The latest “E-Newsletter” is hot off the presses from the Hutchins Water Center

Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:

RIVER DISTRICT SEMINAR TALKS
The Colorado River District’s annual seminar drew a big crowd and featured speakers with provocative ideas, like a “grand bargain” to cap upper basin uses in exchange for lifting the threat of a compact call by the lower basin. You can access video of the talks and the slides presented here.

Click here to view the Twitter storm from the seminar.

Crystal River study on backup supply plan being floated by conservation districts — @AspenJournalism

Sprinklers irrigate land on the east side of the Crystal River (in foreground) in August 2018, one of its driest years in recent history. A call by a downstream senior water rights holder during the drought of 2018 illustrated a long-simmering problem: several subdivisions in the Crystal River Valley don’t have back-up water plans. Photo credit: Heather Sackett/Aspen Journalism

From Aspen Journalism (Heather Sackett):

Two water-conservation districts are working to find solutions to a long-simmering problem on the Crystal River: In dry years, there may not be enough water for both irrigators and some residential subdivisions.

The Colorado River Water Conservation District and the West Divide Water Conservancy District plan to submit a state grant request for a feasibility study on a basinwide augmentation plan, or backup water supply plan, for the Crystal. The study would look at water demands and augmentation strategies, including the potential for a reservoir in or near the town of Marble.

he historic drought late in the summer of 2018 illustrated some long-acknowledged problems with water rights on the Crystal. In August and again in September, the Ella Ditch, which irrigates agricultural land south of Carbondale, placed a call on the river for the first time ever. This means, in theory, that junior-rights holders upstream have to stop taking water so that the Ella Ditch can receive its full decreed amount.

The Crystal River in August 2018 was running at 8 cfs near the state fish hatchery. Two conservation districts are hoping to get state funding for a study about water supply replacement plans for several subdivisions in the Crystal River Valley. Photo credit: Heather Sackett via Aspen Journalism

No back-up water supply

Most junior-rights holders have what’s known as an augmentation plan, which lets them continue using water during a call by replacing the called-for water with water from another source, such as a pond, a reservoir or an exchange.

The problem on the Crystal is that several subdivisions don’t have augmentation plans.

“This hasn’t been a surprise for at least 30 years,” said John Currier, chief engineer for the river district. “This is a well-known problem. The issue has been out there all the time, but the call is potentially becoming more frequent in those kind of dry years.”

The entities that were out of priority in 2018 — and therefore could potentially have water to homes shut off to satisfy a downstream call — include the town of Carbondale, the Marble Water Company, Chair Mountain Ranch, Crystal River Resort, Crystal View Heights and Seven Oaks Commons.

The Colorado Division of Water Resources, which administers the calls, sent these entities letters encouraging them to create an augmentation plan. Otherwise, their water could be shut off or they could be fined for every day they are using water out of priority when there is a future call by a downstream senior-rights holder.

Division 5 Water Engineer Alan Martellaro hopes it won’t come to that. Issuing fines won’t do anyone any good, he said.

“We basically told everybody: As long as we are moving forward and not dragging our feet, we are not going to issue any orders, especially since we are searching for regional answers,” Martellaro said.

The boundaries of the West Divide Conservancy District extend up the Crystal River Valley almost to McClure Pass. The district, along with the Colorado River Water Conservation District are submitting a state grant request for a feasibility study of a basin-wide augmentation plan.

Basinwide cooperation

West Divide, which is based in Rifle, with its boundary extending up the Crystal River Valley nearly to McClure Pass, sees the situation as an opportunity for basinwide cooperation to find what will probably be a multi-faceted solution. But that will require groups that were once at odds to work together.

“At this point, we are just getting back into this to see what’s feasible, and at this point we want to, and are open to, working with any interested parties up there,” said Bruce Wampler, a West Divide board member.

In 2011, the West Divide district and the Colorado River district abandoned their conditional water rights for nearly 200,000 acre-feet of water storage in the Crystal River drainage after local groups — Crystal River Caucus, Pitkin County Healthy Rivers and Crystal Valley Environmental Protection Association — opposed the reservoirs included in the conditional rights.

At the Gunnison Basin Roundtable meeting in Montrose on Sept. 16, Wendy Ryan, project manager for Colorado River Engineering, an engineering firm that works with West Divide, asked roundtable members for a letter of support for the grant application. (The town of Marble, which could be the site of storage, is in Gunnison County, but not in the Gunnison River basin.) Some roundtable members said they want to see the involvement of environmental groups before they would offer a letter of support.

“It’s going to be a hard nut to crack,” said Gunnison County Commissioner Jonathan Houck, a roundtable member.

As of Thursday, no members of the Pitkin County Healthy Rivers board said they had been informed of the grant application or the augmentation-plan study. The group officially opposes the construction of new storage facilities in the Crystal River watershed.

