West Slope #water managers ask: What authority do the feds have? — @AspenJournalism #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Houseboats on Lake Powell on Dec. 13, 2021, near Wahweap Marina, where the quarter-mile-long boat ramp is unusable due to low water levels. The Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner has said 2 to 4 million more acre-feet of conservation is needed to protect the system, leaving water managers wondering what authority the feds have over upper basin water projects. CREDIT: HEATHER SACKETT/ASPEN JOURNALISM

Click the link to read the article on the Aspen Journalism website (Heather Sackett):

Projects with Reclamation ties could be at risk

As the deadline approaches for the seven Colorado River basin states to come up with a plan to conserve water, some Colorado water managers are asking what authority the federal government has in the upper basin and which water projects could be at risk of federal action.

U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Camille Touton sent water managers scrambling when she announced in June that they had a 60-day window to find another 2 to 4 million acre-feet of water to conserve or the federal government would step in to protect the system. With many reservoirs, transbasin diversion systems and irrigation projects in Colorado tied in one way or another to the Bureau of Reclamation, some are asking if the water in these buckets could be commandeered by the feds to make up the shortfall.

“I think that there’s probably a good argument that the Secretary (of the Interior) has some authority under those projects,” said Eric Kuhn, Colorado River author and former Colorado River Water Conservation District general manager. “The projects on the Western Slope and in the upper basin states that are owned by the federal government and are ultimately under the authority of the Secretary of the Interior, those are the projects at risk.”

There are many dams and reservoirs across Colorado that are tied to the Bureau of Reclamation’s 20th century building frenzy to impound water and “reclaim” arid regions through irrigation. On the Western Slope, some of the well-known projects include the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project (Ruedi Reservoir), Dallas Creek Project (Ridgway Reservoir), the Dolores Project (McPhee Reservoir), Paonia Reservoir, the Grand Valley Project, the Silt Project (Rifle Gap Reservoir), the Uncompahgre Project (Taylor Park Reservoir) and more.

In general, the local entities like conservancy districts, irrigators and municipalities who use the water are responsible for repaying the Bureau for the cost of the project. But the infrastructure is owned by the Bureau of Reclamation. Some projects are operated by Reclamation and some are operated by a local entity. Many also have a hydropower component.

“I think each project operator is having to look at their contractual obligations with the Bureau and their attorneys are going back over those with a fine tooth comb to see if the arm of the Bureau can reach up through Lake Powell and into the upper basin states,” said Kathleen Curry, a rancher and Gunnison County representative on the Colorado River Water Conservation District. “All of the upper basin projects are going to need to look real hard at what authority the Bureau has.”

Last year Reclamation made emergency releases out of Blue Mesa, Flaming Gorge and Navajo reservoirs to prop up Lake Powell. In this instance their authority was not questioned since these reservoirs are, along with Lake Powell, the four initial reservoirs of the Colorado River Storage Project. They store what’s called “system water,” which is used specifically to help the upper basin meet its delivery obligations to the lower basin.

But water managers still don’t know exactly what, if anything, Reclamation is allowed to do with the water contained in other reservoirs with Reclamation ties.

The crest of the dam across the Fryingpan River that forms Ruedi Reservoir, which can hold 102,373 acre-feet of water. Some Western Slope water managers are asking what authority the Bureau of Reclamation has over water projects with Reclamation ties in the upper basin.
CREDIT: PHOTO: COURTESY OF BUREAU OF RECLAMATION

No answers from officials

At the River District’s third quarterly board meeting in July, board members repeatedly tried to pin down answers from federal and state officials without much luck.

Montrose County representative and state Rep. Marc Catlin asked state engineer Kevin Rein where he stood on whether the Bureau of Reclamation could make reservoirs with Reclamation ties release water downstream to Lake Powell to meet the 2 to 4 million acre-feet conservation goal.

“If the Bureau of Reclamation comes into the state of Colorado and says it wants to move water… down to Lake Powell, what’s the state engineer going to do?” Catlin asked. “Are those water rights under state law or federal law?”

Rein did not know the answer.

“I’m not sure what authority — this is not one of those rhetorical ‘I’m not sure,’ I really am not sure — what authority the Bureau of Reclamation would have to induce a federal project with state water rights to release them to get to Powell,” Rein said.

Later in the meeting, Katrina Grantz, the Bureau of Reclamation’s Upper Colorado Basin Assistant Regional Director, gave a presentation and took questions from board members. Curry asked if changes could be proposed to the operation of projects within the 15 counties represented by the River District with federal ties to get closer to the 2 to 4 million acre-feet. Grantz side-stepped the question.

“At this point we are not looking at specific locations,” she said. “I would turn it around and say: Are there areas where you locally think there might be areas to conserve?”

River District General Counsel Peter Fleming said the authority of the feds in the upper basin is untested. This is partly because the upper basin has dozens of small Reclamation projects as well as thousands of individual water users on private ditch systems that are not affiliated with the federal government. Colorado has generally been left alone to administer this complex system of water rights under the state doctrine of prior appropriation, which means older water rights get first use of the river.

The lower basin, in contrast, has only about 20 diversions — and only six or so big ones — from the Colorado River. And each entity that uses water from Lake Mead has to have a contract with Reclamation, meaning the federal government is directly involved with water deliveries.

“The reason I think these issues are untested is historically the secretary’s role in the upper basin has been different than the secretary’s role in the lower basin,” Fleming said. “It’s much more hands-off. The difference in river administration is huge.”

Fleming said that the River District does not have advice for its water users on the situation, other than to reiterate the upper basin stance that the responsibility to come up with the 2 to 4 million acre-feet lies overwhelmingly with the lower basin.

“At the end of the day I think there will be a big effort to try to resolve things through agreement and I believe the secretary will exercise her authority to the greatest extent she can without triggering litigation,” Fleming said.

Water managers may not have to wait long to get some clarity. The deadline for the states to come up with a conservation plan before the feds take action to protect the system is fast approaching. The upper basin states, through the Upper Colorado River Commission, have put forward a 5 Point Plan, which lays out actions they say are designed to protect the reservoirs.

Amee Andreason, public affairs specialist with the Bureau of Reclamation, said officials may answer the question of federal authority in the upper basin at a media event on Aug. 16 that coincides with the release of the August 24-month study, which lays out reservoir operations for the following water year.

If the feds end up curtailing uses in the lower basin, it could set a precedent that would strengthen the argument that they can do the same in the upper basin, Kuhn said.

“That’s one I think is the elephant in the room,” he said. “The fact that the River District board was asking about authorities tells you people are thinking about it.”

This story ran in the Aug. 4 edition of the Sky-Hi News.

Tribal sovereigns complain of being left out of #ColoradoRiver negotiations — @JFleck at Inkstain #COriver #aridification

From the 2018 Tribal Water Study, this graphic shows the location of the 29 federally-recognized tribes in the Colorado River Basin. Map credit: USBR

Click the link to read the article on the InkStain website (John Fleck):

In a July 22 letter, the leaders of 14 Colorado River Basin Tribal governments complained to the U.S. Department of Interior about being left out – again – of the current negotiations around short terms Colorado River cutbacks:

Colorado River Basin Tribes express concern about lack of access to summer 2022 negotiations (p. 1)

View the entire document with DocumentCloud

At this point, a voluntary “2 to 4 MAF of additional #conservation” #ColoradoRiver deal by August 16, 2022 seems out of reach — @JFleck at Inkstain #COriver #aridification

Colorado River “Beginnings”. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

Click the link to read the article on the Inkstain website (John Fleck):

Janet Wilson had a helpful story yesterday in the Desert Sun about California’s negotiations over its piece of the looming Colorado River cutbacks. Its bottom line is that California – the state with the largest Colorado River allocation – is talking about kicking in 500,000 acre feet of water. Or maybe it’s really just 400,000 acre feet of water – as the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California’s Bill Hasencamp told her, paraphrased, the negotiations are fluid and numbers could change.

A reminder of what Reclamation Commissioner Camille Touton told senators just seven weeks ago:

4 million acre feet is obviously out of reach. It always was.

But if Wilson’s numbers about California’s contributions are right – and she’s a good reporter, we have every reason to believe they’re in the ballpark – 2 million acre feet of additional conservation is beyond the grasp of a voluntary deal as well.

The arithmetic is straightforward.

The Upper Basin has said “not our problem“.

Nevada’s share of the river is so tiny that its contribution is couch cushion change, a rounding error.

That leaves, in round numbers, 1.5 million acre feet of water to come out of Arizona just to get to Touton’s bottom line number for additional conservation. That would require completely drying up the Central Arizona Project canal. (CAP is taking 1.031maf this year, and averaged ~1.4maf over the previous fives years). I’m frequently surprised by Arizona, but it seems unlikely that they’ll agree to a voluntary deal that dries up the CAP canal. If that’s where we end up, Arizona’s best alternative to a negotiated agreement will be to just make the feds do it, make them take the heat. (Worth noting that FiveThirtyEight has Arizona Democrat Mark Kelly slightly favored to hold his seat. Water politics is high stakes politics.)

Combine that with the reality that Arizona’s Native American communities, major water rights holders, have complained that they’ve been cut out of this entire process, according to a July 22 letter just surfaced.

I can imagine creative accounting that might allow everyone to grin through their teeth and count water moved down to Lake Powell from Flaming Gorge and other Upper Basin reservoirs as part of the 2 million. That’s pretty clearly not what Touton called for in June. It’s not “additional conservation”. But it might create some space for a face-saving deal.

Whether that would be enough to protect us from dead pool is another question.

A REMINDER OF THE STAKES

The Bureau of Reclamation’s most recent “minimum probable” model runs show Lake Powell dropping below power pool – unable to generate electricity, and forced to move water through bypass tubes that Reclamation has made clear it does not trust – by October 2023.

Under that same scenario, Lake Mead drops to elevation 992 feet above sea level over the next 24 months.

(Trust me, having to type a Lake Mead elevation level without having to use a comma made me clench.)

At that point, a lack of water will make massive cuts a self-executing reality. We’ve drained our buffer. You can’t use water that doesn’t exist.

The #ColoradoRiver Compact and the future of green spaces — #Colorado State University #COriver #aridification

nd the proliferation of green spaces. Credit: Colorado State University

Click the link to read the article on the Colorado State University website (Corinne Neustadter):

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Colorado River Compact, an innovative and influential legal agreement among seven U.S. states that governs water rights to the Colorado River. In recognition of this anniversary, the Colorado State University Libraries will be spotlighting a series of stories in SOURCE about the ripple effects of this 100-year-old document on diverse people, disciplines and industries in 2022.

Previous stories in this series include: How Colorado water history shapes the science of snow and why Western river compacts were innovative in the 1920s but couldn’t foresee today’s water challenges.

One hundred and fifty two years ago, Colorado Agricultural College’s first buildings sat among sagebrush and prairie grasses. As the campus grew, its center became enshrined in a green meadow ringed by elms, a space now known as the iconic Oval.

Today, Colorado State University’s green spaces are woven into the tapestry of campus life – from the Intramural Fields to Monfort Quad, they serve as informal parks for students and faculty alike to revel in the beauty of the Front Range.

A western campus shaped by urban ideals

These spaces speak to the larger power of the designed landscape in American life. Popularized by the public park movement and Frederick Law Olmsted’s layout of suburban landscapes in the late 1800s, large, green public spaces provided serene outdoor recreation in cities after the Industrial Revolution.

“The democratic nature of large, open spaces on the East Coast was brought with people as they moved West,” said CSU landscape architecture professor Lori Catalano. “It was a way of creating central green spaces that were shared, but the plants and ideas migrated from a humid climate in the East to the semi-arid climate in the West.”

As a growing land-grant institution, CSU’s adoption of the green aesthetic instilled the idea of parks as public spaces accessible to all.

Though the Oval’s first elms were planted in 1881, it wasn’t until 1919 that it became the center of campus, soon after Fort Collins’ City Park was established. These spaces signified how far green spaces had spread from their wealthy urban roots and democratized access to parks in northern Colorado.

“As humans, plants, and animals moved west, they modified the landscape,” Catalano said. “Alfred Crosby’s concept of ecological imperialism helps explain how emigrants moved westward with a variety of diseases, plants, and animals co-creating an environment that reinforced the presence of open grassy fields with trees.”

After World War II, green spaces were adopted into front lawns by middle-class residents seeking a taste of luxury. CSU’s own green aesthetic bloomed as it grew. Spaces like the Monfort Quad, the Intramural Fields and the Lagoon complemented new architecture while creating new outdoor spaces for students between classes.

Green oases in the prairie

“Traditionally on campuses, buildings are grouped to create a series of outdoor rooms,” Catalano said. “Aesthetically, people and students expect large areas of green lawns with trees – they don’t expect it to look like prairie.”

In the American West, these green landscapes live on and signal the continuing legacy of centuries-old ecological imperialism, but they contrast with the region’s naturally dry, beige prairies. CSU’s green spaces remain a central part of its identity and help unify landscapes without sacrificing flexibility and durability – which is critical for a campus that has thousands of students traverse its grounds during the school year.

“College campuses are used a lot like parks and need a surface that is flexible and durable,” Catalano said. “Grass is very durable, as it can tolerate students walking over it, (playing) frisbee, picnicking, whereas our native grasses that require less water cannot tolerate that level of compaction.”

Lawns are also simpler to maintain compared to native plants – all that’s required is mowing, fertilizing, and watering. But throughout the American West, green lawns contrast with dry, semi-arid landscapes and may not survive a resource-scarce future.

“If campus reflected the natural landscape of Fort Collins, we’d see grasslands with Cottonwood trees and peach leaf willows along waterways,” Catalano said. “Visually, lawns hold a cultural power. They look good, they’re green … it’s what we know and what makes us comfortable.”

What will green spaces look like in the future?
With an unprecedented mega-drought in the Colorado River Basin, some states have challenged the ubiquity of green lawns.

In Las Vegas, authorities started paying people to remove their irrigated lawns in the 1980s, and the program has been largely successful in curbing residential water use. As of 2021, any “non-functional” lawns are banned in Las Vegas to conserve water, reflecting how Nevada’s lower allocation of Colorado River water is already stretched thin.

In Colorado, House Bill 22-1151, which was signed into law this past April, requires the Colorado Water Conservation Board to create a statewide program with $2 million in funding to incentivize replacing grass with “water-wise” landscaping.

But, according to Catalano, changing how people understand and perceive the landscape can prove daunting.

“It takes a lot of will and intention to make a commitment to changing the landscape,” she said. “We could incentivize it, but one challenge is, the price of water is relatively inexpensive – it takes someone who’s passionate and intentional about it to be enticed by incentives, because there’s not a huge financial gain. It’s a little like solar – we all want it, but how much are we willing to pay for it?”

Curbing water usage through changing landscape aesthetics will be necessary to ensure the long-term health of the Colorado River Basin.

In June, the U.S. government declared that the basin must cut its water usage by 2 to 4 million acre-feet or risk federal intervention. Meanwhile, CSU researchers found that most streams flowing through the Denver parks system only exist because of runoff sprinkler water. Reducing water consumption through limiting green lawns, then, could prove effective.

Though CSU’s campus design now seems set in stone, its history reflects a century of cultural changes that have cultivated tree-lined avenues, sprawling fields and verdant quads. A long cry from Old Main set atop rolling plains, the future of these unifying spaces will be influenced by the state of the Colorado River Basin and pending water shortages.

“Landscapes are often unseen, undervalued, and not understood. When people can’t see or don’t understand the processes and systems involved in creating and maintaining landscapes, it is difficult for them to value making a change,” she said. “When we begin to see and value alternative landscapes that require less water, reducing the dominance of lawns is possible.”

