Greeley officials plan to end a program at the beginning of 2019 that offers rebates on toilets and high-efficiency clothes washers as a result of dwindling participation and state regulations, according to a news release.
The program, which started in 2006, offers up to $75 in rebates to customers who use high-efficiency residential toilets and $100 for washers.
“Manufacturers have made products much more efficient in the last ten years,” Ruth Quade, Greeley’s Water Conservation Coordinator, said in a news release. “Also, the State of Colorado set higher efficiency standards for toilets in September of 2016. Fewer people are also participating in our programs.”
Quade said the city is working to develop more effective ways to work with the community on water efficiency. Officials said water conservation audits pair well with the rebate program.
Small programs can go a long way to save water and help farmers survive the coming shortages on the Colorado River. These should be the next focus for policymakers now wrestling with drought contingency plans.
Recently, policymakers in the states that share the Colorado River have made headlines for their progress toward developing a drought contingency plan. This plan is intended to keep water levels in the river’s two major reservoirs, lakes Mead and Powell, from falling too low to keep water flowing to all the people and farms that rely on it. Within Colorado and the other upstream states, the plan also seeks to preserve the ability to produce hydropower at Glen Canyon Dam and fulfill legal obligations to the downstream states.
There is significant concern that water use cuts may be required if ongoing drought makes it difficult to keep honoring those obligations. Regional water leaders have strongly advocated that any use cuts to protect reservoir levels should be voluntary, temporary and paid for.
This matters to farmers such as [Tom] Kay, because they don’t want to be legally required to cut their water use. It also matters to communities like Hotchkiss, because their economies depend on farms using water to grow crops. So a drought contingency plan that prevents a crisis in the big reservoirs and avoids legally required water use cuts would be good for Kay and good for Hotchkiss, as well as for many others in Colorado and the rest of the upstream states.
However, what about when water delivery cuts are mandated by nature rather than laws and policies? When the snow doesn’t come, and you aren’t downstream from a big reservoir, or your reservoir is already tapped out, you sometimes have to make do with less, regardless of how good your water rights are or what the policy documents say. That was the case for many irrigators this past year, and is likely to be the case more often in the future as temperatures continue to warm.
When there is simply less water to go around, infrastructure investments such as the cost-share program that helped Kay buy his sprinklers can make the difference between viability and non-viability for farms and ranches and their rural communities. There are lots of scattered programs that can help with this, some focused on water quality and habitat improvements, and others focused on irrigation efficiency. They’ve brought millions of dollars to rural communities and done a lot of good. But some programs have also suffered from excessive red tape and poor planning.
As policymakers are working to keep Lake Powell and Lake Mead functioning, it would be worth sparing some time to also think about the programs supporting drought resilience in headwaters communities, and how to make them more effective.
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.
The Santa Fe-based organization [Wild Earth Guardians] filed notice that it wants the New Mexico Court of Appeals to review a district judge’s refusal to force the Office of the State Engineer to prove that the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District is entitled to water it uses under permit.
“The appeal looks to compel the State Engineer to require the District actually prove it has used the large quantity of water it claimed upon receiving its permits from the State in 1925,” WildEarth Guardians said in a news release. “Despite the clear mandate under its permits, the District has long avoided confirming its use with the hope of continuing to control and divert the entire flow over the river in perpetuity.”
The district’s diversion of water from the Rio Grande for hundreds of farmers has been a source of contention, especially in dry years when the riverbed has gone mostly dry below the Albuquerque area, threatening the survival of species such as the Rio Grande silvery minnow…
“The days of water abundance are gone,” Jen Pelz of WildEarth Guardians said in a statement. “The reality of these times demands that the basic limitations on water use are met. Our litigation seeks just that, to enforce key provisions of state water law to safeguard and conserve water for our rivers.”
The WaterSense® program, a voluntary public-private partnership that has saved American consumers more than $46 billion on their water and energy bills since 2006, is about to become part of federal law for the first time ever.