To get the state money from the Water Supply Reserve Fund, the feasibility study request must be approved first by the Colorado River Basin Roundtable and then the Colorado Water Conservation Board. The request, though not yet finalized, will probably be for roughly $100,000, Currier said.

West Divide introduced the proposal to the CBRT on Monday, and plans on putting forth a formal grant request in November.

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism collaborates with The Aspen Times and other Swift Communications newspapers on coverage of water and rivers. This story appeared in the Sept. 24 edition of the Times.

#YampaRiver Fund launch

A lovely curve on the Bear River, which is really the headwaters of the Yampa River. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

From Steamboat Today (Eleanor C. Hasenbeck):

On Thursday, Steamboat Resort announced that it plans to donate $500,000 to the Yampa River Fund as a founding donor to the new endowed fund, which will pay for projects to protect the Yampa River’s flow…

The Yampa River Fund will pay for three types of projects aimed at benefiting all water users, from South Routt ranchers to Steamboat rafters to people drinking water from Craig faucets and the endangered fish living in Dinosaur National Monument. This includes leasing water to boost flows in dry years, actions to restore the river health and water infrastructure improvements.

The $500,000 donations will be matched dollar for dollar under a million-dollar matching challenge grant, boosting the amount raised by the money to $1 million…

The Nature Conservancy will lead management of the fund until at least 2021.

Perlman said the resort is “putting their money where its mouth is” in supporting its core values, particularly collaboration and environment. This donation is the largest single cash donation since the resort was founded in 1963. Last week, Steamboat Resort also announced it has created a new department focused on environmental sustainability

The resort will donate $100,000 per year to the fund for the next five years.

Smith said Ski Corp.’s donation “lays a strong foundation for the effort to be successful.” Ski Corp. will participate in the fund’s board of directors and the smaller steering committee that will make funding decisions…

Ski Corp. will join about 20 other local governments, companies and organizations overseeing the fund’s operation. Other entities range from agricultural organizations, such as the Moffat County Cattleman’s Association and Community Agricultural Alliance, to nonprofits, such as the Yampa Valley Sustainability Council and Friends of the Yampa, to businesses, including Smartwool and Tri-State Generation and Transmission…

[Nancy Smith] also noted there’s still $2 million needed to reach organizers’ fundraising goal of $4.75 million over the next five years.

From the Craig Daily Press (Clay Thorp):

On Thursday, Sept. 19, community members gathered in Steamboat Springs for the launch of the Yampa River Fund, an endowed fund that will be used to fund projects to improve river health, protect the water supply, and boost river flow in dry years.

Currently the fund has about $2 million, but organizers plan to build the fund up to $5 million.

The Yampa River Fund specifically directs its money to goals included in several Northwest Colorado river management plans, including those created by the Yampa, White and Green River Basin Roundtable, and many others. These goals include protecting water users on the Yampa from curtailment, finding ways to address water shortages, and keeping water infrastructure up to date.

Another factor that instigated the water fund are the reservoir releases that are becoming a regular occurrence to increase river flow in dry years…

Other signatories that have joined Craig and Moffat County in the fund include the Colorado River District, the Colorado Water Trust, the Community Agriculture Alliance, Friends of the Yampa, Mount Werner Water and Sanitation District, Northwest Colorado Chapter of Parrotheads, Routt County, Smartwool, Steamboat Ski Resort, the Nature Conservancy, and the towns of Dinosaur, Hayden, Oak Creek, and Yampa…

The fund would have a steering committee of nine members along with a four-member board and the Nature Conservancy has apparently taken the lead on dispersing the funds. Any decision made on the board must be by unanimous consent, meaning if Moffat County doesn’t agree, it won’t happen…

Craig City Council signed the agreement at their Sept. 10 meeting. The city is interested in using the fund to possibly finance a diversion structure on the Yampa River near Loudy-Simpson park.

Yampa/White/Green/North Platte river basins via the Colorado Geological Survey

#ColoradoRiver District Annual Seminar

I’ll be at the Colorado River Water Conservation District Annual Seminar today. I will post the seminar hash tag as soon as we work it out this morning. You can follow along on my Twitter feed @CoyoteGulch.

Sunset from my campsite at the James M. Robb State Park Fruita Section, September 17, 2019.

I’ll try to catch up on posts this evening.

#ColoradoRiver District Annual Seminar, September 18, 2019, “Uncertainty, you can count on it” #COriver #aridification

Click here to register.

After nearly 30 years with the River District, Chris Treese set to retire on September 13, 2019 #ColoradoRiver #COriver

From The Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Thomas Phippen):

After 28 years with the River District, Treese is set to retire Sept. 13.

“Time really does fly, and the issues persist,” Treese said in an interview at his Glenwood Springs office, located across the street from Two Rivers Park, right beside the river that provides water to states in the Western U.S. and Mexico.

For the last third of the River District’s 82-year history, Treese has been the organization’s external affairs director, managing communication of the district’s mission to the public; to other nongovernmental organizations; and to local, state and the U.S. government.