Upper #ColoradoRiver leaders push back against federal ask for #conservation — KUNC #COriver #aridification

Click the link to read the article on the KUNC website (Luke Runyon). Here’s an excerpt:

State engineer Kevin Rein oversees the state’s water rights system. In a meeting with the Colorado River District board on Jul. 19, Rein assured members he would not be mandating conservation among their municipal, industrial and agricultural users. The district covers 15 counties in Western Colorado.

“There is nothing telling me to curtail water rights. There’s nothing telling me that I should encourage people to conserve,” Rein said…

Colorado officials have argued the blame for the river’s supply-demand imbalance rests with California, Arizona and Nevada. Some doubt the federal government’s authority to demand the states use less water. The 1922 Colorado River Compact, a document that inflated available water within the entire basin, apportioned 7.5 million acre-feet of water to the river’s Upper and Lower Basins, respectively. In recent decades Lower Basin uses have exceeded that amount, while Upper Basin uses have remained below the apportionment.

“We’re way under our allocation of 7.5 million acre-feet a year,” Rein said. “So what does that mean? ‘We need to conserve.’ To me, that means that we don’t change our administration at the state engineer’s office.”

Rein said he has mandated water use reductions in other Colorado watersheds under the compact administration legal process. But the Colorado River has avoided that fate so far, he said. Without a solid legal basis, Rein said his hands are tied.

“If you have a beneficial use for water and you have a right to water and the right is physically and legally available, then I would encourage people to use your water right. It’s a public resource. It’s a property right. It’s part of our economy. It’s part of your livelihood,” Rein said.

“Somebody might tell me I’m wrong someday, but right now, I don’t see a legal basis for asking people to curtail,” Rein said…

Colorado River District general manager Andy Mueller said he wanted to know how the federal government was planning to tighten how it accounts for water use in the Lower Basin, including evaporation from reservoirs, a longtime complaint of Upper Basin leaders.

“It is extremely frustrating to see system water utilized for the benefit of the three Lower Basin states and us taking a hit for it. And now we are for the first time, frankly, about to be injured by it,” Mueller said.

Upper Basin leaders have resisted calls for specific amounts of conservation on the Colorado River. In a plan released last week, the four Upper Basin states — Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico and Utah — instead call for the reinstatement of a conservation program that paid farmers to forgo water supplies, first tested in 2014.

A #ColoradoRiver Glossary: Jargon Explained — Circle of Blue

Colorado River “Beginnings”. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

Click the link to read the article on the Circle of Blue website (Brett Walton):

These are perilous times in the troubled Colorado River basin, a make-or-break moment in which some of the nation’s fastest growing and most arid states begin to reckon with a drier future.

The next month will be especially intense.

Several weeks ago, in the face of another paltry runoff forecast, the Bureau of Reclamation issued an ultimatum to the basin’s seven states: to keep key reservoirs Mead and Powell from crashing, develop a plan by mid-August to conserve 2 million to 4 million acre-feet of water in the next year — or the Bureau would make the cuts as it sees fit.

Those are astounding figures. On the higher end, that amount of conservation is one-third of the Colorado’s recent annual flow. It’s also about as much water as California is allocated from the river.

The plan’s due date coincides with the publication of a highly anticipated and consequential Bureau of Reclamation report. The so-called 24-month study — tentatively scheduled for August 15 — determines how much water Mead and Powell will release in 2023. It also determines how much water Arizona, California, Nevada, and Mexico, which shares the basin, will be required to forgo next year.

Discussions about the Colorado River can resemble a doctor’s visit: filled with technical jargon, unfamiliar acronyms, and the anxiety that comes from incomplete understanding.

This glossary is an attempt to demystify the language. It outlines key terms and phrases and their context — so as the basin chatter heats up you can keep your DCP and DROA actions straight and know who’s taking ICS.

Map credit: AGU

Upper/Lower Basin

In terms of law and management, the Colorado River basin is split in two.

The upper basin states are Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming (plus a tiny sliver of Arizona that is essentially Navajo Nation land). The lower basin is Arizona, California, and Nevada. Separate agreements bring Mexico into the mix.

Las Vegas Lake Mead intake schematic, courtesy SNWA.

Dead Pool

All reservoirs have limits. Dead pool, an evocative term, is the ultimate limit. It’s the point at which water can no longer be released downstream because a reservoir falls below its lowest outlet pipe.

For Lake Mead, dead pool is elevation 895 feet. For Powell, 3,370 feet.

Today, the reservoirs are at 1,040 feet and 3,536 feet, both at about 27 percent of full capacity.

Even at dead pool some water might remain in the reservoir, but it can’t flow without extraordinary assistance. Las Vegas, in a proactive step, invested $1.3 billion in an intake pipe and low-elevation pumping station that allow the city to draw water from Mead when the reservoir is at dead pool.

Lake Powell’s Glen Canyon Dam is used to produce hydropower that is delivered over a 17,000-mile transmission grid, reaching six states and 5 million people. Photo courtesy Western Area Power Administration.

Minimum Power Pool

A second limit for a reservoir, minimum power pool refers to the water level required to generate hydropower.

This is the level near the location of the penstocks. Penstocks are the pipes that move water from the reservoir to the power-generating turbines.

For Powell, minimum power pool is 3,490 feet. The Bureau of Reclamation is attempting to prevent Powell from dropping below this level.

For Mead, minimum power pool is 950 feet.

Natural Flow is an estimate of how much water would have naturally run past Lee’s Ferry if there were no dams or diversions upstream. It is calculated using the actual flow, historic flows, and upstream consumptive uses. Bureau of Reclamation modeling is complete to 2019; I extrapolated 2020 and 2021 based on Lake Powell inflows. The 1922 Colorado River Compact gave 7.5 million acre feet to the Upper Basin, 7.5 MAF to the Lower Basin, and (in the ‘40s) 1.5 MAF to Mexico, based on early 1900s observations. As the graph above shows, the average flows dropped below that level a decade later and stayed there aside from a brief respite in the 1980s. Source: USBR

Operational Neutrality

The Bureau of Reclamation took an unprecedented step in May, announcing that it would reduce releases from Powell to Mead this year by 480,000 acre-feet.

The move helped keep Powell above minimum power pool. But it came with a worrisome side effect for the lower basin states: less water sent downstream to Mead.

They have good reason to worry. Depriving Mead of that water meant a greater likelihood of a more severe shortage tier for the lower basin next year. Mead, in fact, has plummeted this year, falling 21 feet since April.

The states and the feds agreed to a work-around. To maintain “operational neutrality” the shortage tiers for next year would be calculated as if the 480,000 acre-feet had been released to Mead. In other words, on paper the water is in Mead…but in reality it sits upstream in Powell.

Every bit of water matters these days. Currently one foot of elevation change in Mead is equal to about 70,000 acre-feet. So the 480,000 acre-feet held back in Powell corresponds to roughly 6.8 feet in Mead.

How long will this shadow accounting be in place? Becki Bryant, a Reclamation spokesperson, told Circle of Blue that the agency is discussing that matter with the states. They hope to reach an agreement by the publication of the August 24-month study.

24-Month Study

The name explains its purpose. Published every month, this Bureau of Reclamation study projects reservoir elevations in the Colorado River basin for following 24 months.

The pivotal edition is the August study, which sets the operating conditions for the reservoirs for the next year. Here’s how it works:

Reclamation looks at the projected elevations of Mead and Powell at the beginning of the upcoming year. Their elevations determine how much water flows from Powell to Mead. There are complex charts that describe the scenarios and dictate the decision.

In turn, Mead’s elevation determines if the lower basin states are in a shortage tier, which requires water supply cuts from the river.

Images from the NASA Earth Observatory released in early July focused on the northern arm of Lake Mead and its decline from 2000 until now. As western states are being asked for solutions to keep Lake Mead and Lake Powell from hitting critical low points, there is more talk about what it would take to pump water from the Mississippi River to western states as well. (Image courtesy of NASA Earth Observatory)

Shortage Tiers

When Mead drops below certain elevations, the lower basin states and Mexico must reduce their withdrawals from the river.

The shortage tiers have evolved as the basin’s water supply imbalance has become more pronounced.

The initial tiers were set in 2007, in what are known as the interim guidelines. The tiers were updated in 2019 in the DCP. What’s that, you ask?

Colorado River drought contingency plans signing ceremony in May 2019. Photo: U.S. Bureau of Reclamation

DCP

Short for drought contingency plan, the DCP was approved by the basin states and the federal government in 2019.

The DCP updated the shortage tiers by increasing the amount of water cuts that lower basin states would take as Mead drops. For the first time, California agreed to take cuts, but not until Mead drops below 1,045.

In 2022, the lower basin is in a Tier 1 shortage. Arizona is taking most of the cuts.

What about the upper basin? Those states signed DROA…

Lees Ferry, located 15 miles downstream of Glen Canyon Dam is the dividing line between the upper and lower Colorado River basins. Photo/Allen Best

DROA

Short for drought response operations agreement, this is the upper basin’s portion of the DCP. It outlines actions that the upper basin will take to preserve water levels in Powell.

Arizona Rivers Map via Geology.com.

Shortage Tier 2A

One of two possible shortage tiers for 2023. This tier occurs when the August 24-month study projects that Mead will be between 1,050 feet and 1,045 feet on January 1 of the following year.

Mead is on the cusp right now. Alan Butler, a Reclamation hydraulic engineer, said on July 13 that Mead is projected to be at elevation 1,045.9 feet in January, after accounting for operational neutrality.

If a 2A tier is declared, Arizona continues to take the largest cut. It would forgo 592,000 acre-feet, about four-fifths of the total cuts shared by the lower basin and Mexico.

California Rivers via Geology.com

Shortage Tier 2B

This is the other possible outcome, which would take place if Mead is projected to be between 1,045 feet and 1,040 feet.

In this tier, California takes its first shortage cuts. Though Arizona, having to cut 640,000 acre-feet, would still feel the most pain, California would be required to cut 200,000 acre-feet.

These shortage tier numbers do not include Reclamation’s mandate for 2 million to 4 million acre-feet of additional savings, nor do they include the 500-plus plan.

Aerial photo – Central Arizona Project. The Central Arizona Project is a massive infrastructural project that conveys water from the Colorado River to central and southern Arizona, and is central to many of the innovative partnerships and exchanges that the Gila River Indian Community has set up. Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=326265

500-Plus Plan

An agreement from lower basin states to conserve an additional 500,000 acre-feet in 2022 and 2023 beyond what was required in the Tier 1 shortage declaration for 2022. The states and federal government contributed $200 million combined, money that will pay water users to leave their allocations in Mead.

Brad Udall: Here’s the latest version of my 4-Panel plot thru Water Year (Oct-Sep) of 2021 of the Colorado River big reservoirs, natural flows, precipitation, and temperature. Data (PRISM) goes back or 1906 (or 1935 for reservoirs.) This updates previous work with @GreatLakesPeck.

Protection Volumes

When Reclamation ordered the basin states to plan for 2 million to 4 million acre-feet in additional conservation, Camille Touton, the agency’s leader, said it was to protect “critical levels” in Mead and Powell.

What are those critical levels? Reclamation analyzed two scenarios. But the conservation mandate was derived from the scenario that keeps more water in the reservoirs.

That scenario is Mead above 1,020 feet and Powell above 3,525 feet. The “protection volumes” are the 2 million to 4 million acre-feet needed to preserve the reservoirs above those thresholds.

Filtration pipes at Metropolitan Water District of Southern California’s wastewater recycling demonstration plant. (Source: Metropolitan Water District of Southern California)

ICS

An acronym that stands for intentionally created surplus, which acts like a savings account in Mead.

Lower basin water users can accrue ICS when they undertake conservation projects that permanently reduce consumption. Combined, the lower basin states have just accumulated shy of 3 million acre-feet of ICS credits stored in Mead.

Some of that water will be drawn this year. Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, a large wholesale agency, anticipates taking 175,000 acre-feet of ICS, according to spokesperson Bob Muir. This is to offset reduced allocations from the State Water Project, a canal system that moves water from north to south in California.

Multistate Project Focused on Protecting One of Nation’s Largest Aquifers — USDA

Aerial view of irrigated and non-irrigated fields in eastern Colorado. Photo by Bill Cotton, Colorado State University

Click the link to read the release on the USDA website (Margaret Lawrence):

Rapidly dropping reservoir levels in the West are capturing national media attention, but the nation’s underground aquifers are also under threat.

The Ogallala aquifer is one of the world’s largest fresh water resources. Communities and agriculture in eight states in the High Plains region of the country rely on it.

Ogallala Aquifer States

  • Colorado
  • Kansas
  • Nebraska
  • New Mexico
  • Oklahoma
  • Texas
  • South Dakota
  • Wyoming
  • Most water pumped from the Ogallala aquifer is used by agriculture, the chief driver of the region’s economy. Decades of pumping from the Ogallala aquifer continue to reduce the groundwater table faster than it can be recharged from precipitation.

    Through an Agriculture and Food Research Initiative Water for Agriculture Challenge Area grant, USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) funded a multiyear Coordinated Agriculture Project (CAP) to address the challenges faced by the Ogallala aquifer. NIFA is committed to addressing agricultural water quality and quantity needs even as it works to improve the nation’s surface and groundwater resources via climate-smart agriculture, forestry and renewable energy.

    Producers, groundwater management district leaders, researchers, and graduate students met on a regular basis to focus on and share updates about the project team’s work. Photo by Amy Kremen, CSU

    “Multiyear, multistate CAP projects like Ogallala Water funded over five years with $10 million in federal dollars allow for the development of partnerships and networks at the regional, state and local levels,” said Kevin Kephart, deputy director of NIFA’s Institute of Bioenergy, Climate and Environment. “This results in greater awareness of the issue and fosters the adoption of practical, profitable approaches to maintain an economy based on agriculture while extending the aquifer’s life.”

    The project boasted a 70-member interdisciplinary team from 10 universities in six states.

    The long-term goal of the Ogallala Water Coordinated Agriculture Project focused on ways to optimize the use of groundwater to support food production and rural communities.

    Jim Dobrowolski, national program leader for NIFA’s Division of Environmental Systems, said Ogallala Water was laser-focused on extending the aquifer’s utility for irrigated agriculture.

    “They spent five years working towards a solution to what many people consider the greatest management challenge in the nation today,” he added.

    According to Dobrowolski, the project’s partnership with local, state, and federal agencies—including USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and Agricultural Research Service (ARS)— contributed to its overall success.

    “Ogallala Water cooperated with USDA-NRCS’s Ogallala Aquifer Initiative and USDA-ARS’s collaborative Ogallala Aquifer Program with Texas A&M University, along with state water agencies, local water and irrigation districts, and farmers,” Dobrowolski said. “The team improved understanding about how to manage water to be successful at achieving voluntary and mandatory water use goals through multidisciplinary field research and outreach programs, as well as by studying farmers decisions and outcomes.”

    Colorado State University (CSU) scientist Meagan Schipanski, who served as the project leader, said the Ogallala Water CAP built new collaborations across institutions and disciplines.

    Dr. Erin Haacker (Assistant Professor, Earth & Atmospheric Sciences, University of Nebraska-Lincoln) and Dr. Sumit Sharma (Assistant Extension Professor, Oklahoma State University), during their time as postdoctoral researchers on the Ogallala Water team, helping share the project’s research and outreach materials at the 2018 Governor’s Conference on the Future of Water in Kansas in Manhattan, Kansas. Photo by Amy Kremen, CSU.

