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.
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.”
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.
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.”
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.
FromWestern Slope Now (John Madden). Click through for the TV footage:
Since there is no substitute for water, many gathered at the Two Rivers Convention Center to discuss current conditions of the river, and plans by western states on what to do to protect our water supplies.
The Colorado River District held their 2018 Water Seminar focused on the Colorado River.
They discussed handling the growing demand for water, how other states like Utah use the river, plans to combat drought, and climate change conditions.
The seminar went over several studies including one that looked at how Lake Powell could be drained if the current drought continues and how that would impact Colorado.
FromThe Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):
The general manager of the Colorado River District on Friday voiced strong criticism over what he fears is a lack of transparency when it comes to discussions over how to manage water in response to drought.
Andy Mueller raised his concerns during a district water seminar in Grand Junction that focused on contingency planning measures aimed at responding to the potential of a continuation of a long-term drought within the river basin.
Mueller specifically cited the district’s understanding that Colorado and other states may execute a series of documents as soon as the end of the month, including a demand-management plan for states in the Upper Colorado River Basin.
“We have a very serious concern that we haven’t seen the demand-management document. We haven’t seen what it is our Upper Colorado River commissioner is potentially going to sign within the next month,” Mueller said.
He worries that the result could be an agreement that is harmful to western Colorado water users, particularly in the agricultural sector.
“We haven’t seen those documents that are about to be executed. We’ve been told that we don’t need to see them. We’re not OK with that. We don’t think it’s acceptable. We think those documents need to be shared with us and frankly the impact of those documents needs to be shared with the water users of the Western Slope and the state of Colorado,” he said.
Colorado’s representative on the Upper Colorado River Commission is James Eklund, an attorney with family ties to the Collbran area and a former director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board.
Reached for comment Friday, Eklund expressed surprise about Mueller’s concerns, and said the river district and other interested parties will have plenty of opportunity to provide input before things are finalized.
“We are not in any way rushing to get something inked that he and the (river) district and the other advisers in the state on Colorado River issues don’t get a full chance to evaluate and look at and analyze,” he said.
He also provided a different timeline than Mueller did, saying the goal is to get documents ready for review by interested parties by the end of this month, allowing for subsequent consultation with them, with a goal of wrapping up agreements by the end of the year.
He said those parties have been involved all along the process, and that will continue to be the case…
Mueller’s concerns arise over drought contingency planning to respond to falling water levels in Lake Powell. That reservoir is used by Upper Basin states to meet water-delivery obligations to Lower Basin states under a 1922 compact. The river district and other entities are looking at demand management as one means of trying to shore up water storage in Powell to avoid a compact call on Upper Basin holders of post-1922 water rights to meet downstream obligations.
The river district supports the idea of a demand-management program, which could involve measures such as temporary fallowing of lands by agricultural producers, as long as the measures are voluntary and compensated, and the burdens of reducing demand are shared proportionally among all users.
One concern for the river district is that while Colorado Water Conservation Board staff have expressed similar thoughts on the matter, a memo the staff prepared for the board for its meeting next Wednesday says that key issues to be considered include whether a demand-management program should be limited to temporary, voluntary and compensated activities “or be expanded to include something more.”
“What is that expansion? Who is it that’s calling for the expansion? It’s not the West Slope, I can tell you that,” Mueller said. “We don’t think it should be expanded to an involuntary uncompensated mechanism of reducing water use.”
Also of concern to the river district is the memo’s raising the question of whether the program would be used to help assure continued compliance with the river compact “or something more.”
Mueller thinks some Front Range operators of transmountain diversions want to set up individual accounts within the pool of water created through demand-management efforts so that after a compact call occurs they can protect their own diversions while West Slope users get shut off.
He’s likewise concerned about a reference in the memo to the issue of trying to understand “the extent to which the state would engage and work in tandem with stakeholders on rules for compact administration before considering a pivot from temporary, voluntary, and compensated demand management to something more akin to mandatory curtailment.”
Mueller said the idea of mandatory curtailment of use has never been discussed by water roundtables around the state.
“It’s one that needs to see the light of day and we need to understand it before the state signs those demand-management documents,” he said.
Eklund sees such matters as intrastate issues to be resolved within the state of Colorado. His focus at the interstate level when it comes to the demand-management program is to reach an agreement under which conserved water can be stored in Powell in a separate account rather than just being subject to downstream release under existing agreements.
Without such an agreement about where to put the water, he views the discussion about what constraints and sideboards such a program should have in Colorado as being meaningless.
“I think our focus at the interstate level, my focus on behalf of the state of Colorado at that level, is on making sure that we have the table set for the discussion, so that it’s not just an academic, theoretical discussion,” he said.
Mueller said the river district’s concern is that creating a place to put water for a demand-management program ahead of creating the program’s sideboards and rules could lead to wealthy, Front Range water interests using the pool “for very different purposes” than just avoiding a compact call.
Click here to view the Twitter hash tag #crdseminar for all the real-time coverage from the seminar.
