Efforts continue throughout Colorado with implementation of the one-year-old state water plan, and Summit County is trying to do its part.
A countywide push led by the town of Frisco and the High County Conservation Center (HC3) recently garnered a $94,000 grant from the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) to move forward with a comprehensive Blue River watershed efficiency-planning project. The regional venture, scheduled to start in January 2017, has a total budget of $162,500, and matching cash and in-kind labor contributions from each of the county’s major municipal water providers make up the difference…
The Blue River itself acts as a source for drinking water and agricultural irrigation to Summit’s 29,000 year-round population, not to mention the countless visitors who spend time on the water body each year for recreation. Projections suggest the local population will increase by at least 5 percent over the next decade, meaning the need to conserve and discover additional efficiencies is one of the more painless ways to get ready for the additional ask.
“Water doesn’t recognize geopolitical boundaries, so it’s important we work as a watershed to accomplish some really good water conservation goals,” said Frisco Councilwoman Jessica Burley, who is also HC3’s community programs manager. “The state has set some interesting water goals, and it’s our job to go forth and conquer from a regional perspective. With these initiatives and this plan, hopefully we will make an impact on the Colorado River basin.”
The statewide plan calls for 400,000 acre-feet of new storage and that same total in conservation from urban areas. An acre-foot is the U.S. standard measurement for water bodies and equates to about 326,000 gallons. Sharing 50,000 acre-feet of water possessed by agriculture based on senior rights through alternative methods is another facet of the state plan.
Thus far, the execution of much of the lofty benchmarks has been sluggish, in part due to a lack of funding. It’s why obtaining dollars from the state for such municipal projects is so important. Not only does it provide capital at present while the research is done, but the initial approval also offers eligibility for future grants and loans. Without an CWCB-endorsed efficiency plan in place, funds are otherwise not available.
Mimicking a model previously created by the Roaring Fork Valley, Summit’s Blue River planning enterprise is backed by Breckenridge, Frisco, Copper Mountain Metro, Dillon, Silverthorne, as well as Summit County government — “So we all have a little skin in the game, so to speak,” said Burley — with the primary objective of reducing water consumption by a measurable amount in the next few years. The consortium anticipates a 14-month investigation and review process, followed by some potential actionable items, such as leak detection and repairs, education and outdoor watering mandates, as soon as a year after that.
“This is the first step into bringing the Colorado Water Plan to fruition,” explained Jim Pokrandt of the Colorado River District, a public policy agency in charge of protecting the named basin. “Part of being more water efficient is finding those leaks and stopping them. That’s efficiency at a systematic level, then it drills down to the retail level with things like lawn irrigation, efficient appliances and efficient spigots and showerheads.”
If it’s to be successful, putting the ambitious state plan into practice will ultimately fall more on the shoulders of each local community and watershed, he added, rather than through commands dictated at the state level. And that’s a summons Summit County leadership recognizes and is attempting to embrace one year later.
FromThe Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Kevin Fixler):
Even proponents for the first-of-its kind strategy — a non-binding set of goals and guidelines that prepares for the year 2050, when Colorado’s population is anticipated to more than double to 10.5 million — acknowledge it’s gotten off to a slow start. But after all of the excitement, and with it some friction, surrounding the water plan’s unveiling last November, the biggest steps to come revolve around its actual execution…
The water plan calls for some lofty objectives on that 35-year timeline. They include achieving an additional 400,000 acre-feet of urban conservation, attaining that same amount in new storage, and using alternative methods to share 50,000 more acre-feet of water designated for agricultural needs. Such techniques entail approaches like long-term rotational fallowing and short-term leasing and supply agreements to keep the water with farmers and ranchers as needed to continue raising the crops we all eat, but through procedures that also provide for the Front Range’s growing populations as available…
“The ability to lessen the pressure on rivers, and also give agricultural and recreational economies certainty, is some of the biggest value that the water plan provides,” said Sinjin Eberle, communications director of the Intermountain West chapter of water advocacy group American Rivers. “The river connects all of us all across the Southwest. All that water comes from up here, and how we manage it up here sets the tone all the way down the basin.”