    “Our team made important research discoveries at the individual producer level, regional level and multistate level,” she said. “For example, the group made improvements to freely available irrigation scheduling tools by integrating soil moisture sensors and short-term weather forecast data to improve water use efficiency. At the regional level, the team developed MOD$$AT, a modeling program that can evaluate potential hydrologic and economic impacts of real-world policy and management scenarios.”

    Learn more about MOD$$AT and how it is helping farmers make better irrigation decisions here.

    In addition to their research efforts, the Ogallala Water CAP team ensured their research reached producers and others through Extension outreach efforts.

    The team supported the development of new — and expanded the use of — innovative programs, including Master Irrigator and Testing Ag Performance Solutions (TAPS). These tools are influencing management decisions on hundreds of thousands of acres in the High Plains. A multistate network of Extension professionals was formed to share successes and challenges in groundwater-dependent areas of the High Plains, California, and the Mississippi Delta region. Additionally, two summits led by the team in 2018 and 2021 forged strong diverse stakeholder networks of individuals and groups working across the region that are learning from each other’s success in encouraging improved water management.

    Schipanski’s CSU colleague, Amy Kremen, said the team’s work has been critically important to finding ways to address the challenges facing the Ogallala aquifer.

    “The Ogallala Water CAP team has identified how water managers in this semi-arid production area can benefit from flexible state policies and access to state and federal programs that reward groundwater stewardship,” said Kremen. “Some possibilities include voluntary collective commitments to limit pumping, new limited irrigation crop insurance options, and programs that help producers prioritize profitability and water use productivity over maximizing yield.”

    Schipanski and Kremen agree that commitments from individual producers, as well as state and federal policymakers, are needed to extend the life of the aquifer while supporting agriculture and rural communities in the High Plains.

    The Ogallala aquifer, also referred to as the High Plains aquifer. Source: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Adminstration

    Big #Water Pipelines, an Old Pursuit, Still Alluring in Drying West — Circle of Blue

    The Second Los Angeles Aqueduct Cascades, located in Sylmar, just east of the I-5 Freeway near Newhall Pass, in the San Gabriel Mountains foothills of the northeastern San Fernando Valley. The Cascades are the terminus of the Los Angeles Aqueduct, which brings water 338 miles (544 km) from the Owens Valley to Los Angeles. Construction of the aqueduct began in 1908 and completed in 1913. The cascades are a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument (HCM #742), a California Historical Landmark (#653), and a Historic Civil Engineering Landmark. By Los Angeles (talk · contribs) – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4882240

    Click the link to read the article on the Circle of Blue website (Brett Walton):

  • As the region’s climate becomes drier, more pipelines are being proposed despite the economic and climate risks.
  • Pipelines that are advancing the fastest are rural and tribal projects backed by federal funding.
  • The proposals echo a century of large-scale water engineering that ushered in the modern era in the American West.
  • Across the country’s western drylands, a motley group of actors is responding to the region’s intensifying water crisis by reviving a well-worn but risky tactic: building water pipelines to tap remote groundwater basins and reservoirs to feed fast-growing metropolitan areas, or to supply rural towns that lack a reliable source.

    Government agencies, wildcat entrepreneurs, and city utilities are among those vying to pump and pipe water across vast distances — potentially at great economic and environmental cost. Even as critics question the suitability of the water transfers in a new climate era, supporters in California, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, the federal government, Indian tribes, and other states are prepared to spend billions on water-supply pipelines.

    Lake Powell Pipeline map via the Washington County Water Conservancy District, October 25, 2020.

    The pipelines range in length from several dozen miles to several hundred and the largest are intended to transport tens of millions of gallons per day. Among these is the 140-mile Lake Powell Pipeline, a roughly $2 billion project that aims to deliver 86,000 acre-feet (28 billion gallons) each year to Washington County, in Utah’s southwest corner.

    Not all the projects are cut from the same cloth. Because of the daunting expense, lengthy permitting process, and legal battles, projects with federal backing have a leg up. The infrastructure bill signed by President Joe Biden last November includes $1 billion for rural water supply projects in the western states. Many of these projects, including one in progress in eastern New Mexico, were authorized more than a decade ago.

    The infrastructure bill also includes $2.5 billion for tribal water rights settlements, which typically include a water-supply component. The Navajo-Gallup water pipeline, now under construction in northwest New Mexico to supply the Navajo Nation, Jicarilla Apache Tribe, and the city of Gallup, is part of the San Juan River water rights settlement.

    Owens Valley

    The current batch of pipeline proposals traces its lineage to a century of engineering and building mammoth water supply projects that ushered in the modern era of the American West. State and federal canals snake the length of California. Los Angeles bullied its way into the Owens Valley in the 1910s, eventually siphoning the valley’s water through an aqueduct. A few years later, San Francisco reached into Hetch Hetchy Valley for a reservoir and pipeline. The Central Arizona Project, which broke ground in the 1970s, was built to lift 1.5 million acre-feet of water — almost 500 billion gallons a year — more than a half mile in elevation along its 336-mile course to supply Phoenix and Tucson. In Colorado, at least 11 major projects pierce the Rockies, transferring water to the high-growth Front Range. States west of the 100th meridian would not have been able to attract millions of residents or develop their commercial and agricultural sectors without these water projects.

    As the region’s climate becomes drier, more diversions are being proposed despite the economic and climate risks. Large-scale engineering retains its appeal and pipeline options are doggedly pursued by state and local agencies, and a band of self-styled water entrepreneurs.

    Potential Water Delivery Routes. Since this water will be exported from the San Luis Valley, the water will be fully reusable. In addition to being a renewable water supply, this is an important component of the RWR water supply and delivery plan. Reuse allows first-use water to be used to extinction, which means that this water, after first use, can be reused multiple times. Graphic credit: Renewable Water Resources

    Renewable Resources, a firm backed by former Colorado Gov. Bill Owens, wants to pump groundwater from the San Luis Valley to Front Range cities that are mushrooming with new subdivisions. A competing outfit, Water Horse Resources, is led by Aaron Million, who has dreamed for more than a decade of piping more Colorado River water to the Front Range. The potential water source for Water Horse is some 500 miles away: Flaming Gorge Reservoir, which straddles Wyoming and Utah. Another Front Range project in the Fort Collins area envisions a pair of new reservoirs and an 80-mile pipe network that extends to 15 communities. Called the Northern Integrated Supply Project, it is still waiting on an key federal permit.

    In New Mexico, meanwhile, supporters of the Agustin Plains scheme wish to export 54,000 acre-feet of groundwater per year from a high desert basin to communities along the Rio Grande, some 60 miles to the east. The state engineer rejected the permit in 2018, but the applicant is appealing.

    Southwest Utah is another epicenter of contested water diversions. The most recent came to light in April, when Escalante Valley Partners filed an application with the state Division of Water Rights for more than 50,000 acre-feet of groundwater per year for export. The water, more than 44 million gallons a day, would come from 115 wells drilled between 1,000 and 5,000 feet deep in Beryl-Enterprise, a basin where the state has restricted use of shallow groundwater due to over-extraction.

    In the same area, the Central Iron County Water Conservancy District is championing the $260 million Pine Valley Water Supply project, currently being reviewed by the Bureau of Land Management for a right-of-way permit. If approved, the district would construct 66 miles of pipeline to access groundwater in neighboring Beaver County.

    The most expensive water project in southwest Utah is a proposed 140-mile pipeline to Lake Powell. Critics contend that Lake Powell and the Colorado River that flows into it cannot handle any more diversions. The Bureau of Reclamation, which manages Powell and is reviewing the pipeline application, is already taking emergency action to augment the shrinking reservoir, holding back more water than usual and releasing extra supplies from reservoirs higher in the watershed.

    Zach Renstrom is the general manager of the Washington County Water Conservancy District, the pipeline project’s chief beneficiary. The basic logic of today’s water manager is not so different from an investment adviser: manage risk through a portfolio of investments. Critics assert that Washington County residents, though use has declined from its very high early 2000s peak, still consume more water than almost any community in the U.S. and that water conservation practices should be sufficient. But Renstrom defends the need for another water source — even a very expensive one, with an overall price tag of about $2 billion — because Washington County’s single source right now is the Virgin River.

    “Especially as someone who looks at climate change very seriously and believes in climate change and knows we need to account for that, to make sure the next generation has the tools that it needs to deal with those issues, I think we need to build these large water infrastructure projects,” Renstrom told Circle of Blue.

    Utah officials are also pursuing a project in the state’s northern reaches to send water from the Bear River, the main tributary of the shrinking Great Salt Lake, to communities some 90 miles distant along the Wasatch Front. The state does not anticipate needing the project for several decades.

    Map of the Mississippi River Basin. Made using USGS data. By Shannon1 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=47308146

    Those projects are miniscule compared to calls to divert eastern rivers like the Mississippi. An undertaking like that — which has legal, technical, environmental, and economic hurdles so enormous as to be implausible today, water experts say — echo even more grandiose and farfetched schemes that were proposed in the 1960s: engineering fantasies like the North American Water and Power Alliance, a continental-scale replumbing of North America’s watersheds, which never advanced much farther than the Parsons Company’s drafting board.

    Few of these projects have secured all required permits and fewer still have broken ground. But it is often the case that designs that look appealing in sketches fold when they collide with real world obstacles.

    One of the biggest obstacles is supply, says Denise Fort, a professor emerita at the University of New Mexico. Do these areas hold enough water to support more diversions?

    Nearly a decade ago, Fort co-authored a report with the Natural Resources Defense Council on the proliferation of pipeline proposals in the western states. In reviewing that report today, Fort told Circle of Blue that the findings still hold true.

    “Many of the pipeline projects under consideration today are dramatically different from those constructed in the past, in terms of sustainability of water supplies, available alternatives, costs, environmental impacts and energy use,” the report concluded. “The communities and agencies that are considering these projects would be well served by a careful analysis of the implications of these important choices.”

    Construction of the Monument Valley waterline extension, which was funded by The Indian Health Service and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The pipeline provided 128 homes with water. Another water project, the Western Navajo Pipeline, has been on hold for at least 10 years.
    Photo credit: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

    Fort said that, in many cases, pursuit of these pipelines is an attempt to continue a water-consuming lifestyle in a region that can no longer support the burden of that demand. Scientists expect the flow of the Colorado River to decline by 9 percent with each degree Celsius that the planet warms.

    “We know what the future is, it’s coming,” Fort said. “And so we can’t continue to act as though it’s just a cyclical thing, and the water will reappear. We know that it will not.”

    Fort believes that instead of sticking more straws into a shrinking pool, municipalities should seriously consider reallocating water from agriculture, which uses the lion’s share of the region’s supply. Instead of growing alfalfa for export, that water could be directed to cities. This approach is not without controversy and requires careful crafting — rural communities, in some cases, have resisted “buy and dry,” preferring leases that do not permanently sever water from land.

    But such a move is what El Paso is banking on. The largest city in West Texas has spent $220 million since 2016 to purchase 70,000 acres of ranch land about 90 miles east, in Dell City. Crucially, the land comes with water rights. Today, El Paso leases the land for farming. But in several decades the city plans to pipe the water beneath those fields to its residents.

    At the foundation of these debates about pipelines are competing views of the American West.

    One school of thought is that water follows growth. “I think it’s much cheaper to take the water to the people than move people to the water. You disrupt a lot less lives that way,” Todd Adams, deputy director of the Utah Department of Natural Resources, told the Utah Water Summit last October.

    Great Basin wetland. Photo credit: The Great Basin Water Network

    The other view is one of conservation and restraint, championed by people like Kyle Roerink, the executive director of the Great Basin Water Network, a group that advocates against transferring water out of its natural basin.

    “There is a suburban Manifest Destiny mindset throughout the region that I think is antithetical as it relates to the amount of resources that are available,” Roerink told Circle of Blue.

    Looking at the history of pipeline projects and water transfers in the West, Roerink worries about unintended financial and environmental consequences if the current contenders move ahead. In the arid Great Basin, which covers much of Nevada and Utah, he is particularly attuned to dry soils if groundwater-dependent basins are depleted. It’s not an unheard of risk. To offset environmental damage in the Owens Valley from its aqueduct, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power has spent $2.5 billion in ratepayer funds to suppress dust storms.

    Many of the biggest projects were built in an era of minimal environmental review and major government subsidy. Those conditions have changed, one of many reasons why mega-projects like diverting the Mississippi River westward are implausible, even fanciful.

    Of the pipeline projects currently under construction, most are not fanciful. Most are like the Eastern New Mexico Rural Water System — smaller in scale and federally supported.

    Congress authorized the 140-mile project in 2009 and is contributing 75 percent of the cost. The rest is coming from local partners, which include four communities in Curry and Roosevelt counties.

    The project received $177.4 million from the federal government this year and $30 million from the state government. If funding in future years comes in as expected, construction should be completed in six to eight years, Orlando Ortega, the administrator of the Eastern New Mexico Water Utility Authority, told Circle of Blue.

    Ogallala Aquifer. Credit: Big Pivots

    The project is a federal priority because the partner communities are all served by groundwater from the depleting Ogallala aquifer. At some point, the water will run out. The pipeline is designed to bring surface water from the state-owned Ute Lake.

    Like all western water supply projects, there are questions about the long-term availability of Ute Lake as the region dries.

    “We are very sensitive to drought conditions, and would certainly be cutting back on our reservation, if needed,” Ortega said.

    Brett Walton

    Brett writes about agriculture, energy, infrastructure, and the politics and economics of water in the United States. He also writes the Federal Water Tap, Circle of Blue’s weekly digest of U.S. government water news. He is the winner of two Society of Environmental Journalists reporting awards, one of the top honors in American environmental journalism: first place for explanatory reporting for a series on septic system pollution in the United States(2016) and third place for beat reporting in a small market (2014). He received the Sierra Club’s Distinguished Service Award in 2018. Brett lives in Seattle, where he hikes the mountains and bakes pies.

    Public can inform future management of the #ColoradoRiver — #Arizona Public Radio #COriver #aridification

    Water levels in Lake Mead have dropped to historic lows over the past year, triggering a shortage declaration on the Colorado River. Some of the frameworks that govern how the river is managed are set to expire in 2026. As states and stakeholders negotiate the next management framework, tribal nations want to make sure they have a seat at the table. Photo by Jeffrey Hayes / Flickr

    Click the link to read the article on the Arizona Public Radio website (Melissa Sevigny). Here’s an excerpt:

    Several key pieces of the rules that govern the Colorado River Basin are set to expire in 2026, including guidelines for dealing with drought and water shortage. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation has asked for the public’s input on what should come next. KNAU’s Melissa Sevigny spoke about the opportunity to shape the Southwest’s future with University of New Mexico water policy expert John Fleck.

    Who is at the table for these negotiations?

    That’s actually such a great question, because it’s not entirely clear. The states—the appointed representatives that each governor appoints on behalf of each of the seven Colorado River Basin states—and then representations of the federal government …. But, there is a strong desire, on the part of a lot of people, and I count myself among those groups, to recognize the fact that tribal communities are sovereign nations [within] the basin that have been traditionally excluded from these processes…and then as a practical matter, major water users within the states also participate either formally at the negotiating table, or if you can imagine a metaphorical meeting room, standing round the back whispering in the ears of the people sitting at the table.

    What questions should we be asking about what comes next?

