservoir, located in the mountains west of Boulder. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    By Brent Gardner-Smith, Aspen Journalism

    LOVELAND – Mike King, the new director of planning for Denver Water, said at a recent meeting that beyond additional transmountain diversions through the Moffatt Tunnel into an expanded Gross Reservoir near Boulder, Denver Water doesn’t have other Western Slope projects on its radar.

    King served as executive director of Colorado’s Department of Natural Resources from 2010 until January of this year, when he took the planning director job with Denver Water.

    After speaking to a luncheon crowd of close to 200 at the Northern Water Conservancy District’s spring water users meeting in Loveland on April 13, King was asked from the audience “How much more water does Denver Water need from the Western Slope?”

    “I think if we get Gross Reservoir approved, the answer is for the foreseeable future, you know, we need to do that first,” King said.

    King is a native of Montrose, son of a water attorney, and has a journalism degree from CU Boulder, a law degree from the University of Denver, a master’s in public administration from CU Denver and 23 years of state government experience.

    “And I can tell you that the reality is, whether it is from a permitting perspective or a regulatory perspective, the West Slope is going to be a very difficult place,” King continued. “If there is water available, it is going to be a last resort. And I so think that the answer is, that won’t be on our radar.”

    Denver Water is seeking federal approval to raise the dam that forms Gross Reservoir, in the mountains west of Boulder, by 131 feet. That would store an additional 77,000 acre-feet of water and bring the reservoir capacity to 118,811 acre-feet. Ruedi Reservoir, by comparison, holds 102,373 acre-feet.

    The $360 million project would provide 18,000 acre-feet of firm yield to Denver Water’s system and result in an additional 15,000 acre-feet of water being diverted from the West Slope each year. On average, Denver Water’s 1.3 million customers use about 125,000 acre-feet of West Slope water each year.

    The water to fill an expanded Gross Reservoir would mainly come from tributaries of the Fraser and Williams Fork rivers, via the Moffat Tunnel, near Winter Park.

    Beyond the Gross Reservoir project, King explained that any future Denver Water projects on the West Slope would need to fit within the confines of the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement, signed by Denver Water and 17 West Slope entities in 2013.

    The CRCA, says that “if there is more water, it only comes after the West Slope says they agree with it and it makes sense,” King said. “That sets the bar so incredibly high and gives them the ultimate ability to say, ‘This is good for the West Slope.’

    “And so I just don’t think Denver Water is going to be looking to the West Slope,” King continued. “I think anybody who manages natural resources, and water in particular, will never say ‘never’ to anything, but I think it is certainly not on our radar.”

    Not on Denver Water’s radar, perhaps, but it is worth noting that Denver Water is the only major Front Range water provider to have signed the cooperative agreement with the West Slope.

    When asked what he thought of King’s remarks about West Slope water, Eric Kuhn, the general manager of the Colorado River District said he thought the comments reflect “the concept that if Denver takes more water from the West Slope it could undermine the security/reliability of what they already take.”

    Kuhn’s comment relates to the possibility that if Denver Water diverts too much water from the Western Slope, it could help trigger a compact call from the lower basin states, which could pinch Denver’s transmountain supply of water.

    Editor’s note: Above is a recording of Mike King, the director of planning for Denver Water, speaking after lunch in front of about 200 people at Northern Water’s spring water users meeting, a public meeting held at The Ranch event center in Loveland on Wednesday, April 13, 2016. The recording, made by Aspen Journalism, begins shortly after King had begun his remarks. It is 26:34 in length. At 8:20, King discusses the development of the Colorado Water Plan. At 22:40, King answers a question about the governor’s endorsement of the Windy Gap project and another phrased as “How much more water does Denver Water need from the Western Slope?”)

    A buoyant crowd

    Earlier in the meeting engineers from Northern Water — which supplies water to cities and farms from Broomfield to Fort Collins — told the mix of water providers and water users from northeastern Colorado that they could expect an average spring runoff this year, both from the South Platte and the Colorado Rivers.

    They were also told that Northern Water was making progress on its two biggest projects: the Windy Gap Firming Project, which includes construction of Chimney Hollow Reservoir near Berthoud; and NISP, the Northern Integrated Supply Project.

    NISP includes two new reservoirs, Glade and Galeton, to be filled with East Slope water from the Cache La Poudre River, which runs through Fort Collins and into the South Platte River.

