Reclamation announces 2022 operating conditions for #LakePowell and #LakeMead #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification #ActOnClimate

Here’s the release from the Bureau of Reclamation (Patti Aaron and Becki Bryant):

The Bureau of Reclamation today released the Colorado River Basin August 2021 24-Month Study. This month’s study projections are used to set annual operations for Lake Powell and Lake Mead in 2022. Releases from these massive reservoirs are determined by anticipated reservoir elevations.

General map of the Colorado River Basin, depicting the Upper and Lower Basins, and the Grand Canyon ecoregion. Map credit: ResearchGate

Most of the flow of the Colorado River originates in the upper portions of the Colorado River Basin in the Rocky Mountains. The Upper Basin experienced an exceptionally dry spring in 2021, with April to July runoff into Lake Powell totaling just 26% of average despite near-average snowfall last winter. The projected water year 2021 unregulated inflow into Lake Powell—the amount that would have flowed to Lake Mead without the benefit of storage behind Glen Canyon Dam—is approximately 32% of average. Total Colorado River system storage today is 40% of capacity, down from 49% at this time last year.

Given ongoing historic drought and low runoff conditions in the Colorado River Basin, downstream releases from Glen Canyon Dam and Hoover Dam will be reduced in 2022 due to declining reservoir levels. In the Lower Basin the reductions represent the first “shortage” declaration—demonstrating the severity of the drought and low reservoir conditions.

“Like much of the West, and across our connected basins, the Colorado River is facing unprecedented and accelerating challenges,” said Assistant Secretary for Water and Science Tanya Trujillo. “The only way to address these challenges and climate change is to utilize the best available science and to work cooperatively across the landscapes and communities that rely on the Colorado River. That is precisely the focus of the White House Interagency Drought Working Group—a multi-agency partnership created to collaborate with States, Tribes, farmers and communities impacted by drought and climate change to build and enhance regional resilience.”

“Today’s announcement of a Level 1 Shortage Condition at Lake Mead underscores the value of the collaborative agreements we have in place with the seven basin states, Tribes, water users and Mexico in the management of water in the Colorado River Basin,” said Reclamation Deputy Commissioner Camille Touton. “While these agreements and actions have reduced the risk, we have not eliminated the potential for continued decline of these critically important reservoirs. Reclamation is committed to working with all of our partners in the basin and with Mexico in continuing to implement these agreements and the ongoing work ahead.”

Plans that have been developed over the past two decades lay out detailed operational rules for these critical Colorado River reservoirs:

  • Based on projections in the study, Lake Powell will operate in the Mid-Elevation Release Tier in water year 2022 (October 1, 2021 through September 30, 2022), and Lake Mead will operate in its first-ever Level 1 Shortage Condition in calendar year 2022 (January 1, 2022 through December 31, 2022).
  • Lake Powell Mid-Elevation Release Tier: The study projects Lake Powell’s January 1, 2022, elevation to be 3,535.40 feet – about 165 feet below full and about 45 feet above minimum power pool. Based on this projection, Lake Powell will operate in the Mid-Elevation Release Tier in water year 2022. Under this tier, Lake Powell will release 7.48 million acre-feet in water year 2022 without the potential for a mid-year adjustment in April 2022.
  • Lake Mead Level 1 Shortage Condition: The study projects Lake Mead’s January 1, 2022, elevation to be 1,065.85 feet – about 9 feet below the Lower Basin shortage determination trigger of 1,075 feet and about 24 feet below the drought contingency plan trigger of 1,090 feet. Based on this projection, Lake Mead will operate in a Level 1 Shortage Condition for the first time ever. The required shortage reductions and water savings contributions under the 2007 Colorado River Interim Guidelines for Lower Basin Shortages and Coordinated Operations of Lake Powell and Lake Mead, 2019 Lower Basin Drought Contingency Plan and Minute 323 to the 1944 Water Treaty with Mexico are:- Arizona: 512,000 acre-feet, which is approximately 18% of the state’s annual apportionment

    – Nevada: 21,000 acre-feet, which is 7% of the state’s annual apportionment

    – Mexico: 80,000 acre-feet, which is approximately 5% of the country’s annual allotment

In July 2021, drought operations to protect Lake Powell were implemented under the Upper Basin Drought Response Operations Agreement which project releasing up to an additional 181,000-acre feet of water from upstream initial units of the Colorado River Storage Project to Lake Powell.

Relying on the best available scientific information to guide operations, investing in water conservation actions, maximizing the efficient use of Colorado River water and being prepared to adopt further actions to protect the elevations of Lake Powell and Lake Mead remains Reclamation’s priority and focus.

Lake Mead. Photo: Chris Richards/Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) via Audubon

From Audubon (Jennifer Pitt):

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation today announced that 2022 will bring unprecedented water shortages to Arizona, Nevada and the Republic of Mexico. The shortage determination follows release of a forecast of water supply in the Colorado River’s reservoirs, indicating that levels continue precipitous decline.

While last year’s snowpack was decent, extraordinarily warm temperatures through the spring meant that by the time the snow melted and flowed into Colorado River reservoirs much of it had evaporated, and the year’s water supply was only 32% of the 30-year average. Since 2000, the decline in Colorado River reservoir elevations has been dramatic, and scientists studying climate change tell us there is no end in sight.

As we watch climate change impacts unfold before our eyes, we worry about the birds and other wildlife that depend on Colorado River (and tributary) habitats. We worry about the communities that rely on Colorado River water supply. We also worry about how decision-makers will respond, because in a crisis, environmental resources will be at risk.

Graphic via Audubon

In recent years, the U.S. and Mexican federal governments and states that share the Colorado River have adopted shortage rules (2007 Interim Guidelines, Minute 323, Colorado River Drought Contingency Plans). That is important, because it allows water users to plan ahead for dry times with some predictability, even in extraordinary drought. Arizona, Nevada and Mexico all have known the 2021 shortage is coming. On a short-term basis, they have plans to mitigate the shortages. Arizona, which will take by far the biggest cuts, will employ diverse strategies including temporarily buying water from willing sellers (funded by Arizona taxpayers and philanthropies), increased water releases from in-state reservoirs, and increased groundwater pumping.

These are good strategies for the short-term, but what about 2023 and beyond? Historically, water management was based on the premise that drought would be followed by wet years. Climate change means we can no longer make that assumption. Good short-term solutions may not be sustainable: Will public and philanthropic funds remain available over the long term? Local reservoirs will need to be refilled with Colorado River water, so what happens once they are emptied? How long can water users rely on fossil groundwater before that resource is threatened as well?

A recent report from Audubon and conservation partners suggests that we need to start investing now in solutions for the long term, including improving forest health, wetlands restoration, and regenerative agriculture. These practices improve soil health such that over time more of the snowpack will translate into water supply as well as improved resilience of the entire watershed.

Good planning and robust investments can help minimize the pain of Colorado River water shortages, and are critical to maintaining reliable water supplies for people and nature alike. It is reassuring that the United States and Mexico have held fast to their commitments to provide a small volume of water to the Colorado River Delta, and the river has been flowing to the sea this summer.

The Colorado River is due for new operating rules in 2026, and Audubon will be working hard to ensure that the results are designed for the 21st century, starting with a process that includes all stakeholders, including Native American tribes with Colorado River water rights and environmental interests. Our goals include a new management framework that stabilizes reservoirs as the water supply declines, robust public investment in long-term strategies to improve the water supply and the basin’s resilience, measures that ensure tribes benefit from their water rights, and that decision-makers do not raid the last drops of water supporting habitats Colorado River habitats.

From The Nature Conservancy (Lindsay Schlageter):

Due to the low levels of water, the federal government has declared a Tier 1 water shortage in the Colorado River for the first time ever. This declaration reduces the amount of water that Arizona, Nevada and Mexico can claim from the river.

“The Tier 1 shortage declaration highlights the challenges facing the Colorado River Basin; however, this did not come as a surprise,” says Taylor Hawes, The Nature Conservancy’s Colorado River Program Director. “The Colorado River has witnessed a steady decline in flows since 2000 that impacts communities, agriculture, industry, and the health of our rivers in the region. Even as flows decreased, our demand reductions have not kept pace.”

The declaration not only reduces the amount of water available for cities, but it will likely restrict water supplies for farmers. Some farmers may be forced to sell cattle, switch to different crops, or use groundwater from wells.

Colorado River Hit Hard by Climate Change

The Colorado River provides drinking water for more than 40 million people, hydroelectric power to meet the needs of over 7 million people, and water for 30 Native American Tribes. It irrigates around 5 million acres of fields that supply vegetables to the entire world and supports a thriving $26-billion recreation and tourism economy, as well as a wide variety of wildlife.

But climate change is hitting the Colorado River hard. The West has been in the grip of a drought for over 20 years that scientists believe is the worst in a thousand years, and the river is starting to feel the pinch. Its flows are powered by snowmelt in the Rocky Mountains, and as precipitation declines across the region, the river’s supply has dwindled too. Higher year-round temperatures also mean that the water evaporates faster while water use increases. These challenges make it harder and harder to balance the needs of people and the fish and wildlife that depend on healthy, flowing rivers.

“The Colorado River can be a model for resiliency and sustainability but not without a concerted and significant effort by stakeholders in the region,” Says Hawes. “While stakeholders have been developing solutions and adapting to a drier future, we must all accelerate the pace. We need short term solutions to stabilize the system while also working on longer term solutions. These include reducing water use across sectors, modernizing infrastructure, improving forest health, enhancing natural infrastructure, using technology to bolster groundwater levels, and improving stream and river health.”

LOW WATER LEVELS Water levels in Lake Powell and Lake Mead, the two major reservoirs that store the Colorado River’s water, are down to 34% of their capacity and may soon drop too low to spin the hydroelectric turbines in their dams. © Jason Houston via the Nature Conservancy

Leading on Innovative and Collaborative Solutions

Already, water levels in Lake Powell and Lake Mead, the two major reservoirs that store the Colorado River’s water, are down to 34% of their capacity and may soon drop too low to spin the hydroelectric turbines in their dams. Some smaller reservoirs began emergency releases in summer 2021 to prop up water levels in these lakes.

The situation is serious, but there’s plenty we can do to improve it. We know that the West will continue to get hotter and drier due to climate change. By proactively working together and planning for this future, we can share the Colorado River’s water equitably among all those who need it, including nature. We can use water more efficiently in our homes and businesses, improve agricultural irrigation infrastructure, adopt innovative water sharing approaches, and plant crops that use less water. With proper planning, the river will have enough water for fish and animals as well as people.

“Water issues are complex and require partnership and collaboration,” says Hawes. “The Nature Conservancy has worked in the Colorado River Basin for 20 years and appreciates the critical importance of partnerships in charting a sustainable and resilient future. However, the river system has changed more quickly than we have adapted. We must accelerate our efforts and think more broadly and creatively than ever before to chart a sustainable course. We must work together, testing ideas, sharing knowledge and investing in both short-term and long-term solutions in order to have the greatest impact in a short amount of time. This approach is our best path forward to minimize more future shortages on the river.”

With our contacts in the region and our history of bringing diverse stakeholders together, TNC is ideally situated to broker agreements that keep the Colorado River healthy. In Colorado, we developed the Yampa River Fund, a compact in which downstream users pay to protect the health of their water supply near its source. In Arizona, we developed a groundwater recharge system and helped farmers switch to water-efficient crops. We helped Mexicali, Mexico, invest in wastewater treatment solutions to leave more water available for nature. We are supporting policies at local, regional, and national levels that safeguard water supplies in the arid West.

Las Vegas has reduced its water consumption even as its population has increased. (Source: Southern Nevada Water Authority)

Here’s a release from the Southern Nevada Water Association (Bronson Mack):

Low water levels in Lake Mead prompted the federal government today to issue a water shortage declaration on the Colorado River, which will reduce the amount of water Southern Nevada will be allowed to withdraw from Lake Mead beginning in January 2022.

Combined with existing water reductions outlined in the Drought Contingency Plan, the declared shortage will cut Southern Nevada’s annual water allocation of 300,000 acre-feet from Lake Mead—the source of 90 percent of the community’s supply—by a total of 21,000 acre-feet (nearly 7 billion gallons of water) in 2022.

“During the past two decades, Southern Nevada has taken significant steps to prepare for these cuts, including constructing Intake 3 and Low Lake Level Pumping Station and storing unused water in reserve for our community’s future use,” said Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA) General Manager John Entsminger. “But water conservation remains our most effective management tool, and now is the time for all of us to redouble our conservation efforts in order to remain ahead of the curve and continue protecting the investments we have all made in our community.”

Entsminger said Southern Nevada must continue to reduce outdoor water consumption—which accounts for about 60 percent of the region’s overall water use—by following mandatory seasonal watering restrictions, replacing unused grass landscapes with drip-irrigated trees and plants through the SNWA’s Water Smart Landscapes rebate program (WSL), and preventing and reporting water waste (water flowing off a property into the gutter) to local water utilities.

“Southern Nevada has the capability, the obligation, and the need to be the most water-efficient community in the nation,” Entsminger said. “We already safely treat, recycle and return indoor water use back to Lake Mead, so conserving the water we use outdoors will help us achieve that goal and ensure our long-term sustainability.”

While the shortage declaration is the first of its kind, it is not the first time Southern Nevada was required to reduce its water use in response to drought conditions and a hotter, drier climate. When the drought was first declared in 2002, Southern Nevada was using more than its legal entitlement of 300,000 acre-feet of Colorado River water. However, the community’s commitment to conservation led to a 23 percent decline in water use since 2002 despite the addition of nearly 800,000 new residents.

But conservation progress has stalled in recent years. As an example, only about half of single-family households comply with the year-round seasonal watering restrictions, which limits the number of days landscapes can be watered each season. If every water user diligently followed these restrictions each season, Southern Nevada could save more water than is being cut under the shortage conditions.

In addition, tens of millions of gallons go to waste each year as poor irrigation practices result in water flowing off properties. Reporting this waste to local water utilities helps educate property owners about the issue and gives them an opportunity to correct it. However, those that continue to waste water receive a violation and a water-waste fee.

“In the face of this unprecedented shortage, we must step-up our commitment to conservation,” Entsminger said. “These efforts are imperative to assure our community’s long-term economic success—and history has shown that they work.”

For information on what you can do to conserve water, including SNWA conservation programs, seasonal watering restrictions, and preventing and reporting water waste, visit http://snwa.com.

A longer walk from the dock to the water is in store for boaters at the Elk Creek marina, Blue Mesa Reservoir. Blue Mesa is being drawn down to feed critically low Lake Powell, as continued dry weather and rising demand deplete the Colorado River.
(Courtesy photo/National Park Service) via the Montrose Daily Press

From The Colorado Sun (Michael Booth):

The federal government declared a water shortage on the Colorado River for the first time since a compact between seven river basin was inked a century ago, with major 2022 water delivery cutbacks for Arizona and a lesser amount for Nevada and the nation of Mexico.

But water resource experts warned Coloradans not to be smug about far-away troubles in Arizona, where central state farming methods and production will take a big hit. The duty of Upper Colorado River Basin states to continue delivering set quotas of water under the treaty is one of the next big climate change battles in the West, and it will force changes here at home.

“The announcement today is a recognition that the hydrology that was planned for years ago, that we hoped we would never see, is here today,” Camille Touton, deputy commissioner for the Bureau of Reclamation, said at a news conference bringing together officials from all the compact states.

“It’s really a threshold moment,” said Bart Miller, healthy rivers program director for the nonprofit Western Resource Advocates. “They are words a water manager doesn’t like hearing: unprecedented, never done this before. That short-term response is a good one, but the longer term response might be most interesting.”

At the news conference Monday, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation officially announced what its previous reports had warned was coming: Drought and climate change have drained so much water from the Lower Basin compact states’ main pool, Lake Mead, that the most junior rights on the lower river must be suspended until supplies are restored.