    Someone, somewhere is going to be using less water than they are now, a lot less water…But the question is, how do we apportion those cutbacks? Do the states in the Lowe Basin which have been using by far the most water, and arguably overusing, like folks in Arizona, do they have to cutback more deeply?…Do the states in the Upper Basin agree, we need to share the pain and cut back as well?…So there’s really a lot of tension. And then the most interesting tension is broad and spans the entire basin, which is, to what extent are the cutbacks going to be felt in agricultural irrigation communities?…There’s no way around there’s going to be less irrigated agriculture going forward as a result of climate change and drought and the reality that we’ve pretty much drained the reservoirs as far as we can, but the question of how you apportion those cuts and who takes bigger cuts, and who gets compensated for giving up water, perhaps, those are the kinds of questions that are going to be on the table…

    Comments can be submitted until September 1 by emailing CRB-info@usbr.gov. More information can be found in the Federal Register.

    Colorado outlines its plan for how the state will deal with #water shortages worsened by #ClimateChange and population growth — #Colorado Public Radio #ActOnClimate

    Click the link to read the article on the Colorado Public Radio website (Michael Elizabeth Sakas). Here’s an excerpt:

    Colorado’s water leaders have released an updated blueprint detailing how the state will manage and conserve water supplies as climate change and population growth strain the system in unprecedented ways

    In the years since, continued warming, poor snowpack and low river flows have devastated available water supplies for farmers and ranchers. The reservoirs on the Colorado River, which starts in the mountains of Colorado and supplies more than 40 million people in the West with water, have hit critically low levels in the last year. The emergency has prompted the federal government to step in and demand the use of less Colorado River water…

    The new analysis in the draft version of the new Colorado Water Plan, which was written by a team overseen by the Colorado Water Conservation Board, finds that cities, towns and industries in Colorado could be short 230,000 to 740,000 acre-feet of water annually by the year 2050 — enough water, depending on different drought and climate scenarios, to supply between 500,000 and 1.5 million homes. As the state faces warmer temperatures and less water, analysis in the draft plan finds that statewide water use in towns, cities and industries will climb between 35 percent and 77 percent by 2050…

    The plan calls on leaders of Colorado’s nine river basins — known as roundtables — to identify local needs and projects that the Colorado Water Conservation Board can fund. Right now, about 1,800 such projects have been identified, a running list in various stages of readiness that comes with a hefty price tag: about $20 billion in funding to be fully completed. Some of the proposed projects include building new reservoirs and expanding old ones, watershed improvements, environmental restoration projects and infrastructure improvements.

    The pie chart shows how much water each sector uses in Colorado, as well as how much water originating here leaves the state.
    CREDIT: COURTESY COLORADO WATER PLAN

    #Water worries mount in #ColoradoRiver Basin as new #conservation plan due date draws near — The #Montrose Press #COriver #aridification

    Blue Mesa Reservoir is the largest storage facility in Colorado in the Upper Colorado River system. Prolonged drought and downriver demand is shrinking the reservoir. Credit: Tom Wood, Water Desk

    Click the link to read the article on The Montrose Press website (Katharhynn Heidelberg). Here’s an excerpt:

    Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Camille Touton in June 14 remarks to the U.S. Senate said the ongoing drought has put the Colorado River Basin at “the tipping point.” According to published reports, she also called on the basin states to reduce water use by 2 million to 4 million acre feet over the next 18 months and told the states to come up with a plan to do so in the next 60 days…

    State Rep. Marc Catlin, a Colorado River District board member, is alarmed by the timeline — 60 days from Touton’s request is in mid-August.

    “Historically, we haven’t been able to decide the shape of the table in 60 days,” Catlin said of talks between the basin states. “I really think what we’re looking at is more of what the water plan will be in water year 2023.”

    […]

    BuRec is attempting, under drought response actions announced May 3, to boost storage in Powell by about 1 million af by next April. Flaming Gorge Reservoir will release 500,000 af, as called for by the drought contingency plan. Additionally, BuRec is reducing Glen Canyon Dam’s annual release volume from 7.48 million af to 7 million af.

    A #ColoradoRiver tribal leader seeks a voice in the river’s future–and freedom to profit from its #water — @WaterEdFdn #COriver #aridification

    Click the link to read the article on the Water Education Foundation website (Nick Cahill):

    Western Water Q&A: CRIT chair Amelia Flores says allowing tribe to lease or store water off reservation could aid broader Colorado River drought response and fund irrigation repairs

    Amelia Flores, chairwoman of the Colorado River Indian Tribes. (Source: CRIT)

    As water interests in the Colorado River Basin prepare to negotiate a new set of operating guidelines for the drought-stressed river, Amelia Flores wants her Colorado River Indian Tribes (CRIT) to be involved in the discussion. And she wants CRIT seated at the negotiating table with something invaluable to offer on a river facing steep cuts in use: its surplus water.

    Wheat fields along the Colorado River at the Colorado River Indian Tribes Reservation. Wheat, alfalfa and melons are among the most important crops here. By Maunus at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=47854613

    CRIT, whose reservation lands in California and Arizona are bisected by the Colorado River, has some of the most senior water rights on the river. But a federal law enacted in the late 1700s, decades before any southwestern state was established, prevents most tribes from sending any of its water off its reservation. The restrictions mean CRIT, which holds the rights to nearly a quarter of the entire state of Arizona’s yearly allotment of river water, is missing out on financial gain and the chance to help its river partners.

    Flores, as CRIT’s tribal chair and the first woman to hold that post, is leading her tribe’s effort to persuade Congress to allow the tribe to lease or store its water off reservation lands like tribes in Arizona and other Colorado River Basin states with congressionally approved deals already can. If Congress grants the request by CRIT, Flores said, the tribe would offer water to aid struggling Arizona farmers and cities as well as wildlife restoration sites throughout the Lower Basin. The bill is pending in a U.S. Senate committee.

    CRIT is comprised of members from four distinct ethnic groups, the Mohave, Chemehuevi, Hopi and Navajo tribes, and has set its sights on having a voice in renegotiation of operating guidelines for the Colorado River, which must be renewed by 2026. Flores contends the tribe has proven itself as a valuable partner by recently leaving water in Lake Mead to alleviate shortages. She hopes CRIT will finally have a voice in determining the river’s future, unlike previous negotiations that were crafted without tribal input.

    In an interview with Western Water, Flores explains CRIT’s cultural ties to the Colorado River, the proposed legislation and the need for tribes to play larger roles in the upcoming renegotiations.

    WESTERN WATER: You refer to the tribes as Aha Makhav, or people of the river. Can you talk briefly about the tribe’s historical relationship with and its cultural ties to the Colorado River?

    AMELIA FLORES: Our creator Mataviily created first the stars and the planets and then after he created the animals, he created the people. To go along with that, he created the river and laid aside the lands for us to live off of. This is in our clan songs. The clan songs followed the river from Avii Kwa’ame north of Laughlin, and the Newberry Mountain Range. That is our sacred mountain to the Mohave people. And not only to the Mohave, but to the other tribes along the river. I can’t leave out the mountains. The mountains are very sacred to the Mohave people and they all have names. As stewards of the land and of the river, our identity is in the land and the water. We are the river.

    WW: In December of 2020, you were elected by a wide margin to become the first female chair of the Colorado River Indian Tribes. What inspired you to run for the position and, as you said after the election, break the glass ceiling?

    FLORES: It goes back to me serving the tribal membership for 29 years as the library archivist. And during that time I was mentored by the Mohave elders, and these were male elders, about the history and the culture of our tribe. The knowledge they passed on was inspiring and I think that is part of me wanting to serve on the tribal council level. And so, it was just moving on to the next level (to become CRIT chair). Also, the passion that I have to serve and help my people is another part that inspired me to continue working for my people.

    With the trust and the support of the people, I was elected. It was their support and their vote that broke the glass ceiling, not me. I can provide a woman’s voice to the decisions and to the government.

    WW: Under your leadership CRIT is pursuing federal legislation that would allow it to lease or store some of its Colorado River water off the reservation. How would the bill benefit the tribe and how does it fit into broader efforts to share water across the entire Lower Colorado River Basin?

    FLORES: The CRIT Resiliency Act didn’t happen overnight. Our past tribal councils had been looking at how we could get more benefit out of, and authority over, our water. Over at least the last 20 years other tribes in Arizona started getting their settlements. With their settlements, they’re able to lease their water that they use from the Colorado River.

    Agriculture is the main economic venture on CRIT’s reservation, where a range of crops like alfalfa, cotton and sorghum thrive in the rich soil along the banks of the Colorado River. (Source: CRIT)

    WW: Looking ahead, what sort of role might CRIT and other tribal groups play in the discussions about the next set of river operating guidelines, which must be finalized by the year 2026? What are some of CRIT’s main priorities heading into these renegotiations?

    FLORES: I can only speak for CRIT, not for the other tribes. But we all should play equal roles to the states in these discussions. Each tribe is vital and for so long we’ve been left out of the discussions, we’ve been left out of when plans are developed. With the drought and given the conditions [on the river], we are now being invited to the table, which has been a wake-up call for the Bureau of Reclamation and the United States. We’re all sovereign, we all have our own water rights. But ultimately the United States has its obligations to protect our resources and that’s not only water but other resources, like land for the individual tribes.

    I think we need to remain vigilant. We need to hold the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the federal government to their policies. And I believe through negotiation and being at the table, we have a better chance of holding them accountable. We don’t ever want to go back to 10 years, even five years ago when we weren’t consulted.

    WW: What is your greatest concern with the Colorado River, especially given the drought?

    FLORES: My concern is that there’s a risk the Colorado River could stop flowing if the megadrought continues. Although we would be the last to be cut, it would greatly impact our tribal government and our services to the people. It would impact our environment and the habitat preservation we have going on at the Ahakhav Preserve. I’m hanging on to hope that we have a change in our climate, but there’s a possibility that no water could be flowing along the banks of the river.

    WW: CRIT in recent years has participated in the 2019 Drought Contingency Plan and done things like fallow farmland in order to help avoid shortages elsewhere in the Lower Colorado River Basin. Do you think the federal government and the other river users will recognize and credit CRIT’s cooperation and actions during the renegotiation process?

    FLORES: Oh yes. With the 200,000 acre-feet of water that we’ve already left in Lake Mead, I don’t think they could overlook us anymore and what we have contributed. And we are now in a relationship with the Arizona Department of Water Resources and also CAP. So in developing those relationships over the years they see us as a vital part of saving the river.

    ‘Unprecedented is now the reality’ — The Gunnison Country Times #GunnisonRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Click the link to read the article on the Gunnison Country Times website (Bella Biondini). Here’s an excerpt:

    Speaking before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources on June 14, Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Camille Calimlim Touton warned that water users along the Colorado River must slash their usage by as much as one-fourth by the end of next year to “help preserve and protect power pool” at Glen Canyon and Hoover dams — both of which produce hydropower for millions across the region. Touton said Reclamation has seen similar patterns across every major basin in the West — hydrologic variability, hotter temperatures, dry soil — leading to earlier snowmelt and low runoff. Coupled with the lowest reservoir levels on record, “there is so much to this that is unprecedented,” she said.

    “But unprecedented is now the reality,” Touton said…

    “It is in our authority to act unilaterally to protect the system, and we will protect the system,” she said.

    When looking to reduce usage by 4 million acre-feet, John McClow, general counsel for the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District, said the answer is obvious. The Upper Basin states, situated at the headwaters of the Colorado River, have continued to take involuntary shortages each year, dependent on ebb and flow of rain and snowmelt.

    “We haven’t got anything to give,” he said. “They’ve had perfect control of their supply ever since Hoover Dam was built. Their system is a lot easier to operate, you just turn on the tap … We don’t have those resources in the Upper Basin.”

    […]

    UCRC Executive Director Chuck Cullom said he believes both the Upper and Lower basins need to contribute to a solution.

    “I think the Upper Basin has taken significant efforts and suffered significant pain,” Cullom said. “There is more that can be done. Most of the work going forward should come from the area where there’s significant water use. And that’s, again, downstream.”

    Cullom said although he is optimistic water users, tribes and the federal government can negotiate a plan within the 60-day window, emergency releases in 2021 and Touton’s call for more water reflects that the existing rules have been exhausted.

    “Now that we’ve depleted the storage, the only choice is to adapt,” he said.

    Pipelines? #Desalination? Turf removal? #Arizona commits $1B to augment, #conserve #water supplies — AZCentral.com #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Arizona Rivers Map via Geology.com.

    Click the link to read the article on the AZCentral.com website (Brandon Loomis). Here’s an excerpt:

    The Colorado River’s precipitous decline pushed Arizona lawmakers to deliver Gov. Doug Ducey’s $1 billion water augmentation fund — and then some — late Friday, their final night in session.

    Before the votes, the growing urgency for addressing the state’s oncoming water shortage and the long timeline for approving and building new water projects nearly sank the legislation. Just over a week after the federal government warned that the seven states that use the Colorado must make major new cutbacks by next year, Democrats held out until they got an additional $200 million commitment for water conservation, which they argued could help Arizonans much faster than the costlier seawater desalination plan that the governor has touted. Some of the water importation schemes that had been discussed would require multiple billions of dollars and interstate or international partnerships, making this three-year investment effectively a fund for down payments for big-ticket pipes or treatment plants. The water conservation measures, such as grants to help cities reduce turf grass, could be cheaper…

    One after another, a bipartisan stream of legislators picked up a microphone in a two-day blitz for the package to say that spending to plug the emerging holes in Arizona’s water supply was critical to the state’s future. They eventually passed it as Senate Bill 1740 with just one dissenter in each chamber.

    Take a bow ‘Use Only What You Need,’ you’re in the hall of fame!: @DenverWater’s decadelong campaign played pivotal role in creating culture of #conservation in the metro area — News on Tap

    Click the link to read the article on the Denver Water website (Cathy Proctor):

    Do you know you should “Use Only What You Need”?

    If yes, then you’re familiar with Denver Water’s decadelong campaign, launched a few years after the 2002 drought, that urged customers to reduce the amount of water they used in their everyday lives.

    Denver Water’s decadelong Use Only What You Need campaign found humor in conservation. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    The occasionally cheeky campaign showcased images like a park bench with only room for one person, water from a broken sprinkler head cascading onto a giant billboard and suggestions for using less water — like showering with a friend.

    And it worked. By the time the campaign — created by Denver’s Sukle Advertising & Design — ended in 2015, water use by Denver Water’s customers had dropped 22% compared to usage before the drought.

    The “Use Only What You Need” campaign has been recognized repeatedly over the years for its effectiveness and memorability, and on May 17 the Out of Home Advertising Association of America inducted it into the OBIE Hall of Fame, a group dominated by advertising campaigns backed by national and international brand names.

    See how one Denver Water employee transformed his northwest Denver yard to make it more attractive and use less water.

    “Denver Water’s signature orange box asking customers to ‘Use Only What You Need’ became advertising legend in the Denver metro area,” said Jim Lochhead, Denver Water CEO/Manager.

    “In a light-hearted and at times outrageous way, the campaign led the charge for our conservation programing where we had a critical call to action: Reduce water use by 22%. Eight years after achieving that goal, Use Only What You Need has remained a one-of-a-kind catchphrase that has continued to help Coloradans embrace a culture of conservation, which is so vital in the arid West where water is such a precious resource.”

    Tip for using less water? Showering with a friend was part of a conservation campaign that reduced water use among Denver Water customers by 22% compared to usage before 2002. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    Out-of-home advertising is visual advertising outside of the home, such as billboards, indoor and outdoor signs, ads on bus shelters or benches, in airports or train stations, and in a stadium or movie theater.

    Previous OBIE Hall of Fame winners include the insurance company Geico (2021), entertainment giants The Walt Disney Co. (2007) and Universal Studios (2019), brewer MillerCoors (2018) and technology company Apple Inc. (2005).

    Get simple strategies to save water inside and outside your home.