That important change is included in America’s Water Infrastructure Act of 2018, which has now passed in both the House and Senate and is on its way to the President for his expected signature into law. This legislation lifts WaterSense from its status as a “discretionary” program at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to federal legal status.
The Alliance for Water Efficiency (AWE) was instrumental in the creation of the WaterSense program and has been a major supporter of the program ever since. Along with its members and partners, AWE has been a leader in urging Congress to make WaterSense part of federal law.
When signed by the President, the water infrastructure bill will incorporate WaterSense into the federal Energy Policy and Conservation Act. (42 U.S.C. 6201) as a new Section 324b. It will then qualify for annual appropriations rather than having to rely on the EPA administrator’s discretionary funds each year. Until separate funding measures are enacted, both the House and Senate have included instructions in the pending EPA spending bills directing the EPA to continue funding WaterSense from available funds.
“We are ecstatic that Congress is giving its stamp of approval to WaterSense,” said Mary Ann Dickinson, AWE president and CEO. “We continue to believe that this successful public/private partnership is the most effective and efficient way to help Americans save water by choosing water efficient products and services certified to carry the WaterSense label.”
A 10th Circuit panel on Monday heard arguments on whether the Army Corps of Engineers incorrectly applied Clean Water Act standards only to mitigating environmental damages rather than to the entirety of a project to expand a Colorado reservoir…
The Audubon Society of Greater Denver sued the Army Corps of Engineers in 2014, claiming the corps failed to choose a less environmentally damaging alternative.
“The record and the state show that the most environmentally damaging plan was chosen,” said attorney Kevin Lynch with the University of Denver Sturm College of Law, representing the Audubon Society during oral arguments at the 10th Circuit on Monday.
In order to meet federal regulations, Lynch said the corps evaluated the full reallocation project under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), and then misapplied the Clean Water Act to assess only alternative plans for environmental mitigation. Lynch said both NEPA and the Clean Water Act need to be applied to the full project.
U.S. Attorney Sommer Eagle confirmed the Clean Water Act was applied only to consider discharge from the mitigation efforts rather than the full project. When U.S. District Judge Philip A. Brimmer issued final judgment in favor of the corps in December 2017, he found no issue with this reading of the law.
On Monday, U.S. Circuit Judge Scott Matheson seemed to address both parties when he asked, “How much of your argument is based on your interpretation of ‘overall project purpose?’”
Matheson said the panel would comb through the law to determine whether “project” under the Clean Water Act means the full construction or can refer to parts of it.
Other project alternatives passed over by the Army Corps of Engineers included expanding other water reserves, increasing groundwater storage, using readily available offsite gravel pits directly adjacent to the park, and a “no-action alternative relying on Penley Reservoir” coupled with increased water conversation efforts.
Chief Circuit Judge Mary Beck Briscoe was not impressed by the suggestion that better water conservation would solve metropolitan Denver’s increasing demand.
“Would that have been something that would have been effective? You hope that this week people do better, but next week maybe they won’t?” Briscoe challenged.
Construction on the Chatfield Storage Reallocation Project is expected to be completed by 2020. Although construction has commenced on the western edge of the lake, activists still hope for a decision that would protect the Plum Creek Nature Area.
U.S. Circuit Judge Carlos Lucero also sat on the panel. The judges did not indicate when they would reach a decision.
A state-imposed mandatory curtailment of water in the Colorado River Basin within Colorado was discussed as a looming possibility during a meeting of the Colorado Water Conservation Board on September 19 in Steamboat Springs.
Representatives from the Western Slope told the statewide water-planning board that while they favor creating a new legally protected pool of water in Lake Powell and other upstream federal reservoirs to help prevent a compact call on the river, they have significant concerns about the pool being filled outside of a program that is “voluntary, temporary and compensated.”
However, Front Range water users told the board that a voluntary program may not get the job done and that a mandatory curtailment program, based on either the prior appropriation doctrine or some method yet to be articulated, may be necessary to keep Lake Powell and Glen Canyon Dam functioning so Colorado, Utah and Wyoming can deliver enough water to California, Arizona and Nevada to meet the terms of the 1922 Colorado River Compact.