Colorado’s water year in 2016 was about average, which experts see as a strong season. Year to year, there can be serious volatility, with the Upper Colorado River Basin — made up of Colorado, Wyoming and parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah — seeing record lows over the past 15 years in 2002 and both 2012 and 2013 for water available to the Lower Basin of California and Nevada, as well as the other portions of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah. The inflow into northern Arizona’s Lake Powell, where the Colorado River runs before terminating at Mexico’s Gulf of California, is the ultimate determining factor.
Those totals for the past year mean almost nothing for the one upcoming, however, with drought always a possibility in the Southwest. It’s another reason why settling on a comprehensive state plan that satisfies all of its needs, including the recreation and wildlife economies of places like Summit County and throughout the Western Slope, is so pivotal.
“All the reasons we created the water plan a year ago are still prevalent in Colorado,” said Beckwith. “The underlying issue is if we don’t act and we don’t change, we end up drying up our rivers, we don’t provide a sustainable water supply to our cities and we leave agriculture in the dust.”
At present, the biggest strides for the plan have been made with the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) producing proposals for the allocation of grant money from its annual Water Supply Reserve Fund. The account, created from legislation passed by the state’s General Assembly in 2006, is spread across various water projects that theoretically align with those goals of the water plan. To date, the fund has provided more than $27.5 million for projects spanning the nine water basins.
The focus of late for how to spend those dollars consists of funding stream management plans and forthcoming water efficiency programs. At its bimonthly meeting in September, the CWCB also updated its eligibility criteria for what qualifies recipients to receive those funds based on a checklist. The focus of this month’s meeting, scheduled for Nov. 16 and 17, will now be on how to carry on financially supporting projects at levels of the past given momentous shortfall in revenues that fund the account.
The Water Supply Reserve is supported by severance taxes produced from energy purchases. With a weighty drop off in production of gas, oil and coal, on top of unremarkable sales, the CWCB will need to come up with a way to backfill millions of dollars in losses in the interim, while also finding a solution for the future, if it hopes to hit some of those targets in the state water plan along the named time frame.
“The funding has just been hammered by low energy prices and cutbacks in productions,” explained the Colorado River District’s Jim Pokrandt. “That’s in the short term. And in the long term, the CWCB will need to come up with a funding stream dedicated to these water projects. Because even with full funding, the fund wouldn’t begin to scratch the surface of some of the work that needs to be done.”
A proposal to help allevaite investment strains includes a loan guarantee fund that would back regional project requests with state dollars to ensure cash advances are obtainable to complete water ventures moving forward. Sales and container taxes, mill levies and water tap fees are other mechanisms the CWCB will explore — all of which would either need to come through possible legislation with the General Assembly or from future voter approval — to come up with the assets needed to resume with the implementation phase of the overall plan. But with both education and infrastructure accounts also impacted by the severance tax downturn and competing for the same funding, no easy answers currently exist.
It’s only after new dollars are discovered that further implementation of the water plan can occur. According to the state water roadmap, that means bolstering those stream management plans and applying additional scrutiny to potential large-scale water developments down the road, if deemed necessary. More emphasis on conservation and increased water efficiency will also be a large part of purported success.
The one thing that is certain, though, is that those who contributed to helping shape the framework of the water plan will keep at it given the promise the state spawned with its release. Holding decision-makers accountable and ensuring the plan does eventually have real impact across Colorado persists as their focus.
“The water plan really does create this full-on recognition that the environment and healthy, flowing rivers are important to Colorado’s brand, to our economy, to us as a state,” said Beckwith. “So many people spent a lot of time working on this plan that no one wants it to just sit on the shelf.”
The Colorado Water Conservation Board voted last week to seek the funding in next year’s budget to get going on the $20 billion statewide water plan unveiled a year ago…
At the heart of the plan is the idea of urging state water consumers to wean themselves from about 1 percent of their usage per year.
If all goes well, it’s still a tall order…
Of the $55 million requested for next year, $30 million would go into a loan fund to help cities finance repairs and other projects to help save water, and $25 million would kick-start other parts of the plan.
The budget legislators will consider next session, however, is projected at $28.5 billion, which envisions $500 million in cuts and delayed spending for such programs as transportation, health care and education.