    Competition for the 2022 Hall of Fame award put Denver Water up against international heavyweights — and household names — Google, Netflix, Procter & Gamble Co., Pepsi and Samsung.

    In the 30-year history of the OBIE Hall of Fame awards, Denver Water’s award is only the second time a regional brand has won the judges’ nod. The first was the San Diego Zoo in 1995.

    “This is one of the highest creative honors in our industry, and we are immensely proud to be recognized by OAAA and our peers,” said Mike Sukle, owner of Sukle Advertising & Design.

    “Creating and managing the campaign for a decade shaped how we approach every campaign we create. It cemented our philosophy that work must be both smart and creative to generate exceptional results. And while mass media including out of home was critical, the campaign spread almost as much through word-of-mouth. Our audience became our media. That’s an important lesson for all brands. And if you can make people like you, they may also listen to you,” he said.

    The campaign encouraged customers to take a hard look at how much water they — and their lawns — truly needed. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    Anna Bager, president and CEO of the association, called Denver Water’s campaign “truly brilliant and entertaining.”

    “Denver Water has achieved legendary out-of-home status with a sustained level of creative excellence over many years. Their commitment to the ‘Use Only What You Need’ headline came to life in a seemingly endless number of creative solutions,” she said.

    And while Denver Water’s message that water is precious and should be used wisely hasn’t changed, the utility’s campaign around water has evolved into a simple main message: Water is everything.

    Denver Water’s latest campaign focuses on what water brings to our lives under the tagline “Life Is Better With Water.” Image credit: Denver Water.

    Using the tagline “Life Is Better With Water,” the utility’s current campaign with Denver advertising agency Pure Brand celebrates the importance of water as a precious resource in our everyday lives and one that plays a vital role in Colorado’s unique lifestyle.

    “It’s about elevating the value of water in our daily lives. Together, we all can help create a ripple effect that ensures our Colorado lifestyle continues for generations to come,” said Kathie Dudas, manager of brand and marketing at Denver Water.

    Investing In #Pollinator #Conservation Through Urban Agriculture — Xerces Society

    Click the link to read the article on the Xerces Society website (Stefanie Steele):

    Xerces’ conservation efforts span across many different types of landscapes, and the organization has long been interested in expanding upon work being done in urban settings. To support those goals, my position was created: Pollinator Conservation Specialist for Urban and Small Farms in Historically Underserved Communities. Through this work, we strive to bridge the gap between pollinator habitat efforts in urban and agricultural areas.

    Like many others on Xerces’ pollinator team, I also work closely with the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) as a partner biologist. Based in Michigan, I will work with the greater Detroit and Flint metro areas to provide education and technical assistance on their conservation programs, including through monitoring, establishing, or expanding habitat for pollinator insects, beneficial predatory invertebrates, and soil invertebrates.

    As a new member of the Detroit community, my top priority in beginning this work is to listen and learn from the people who have been on the ground working on urban ag and community food systems. It is so important to understand the existing urban ag and conservation efforts here, to work towards developing genuine connections and building trust, and have conversations on how the pollinator and biodiversity conservation work of Xerces and NRCS can support existing efforts.

    In my short time here, I am quickly learning how many wonderful local organizations and urban farms have already adopted pollinator habitat into their work, and many more are excited to develop new habitats. However, much of the community here has been marginalized and historically excluded from conservation efforts. So, having open conversations on what habitats can look like in their spaces, how we may work together to incorporate pollinator habitat needs into other urban conservation efforts (such as storm water management or soil pollution remediation), and how we can work together to achieve their long-term goals will be important for integrating our work in a collaborative way.

    Community gains from urban agriculture initiatives

    The Detroit area is a unique model in the development of urban agriculture. Understanding the history of the city will not only better inform us on the land use, but also the impact that the changing landscape has had on the people living here. When the automotive industry established in the city, Detroit saw a large increase in population. However, after the industry moved out of the city, many of the more affluent community members left with them. Detroit became less financially stable and social tension was high amongst the community. As a result, an increasing number of properties across the area became vacant (homes, schools, businesses) and often left communities isolated.

    This also created or expanded food deserts, further limiting access to nutritious foods. Community members have since been working with the city and legislature to revitalize many vacant lots as community gardens and small urban farm sites. These sites grow crops to feed the local community, but there are other driving factors of urban agriculture:

  • Community development and job growth
  • Food sovereignty, production, and nutrition
  • Beautification and reduction of blight
  • Sustainability
  • Education and skills training
  • Biodiversity conservation through corridors and islands of habitat
  • Combating heat islands
  • Perennial pollinator habitat seen at Tricycle Urban Ag Farm (Photo: Nancy Lee Adamson, Xerces Society).

    These urban farm sites act as excellent learning opportunities and demonstrations of the importance of biodiversity. Our society’s agricultural demand has developed to rely on European honey bees, but small urban agriculture areas offer a great opportunity to learn about other beneficial insects that are often overlooked. These beneficial insects include native solitary bees, who are often smaller than honey bees and are particularly efficient pollinators of our native plants. Predatory and parasitoid wasps are often underappreciated and are valuable in the garden as they can act as great natural biological control of other invertebrates that you may consider “pests”. Urban areas are also important for invertebrate diversity because they have been shown to help foster corridors and islands of habitat for wildlife.

    Native solitary bee. Photo: The Xerces Society / Rich Hatfield

    Exciting things are also happening on a national level with the start of a new US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Office of Urban Agriculture and Innovative Production. With this new office, diverse committees are being formed across the country to assist urban farmers through a variety of programs, technical support, and funding for their operations, including conservation practices. The Biden administration is also reinvesting in the People’s Garden Initiative (PGI), which recognizes the value of collaborative, community driven, local food production (e.g. urban farms, community gardens, school gardens).

    A community garden in Omaha, NE (Photo: Jennifer Hopwood, Xerces Society).

    Xerces is working closely with the Office of Urban Ag and the People’s Garden to support the creation of demonstration habitats with PGI urban farm partners across the U.S. At the same time, NRCS Chief Terry Cosby has committed to step up work on supporting historically marginalized communities and urban agriculture. Xerces will work closely with NRCS to support pollinator conservation in other urban ag settings, such as New York City, Philadelphia, and Minneapolis.

    There are many exciting possibilities to work in support of both pollinators and urban agriculture. I look forward to working with these communities more, learning from and supporting their efforts, and sharing my passion for pollinators.

    Stefanie Steele
    Pollinator Conservation Specialist for Urban and Small Farms in Underserved Communities and NRCS Partner Biologist

    Stefanie is the Pollinator Conservation Specialist for Urban and Small Farms in Underserved Communities and a NRCS Partner Biologist in the Upper Midwest – Detroit, Michigan area. Through this work, she provides technical assistance, planning, and education on incorporating pollinator and other beneficial invertebrate habitat in small urban agricultural areas and community gardens in historically excluded communities. Her work supports projects including the Xerces Habitat Kit Program, People’s Garden Initiative, and NRCS Conservation Programs through the USDA Farm Bill.

    Farming for pollinators — USDA/Xerces Society

    Honeybees are important pollinators, an ecosystem service that is not always adequately accounted for in traditional markets. Image credit: Marisa Lubeck, USGS.
    Click for a larger view.
    Click for a larger view.

    Click on the link to access “Native Understory Forbs and Grasses for Pollinator and Insect Utilization in Southeastern Longleaf Pine Ecosystems on the Natural Resources Conservation Service website.


    Click on the link to access “Great Basin Pollinator Plants Native Milkweeds” on the Natural Resources Conservation Service website.

    Reclamation welcomes public input on development of future #ColoradoRiver operations during historic #drought #COriver #aridification

    Photo shows the Colorado River flanked by fall colors east of Glenwood Springs, Colorado. Photo credit: USBR

    Click the link to read the release on the Reclamation website (Peter Soeth):

    The Bureau of Reclamation today published a Federal Register notice to assist in its efforts to develop future Colorado River operating provisions. Several decisional documents and agreements that govern the operation of crucial Colorado River facilities, Lake Powell and Lake Mead, and the management of Colorado River water will expire at the end of 2026. The notice seeks specific input on how to foster meaningful participation by all stakeholders in preparation for beginning the National Environmental Policy Act process to develop post-2026 operating approaches for the Colorado River, and operating strategies to address post-2026.

    “In my testimony last week, I stressed the need for a quick response and action from across the basin to reduce water use and protect the sustainability of the Colorado River system,” said Commissioner Camille Calimlim Touton. “As we focus on these short-term response actions, we also clearly recognize the importance of simultaneously planning for the longer-term to stabilize our reservoirs before we face an even larger crisis.”

    The publication of this notice is not the start of the NEPA process but is a tool to seek input and encourage brainstorming and input before the formal initiation of the NEPA process.Reclamation is targeting an early 2023 start for the NEPA process to develop post-2026 operating guidelines.

    “We want to hear from everyone who has a stake in this basin. We intend to develop our next operating rules in an inclusive, transparent manner, relying on the best available science,” said Senior Water Resources Program Manager Carly Jerla. “We’re seeking input to foster a meaningful participation of Colorado River partners and stakeholders and to gather ideas and strategies for the post-2026 operations that should also be considered in the NEPA process.”

    The notice asks for specific suggestions on the process and the substance of how best to analyze future operations and what those operations should include. It also highlights the changing circumstances in the Colorado River Basin since 2007, including declining hydrology, drought and low-runoff conditions impacted by a warmer, changing climate, inclusivity in Colorado River decision-making and the need for continued operational alignment and partnership with the Republic of Mexico.

    Specific documents and agreements that expire at the end of 2026 include the December 2007 Colorado River Interim Guidelines for Lower Basin Shortages and Coordinated Operations for Lake Powell and Lake Mead, among other essential management documents, both within the United States as well as international agreements between the United States and Mexico under the 1944 Water Treaty.

    The Colorado River Basin is experiencing a 22-year drought and low runoff conditions, and reservoirs within the basin are at historic low levels. There are extensive impacts throughout the Colorado River Basin, including water for homes and crops to the generation of electricity that supports everything we do.

    While continuing to work with its partners to mitigate the impacts of this 22-year drought, Reclamation is focused on the next phase of Colorado River operational decision-making.

    To help explain the process and answer questions, Reclamation is hosting two webinars:

    July 12 at 10 a.m. MDT
    Click here to join the meeting
    Or call in (audio only)
    +1 719-733-3211,,100899510#
    Phone Conference ID: 100 899 510#

    July 14 at 10 a.m. MDT
    Join on your computer or mobile app
    Click here to join the meeting
    Or call in (audio only)
    +1 202-640-1187,,795497392#
    Phone Conference ID: 795 497 392#

    The public input period ends September 1, 2022.

    To learn more about the operations on the Colorado River, please visit https://www.usbr.gov/ColoradoRiverBasin/.

    Battling #ClimateChange with #solar, #hydro and a shifting fleet Denver Water is cutting its carbon footprint, while preparing for a drier, hotter future — News on Tap #ActOnCLimate

    Click the link to read the article on the Denver Water website (Todd Hartman):

    Denver Water sits on the front lines of climate change.

    Rising temperatures, long-term drought and less dependable snowpack are all making the job of providing water to 1.5 million people tougher.

    Denver Water’s administration building is powered by solar panels. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    In response, the utility is preparing for a future with a less consistent water supply for its customers, through innovations including greater efficiency, One Water and new storage projects such as the Gross Reservoir expansion.

    Learn more about how the Gross Reservoir Expansion Project makes us more resilient in the face of climate change with greater water security.

    The utility also is moving aggressively to cut its own carbon footprint, striving to meet goals for producing renewable energy and reducing dependence on energy sources tied directly to warming temperatures.

    In 2020, Denver Water met an organizational goal for “net zero” annual energy consumption. That’s a fancy way of saying it produced as much or more energy than it consumed, and that its energy was generated using carbon-free sources: hydropower and solar power.

    To be precise, the utility produced roughly 1.5 million more “kilowatt-hour equivalents” than it used in 2020.

    The utility’s solar power panels and hydropower generators produced enough clean energy to account for not only its electricity use but also the natural gas it uses for heat. Natural gas burned to supply heat is an energy category that’s not always factored into “net zero” calculations, but Denver Water made a point of including it to create a stretch goal for its effort.

    Denver Water’s solar panels generated more than 1 million kilowatt hours of electricity in 2020. Photo credit: Denver Water

    “Several years earlier, we had set a goal to hit ‘net-zero’ as a benchmark for our sustainability efforts,” said Kate Taft, Denver Water’s sustainability manager. “Hitting that in 2020 was the result of a lot of focused, dedicated work across the organization and represents an important milestone in the utility’s long history of environmental progress.”

    Net-zero is a big deal in the era of climate change.

    Learn more about how Denver Water has leaned into the challenge of climate change and how its work to track emissions has been recognized by outside experts.

    Many major corporations are striving to attain the status, including companies such as Coca-Cola and General Motors. Many companies and governments have set net-zero goals for 2030 and 2040, for example.

    Denver Water got there sooner. Though, to be sure, Denver Water benefits from — wait for it — water in this endeavor.

    Water spills from Williams Fork Reservoir in 2019. The power of moving water is a major source of emission-free electricity for Denver Water. Photo credit: Denver Water

    Hydroelectric power is generated at seven locations in Denver Water’s 4,000-square-mile collection area. That includes power generated at reservoirs but also at places like Roberts Tunnel, where the energy of water moving downhill through a tunnel that traverses the Continental Divide creates electricity.

    All told, Denver Water’s hydropower operations generate about 65 million emission-free kilowatt-hours per year. That translates to about the amount of electricity consumed by 6,000 homes for a year.

    While Denver Water generated hydropower for decades and is continuing to look for additional opportunities to generate power from moving water, including at its Northwater Treatment Plant currently under construction near Golden, the addition of solar power to its renewable energy portfolio is more recent.

    At the utility’s newly redeveloped Operations Complex, completed in 2019, solar power panels on the roof of the Administration Building and atop parking structures generated more than 1 million kilowatt hours of electricity in 2020. That offset the Administration Building’s use with more than 300,000 kilowatt-hours to spare.

    Crews install solar panels on top of Denver Water’s administration building in 2019. Photo credit: Denver Water

    That’s extra clean electricity that can go back into the grid for use by others.

    And in Denver Water’s new sustainability goals issued in 2021, the utility set a new target for itself: to increase its capacity to generate renewable energy by 1 megawatt and to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 50% from a 2015 baseline.

    How much is that 1 megawatt? Roughly, it would be like adding another solar array about the size of the one at the Operations Complex. Or, like adding the hydropower capacity that now exists at Strontia Springs Reservoir, situated 6 miles up Waterton Canyon southwest of Denver.

    Even as it works to add more green power, Denver Water may not always be able to meet its net-zero goal, at least in the short term.

    That’s because maintenance projects at times take hydroelectric facilities off-line or reduce their capacity. For example, for the next five years, Gross Reservoir will generate less power because its storage space for water will be cut by about one-third while a dam-raising project proceeds.

    Students learn about the hydroelectric plant at Hillcrest water storage facility in southeast Denver. Hydroelectricity at Hillcrest and six other sites is key to the utility’s ability to meet its net zero energy goals. Photo credit: Denver Water

    However once that project is completed, and the capacity of the reservoir is tripled, the location is expected to be a greater source of clean energy, increasing its production capacity by nearly 15% compared to its capacity before the project.

    In 2021, too, Denver Water fell short of its goal due in part to work on the hydroelectric facility at Roberts Tunnel. Work to upgrade the hydro facility at the tunnel kicked off in 2019.

