Here’s the release from the Colorado River District (Andy Mueller):
Please join us for a free, educational webinar hosted by the Colorado River District and the Center for Snow and Avalanche Studies on Tuesday, April 2nd, from 12:00 to 1:00pm.
“Know Your Snow” will provide important updates on current snowpack conditions, ongoing drought in the Colorado River Basin, threats posed to our water supply by dust on snow, and an overview of changing runoff trends important to water users on Colorado’s Western Slope.
Officials at the Colorado River Water Conservation District say the market for additional water sales to cities and the energy sector from water it owns in four Western Slope reservoirs, including Ruedi Reservoir, is flat or declining.
However, the potential to sell water from the reservoirs to increase flows in rivers for environmental purposes holds promise.
As part of a Feb. 15 workshop on the river district’s financial outlook, which is challenged by the effects of two Colorado laws that put limits on property-tax revenue, district officials briefed the district’s board of directors on the potential to increase revenue to the district from additional water sales.
Today, the district’s enterprise fund brings in about $1.2 million a year from the sale of about a third of the 24,400 acre-feet of water it has available for sale in Ruedi, Wolford, Elkhead and Eagle Park reservoirs.
But there does not appear to be much future demand for the district’s unsold water.
“Municipal entities that could benefit from either Ruedi or Wolford water are already well situated for the foreseeable future through existing Ruedi and Wolford contracts,” district general manager Andy Mueller said in a Feb. 11 memo to the board of directors. “Energy demands are expected to remain modest or potentially decline as the principal use for our marketing pool by industry has been for frac water and ancillary uses. Again, absent some large-scale, industrial demand (historically, oil shale development) demands are expected to be flat.”
The district owns 11,413 acre-feet of marketable water in Ruedi Reservoir, which holds about 102,000 acre-feet of water behind a dam on the Fryingpan River above Basalt.
Today, the district has existing sales contracts to deliver to various customers 5,263 acre-feet of water from Ruedi, leaving 6,150 acre-feet of water available to sell.
In Wolford Reservoir, the district has 8,100 acre-feet of water set aside for sales. Wolford is owned and operated by the river district and located on Muddy Creek, a tributary of the Colorado River above Kremmling. The district now has sales contracts for 3,038 acre-feet of water from Wolford, leaving 5,062 acre-feet available to sell.
In Elkhead Reservoir, on Elkhead Creek, a tributary of the Yampa River near Craig, the district has 4,457 acre-feet of water available for sale but has contracts for only 100 acre-feet of the water.
And the district owns 432 acre-feet of water in Eagle Park Reservoir, which is on the upper Eagle River. Of that, 254 acre-feet is under contract, leaving 178 acre-feet to sell.
But according to Mueller, Wolford contracts have decreased since 2009 and Ruedi contracts have been flat or decreased since 2013.
A recent exception to the trend at Ruedi is a lease for water that the district signed in July with a state agency, the Colorado Water Conservation Board, for $229,000.
In exchange for the money, the district will ask the Bureau of Reclamation, which manages Ruedi, to release this year up to 3,500 acre-feet of water from the reservoir.
Releases of the water will be timed to boost instream flows in the Fryingpan River during the winter to prevent icing and to increase flows in the Colorado River later in the year to help preserve habitat for endangered fish in the “15-mile reach” below Palisade. (The Fryingpan flows into the Roaring Fork River in Basalt, and the Fork flows into the Colorado River in Glenwood Springs).
“There is a growing trend and acceptance for paying market rates for in-channel water,” Mueller said in his memo. “Evidence is the 3,500 AF lease to the CWCB, as well as prices paid for various non-diversion agreements in recent years. Staff recommends that the enterprise (fund) pursue creative ways to monetize our marketable yield for in-channel beneficial uses while preserving our ability to meet municipal and industrial demands when they arise.”