    Just before lunch, John Stulp, the special policy advisor on water to Gov. John Hickenlooper, read a surprise letter from the governor endorsing the Windy Gap project, which would divert an additional 9,000 acre-feet of water each year, on average, from the upper Colorado River and send it through a tunnel toward Chimney Hollow.

    Windy Gap is part of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project, which diverts on average 260,000 acre-feet a year from the Western Slope.

    The Windy Gap project does include environmental mitigation measures for the sake of the Colorado River, and has approval from the required state agencies and Grand County, but it still needs a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

    Looking east toward the Chimney Hollow Reservoir site, which is just this side of the red ridge. On the other side is Carter Lake Reservoir and beyond that, the Loveland area.
    Looking east toward the Chimney Hollow Reservoir site, which is just this side of the red ridge. On the other side is Carter Lake Reservoir and beyond that, the Loveland area.
    A graphic from Northern Water showing the lay out of Windy Gap Firming Project.
    A graphic from Northern Water showing the lay out of Windy Gap Firming Project.

    A political risk

    After lunch, King shared some insights from his old job as head of the state’s department of natural resources.

    “I think it’s important that you understand what the development of the state water plan looked like from the governor’s perspective and the state’s perspective,” King told his audience.

    As head of DNR, King had oversight over the Colorado Water Conservation Board, which was specifically tasked by the governor in late 2013 to produce the state’s first-ever water plan, and to do so in just two years.

    King said that he, Stulp and the governor knew that a water plan in Colorado could be “the place where political careers went to die.”

    “So the thing we had to make sure that came out of this, knowing that we weren’t going to solve the state’s water issues in two years, was that we had to do this in a manner that politically, this was viewed as a big win, and that future governors and future elected officials would say, ‘We need to do this again and we need to continue this discussion,’” King said.

    “Not because the governor needed a political win,” King added, “but because to have the next stage of the water plan, to have the discussion in five years, you can’t have an albatross around this, and I think we were able to do that, and so we’re very proud of that.

    “If we had a political mushroom cloud, no one would have ever touched the Colorado Water Plan again,” King continued. “That meant we aimed a little bit lower than maybe we would have liked, and I’ve gotten this at Denver Water, talking about lost opportunities in the Colorado Water Plan. Maybe we did aim just a little bit lower than we should have.”

    King said the state was not able to “reconcile the inherent conflicts” in the various basin implementation plans, or BIPs, that were put together by regional basin roundtables as part of the water planning process.

    And he acknowledged that the plan has been criticized for not including a specific list of water projects supported by the state, and for reading more like a statement of problems and values than a working plan.

    “One of things that has been driven home to me time and time again in the two months that I’ve been at Denver Water is that planning is not something you do every five or six years,” King said. “Planning is a continuous process.”

    King also said that there were some “tremendous successes” in the water plan, including the basin implantation plans, or BIPs, even though they sometimes conflicted.

    “We got BIPs from every single basin,” King said. “The basins turned over their cards and said ‘This is what we need.’ So now we have a major step forward.”

    The "wedge-wheel" graphic that summarizes the approach of the Colorado Water Plan.

    Other plan elements

    King said other successes in the Colorado Water Plan include the stated goal of conserving 400,000 acre-feet of water by 2050 and a nod to changing land use planning in Colorado.

    King said tying land use to water availability “was something we never discussed in Colorado because it infringed on local control and it was just kind of a boogieman in the room.”

    But he pointed out that “the vast majority of the basin implementation plans said, expressly, ‘We need to have this discussion’ and ‘We need to start tying land use to water availability,’” King said. “That’s a good thing. That’s a major step forward.”

    When it comes to land use and Denver Water, King said driving down the per capita use remained a high priority and that if Denver proper grows, it is going to grow up through taller buildings, not by sprawling outward.

    King also said Denver Water was working to manage, and plan for, the already apparent effects of climate change, especially as spring runoff is now coming earlier than it used to.

    “We know that the flows are coming earlier, we know that the runoff is coming earlier,” King said, noting that reality is causing Denver Water to plan for different scenarios and ask questions about storage and late summer deliveries of water.

    “For us, the most immediate thing is, is that we know it’s getting warmer,” King said. “In the last 20 years we’ve seen that, the way the [run offs] are coming earlier. We know we’ve had catastrophic events that are incredibly difficult for us to manage. And so we’re trying to work through that.”

    Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism, the Aspen Daily News and Coyote Gulch are collaborating on coverage of rivers and water. The Daily News published this story on Wednesday, April 20, 2016.