“They will not be delivered the water,” said Tom Buschatzke, director of Arizona Department of Water Resources. “They will physically not have the water, and they will have to figure out how to deal with the ramifications of that outcome.”

Arizona, with primarily junior water rights for its Central Arizona Project canals that take farm water into the desert, will lose more than 500,000 acre-feet from its projected allotment for 2022. That’s about 18% of the state’s usual allotment from the Colorado River.

Nevada will lose 21,000 acre-feet, or about 7% of its planned 2022 allotment; Mexico, which has a treaty with the U.S. over Colorado River water, will lose 80,000 acre-feet, or about 5% of its annual total.

Though the 22-year drought in the West prompted years of contingency planning for the river that delivers water to 40 million people, failing snowpack and dry soils that drink up runoff have forced federal regulators to speed their efforts…

Earlier this summer, another contingency move triggered by the drops at Mead and Powell included partial draining of Blue Mesa Reservoir near Gunnison to help refill Powell and keep its pool above the minimum level needed for generating hydroelectric power. Federal regulators also moved water down to Powell from Flaming Gorge Reservoir on the Wyoming-Utah border, and Navajo Reservoir straddling the Colorado-New Mexico border.

All the compact states will have to contribute to solutions as the drought continues, federal and state officials warned.

“We also recognize the very real possibility that the hydrology that was planned for years ago may not be the worst that the basin may see in the future,” Touton said…

There are a few ways Colorado and federal water managers are working on to leave more water in the river, Miller said:

  • Improving the efficiency of agriculture — which uses 85% of the water available in Colorado — through fixing canals and ditches and moving to drip irrigation when possible. Capital costs could be funded in part by the infrastructure bill on the verge of passage by Congress, some of which was earmarked for water projects.
  • Changing crops to those that take less water. Arizona gets criticized for using Colorado River water to irrigate cotton, alfalfa and other high-water crops in an arid climate, but most of western agriculture takes place in a high desert. Colorado farmers could switch from alfalfa and other fodder to rye or other crops.
  • Letting water go through “demand management.” Cities have been drying up farms for their water rights for decades, raising the anger of rural Colorado. Demand management, by contrast, can rent the water from farmers for a set number of years in a given period, without drying up the land or the water rights entirely. Renting the water takes big money, though, another possible use of infrastructure stimulus.
  • City water conservation. Front Range cities have come a long way providing household water to millions of new residents without taking more water overall, Miller said, but those efficiency gains are slowing. Still, the cities could make additional trims: Las Vegas spends large amounts buying up lawn grass and paying homeowners to keep low-water or zero-water plantings.
  • “There’s still more there,” Miller said.

    The Roaring Fork River (left) joins with the Colorado River in downtown Glenwood Springs. CREDIT: HEATHER SACKETT/ASPEN JOURNALISM

    From Colorado Public Radio (Michael Elizabeth Sakas):

    What does this water shortage mean for Colorado? Nothing, legally.

    Lake Mead stores water for the states in the lower Colorado River basin — that’s Nevada, Arizona and California. Because Lake Mead has dropped below 1,075 feet, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation can mandate water cuts in Arizona and Nevada…

    Currently, Colorado and this group of states are complying with the water-sharing agreement. The upper basin is not legally at fault for the low levels in Lake Mead.

    “When we hear a shortage declaration, that definitely causes angst,” said Becky Mitchell, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board. “But I do feel like it’s a call to action both in the upper basin and the lower basin.”

    Mitchell said all of the states in the Colorado River basin are working to manage “this very precious resource,” so that federal emergency actions like this are rare.

    The official shortage declaration in the lower-basin states does add pressure to renegotiations of the Colorado River’s existing management guidelines, which are set to expire in 2026.

    “It is much easier to make decisions in times of plenty,” [Rebecca] Mitchell said. “But the decisions are more important in times like now, and they have a greater impact.”

    Aerial photo – Central Arizona Project. The Central Arizona Project is a massive infrastructural project that conveys water from the Colorado River to central and southern Arizona, and is central to many of the innovative partnerships and exchanges that the Gila River Indian Community has set up. Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=326265

    From Tucson.com (Tony Davis):

    But additional cuts affecting more people may be coming more quickly than anticipated until now, officials said at a news conference called to make the formal announcement of the river’s first shortage declaration.

    The shortage declaration by the bureau will reduce deliveries to the Central Arizona Project by roughly one-third, or 512,000 acre-feet.

    Besides farmers, these cuts will also affect some Indian tribes, “excess water” deliveries to parties who normally buy water that other users don’t have contracts for and recharge of CAP water into various underground storage basins.

    The cuts for Arizona, Nevada and Mexico together will be about 613,000 acre-feet, although California will have no cuts in 2022. An acre-foot is enough water to cover a football field one-foot deep with water. The cuts were all prescribed by the 2019 drought contingency plan, an agreement among the seven Colorado River Basin states including Arizona that sought to prop up Lakes Mead and Powell by gradually reducing the states’ take of that water when reservoirs declined to low enough elevations.

    But Arizona’s water chief indicated at the news conference that to keep already ailing Lake Mead from falling too low, the three Lower Colorado River Basin states including Arizona will need to take additional water-saving actions beyond what’s already planned. That additional action is legally required under the three-state drought contingency plan, because the latest bureau forecast says it’s possible that Mead could drop to close to critically low levels by June 2023.

    The state representatives have already started meeting to discuss possible future cuts, Tom Buschatzke, Arizona Department of Water Resources director, told the news conference without providing much more detail.

    “The tools we have to achieve the goal are conserving more water in Lake Mead and reducing water use,” Buschatzke said. “This is a serious turn of events, not a crisis…

    …at a separate news conference held after the one held by officials, a group of environmentalists and the head of a huge Southern California irrigation district blasted as grossly inadequate the efforts of federal and state officials to respond to declines in Colorado River flows that have drastically lowered its reservoirs’ water levels since 2000.

    They said that despite the much-touted drought plan the basin states approved in 2019, the states and feds really don’t have a long-term plan to bring the river into balance between how much water people use and how much nature provides.

    Spray irrigation on a field in the Imperial Valley in southern California. This type of irrigation is a lot better than the extremely water inefficient type of flood irrigation that is popular in this region. Still, in the high temperatures of this desert region a lot of the water evaporates, leaving the salts, that are dissolved in the colorado River water that is used, on the soil.

    “This is not the time for small steps, this is a time for large ones,” said J.C. Hamby, director of the Imperial Irrigation District, headquartered in El Centro, California, near Yuma. “This is a tremendous problem that requires tremendous solutions, bold solutions, to respond to the continued drawdown on Powell and Mead.”

    The drought contingency plan is only a plan to manage reservoir levels, not to truly adapt to long-term declines in river flows triggered by climate change and the accompanying warming weather, added Zachary Frankel, director of the Utah Rivers Council.

    “There is not a climate plan for the Colorado River, it’s just the federal government and states watching the reservoir levels drop,” Frankel said.

    The bureau’s CAP cuts for 2022 will take away about 60 percent of the Pinal farmers’ current CAP supplies of about 250,000 acre feet a year, said Paul Orme, a Phoenix attorney representing four Central Arizona irrigation districts. In 2023, the Pinal farmers’ share of CAP will shrink to zero, as prescribed by the 2019 drought plan, he said…

    The latest bureau forecast for the end of 2022 is more dire still. The most likely lake level then will be barely above 1,050 feet, the bureau’s monthly 24-month study said. If Mead drops below 1,050 feet at the end of any calendar year, additional cuts kick in, affecting some Phoenix-area cities, Indian tribes and some industrial users, although Tucson wouldn’t be affected.

    Arizona, Nevada and Mexico would lose a total of 613,000 acre-feet under that scenario, although California would lose no Colorado River water unless the lake drops below 1,045 feet…

    But the bureau’s latest forecast also predicts that under the worst case climate scenario, Lake Mead could hit 1,030 feet by June 2023. If a forecast predicts the lake will fall that low within the next two years, the drought contingency plan requires the basin states to start meeting and find additional water use cuts to keep Mead.

    The purpose of such cuts would be to keep Mead from dropping to 1,020 feet or below. The 1,020 foot level is five feet below the lowest level now planned for in the drought contingency plan, a level that would for the first time require cuts to Tucson’s CAP supply of 144,000 acre-feet…

    The environmentalists and Hamby, however, said the reservoirs’ continued declines shows that it’s folly for Upper Basin states such as Utah and Wyoming to keep pushing to build more water diversion projects such as the Lake Powell pipeline. It would take 86,000 acre-feet a year of water — almost as much as Tucson Water customers use in a given year — from the lake to fast-growing St. George, Utah.

    Lake Powell Pipeline map via the Washington County Water Conservancy District, October 25, 2020.

    From The St. George Spectrum (Joan Meiners):

    Cuts to Colorado River apportionments announced Monday by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation triggered a new flood of protests against St. George’s Lake Powell Pipeline project, the largest proposed diversion of additional water from this river that serves the needs of 40 million people throughout the West.

    “St. George is not going to get their pipeline,” said Robin Silver, a founder of the Center for Biological Diversity and a former Phoenix emergency-room physician, in a press conference hosted by environmental groups on Monday afternoon following the one held by the Bureau of Reclamation. “Whether they’re listening or not, they’re going to have no choice. But it’d be nice if they were listening so we could all figure out how to get out of this fix.”

    The Lake Powell Pipeline is the Washington County Water Conservancy District’s (WCWCD) solution to the current rate of population growth outpacing its estimation of the local water supply. The project, which has been pursued by the state since the 1990s, would transport up to 28 billion gallons of water per year — enough to support around 150,000 households — from the Colorado River at Lake Powell 140 miles through the desert in a buried pipeline to Sand Hollow Reservoir for use by future St. George residents.

    Despite the long history of the project and the $40 million the state of Utah has already spent on feasibility and environmental studies for it, however, the current megadrought has created a region-wide political climate where additional diversions from the Colorado River are becoming increasingly controversial.

    Colorado River February 2020. Photo: Abby Burk via Audubon Rockies.

    From AZCenral.com (Ian James and Zayna Syed):

    The declaration of a shortage by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation has been anticipated for months and was triggered by the spiraling decline of Lake Mead, which stores water used by Arizona, Nevada, California and Mexico…

    West Drought Monitor map August 10, 2021.

    Federal water managers said the first shortage declaration shows how severe the drought has become and how climate change is having serious effects on the river…

    “The Bureau of Reclamation cannot control the hydrology. And we also recognize the very real possibility that the hydrology that was planned for years ago may not be the worst that the basin may see in the future,” Touton said. “This may also mean that additional actions will likely be necessary in the very near future.”

    […]

    The cuts will be the largest to date on the river, shrinking the flow of water through the 336-mile Central Arizona Project Canal, which for more than three decades has supplied Arizona’s growing desert cites and vast stretches of farmlands.

    Farmers in part of central Arizona will face major cutbacks in water deliveries next year, and they’re preparing for the supplies to be entirely shut off in 2023. The reductions will force growers in Pinal County to leave some fields dry and unplanted, while the state is providing funds to help local irrigation districts drill wells to pump more groundwater.

    “The cutbacks are happening. The water’s not there,” said Will Thelander, whose family has been farming in Arizona for three generations. “We’ll shrink as much as we can until we go away. That’s all the future basically is.”

    […]

    The announcement from the Bureau of Reclamation, which is based on projected reservoir levels over the next two years, also shows that even bigger cuts are possible in 2023 and 2024, meaning some Arizona cities could begin to see their water deliveries slashed as well.

    The level of Lake Mead is projected to end the year at an elevation of 1,065 feet, putting the river’s Lower Basin in what’s called a tier-one shortage. The government’s estimates show the reservoir is likely to continue to fall in subsequent years toward lower-level shortages that would bring larger cuts.

    The reductions are taking effect under a 2019 agreement called the Drought Contingency Plan, which was aimed at reducing the risks of Lake Mead falling to critical lows. But as extreme heat and unrelenting drought have persisted across much of the watershed, the levels of the Colorado’s largest reservoirs have fallen faster than had been expected.

    “There’s no doubt that climate change is real. We’re experiencing it every day in the Colorado River Basin and in other basins in the West,” Assistant Secretary for Water and Science Tanya Trujillo said. “I think the best strategy for planning is to think about a broad range of scenarios and a broad range of potential hydrology, and to work closely with our partners in the basin to try to think through all of those scenarios.”

    The 2019 drought agreement included a backstop provision that called for the states to reconvene to consider additional measures, if necessary, to guard against the risk of Lake Mead falling to critically low levels below the elevation of 1,020 feet. Tom Buschatzke, director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources, said the state’s officials have begun to meet to discuss options with representatives of California and Nevada.

    While they haven’t yet determined exactly what additional actions they may take, Buschatzke said, the possible steps include reducing the amounts taken from Lake Mead and conserving water in the reservoir…

    Representatives of Nevada and California echoed that willingness to cooperate.

    “We must adapt to the new reality of a warmer, drier future,” said John Entsminger of the Southern Nevada Water Authority. “While the future is sobering, we are in this together.”

    […]

    With Lake Mead projected to continue dropping, water researchers have also warned that the cuts agreed to under the 2019 agreement now are insufficient to deal with the severity of the situation, and that the region will soon need bigger efforts to adapt.

    “We’re in an all-hands-on-deck situation. And we have to figure out how we get along with less Colorado River water coming into the state,” said Sarah Porter, director of the Kyl Center for Water Policy at Arizona State University. “I would say that everything’s on the table. How do we continue to have our cities and our economy and quality of life and prosperity on significantly less Colorado River water?”

    Porter said the rapid declines of the river’s reservoirs show that the 2019 drought deal won’t be enough and that Arizona and neighboring states need to “figure out strategies to make sure that the Colorado system can stay functional” over the next several years…

    Growers in Pinal County have said they may have to stop irrigating about a third of the area’s farmlands, leaving them dry and fallow…

    Growers in Pinal County have known for years that their supply of CAP water would eventually be cut off, with a 2004 settlement outlining a schedule of decreasing water deliveries between 2017 and 2030. But the 2019 shortage agreement and the deteriorating conditions at Lake Mead have meant that Pinal farmers will lose their supply of Colorado River water much sooner…

    Brad Udall: Here’s the 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

    Water’s retreat has accelerated

    The Colorado River provides water for cities, tribal nations and about 4.5 million acres of farmland from Wyoming to the U.S.-Mexico border. About 70% of the water diverted from the river in the U.S. is used for agriculture, flowing to fields of hay and cotton, fruit orchards and farms that produce much of the country’s winter vegetables.

    The watershed has been hit by one of the driest 22-year periods in centuries. Scientists describe the past two decades as a megadrought worsened by climate change, and say long-term “aridification” of the Colorado River Basin will require the region to adopt substantial changes to adapt to getting less water from the river.

    In 2000, Lake Mead was nearly full. Since then, the water level in the reservoir has fallen about 147 feet, leaving a growing “bathtub ring” of minerals coating the rocky shores. The water’s retreat has accelerated over the past year during months of severe drought and extreme heat…

    Arizona and Nevada took less water from the river in 2020 and 2021 under the agreement among Lower Basin states, and Mexico has been contributing water agreed under a separate accord to help the levels of Lake Mead.

    California agreed to start taking cuts at a lower trigger point (1,045 feet) if the reservoir continues to fall — which the latest projections show could occur in 2024.

    When the deal was signed, some of the states’ representatives described the agreement as a temporary “bridge” solution to lessen the risks of a crash and buy time through 2026, by which time new rules for sharing shortages will need to be negotiated and adopted.

    Atmospheric CO2 at Mauna Loa Observatory August 7, 2021.

    Climate change ‘is making us face this reality quicker’

    The deal wasn’t intended to prevent a shortage, which managers of water agencies have been expecting for the past few years. But the shortage has arrived sooner than officials and observers had hoped.