    Finally, while Denver Water focuses on offsetting electricity and heat generated by fossil fuels such as coal and natural gas, its net-zero calculations don’t currently count gasoline burned by its fleet vehicles or propane needed at some remote sites.

    “As we make a long-term shift to cleaner energy sources, there will be bumps in the road,” Taft said. “We still, inevitably, will depend on more traditional sources at times and in certain locations. But we are relentlessly pushing to generate more of our own green energy and cut emissions associated with natural gas, coal and vehicles.”

    Learn more about how Denver Water has constructed a low-energy heating and cooling system and its long history of environmental stewardship.

    As part of its effort to cut emissions, Denver Water is beginning the long transition to electric fleet vehicles.

    The utility already has six Ford F-150 hybrid trucks and hopes to test the use of some all-electric pickups in 2023, pending supply chain challenges.

    And as the utility continues to look at other electric vehicle options, it is partnering with analysts at Drive Clean Colorado and Xcel Energy’s Fleet Electrification Advisory Program to help guide the process.

    “Getting this right will take time and a constant push forward,” said Brian Good, Denver Water’s chief administrative officer. “But it is the right thing to do. We are a water utility, and providing reliable, safe, clean water isn’t possible without protecting the natural environment from which it flows.”

    Race is on for #ColoradoRiver basin states to conserve before feds take action: #Colorado’s contribution to keep system from crashing remains unclear — @AspenJournalism #COriver #aridification #GetchesWilkinson2022

    This photo from December 2021 shows one of the intake towers at Hoover Dam. Federal officials said basin states must conserve 2 to 4 million acre-feet to protect reservoir levels in 2023. CREDIT: HEATHER SACKETT/ASPEN JOURNALISM

    Click the link to read the article on the Aspen Journalism website (Heather Sackett):

    As water experts gathered this week for an annual conference in Boulder, it was with the sobering knowledge that despite everything they have done so far, it is still not enough to keep the Colorado River system from crashing.

    Federal officials this week made the earth-shaking announcement that the seven basin states must quickly conserve an enormous amount of water and threatened unilateral action if they do not. U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Camille Touton, testifying at a U.S. Senate hearing on drought on Tuesday, said an additional 2 to 4 million acre-feet of conservation was needed just to protect critical reservoir levels in 2023.

    Department of Interior Assistant Secretary for Water and Science Tanya Trujillo reiterated this position in a talk at Thursday’s Conference on Natural Resources at the University of Colorado Law School. She said the federal government has the responsibility and authority to take action to protect the system and the infrastructure if the states can’t reach an agreement on their own.

    “We are facing the growing reality that water supplies for agriculture, fisheries, ecosystems, industry and cities are no longer stable due to climate change,” Trujillo said. “Our collective goal is to be able to very quickly identify and implement strategies that will stabilize and rebuild the system so we don’t find ourselves constantly on the brink of a crisis.”

    Houseboats on Lake Powell on Dec. 13, 2021, near Wahweap Marina, where the quarter-mile-long boat ramp is unusable due to low water levels. Federal officials have threatened unilateral actions to prop up levels in the nation’s largest reservoirs and protect the Colorado River System.

    Worsening conditions

    Over the past year, water managers have implemented measures to keep water levels from falling below critical thresholds for hydropower production in the nation’s two largest reservoirs, including a plan for holding back water in Lake Powell, emergency releases from upstream reservoirs, and a much-celebrated plan to save 500,000 acre-feet in Lake Mead.

    The actions taken in the 2022 Drought Response Operations Plan will add about 1 million acre-feet, or 16 feet of elevation, to Lake Powell.

    But these actions are not enough.

    “It’s buying us a bit more time, but not much,” said James Prairie, the upper Colorado basin research and modeling chief for the Bureau of Reclamation.

    Prairie kicked off the conference by sharing numbers from the Bureau’s June 24-month study, which predicted that 2022 will be another anemic year for spring runoff into Powell at just 55% of average. Total Colorado River system storage stands at about 35% full; last year at this time it was about 42% full. In March, Lake Powell dipped below a critical threshold of 3,525 feet, just 35 feet above the minimum level needed to generate hydropower for millions of people in the southwest.

    The announcement of what one water expert dubbed the “2-to-4-million-acre-foot challenge” overshadowed many of the conference’s planned topics and left some presenters scrambling to change their talks or at least their tone. Debating the finer points of the Colorado River Compact, which divided the waters between the upper and lower basin states and marks its 100th anniversary this year, all of a sudden took a backseat.

    “Everything has changed beneath our feet with Commissioner Touton’s announcement Tuesday,” said author and conference moderator John Fleck.

    Touton gave the states until Aug. 16 to figure out a path to conservation before Reclamation would take unilateral action to protect the system. That’s when Reclamation’s August 24-month study comes out, which lays out a plan for how the agency will operate its reservoirs in the coming year.

    Glen Canyon Dam in Page, Ariz., forms Lake Powell. It’s still unclear how Colorado would participate in a federally mandated plan to conserve 2 to 4 million acre-feet water to protect the Colorado River system.
    CREDIT: HEATHER SACKETT/ASPEN JOURNALISM

    Upper basin contribution

    Federal officials made it clear that conserving the 2 to 4 million acre-feet is the responsibility of all seven basin states: Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, Wyoming, Nevada, California and Arizona. But they were not prescriptive about how to do it or how the shortages should be shared; that’s for the states to figure out among themselves.

    “Do we have any specific recipe in mind? The short answer is no, we don’t have a formula already pre-baked and pre-worked,” Trujillo said. “We are likely going to be in a situation of doing things we have never done before.”

    How Colorado will conserve is unclear, especially since the state’s exploration of a demand management program that would have paid water users to cut back has been shelved for now. The program proved a hard sell, especially for some agricultural water users who questioned why Colorado should send water to prop up Lake Powell and fix a problem that is caused by what they say is over-use in California, Nevada and Arizona.

    The compact divided the flows of the Colorado River equally between the upper and lower basin at 7.5 million acre-feet each. But the upper basin has never come close to using its full allocation, while the lower basin, by some estimates, uses more than 8.5 million acre-feet. Meanwhile, climate change and a two-decade-long drought have diminished river flows basin-wide in the 20th century by about 20%; scientists say about one-third of that loss can be attributed to warmer temperatures.

    Chuck Cullom, the executive director of the Upper Colorado River Commission, said that while all seven states share the resource of the Colorado River and have an obligation to contribute to conservation, most of the water savings should come from the lower basin.

    “Everyone needs to participate, but the vast majority of the effort needs to come from the lower basin because that’s where the preponderance of the uses are,” he said.

    Upper basin water managers point to the emergency releases of 161,000 acre-feet last year from Blue Mesa, Flaming Gorge and Navajo reservoirs as a way they have responded to the crisis. But that decision was made unilaterally by Reclamation and is not the same as conservation.

    Colorado’s commissioner to the UCRC and head of the Colorado Water Conservation Board Rebecca Mitchell did not give specific examples of where Colorado could increase its water conservation, but said the state will continue to work with other basin states, the federal governments and tribal nations to find solutions.

    “Colorado water users are on the front lines of climate change,” Mitchell said in an emailed statement. “We are continuing to work closely with our federal and state partners across the basin to address water shortages.”

    Fleck ended Thursday’s session by striking an emotional tone that captured the mood in the room. We are at a moment of reckoning and realizing the West of the future will look much different than it does now, he said.

    “We are in a moment of grieving,” he said. “The tools we developed were not enough.”

    This story ran in the June 17 edition of the Vail Daily.

    These five people could make or break the #ColoradoRiver — The Los Angeles Times #COriver #aridification

    The All American Canal carries water from the Colorado River to farms in California’s Imperial Valley. Photo credit: Adam Dubrowa, FEMA/Wikipedia.

    Click the link to read the article on the Los Angeles Times website (Sammy Roth). Here’s an excerpt:

    Alex Cardenas. J.B. Hamby. Jim Hanks. Javier Gonzalez. Norma Sierra Galindo. There’s a good chance you’ve never heard of them. But with the Colorado River in crisis, they’re arguably five of the most powerful people in the American West. They’re the elected directors of the Imperial Irrigation District, or IID, which provides water to the desert farm fields of California’s Imperial Valley, in the state’s southeastern corner. They control 3.1 million acre-feet of Colorado River water — roughly one-fifth of all the Colorado River water rights in the United States.

    And if you live in Southern California — or in Phoenix, Las Vegas, Denver or Salt Lake City — the future reliability of your water supply will depend at least in part on what IID does next…

    That’s because the Colorado River has been over-tapped for a century — and now climate change is making things worse, sharply reducing the river’s flow. Lake Mead is just 28% full, its lowest level ever. Lake Powell is at 27%. A federal official said this week that the seven states dependent on the river — including California — will need to cut their water use between 2 million and 4 million acre-feet next year to avoid outright catastrophe at the two major reservoirs…

    Those kinds of cutbacks almost certainly won’t be possible without IID’s help. And that help is not guaranteed.

    The Imperial Valley’s landowning farmers have fought bitterly to protect their senior water rights — hence the importance of the five individuals whose campaigns they fund, and whose actions they closely scrutinize. In 2002, for instance, the IID board voted down a proposal to sell lots of Colorado River water to San Diego County. Under pressure from the George. W Bush administration, they eventually reversed themselves — a move that invited the wrath of farmers, with long-lasting political consequences. As recently as last year, IID didn’t participate in a deal between California, Arizona and Nevada agencies to leave more water in Lake Mead. Two years earlier, the district sued to block a similar agreement known as the Drought Contingency Plan.

    Colorado River drought contingency plans signing ceremony in May 2019. Photo: U.S. Bureau of Reclamation

    Starting a water-wise garden that glows in hot, dry conditions: In 2021, #Denver-area Garden In A Box customers planted 100,000 sq. ft. of low-water gardens instead of grass — News on Tap

    Click the link to read the article on the Denver Water website (Jay Adams):

    Do you recognize these plant names? Moonbeam coreopsis. Autumn joy stonecrop. Blonde ambition.

    They may not be well known among most homeowners, but they are examples of water-wise plants gaining popularity in Colorado every year.

    Water-wise plants mostly rely on what Mother Nature provides, requiring either no additional water or only a few inches during the growing season.

    Plant Select, which promotes low-water plants that thrive in Colorado’s climate, describes this plant as an “impressive, highly ornamental form of Western native grass with tall, upright stems.” We think it lives up to its name: Blonde Ambition. Photo credit: Denver Water

    The plants are an alternative to thirsty Kentucky bluegrass and thrive in Colorado’s semi-arid climate. Water-wise plants also offer additional benefits such as low maintenance and added color. Many also attract birds, bees and butterflies.

    Denver Water promotes water conservation efforts in customers’ yards and encourages them to learn about incorporating water-wise plants into their landscapes.

    Check out stories and advice from Denver Water customers who have added Garden In A Box kits to their landscapes.

    Good sources of information include Resource Central, which offers the popular Garden In A Box program, and Plant Select, which promotes plants that need less water and thrive in the high plains and Rocky Mountain regions.

    Elie Zwiebel and his partner, Laura, stand in front of their home in Denver’s Athmar Park neighborhood showing off results of their Garden In A Box. Photo credit: Denver Water

    Resource Central

    Since 2012, Denver Water has regularly supported Resource Central, a nonprofit organization based in Boulder that promotes water conservation programs.

    One of its programs, Garden In A Box, offers a variety of water-wise plants along with plant-by-number garden designs from landscape professionals. The kits also come with information about the care and maintenance needs of the plants.

    A Garden In A Box, after a few years, will delight homeowners and those who pass by. Photo credit: Denver Water

    Customers can choose from gardens with names like “Naturally Native” and “Painted Shade,” indicating the kind of plants in each garden and the type of conditions they thrive in.

    Programs like Garden In A Box are important to Denver Water because among its customers, outdoor water use accounts for about 50% of single-family residential water use. Converting a section of lawn into a water-wise garden is one way to reduce a home’s outdoor water footprint.

    “Garden In A Box started in 2003 and we’ve sold more than 41,000 kits through fall 2021,” said Elisabeth Bowman, conservation engagement manager at Resource Central.

    “Interest in the gardens has grown every year in the metro area so we’re happy to see so many people looking for water-wise landscapes.”

    Between 2003 through 2021, Resource Central estimates it’s helped plant 3.1 million square feet of low-water landscapes, saving 228.6 million gallons of water over the lifetime of the gardens sold to customers across the Front Range.


    A homeowner near Denver’s City Park removed grass from his front yard and planted a Garden In A Box. Photo credit: Denver Water

    Denver Water pays Resource Central more than $15,000 a year to set up four garden pickup events in Denver every spring, so customers who live in and near Denver Water’s service area don’t have to go far to get their gardens.

    More than 10,000 gardens have been sold to Denver-area residents since 2014.

    Garden In A Box offers water-wise plants and professional designs in each kit. Image credit: Resource Central

    “Denver Water is a huge partner for us, the support they provide makes it easy for Denver residents to pick up their kits. Over 1,000 of our gardens go to Denver residents every year,” said Melanie Stolp, manager of Resource Central’s Garden In A Box and its water efficiency Slow the Flow programs.

    And the results of the customers’ purchases are amazing.

    Just take a look at Resource Central’s 2021 numbers for Denver Water:

  • 1,834 Garden In A Box kits sold to customers who live in Denver and the surrounding suburbs of Centennial, Edgewater, Greenwood Village, Lakewood, Littleton and Wheat Ridge.
  • 100,000 square feet of low-water gardens planted, according to Resource Central’s estimates.
  • 9.5 million gallons of water saved over the lifetime of those new gardens, according to Resource Central’s estimates.
  • A Resource Central employee loads a Garden In A Box kit during the spring 2021 pickup event. Photo Credit: Denver Water

    “The Garden In A Box program helps people start small, converting a section of the lawn from turf to low-water plants,” said Jeff Tejral, Denver Water’s former water efficiency manager who guided the partnership with Resource Central.

    “It helps people learn about these plants, how to care for them and the beauty they can bring to their home. From there, they often convert more sections of grass to water-wise landscapes.”

    Customer surveys indicate about two-thirds of Garden In A Box buyers have little or no experience with water-wise plants, according to Tejral.

    The Garden In A Box kit comes with a plant-by-number guide for a landscape designed by professionals using water-wise plants. Photo credit: Denver Water

    That’s why each garden comes with a guide that helps customers through the planting and early years of the garden’s life.

    Gardens have been sold in the spring and typically sell out quickly. Resource Central continues to increase the number of kits available each year to meet the growing demand. The organization has also conducted a fall sale for about four years and in 2021 increased its offerings by 35%.

    Plant Select helps gardeners find water-wise plants that thrive in Colorado and the retailers that sell them. See their Top 10 plants from 2020.

    The fall 2021 sale sold out. Another fall is planned for 2022.

    Bowman encourages anyone interested in purchasing a Garden In A Box to check out Resource Central’s website and sign up for their newsletter.

    A Garden In A Box kit planted in southeast Denver’s Hampden neighborhood. Photo credit: Denver Water

    In addition to Garden In A Box, Resource Central also offers other water conservation programs through its water utility partners, including:

  • Lawn Removal Service program.
  • Slow the Flow consultations to improve water efficiency inside and outside.
  • Free webinars on water-wise landscaping held in the spring.
  • #Colorado Wildlife Habitat Program 2022 Request for Proposals — Colorado Parks & Wildlife

    Liza Mitchell, a natural resource planner and ecologist with Pitkin County, stands near the wetlands on the North Star Nature Preserve on Aug. 26. A restoration project aims to keep water in the fen, which is habitat for many kinds of wildlife, including ducks, plovers and moose. Photo credit: Heather Sackett/Aspen Journalism

    Click the link to read the release on the Colorado Parks & Wildlife website (Travis Duncan):

    Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) is pleased to announce the Colorado Wildlife Habitat Program (CWHP) 2022 Request for Proposals (RFP). The CWHP is a statewide program that supports CPW’s mission by offering funding opportunities to private or public landowners who wish to protect wildlife habitat on their property, and/or provide wildlife-related recreational access to the public.