    When the ground shifted under the hooves of #Colorado’s water buffaloes — The Mountain Town News

    From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

    During the next few years, two major installations will take shape in Denver that will seek to inform urban development of the future, including the use of water.

    Along I-25, jut southwest of downtown, Denver Water has already started redeveloping its administrative campus. Most of the buildings there are more than 50 years old, but the water agency also sees it as an opportunity with the $195 million redevelopment to demonstrate the technology and concepts of the future.

    Jim Lochhead -- photo via Westword (Alan Prendergast)
    Jim Lochhead — photo via Westword (Alan Prendergast)

    With all that it has planned said Jim Lochhead, the chief executive of Denver Water, the agency thinks it can reduce the amount of water needed for the campus by 50 percent. The agency, he said, is embracing “total reuse.”

    The other project to keep an eye on within Denver is at the Coliseum and Western Stock Show complex along I-70 north of downtown Denver. With state backing, the aging complex will be redeveloped by Denver in concert with Colorado State University using cutting-edge building technologies but also minimal water uses.

    Denver and the West have entered a new era that recognizes limits. Lochhead, in a recent presentation at the Rocky Mountain Land Use Institute. During the 25 years of the conference there has been an “extraordinary remarkable transition in the paradigm of water,” he said.

    In the first half of the 20th century, water developers, commonly called “water buffaloes,” encountered little opposition to their work. But after World War II, they “really ran into this new world that they didn’t understand,” said Lochhead.

    The South Platte River typically all but vanishes as it passes through Denver’s industrial neighborhood north of downtown, downstream of the Burlington Ditch diversion, near the Cherokee power plant. Photo/Allen Best
    The South Platte River typically all but vanishes as it passes through Denver’s industrial neighborhood north of downtown, downstream of the Burlington Ditch diversion, near the Cherokee power plant. Photo/Allen Best

    The buffaloes understood water development in ways that were both monolithic and linear. Major cities and other agencies developed water, and they just ran over the opposition. Their development was linear, in that they just expected to do one more project after another. Their attitude, he said, was “if we run out of water, we’ll just get more.”

    Lochhead identified a pivotal change in the 1950s, when a proposal to dam the Yampa River at Echo Park in northwest Colorado was fought by environmental groups and conservationists such as Wallace Stegner.

    “They really didn’t see the first signs of the world shifting from under them as the Sierra Club was able to defeat construction of the dam in Echo Park,” he said. The water buffaloes didn’t see what was coming as Congress adopted the Wilderness Act and then a raft of environmental legislation. They didn’t see it when Jimmy Carter issued his “hit list” of federally funded reclamation projects in 1977, which effectively became the end of the era of dam building.

    stoptwoforksdampostcardfrontcirca1988

    In Colorado, according to Lochhead, the pivot came in the early 1990s, when Two Forks Dam was defeated. It was a stern rebuke to the thinking of Colorado’s water developers, who believed if “just only they could get one more big water project.”

    Denver, in the 21st century, has been part of the new wave of thinking. This has been evident most clearly in the plans to enlarge Gross Reservoir, southwest of Boulder. The increased water will come from stepped-up diversions from across the Continental Divide, in the Fraser and Williams Fork valleys, at the head of the Colorado River.

    At first glance, this looks like business as usual. But this project has been different. Nobody questioned Denver’s right to the water under Colorado water law. But Denver at the outset admitted that there were other considerations, especially when the streams were already nearly tapped out. With the increased diversions, up to 80 percent of the flows of the Fraser River will be diverted.

    West portal Moffat Water Tunnel
    West portal Moffat Water Tunnel

    The plan worked out after lengthy negotiations between Denver Water representatives and those from Grand County and the Western Slope is complex. What is pertinent is that some of the major environmental groups, most notably Trout Unlimited, endorsed the settlement. And here’s a key principle:

    When diversions occur will matter equally, or even more so, than how much is diverted.

    Lochhead also pointed to the need for partnerships with irrigators downstream on the South Platte River. Denver has pledged to step up the reuse of the water it imports from the Western Slope, and it is entitled, by law, to use that water to extinction. Using the water to extinction, however, means less water for those downstream.

    “We will have to have partnerships in how we deal with those impacts,” said Lochhead.

    Also speaking on the same panel at the Rocky Mountain Land Use institute was Lawrence McDonnell, an adjunct professor of water law at the University of Colorado. The broad change in the West in the last quarter-century has been a small shift of water from agricultural produce to municipal uses, to accommodate rapid population growth. In the eight states, population grew 60 percent from 1990 to 2010, with most of that growth occurring on urban areas.