Click here for all the inside skinny and to register:
The risk of draining a half-full Lake Powell is real. The risk one-third full Lake Mead going lower and triggering big water cutbacks is real. Uncle Sam has told the states to develop drought plans or else the U.S. will do it for them. Speakers and panels from the Southern Nevada Water Authority, the Upper Colorado River Commission, the Colorado River District and others will detail current conditions on the river and what the states plan to do about them. Whether you are a toothbrusher, ag producer, angler or rafter, there’s a lot to care about.
Register now at the discounted rate of $30, lunch buffet included. Early registration ends at 5:00 p.m. on Tuesday, September 11th after which time the cost is $35 at the door.
No cost to students unless partaking of lunch, which is $10.
For information, call Meredith at 970-945-8522 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
David Bernhardt, Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior
John Entsminger, General Manager, Southern Nevada Water Authority
Amy Haas, the new Executive Director of the Upper Colorado River Commission (invited)
Andy Mueller, General Manager of the Colorado River District
Eric Kuhn, Author, retired Colorado River District General Manager, adviser to the Upper Colorado River Commission
Eric Millis, Director, Utah Division of Water Resources and Commissioner to the Upper Colorado River Commission and Chair of the Colorado Basin Salinity Control Commission
Uwe H. Martin, photographer and producer, Bombay Flying Club, Germany
Coyote Gulch plans to be front and center live-Tweeting from the seminar.
Water managers from around the state gathered for a three-day meeting of the Colorado Water Congress this week and were told it was time to develop a plan to cut back on water use in Colorado in order to prevent a compact call on the Colorado River.
At the heart of such a plan is a reduction in the use of water by agriculture — on a voluntary, temporary and compensated basis — in order to send more water downriver to bolster levels in Lake Powell.
If the giant reservoir, which is now 49 percent full, drops much lower, then Glen Canyon Dam, which forms Lake Powell, will not be able to produce electricity or release enough water to meet the terms of the 1922 Colorado River Compact, which requires Colorado, Wyoming and Utah to send water to California, Arizona and Nevada.
Colorado state officials are now taking steps to put together a “demand management” plan to bolster reservoir levels but are also careful to say the plan may still not be necessary, depending on how much snow falls in coming winters.
During a panel on the topic on Friday, Aug. 24, Lain Leoniak, an attorney in the Colorado attorney general’s office, said state and regional water managers were now engaged in what amounts to “emergency response planning.”
“The goal is to identify methods to provide additional security to the entire Colorado River system to address this unprecedented hydrology that we’re experiencing, and have been since 2000,” Leoniak said.
There are three main elements of a such a regional drought contingency plan: short-term releases of water from the big reservoirs above Lake Powell, including Flaming Gorge, Navajo and Blue Mesa reservoirs; cloud-seeding to produce a deeper snowpack; and “demand management.”
“Demand management is defined as the temporary, voluntary and compensated reductions of diversions to conserve water that would otherwise be consumptively used, when and if it is needed,” Leonick told the crowd at the Water Congress meeting.
State water officials, led by staff at the Colorado Water Conservation Board, have been reaching out to water managers and users around the state over the past few months, trying to figure out how such a plan might work. And this year’s hot drought has added urgency, and relevance, to their work.
One such regional demand management effort, known as the System Conservation Pilot Program, has been underway over the past four years and has been paying willing ranchers and farmers about $200 per acre-foot of conserved consumptive use.
‘Reduction in use’
But the program has also identified the need for a way to track, or shepherd, the saved water as it makes its way downstream to Lake Powell.
It’s also shown a need for a new legally identified pool of water in the big federal reservoir so that the upper basin states of Colorado, Wyoming and Utah can get credit for their water-saving efforts.
During the Friday discussion of demand management at the Water Congress meeting, Bruce Whitehead, the general manager of the Southwestern Water Conservation District, based in Durango, sought to put such an effort into plain terms.
“This is a reduction in use,” Whitehead said.
Whitehead also pointed out that “there are statewide usages of Colorado River water” and voluntary reductions of use of Colorado River water now diverted under the Continental Divide to the Front Range are going to have to be part of the solution.
“In tough times like this, we have to learn to work together,” he said.
“Our fear is that we’re not working cooperatively, and openly, in a very informed manner as a state, and we’re going to end up putting the West Slope agriculture as the sacrificial lamb on the alter of the Colorado River,” Mueller said. “And our belief is that will, in the short term, hurt the West Slope. In the long term, it will hurt the state.”
Lee Miller, an attorney for the Southeastern Water Conservancy District, which is based in Pueblo and imports water from the Colorado River basin, said it will be important to develop a demand management plan that has flexibility built into it, especially in the early years.
“The key part of this is that we have to have a framework that is flexible, one that allows us to make changes,” Miller said. “When we start making demands, and start making bright lines, ‘no this, no that,’ we put ourselves in a very difficult position to adjust in uncertain times.”
Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism is covering the Colorado River basin in collaboration with the Vail Daily, The Aspen Times, and other news organizations. The Vail Daily published this story on Saturday, Aug. 25, 2018.