    The CWHP is an incentive-based program that funds conservation easements, public access easements, and fee title purchases to accomplish strategic wildlife conservation and public access goals.

    Funding for the 2022 cycle is approximately $11 million and is made possible by revenue generated from the sale of the Habitat Stamp, hunting and fishing licenses, and through CPW’s partnership with Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO).

    To Apply

    The landowner or a third party representative must complete application forms which address one or more of the following CPW’s 2022 funding priorities:

  • Public access for hunting, fishing, wildlife viewing
  • Big game winter range and migration corridors
  • Protecting habitat for species of concern (specifically those Species of Greatest Conservation Need, as identified in the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Statewide Action Plan)
  • Riparian areas and wetlands
  • Landscape-scale parcels and parcels that provide connectivity to conserved lands
  • 2022 funding preferences include working farms and ranches and properties adjacent to wildlife crossings. Application materials will be available on Monday, June 13, 2022 here: https://cpw.state.co.us/cwhp.

    All proposals must be received by 5 p.m. on Thursday, October 13, 2022.

    Completed applications are to be emailed to: Wildlife.RealEstateProposals(at)state.co.us.

    Applicants will receive a confirmation email acknowledging receipt.

    The CWHP funds conservation easements held by CPW or qualified third parties. Third parties may submit a proposal on behalf of the landowner and applications must be signed by the landowner(s). It is strongly recommended that applicants contact the CWHP manager before submitting an application.

    Additional Information

    CPW recognizes that maintaining wildlife-compatible agriculture on the landscape is an important benefit that can be achieved through conservation easements and land management plans. All conservation easements funded through the CWHP will require a management plan. The plan must be agreed upon by the landowner and CPW prior to closing, and may include provisions for the type, timing, and duration of livestock grazing, recreational activities, and overall management of wildlife habitat.

    Landowners are encouraged to develop a clear vision for the future of the property prior to submitting a proposal. Proposals are scored and ranked through a rigorous review process to evaluate strategic conservation impacts, biological significance, public benefits, and project feasibility. Local CPW staff can help describe the wildlife and habitat values accurately. Local CPW office contact information may be found here: https://cpw.state.co.us/learn/Maps/CPW_Areas.pdf.

    Initial funding recommendations will be deliberated in March 2023. Final decisions on which projects will move forward is expected to be determined at the Parks and Wildlife Commission’s May 2023 meeting.

    All conservation easement properties are required by law to be monitored annually. Third Party conservation easement holders will be required to submit to CPW copies of the annual monitoring report for each conservation easement funded through the CWHP.

    Public access is not required for all conservation easement projects, but compensation is available for granting wildlife-related public access to CPW. Landowners are welcome to submit proposals for projects where the sole purpose is to provide hunting or fishing access through a public access easement, without an associated conservation easement.

    Under Colorado law, terms of the transaction become a matter of public record after the project is completed and closed. Additionally, it is important for CPW and major funding partners to provide accurate information to the public regarding the CWHP’s efforts to protect vital habitats and provide hunting and fishing access opportunities. Applicants should be aware that after a project has closed, information about the transaction, including funding amounts, may be used by CPW for internal planning and public information purposes.

    All CWHP real estate transactions are subject to an appraisal and an appraisal review to verify value. Applicants are strongly encouraged to consult their legal and financial advisors when contemplating any real estate transaction associated with the CWHP.

    Contact Information

    For additional information about the CWHP or application process, please contact: Amanda Nims, CWHP Manager
    Colorado Parks and Wildlife, Real Estate Section 6060 Broadway
    Denver, CO 80216
    (303) 291-7269
    Amanda.nims@state.co.us

    Continuous #drought keeps #Aspen under tight #water restrictions: City utility department keeps water users in stage two level — The Aspen Times #RoaringForkRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Colorado Drought Monitor map June 7, 2022.

    Click the link to read the article on The Aspen Times website (Carolyn Sackariason). Here’s an excerpt:

    For the third year in a row, the city of Aspen will continue to be under stage two water restrictions due to elevated drought conditions in Pitkin County. The U.S. Drought Monitor last month elevated Aspen and Pitkin County from abnormally dry to moderate drought conditions, according to Steve Hunter, the city’s utilities resource manager.

    Map credit: The High Plains Regional Climate Center

    Not only has the area experienced above-normal temperatures and below normal precipitation, Aspen started this spring with below average soil moisture. What that means is that drier soils will infiltrate snowmelt runoff reducing the amount reaching the streams, according to Hunter…

    The city’s drought response committee has recommended in a staff memo to Aspen City Council that the municipality remain in stage two water restrictions, which it has been since the fall of 2020.

    The 2021-22 snowpack was average to slightly above average for the Roaring Fork watershed as Western Colorado saw above average temperatures and below average precipitation in April and May, which have accelerated snowmelt, according to Hunter. Stream flows in the Roaring Fork watershed are estimated to be from 45% to 80% of average, and most rivers are predicted to have a smaller and earlier peak than normal.

    Simple strategies can cut #water use and save money: From faulty flappers to sunken sprinklers, how small things can add to your water bill — News on Tap

    Click the link to read the article on the News on Tap website (Jay Adams):

    As summer is typically a time of higher water use (and higher monthly bills), Denver Water wants to remind customers that making changes to indoor and outdoor water use can help save water and save money.

    “The best way to save money on your water bill is to become more efficient at using water,” said Jeff Tejral, a former water efficiency manager at Denver Water.

    Denver Water and the Environmental Protection Agency’s WaterSense program have several resources available to help save water and money.

    From fixing leaks inside and outside to turning off the water when brushing your teeth, some of the following water-saving ideas are free or inexpensive and can be done quickly. Others, like revamping your landscape or replacing appliances, may require a more long-term approach.

    A constantly dripping faucet won’t only drive you crazy but it will freak Mother Nature out, too. Even a small faucet leak can waste up to three gallons of water each day. Photo credit: Delta Faucet

    Fixing leaks indoors

    Across the U.S., Americans waste about 1 trillion gallons of water every year through water leaks and spend about 10% of their water bill on wasted water, according to the EPA.

    “If you’ve got a leak, you are spending money on water that you’re not even using,” Tejral said. “Leaking toilets are often the biggest culprits for water waste. Some leaks are almost undetectable, while others are easy to spot.”

    The biggest cause of toilet leaks are worn-out flappers. These are the rubber parts that seal off the tank from the bowl. Over time, the flappers decay and allow water to slowly leak into the bowl.

    This toilet has a small, almost undetectable leak through its pink, circular flapper on the bottom of the tank. Some leaks can be detected by listening to hear if water is coming into the tank after it’s done filling. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    Another common cause of leaks is a float arm that is not set properly, causing water to constantly flow down the overflow/refill tube.

    The EPA reports that an average leaking toilet can waste about 200 gallons of water every day.

    For Denver Water customers, a leak of 200 gallons per day can add around $415 per year on your water bill.

    Here’s how to check if your toilet is leaking.

    Listen to hear if the toilet continues to run after a flush. Or, drop dye tabs or a few drops of food coloring into the toilet tank. If there is a leak, color will show up in the bowl after a few minutes depending on the size of the leak. Just make sure to flush after the test to prevent stains.

    Fixing flappers and float arms are relatively simple and inexpensive repairs. Replacement parts can be found at hardware and home improvement stores and there are many resources online to help guide you through the fix.

    Placing a few drops of food coloring in a toilet’s tank will leak into the bowl if there is a leak in the flapper. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    In addition to checking toilets for leaks, Tejral also suggests inspecting all water sources in your home, including faucets, showers, and water supply lines for dishwashers, washing machines, swamp coolers and ice machines.

    Denver Water has tips for conducting a self-audit of your home’s plumbing on its website.

    And remember, small leaks can add up over time. A leak of 10 drops per minute can waste 300 gallons of water per year.

    Not only can these leaks again add to your water bill, they can damage your home.

    Fixing leaks outdoors

    Spring is a great time to inspect your irrigation system and outdoor hoses for leaks as you turn the system on in preparation for the summer irrigation season. Be sure to wait until it warms up to turn on the system, the last freeze in the metro area is typically around May 4, according to the National Weather Service.

    Inspecting your sprinkler throughout the watering season is a good way to spot problems. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    Outdoor water leaks can be found in sprinkler heads, pvc pipes, backflow preventers, irrigation system valves, sprinkler heads and drip systems. Not only do leaks raise your water bill, they lower the performance of your entire sprinkler system.

    Let’s run the math on how leaks can hit you in the wallet.

    Irrigation system experts say it’s not uncommon for a sprinkler zone to leak one gallon per minute. If you run that zone for 18 minutes, three times per week, that’s 216 wasted gallons of water per month and roughly an additional $1.22 on your Denver Water bill.

    If there are similar leaks on multiple sprinkler zones in your yard, and those leaks continue all summer and over many years, that’s a lot of wasted water that adds onto your utility bill.

    And if you use a manual sprinkler, remember to check your hose connections for leaks too.

    Wet areas around sprinklers can be a sign of a leak in a supply line or connection underground. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    Watering rules can save you money

    The EPA reports that 50% of water put on lawns nationwide is lost due to wind, evaporation and runoff caused by inefficient irrigation methods.

    That’s why following Denver Water’s rules for outdoor water use can help save money on your water bill.

    “The summer watering rules are in effect from May 1 through Oct. 1. They can really help customers save money by encouraging them to water efficiently,” Tejral said. “We see a lot of inefficiencies with sprinkler systems and small problems that can add up.”

    One basic rule is to water between 6 p.m. and 10 a.m. This avoids watering in the heat of the day when water can be lost to evaporation before it ever lands on the grass.

    It is also best to avoid watering when it’s windy, so water doesn’t blow off your yard.

    Also, check to make sure sprinklers are not aiming onto the street, driveway or sidewalk.

    Homeowners should also check the weather forecast and look for rainy days when they can skip irrigating and let your lawn soak up Mother Nature’s rain.

    Check to make sure your sprinklers aren’t accidentally watering the sidewalk or street. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    Setting the control clock

    The watering rules can help your lawn by providing guidelines for how long to run sprinkler zones based on various types of sprinklers. Denver Water recommends watering only two or three days per week.

    Tejral reminds homeowners to check their irrigation system’s control clock throughout the watering season, avoiding the “set it and forget it” approach.

    Common problems with control clocks include sprinklers going off in the middle of the day, zones not running for an appropriate length of time and run times that are not adjusted during the watering season as weather conditions change.

    roperly programming your irrigation control system will improve the efficiency of your sprinklers and improve the health of your yard. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    “Understanding your control system is one of the most important things you can do to make sure you are watering efficiently and not wasting water,” Tejral said.

    Tejral also recommends setting controllers to “cycle and soak.”

    This means splitting the total run time for each sprinkler zone in half. For example, instead of running each zone for 18 minutes all at once, run each zone for nine minutes and then wait a bit before running the same zone for another nine minutes.

    “Cycle and soak practices give the ground more time to absorb water like a sponge,” Tejral said. “If the sponge is full, it can’t absorb any more water. The ground works the same way.”

    When customers do not follow these guidelines, they often think using more water is the best way to get a greener yard. But that often adds to the bill and does not help the grass.

    “Cycle and soak” is a watering technique used to break up sprinkler run times to give water time to soak into the ground. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    Another tip is to monitor each sprinkler zone because some zones need less water than others.

    For example, grass in a backyard that has several trees will need less water than grass in a front yard with no trees that is in the full sun all day.

    The watering rules also provide guidance for adjusting sprinkler zone run times throughout the watering season. Less water is needed in May and September, when the weather is cooler, than in June, July and August, when the weather is warmer.

    Avoid overwatering

    A common mistake that leads to higher water bills is overwatering the yard when brown spots or dry areas appear.

    “Often, homeowners see brown spots and immediately think they need to run their sprinklers longer, when in fact the brown spots could be due to a variety of problems,” Tejral said.

    Sprinkler-related reasons for brown spots include heads that have sunk into the ground, broken heads, sprinklers that are not aimed properly, water pressure issues and poor coverage. Doing a visual inspection when the sprinklers are running is a good way to spot problems.

    Some problems can be easily fixed.

    Note the leak on the sprinkler after it’s hit by a lawnmower. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    “Plastic sprinklers can crack in the winter and break easily in the summer if they’re hit by lawnmowers or stepped on, so it’s important to check them throughout the summer,” Tejral said.

    A comprehensive approach to checking how much area your sprinklers are reaching is to do a catch can test.

    This involves spreading cups across each sprinkler zone to see if water from the sprinklers is dispersing evenly and reaching target areas.

    Tejral says if you are a customer with a water bill that is over $200 per month during the irrigation season or if you are considering installing or retrofitting your irrigation system, you may benefit from hiring a professional who has earned their Qualified Water Efficient Landscaper certification.

    Landscape and irrigation professionals take part in Qualified Water Efficiency Landscape certification training at Castle Rock Water in February 2020. Photo credit: South Metro Water Supply Authority.

    A list of certified landscape and irrigation experts can be found on the QWEL website. The experts provide a number of services including sprinkler system audits, water efficient irrigation system designs, water-saving landscape designs and installation. Services are provided for residential and commercial customers.

    “A QWEL certified professional may cost money up front, but the savings will add up over time,” Tejral said. “A water efficient landscape will also hold up better in times of drought.”

    WaterSense also provides links to qualified professionals.

    Landscape change

    Changing the kind of lawn and landscape you have in your yard also can reduce water use.

    If you want a different look for your yard, consider different types of turf grass or other landscape changes.

    Mrs. Gulch’s Blue gramma “Eyelash” patch August 28, 2021.

    “Kentucky bluegrass requires more water,” Tejral said. “Homeowners who like the look of grass but are open to something different can look at buffalo grass, blue gramma and fescue.”

    Tejral said it is a good idea to evaluate your outdoor living needs every year and determine if grass is the best fit.

    Hardscapes, patios, vegetable gardens and shrubs may be more practical and require less water than grass.

    The owners of this home in Denver created a diverse backyard with with a mixture of grass, shrubs and patio space. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    Rebates

    Denver Water offers rebates for customers interested in reducing water use indoors and out.

    Rebates are available for some high-efficiency toilets, smart irrigation controllers and high-efficiency sprinkler heads. Be sure to check the Denver Water website for details about which models qualify for rebates.

    High-efficiency rotary spray heads deliver water at a slower rate to give water more time to soak into the ground. They also provide a stream of water that is more likely to fall to the ground compared to a spray head that sends out a mist of water that can be swept away by the slightest wind.

    High-efficiency sprinklers deliver water in streams and at a slower rate than fixed-spray head nozzles. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    Replace old fixtures and appliances

    While many water-saving fixes are free or relatively inexpensive to do, the EPA says the average family can save 13,000 gallons of water annually by investing a bit more to save money down the road.

    When buying new appliances and fixtures, purchase products that carry an Energy Star or WaterSense label, an indication that the product uses less energy or water compared to products that don’t carry those labels.

    This includes washing machines, dishwashers, showerheads, faucets, toilets, irrigation controllers, sprinkler parts and more.

    Installing WaterSense fixtures reduces water consumption and saves money on water bills. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    High-efficiency shower heads use about 1.75 gallons per minute compared to older ones that use 2.5 gallons per minute.

