#ColoradoRiver water district (@ColoradoWater) endorses state policy on #LakePowell #drought plan — @AspenJournalism #COriver #aridification #CRWUA2018

A heron on a big sandbank in upper Lake Powell, above Hite. As the big reservoir recedes due to almost 20 years of drought in the Colorado River basin, new sights are emerging. A regional effort to send more water into Lake Powell in a new regulatory pool of water is gaining momentum in anticipation of a regional water meeting in mid-December in Las Vegas. Photo credit: Aspen Journalism/Brent Gardner-Smith

From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith):

The directors of the Colorado River Water Conservation District voted Monday to endorse a new state policy regarding “drought contingency planning” designed to bolster water levels in Lake Powell and Lake Mead, with the larger goal of avoiding violating the Colorado River Compact.

The support of the River District board, which represents 15 Western Slope counties, was expected. The district’s general manager, Andy Mueller, spoke in favor of the policy before the CWCB directors unanimously voted to approve it Nov. 15 at a meeting in Golden.

Expected or not, the support by the River District board was seen a key step in the fast-moving effort to get the four states in the upper Colorado River basin, Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and New Mexico, and the three states in the lower river basin, California, Arizona and Nevada, to keep working together on a plan to keep the two biggest reservoirs on the river system functioning as intended.

Lake Powell today is 43 percent full. The giant reservoir formed by Glen Canyon Dam typically receives 10.3 million acre-feet of water flowing into it from the Colorado, Green and San Juan rivers each year. But annual inflows have been less than 5 million acre-feet for seven of the past 18 years, and have been below average for 15 of the past 18 years, according to a summary of recent water meeting at Colorado Mesa University prepared by Ken Ransford, the secretary of the Colorado River Basin Roundtable.

Water from the Roaring Fork, Fryingpan and Crystal rivers flows into the Colorado River in Glenwood Springs.

Water managers say three more dry years could leave the reservoir too low to make hydropower at the dam, and then if drought continues, too low to release enough water to meet the upper basin’s obligations to the lower basin, which could trigger a compact call.

The timing of the River District’s vote Monday was also important, as the seven basin states are working to gain basin-wide consensus on a series of related drought contingency agreements by the annual meeting of the Colorado River Water Users Association in Las Vegas from Dec. 12 to 14.

And if the River District had not endorsed the state’s new policy, it could have signaled discord on the plans between Colorado’s Western Slope and Front Range.

“We recognize that these policies are far from perfect. We do, however, believe that they represent a good-faith effort by the CWCB at demonstrating leadership and a commitment to many of the policies adopted by our board,” Mueller said in a Nov. 23 memo to the district’s board of directors.

The new Colorado policy, which has now been endorsed by the River District, voices the state’s support for setting up a regulated pool of water in Lake Powell designed to boost reservoir levels.

That pool of water — a tiny bucket within a very big bucket — is to be filled through a voluntary, temporary and compensated demand management, or water-use reduction, program that has yet to be set up across the upper basin states.

Colorado’s new policy also says if the voluntary program does not send enough water to the new pool in Lake Powell, and a mandatory curtail program is necessary to avoid a compact call, that such a mandatory program be set up only after a public process.

The policy also says that the voluntary program will be designed to cut back on water use on both sides of the Continental Divide so as to minimize economic hardship being focused on just one part of the state.

“One of the primary areas of concern for the West Slope conservation districts is that any demand management program not have disproportionate impacts on the West Slope and that water contributed to such a program be produced in rough proportion to the post compact depletions to the Colorado River system from both sides of the continental divide,” wrote Mueller in his Nov. 23 memo.

Marti Whitmore, who represents Ouray County on the River District board, put that concern in plain terms Monday: “I want the Front Range to actually have to turn off the spigot, so to speak.”

A raft coming out of Cataract Canyon into upper Lake Powell encounters the bathtub ring left by the receding reservoir. As Lake Powell, and Lake Mead, continue to see less and less water, it’s prompting water managers, including those at the Colorado River District, to coordinate on ways to send more water downstream. Photo credit: Aspen Journalism/Brent Gardner-Smith

Soft on prior appropriation?

The River District’s endorsement of the new state policy was not without some contention, including issues raised by Glenn Porzak, the water attorney for the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District and the Upper Eagle Regional Water Authority, which together provide water for 65,000 users in the Vail and Eagle County region.