Tom Gray, who represents Moffat County on the river district board, was bullish on the idea of using water stored in reservoirs to bolster flows in the state’s rivers as an alternative to drying up agricultural fields to do so.
“I think in all the basins there is going to be money for that,” Gray said. “I think there is opportunity there.”
Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism covers rivers and water in collaboration with The Aspen Times and other Swift Communications newspapers. The Times published a version of this story on Sunday, Feb. 24, 2019, as did the Glenwood Springs Post Independent and the Summit Daily News.
Facing financial headwinds, the directors of the Colorado River Water Conservation District are leaning toward asking voters in November for relief from the Gallagher Amendment, which limits residential property-tax revenue to the district.
During a five-hour “fiscal workshop” Friday in Glenwood Springs, the river district’s directors reviewed how Gallagher shifts the tax burden away from the growing residential sector to the commercial and industrial sectors, which ends up reducing property tax revenue for the district. And the district gets 97 percent of its revenue from property taxes.
For most of 2018 it looked like the river district was facing, under Gallagher’s provisions, a $370,000 hit to its $4.5 million budget. But a January estimate put the number at $77,000.
While that’s better news for the district’s 2020 budget than anticipated, the Gallagher Amendment, named for the state legislator, Dennis Gallagher, who drafted it in 1982, “will continue to negatively impact the district in the future,” according to a Feb. 11 memo to the district’s board from general manager Andy Mueller.
“We want to stress that there is not an immediate financial crisis in the district and that the district is currently in solid fiscal health,” Mueller also wrote. But he noted that “since 2012 the district general fund revenues have remained relatively flat while our expenses, have climbed at an average rate of approximately 3% per year.”
The river district was created by the state legislature in 1937 to protect and develop water supplies in 15 Western Slope counties, including Pitkin, Eagle and Garfield. County commissioners appoint its directors to three-year terms.
The organization works on shaping state and regional water policy, securing and using Western Slope water rights, operating two reservoirs, managing grants for irrigation efficiency measures, and other initiatives related to the Colorado River and its tributaries.
Mueller warned the district’s directors about potential “significant harm” to the river district’s revenue stream from the combined limitations of Gallagher and 1992’s Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, or TABOR, which are made worse for the district by rising residential property values on the Front Range and a sagging energy sector on the Western Slope.
“The resultant effect of these caps has been and threatens to continue to be a diminishing of the district’s ability to provide services to our growing population and to our ability to successfully achieve our mission of developing and protecting our district’s water resource,” Mueller said in his memo.
At the end of Friday’s fiscal workshop the consensus among the directors was that asking voters in the district for relief from Gallagher in 2019 had the brightest short-term prospects, and they directed staff to proceed with developing a potential ballot question.
“Delaying this just makes this worse,” said Dave Merritt, who represents Garfield County on the river district board, which he also chairs. “We have an impending problem.”
Mueller said the staff needed more time to work with outside legal counsel on the nuances of both Gallagher and TABOR before bringing a specific question back to the board.
Martha Whitmore, who represents Ouray County on the river district board, said tax–related questions, especially for operations, can be hard to pass.
“I think we have to be really careful and pick the one that has the least resistance,” Whitmore said.
The river district in the past has asked voters for relief from the tax rate and revenue limitations of TABOR, but without success.
In 2002, ballot question 4A sought to increase the river district’s taxing rate, or mill levy, but it failed 66,946 to 53,745, or 55 percent to 45 percent.
In 2003, another ballot question, also named 4A, asked voters if the river district could keep revenue that surpassed the limits set by TABOR, but not increase its mill levy. That also failed, 51,840 to 40,141, or 56 percent to 44 percent.
Now the river district is exploring if it should follow in the shoes of Colorado Mountain College, which won voter approval to “de-Gallagherize” its district in November.
The college’s district includes Pitkin, Eagle, Garfield, Summit, Routt and Lake counties, and all of them but Lake County also are within the river district’s boundaries.