    “We are in unprecedented territory,” said Haley Paul, policy director for the National Audubon Society in Arizona…

    “In the end, hydrology is catching up to us and climate change is here and we’re hitting this new threshold,” Paul said. “Climate change is making us face this reality quicker than we would have otherwise. And we have no other choice but to learn to live with this smaller river.”

    Scientific research has shown that the Colorado River watershed is sensitive to the higher temperatures caused by climate change, which intensify dry conditions and evaporate more moisture from the landscape. In a 2018 study, researchers found the river’s flow since 2000 had dropped 19 percent below the average of the past century, and that about half of the trend of decreasing runoff was due to unprecedented warming in the river basin.

    Paul said the shortage might spur more water-efficiency innovation on top of what’s already been done, or more cultivation of crops that require less water.

    “Does this shift how we farm? Both in the crops and the traditional ways of farming?” Paul said. “I think that it’s an opportunity for sure.”

    One such crop is guayule, a shrub that tire manufacturer Bridgestone has been paying some farmers to grow while researching the crop as a new source of natural rubber for tires. Thelander said he’s one of two growers in his area who are experimenting with guayule, which requires much less water than cotton or alfalfa.

    Dixon said he thinks there’s still a future for agriculture in Arizona if farmers make water-saving changes, like switching to drip irrigation, planting less water-intensive crops and improving management of watersheds. Dixon said he already has drip irrigation installed on some of his cotton fields, which he leases to another farmer, and plans to convert the remaining 120 acres to a drip system to save more water.

    A canal delivers water to Phoenix. Photo credit: Allen Best

    Cities face no cutbacks for now

    Under a shortage, Arizona faces the largest reductions of any state.

    Arizona gets about 36% of its water from the Colorado River, while other sources include groundwater and rivers such as the Salt and Verde. The state next year will lose 18% of its supplies from the Colorado River.

    Arizona’s plan for dealing with the shortages involves deliveries of “mitigation” water to help temporarily lessen the blow for some farmers and other entities, as well as payments for those that contribute water. The state and CAP officials approved more than $100 million for these payments, with much of the funds going to the Colorado River Indian Tribes and the Gila River Indian Community for water they contributed…

    The river’s shrinking flows have coincided with warnings from experts about insufficient water supplies for some of Arizona’s growing cities and suburbs.

    Porter and fellow ASU researcher Kathleen Ferris said in a recent report that Arizona doesn’t have adequate measures in place to sustain groundwater, and that the state’s existing laws have allowed for unsustainable over-pumping in many areas. They said state leaders should reform the groundwater rules to safeguard these finite water reserves.

    The state’s water agencies have for years been storing some imported Colorado River water in underground aquifers with the aim of using these reserves in the future when needed. The water has flowed into a network of basins, where the water has soaked down to recharge aquifers. The reductions in deliveries through the CAP Canal, however, have eliminated water that would have been available for replenishing groundwater…

    Managers of the Arizona Department of Water Resources have also sought to halt approvals for new development dependent on groundwater in Pinal County.

    In 2019, the agency’s officials said their data showed the county doesn’t have enough groundwater to provide for all of its planned subdivisions over the coming decades. And during a meeting this June, Deputy Director Clint Chandler laid out the agency’s position: “The days of utilizing native groundwater for development in Pinal are over. It’s done.”

    He said ADWR won’t approve new “assured water supply” applications for development reliant on groundwater in Pinal. Those who want to develop in Pinal, he said, “will need to bring their own, non-groundwater supplies.”

    In Pinal and other areas, new subdivisions have often been built on former agricultural land. Porter said farmers in Pinal have been “waking up to the fact” that if they heavily draw down the groundwater in the years to come, that could lead to long-term declines in the value of their land…

    A new approach to managing the river?

    The sorts of struggles that farmers are facing in Pinal could soon spread to other parts of the Southwest.

    Paul said dealing with the new reality on the Colorado River will require looking at a wide range of short-term and long-term approaches for adapting to less water, and also examining in detail how severe the shortages might become as negotiations move forward on plans for new rules after 2026…

    And while this summer’s monsoon rains have brought flooding and a burst of green vegetation in the Arizona desert, much of the Colorado River watershed remains in an extreme drought.

    To address the chronic water deficit on the Colorado River, managers of water agencies have been discussing a variety of other possible steps, such as investing in more wastewater recycling and desalination, and scaling up programs that pay farmers to temporarily leave some fields dry.

    But critics have argued that the Colorado River needs to be managed differently as climate change and drought take a worsening toll on the watershed…

    “You have this largest reservoir in the nation going empty. There is more water coming out than there is going in,” said J.B. Hamby, vice president of California’s Imperial Irrigation District, which holds the largest single water entitlement on the river.

    “Things like continued sprawl, demands for new sources of water being taken from this declining stream, which is the Colorado River, does not make sense when we’re dealing with what could be potentially catastrophic,” Hamby said.

    He said everyone needs to recognize the Colorado River is now in “an era of limits” that requires everyone along the river to understand that water use must be limited. He and others stressed that the water level at Lake Mead has been getting closer to 895 feet, a point called “dead pool” at which water would no longer pass at Hoover Dam.

    Graphic via the Arizona Department of Water Resources and the Central Arizona Project

    Here’s a release from the Arizona Department of Water Resources and the Central Arizona Project:

    The Colorado River Basin continues to experience drought and the impacts of hotter and drier conditions. Based on the Jan. 1 projected level of Lake Mead at 1,065.85 feet above sea level, the U.S. Secretary of the Interior has declared the first-ever Tier 1 shortage for Colorado River operations in 2022.

    This Tier 1 shortage will result in a substantial cut to Arizona’s share of the Colorado River – about 30% of Central Arizona Project’s normal supply; nearly 18% of Arizona’s total Colorado River supply; and less than 8% of Arizona’s total water use. Nearly all the reductions within Arizona will be borne by Central Arizona Project (CAP) water users. In 2022, reductions will be determined by Arizona’s priority system – the result will be less available Colorado River water for central Arizona agricultural users.

    While Arizona will take the required mandatory reductions under a Tier 1 shortage, the reductions to CAP water users will be partially mitigated by resources that have been set aside in advance for this purpose.

    “The 2019 Drought Contingency Plan put in place agreements and Arizona water users have taken collective action to mitigate reduced CAP water for affected municipalities, tribes and CAP agriculture,” said Ted Cooke, general manager, Central Arizona Project. “These DCP near-term actions will provide relief from reductions that will occur in 2022 as a result of a Tier 1 shortage.”

    Given the recent intensification of the drought, deeper levels of shortage are likely in the next few years. As impacts of drought persist, additional reductions to CAP water users are likely to occur pursuant to the DCP. Such reductions would include impacts to CAP water currently available to some central Arizona municipalities and tribes.

    The near-record low runoff in the Colorado River in 2021 significantly reduced storage in Lake Powell. The reduction in storage, combined with projections for future months, has triggered provisions of the 2019 Drought Contingency Plan designed to protect critical elevations in Lake Powell and Lake Mead through additional collective actions.

    “ADWR and CAP are working collaboratively with Arizona stakeholders and the Basin States to deploy more adaptive measures consistent with the Drought Contingency Plan and associated agreements,” said Tom Buschatzke, director, Arizona Department of Water Resources. “At the same time, ADWR and CAP will continue to work with partners within Arizona and across the Basin to develop and implement longer-term solutions to the shared risks we all face on the Colorado River now and into the future.”

    Buschatzke continued, “We in Arizona have acted and will continue to act to protect the water resources of our state and of the Colorado River system overall.”

    Check out ADWR & CAP’s Colorado River Shortage Fact Sheet

    A gleaming gift to the great outdoors — News on Tap

    From Denver Water (Todd Hartman):

    Denver Water conveying stunningly scenic parcels to Forest Service as part of Gross Reservoir Expansion Project.

    It’s been getting crowded on the trails, open spaces and forests along the Front Range, especially since COVID-19 sent lock-down weary residents bursting into the backcountry in an eager search for safe, socially distanced outdoor recreation.

    That newfound enthusiasm for backcountry adventure isn’t expected to fade any time soon.

    But now, thanks to an agreement between the U.S. Forest Service and Denver Water, explorers will have just a sliver of additional elbow room.

    Open meadows and mixed forest are common among the parcels Denver Water is conveying to the U.S. Forest Service. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    Denver Water is in the process of conveying 539 acres of wetlands, meadows and forests in Gilpin County to the Forest Service to be managed for public use.

    The remote acreage, near the east portal of the Moffat Tunnel, protects ecologically precious lands near two wildly popular wilderness areas (Indian Peaks and James Peak) and the Arapaho and Roosevelt national forests. The land also complements a larger landscape protection effort in the region assembled by The Conservation Fund.

    “Denver Water is thrilled to be a part of this landscape preservation effort,” said Jim Lochhead, the utility’s CEO/Manager. “This region near these precious wilderness areas is an environmental gem and one much loved by Coloradans, especially many within our service area.

    “Ensuring its permanent protection is an outcome we are proud to be a part of, and we appreciate our partnership with the Forest Service and the Conservation Fund in putting this all together,” he said.

    Denver Water agreed to provide the land for its ecological value and public use as part of a sweeping agreement with the Forest Service to offset environmental impacts associated with the expansion of Gross Reservoir to the east of the area.

    It’s one of several steps Denver Water has already taken to complete so-called “mitigation” projects years ahead of the expansion work.

    Seasonal creeks like this one funnel spring runoff into established waterways and lend the landscape a lush character. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    The lands being conveyed are part of what’s known as the Toll Property, the name derived from a ranching family that owned the land for 120 years.

    Denver Water’s contribution, scattered across 11 parcels, is part of a much larger agreement, according to reporting in the Boulder Daily Camera. A much larger area of 3,334 acres remains in the Toll family’s private ownership, but with a perpetual conservation easement to prevent development.

    An additional 823 acres also were acquired by the Forest Service.

    The entire land protection project creates a significant buffer, separating the adjacent James Peak Wilderness to the west from rural development and urban areas to the east, as described in a summary by The Conservation Fund.

    These parcels in the Mammoth Gulch area look southwest toward the Continental Divide. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    It also helps protect a four-mile stretch of the upper portion of South Boulder Creek, a key part of Denver Water’s supply.

    The landscape is familiar not only to backpackers. Train aficionados know the area as part of the route taken by Amtrak’s California Zephyr, between Denver and San Francisco.

    Hot, dry conditions stressing Grand County waterways — News on Tap

    From Denver Water (Jay Adams):

    Denver Water cuts back on some of its West Slope supplies to help struggling streams.

    The Colorado River is hurting.

    The struggles of the river’s largest reservoirs, Lake Mead and Lake Powell, have been well documented over the last decade as drought has ravished the West.

    The story, however, starts more than 500 miles upstream in Grand County, Colorado.

    The county is filled with streams that make up the beginning of the mighty Colorado’s journey in the mountains north of Grand Lake. Around 60% of the water in Grand County is diverted from these streams and used for agricultural and municipal water supply, mostly on the Front Range.

    That includes the Denver metro area, which receives about 20% of its water from Grand County, where Denver Water has water rights dating back to the 1920s. Most of the water is captured in rivers and streams around Winter Park when mountain snow melts in the spring.

    Rivers and creeks in Grand County are part of Denver Water’s North Collection System. Water flows through the Moffat Tunnel, under the Continental Divide, to Gross and Ralston reservoirs. Image credit: Denver Water.

    But, after a lackluster runoff season on the West Slope combined with dry soils from the past year, the hot, dry conditions in early June meant the high-country rivers and streams needed help.

    Denver Water responded by voluntarily reducing diversions from several Grand County creeks and coordinating with the Colorado River District, Grand County, Northern Water and other Learning By Doing partners to adjust operations, where possible, to help boost water levels in some of the more troubled areas.

    “While our primary responsibility is to make sure we’re supplying water to 1.5 million people in the metro area, we’re always looking for opportunities to help improve conditions on the rivers, to help the aquatic environment, recreation and communities they flow through,” said Nathan Elder, Denver Water’s manager of water supply.

    By reducing diversions, Denver Water foregoes collecting a portion of water it is legally entitled to collect for its water supply in exchange for improving streams and tributaries along the Colorado River.

    The Fraser River flows below a Denver Water diversion structure in Grand County in June 2021. Denver Water voluntarily released around 11,000 acre-feet of water from streams in the county from June 6 through early July in 2021 to improve aquatic habitat downstream. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    It started with a plea for help

    On June 5, the Colorado River District asked Denver Water for help after reporting extremely low water levels and critically high water temperatures on the Colorado River. The river district reported conditions were creating unhealthy habitat for fish and aquatic insects.

    “When the email came in Saturday morning, we were in a position to quickly respond and reduce the amount of water we were pulling from several Grand County creeks,” Elder said.

    Denver Water has continued making operational adjustments since that email.

    The utility estimates that by early July it will have voluntarily foregone collecting around 11,000 acre-feet of water from Grand County to help keep more water in the Colorado and Fraser rivers. That’s roughly enough water to supply over 44,000 residences for one year.

    “It has been helpful to hear directly from stakeholders in Grand County, including Trout Unlimited and ranchers along the river, on where we may be able to truly help the river, the community and the environment with our operational adjustments,” Elder said.

    “With help from the West Slope, we’ve been able to target specific areas and send some beneficial water downstream.”

    This includes adjusting water releases from Williams Fork Dam twice a day in a way that also benefits the Colorado River.

    For example, when releasing water from the dam, Elder and his team try to time the flows, so the water reaches the river in Kremmling — an area prone to higher river temperatures — during hotter times of the day.

    The higher water level helps to cool down the water, which is better for the aquatic environment.

    Warm temperatures and low water levels create unhealthy conditions for fish in Colorado streams. Denver Water worked with the Colorado River District to send cooler water downstream in June to help lower temperatures on the Colorado River near Kremmling. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    Position to help

    The wet spring conditions along the Front Range boosted water supplies in Denver Water’s South Platte River collection system, which drastically reduced customers’ demand for water across the metro area — where Denver Water serves a quarter of the state’s population.

    In fact, from January to May, Denver Water’s customer water use hit a 50-year low across the metro area, despite nearly 600,000 more people in its service area since 1970. That includes years in which the metro area was on mandatory drought restrictions.

    “Some of the low use may be due to COVID-19 impacts on business and obviously a wet, cool spring helped,” said Greg Fisher, demand manager for Denver Water.

    “It’s a great sign that our customers really understand efficient water use and let Mother Nature do the watering for them when possible.”

    This wet spring on the Front Range also helped provide additional flexibility on how Denver Water collected and distributed water across its collection system during the spring snow runoff.

    “We were able to turn off the Roberts Tunnel in April, which helped bring water levels up in Dillon Reservoir for boating,” Elder said.

    “The conditions also enabled us to send more water down the Blue River below Dillon Dam to help improve fish habitat around Silverthorne instead of sending the water to the Front Range.”

    Denver Water uses the Roberts Tunnel to bring water from Dillon — the utility’s largest reservoir — under the Continental Divide to the Front Range.

    But flexibility like this is not always possible, especially with the myriad threats Denver’s water system is facing.

    “Between the rising temperatures, changes to the timing of spring runoff, extreme fire behavior and half a million more people expected in the metro area by 2040, our ability for flexible operations is decreasing in a time when we need it the most,” said Elder.

    “We must take an ‘all-in’ approach that includes conservation, water reuse and development of new water supplies so we can continue to maximize the benefits of a large system.”

    Wet conditions in the metro area during the spring of 2021 reduced demand for water for irrigation. The lower demand gave Denver Water more flexibility to fill its reservoirs and provide additional water for environmental benefits on the West Slope. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    More flexibility

    According to Elder, hot, dry weather conditions highlight the benefits of having a large water collection system, as it provides the water planning team more flexibility in its operational playbook.

    Denver Water relies on a network of reservoirs to collect and store water. The large collection area provides flexibility for collecting water as some areas receive different amounts of precipitation throughout the year. Image credit: Denver Water.