The governor’s budget proposal also calls for the state to hang on to an estimated $32 million in severance taxes from mineral extraction that usually would go to local governments to pay for such projects as water conservation.
Severance taxes have been eyed as a way to pay for a part of the components of the water plan, including replacing leaky pipes, raising the height of dams to expand reservoirs, restoring watersheds and allowing water deals between rural and urban areas to still help preserve agriculture.
The 1 percent statewide water-saving target would represent 130 billion gallons a year, according to the plan. The savings target could eventually accommodate more than 1.1 million additional households, the plan envisions.
The $20 billion price tag includes water projects and river restoration programs across the state by 2050, with most of the money coming from local governments that benefit from individual projects, federal sources, private enterprise and environmental foundations. Statewide, taxpayers are expected to pony up about $3 billion over the next 34 years.
“In my view it’s a really important conclusion that after the first year we have a lot of objectives; we have a good first year of figuring out what we need to do, and now we have a commitment, at least by the board, to start spending resources to implement the plan,” said Bart Miller, Healthy Rivers program director for Boulder-based Western Resource Advocates…
“In the world of water, much of the issue is and should be bipartisan,” he said. “If you’re talking about water in the West it feels to me that that’s an issue that transcends individual people or individual parties. It’s kind of a basic thing we all need to work together on.”
Miller and other conservation leaders used the one-year anniversary of the plan’s unveiling to urge leaders to continue to progress, despite short-term budget hurdles.
In addition to the fast expanding state population, climate projections show hotter and drier conditions in the American Southwest, including Colorado, which could lead to more drought.
Abby Burk, Western Rivers Program lead for Audubon Rockies, said that while implementing the plan would not be easy, the issues are pressing.
“Now more than ever, Coloradans must continue to work together for implementation of the plan and reach for smart bold actions now in order to secure our water future for people and the environment,” she said.
Matt Rice, Colorado Basin director with American Rivers, called the sweeping conservation effort “an example of people across Colorado, and across a wide array of interests, coming together to forge this important plan for our state’s water future.
“But any good plan is only as good as its implementation, and now we must urge our leaders to continue working toward fully implementing the principles developed in the final plan.”
Here’s the release from the US Bureau of Reclamation (Peter Soeth):
Today, the Bureau of Reclamation released two WaterSMART Grants funding opportunities including the water and energy efficiency grants funding opportunity and the new small-scale water efficiency projects funding opportunity. These two funding opportunities will help move the West towards resilience in the face of drought and ongoing imbalances between water supply and demand.
The new small-scale water efficiency projects funding opportunity is for small improvements that have been identified through previous planning efforts. Projects eligible for funding include installation of flow measurement or automation in a specific part of a water delivery system, lining of a section of a canal to address seepage, small rebate programs that result in reduced residential water use, or other similar projects that are limited in scope. These projects are eligible to receive up to $75,000 in federal funding. For this funding opportunity, Reclamation has developed a streamlined selection and review process to reflect the small-scale nature of these projects.
Previously, small-scale water efficiency projects were funded through Reclamation’s Water Conservation Field Services Program, which beginning this year will focus on planning and design activities to help lay the groundwork for future improvements. Proposals for this new category of WaterSMART Grants will be accepted, evaluated and selected on a rolling basis with the final application submission deadline on April 27, 2017, at 4:00 p.m. MDT. This funding opportunity is available at http://www.grants.gov by searching for funding opportunity BOR-DO-17-F011.
Water and energy efficiency grants focus on larger scale projects that result in quantifiable and sustained water savings and that may have several components intended to address a significant water management concern. Projects include canal lining and piping, more comprehensive installation of irrigation flow measurement or canal automation improvements, installation of water meters and other similar projects. Projects may also include components that increase renewable energy use and improve energy efficiency, and projects that result in instream flows for endangered species and other fish and wildlife or support water sustainability in other ways.
Applications may be submitted to one of two funding groups:
Funding Group I: Up to $300,000 will be available for smaller projects that may take up to two years to complete.
Funding Group II: Up to $1,000,000 will be available for larger, phased projects that will take up to three years to complete. No more than $500,000 in federal funds will be provided within a given year to complete each phase.