    “Leadership has to come from cities,” he said, and it has. Growth has occurred “in ways that often resulted in far less per-capita water use.”

    #ColoradoRiver: Milestone decree protects environmental flows in Grand County — @DenverWater

    Here’s the release from Denver Water:

    A major milestone in implementing the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement was reached last week when the water court signed a decree to secure and preserve environmental water flows in the Fraser, Williams Fork and Colorado rivers.

    The decree protects releases of 2,000 acre-feet of water made available from Denver Water’s Moffat Collection System and Williams Fork Reservoir to preserve and improve the aquatic environment in the Fraser and Colorado rivers all the way through Grand County — a continuous stream reach of 73 miles — and beyond.

    “This is truly a unique transbasin collaborative and milestone that provides the additional environmental flows on the Fraser River as contemplated by the CRCA,” said Grand County Board of County Commissioners Chairman Jane Tollett.

    Once the Gross Reservoir Expansion Project is complete, Denver Water will be able to provide more water for county streams by delivering water to the Fraser River Basin at diversion points along its system, and by releasing water from Williams Fork Reservoir to the Colorado River.

    The decree also provides for the delivery of 375 acre-feet to a number of Grand County water users for municipal and snowmaking purposes. If the water is not needed for those purposes, it can be added to the water being provided for environmental benefit.

    The decree represents the most recent success in meeting the agreements outlined in the CRCA.

    “In only a few short years since the CRCA went into effect, we’re already seeing that through collaboration, we can help improve the health of the Fraser and Colorado rivers,” said Jim Lochhead, Denver Water CEO/manager. “This decree is another step in ensuring that we are prepared to fully implement the CRCA conditions as they become effective.”

    In 2014, Denver Water made a payment of $1.95 million to Grand County for two water supply projects. The Jim Creek Bypass and Pipeline, which Winter Park Water and Sanitation District is already designing, will help protect water quality at its water treatment plant in low-flow periods, and provide system flexibility. And, the Fraser River Pump Station, Pipeline and Discovery Park Pond project, pays for much-needed improvements that will help stabilize the business of Winter Park Resort and other businesses in the upper Fraser Valley.

    The Colorado Water Conservation Board will use the delivered water to preserve and improve the natural environment through its Instream Flow Program.

    “The CWCB is extremely pleased to be able to work with Grand County and Denver Water to implement this important agreement,” said James Eklund, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board. “This is a great example of how effective the state’s Instream Flow Program can be in the context of multipurpose projects.”

    The CRCA ushers in a new era of cooperation between Denver Water, West Slope entities and conservation groups to create a spirit of cooperation instead of litigation over water resources through “Learning By Doing,” a monitoring and adaptive management program with the goal of maintaining, and where possible, improving the health of Colorado River headwater streams in Grand County.

    “Thanks to the Learning by Doing framework, we’re finding ways to maintain healthy flows for fish and wildlife in the Upper Colorado,” said Mely Whiting, counsel for Trout Unlimited. “We’re learning — by doing — that collaboration and cooperation can help ensure the health of our rivers while meeting other diverse needs, like municipal water. These flows will make a real difference for the river and for Grand County’s important recreation economy.”

    Partner contact info:
    Grand County: Ed Moyer, emoyer@co.grand.us, 970-725-3102
    Denver Water: Travis Thompson, travis.thompson@denverwater.org, 303-628-6700
    Colorado Water Conservation Board: Linda Bassi, Linda.bassi@state.co.us, 303-866-3441 ext. 3204
    Trout Unlimited: Mely Whiting, MWhiting@tu.org, 720-375-3961

    From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

    A state water judge has signed off on a deal between Denver Water and Grand County to leave 651 million gallons of water a year that otherwise would be diverted in headwaters of the Colorado River.

    That water would be left each year for the purpose of improving stream health — habitat for fish and other wildlife — once Denver completes its Moffat Project to divert more water under the Continental Divide to the heavily populated Front Range.

    Denver Water officials said the water, at least 2,000-acre feet, is enough to sustain 5,000 metro households each year.

    State water judge James Boyd signed the decree last week.

    The deal was done under the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement, finalized in 2013 between Denver and western slope communities, to try to balance growing urban demands with environmental needs.

    Colorado’s Water Conservation Board would protect the water left in streams and use it to preserve natural conditions.

    Denver Water manager Jim Lochhead said the deal shows Denver is prepared to fully implement the agreement.

    Grand County authorities could not be reached for comment.