    The vision for the Gross Reservoir Expansion Project, which is in its final steps of permitting, is an example of how additional water storage can really help streams in times of drought.

    “As part of the Gross Reservoir Expansion, some of the voluntary things we’re doing this year — like leaving more water in the Grand County rivers — will become required annual operations for us,” said Elder.

    Denver Water is planning to expand Gross Reservoir in Boulder County. The additional storage capacity will create more balance in the utility’s storage and give water planners more flexibility in their operational strategy. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    That’s because Denver Water is one of 18 partners who signed the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement in 2013, ushering in a new era of cooperation between the utility and West Slope stakeholders, all with the vested interest in protecting watersheds in the Colorado River Basin.

    As part of that agreement, a process called “Learning by Doing” was created, which has helped the utility stay better connected on river conditions in Grand County. The partnership is a collection of East and West Slope water stakeholders who help identify and find solutions to water issues in Grand County.

    “Denver Water has been part of Grand County for over 100 years, and we understand the impact our diversions have on the rivers and streams,” said Rachel Badger, environmental planning manager at Denver Water.

    “Our goal is to manage our water resources as efficiently as possible and be good stewards of the water — and Learning By Doing helps us do that.”

    That’s because Denver Water is one of 18 partners who signed the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement in 2013, ushering in a new era of cooperation between the utility and West Slope stakeholders, all with the vested interest in protecting watersheds in the Colorado River Basin.
    As part of that agreement, a process called “Learning by Doing” was created, which has helped the utility stay better connected on river conditions in Grand County. The partnership is a collection of East and West Slope water stakeholders who help identify and find solutions to water issues in Grand County.
    “Denver Water has been part of Grand County for over 100 years, and we understand the impact our diversions have on the rivers and streams,” said Rachel Badger, environmental planning manager at Denver Water.
    “Our goal is to manage our water resources as efficiently as possible and be good stewards of the water — and Learning By Doing helps us do that.”

    Northwater Treatment Plant construction hits major milestone — News on Tap

    From Denver Water:

    Storage tanks at Denver Water’s new, state-of-the-art water treatment plant taking shape.

    The work started in the dark, at 2:30 a.m., continued through the dawn and lasted until noon on Friday, May 14.

    Loaded concrete trucks trundled onto the site of the Northwater Treatment Plant, along Highway 93 north of Golden. A truck arrived every four minutes, delivering concrete that was pumped, then smoothed into place by an army of about 100 workers.

    They shaped the round, concrete floor of what will be the first of the new treatment plant’s two water storage tanks. The tanks will hold clean, treated water to be delivered into Denver Water’s distribution system that sends safe drinking water 1.5 million people every day.

    Placing the concrete floor for the first of two 10-million-gallon water storage tanks at the new Northwater Treatment Plant started at 2:30 a.m. on Friday, May 14, and continued through noon that day. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    “It’s a big milestone day. Each tank can hold 10 million gallons of water — and to put that in perspective, that’s 15 Olympic-sized swimming pools,” said Bob Mahoney, Denver Water’s chief engineering officer.

    “The project is going very well. It’s ahead of schedule and — in addition to pouring the floor of the new treated water reservoir — the overall project is about 38% complete.”

    More than 100 concrete trucks were needed to deliver 1,400 cubic yards of concrete for the base of the storage tank. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    A look at the numbers behind the work:

  • 23 feet, the height of the storage tank when finished, although most of it will be buried underground.
  • 300-plus feet, the diameter of the tank, longer than a football field.
  • 1,400 cubic yards of concrete were needed for the floor of the tank.
  • 145 concrete trucks delivered the concrete.
  • 100 workers were involved with the concrete placement.
  • The first of two 10-million-gallon water storage tanks begins to take shape. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    The new, state-of-the-art water treatment plant, being built next to the utility’s Ralston Reservoir, is expected to be complete in 2024 and will be capable of cleaning up to 75 million gallons of water per day. Concrete for the floor of the second water storage tank is expected to be put in place July 2, weather permitting.

    The Northwater Treatment Plant is part of Denver Water’s $600 million North System Renewal effort, which includes a new pipeline to carry water from the new plant and upgrades at the old Moffat Treatment Plant built in Lakewood in the 1930s.

    About 100 workers were involved in the project, getting the concrete into the forms and smoothing it out to dry. Photo credit: Denver Water

    The concrete work in mid-May drew a steady stream of curious onlookers, including workers building the new plant — and those who will run it when it’s finished.

    “I had to come out. I really wanted to see how they do this,” said Nicole Babyak, a water treatment plant supervisor at Denver Water.

    “The team and I, we’ve been involved in this project for years. We’re going to be running the plant and have seen parts of the facility being built from the ground up, but I haven’t seen a large concrete pour like this yet. It’s so neat to be here while they’re pouring the first tank.

    “It’s just so cool.”

    Denver Water’s new, state-of-the-art Northwater Treatment Plant is being built between Ralston Reservoir, seen in the distance on the left, and Highway 93, seen on the right. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    Telling the story of what was lost as a result of our thirsty #Colorado cities — The Mountain Town News

    Headwaters Center. Photo credit: Allen Best/The Mountain Town News

    From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

    Gathered around the campfire one evening during a rafting trip many years ago, the conversation was about classroom education of river guides. I remember it well almost 40 years later because I cracked a joke that got a round of laughter.

    To make the educational experience complete, I said, somebody should throw a pail of cold water over those assembled to make it like a real river trip.

    That memory was provoked by a recent visit to the Headwaters River Journey, a water-focused exhibit-slash-museum that occupies the ground floor of the Headwaters Center in Winter Park. It doesn’t leave you shivering like you just fell into a cold mountain stream. It does intend for visitors to gain an appreciation for mountain water and the consequences of its loss, in the case of the Fraser Valley to the benefit of metropolitan Denver.

    Colorado has 25 ditches, tunnels, and other conveyances that ferry water over and through the Continental Divide, from the Western Slope where 80% of water originates, mostly in the form of snow, to the Front Range cities and the farms beyond, where 85% of Coloradans live. No place has been dewatered so severely as the Fraser Valley, where Winter Park is located.

    Diversions that began in 1936 have resulted in 60% of the water from the Fraser Valley being diverted to metropolitan Denver. That percentage will increase to more than 80% if a long-contemplated project by Denver Water gets realized.

    Headwaters River Journey seeks to deliver an appreciation for the natural environment of the Fraser and other mountain valleys and the cost to these ecosystems. It does so with an abundance of hands-on experiences.

    One exhibit allows a literal hands-on demonstration of depletion of Jim Creek, one of the sources of metropolitan Denver’s water, as levels rise in Moffat Tunnel pipeline. Photo/Headwaters Center via The Mountain Town News

    The hands-on learning is literal in an exhibit about Denver Water’s diversion from Jim Creek. The creek originates on the flanks of James Peak, across from the Winter Park ski area, meandering through a glacial-carved valley to a confluence with the Fraser River. Or, what’s left of the creek.

    The exhibit has you lay hands on an operating wheel that is used to raise or lower a headgate at a diversion point. As you crank the red wheel, as if to divert water into a diversion ditch, a screen on the left shows water levels in the creek dropping. More cranks yet reveal cobbles, a creek nearly without its water. A panel on the right shows corresponding water levels rising in the water pipe in the Moffat Tunnel used by Denver to deliver water to South Boulder Creek, just one relatively minor hump away from Denver’s suburbs.

    This was not news to me. I once lived in that valley, proudly wearing a “Dam the Denver Water Board” (as the water agency was formerly called) bumper sticker on my car. Now, I live on the receiving end of that water, in the Denver suburb of Arvada. Here, 78% of water for this city/suburb of 120,000 people comes through the Moffat Tunnel from Jim Creek and myriad other creeks in the Fraser Valley. More yet comes from the adjacent but far more remote Williams Fork Valley, two more tunnels away.

    The plumbing before the water arrives at my garden hose is vast, complex, and expensive. The legal system for administration of Colorado’s water may be more byzantine yet.

    Headwaters doesn’t dive deep on the history, legal system, or the plumbing. It’s more like a chapter in Colorado Water 101. It is geared to someone who knows relatively little about water.

    Still, someone like myself, who has written about Colorado water off and on for more than 40 years, the exhibits can fill in gaps. One of my gaps is biology. One exhibit showed the life stages of stoneflies, an important component of the aquatic ecosystem. Through an interactive exhibit, I swam along a river bottom somewhat like a trout might, looking for food.

    Another interactive experience allowed me to flap my arms as if a condor, flying over the geography from Berthoud Pass northward to Longs Peak and west along the Rabbit Ears Range. If a museum can be this much fun for an older guy, I wonder what it would be like to be a 10-year-old.

    My companion, Cathy, was most touched by two exhibits that triggered her memories of living for almost 30 years in a very small mountain town in a house above the confluence of a creek and river.

    One was a line of the life to be found along a mountain creek, from the bugs to the four-legged critters. She says it was a lovely reminder of “all the friends that I miss” now that she lives, sometimes with regret, a citified life.

    The other was a wall-sized video immersion at the beginning of the exhibit that shows the changing of the seasons from one vantage point of a mountain slope. As the snow fell, there was a whoosh of chilled air. As the snow melted, there was the sound of water drops falling.

    Colorado’s population has grown rapidly since the early 20th century, as the Headwaters Center exhibit graphically points out. Photo/Allen Best

    The exhibit is the creation of Bob and Suzanne Fanch, owners for the last 20 years of the 6,000-acre Devil’s Thumb Ranch, which is 7 or 8 miles down the valley —and, perhaps not incidentally, just below some of Denver Water’s diversions on Ranch Creek. It’s one of the nation’s most high-end cross-country ski destinations.

    Kirk Klancke, a neighbor of the Fanches on Ranch Creek and an active member of Trout Unlimited and other water-related causes, describes himself as a technical advisor.

    The Fanches, he explains, got the bug for interactive exhibits after visiting a museum in Iceland. “What a great educational tool, and the Fanches have always been interested in the future of the Fraser River,” he says.

    The vision was distilled by Suzanne, he says, in a discussion. She took the message from a Trout Unlimited movie about the plight of the river that was called “Tapped Out.” A Boulder couple, Chip and Jill Isenhart, who have a company called ECOS Communications, designed the exhibits.

    “We are natural history and environmental storytellers, and our team of content experts and designers has been doing this for more than 30 years in Colorado,” says Chip Isenhart.

    “Our passion is partnering with mission-driven clients like the Fanches, and they have done an amazing job creating a world-class exhibit in Grand County.”

    Isenhart says the primary task in creating the exhibit was to connect the dots between the Fraser River and the Front Range residential water use. To do this, he and his team needed to see the story through the eyes of the locals.

    “We would go out on the river with Kirk Klancke, and folks from CPW, and meet frustrated anglers due to fishing closures at 1 p.m. due to river temperatures being so high from the lack of water,” says Isenhart. “And at the same time we also got to work closely with Front Range water interests to make sure our story was balanced. That was very, very important to ECOS and the Fanches and Trout Unlimited, as this issue is beyond complicated. It’s actually fairly easy to paint a picture that’s more sensational than accurate.”

    Once ECOS had the essentials of the story figured out, they set out to create a variety of fun, changeable, and—they hoped—memorable interactive experiences to tell that story.

    One of my memories is of the bathroom stall. No opportunity for educational storytelling was missed.

    See Headwaters River Journey for hours and location. Photo credit: Allen Best/The Mountain Town News

    The take-home message of Headwaters River Journey is about personal responsibility.

    “It’s taking the knowledge you’ve learned and actually making a difference using that knowledge and being a participant, rather than a spectator,” says Klancke. “That is what this museum is designed to do.”

    The ideal audience would be somebody who lives in metropolitan Denver, a beneficiary of the exported water, or more broadly somebody from the Front Range. As such, it might better be located in Golden, for example, or even along the Platte River near downtown Denver. It was located in Winter Park, at least in part, because the municipality provided the 6 acres of land. Plus, there is an additional benefit. Immediately outside the backdoor of the exhibit is an illustration of beavers, willows and a braided mountain river.

    But Isenhart says the exhibit can have value for remote learning, especially for classrooms along the Front Range. “That’s hopefully one of the next steps,” he reports.

    I had intended to visit the exhibit in March 2020, on the way back to Denver after a trip to Craig. I was a bit late, and hence the curtain of covid descended the next week. My trip was delayed by 13 months.

    It was worth the wait, though. Headwaters River Journey exceeded my expectations. And I’d go back again for a refresher.

    This is from Big Pivots, an e-journal that tracks the energy and water transitions in Colorado and beyond. To get copies, go to http://BigPivots.com.

    Photo credit: Allen Best/The Mountain Town News

    Grand County: CDPHE Regulators give developers deadline to respond to allegations of water pollution — The Sky-Hi News

    The confluence of the Fraser River and the Colorado River near Granby, Colorado. By Jeffrey Beall – Own work, CC BY 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=50012193

    From The Sky-Hi News (McKenna Harford):

    Water pollution concerns have prompted the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to issue separate notices to two developers in Grand County.

    In Kremmling, Blue Valley Ranch received notice dated April 13 for allegedly failing to submit monitor data for its wastewater treatment plant since December 2019. For that violation, Blue Valley Ranch faces a $3,000 fine.

    At the Grand Park development in Fraser, a state representative inspected the Elk Creek Condos, the Meadows and a storage facility in early April and found the facilities were discharging “sediment-laden stormwater” into Elk Creek and the Fraser River.

    In the report, the inspector noted there were no control measures around multiple locations at the Elk Creek Condos and the Meadows that allowed stormwater discharges or increased the potential for them…

    Altogether, regulators found three sites they believed were operating in violation of the Colorado Water Quality Control Act, its regulations or a discharge permit.

    In addition, based on inspections in September 2019 and August 2020, Elk Creek Condos and the Meadows were found to have incomplete stormwater management plans, multiple stormwater control measure concerns and incomplete inspection records. The storage facility on Old Victory Road is alleged to not have a discharge permit.

    The notices alleged that “Grand Park Development failed to implement, select, design, install, and maintain control measures in accordance with good engineering, hydrologic, and pollution control practices to minimize the discharge of pollutants from all potential pollutant sources.”

    […]

    The state also issued a notice of violation for the Mill Avenue apartments for starting construction without a discharge permit, but Lipscomb said state officials did so by mistake. The project had a permit under the Grand Park name before it was updated later with the Byers Peak Properties, according to permit documents provided by Grand Park.

    Lipscomb said he expects that all of the notices will be addressed without consequence. Grand Park has 30 days from April 20, when the notices were issued, to respond to each alleged violation. A response has already been sent regarding the Mill Apartments.

    If the state rejects the developer’s responses, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment could impose up to $10,000 per day in penalties. The state could also require Grand Park to hire a consultant to ensure compliance.

    The notices state that the CDPHE investigation is ongoing and may supplement the notice with additional violations and required further actions.

    CDPHE also issued a notice of violation to Blue Valley Ranch for failing to submit monitoring data for its wastewater treatment plant since December 2019, and the ranch is required to begin submitting the monitoring data for the treatment plant.

    The notice received by Blue Valley Ranch adds that the CDPHE investigation is ongoing and may supplement the notice with further violations and required actions.

    Like Grand Park, Blue Valley Ranch has 30 days to respond. Blue Valley Ranch representatives did not return the newspapers’ requests for comment.

    Judge tosses challenge from environmental groups to halt #DenverWater reservoir expansion — Colorado Politics

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

    From Colorado Politics (Michael Karlik):

    A federal judge has thrown out a legal action from multiple environmental organizations seeking to halt the expansion of a key Denver Water storage facility, citing no legal authority to address the challenge.

    “This decision is an important step,” said Todd Hartman, a spokesperson for Denver Water. “We will continue working earnestly through Boulder’s land-use process and look forward to beginning work on a project critical to water security for 1½ million people and to our many partners on the West Slope and Front Range.”