Proposals must be submitted by January 18, 2017, at 4:00 p.m. MST. The funding opportunity is available at http://www.grants.gov by searching for funding opportunity number BOR-DO-17-F012.
Those eligible to apply for both grants are states, tribes, irrigation districts, water districts or other organizations with water or power delivery authority located in the western United States or United States territories as identified in the Reclamation Act of June 17, 1902. Another WaterSMART Grants funding opportunity, for water marketing activities, is expected to be released this winter.
WaterSMART aims to improve water conservation and sustainability, helping water resource managers make sound decisions about water use. The program identifies strategies to ensure this generation and future ones will have sufficient amounts of clean water for drinking, economic activities, recreation and ecosystem health. The program also identifies adaptive measures to address climate change and its impact on future water demands. To learn more, please visit http://www.usbr.gov/watersmart.
Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:
Summer’s heat is off, and so are sprinklers — if you want to prevent costly damage when the first freeze falls. Winterize your irrigation system, hoses and spigots now by clearing them of any water.
Since Colorado winters can also bring periods of tepid temperatures and dry skies, trees and shrubs may still need watering. If you must water, do so the efficient way: by hand, applying water only where it’s needed.
Here are other ways to get your yard ready to weather the winter:
Mow. Late-season mowing helps reduce the risk of mold and other diseases. Try to get in one last cut before the next snow flies.
Mulch. With one easy step, you can both “rake” and bag while benefiting your yard. Just keep the bag off your mower and mulch the leaves into the grass.
Make plans. Start prepping next year’s garden. Consider saving water the tasty, health-conscious way by growing vegetables instead of grass. If you need inspiration, check out this customer’s veggie box haven.
You’ll reap the benefits of your prep work when the next growing season springs. (In the meantime, know that we’re employing some forward thinking on customers’ behalf.)
Colorado’s corn industry is looking for tools to boost water use efficiency, ranging from sophisticated variable rate irrigation systems to low-cost electronics and hand-made devices that can be put together with materials from the nearest hardware store.
Colorado’s corn industry is looking for tools to boost water use efficiency, ranging from sophisticated variable rate irrigation systems to low-cost electronics and hand-made devices that can be put together with materials from the nearest hardware store.
Farmers and agribusiness professionals got the chance to kick the tires recently on several related research projects during a meeting and tour held at Wray, Colorado. Corn harvest, which started roughly a week and a half ahead of normal in the area, was already under way in surrounding fields.
In addition to discussing progress on drought tolerant hybrids, the group heard from private crop consultant Chad Godsey, of Eckley, who is looking into the amount of potential water savings from variable rate irrigation…
Mark Sponsler, the association’s executive director, praised the project, saying it was right in line with heightened concerns about resource management by farmers, rural communities and the general public.
In fact, Colorado Corn is launching a new farm stewardship award this year, to be presented at the association’s annual meeting and banquet Dec. 7 in Yuma. The honor will include a $10,000 cash award and an expense paid trip to the next annual Commodity Classic, which brings together leading producers of corn, wheat, soybeans and sorghum.
In a field at Rogers Farm south of Wray, Godsey pointed to an irrigation tower outfitted with a variable rate motor. Blue valves mounted at the top of each drop nozzle shut on and off independently as the unit crosses the field. Godsey said he was using a soil texture grid map along with six soil moisture probes and an on-site weather station to set up his irrigation scheduling.
“I’m confident we can save 15 percent on our water use compared to just straight irrigation, and I think our savings in sandy soils could be even better,” he said. “We’ve been pumping less than we historically have, and last year we did not see it affect our yield at all.”
Eventually, he hopes to test his theory in a year when rainfall is more limited.
He is also evaluating the impact of various water and fertilizer rates throughout the growing season and the effect of higher seeding rates on irrigation demand.
One of the challenges to adopting variable rate technology is cost. Jim Williams, the president of J&J Irrigation in Wray, estimated that variable rate technology nearly doubles the cost of a new center-pivot, which starts at around $60,000. In some cases, financial incentives are available through programs like the National Resource Conservation Service’s EQIP or from rural electric cooperatives, which can help defray the costs.