    Under the agreement, Denver Water must conserve and recycle water and transfer up to 45,000 acre-feet a year in treated wastewater to suburbs on the condition that the suburbs agree not to pursue their own diversion projects and pay a surcharge. Western Slope communities, not including Grand County, would drop opposition to Denver’s Moffat Project.

    #AnimasRiver: Gold King Mine bleeds $100,000 daily; the leak’s still not fixed — The Colorado Independent

    Gold King mine treatment pond via Eric Vance/EPA and the Colorado Independent
    Gold King mine treatment pond via Eric Vance/EPA and the Colorado Independent

    From the Colorado Independent (Nancy Lofholm):

    The snow is beginning to fly in Silverton’s high country, and a temporary water treatment plant has been completed – in the nick of time – to handle the discharge from the Gold King Mine over the winter.

    That hurry-up, stop-gap treatment option for the hundreds of gallons of heavy metal-laced water still draining each minute from the old mine comes with a hefty price tag – about $100,000 per day. That daily amount is being added to the $14.8 million already spent on the huge three-million-gallon spill that turned the Animas River an acid yellow on Aug. 5 and triggered emergency declarations in four states.

    An EPA spokeswoman said she doesn’t know how long the temporary fix on the leaking mine will continue to rack up high daily costs. But she does expect that cost to drop as a command center in Durango is dismantled by the end of November and the crew at the Gold King high in the San Juan Mountains is chased out by winter conditions. The treatment facility sits at 10,500 feet in an area where temperatures regularly drop to -20, making any manual work at the treatment plant unsafe.

    EPA spokeswoman Christie St. Clair said the treatment facility that pipes bad water from holding ponds at the mine to a treatment area nearby at the mining ghost town of Gladstone is being fine-tuned this week for “optimal performance.” It should then be able to operate through the winter without the 33 workers who have been at the site recently and the 29 officials who have been tackling the problem of the Aug. 5 leak from an office downstream in Durango.

    The officials and the workers on the ground have included personnel from the EPA, the Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Geological Survey, the Bureau of Reclamation, U.S. Fish & Wildlife and the Coast Guard. Four State of Colorado and New Mexico agencies have also had officials involved in the work.

    The exodus of many of those leak responders, and the start-up of the treatment plant, doesn’t indicate the problem is solved, or even near to being solved.

    Over the winter, federal, state and local officials will be tackling the tough question of what to do in the long term about this and other leaking mines that have troubled the Silverton area for decades. The EPA is waiting on reports from the Inspector General and the Department of Interior. Those entities are examining the leak that was caused by an EPA contractor when a plug was breached in a long abandoned mine.

    The leak at the Gold King didn’t just put alarmed focus on a waterway in southwest Colorado, southeast Utah and northern New Mexico and Arizona. It drew attention to the tens of thousands of old hard-rock mines that pock the West’s landscape and, in thousands of cases, leak contaminated water that has collected in shafts and tunnels.
    Some are being mitigated through Superfund designations that bring federal dollars – and federal decision-making – but that is not a universally popular option in Silverton.

    Last week, the Sunnyside Gold Corp. renewed its pledge to put $10 million into building a permanent water treatment plant for acid drainage that runs into Cement Creek through Silverton and on into the Animas River. Sunnyside never operated the Gold King Mine, but the company did operate the nearby Sunnyside Mine and American Tunnel that are all part of an interconnected drainage problem. Sunnyside proposes using lime to treat contaminated water and is asking for no Superfund designation and no liability for the company in exchange.

    Sunnyside’s option will be one of many kicked around this winter as officials try to come to an agreement on how to move forward with the spring thaw.

    In the meantime, the EPA and some of the other involved agencies will continue to have a presence in Silverton sampling and monitoring water quality below the Gold King.

    Transmountain diversion concepts discussed in Rifle — Aspen Journalism #COWaterPlan #ColoradoRiver #CORiver

    Homestake Dam via Aspen Journalism
    The dam that forms Homestake Reservoir on Homestake Creek, a tributary of the Eagle River. An agreement allows for more water to be developed as part of this transmountain diversion project.

    From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith):

    James Eklund, the director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, invoked his Western Slope heritage at a “Summit on the Colorado Water Plan” hosted Saturday in Rifle by the Garfield County commissioners.

    “The mantra I grew up with in Plateau Valley was not one more drop of water will be moved from this side of the state to the other,” said Eklund, whose mother’s family has been ranching in the Plateau Creek valley near Collbran since the 1880s.