    The expansion of Gross Reservoir in Boulder County is intended to provide additional water storage and safeguard against future shortfalls during droughts. The utility currently serves customers in Denver, Jefferson, Arapahoe, Douglas and Adams counties. In July 2020, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission gave its approval for the design and construction of the reservoir’s expansion. The project would add 77,000 acre-feet of water storage and 131 feet to the dam’s height for the utility’s “North System” of water delivery.

    FERC’s approval was necessary because Denver Water has a hydropower license through the agency, and it provided the utility with a two-year window to start construction.

    A coalition of environmental groups filed a petition in U.S. District Court for Colorado against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, seeking to rescind those agencies’ previous authorizations for the project. They argued the agencies inadequately considered the environmental impact of expansion…

    …Denver Water pointed out that under federal law, appellate courts, not district-level trial courts, are responsible for hearing challenges to FERC approvals. By challenging the environmental review process that led to the project’s go-ahead, the government argued, the environmental organizations raised issues “inescapably intertwined with FERC’s licensing process.”

    On Wednesday, U.S. District Court Judge Christine M. Arguello agreed that the groups’ challenge was indeed wrapped up in the FERC approval.

    “[W]here a party does not challenge a FERC order itself, but challenges another agency order that is inextricably linked to the FERC order, the FPA’s exclusive-jurisdiction provision applies and precludes this Court from exercising jurisdiction,” she wrote in dismissing the case.

    The Daily Camera reports that Boulder County’s approval is the final step for the expansion project.

    A watchful eye on the ‘Big River’ — News on Tap #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification #DCP

    From Denver Water (Todd Hartman):

    Amid dry soils and struggling snowpack in Denver Water’s collection area, longer-term Colorado River challenges also loom large.

    Denver Water’s supply managers are closely attuned to the dry weather, lagging snowpack and poor soil moisture in its mountainous collection area that could mean heightened efforts to conserve water this summer.

    At the same time, the utility is closely engaged with a more persistent and growing long-term challenge: a drying trend across the seven-state Colorado River Basin.

    The Colorado River, which feeds into Lake Powell, begins its 1,450-mile journey in Rocky Mountain National Park near Grand Lake, Colorado. Denver Water gets half of its water from tributaries that feed into the Colorado River. Some of these tributaries include the Fraser River in Grand County and the Blue River in Summit County. Photo credit: Denver Water

    The two issues go hand-in-hand.

    While early snowpack has been underwhelming, a few recent storms brought us closer to average in the two nearby basins that matter most to Denver Water: The South Platte and the Colorado.

    Even so, the long-running drought across the southwestern United States persists. And earlier this year, a new warning was triggered after updated projections from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation suggested poor inflows to Lake Powell could put the reservoir at a level low enough to take new steps.

    In short, the BOR said Lake Powell — the massive storage vessel that serves as the bank account for the upper basin states of Colorado, New Mexico, Wyoming and Utah — is at risk of falling below an elevation of 3,525 feet in 2022.

    Watch this 2018 video journey with CEO/Manager Jim Lochhead to see drought impacts on the Colorado River and learn what we’re doing about it:

    That’s important to Denver Water and many Colorado water users as a century-old law requires states in the upper basin to send a certain allotment out of Lake Powell each year to the lower basin states of Arizona, California and Nevada.

    Under major agreements developed between the federal government and the seven states in 2019 called drought contingency plans, Reclamation’s projection initiates a planning process with water leaders across the upper basin states to address ways to avoid further elevation declines in Powell.

    This is a trigger point to say, “Hey, it’s time to ramp up our monitoring and planning, to be ready to address the potential further decline in reservoir levels,” explained Rick Marsicek, planning manager for Denver Water. “This was a metric, developed to ensure the upper basin states focus harder on next steps should Lake Powell be at risk of hitting that level.”

    Lake Powell ended the 2020 “water year” at an elevation of 3,596 feet above sea level. That is 104 feet below what is considered Powell’s full capacity. The “water year” is a term used by the U.S. Geological Survey to measure the 12-month hydrologic cycle between Oct. 1 and Sept. 30. The October start date is used to mark when snow begins to accumulate in the mountains. Photo credit: Denver Water

    Planners focused on 3,525 feet as a trigger point, so as to have time to act before Lake Powell falls another 35 feet, which would threaten its ability to send enough water through turbines to generate hydropower, another important element of Powell’s operations. Hydroelectricity at the dam provides power to more than 5 million customers.

    It’s an initial step toward drought contingency plans, which could be triggered as early as 2022 in the Upper Basin. The lower basin’s DCP was triggered last year, when projected shortages in Lake Mead, the other gargantuan Colorado River reservoir — a sister of sorts to Powell — required Arizona and Nevada to pull smaller amounts from supplies stored there.

    Signing ceremony for the Colorado River upper and lower basin Drought Contingency Plans. Back Row Left to Right: James Eklund (CO), John D’Antonio (NM), Pat Tyrell (WY), Eric Melis (UT), Tom Buschatzke (AZ), Peter Nelson (CA), John Entsminger (NV), Front Row: Brenda Burman (US), and from DOI – Assistant Secretary of Water and Science Tim Petty. Photo credit: Colorado River Water Users Association

    All of this movement comes amid other developments important to Denver Water and water interests throughout Colorado.

  • The state of Colorado is working with water providers and users across the state to gauge the potential of a “demand management” plan. Such a plan would compensate water users to temporarily and voluntarily conserve water that would flow instead to Lake Powell as a deposit in a sort of bank account. Such a “pool” of water would maintain critical water levels in Lake Powell and could later be released if necessary to assure Colorado River Compact compliance.
  • Water users kicked off a study related to demand management in 2020. Irrigators in the Kremmling area fallowed some parcels as part of a detailed study on how high-elevation farmland would respond should water be left off the land in some growing seasons.
  • At the same time, the basin states, in partnership with the federal government, are beginning to dig into a new set of guidelines to help manage river supplies that must be complete in 2026, when an existing set of interim guidelines is set to expire. These guidelines co-exist with the 1922 Colorado River Compact and numerous other agreements that make of the “law of the river,” which split the river between the two big basins and the country of Mexico.
  • Closer to home, Denver Water and other metro area and Front Range water providers are coordinating in preparation for a year when they may have to toughen summer watering restrictions to address a dry winter and spring. It’s too early yet to know for sure how supplies will look, but the meetings that kicked off this month are an effort to get ahead of the situation and see where watering and conservation messages can be aligned to help the public understand the potential need to reduce outdoor irrigation between May and October.
  • “There is a lot happening, and that’s a good thing,” Marsicek said. “Far better to overplan and overprepare than to simply hope for the best. We’ve had drought years before, and we have a long-term drought now in the Colorado River Basin. By working together and planning not just for a hot summer, but for a drier long-term future, we can meet this challenge with our eyes wide open.”

    Journey of Water — Chapter 3: Treatment & Distribution — @DenverWater #ColoradoRiver #COriver #SouthPlatteRiver #aridification

    Treating water to the highest quality is more than a job, while crews ensure underground pipes are up to the task.

    Denver Water’s collection system via the USACE EIS

    #FraserRiver improvement project begins in #Granby #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Construction has begun for the Fraser River improvement project in Granby. The project will improve fish and sediment flows at the Granby Diversion Dam.
    Courtesy Trout Unlimited via The Sky-Hi Daily News

    From Colorado Trout Unlimited via The Sky-Hi Daily News:

    A project designed to improve the Fraser River in Granby began construction Thursday.

    Construction is expected to be completed by the end of November and the bridge across the Fraser River at Kaibab Park will be closed during the work.

    The Granby Diversion Dam, which helps divert the town’s water supply and agricultural irrigation water, is an 80 foot wide, 3.5 foot high boulder structure that spans the Fraser River. At low flows, the dam is a barrier that prevents fish movement critical for a healthy fishery and blocks the movement of small non-motorized crafts that currently portage around it, according to a release from Trout Unlimited.

    The project is the result of a partnership between Granby, Trout Unlimited and Grand County. Funds were contributed by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the Colorado Water Conservation Board, and the Open Lands, Rivers and Trails Fund, with the Northern Colorado Water Conservation Board contributing most of the materials for the project and Colorado Parks and Wildlife providing assistance.

    The goal of the project is to provide fish passage for trout and native species and for non-motorized boating recreation without interfering with water diversion for municipal and irrigation purposes. The project will also provide resilience for future flood events, facilitate natural stream processes like sediment transport and no rise in the 100 year floodplain.

    This daagram shows fish passage from the proposed project on the Granby Diversion along Fraser River. Red represents fish passage during high flow and blue represents passage during low flow. Courtesy of Town of Granby via the Sky-Hi Daily News

    @DenverWater: River of words when the heat is on #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Members of Learning By Doing tour the Fraser Flats on Sept. 27, 2016. Photo credit: Denver Water

    Here’s a guest column from Stacy Chesney that’s running in The Sky-Hi Daily News:

    When it comes to collaboratively managing water supplies on the West Slope, Denver Water understands that we must walk the talk.

    When talking about our new era of doing business, Denver Water’s CEO/Manager Jim Lochhead regularly cites that “instead of platitudes, politics or parochialism, you need to sit down and work together.”

    And that is exactly what has happened since the signatories of the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement sat down on Sept. 26, 2013, to put the new framework into action that ultimately benefits water supply, water quality, recreation and the environment on both sides of the Continental Divide.

    From it came the Learning By Doing cooperative effort to maintain and enhance the aquatic environment in Grand County, which has already seen huge successes in the Fraser Flats River Habitat work, stream sampling programs and the removal of 2,500 tons of traction sand from Highway 40 before it could impact water quality and trout habitat downstream in the Fraser River.

    We’re also aware that dry and hot summers, like we saw in 2018 and are experiencing again this year, bring added stress to the fisheries, environment and ultimately the entire communities of Grand and Summit counties.

    When the rivers are low, talking the talk also becomes imperative.

    Water efficiency is always top of mind for the Denver metro area, and during times like this, conservation dominates our communication channels. If you live on the West Slope, you may not see Denver Water’s communications about efficiency, but we are focusing on conservation measures and fostering appreciation for our source water where it matters: our customers.

    We know that using less water means more water can be kept in the reservoirs, rivers and streams that fish live in and Coloradans enjoy. And ultimately, Denver Water’s customers are answering that call despite enduring what is turning out to be one of the hottest and driest years on record.

    Overall, residents of the Denver metro area are using less water than they did in other summers when it was similarly hot and dry. We see them being cautious and judicious with their water use and adjusting based on the weather. In fact, Denver Water customers cut their water use in half in a matter of days when it snowed earlier in September.

    This is nothing new though. After the 2002 drought, Denver Water’s conservation campaign led to our per-person reduction goal of 22% from pre-drought levels — one that we’ve continued to maintain since 2016. We’ve taken that momentum and are now working directly with our customers, sending water use reports along with rebates and tips to inefficient users on how to better use water wisely.

    We also continue to evolve everything we do, from leading the way with new water reuse solutions, to upgrading our Water Shortage Plan – developed with feedback from our partners at Trout Unlimited, Grand County and other Learning By Doing stakeholders.

    Denverites value where their water comes from. We live in this great state because of communities like Grand and Summit counties that provide resources precious to all of us. This benefit was made even more valuable because of the pandemic this year – a reality that we don’t take for granted and continually stress to the 1.5 million people we serve.

    Stacy Chesney is Denver Water’s director of public affairs.

    Denver Water’s collection system via the USACE EIS

    Some Environmental Groups In #Colorado Still Hope To Stop The Gross Reservoir Expansion Project — Colorado Public Radio

    From Colorado Public Radio (Corey H. Jones):

    The fight over expanding Gross Reservoir in Boulder County continues, despite the project’s recent approval from federal officials

    “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, said in a recent statement

    At the same time, Denver Water has its own case with Boulder County, which initially denied the utility’s request to be exempt from a local review of its plan. A Boulder district judge ruled in December that Denver Water must go through the county’s review process. Denver Water has appealed that decision through the Colorado Court of Appeals and must file an opening brief by Aug. 4.

    This means that ultimately county officials could have a say over approval of the expansion. Boulder County Deputy Attorney David Hughes said they have that power thanks to a series of Colorado statutes referred to as 1041 Regulations.

    Boulder County could also request another hearing from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. But Hughes declined to say whether his office will do so.

    After receiving that federal approval, Denver Water said it plans to finish the design phase of the expansion next year, followed by four years of construction.

    “The FERC order is an important advance for the project,” a Denver Water spokesman said in an email to CPR News. “From here, related to legal matters, we’ll need to take some time to evaluate our options and the appropriate next steps.”

    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

    @DenverWater ‘evaluating options’ after Gross project ruling — The Arvada Press #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Gross Reservoir, west of Boulder. Photo by Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    From The Arvada Press (Casey Van Divier):

    A court ruling from the end of 2019 determined Denver Water officials must obtain an additional permit for the Gross Reservoir Expansion Project — a project that Arvada is depending on so it can continue developing land…

    Arvada has a contract to purchase raw water from the reservoir and, in return, is sharing the cost of the project with Denver Water…

    Denver Water is one of two sources through which Arvada obtains its water, with the other being Clear Creek, said Jim Sullivan, the city’s former director of utilities.

    In total, the city has the rights to roughly 25,000 acre-feet of water, with about 19,000 of that provided through its existing contract with Denver Water, he said.

    “We have a comprehensive plan that shows what the city limits will eventually grow to” by 2065, when an estimated 155,000 people will live in Arvada, Sullivan said. This plan would require approximately 3,000 additional acre-feet of water, which will be provided by the expansion project.

    If the project was canceled, the city would need to halt development until it could secure alternate resources, Sullivan said.

    Those other resources “have been harder and harder to come by,” said Arvada water treatment manager Brad Wyant. Other entities have already laid claim to the other major water supplies in the area, he and Sullivan said.

    “The next big water project will be some kind of diversion of water from the Western Slope to the Denver area,” Sullivan said. This would be a major endeavor and “there’s nothing even on the horizon at this point,” he said, making the success of the Gross project a necessity for Arvada development.

    So far, the city has contributed about $3 million to the project, with plans to contribute about $100 million by 2030.

    The contributions are funded through Arvada Water’s capital improvement budget, which consists of one-time tap fees that customers pay when they first connect to the Arvada Water system. Resident’s bimonthly water billing funds ongoing operations and will not be used for the Gross project, Sullivan said.

    Denver Water has estimated the project will cost a total of $464 million.

    Boulder District Judge Andrew Macdonald affirms Boulder County’s 1041 oversight for @DenverWater’s Gross Reservoir Expansion Project

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

    From The Boulder Daily Camera (Charlie Brennan):

    In a seven-page ruling, Boulder District Judge Andrew Macdonald stated that based on evidence placed on the record by both sides in the controversy, he found Boulder County “did not exceed its jurisdiction or abuse its discretion, or misinterpret or misapply the law,” when it asserted its permitting authority.

    That authority, Boulder County has maintained, is established by State House Bill 1041, passed by the Legislature in 1974, which allows local governments to review and regulate matters of statewide interest through a local permitting process.

    Denver Water challenged that authority by filing suit in Boulder District Court in April of this year, claiming what it termed a “zoned law exemption” which it asserted excused it from having to pass through the county process. Denver Water’s complaint claimed the zoning at the reservoir that existed at the time of the passage of the 1041 legislation — officially known as the Activities and Areas of State Interest Act — permitted its planned activities.

    Additionally, the suit stated Boulder County commissioners had exceeded their jurisdiction and/or abused their discretion at a March 14 hearing at which they unanimously upheld Land Use Director Dale Case’s finding that the county review process must apply to Denver Water.

    Macdonald’s ruling struck down Denver Water’s claim to an exemption based on prior zoning.