Porzak had concerns about whether the state policy represented a retreat from the prior appropriation doctrine in Colorado, which is summed up by the phrase “first in time, first in right.”

In his letter, Porzak said language in the new state policy about potential future compact administration “is an obvious effort to protect transmountain diverters with junior water rights and should be alarming to all senior West Slope water managers, owners and organizations charged with protecting those rights.”

Porzak also questioned whether the CWCB would advocate in the future for strict adherence to the prior appropriation system, where junior water rights are cut off before senior rights, and especially water rights in use before the 1922 Colorado River Compact was signed.

“The lack of commitment to the state’s constitution and laws demonstrates its intent to deviate from them should a compact call occur,” Porzak said in his letter.

The River District board discussed Porzak’s concerns and then ended up taking three votes on carefully worded motions, all of which passed.

The first vote was to formalize the River District’s support for the regional drought contingency planning efforts and the setting up a voluntary demand management program in Colorado and the other upper basin states.

That motion also said “the River District will continue to advocate on behalf of West Slope water uses in future discussions concerning a demand management program.”

The second vote was to voice the district’s support for a public process in the event that a mandatory effort was needed.

And in response to Porzak’s concerns, that motion also said the River District will only support curtailment policies or actions that are consistent with the district’s own policies regarding the Colorado River Compact.

The River District’s policy, last updated in July, recognizes that some flexibility in how the prior appropriation system is administered may be needed in the future, given the complexity of actually curtailing water rights across four Western Slope river basins based strictly on their priority date.

The third vote taken Monday by the River District board was to support, in concept, the short piece of federal legislation that is soon to be introduced and is required to allow the drought contingency planning efforts to take effect.

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism covers water and rivers in collaboration with The Aspen Times and other Swift Communications newspapers. The Times published this story on Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2018.

Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer’s office

#ColoradoRiver: “We’re really talking about augmenting or increasing the water supply [via cloud seeding] for 40 million people that rely on the Colorado River Basin” — Dave Kanzer #COriver #aridification @ColoradoWater

From Aspen Public Radio (Elizabeth Stewart-Severy):

The Colorado River District says adding to the snowpack is one way to address dwindling water supplies; a study in Wyoming showed that, when the conditions are right, cloud seeding can increase snowfall by 5 to 15 percent per storm. That translates to a slight increase in water supplies — a 1 to 5 percent increase in snowpack-derived water.

Dave Kanzer, an engineer with the River District, said more efficient storms with more snowfall can mean more water across the West.

“We’re not just talking about one county and one city,” Kanzer said. “We’re really talking about augmenting or increasing the water supply for 40 million people that rely on the Colorado River Basin.”

The River District has ongoing cloud seeding operations across Colorado, all along the Continental Divide, but not in Aspen and Pitkin County.

“We are proposing to fill in those areas upstream toward Independence Pass, to include all of the Ski Co properties, and all of the upper Roaring Fork Watershed,” Kanzer said.

He will present a proposal for a three-year cloud-seeding program to Pitkin County’s Healthy Rivers Board at its meeting this Thursday. The River District has also been in talks with the City of Aspen and Aspen Skiing Company.

From Aspen Public Radio (Elizabeth Stewart-Severy):

Kanzer says the science is clear, but the process is not precise. A study conducted in Wyoming shows the conditions are only right in about 30 percent of storms, but when they are, cloud seeding can increase snowfall. That snowpack contributes to the water supply not just in the Roaring Fork Valley, but across the west.

“Even if we only increase the water supply by a small fraction, it can have wide ranging benefits,” Kanzer said, including more water in local rivers and more snow on the mountain.

The River District wants to see more cloud seeding activities in the Aspen area. On Thursday, the Pitkin County Healthy Rivers Board will hear a proposal from Kanzer about expanding cloud seeding activities. He also has met with City of Aspen water officials and Aspen Skiing Company.

Rich Burkley, vice president of mountain operations for SkiCo, said the company is interested in supporting the River District, but not as a business investment. The small increase in snowfall doesn’t translate to extra powder days for skiers and riders.

“A 10-inch storm going to a 10.5-inch storm, doesn’t really do too much,” Burkley said.

While cloud seeding might not be a boon for powder skiers, Burkley said SkiCo is supportive of any measures that might help the water supply. The company has offered to participate as a site for the generators and to help with manpower to operate them.