So, when CMC’s ballot question was approved 72 to 28 percent it did not go unnoticed by the river district.
The river district’s boundaries also include all of Mesa, Rio Blanco, Moffat, Gunnison, Delta, Grand and Ouray counties, and parts of Montrose, Saguache and Hinsdale counties.
Mesa County, home to Grand Junction, is the crux county for a potential river district ballot question, as it has the most active voters. In 2016, 107,000 of the 329,000 voters in the river district’s territory were in Mesa County. And of those, 41,460 were active Republican voters.
CMC’s well-crafted 2018 ballot question started with the phrase “without raising additional tax revenues in the year in which the mill levy is adjusted,” as opposed to an opening required phrase that tax-weary voters often search for, and reject, on ballots: “shall taxes be increased …”
The CMC ballot language also included a positive-sounding reference to maintaining “affordable college education” for firefighters, law enforcement officers, first responders, nurses and teachers.
With CMC’s recent success with voters in mind, the river district’s directors agreed Feb. 7 to hire the same expert attorney who worked on CMC’s ballot question.
And they approved a $30,000 survey of 500 active voters in the river district’s boundaries to see how a similar question might work for the river district.
The survey, conducted Feb. 7 to 11 online and on landlines and cellphones, sought reactions to a potential ballot question for the river district based on CMC’s winning question.
Like CMC’s question, the river district’s question started with the phrase “without raising additional tax revenues.”
But instead of mentioning firefighters and nurses, the river district’s potential question said it was for “continuing to legally fight to keep river water for use on the Western Slope” and “ensuring adequate supplies for farmers and ranchers in order to sustain local food production.”
The people polled liked what they heard, with 60 percent of people across the district saying they would vote for it, including in Mesa County. And those numbers went up to 72 percent when voters were informed again that the measure did not constitute a tax increase.
The Colorado River flows through the heart of Mesa County and its water makes the Grand Valley green. When the river drops due to drought, as it did in 2002, residents notice.
In late 2002, then Republican Congressman Scott McInnis, now a Mesa County commissioner, wrote a letter to editor of the Glenwood Springs Post Independent, supporting the river district’s ballot question seeking relief from TABOR.
“The good news is that the Colorado River District covers fifteen counties in Western Colorado, so a tiny increase in property taxes across the district raises sufficient investment to provide West Slope solutions to Western Colorado’s water supply problems,” McInnis wrote. “You all know that I am loathe to support tax increases of any kind; however, we survived this year’s drought on the investments of past generations, now we must each make a small investment to benefit the next generation.”
But river district staff members know that the wind can also blow upriver in Mesa County.
In a contentious December 2017 meeting Mesa County Commissioner Rose Pugliese questioned the river district’s expenses and the size of its 24-member staff, which includes water attorneys, engineers and public affairs experts.
The river district got the message, and took steps this year to cut costs during its 2019 budget planning cycle.
For example, the district’s grant program was put on hold to save $150,000 to $250,000 a year, a retirement-incentive program was started to reduce staff by three or four people by 2020 and save $300,000 to $400,000, and a 15 percent across-the-board reduction in expenses was built in to the 2020 budget.
“These efforts are needed, but they do not present a long-term fix to the district’s financial issues,” Mueller said in his memo, adding that if the Gallagher and TABOR issues were not resolved, “the district will need to make additional significant cuts in personnel, programs and services in the future.”
Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism covers rivers and water in collaboration with The Aspen Times and other Swift Communications newspapers. The Times published this story on Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2018. The Glenwood Springs Post Independent also published it on Feb. 19. The Summit Daily News published the story in its print edition on Feb. 20, 2019.
Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet today applauded the groundbreaking of the Fire Mountain Canal Improvement Project in the North Fork of the Gunnison River.