    “There is nothing on the record that Denver Water had any well-established development rights to expand Gross Dam and Gross Reservoir prior to May 17, 1974,” he ruled. “Any prior contemplated expansion projects cannot be determined to be well-established development rights because the proposed Expansion Project is essentially an entirely new construction project.”

    […]

    In an email Friday night, Denver Water spokesman Travis Thompson said, “As we continue to follow the process of determining the appropriate permitting methods, we will review the order and evaluate our next steps. No matter the path forward, we remain committed to considering input from Boulder County and from community members to minimize and mitigate the impacts of the Project.”

    An additional hurdle remains for the project. Denver Water is still waiting for a final decision by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on a hydropower licensing amendment that Denver Water needs in order to go forward with its planned expansion of the reservoir.

    Denver Water’s collection system via the USACE EIS

    “If we can’t save the rivers in Grand County, every river in Colorado is doomed” — Kirk Klancke #ColoradoRiver #COriver

    From The Colorado Sun (Moe Clark):

    For decades, the Fraser River has struggled with low flows, rising stream temperatures, sediment build-up, plummeting fish populations and degrading aquatic habitats due in large part to Front Range water diversions that drain 65% of the river.

    But after years of heated negotiations — and the formation of a partnership between environmentalists, Grand County officials and Front Range water diverters — some stretches of the Grand County tributary of the Colorado River have started to show improvement.

    Some are heralding the success as the beginning of a new era of collaboration between historically fraught Front Range and Western Slope water stakeholders…

    Proponents of the collaboration have rejoiced at the results of the work, saying that it’s the first time that major Front Range water diverters have participated in meaningful river restoration projects, and have taken responsibility for damage done to Colorado’s rivers. The partnership, dubbed the Grand County Learning By Doing Cooperative Effort, or LBD, includes the two biggest water utilities in the state, Denver Water and Northern Water, as well as Trout Unlimited, Grand County officials and Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

    The partners celebrated their first success in 2018: the completion of a $200,000 restoration project called the Fraser Flats Habitat, which rehabilitated a mile of the river near Tabernash by narrowing the streambed to increase the river’s depth and velocity, to improve the aquatic ecosystem.

    A winter wonderland in Winter Park, Colorado, near the west portal of the Moffat Tunnel, which delivers water from the Fraser and Williams Fork River basins, under the Continental Divide and on to the Moffat Treatment Plant in Lakewood, Colorado. Photo credit: Denver Water. (Photo taken in winter of 2016-2017.)

    For decades, the Fraser River has struggled with low flows, rising stream temperatures, sediment build-up, plummeting fish populations and degrading aquatic habitats due in large part to Front Range water diversions that drain 65% of the river.

    But after years of heated negotiations — and the formation of a partnership between environmentalists, Grand County officials and Front Range water diverters — some stretches of the Grand County tributary of the Colorado River have started to show improvement.

    Some are heralding the success as the beginning of a new era of collaboration between historically fraught Front Range and Western Slope water stakeholders. But with future restoration projects being contingent on two new water diversion projects that will siphon even more water from the Fraser to the Front Range, some worry that the efforts might only be a mirage.

    “They’re basically putting a Band-Aid on the issue, they’re not helping the underlying cause of the problem, which is that too much water is being taken out of a river to meet human needs,” said Jen Pelz, wild rivers program director for the organization WildEarth Guardians.

    Proponents of the collaboration have rejoiced at the results of the work, saying that it’s the first time that major Front Range water diverters have participated in meaningful river restoration projects, and have taken responsibility for damage done to Colorado’s rivers. The partnership, dubbed the Grand County Learning By Doing Cooperative Effort, or LBD, includes the two biggest water utilities in the state, Denver Water and Northern Water, as well as Trout Unlimited, Grand County officials and Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

    The partners celebrated their first success in 2018: the completion of a $200,000 restoration project called the Fraser Flats Habitat, which rehabilitated a mile of the river near Tabernash by narrowing the streambed to increase the river’s depth and velocity, to improve the aquatic ecosystem.

    Kirk Klancke, pictured Aug. 21, 2019, in front of the Fraser Flats area, was the visionary for the restoration efforts that improved fish habitat along the 1-mile stretch of the Fraser River. The efforts, which were partially funded by Denver Water, involved narrowing parts of the river to create deeper channels and faster flows. (Matt Stensland, Special to The Colorado Sun)
    Seeing the river flowing again brought tears to the eyes of Kirk Klancke, president of the Colorado headwaters chapter of Trout Unlimited and longtime resident of Grand County.

    “It was like I was looking at a completely different river,” said Klancke, who has been an integral part of the collaborative. “In the 48 years I’ve lived in Grand County, it was the first time that I saw the river actually looking healthier.”

    “We’ve got the most heavily diverted county in Colorado, about 300,000 acre-feet a year comes out of Grand County. The next highest competitor is Pitkin County, with 98,000… We consider ourselves ground zero. If we can’t save the rivers in Grand County, every river in Colorado is doomed.”

    Eco-vandals shut down high country water diversions bound for the #FrontRange, causing $1 million in damage — @WaterEdCO

    From Water Education Colorado (Jerd Smith):

    Vandals caused an estimated $1 million worth of damage to the City of Northglenn’s collection system on top of Berthoud Pass earlier this month, shutting the system down for several days. As the Grand County Sheriff investigates, Northglenn water officials say they fear the damage is the work of eco-vandals, upset over ongoing diversions from the drought-stressed upper Colorado River to the Front Range.

    For years, the City of Northglenn has captured water on top of Berthoud Pass and delivered it down to its customers north of Denver.

    But on Aug. 2, when water should have been flowing freely, the reading on the measuring gauge on what’s known as the Berthoud Pass Ditch fell to zero. On investigation, the city found the system had been vandalized, with diversion structures torn apart and locks cut, allowing millions of gallons of water to flow back into the Fraser River, a tributary to the upper Colorado River, instead of Northglenn’s ditch.

    “It seemed very intentional,” said Tamara Moon, Northglenn’s manager of water resources. “They did a doozy on us.”

    Roughly $100,000 worth of damage was done to the diversion system, with another $900,000 in water lost, according to the Grand County Sheriff’s office.

    Lesser damage to the structure, part of which can be accessed off a hiking trail near the old Berthoud Pass ski area, occurred in March, Moon said.

    But she believes now that both efforts are linked to the political tension over transmountain diversions from the water-stressed upper Colorado River to the Front Range.

    Two major expansion projects, including an effort by Denver Water to bring more water from the Fraser River and one by Northern Water to bring over more from the upper Colorado River near Granby, have sparked major lawsuits by several environmental groups, including Save The Colorado, WildEarth Guardians and the Sierra Club, among others. The lawsuits are pending in court…

    Though Northglenn isn’t involved in either project, Moon said the fact that her city’s diversion system is pulling from the same watershed has likely exposed it to the frustration over the diversions.

    The week the system was disabled, Northglenn was delivering water to the City of Golden, one of its customers on the system.

    Golden lost several days’ worth of water as a result of the incident, but because its system, like most, has benefited from an abundance of water this year, the temporary cut-off didn’t affect the city’s ability to provide water to its own customers.

    “It really hasn’t had an impact on us,” said Anne Beierle, Golden’s deputy director of public works. “From our perspective though, it’s a little disconcerting and it’s disappointing. If it turns out to be [eco-vandalism], it is unfortunate.”

    The Grand County Sheriff’s office is still investigating the incident.

    Grand County, home to Winter Park and Granby, is also one of the most heavily diverted counties in Colorado, with millions of gallons of water from the upper Colorado and Fraser rivers being diverted to the Front Range to serve dozens of communities.

    “This was a purposeful, deliberate act,” said Lieutenant Dan Mayer, the Grand County Sheriff’s public information officer.

    The four diversion gates that were broken were roughly one-half mile apart, Mayer said. “Somebody wanted to break these gates. You had to [hike in to] find them.

    “We have a lot of water agencies running [water] out of here. But we haven’t seen any incidents like this at other systems. It makes it seem as if it could very well be some kind of eco-terrorism, and we would very much like to find out who did it.”

    Mayer said the charges any suspect would face include felony theft, felony criminal mischief, and first degree criminal tampering and trespass, all of which could result in significant jail time and fines.

    In addition to installing new diversion gates and locks, Northglenn’s Moon said the city is installing remote cameras in an effort to better monitor the site and to be able to identify the culprits should they return.

    “We don’t even have power up there,” she said. “There’s not a lot more we can do.”

    Jerd Smith is editor of Fresh Water News. She can be reached at 720-398-6474, via email at jerd@wateredco.org or @jerd_smith.

    View down Clear Creek from the Empire Trail 1873 via the USGS

    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

    Say hello to the “Headwaters River Journey” in Grand County #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Fish in the Fraser River have struggled because there was too little water for the riparian area that had been created by natural flows. Segments have now been mechanically manipulated to be more narrow. Photo/Allen Best.

    Click here to go to the website:

    Every Drop Matters.

    Welcome to Headwaters River Journey, the only off-the-power-grid exhibit venue, and Colorado’s most interactive place for people of all ages to dive into water conservation and conversation.

    Exhibits Open to the Public July 14th

    HEADWATERS RIVER JOURNEY TICKETS

    Immersed in a Mission

    The intent of the Headwaters River Journey is to raise awareness about the critical role the Colorado River headwaters play in our environment, economy, and Colorado lifestyle, as well the vital actions we must take to conserve and protect our rivers and water supply. The Headwaters River Journey is housed within the Headwaters Center, a nonprofit operation created by the Sprout Foundation. The Headwaters Center aims to provide enriching cultural and educational opportunities, unique meeting and event spaces, and access to higher education through both hands-on and distance learning experiences.

    Water We Talking About?

    The water we drink. The water we bathe in. The water we use to clean our clothes, wash our dishes, and water our lawns. Where does it come from? Are we using it wisely? Will there always be a reliable supply?

    In Colorado, the water we use comes primarily from our rivers, including the Fraser River flowing right outside Headwaters River Journey.

    These rivers we rely on are greatly impacted by diversions, climate change, population growth, and the personal choices we make about water usage.

    Headwaters River Journey, a nonprofit 501(c)(3), is a self-guided adventure through 31 immersive exhibits inviting visitors to explore the wonder of Colorado’s rivers, learn more about the threats to our water supply, gather to discuss water-related issues, and take action in conserving our greatest resource.

    From The Sky-Hi News (McKenna Harford):

    Between regularly watering thirsty lawns, enjoying lengthy showers and running the dishwasher too frequently, the average person uses over 18,000 gallons of water in just six months.

    Since water is a finite resource and deeply ingrained in the Colorado lifestyle, a new museum at the heart of the Fraser Valley opening Sunday [July 14, 2019] is dedicated to educating visitors about the issues and potential solutions for water conservation.

    The Headwaters River Journey, located on the first floor of the Headwaters Center in Winter Park, takes visitors on a journey to discover where their water comes from, the details of the river environment, how water is used and wasted and what is being done to protect the precious resource.

    “It’s about getting people to focus on (water) because it’s a huge issue in the west,” said Bob Fanch, owner of the Headwaters Center and Headwaters River Journey. “I think what we’re trying to get across is to be part of the solution. If one individual turns into every individual and the actions are positive, the impacts on the river can be very significant.”

    On Saturday, invited guests attended the grand opening of the Headwaters River Journey, which featured remarks from Fanch; Jimmy Lahrman, mayor of Winter Park; Philip Vandernail, mayor of Fraser; Dan Gibbs, executive director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources; and Kirk Klancke, president of the Colorado River Headwaters chapter of Trout Unlimited.

    “This is unique to say the least,” Gibbs said. “There’s nothing like this in the state or even the country where (…) there’s something so that a two-year-old can understand water conservation and for anyone in their 90s to understand the importance of water conservation.”

    […]

    Situated right along the Fraser River, the museum focuses on the local ecosystem, the real issues it faces, such as diversions to the Front Range and rising temperatures, and features local stories of people taking steps to preserve Grand County’s rivers.

    Visitors not only learn through the usual means of reading and watching video, but also interact with the over 30 exhibits. There are games where players virtually experience the life of a trout or the journey of an osprey, there are quizzes to test knowledge and encourage feedback, as well as stations to share ideas and solutions.

    “We’re trying to make sure people understand the connection between water and lifestyle in Colorado,” Fanch said. “We also wanted to make it interesting and we didn’t want to dumb it down, but bring it up to a higher contemplative level.”

    The whole experience is immersive in the same way a 4D amusement park ride is. Audio tracks of trickling creeks, tweeting birds and bugling elk play, bursts of cool air accompany video clips of a blizzarding Berthoud Pass and feel the difference between a 50 degree river and a 70 degree river.

    The museum doesn’t just talk about sustainability either, it embodies it. The Headwaters River Journey is the only off-the-grid exhibit in the country, powered completely by solar, and it utilized local beetle kill wood and old water flumes in the design. The bathrooms also have low-flow toilets and all the lighting is LED.

    Ultimately, Fanch hopes the Headwaters Center and its museum can be the “water mecca of the west,” where people can get together to discuss issues and come up with solutions.

    “We want to be the Switzerland of the water world, where different interests can come here and talk about issues and figure out solutions together,” he said.

    @DenverWater hires contractor for Gross Reservoir Expansion Project

    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 Denver Water:

    Denver Water’s five-member Board of Water Commissioners on Wednesday approved a two-year, $4.5 million contract with Kiewit Barnard, a Joint Venture, for planning and pre-construction work during the final design phase of the $464 million Gross Reservoir Expansion Project.

    If the team’s performance during the planning and pre-construction phase meets Denver Water’s expectations, a separate contract to build the dam may be signed between Denver Water and Kiewit Barnard.

    “This is a major milestone in our 16-year effort to expand Gross Reservoir, as its original designers intended decades ago, to ensure a more reliable water supply in a future marked by greater uncertainty in weather patterns,” said Denver Water CEO/Manager Jim Lochhead.

    Denver Water, the state’s largest water utility, serves 1.4 million people in Denver and surrounding suburbs.

    Gross Dam enlargement concept graphic via Denver Water

    The Gross Reservoir Expansion Project will raise the height of the existing dam, completed in 1954, by 131 feet, allowing the reservoir to nearly triple in size. When complete, the reservoir will be capable of holding about 119,000 acre-feet of water to provide greater system balance and resiliency.

    The selection process for a construction manager/general contractor for the project began in August 2018 with information meetings, followed by a formal Request for Qualifications in October 2018. Three teams responded to the request and underwent extensive evaluations and interviews by a selection team that included experts from Denver Water, the project’s design engineer and subject matter experts.

    The selection team focused on a value-based competitive process that examined each team’s qualifications, project approach, technical approach and cost.

    “Kiewit Barnard met Denver Water’s high bar for doing a project that’s important not only to the 1.4 million people who rely on us for their drinking water, but also to the people who live around the reservoir,” said Jeff Martin, Denver Water’s program manager for the expansion project.

    “We were impressed by the team’s experience with roller-compacted concrete dam construction, innovative approach and commitment to safe and responsible building practices,” Martin said.

    The project calls for adding 900,000 cubic feet of concrete to the existing structure and building the first roller-compacted, concrete, arch dam in the United States. When complete, the Gross Dam will be the tallest in Colorado and the tallest roller-compacted concrete dam in the U.S.

    “Kiewit Barnard, a Joint Venture, is very pleased to have been selected to work on this important project to support water demand for the greater Denver area,” said Jamie Wisenbaker, senior vice president of Kiewit Infrastructure Co., and an executive sponsor of the project. “We believe the team’s collective infrastructure experience in dam and reservoir construction and engineering will be a huge asset and look forward to safely delivering a high-quality project on time for Denver Water and the region.”