The River District is looking for funding from Pitkin County’s Healthy Rivers Board and the City of Aspen; the proposal would then need a permit from the State of Colorado.

Western Slope wants limits on water sent to #LakePowell in response to #drought — @AspenJournalism #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

A big beach during sunset in Cataract Canyon, above Lake Powell, on Oct. 1, 2018. Low flows in the Green and Colorado rivers have left Lake Powell less than half full and left big beaches along the rivers above the falling reservoir. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith):

Western Slope water managers have doubled down on their position that they will oppose federal legislation creating a new regulated pool of water to boost the falling level of Lake Powell unless Colorado adopts a policy that the pool should be filled only on a voluntary basis.

At a well-attended water meeting last week, Andy Mueller, the general manager of the Colorado River Water Conservation District, said that without a new state policy putting limits on how water can be stored in the big reservoir, “You will find that our district, the Southwest District and hopefully others will be, frankly, opposing the federal legislation.”

Mueller said his district and the Southwestern Water Conservancy District “have to have those guidelines” in order to protect agriculture on the Western Slope, a stance first expressed by both districts in September.

In response to the Western Slope’s concerns, a policy on how to fill a new “demand management storage” pool in Lake Powell is being drafted by the staff of the Colorado Water Conservation Board for review by the agency’s directors Nov. 15.

“I can’t say with certainty, but I believe that policy will be established and will allay the concerns that we’ve heard,” Steve Anderson, a CWCB board member representing the Gunnison River Basin, said Tuesday at the meeting.

But there may be still be a gap between the protections the Western Slope wants and the Front Range’s stance, which is that it may be necessary to fill the proposed pool of water in Lake Powell through mandatory cutbacks in water use if voluntary efforts are not enough.

Water managers from Southern California to Wyoming are watching the ongoing debate because if Colorado can’t reach a consensus, an ongoing effort to establish a “drought contingency planning” program could falter.

Draft “DCP” agreements are now under review in seven states. They would change the way water is stored in Lake Mead, which primarily affects the lower Colorado River Basin states of California, Arizona and Nevada.

In the upper-basin states of Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and New Mexico, the DCP agreements would set up a process to release water from Flaming Gorge, Blue Mesa and Navajo reservoirs, if necessary.

The agreements also would create a pool of water in Lake Powell that would be shielded from current regulations that balance water levels in both Lake Powell and Lake Mead.

Regional water officials are working hard to gain widespread consensus by Dec. 14 for the DCP agreements in both the upper and lower basins, and given how slow water policy usually moves, it’s a tight timeline.

The necessary federal legislation to implement the program may be introduced during the coming lame-duck session in Congress, and any significant opposition to the legislation, such as that from the Colorado River district, could derail the effort.

And the differing views between Western Slope and Front Range water managers now appear to be the largest obstacle to gaining consensus in the four upper-basin states.

“I’m not aware of any other issue that has risen to the top like this,” said Amy Haas, the executive director of the Upper Colorado River Commission, which is coordinating the upper basin’s drought contingency efforts. “I know that some discussions have been difficult in other states, but not to this degree.”

Officials on both the Western Slope and the Front Range do agree on many aspects of demand management storage in Lake Powell, which is designed to keep Glen Canyon Dam both producing hydropower and releasing enough water to meet the requirements of the 1922 Colorado River Compact.

They agree that such a program should include equitable reductions in the use of water from both sides of the Continental Divide.

And they agree that the effort should start with a “voluntary, temporary and compensated” approach, with the goal of incentivizing irrigators to fallow fields and send the conserved water downriver to Lake Powell.

But where they differ is the potential use of mandatory reductions in water use if voluntary measures are not enough to keep Glen Canyon Dam operating as usual.

In a Sept. 17 letter to the CWCB, the Colorado River and the Southwestern districts said the state must declare that “Colorado’s contributions to the demand management program will be generated exclusively through voluntary, temporary and compensated contributions of water.”

The key word there is “exclusively.”

The two districts also said they were concerned “that a demand management program might morph into a mandatory ‘anticipatory curtailment’ program or something else that has not been publicly vetted.”

Meanwhile, the Front Range Water Council, which includes the biggest water providers from Pueblo to Fort Collins, told the CWCB in a Sept. 13 letter that if there is not enough water generated through a voluntary program, the state “may wish to pursue alternative measures to ensure continued compliance with the Colorado River Compact.”