Recognizing the need for cost containment in the current economic environment, a team from USDA’s Ag Research Service in Fort Collins has been working to identify an affordable tool for diagnosing water stress and pinpointing precisely when irrigation applications are needed…
something new has come on the market, the FLIR One thermal imaging device. For around $200, it attaches to an Android or Mac smartphone and effectively turns it into a thermal imaging camera.
To enhance the use of the device, they also showed off two low-cost, easy-to-build accessories. A “selfie stick” for mounting the camera-phone allows them to vary the angle of photos taken from above the canopy. A simple shade-measuring tool, made by applying strips of tape to a plain white plastic pipe, can be laid on the ground under the plants and used to help judge canopy thickness.
“It’s a cheap way of getting true facts about your field,” Willi said.
Sponsler suggested the monitoring technique could be used to complement readings from soil moisture probes, which are expensive to install. He could also see it becoming popular among crop consultants who need quick and easy ways to monitor crop conditions in multiple fields.
He also noted that incorporating it with CSU’s corn hybrid trials might help researchers collect more data about the how plants respond to various growing conditions throughout the season.
Water makes the West as we know it. Congressman Wayne Aspinall put it best: In the West, when you touch water, you touch everything. Never have these words rang more true that today, as we endure a record 16th year of drought in the Colorado River basin — and nearly everyone and everything has been affected.
Demand for water in the river basin now exceeds supply, threatening the drinking water supply for 40 million users of the Colorado River, an indispensable agricultural yield that depends on sufficient water, and the river that powers a $26 billion outdoor recreation economy based on river-related activities. Clearly everything we can do to conserve water and use it more efficiently means a great deal at this point.
Understanding this, President Obama has recently taken several successive measures to bring drought relief and resiliency to Colorado and many of the suffering areas that depend on the Colorado River. In March, coinciding with World Water Day, he issued a directive calling on federal agencies to ramp up the nation’s capabilities to address long-term drought resilience, ordering agencies to collaborate on drought-related activities in key watersheds. It benefits taxpayers and our environment when we ensure that drought resiliency and recovery assistance operates at peak effectiveness.
Subsequently, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Estevan López announced in June their intent to boost funding for and better coordinate their respective key water conservation programs: the Environmental Quality Incentive Program and WaterSMART, respectively. This kind of investment and collaboration is essential at a time when drought is the new normal in the West.
That said, our work is far from over. The WaterSMART grant program, championed by Deputy Secretary of the Interior Mike Connor, is a critical component of efforts to restore water supply and demand balance in the West. WaterSMART grants have been a powerful tool for spurring locally-led water conservation projects. These grants come with a match requirement that leverages federal investment dollar for dollar with state and private funding, which means they’re great for taxpayers as much as water users. However, very few projects that have received grants thus far have benefited fish or wildlife habitat, or put water back into our rivers, even though species recovery is one goal of the program.
Just a few small adjustments to WaterSMART grant criteria would make the program even more productive. If we began to reward collaborative, multi-stakeholder efforts to improve watershed health while creating agriculture or municipal water supply benefits, our environment and recreation economy would also stand to benefit. We would create more drought resiliency by keeping water in our rivers and protecting wildlife habitat while improving the reliability of municipal or agricultural water supply. We should also look at how grant recipients can be more transparent about sharing data related to water use and savings. These are small changes to Reclamation’s successful WaterSMART program that would create even more public benefit by supporting local, collaborative, place-based solutions to water scarcity.
Without question, the administration has taken important steps this year to combat drought in the Colorado River and in other key watersheds across the United States. But, there’s always more to do. Coming from “the geography of hope” Westerners are willing. I would urge the Administration to partner with us and adopt these modest but strategic changes to the Interior Department’s water conservation grant program. Water is everything in the West, and we must work together and do everything in our power to protect and sustain a healthy Colorado River — no matter how small the step may seem — so that it may continue to be an environmental, recreational, and economic resource and a vital source of life for us all.
A resolute effort in Arizona, California, and Nevada to reduce Colorado River water use is slowing the decline of Lake Mead and delaying mandatory restrictions on water withdrawals from the drying basin.