    Kiewit is one of North America’s largest construction and engineering organizations with extensive heavy-civil experience in water/wastewater construction, including serving as lead contractor on the Oroville Spillways Emergency Recovery project in California. Kiewit is the No. 1 contractor for dams and reservoirs in the United States according to Engineering News-Record. The company also has strong roots and experience in Denver and across Colorado, including having constructed the Interstate 25 T-REX Expansion project, the U.S. 34 Big Thompson Canyon emergency repair project and the I-225 Light Rail Line project. The company also is building Denver Water’s new Northwater Treatment Plant.

    Barnard Construction Co. Inc. brings a long track record of safety and quality on infrastructure projects in the U.S., including construction on more than 80 dams, reservoirs and dikes over the last four decades. The company’s work in this area includes new construction, raising dams and conducting emergency repairs. In 2019, Barnard was honored as a “Global Best Project” award winner by Engineering News-Record in the dam/environment category for the Muskrat Falls North and South Dams project located in Muskrat Falls, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada.

    The Gross Reservoir Expansion Project is awaiting a final federal government approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Provided the remaining federal approvals come by the end of this year, the project is slated to be complete in 2025.

    When finished, the expanded reservoir and associated mitigation projects will create what the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment has described as a net environmental benefit to state water quality by generating a wide range of environmental improvements to streams, river flows and aquatic habitats.

    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

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

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

    From KUNC (Luke Runyon):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Denver Water’s collection system via the USACE EIS

    Boulder County will not process @DenverWater’s 1041 application with lawsuit winding its way through the courts #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Denver Water’s collection system via the USACE EIS

    From The Boulder Daily Camera (Charlie Brennan) via The Denver Post:

    Boulder County has notified Denver Water it will not process the utility’s land use review application for a Gross Reservoir expansion at the same time it is defending itself in a lawsuit by Denver Water challenging the need to even submit to that procedure.

    Denver Water on April 18 filed a lawsuit in Boulder District Court claiming a zoned-land exemption should excuse Denver Water from having to submit to the land use review process for the expansion, which — should it go through — would be the largest construction project in county history.

    However, at the same time, Denver Water CEO/manager Jim Lochhead had said the utility was taking the steps to satisfy that county requirement, even while the lawsuit was pending.

    “We remain committed to finding a path forward with the county that respects the community’s needs and concerns while allowing the project to proceed, which is why we have initiated the 1041 application process,” Lochhead said at the time…

    Denver Water’s bid to participate in that process and simultaneously challenge it legally, however, is not going to work, according to Boulder County.

    In a letter to Denver Water dated April 18, Boulder County Land Use Director Dale Case said, “While the County believes it will prevail in litigation, it would not be appropriate for the Land Use Department to proceed with an application under these circumstances.”

    It is Case who initially made the determination that Denver Water, although holding a permit for the expansion project from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, still needed to submit to the county’s permitting process — a judgment Denver Water already unsuccessfully appealed before the county commissioners on March 14.

    “It would be an imprudent expenditure of taxpayer dollars for the County to process an application when the process itself is the subject of a lawsuit,” Case added in his letter. “Accordingly, the Land Use Department will not accept an application for processing until the lawsuit is resolved.”

    […]

    Denver Water public documents once showed a 2019 start date on construction, but that is no longer the case, and the lawsuit against Boulder County is not the only legal hurdle to launching the project. In separate courtroom action, a coalition of six environmental groups has sued at U.S. District Court in Denver, challenging the Corps of Engineers’ July 2017 decision to issue its permit for the $464 million (in 2025 dollars) project…

    The current Denver Water project timeline now shows 2020 to 2026 for the project’s start to completion.

    Denver Water Program Manager Jeff Martin answered Case’s recent letter with an April 29 letter, stating that Denver Water nevertheless intends to submit an application to initiate a land review process, citing the “significant resources” it has already expended in preparing its application in “a good faith effort” to comply with county requirements.

    Denver Water also argues that processing the utility’s application should not put a financial strain on the county, because “Denver Water will reimburse Boulder County for its time in considering the application.”

    @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.

    Pair of lawsuits challenges need for more #ColoradoRiver water — @AspenJournalism #COriver

    The spillway and dam at the Windy Gap Reservoir on the headwaters of the Colorado River. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    From Aspen Journalism (Lindsay Fendt):

    Two lawsuits making their way through the federal court system are challenging two significant water projects in Colorado designed to divert more water from the Colorado, Fraser and Williams Fork river basins in Grand County.

    The projects — Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District’s Windy Gap Firming project and Denver Water’s Moffat Collection System Project — would provide a combined firm yield of 48,000 acre-feet of water for the sprawling Front Range.

    But environmental groups say government agencies violated the law in the environmental permitting processes of both projects.

    “Our biggest claim is that [the agencies] claim they looked at reasonable alternatives [to the projects],” said Gary Wockner, the director of Save the Colorado, the lead plaintiff on both cases. “But they didn’t look at conservation or efficiency. Water providers are trying to go to big water projects first and not the cheaper option of conservation.”

    Both Northern and Denver Water say they factored in conservation efforts when they calculated water demand and that even aggressive conservation efforts won´t be enough to meet water demand in the future.

    “There are only a few answers for water supply in the future and Windy Gap Firming is one of those options,” said Brad Wind, the general manager of Northern Water. “Without that project, I can’t fathom where we will end up.”

    But some water experts say that the state’s use of population growth as one of the major drivers of water demand was flawed.

    “As population goes up, water demand continues to go down and it’s been that way for decades,” said Mark Squillace, a water law expert at the University of Colorado Law School.

    Denver Water’s collection system via the USACE EIS

    Decoupled demand

    The phenomenon of increasing populations with declining water use is known as “decoupling,” and it has been happening in nearly every part of Colorado since the 1990s.

    Higher efficiency appliances, utility-driven conservation programs and greater citizen awareness of water shortages have all driven the change.

    But water managers say the state’s growing urban areas are reaching the point of “demand hardening,” where the additional water that can be conserved will not outweigh the amount needed in the future.

    “We have been hearing those kind of stories for a long time and it never happens,” Squillace said. “There are a lot of things that we could still do on the conservation end that would be a lot cheaper [than new infrastructure] and a lot more consistent with the environment that we live in.”

    While they differ, the pair of lawsuits being spearheaded by Save the Colorado could both hinge on demand and conservation estimates, and the assumption that additional conservation won’t be sufficient in the future.

    Both lawsuits were filed in federal district court and are now awaiting action by a judge to move forward.

    The Windy Gap Firming case was filed in October of 2017 against the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

    The Moffat Collection System case was filed in December against the Army Corps, the U.S. Interior Department and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

    An aerial view of Windy Gap Reservoir, near Granby. The reservoir is on the main stem of the Colorado River, below where the Fraser River flows into the Colorado. Water from Windy Gap is pumped up to Lake Granby and Grand Lake, and then sent to the northern Front Range through the Adams Tunnel.

    The projects

    Both the Windy Gap and Moffat projects were conceived decades ago to address projected water shortages on Colorado’s Front Range and to add resilience to both Northern and Denver Water’s supplies.

    Now estimated to cost about $600 million, the Windy Gap project will include a new 90,000 acre-foot reservoir in western Larimer county called Chimney Hollow Reservoir.

    The reservoir is designed to store water from the Colorado and Fraser rivers transported from the Western Slope through the existing infrastructure of the Colorado-Big Thompson project.

    Windy Gap Reservoir, built in 1985, is created by a low river-wide dam across the main stem of the Colorado River, just downstream from where the Fraser River flows in.

    The reservoir is relatively small, holding 445-acre feet, but it’s well situated to gather water from the Fraser, pump it up to Lake Granby and Grand Lake, and then send it through the Adams Tunnel under the Continental Divide.

    With the Moffat project, Denver Water plans to spend an estimated $464 million in order to expand Gross Reservoir in Boulder County, by raising the height of the dam by 131 feet, in order to store an additional 77,000 acre-feet of water.

    Gross Reservoir is a part of the utility’s existing northern collection system and is filled with water from the headwaters of the Fraser and Williams Fork river basins. The water is moved through a pipeline in the Moffat Tunnel, which runs east through the mountains from the base of the Winter Park ski area.

    The upper South Platte River, above the confluence with the North Fork of the South Platte. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    The fork not taken

    The plans to expand Gross Reservoir started in 1990 after the EPA rejected Denver Water’s plan to build Two Forks Reservoir on the South Platte River.

    The EPA’s rejection of Two Forks signaled the end of an era of large dams and forced groups planning large water infrastructure projects to give more consideration to the environmental impacts of their plans.

    Following this rebuke, Denver Water turned to the environmental groups that had opposed their project and solicited advice.

    Throughout the 1990s, the utility implemented water conservation and recycling programs and started making plans to expand an existing reservoir instead of building a new dam.

    “We embarked on the path that the environmental groups suggested. We implemented a conservation program and reduced our demands,” said Jim Lochhead, the CEO and manager of Denver Water. “But you can’t get to zero. We continue to be committed to conservation, but at the end of the day we still need more water.”

    In partnership with environmental groups like Western Resource Advocates and Trout Unlimited, Denver Water has agreed to spend $20 million on environmental improvements in watersheds on the Western Slope as part of the Gross Reservoir expansion.

    Denver Water has also agreed to a monitoring program that will require them to mitigate any unforeseen environmental problems caused by the project, a compromise between environmental groups and the largest water utility in the state.

    “In some sense this project was the development of an alternative from a number of groups,” said Bart Miller, the director of the Healthy Rivers Program at Western Resource Advocates. “In some respect you are putting this in context next to what could happen or could have happened.”

    Concerned with having their own projects fail, as Two Forks did, other water managers emulated Denver Water’s strategy.

    When Northern Water started planning for the Windy Gap Firming project it also reached out to environmental groups, and ended up committing $23 million to mitigate problems caused by past projects and to make other improvements in the upper Colorado River watershed.

    Even though there will be impacts from taking more water from the river, Northern Water says that these “environmental enhancements” will leave the river better off than it would be without the project.

    And environmental groups working on the project agree.

    “There is a lot of damage on the river that will continue to go on without an intervention,” said Mely Whiting, legal counsel for Trout Unlimited. “This is probably the best shot.”

    Gross Reservoir in the mountains to the southwest of Boulder. Denver Water hopes to increase the height of the dam 131 feet, to a new height of 471 feet, to store three times as much water, which it says will help it meet increasing demands and to better weather severe droughts.

    The lawsuits

    While some environmental groups have seen compromise as the best step forward, Save the Colorado and the other plaintiffs in the two lawsuits take a harder stance.

    Save the Colorado, in particular, is against any new dams or diversions.

    “The river has already been drained enough,” Wockner said. “The mitigation, in our mind, is not consequential.”

    Colorado and the six other states that use Colorado River water are now negotiating a plan to better manage Lake Powell and Lake Mead in response to drought and acidification.

    Last week, an engineer from Northern Water told the city council of Loveland that it may have to take a ten percent cut in the water it draws from the headwaters of the Colorado River, sending the water instead to Lake Powell, where water is held before being moved through the Grand Canyon and into Lake Mead for use in California, Arizona and Nevada.

    And Northern’s statement did not go unnoticed by the plaintiffs in the Windy Gap and Moffat lawsuits.

    “The old guard in water have the default setting that we need to build more reservoirs and we need to find more ways to bring water from the western slope,” said Kevin Lynch, the lawyer representing the environmental groups in the Windy Gap Firming case. “The argument my clients are hoping to make with this case is that that may have made sense in the past but it doesn’t now. We are definitely trying to buck the status quo and change the historical way of doing things.”

    Lynch and his team are arguing that the Bureau of Reclamation and the Army Corp of Engineers — the two government agencies being sued in the Windy Gap Firming case — failed to update and independently verify the water demand data used to justify the project.

    To back up this allegation, the plaintiffs petitioned the court to include a statistics report in the administrative record.

    The report, which looks at water use statistics in communities with stakes in Windy Gap Firming water, showed that their demand projections made back when the agencies conducted their environmental assessments were between 9 and 97 percent higher than the actual water use rates in those areas.

    The lawyers in the Moffat Project lawsuit also found that Denver Water used old data from 2002 to project their demands future demands.

    The complaint filed by the plaintiffs says that the Army Corps and the Department of the Interior — which are the two agencies being sued in the Moffat case along with the Fish and Wildlife Service — ignored more recent data that was available when they conducted their assessments.

    “If they were to use today’s data they would no way be able to justify that they need the water,” said Bill Eubanks, the lawyer for the plaintiffs in the Moffat Project case. “Here we are talking about almost two decades. Two decades where we have seen the most transformative uses of water in a century.”

    Both legal teams say that even if the data did reveal a demand for more water, the agencies failed to analyze the alternatives to two large infrastructure projects, including conservation.

    Specifically, Wockner and Eubanks both spoke about how a “cash for grass” program — where the government pays people to dry up their lawns — was never analyzed as an alternative. Looking at similar programs in California, they say the same amount of water could be saved, but for less money than either of the two infrastructure projects.

    To this claim both Northern Water and Denver Water say that additional conservation measures are already planned for the future, but that they are not enough.

    “The state has done a lot of studies for need for water on the Front Range,” said Jeff Drager, Northern Water’s director of engineering and the project manager for the WIndy Gap firming project. “We agree that there can be more conservation, but it won’t be enough to meet our participants needs.”

    The pipeline, at the base of the Winter Park ski area, that moves water as part of the existing Moffat Collection System Project. The portal of the railroad tunnel is behind the pipeline, in this view. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    Looking forward

    Due to a long backlog in the court, both lawsuits are unlikely to see their day in court any time soon. According to both lawyers, it could be months or years until the cases are decided. The court’s slow pace could impact the construction of both projects.

    Citing the lawsuit, Northern Water delayed bonds to build the project back in August.

    Executives at Northern say they are using the time to hammer out the last of the details of the project’s design, but that if the project is delayed it may cause costs to rise or endanger the water supplies of the project’s participants.

    Denver Water is still waiting on several permits before they can begin planning construction and is less concerned about a delay. Both Lochhead and Wind say they believe that the projects will go forward once the lawsuits are resolved.

    “We feel confident that our permitting processes are on solid ground,” Wind said. “I don’t think there is anyone in this organization at all that has thought this lawsuit would be effective.”

    While both Northern Water and Denver Water are confident that their projects will move forward, the plaintiffs in the cases are hoping for an upset that could topple the entire water system in Colorado.

    “If we win this case, using this particularly egregious example of inaccurate water demand projections, we think we can set a precedent that would force the state to look at more recent data for different types of projects,” Eubanks said.

    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.”

    Moffat Collection System Project update: Environmental groups file lawsuit

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

    From Colorado Public Radio (Grace Hood):

    A suit filed against three U.S. government agencies seeks to stop the expansion of Denver Water’s Gross Reservoir in Boulder County…

    Gross Reservoir provides water to 1.4 million Front Range customers. The expansion would divert more water from Colorado River headwater tributaries during wet years. In a nutshell, the project seeks to raise the height of the existing dam by 131 feet; storage capacity would increase by 77,000 acre feet.

    The environmental groups who sued say the U.S. government permitting process inadequately evaluated the impact of the large project on streamflows. There are also concerns about how construction would affect wildlife.

    “We went above and beyond mitigation of environmental impacts under the permits,” Denver Water CEO Jim Lochhead said. “We sat down with Grand County, Eagle County… and a host of agencies across Western Colorado, and developed a series of environmental enhancements to the streams of Western Colorado.”

    Trout Unlimited is one such group that has supported the Gross Reservoir expansion, citing successful stream augmentation programs along the Fraser River…

    Revving up the legal gears could pose a setback for Denver Water, which has spent years securing the necessary permits. Now that it has those in place, environmental groups are seeking to stop construction.