To Western Slope officials, “alternative measures” sounds like mandatory “anticipatory curtailment,” where water rights are cut back by the state to avoid a compact call.

State officials continue to stress that the state is not developing a mandatory curtailment program and is only focusing on a voluntary program.

However, the Colorado River District’s Mueller has been telling Western Slope water managers that the Front Range, which uses large amounts of water from the Colorado River, is eager for mandatory curtailment.

“There are major water users, major interests in this state on the Front Range, who are talking about that,” Mueller said Tuesday at the water meeting, which was attended by about 200 Western Slope water managers and users. “Because they either don’t think we are going to get the money for a voluntary program or maybe they see advantages to be had in mandatory curtailment.”

But Jim Lochhead, the CEO of Denver Water and the president of the Front Range Water Council, on Friday rejected Mueller’s assertions that it was pushing for mandatory curtailment.

“That’s not our preference, that’s not our hope, that’s not what we want to see — it’s just reality,” Lochhead said. “It may happen. I hope it doesn’t happen. But it’s not something we’re rolling out, and the first priority should be voluntary, temporary and compensated.”

But he also said, “At the end of the day, if we’re in trouble from a compact standpoint, the state is going to have to exercise its authority.”

Aspen Journalism collaborates with The Aspen Times and other Swift newspapers on coverage of rivers and water. The Times published this story on Monday, Oct. 29, 2018. The Glenwood Springs Post Independent also published it on Oct. 29. The Summit Daily News published the story in its print edition on Oct. 30.

#ColoradoRiver District wants state policy on potential water-use cutbacks — @AspenJournalism #COriver #aridification @ColoradoWater @CWCB_DNR

A big beach on the lower Green River in late September is indicative of the low flows in 2018, which have caused water levels in Lake Powell to continue to drop. Plans to bolster flows in the reservoir by sending water down the Green and Colorado rivers is raising hard questions for Western Slope irrigators.

From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith):

Before the Colorado River District will support pending federal legislation allowing drought contingency plans in both the upper and lower Colorado River basins to proceed, it wants the state of Colorado to adopt a policy putting limits on a new water-use reduction program designed to bolster water levels in Lake Powell.

That was the clear message from the River District board that general manager Andy Mueller said he received during a passionate discussion during a district meeting Tuesday.

“Most of the board is saying that at a bare minimum we have to have the state, the Colorado Water Conservation Board, affirm that there are in fact some sideboards and protections from the risks we face,” Mueller said, in summarizing the board’s discussion. “We’ve got to have some principles that guide the way this program is set up, and its consistency with the state water plan.”

Mueller said the program has to be consistent with the state water plan, there has to be an equitable distribution of wet water coming from both the Front Range and the Western Slope, and the program has to be voluntary, temporary and compensated.

“This board is not OK with the idea of a mandatory curtailment to fill a demand management pool,” Mueller said. “We don’t feel that there is legal or statutory authority for such a program.”

The concerns of the River District directors stem from an ongoing multi-state effort to create and gain approval for “drought contingency plans” in the lower and upper basins.

The lower basin states include California, Arizona and Nevada, and the upper basin states include Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and Nevada.

And as part of the regional “DCP” effort, it is anticipated that federal legislation will be required to implement changes to how water is managed in the upper and lower basins, with the goal of keeping enough water in Lake Mead and Lake Powell to keep those massive reservoirs functioning in the face of an ongoing 18-year drought.

The proposed changes include modifying the current regulations that guide how much conserved, or saved, water can be stored in Lake Mead by lower basin entities.

The changes include developing a plan to release water in a coordinated fashion from Flaming Gorge, Blue Mesa and Navajo reservoirs, which can send water down the Green, Colorado and San Juan rivers, respectively, to Lake Powell.

And the changes include creating a legally secure pool of water in Lake Powell to be filled with water conserved after fallowing fields, primarily, in Colorado, Wyoming and Utah.

Officials from Los Angeles to Salt Lake City who are working on the drought contingency plans say legislation will be submitted to Congress during the lame-duck session after the midterm elections.

And it’s widely assumed that such legislation will pass only if there is no opposition from entities that would be affected, such as the Colorado River District, which represents 15 Western Slope counties.

Mueller said Wednesday he was “cautiously optimistic” that the CWCB, a state agency that manages water planning, will adopt a guiding policy at its November board meeting about the creation of a demand management program.