And during that timeframe, change has been a consistent.

Water demands — and the way water is conserved — has changed somewhat.

As the Western Slope has grown, the meaning of conservation evolved, placing more value on environmental priorities and recreational use of the rivers. Conservation has come to mean something different and the advent of climate change has forced the River District to think in different ways.

“The conservation in our title, historically, meant building a dam to conserve spring runoff for later use, year-round allocation,” Treese said. “We have grown as the term has grown.”

[…]

Treese joined the River District as director of external affairs in 1991. He started as a one-man external affairs department, and now has four people working with him.

The River District is funded by a relatively small property tax, and is tasked with ensuring that water is conserved and managed to accommodate the many uses — from agriculture and oil extraction to providing cities with water and making sure there’s enough water in the river for recreation and the people downstream.

During the past 20 years, growing populations, shifting priorities and increased demand for water has needed many creative solutions, some of which Treese has been a part.

For example, Treese remembers the development of instream flow policies, which started out as a creative solution and is now precedent across the western states.

The instream flow doctrine is not a particularly recognized term but it was critical during the creation of the Dominguez Canyon Wilderness area around 2009.

“One of the core values in the West is protecting and maintaining the states water rights,” Treese said.

But with the creation of a wilderness area, the federal government naturally exerts control over the water. The Dominguez area, however, was downstream from non-wilderness streams, setting up a struggle between holders of water rights and the feds.

“We came up with an approach to the federal interest in water that implicitly relies on Colorado’s instream flow law,” Treese said.

WATER SCARCITY AND CLIMATE CHANGE

Treese has two degrees in economics, a bachelor’s from Colorado College and a masters from Denver University. He likes to joke his degrees “are largely irrelevant to my current field.”

But economics at its most fundamental level studies the allocation of scarce resources, and in the West, water qualifies — especially in a warming and unpredictable climate. Water consumption plus the demand for water in the rivers for fishing and recreation have placed strains on the system.

On top of that, “You have a supply that by almost all scientific accounts is diminishing,” Treese said. “The last two decades certainly point to it.”

“We have grown in the west where demand exceeds supply,” Treese said.

Still, it’s critical to plan for the uncertainty.

“Climate change is in every conversation,” Treese said. “It’s part of every future forecast. It’s a large part of what we’re doing now.”

[…]

Gov. Jared Polis appointed Treese this year to the Water and Power Development Authority, which implements federal funds for water treatment systems. Treese serves on the Water Education Colorado Foundation, and Garfield County asked him to facilitate a water forum for local governments and utilities. He also will stay on the Club 20 board for Garfield County, and on Glenwood Springs’ streams and rivers committee.

Treese’s experience in the world of water issues taught him a helpful lesson that could be expanded to a number of occupations.

“There is no guidebook, no textbook, there is no lesson plan,” he said. “It’s getting out there, finding good people and working with them.”

Click here and here to view posts from Coyote Gulch that mention Chris. [ed. I misspelled his name many times over the years]

Chris Treese, Katie Melander, Coyote Gulch, Colorado Water Congress, January 2014

Reservoir agreement helps trout by borrowing endangered fish water — The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

Some rejiggering of reservoir operations in the upper Colorado River watershed is taking the heat off trout in Grand County through the early release of water that had been set aside for endangered fish in Mesa County.

The approach is being made possible by storing water elsewhere so it can be released for the endangered fish when they need it later.

Under the agreement involving the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and Colorado River District, an additional 35 cubic feet per second of water started being released last week from Lake Granby, also known as Granby Reservoir, in the Colorado River headwaters. That nearly doubled Colorado River flows immediately downstream.

The increased flows help reduce daytime temperatures in the river, which had begun topping 60 degrees and threatening the health of trout. The releases involve water normally stored in Granby for use in boosting flows in the river near Grand Junction for endangered fish such as the humpback chub and razorback sucker.

The endangered fish still will get water under the deal, however. In exchange for the additional water coming out of Granby, the river district is withholding 35 cfs of water from Wolford Mountain Reservoir, which sits above Kremmling on Muddy Creek, a Colorado River tributary. That’s below the problem stretch of the Colorado River, thanks to inflows to the river coming from Muddy Creek and other tributaries, so the Wolford water that’s being withheld doesn’t hold the importance to the trout that the released Granby water does.

“There’s plenty of water in the river except for in that stretch below Granby,” said Jim Pokrandt, a river district spokesman.

Pokrandt said the Colorado River is currently a “free river” right now in Colorado. There are no calls on it to meet the needs of senior water rights holders when flows are more limited. But the upper stretch in Grand County in the Hot Sulphur Springs area is depleted due to transmountain diversions to the Front Range.

Withholding the Wolford water means it will be available for the endangered fish during lower-flow periods on the Colorado River in Mesa County, in lieu of the water that is being released from Granby.