    Denver Water’s collection system via the USACE EIS

    Lawsuit filed to set aside CWCB and Boulder County floodway expansion

    Boulder. By Gtj82 at English Wikipedia – Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons by Patriot8790., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11297782

    From The Longmont Times-Call (Anthony Hahn):

    According to the complaint filed this week, commissioners approved the floodway expansion over the resistance of local residents, who said the re-mapping would limit development on their private properties — some of which are functioning farms — and cause their flood insurance rates to skyrocket…

    The re-drawing was performed by the Colorado Water Conservation Board, with assistance from Boulder County staff, and was approved last month 2-0 by commissioners. Commissioner Cindy Domenico was absent. When the change officially takes effect Oct. 1, it will substantially widen the floodway along portions of Lower Boulder Creek northwest of Erie.

    A floodway is a narrow channel where, in the event of a flood, water will be flowing. A floodplain is where shallow water is likely to be during the event of a flood, though shallower and flowing at a lower volume, if at all, than water in a floodway.

    The former, by definition of Boulder County’s standards, is more heavily regulated than a floodplain. Land regulated under floodway status is often limited to very specific redevelopment.

    According to the complaint, plaintiffs’ efforts to have the hearing delayed to learn more about proposed expansion went unheeded…

    The Colorado Water Conservation Board in 2015 changed the definition of a floodway, triggering a review of flood-hazard areas across the state. Wheeler Open Space, however, was not reassessed, given the lack of residential buildings on the land, Boulder County Senior Assistant Attorney Kate Burke said earlier this year.

    In light of the planned oil and gas development on the site, a modeling with the new standards was performed. Under the new guidelines, the entirety of well site Section 1, which is in the open space, is within a floodway, according to documents Boulder County submitted in mid-April with its formal comments to the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.

    “…why I support Denver Water’s Gross Reservoir Expansion project” — Lurline Underbrink Curran

    Gross Dam enlargement concept graphic via Denver Water

    From The Boulder Daily Camera (Lurline Underbrink Curran):

    I would like to share why I support Denver Water’s Gross Reservoir Expansion project.

    While located in Boulder County, the project obtains the water from Grand County — a county that is currently the most impacted county in the state of Colorado for transbasin diversions. You must wonder why the county and its citizens, stakeholders in the Colorado River Basin, along with Trout Unlimited support this project.

    The reason is the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement, which is an historic agreement with statewide environmental benefits which were fought for and gained through sometimes difficult and long negotiations. It has been hailed as a new paradigm and one that will serve as an example of what can be gained when dealing with a finite resource like water. The signatories to this agreement represent the entire Colorado River Basin, and I had the honor of acting as Grand County’s lead negotiator in this agreement. I worked for Grand County for 33 years, retiring as county manager in 2015. I have lived in Grand County over 60 years and have deep roots and interest in the well-being of our waterways.

    The environmental benefits gained by Grand County, which include additional flows, river ecosystem improvements, use of Denver Water’s system, participation in an adaptive management process called Learning by Doing, money for river improvements, just to name a few, are necessary to protect and enhance the Fraser and Colorado rivers. Without these benefits, these rivers will continue to degrade, with no hope of recovery or improvement.

    Those who oppose the project offer no solutions to the already stressed aquatic environment of the Fraser and Colorado rivers. Through the Learning By Doing format and a public private partnership, partners have already implemented a river project on the Fraser as an example of what can be done. This project immediately produced improvements that were astounding. Colorado Parks and Wildlife can verify this claim. This essential work will not continue without the CRCA.

    The impacts that are associated with the construction of the Gross Reservoir Enlargement are substantial and one sympathizes with those who will experience them, but the reality is they will end. Mitigation for the construction impacts can be applied. However, without the CRCA, the impacts to the Fraser and Colorado rivers will continue with no hope of improvement.

    The environmental enhancements and mitigation that are part of the CRCA cannot be replicated without the reservoir expansion project, and the loss of these enhancements and mitigation will doom the Fraser and Colorado rivers in Grand County to environmental catastrophe.

    Boulder County asks FERC to deny @DenverWater’s Gross Dam hydroelectric permit amendment for the Moffat Collection System Project

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

    From Boulder Daily Camera (Charlie Brennan):

    Citing the success of Denver Water’s conservation efforts since it first issued its “purpose and need” statement for the project, and the fact that no service shortfall has yet materialized for its 1.4 million customers in the metro area, Boulder County Attorney Ben Pearlman said that based on prior environmental reviews, “Boulder County does not believe Denver Water has shown that the project’s purpose and need have been met and the FERC must deny Denver Water’s application to amend its permit.”

    […]

    “We don’t think they have undertaken the duty they have (under federal environmental law) to analyze this problem thoroughly,” [Conrad] Lattes said…

    Denver Water officials on Friday answered back by reasserting the project’s merits.

    “The Gross Reservoir Expansion project represents an enormous amount of work, input and collaboration to ensure it is done in the most responsible way possible,” Jim Lochhead, Denver Water CEO/manager said in a statement. “And Denver Water will continue to develop noise, transportation and tree removal plans with input from stakeholders to minimize the impacts to Boulder County and its residents.”

    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.

    Fraser River restoration: “The biomass [in the river] has more than tripled, just from last year” — Mely Whiting

    From The Sky-Hi News (Lance Maggart):

    The Fraser Flats Habitat Project is a cooperative venture conducted by Learning By Doing, an amalgamation of local water stakeholders who several years ago formed a committee in an effort to increase cooperation and decrease litigation between Front Range water diverters, local governments and High Country conservation groups. The Fraser Flats Project is the group’s pilot project, restoring a roughly one-mile section of the Fraser River.

    Work on the project, which was conducted on a section of the Fraser River between Fraser and Tabernash, wrapped up in late September and the members of Learning By Doing are, to put it mildly, thrilled with the success of the project.

    “We are elated,” said Mely Whiting, legal counsel for Trout Unlimited. “This is amazing. The biomass [in the river] has more than tripled, just from last year, and only in the matter of a couple of weeks since the project was completed.”

    Denver Water Environmental Scientist Jessica Alexander explained the intention of the project.

    “To start, we wanted to improve the habitat of the river for fish and aquatic insects,” Alexander said. “We saw problems with the way the river channel looked and behaved before the project and we wanted to improve those things, to provide more habitat.”

    Alexander went on to explain that the Fraser River channel was too wide and shallow to provide good habitat and resulted in high sedimentation in the river rocks that are essential to development of bug life, which in turn serves as base of the food web within the river. Additionally there was little large vegetation on the river banks at the project site, resulting in river bank erosion and higher stream temperatures due to lack of a shade canopy.

    To fix these problems work on the project centered on a few key areas. Project organizers wanted to deepen and narrow the river’s main channel, allowing the water that does flow down the Fraser to flow deeper and faster, helping clear sediment out of river rocks. Additionally they planted roughly 2,500 willows and cottonwoods on the river’s banks, to address erosion and shade concerns.

    The project got underway last fall as Learning By Doing secured permits for the project and conducted design work. In May this year about 150 local local and regional volunteers spent two days harvesting and planting willows and cottonwoods along the banks of the Fraser in the project area.

    Over the summer and fall contracting firm Freestone Aquatics, specializing in aquatic habitat restoration, conducted the physical work of narrowing and deepening the river channel…

    The total cost of the project was roughly $200,000. The cost was broken down between several stakeholders including the Colorado River District, Northern Water, Trout Unlimited, and more. Denver Water pitched in roughly $50,000 and the project received a Fishing is Fun grant from Colorado Parks and Wildlife. Moving forward Learning By Doing is looking at a few different projects in Grand County and is trying to decide which project it will tackle next.

    From Colorado Public Radio (Nathaniel Minor):

    For decades, the Fraser River in Colorado’s Grand County has turned into a trickle every fall as the snowmelt that powers the river dissipates. The low flows have led to warmer water temperatures and less wildlife.

    That changed this year, at least along a short stretch of the Fraser. And it’s due to an unusual partnership that includes Denver Water, which diverts most of the river to the Front Range, and Trout Unlimited, which has fought for decades to protect it. The group, dubbed Learning by Doing, focused its efforts on nearly a mile of the river near Tabernash. Work wrapped up on the $200,000 project earlier this fall.

    “I had man tears when I saw this for the first time,” said Kirk Klancke, president of the Colorado River Headwaters Chapter of Trout Unlimited. “It was very emotional to see the river look healthier than it has in the 47 years I’ve lived there.”

    Now, instead of a wide shallow creek, the low-flow Fraser River drops into a narrow channel that allows to run deeper, faster and colder. That led to a nearly immediate rebound in the fish population, according to a preliminary assessment by Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

    “We found about a four-fold increase in trout population,” said Jon Ewert, an aquatic biologist at CPW who surveyed the river both before and after the project was finished. “It was pretty exciting to see that.”

    Ewert was cautious not to get too far ahead of his data. He plans to survey the fish population again next year to see if they reproduce like he hopes they will. But he says he’s very encouraged by what he’s seen so far.

    Klancke credits cooperation by Denver Water, Trout Unlimited, Grand County and others for this initial success. Before his Trout Unlimited days, Klancke said he was “radical” in his opposition to the diversion of water to the Front Range. He even used to urinate in diversion ditches, he told me last year. He’s since changed his tactics.

    “Working with the people who have impacts on your river is far more effective than trying to fight them, or just trying to stop them,” he said.

    Fraser River health should improve some with Moffat Collection System Project

    The plan includes environmental enhancements and protections to ensure the Fraser River will be better off with the Moffat Project than without it.

    Here’s a guest column from Kirk Klancke that’s running in the Boulder Daily Camera:

    As a long-time resident of Grand County, I’ve been disappointed by recent articles in the Camera about the Moffat Firming Project permit and especially about the west slope implications of the project. Coverage has been misleading in highlighting potential negative environmental impacts while ignoring the stream habitat improvements and flow benefits in the permit that will actually improve the health of the Upper Colorado River system.

    It’s important for readers to get the total picture in weighing the environmental impacts of the project.

    Trout Unlimited is also a group “dedicated to protecting and restoring the Colorado River” — and we’ve spent more than a decade closely following the proposed Moffat project and working to protect the Upper Colorado. Then, a couple years ago, TU helped negotiate a settlement with Denver Water and local stakeholders in Grand County that included tough permit requirements that we believe will best protect the Upper Colorado and Fraser Rivers.

    It’s true that the Moffat project will increase total diversions from the Colorado headwaters. But the project will also provide significant help to rivers and streams currently impacted by transmountain diversions, including streams diverted to meet Boulder’s water supply (through the Windy Gap project). Under terms of their permit, Denver Water must undertake mitigation and enhancement measures that will actually improve the health of streams.

    For instance, as part of its commitments, Denver Water will manage diversions to help provide needed flushing flows on the Fraser and its tributaries, complete habitat and native trout restoration work in the Williams Fork basin, and contribute funds toward projects like the Fraser Flats restoration project that is already underway to improve stream and riparian habitat.

    Most significantly, Denver Water will participate in an ongoing adaptive management program called “Learning by Doing” through which Denver, Grand County, Trout Unlimited and other local stakeholders are cooperating to apply mitigation and enhancement resources, monitor river and watershed conditions and make adjustments to achieve the best results over time. These efforts were launched even before Denver received their federal approvals.

    While my efforts have focused on Grand County, I know that Denver Water has looked for partnerships on the east slope as well. For example, as part of the project, they will provide 5,000 acre-feet of storage in the enlarged reservoir for Boulder and Lafayette to use in providing in-stream flows at critical times, to keep downstream stretches of South Boulder Creek healthy and flowing.

    Denver Water’s plans to enlarge Gross Reservoir certainly will have significant impacts on Boulder County, including disruption to lives and property around the reservoir area during construction — but these are mostly temporary impacts. It’s important to look at the project’s long-term benefits to our rivers and streams as well as to our water security.

    For years I saw Denver Water as my community’s public enemy number one. But in recent times Denver Water has demonstrated a willingness to work as a partner to keep the Upper Colorado River healthy. This collaboration among stakeholders represents the best opportunity to protect and preserve the Upper Colorado River into the future.

    Indeed, it’s already working.

    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.

    @Colorado_TU: Colorado River restoration project secures $7.75 million grant

    Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer's office
    Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer’s office

    Here’s the release from Colorado Trout Unlimited (Drew Peternell, Matt Rice, Paul Bruchez):

    The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) today announced $7.75 million in funding for an ambitious slate of projects to address the impacts on the Colorado River of trans-mountain diversions of water from the West Slope to the Front Range. Fisheries conservation group Trout Unlimited is the lead partner on the grant application.

    The Colorado River Headwaters Project received $7,758,830 from the NRCS’s Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) to improve irrigation systems and reverse the decline in water quality and fish habitat in the headwaters of the Colorado River.

    Led by an array of partners representing conservation interests, agriculture, local government, water providers, state agencies, and landowners, the Headwaters Project will create a bypass channel to reconnect the Colorado River at Windy Gap Reservoir, make channel and habitat improvements downstream of the bypass near Kremmling, Colorado, and improve irrigation systems as well as soil and water quality.

    When fully implemented, the Headwaters Project will directly benefit more than 30 miles of the Colorado River and 4,500 acres of irrigated lands that provide sage grouse habitat and make available up to 11,000 acre-feet of water to improve the river during low-flow conditions.

    “This is a huge win for the Colorado River,” said Drew Peternell, director of Trout Unlimited’s Colorado Water Project. “We’re seeing an exciting and ambitious conservation vision for the upper Colorado become reality. With this funding, we’ll be able to put the ecosystem pieces of the upper Colorado River back together and restore the river and its trout fishery to health.”

    “The Colorado River Headwaters Project is a great example of how municipal water providers, ranchers, conservation organizations and others can work together to restore an important reach the Colorado River for both the environment and agricultural operations with benefits downstream,” said Matt Rice, director of American River’s Colorado River Basin Program. “A collaboration like this would have been unheard of 10 years ago. It’s a win for everyone in Colorado.”

    At present, transmountain diversions divert over 60 percent of the upper Colorado River’s native flows across the Continental Divide for use in the Front Range and northern Colorado. The resulting low flows in the river have seriously undermined the operations of irrigation systems and the health of the Colorado River in the project area. Low flows make it difficult for irrigators to divert water, especially during drought, and also raise water temperatures and hamper the river’s ability to transport sediment, leading to sediment buildup on the riverbed that degrades aquatic habitat.

    Local ranchers wanted to address these irrigation problems as well as river health, said Paul Bruchez, a Kremmling-area rancher who organized his neighboring landowners into the Irrigators of Land in Vicinity of Kremmling (ILVK) group, a key project partner. The project will install several innovative instream structures designed to provide adequate water levels for irrigation while also improving critical fish habitat. This will be the first project in the country to demonstrate these stream engineering practices on a significant scale.

    “This news is life-changing for the headwaters of the Colorado River and those who rely on it,” said Bruchez. “Years ago, water stakeholders in this region were at battle. Now, it is a collaboration that will create resiliency and sustainability for the health of the river and its agricultural producers. Healthy ranches need healthy rivers, and the RCPP funding will help sustain both.”

    The Windy Gap Reservoir bypass and the Kremmling area river improvements address several pieces of the puzzle in a long-term, regional effort to restore the upper Colorado River. Other pieces include agreements that TU helped negotiate with Denver Water and the Northern Colorado Water District that contained significant river protections as well as an innovative, long-term monitoring and adaptive management process (called “Learning by Doing”) that requires stakeholders to work together to ensure the future health of the river.

    That progress and collaboration is all the more remarkable coming after years of conflict between West Slope interests and conservation groups concerned about the health of the river, and Front Range water providers seeking to divert more water across the Divide.

    “What’s happening on the upper Colorado shows that water users can work together to ensure river health while meeting diverse uses,” said TU’s Peternell. “This project is a model of what cooperation and collaboration can achieve in meeting our water challenges in Colorado and the Colorado River Basin.”

    Other Headwaters Project partners who will provide assistance include the ILVK, Northern Water Conservation District, Denver Water, Colorado River Conservation District, Middle Park Soil Conservation District, Colorado Water Conservation Board, Grand County, and Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

    “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.

    #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