And a senior CWCB official Wednesday offered reasons for Mueller’s optimism, including that such a policy is now being drafted for the board’s consideration.

“The policy statement will be informed by the public testimony, letters received, and the feedback we’ve heard from stakeholders around the state in the past year of aggressive public outreach,” said Brent Newman, who is the section chief of CWCB’s Interstate, Federal and Water Information Section and the state agency’s point person on Colorado River issues. “Because we’re hoping to respond and provide CWCB leadership to concerns that our partners and stakeholders have raised, it will likely address these issues.”

Newman also emphatically told the river district’s directors Tuesday that the state is not working on a mandatory curtailment program to avoid a call on the river system under the 1922 Colorado River Compact.

“Not myself, not the CWCB staff, not our board, not the Attorney General’s Office, not the division of water resources, not the state engineer, none of us at the state are assessing or recommending any kind of mandatory anticipatory curtailment scenario,” Newman said. “That is not in our books. Yes, we’ve had some water users say that if voluntary, temporary and compensated isn’t sufficient, you may have to look at this. We are not doing that.”

It was also made clear during the river district’s meeting that “anticipatory mandatory curtailment” of water rights in Colorado is seen as a direct threat to family-run farms and ranches on the Western Slope.

“If we want to push the Western Slope to the brink, where people start to actually sit down at the kitchen table and consider whether or not they ought to sell the farm to some outside-the-Western-Slope interest, this is how we get there,” said Marc Catlin, who represents Montrose County on the River District’s board, and also represents District 58 in the Colorado House.

After Catlin’s comments, many other River District board members said they agreed.

“This just shows how important it is to get the demand-management program right, and that we don’t rush into a demand-management pool in Lake Powell before we’ve had this discussion and before we’ve agreed to a policy and principles to guide us,” said Tom Alvey, the current president of the district’s board, who represents Delta County. “From all the perspective of water users on the Western Slope, there is huge concern about this.”

Aspen Journalism is covering rivers and water in the Colorado River basin in collaboration with The Aspen Times and other Swift newspapers. The Times published this story on Thursday, Oct. 18, 2018.

Colorado River District leaders to discuss idea of mandatory water cuts across state — @AspenJournalism

Drying in process on the Colorado River, where Lake Powell once stood, in early October 2018. Photo credit: Aspen Journalism/Brent Gardner-Smith

From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith) via The Aspen Times:

How Colorado may respond to a growing call to reduce water uses on the Colorado River system will be the subject of a robust discussion today in Glenwood Springs as the Colorado River District board gathers for its fall quarterly meeting.

Andy Mueller, the district’s general manager, said he expects the prospect of the state developing a mandatory program to reduce water use to generate “a very lively and upfront discussion” among the district’s board members, who represent 15 Western Slope counties, including Pitkin, Eagle and Garfield.

Last week, four draft agreements were unveiled by various entities that provide the basis for drought contingency plans being developed in the upper and lower Colorado River basins.

The upper basin’s plans include seeking federal approval to store water in Lake Powell to bolster the reservoir’s dropping water level without the water being released to the lower basin under existing guidelines and regulations.

The ability to develop a secure “demand management pool” of water in Lake Powell and other upper basin reservoirs is seen as a key element by water managers working to create a program in Colorado that would pay water users to reduce the amount of water they use on a “voluntary, temporary and compensated” basis.

However, such storage also is key to developing a demand management program that is mandatory and uncompensated, which Front Range water users recently told the state they expect may be necessary in the face of declining natural water supplies due to global carbon burning.

To date, officials at the state’s Colorado Water Conservation Board who are working on a demand management program insist they are only considering a voluntary, temporary and compensated program. They are reluctant to discuss the possibility of a mandatory program.

But there is increasing recognition on both sides of the Continental Divide that a mandatory program may, in fact, be necessary if the ongoing drought persists.

“While our district has opposed the mandatory demand management model without a proper public discussion and consensus, we recognize that the overuse in the lower basin, coupled with the continuation of extremely poor hydrology, may in the future cause us all to support or at least be willing to endure an anticipatory mandatory curtailment,” Mueller said in a Oct. 5 memo to the district’s board of directors.

He also said in his memo that officials with various Front Range water providers recently told the Colorado Water Conservation Board “a voluntary program was a fine goal but that they believed the state needed to roll out a program which includes rules and requirements for mandatory anticipatory curtailment.”