“Because our parents and grandparents made necessary investments in water infrastructure, agriculture has thrived on the Western Slope,” Bennet said. “We need to make these same investments for future generations. The demands on our rivers are greater than ever as we face the challenges of climate change and a growing population. Collaborative efforts like the Fire Mountain Canal Improvement project are critical to making irrigation systems more efficient to support our agricultural economy.
“Congratulations to all of the local, state, and federal partners who collaborated to make this project a reality. Our work to secure the Critical Conservation Area designation, and federal funding through the Farm Bill, are the first of many actions we can take to invest in Colorado’s water security,” Bennet concluded.
In 2014, Bennet secured the Critical Conservation Area (CCA) designation for the Colorado River Basin, making the lower Gunnison basin eligible for federal funding. As a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, Bennet then helped craft a new Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) in the 2014 Farm Bill, which secured $8 million for the Colorado River District project in the Lower Gunnison River Basin. In the 2018 Farm Bill, Bennet worked to reauthorize and increase funding for the RCPP and direct more funding toward water infrastructure and drought resilience across Colorado and the West.
The $4.6 million Fire Mountain Canal Improvement Project will build a buried, large-diameter pipeline along four miles of currently unlined canal. The project is part of the $50 million Lower Gunnison River Basin Project, spearheaded by the Colorado River District, with combined funding from the Natural Resources Conservation Service, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the Colorado Water Conservation Board, local water conservancy and conservation districts, and local irrigation companies such as the Fire Mountain Canal and Reservoir Company.
FromThe Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):
A sweeping, multi-entity effort in the lower Gunnison River Basin to boost irrigation efficiency and help the environment is marking a milestone with the start of work on a pipeline project in the North Fork Valley.
A groundbreaking celebration Tuesday marked the beginning of the Fire Mountain Canal Improvement Project. The $4.6 million undertaking, which is expected to take two years to complete, is part of the larger, $50 million Lower Gunnison Project.
The Fire Mountain work involves converting more than four miles of open, unlined, earthen canal to a buried, large-diameter pipeline.
That will eliminate water loss along the canal route and also result in a pressurized supply reaching irrigators who can then use methods such as sprinklers or drip systems to water crops more efficiently than with flood irrigation…
Dave Kanzer, deputy chief engineer with the Colorado River District, which is managing the Lower Gunnison Project, said the Fire Mountain project will benefit some 5,000 acres of irrigated ground.
The potential benefits to the Fire Mountain system were made evident last summer when drought taxed its water supply. Kanzer said Fire Mountain is what’s called a “water-short” system.
It has a brief, limited water supply season, relying on water from Paonia Reservoir and unable to tap supplies from the Gunnison River mainstem.
Kanzer said converting to sprinklers allows for switching to minimum- or low-till agriculture, which allows for carbon capture and accumulation of organic matter in soil, as an alternative to using chemical fertilizers.
These changes in irrigation approaches also mean less concentration of salts and other chemicals in soil, less salt and selenium in waterways and improved river flows, which benefit wildlife, including endangered fish downstream.
While several projects in the lower Gunnison basin have gotten underway as part of the umbrella Lower Gunnison Project, Kanzer said the Fire Mountain project is the first large one. A $5 million pipeline project in the Uncompahgre River Valley also is going forward this year, he said.
The Lower Gunnison Project incorporates funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the federal Bureau of Reclamation, the Colorado Water Conservation Board, local water conservancy and conservation districts, and irrigation companies including the Fire Mountain Canal and Reservoir Co.
The project is the product of a diverse partnership and is focusing on improving agricultural water use efficiency in areas covered by the North Fork Water Conservancy District, Bostwick Park Water Conservancy District near Montrose, the Crawford Water Conservancy District and the Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association.
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.”
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.
State cloud seeding programs. Graphic credit: The Huffington Post
Cloud seeding ground station. Photo credit H2O Radio via the Colorado Independent.
Instumentation cloud seeding research Colorado.
Cloud-seeding graphic via Science Matters
FromAspen 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.
FromAspen 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 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.