“With the repeat of historic hydrology beginning in the year 2000, Lake Powell will be dry, and when I say dry I mean empty, within about three years,” Jim Lochhead, CEO and manager of Denver Water told the CWCB board.
Lochhead said that while a voluntary demand management program might help bolster water levels in Lake Powell, “it doesn’t necessarily solve the problem.”
“So we may need — I know we don’t want to implement — but we may need other mechanisms to accelerate the creation of water into Lake Powell in the event of an emergency,” Lochhead said. “This is not something that Denver Water wants, or is asking for. What we are asking for is that the contingency plans be put into place. We need to have those plans in place before the system collapses.”
On Wednesday, Brent Newman, the chief of CWCB’s Interstate, Federal, & Water Information Section emphasized that neither they, nor the state attorney general’s office, is at this point “assessing, pursuing or recommending to the CWCB board any type of involuntary or ‘anticipatory’ curtailment scenario.”
And yet, such scenarios are on a lot of people’s minds.
(Please see related memo, slides and audio from the meeting. The audio is via YouTube, as provided by CWCB. The file opens well into the discussion, so click back to the beginning of the file, which opens just after the agenda item began, with brief introductory comments from CWCB Director Becky Mitchell. It’s well worth listening to. Also please see related story from Sept.18.).
Lochhead said Denver Water wants to see a voluntary, temporary and compensated program created as a “first priority,” but also said “I also don’t think that by not talking about mandatory curtailment we can pretend the problem will go away. We need to be thinking about it, and we need to be thinking about it proactively.”
However, Western Slope water interests as represented by the Colorado River Water Conservation District and the Southwestern Water Conservation District are concerned that if a new storage pool is created in Lake Powell, and a mandatory curtailment program is used to fill it, it could have dire consequences for agriculture on the Western Slope.
“This is our livelihood,” Kathleen Curry, a rancher in Gunnison who serves on the Gunnison River Basin Roundtable, told the CWCB. “This water is what we depend on. If we move in the direction of mandatory curtailment, and it isn’t equitable, you are going to have significant impacts to the water users in the state of Colorado, especially on the Western Slope.”
The two regional Western Slope water conservation districts had drafted a resolution they wanted the CWCB to adopt Wednesday, which did not happen, as the CWCB declined to vote on it.
The resolution stated that any mandatory curtailment program would be developed on a “consensus basis” with the two districts at the table, and not just be a directive of the state.
However, Bennett Raley, the general counsel for the Northern Water Conservancy District, which provides water to nearly a million people in northeastern Colorado, said the state, as a sovereign entity, should not be constrained by consensus.
He also said that mandatory curtailment may well be necessary in Colorado.
“If the drought continues, there are two paths,” he told the CWCB board. “If there is an infinite source of money, then voluntary works. Great, we’re all happy. If the drought continues and there is not an infinite source of money, then the state will go to mandatory. The Supreme Court will ensure that, sooner or later, it’s not a question.”
Part of the fear of such a mandatory program is that hardly anyone, outside of perhaps the state engineer, knows what it would look like.
“Ultimately it’s a state decision, it’s a decision of the state engineer as to how water rights would be curtailed to meet the state’s obligations under the Colorado River Compact,” said Lochhead, when asked after the meeting how mandatory curtailment would work. “The short answer is, I don’t know. There are a lot of questions and viewpoints.”
Lochhead did say Denver Water is willing to “work with the state and with the West Slope to ensure that any curtailment doesn’t disproportionally impact any region of the state, whether it’s on the West Slope or the Front Range, and that essentially the same rules apply to everybody.”
Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism is collaborating with The Aspen Times and other newspapers in the Swift Communications group in Colorado on the coverage of rivers and water. The Times published this story on Thursday, September 20, 2018. The Glenwood Springs Post Independent also published it on Sept. 20, as did the Vail Daily.