    Eklund was speaking to a room of about 50 people, including representatives from 14 Western Slope counties, all of whom had been invited by the Garfield County commissioners for a four-hour meeting.

    The commissioners’ stated goal for the meeting was to develop a unified voice from the Western Slope stating that “no more water” be diverted to the Front Range.

    “That argument had been made, probably by my great-grandparents, my grandparents and my parents,” Eklund said. “And I know there are a lot of people who still want to make that argument today, and I get that. But it has not done us well on the Western Slope.

    “That argument has gotten us to were we are now, 500,000 to 600,000 acre feet of water moving from the west to the east. So I guess the status quo is not West Slope-friendly. We need something different. We need a different path. And these seven points provides that different path.”

    The “seven points” form the basis of a “draft conceptual framework” for future negotiations regarding a potential transmountain diversion in Colorado.

    The framework is the result of the ongoing statewide water-supply planning process that Eklund is overseeing in his role at the CWCB.

    Eklund took the helm two years ago at the CWCB after serving as Gov. John Hickenlooper’s senior deputy legal counsel, and he’s been leading the effort to produce the state’s first water plan, which is due on the governor’s desk in December.

    The second draft of the plan includes the seven points, even though the Colorado River Basin Roundtable, which meets monthly in Glenwood Springs under the auspices of the CWCB, is still on the record as opposing their inclusion in the water plan. That could change after its meeting on Monday.

    The outflow of the Bousted Tunnel just above Turquoise Reservoir near Leadville. The tunnel moves water from tributaries of the Roaring Fork and Fryingpan rivers under the Continental Divide for use by Front Range cities, and Pitkin County officials have concerns that more water will someday be sent through it.
    The outflow of the Bousted Tunnel just above Turquoise Reservoir near Leadville. The tunnel moves water from tributaries of the Roaring Fork and Fryingpan rivers under the Continental Divide for use by Front Range cities, and Pitkin County officials have concerns that more water will someday be sent through it.

    Not legally binding

    The “seven points” seeks to define the issues the Western Slope likely has with more water flowing east under the Continental Divide, and especially how a new transmountain diversion could hasten a demand from California for Colorado’s water under the 1922 Colorado River Compact.

    “The seven points are uniquely helpful to Western Slope interests because if you tick through them, they are statements that the Front Range doesn’t necessarily have to make,” Eklund said in response to a question. “If these were legally binding, the Western Slope would benefit.”

    Under Colorado water law a Front Range water provider, say, can file for a right to move water to the east, and a local county or water district might have little recourse other than perhaps to fight the effort through a permitting process.

    But Eklund said the points in the “conceptual framework” could be invoked by the broader Western Slope when negotiating a new transmountain diversion.

    As such, a diverter might at least have to acknowledge that water may not be available in dry years, that the diversion shouldn’t exacerbate efforts to forestall a compact call, that other water options on the Front Range, including increased conservation, should be developed first, that a new transmountain diversion shouldn’t preclude future growth on the Western Slope, and that the environmental resiliency of the donor river would need to be addressed.

    “We’re just better off with them than without them,” Eklund said of the seven points.

    The downstream face of the dam that forms Homestake Reservoir on Homestake Creek, a tributary of the upper Eagle River. A tunnel moves water from Homestake Reservoir to Turquoise Reservoir, near Leadville.
    The downstream face of the dam that forms Homestake Reservoir on Homestake Creek, a tributary of the upper Eagle River. A tunnel moves water from Homestake Reservoir to Turquoise Reservoir, near Leadville.

    A cap on the Colorado?

    Eric Kuhn, the general manager of the Colorado River District, which is based in Glenwood Springs and represents 15 Western Slope counties, told the attendees that three existing agreements effectively cap how much more water can be diverted from the upper Colorado River and its tributaries above Glenwood Springs.

    The Colorado Water Cooperative Agreement, which was signed in 2013 by 18 entities, allows Denver Water to develop another 18,000 acre-feet from the Fraser River as part of the Moffat, or Gross Reservoir, project, but it also includes a provision that would restrict other participating Front Range water providers from developing water from the upper Colorado River.

    A second agreement will allow Northern Water to move another 30,000 acre feet of water out of the Colorado River through its Windy Gap facilities, but Northern has agreed that if it develops future projects, it will have to do so in a cooperative manner with West Slope interests.

    And a third agreement known as the Eagle River Memorandum of Understanding will allow Aurora and Colorado Springs to develop another 20,000 acre feet of