John McClow, a former CWCB member, the general counsel for the Upper Gunnison Water Conservancy District in Gunnison and an alternate representative from Colorado on the Upper Colorado River Commission, said in an interview last week that the view of the Front Range water providers about the potential necessity of a mandatory program has some merit.

“The temporary, voluntary, compensated reduction in consumptive use is the way we have looked at since 2014, and that’s what the public is accustomed to,” McClow said. “And most of us think that’s a good idea. The problem we have, though, is what if it isn’t enough? What if it doesn’t work? There has to be a backup.

“Many people who are experienced and competent water managers are saying, ‘Look, it’s just not possible to make up the amount of the deficit through this voluntary program,'” McClow said. “There just aren’t players out there, and there isn’t enough money.”

But Mueller and McClow feel that the state, via the conservation board, has an obligation to try to reduce water use in the Colorado River system in a way that is equitable to agriculture and cities, on both sides of the Continental Divide.

“They have an obligation to work toward protecting all water users, East Slope, West Slope, etc.,” McClow said. “That’s the responsibility of the state.”

Mueller said last week he was heartened that the directors of the conservation board agreed Oct. 4 to draft a policy shaping a potential demand management program for Colorado that may address the River District’s concerns.

“I view that as a positive outcome and appreciate them taking that step,” Mueller said. “If we allow that (demand management) pool to be set up without a commitment by our state to stand by those principles that their staff has been out there talking about and endorsing, it gives great concern.”

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism is collaborating with The Aspen Times on coverage of rivers and water in the Colorado River basin. More at http://www.aspenjournalism.org.

#ColoradoRiver District “Risky Business on the Colorado River” slides and video are up on the district website #crdseminar #COriver

Click here to go to the Colorado River Water Conservation District website:

Our 15th Annual Water Seminar, “Risky Business on the Colorado River” was held on September 14th, 2018 in Grand Junction, Colorado.

We heard from speakers with Southern Nevada Water Authority, the Utah Division of Water Resources, a member of the Board of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, the Colorado River District and others as they discussed current conditions on the river and how water is managed.

#ColoradoRiver District GM unveils manifesto on water-use reductions — @AspenJournlism @ColoradoWater #COriver #crdseminar

A slide presented by Andy Mueller, general manager of the Colorado River District, on Sept. 14, 2018 at the district’s seminar called ‘Risky business on the Colorado River.’ The slide shows how water from the Colorado River system, within the state of Colorado, is used.

From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith):

Andy Mueller, the general manager of the Colorado River District, presented six principles last week to guide an emerging federal and state program designed to reduce water use in order to avoid a compact call on the Colorado River.

Mueller spoke at a seminar produced by the River District in Grand Junction that attracted 265 people. The theme of the seminar was “Risky Business on the Colorado River.”

(Also see, “River planning muddied up?” by Dennis Webb in Grand Junction Sentinel on Sept. 14).

The first two principles Mueller described Friday at the meeting relate to a legal bucket-within-a-bucket that the upper-basin states of Colorado, Utah and Wyoming plan to create through federal legislation in Lake Powell, which would allow the three states to control water that they deliver to the big federal reservoir through a demand management, or water-use reduction program.

The River District’s first principle is that such a storage program in Lake Powell should be “free of charge” and designed “for the benefit of the upper basin to avoid a compact violation.”

The district’s second principle says water stored in Lake Powell from a demand-management program should “not be subject to equalization or balancing releases from Lake Powell.”

That principle stems from a set of interim guidelines approved in 2007 by the upper-basin states and the lower-basin states of California, Arizona and Nevada that seek to use water from Lake Powell, when it is at certain levels, to keep Lake Mead operational.

Mueller and other upper-basin regional water managers think the guidelines, which expire in 2026, now allow the lower basin to take more water than they deserve under the 1922 Colorado River Compact.

Mueller told his audience that the demand-management pool to be created in Lake Powell is “for preventing lower-basin entities from sucking too much water down that river.”

So, the second principle is meant to protect the upper basin from the lower basin.

The other principles are designed to either protect the Western Slope from the state, which is discussing potential mandatory cutbacks in water use in order to avoid a compact call, or from the Front Range, which may support such a measure, according to Mueller.