The Bureau of Reclamation, the federal agency that oversees lake levels, forecasts that Arizona, California, and Nevada will draw less than 7 million acre-feet from the river this year, some 500,000 acre-feet less than they are permitted to consume and the lowest since 1992. (An acre-foot is 325,851 gallons, enough water to flood an acre of land with one foot of water.) At Lake Mead’s current water level, 500,000 acre-feet equals slightly more than six feet in elevation — just enough water to tip the lake into shortage levels, if it had been used.
The savings have been building. Four major conservation programs since 2014 have added roughly 10 feet of water to Lake Mead since 2014, according to Rose Davis, spokeswoman for the Bureau of Reclamation’s Lower Colorado Office. These programs, collaborations between federal, state, and local agencies, pay farmers not to grow crops, line earthen canals with concrete to prevent leaks, remove grass from golf courses, or install more efficient irrigation equipment. The savings are banked in Lake Mead.
“These programs are working,” Davis told Circle of Blue. “These partnerships are working. They are making a difference.”
The August analysis of the basin’s hydrology, an assessment carried out every month by the Bureau of Reclamation, concluded that the water level in Lake Mead will be above 1,075 feet in elevation next January. Those dates are important because the August study determines how much water the Bureau will release from Lake Powell into Lake Mead the following year and whether there will be a shortage in the three lower basin states. A shortage, which has never been declared, happens when the August study shows that Lake Mead will be below 1,075 feet in January. That will not happen next year. The lake’s forecasted water level in January is 1,080 feet.
The benefits of conservation spread beyond next year. The risk of a shortage in the near-term will go down. The last time the Bureau ran the numbers, in April, the results showed a 56 percent chance of shortage for 2018. The updated calculations, which will be published next week, will show “greatly reduced odds,” Davis said.
Water managers in the basin say that conservation gains can be maintained and extended. “All of the programs are long-term, reaching out several decades,” Tanya Trujillo, executive director of the Colorado River Board of California, told Circle of Blue.
More Challenges Still To Come
Even with the conservation success, hard decisions are close at hand. One, the basin must come to terms with the “structural deficit.” This is the term water managers use to describe a basic imbalance: in a year with average water releases from Lake Powell, the water level at Lake Mead will drop by roughly 12 feet because demand exceeds supply. James Eklund, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, called the structural deficit “a root discussion over the last several years” among all seven basin states.
Two, the risk calculations will change as the four states in the upper basin — Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming — pull more water out of the basin.
Three, water managers and politicians alike must figure out what to do about the Salton Sea, a festering sore in the basin’s politics. The sea — in fact, a lake — was created in 1905 when the Colorado River burst through a dike and filled a desert depression that had no ocean outlet. In later years, the Salton, now California’s largest lake, swelled with farm drainage and grew saltier from evaporation.
The Salton has been shrinking since 2003, when a historic agreement between Imperial Irrigation District and state, federal, and tribal agencies resulted in a large transfer of water from farm to city, which reduced farm runoff. As part of the agreement, Imperial delivered water to prop up the lake, which is also an important habitat for birds migrating along the Pacific flyway. But those deliveries will cease at the end of 2017, after which the lake will go into a tailspin, shrinking rapidly and becoming several times saltier than the ocean. Pesticides, salts, and toxic dust on the seabed poses an immediate health threat to the people of the Coachella Valley, Imperial County, and Mexicali, a border city of 1 million people. A solution to the Salton Sea problem is inevitably tied to Colorado River issues upstream.
“Being one of the largest users on the river, it’s in our best interest to look out for and promote the health and welfare of the system as a whole,” Marion Champion, spokeswoman for Imperial Irrigation District, told Circle of Blue. “That said, we will need some reassurances from the state of California that it will live up to its restoration promises for the Salton Sea.”
Imperial has the largest allocation of Colorado River water — 3.1 million acre-feet, more than one-fifth of the river’s average annual runoff — of any user in the basin. Champion said that she expects Imperial to be a part of a basin-wide drought plan, but only if the Salton Sea is addressed, with either money or water, or both.
“That participation is contingent on a state led restoration plan and implementation commitment to ensure our community’s public health is protected,” she said.