    Replacing an older washing machine with an Energy Star model can save 30 gallons to 40 gallons per load.

    Newer dishwashers can save 3,870 gallons of water annually.

    Replacing faucet aerators is an easy way to save water at home. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    Replacing faucet aerators is another way to save money and water.

    New aerators for bathroom sinks dispense just half a gallon of water per minute compared to older ones that use around 1 gallon to 1.5 gallons per minute.

    The TAVA Waters community in southeast Denver shows how advancements in technology allow water efficiency products to save money and water without loss of performance.

    Crews from Ecosystems install 2,500 high-efficiency toilets at the Tava Waters community in Denver in 2017. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    Other easy changes

    There are other simple actions that don’t cost anything to do but will save money on your water bill.

    These include taking shorter showers and turning off the water when brushing teeth.

    Running dishwashers and washing machines when they are full is another way to save water.

    You can also use a spray nozzle with a shut-off handle when washing the car or cleaning windows and patios.

    Directing downspouts to landscapes is another way to help plants without increasing water consumption.

    Even small amounts of extra rainwater add up over a season and can help keep trees and shrubs healthy. Just make sure the water drains toward the landscape and not toward the home’s foundation.

    Aiming downspouts away from the house and onto landscapes is a good way to take advantage of rain and snowmelt. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    Another free tip to improve your lawn’s health is to make sure you don’t mow the grass too low.

    Lawn experts at Colorado State University’s Extension office recommend keeping your grass height at 2.5 to 3 inches to make it more resistant to heat, drought and insects.

    And remember to cover up your pool or spa when not in use, this prevents water loss due to evaporation.

    Billing

    Denver Water encourages customers to review their monthly water bills. Unusually high bills could indicate a leak.

    Customers should also watch their email for Denver Water’s summer watering efficiency reports.

    The monthly report, sent June through October, shows if you are using water efficiently. If you want this report, make sure your Denver Water account is updated with your email or call Customer Care at 303-893-2444 to sign up.

    Denver Water sends out water efficiency reports to customers during the summer watering season. Image credit: Denver Water.

    Develop a plan

    While there are a wide range of ideas, Tejral said it’s perfectly OK to start small, or to make a plan that takes on manageable changes that will help save water in your home and landscape.

    The key to saving money, watering efficiently and having a healthy landscape is to develop a plan either by yourself or with a professional. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    “Many of these ideas save small amounts of water, but when you combine them, it can add up and result in significant savings,” Tejral said. “The good news is that saving water at home not only helps lower water bills, it also creates healthier lawns while reducing the impact on rivers and streams in the mountains where we collect our water.”

    For this story, the cost of water lost through leaks is based on $5.69 per 1,000 gallons, the average cost of water for Denver Water residential customers, both those inside and outside the city. The amount of money saved by changes suggested in this story are general amounts, as individual monthly bills include a range of factors that were not part of the calculations in this story.

    A new dimension in the #ColoradoRiver debate — @BigPivots #COriver #aridification

    Nook on Lake Powell. Photo credit: Allen Best/Big Pivots

    Click the link to read the article on the Big Pivots website (Allen Best):

    So I’m off to Glen Canyon, to prowl in the innards of that concrete beast, which looks ever more like the hydraulic equivalent of a mastodon since the waters of Lake Powell keep dipping, dipping, dipping – now sitting at 3,527.7 feet above elevation.

    Powell is a tad over 25% full.

    My mission has to do with the loss of hydroelectric generation. I began thinking about this six or seven years ago, and now it seems we’re on the cusp, although as many have lately noted, the hydro generation has already dropped off significantly. Powell is 37 feet above that minimum power pool level. The Bureau of Reclamation earlier in May announced it will release less water to the lower basin states from Powell, to keep water levels up. It’s getting harder and harder to make the hydraulic empire of the American Southwest work as designed.

    Now comes what one Colorado River expert describes as a “huge” declaration. Bruce Babbitt, the governor of Arizona from 1978 to 1987 and secretary of Interior during the Clinton presidency, says it’s time for a more substantial rethinking of the Colorado River Compact, single most important agreement governing the Colorado River.

    “While I once thought that these aridification scenarios were kind of abstract and way out in the future, I don’t think that anymore,” Babbitt said in an interview with the Los Angeles Times’ Ian James.

    “It’s absolutely urgent that we start thinking now, while there’s time, about how we adjust the compact, the regulations, the necessary reductions, in the most careful way so that we limit the damage, which can really be extreme.”

    Climate change models had predicted a warming Southwest. The resulting aridification – as opposed to the more ephemeral drought – has been well documented in the 21st century. This winter provides yet another example of at least modestly good snows followed by a runoff substantially below average. As the dry winds blow and the temperatures warm, the moisture gets sucked up, instead of going downstream.

    I mused about this after a Thanksgiving trip to Santa Fe that included a side trip to the Bishop’s Lodge, site of the 1922 crafting of the Colorado River Compact among the seven basin states. Their assumptions were badly misaligned with hydrologic reality, as became increasingly evident in the 20th century.

    See: Visiting Bishop’s Lodge and the Colorado River Compact

    Still, the conventional wisdom has been that the compact was difficult to achieve during a time of assumed plenty. Why would anybody want to open it up now? There was just too much risk, too much potential for inviting paralyzing acrimony.

    Instead, in a new era of cooperative, water managers in the 21st century has created end-around agreements. The most recent iteration of end-around is the 2019 Drought Contingency Plan. It is being followed by another such plan, to be ready by 2026, requiring harder decisions, more compromises, greater recognition of the water supplies that are little more than half of that were assumed 100 years ago.

    More will be needed, said Babbitt.

    “We can no longer just kind of muddle along. We really have to think big, because we’re going to have to create a new regulatory framework. And it doesn’t mean that we have to start over from scratch,” Babbitt told the LA Times.

    “The Colorado River Compact has worked for 100 years. But there is now a future scenario in which the fixed delivery obligation — from the Upper Basin states at Lees Ferry to California, Arizona and Nevada — simply doesn’t work.”

    In this, Babbitt alludes to a clause in the compact, Article III(d), which requires Colorado and other upper-basin states to not cause the river to flow less than 75 million acre-feet over the course of every 10 years. But what if the river is only producing 9 million acre-feet?
    Does that mean Denver can’t divert water? Or the Colorado Big-Thompson? Even in Fort Morgan, people drink Colorado River water.

    We’re in for a rude reckoning still in Colorado, regardless of how this shakes out on the Colorado River Compact. New landscaping I see in Arvada, where 72% of water comes from the Colorado River Basin, fails to recognize this future. Hurrah for the mayor of Aurora, Mike Coffman, who said it’s time to ban new turf golf courses – just as Las Vegas has decided.

    But the language of the compact might be interpreted to say that the Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and New Mexico will absorb nearly all the reality of climate change. Babbitt is saying no, it shouldn’t be.

    This interview reverses what Babbitt said in an op-ed published in the Arizona Republic in July 2021. “We have not reached that point,” he said of reconsidering the compact.

    Babbitt may have been responding to a paper written by Eric Kuhn, the former general manager of the Colorado River Water Conservation District, and several others, including Jack Fleck, a New Mexico-based writer and co-author with Kuhn of a book called “Science be Dammed.”

    See my March 2020 review here.

    “Our basic argument is that climate change has undermined the basic purpose of the compact – an ‘equitable division’ of the use of the waters of the river between the two (upper and lower) basins,” Kuhn explained to me by e-mail.

    “I’m surprised (and pleased) how quickly a revered figure like Governor/Secretary Babbitt has come to the conclusion as well. My optimistic view remains that we’re looking at a collective interpretation of the compact that if climate change, not Upper Basin depletions, is the reason that the upper basins can’t meet the 75 million acre-feet every 10 years, there is no compact violation. The chance of a formal amendment to the compact ratified by seven state legislatures and Congress is still very remote.”

    I’ll be closely watching where this conversation goes. It would be a huge pivot for the Southwest.

    Eugene Clyde LaRue measuring the flow in Nankoweap Creek, 1923. Photo credit: USGS via Environment360

    Governor Polis signs bills to reduce #groundwater use, fund water #conservation projects — #Colorado Newsline

    Irrigation equipment on a farm in Montrose County, Colorado on May 29, 2021 with Lone Cone in the background. (Chase Woodruff/Colorado Newsline)

    Gov. Jared Polis on Monday signed two bills into law that are aimed at conserving a precious and dwindling resource in the state: water. For the bill signings, the governor traveled to the San Luis Valley, an important agricultural region where farmers face mounting challenges from extreme drought driven by climate change.

    Republican Sens. Cleave Simpson of Alamosa and Jerry Sonnenberg of Sterling, plus Reps. Dylan Roberts, an Avon Democrat, and Marc Catlin, a Montrose Republican, sponsored the first bill, Senate Bill 22-28. It puts $60 million of federal COVID-19 relief money into a new “groundwater compact compliance and sustainability” fund to help finance projects that reduce groundwater use in the Rio Grande and Republican river basins.

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    Such projects might include efforts to “buy and retire” wells used for irrigation as well as portions of irrigated farmland, with the goal of restoring water to underground aquifers and helping the communities meet deadlines to reduce their water use. The Colorado Water Conservation Board can allocate money from the groundwater fund based on recommendations from the boards of directors for the Rio Grande Water Conservation District and the Republican River Water Conservation District.

    “The timing of the availability of federal dollars and the growing sense of urgency in both basins created a unique opportunity that will serve both of these communities well,” Simpson told the Alamosa Citizen in April.

    The other bill Polis signed, House Bill 22-1316, provides millions of dollars for construction projects approved by the Colorado Water Conservation Board. The bill’s legislative sponsors included Reps. Karen McCormick, D-Longmont, and Catlin, along with Sens. Kerry Donovan, D-Vail, and Simpson. Among the local and regional projects funded are:

    • $3.8 million for the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program. By increasing water flows through the central Platte River habitat area — which stretches across northern Colorado, Wyoming and Nebraska — the project is aimed at improving conditions for the interior least tern, pallid sturgeon, piping plover and whooping crane.
    • $2 million to support the state’s efforts to comply with the Republican River compact, which was first negotiated between Colorado, Kansas and Nebraska in the early 1940s. The compact governs the three states’ use of the water resources in the Republican River basin, which begins on the plains of eastern Colorado and flows through northwest Kansas and eastern Nebraska.
    • $500,000 for the Arkansas River Decision Support System. The Arkansas River DSS project involves collecting data on characteristics like climate and groundwater in the Arkansas River basin, which covers the southeast quadrant of the state, and analyzing the data to help inform future decisions about water use.

    Polis, a Democrat, signed both bills into law at the Rio Grande Water Conservation District offices in Alamosa. According to a statement from Polis’ office, the governor then joined state and national officials in the nearby town of Center to champion a major development for the San Luis Valley’s potato industry.

    The U.S. recently began exporting potatoes — including those grown in the Valley — to new regions in Mexico under an agreement reached late last year between the two countries. Previously, potato exports were limited to a 16-mile border zone.

    “This agreement, paired with the critical work the Valley is doing to protect and conserve our water, will make a major positive difference for our farmers, meaning more money in the pockets of hardworking Coloradans,” Polis said in a statement. “Colorado is strategically positioned to lead the nation in potato exports to Mexico.”

    Colorado sent its first shipment of potatoes to Mexico under the new agreement last week, according to the statement.

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    Is #ColoradoRiver demand management unfair to farmers? It’s complicated — @Land_Desk #COriver #aridification

    Sprinklers and Four Corners Power Plant. San Juan County, New Mexico, 2022.

    Click the link to read the article on The Land Desk website (Jonathan Thompson):

    Last week, [a Colorado online daily] ran an opinion piece about the dwindling Colorado River and what role agriculture may or may not play in helping to shore it up. It was written by Don Schwindt, a Cortez, Colorado, farmer, and Dan Keppen, Executive Director of the Family Farm Alliance. Along with praising a Southwestern Colorado dam, they argue that agriculture is important and “must be protected by ensuring water remains on-farm.”

    They go on to say:

    “Now, the narrative in some recent media coverage is even more troubling. For some, the current severe drought provides a platform to advocate taking water from farmers to make more available for cities and the environment.

    “The hydrology of the West may be changing, but that should not drive hasty decisions. Agricultural water cannot be simply viewed as the default “reservoir” to meet other growing water demands.”

    They are referring to “demand management,” which can include encouraging farmers to plant less thirsty crops, to increasing efficiency, to paying farmers to stop watering their fields and leave the water in the river (either buying water rights and permanently transferring them, or leasing them when needed on a temporary basis).

    As I read the piece, I was struck less by the arguments, which were fairly predictable, than by my reactions to the arguments. One sentence would have me scoffing, the next nodding in agreement, and another both nodding and snorting derisively. That’s not because I’m insane. It’s because these issues—the “Law of the River,” agriculture’s role in culture and ecosystems, and the Colorado River system—are complicated as all get out. And that sometimes means that the only workable solutions to the growing problems on the river are not always vary palatable. I like farmers, for example, but I also like rivers and the fish in them. It’s getting more and more difficult to have both.

    The following is an attempt at a Data Dump response of sorts to the column.

    The Colorado River is facing a serious supply-demand imbalance. A century ago, when the framers of the Colorado Compact got together to divvy up the river’s waters, they made a few mistakes. First, and most egregious, they didn’t include tribal nations in the negotiations, despite the fact that tribes are sovereign nations and collectively are entitled to first rights to all the water in the river. That was just wrong. Second, they overestimated the amount of water in the river, which in some ways was an honest screw up, given the records they had to work from. And, third, they parceled out too big a portion of the water they thought was in the river, leaving too small of a buffer in case their calculations were off (they were).

    Natural Flow is an estimate of how much water would have naturally run past Lee’s Ferry if there were no dams or diversions upstream. It is calculated using the actual flow, historic flows, and upstream consumptive uses. Bureau of Reclamation modeling is complete to 2019; I extrapolated 2020 and 2021 based on Lake Powell inflows. The 1922 Colorado River Compact gave 7.5 million acre feet to the Upper Basin, 7.5 MAF to the Lower Basin, and (in the ‘40s) 1.5 MAF to Mexico, based on early 1900s observations. As the graph above shows, the average flows dropped below that level a decade later and stayed there aside from a brief respite in the 1980s. Source: USBR

    The result: The river is over-allocated, and would be even if climate change were not a factor. So, supply was already lagging behind demand two decades ago, when the Southwest entered the megadrought in a dramatic way (i.e. 2002, the year of our desiccation). Now the supply is diminishing while demand holds steady, which is rapidly drawing down Lakes Powell and Mead (and other reservoirs). With those huge water “banks” at a critically low level, the Colorado River Basin is at its breaking point. Demand must be slashed, quickly and significantly.

    While overall demand on the Colorado River trended upward from 1970 to the late 1990s, it plateaued when the region entered the current megadrought. Although this data only goes to 2010, the plateau has pretty much held. But at over 14 MAF per year, demand is significantly higher than what the river has supplied most years. Note that more water is lost to reservoir evaporation than is sent to Mexico. Source: USBR Colorado River Basin Water Supply and Demand Study.

    The logical way to make big cuts in consumption is to go to the biggest consumers. And the biggest user of Colorado River water, by far, is not lawns, not golf courses, not the Bellagio fountain in Vegas. It is agriculture: all of those orchards, cornfields, alfalfa fields, ranches, and so on. It’s true in the Upper Basin, in the Lower Basin, and in each state except Nevada, which uses virtually all of its relatively minuscule portion of the river to keep Las Vegas from shriveling up and dissolving back into the desert.