Andy Mueller, the general manager of the Colorado River District, addressing a crowd of 265 water managers, users and stakeholders in Grand Junction on Friday at a River District seminar called ‘Risky business on the Colorado River.’ Mueller spelled out six principles the River District wants the state to embrace as it develops a ‘demand management’ program designed to get the state’s water users to reduce their water use in order to bolster levels in Lake Powell.

Depletions

The River District’s board members are determined to protect agricultural interests on the Western Slope, which use about 1.4 million acre-feet of water from the Colorado River system every year, mainly for irrigating alfalfa fields and pastures.

By comparison, Front Range cities use about 360,000 acre-feet of water a year from the Colorado River Basin through their transmountain diversion systems, which are junior to the 1922 Colorado River Compact.

And if those cities have that water cut off in the face of a call under the compact, Mueller said they would come buy out willing irrigators on the Western Slope and dry up their fields.

The River District’s third principle is that any use-reduction program in the upper-basin states must be “voluntary, temporary and compensated” and “must reflect proportionate contributions from each upper division state.”

Mueller said the River District supports a “guided market” approach to paying water users to use less water and let it flow instead to Lake Powell.

“What we’re opposed to is some form of mandatory uncompensated curtailment of water rights, whether it is pre- or post-compact,” he said.

The fourth principle is that there must be “no injury to other water rights.”

The fifth principle is that there must be “no disproportionate impacts to any single basin or region with Colorado.”

Mueller said Friday that the demand-management program must “make sure that the pain that comes with the reducing consumption of water is actually equitably distributed and applied to all users, everybody with a straw in the river.”

Mueller explained that the post-1922 water rights in the Colorado River basin are roughly split equally between the transbasin diverters on the Front Range and users on the Western Slope.

“These junior water rights that are diverting significant amounts of water to the Front Range, along with our junior water rights on the West Slope, are the ones that need to be willing to share in this demand-management program, in the intentional reduced use,” Mueller said.

The sixth principle is that a demand-management program must be consistent with what’s known as “the conceptual framework” in Colorado’s 2015 water plan relating to future potential transmountain diversions.

“We’re not going to curtail our uses on the West Slope and send demand-management water down to Lake Powell, only to have another transmountain diversion come in and suck water to the East Slope,” Mueller said. “That’s what the state agreed to when it agreed to the state water plan, and we’re saying that needs to be upheld.”

One of the slides in Andy Mueller’s presentation deck on 9.14.18.

Bar fight?

Mueller’s last slide said “the Colorado Water Conservation Board and the state engineer should agree to abide by these principles and not go beyond them without unanimous agreement among those entities charged with protecting the state.”

He plans to deliver that message to the CWCB when it meets Wednesday in Steamboat Springs.

On Tuesday, the River District also released a series of letters and a draft resolution on the issue, including a letter from the River District and the Southwestern Water Conservation District to the CWCB board, a draft resolution from the River District and Southwestern they want the CWCB to approve, a letter from the Colorado Basin Roundtable to the CWCB, and a letter from the Front Range Water Council to the CWCB.

The letter from the Front Range Water Council, an ad hoc collection of the largest water providers on the Front Range, was dated Sept. 13. It includes a reference to the possibility of a non-voluntary water curtailment program in the upper Colorado River basin states of Colorado, Utah and Wyoming.

“If the quantity of conserved water made available through a voluntary compensated demand management program is not sufficient to ensure compliance with the Colorado River Compact,the state of Colorado and the Upper Colorado River Commission may need to adopt alternative measures to generate water for storage in an Upper Division storage account,” the letter states. “We will work with the state of Colorado to develop an alternative mechanism for generating conserved water for the Upper Division storage account.”

In its letter to the CWCB, the Colorado River District and the Southwestern River District, stressed the need for consensus, and their inclusion, on any sort of mandatory curtailment program.

“We are concerned about recent discussions that a demand management program might morph into a mandatory ‘anticipatory curtailment’ program or something else that has not been publicly vetted,” said the letter. “That is the reason we request that the CWCB adopt of (sic) formal resolution or policy-statement regarding a demand management program, and that the CWCB commit that such a program be consistent in particular with Principle 4 of the Conceptual Framework set forth in the Colorado Water Plan.”

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism is collaborating with The Aspen Times, the Glenwood Springs Post Independent, the Vail Daily and other Swift Communications outlets on the coverage of rivers and water.