Demand Management Feasibility Investigation Framework Concepts Workshop, March 2, 2021 — @CWCB_DNR #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

A bend in Glen Canyon of the Colorado River, Grand Canyon, c. 1898. By George Wharton James, 1858—1923 – http://digitallibrary.usc.edu/cdm/ref/collection/p15799coll65/id/17037, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=30894893

Click here for all the inside skinny.

This workshop is intended for staff to present to the Colorado Water Conservation Board Members what a potential framework concept for a Demand Management program could look like.

The workshop will be live streamed on YouTube for public viewing.

If you would like to make a public comment during the workshop, please complete the Request to Address the Board Form prior to the workshop.

With questions or for more information, contact Sara Leonard.

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in the Colorado Water Plan Update — @WaterEdCO

What we are working to protect. Culebra-Gallegos maíz de concho grown at Acequia Institute farm in Viejo San Acacio. Photograph by Devon G. Peña

From Water Education Colorado (Willow Cozzens, Samantha Grant, Amelia Nill, and Andrew Primo):

Effective agricultural water planning is critical for a sustainable and resilient future in Colorado. Not only does the agricultural sector account for 86.7% of the state’s consumed water, but agriculture is also the crucial economic and cultural foundation for many communities. The 2015 Colorado Water Plan (CWP), a statewide roadmap for water management, is currently undergoing a multi-year update that includes new information, critical action items, and revised water planning schemes for all sectors. This update will be published in 2022. In order to foster lasting resilience, the CWP update must be more inclusive of all Coloradoans and provide comprehensive planning for historically underserved communities across the state.

True sustainability can not be divorced from empowering all communities. Studies show that systems with many sources of knowledge are generally more resilient. Just as farmers often plant several different crops to prepare for potential vulnerabilities, water planning must strive to be as diverse as possible to create a water resilient future.

Who has been excluded from agricultural water planning?

Colorado has an exciting opportunity to be more inclusive in water planning and subsequently create a truly sustainable CWP. But first, underserved groups must be identified throughout all sectors. This will necessitate nuanced outreach and calls to action. Three groups who have been historically excluded from Colorado water planning in agriculture are:

In southern Colorado’s San Luis Valley, Judy Lopez with Colorado Open Lands and landowner Dave Marquez discuss upcoming restoration work on the Culebra River, which
traverses his property. Marquez irrigates from the Francisco Sanchez Acequia to grow alfalfa-grass hay. The acequia worked with Colorado Open Lands and the bylaws project to develop bylaws that preserve their oral traditions. Photo by Christi Bode
  • People who operate under acequia management systems. For communities in Colorado and northern New Mexico, an acequia is a physical system, an irrigation ditch, but it is also a deeply embedded philosophy of community and governance. These producers are primarily Hispanic or Latinx and reside in the San Luis Valley within the Rio Grande River Basin or in the Arkansas River Basin. The term “acequia” is mentioned only once in the entire 2015 CWP — in a footnote of a farmer profile.
  • Many Indian reservations are located in or near contentious river basins where demand for water outstrips supply. Map courtesy of the Bureau of Reclamation.
  • Tribal water users. Two federally recognized tribes have designated land reservations within the borders of Colorado: the Southern Ute Indian Tribe (SUIT) and the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe (UMUT). While it must be acknowledged that 48 contemporary tribal nations are historically tied to the lands that make up Colorado, the Ute tribes are holders of federal reserved water rights in the state. Both the SUIT and UMUT tribal reservations are located within the Southwest Basin (e.g. San Juan/Dolores), though the UMUT reservation also includes land in New Mexico and Utah. While the tribes have become more frequent partners in broader interstate negotiations, inclusion at the intrastate level is still limited to the Southwest Basin Roundtable. Given the Ute tribes’ status as the state’s original water users and the unique nature of their federally reserved rights, more efforts should be made to explicitly include tribal representatives in deliberative processes.
  • Hanging Oyster mushroom columns growing on waste coffeegrounds via Gro Cycle
  • Urban agricultural producers. Urban agriculture in Colorado may include a variety of production methods and water uses, such as community gardens, hydroponic growing facilities, small-scale market farms, and more. It is important to note that there is not necessarily the same rich history or record of exclusion for urban agriculture as the above two groups. Rather, planning for water in urban agriculture could present an exciting opportunity to foster resilience in the food system and land use planning for the future of Colorado. Before defining demographics and practices within urban agriculture, a standard definition of urban agriculture in Colorado must be implemented.
  • Tribes are acknowledged in the Southwest Basin Implementation Plan, and acequias are acknowledged in the Rio Grande Basin Implementation Plan. Urban agriculture is not mentioned in the 2015 CWP or in any of the Basin Implementation Plans (BIPs). The BIPs could serve as an opportunity to elevate underserved voices, given their regional focus, and create a space for them at the state level. An equitable and just water planning process at all levels, from local to basin to state, is critical for Colorado’s present and future water needs.

    Paving the way toward more inclusivity in Colorado water planning

    The Department of Natural Resources has recently announced the formation of a water equity committee, which is set to include representatives from each river basin and each tribal nation. Within this engagement process, Colorado water planners must make the effort to explicitly solicit input and feedback from underserved individuals and groups in agriculture and all other water sectors. Outreach efforts must be nuanced for each community, each conversation, and each stage in inclusive planning. Overall, CWCB should focus on elevating voices of change makers within historically underserved communities and solicit consistent feedback for a more inclusive, equitable, and holistic Colorado Water Plan.

    This strategy should aim to advance diverse representation in natural resource planning and provide opportunities for more equitable funding. Explicit inclusion via community outreach may also encourage diversity in water planning schemes, which can in turn create a more sustainable future. The equity committee and the CWCB should reach out to representatives of underserved communities and facilitate dynamic and interactive working sessions where stakeholders can discuss water challenges and opportunities with the CWCB.

    In partnership with CWCB and the University of Colorado – Boulder, we conducted an initial working session with a goal of establishing a more inclusive dialogue for producers. This work session, which focused on water issues among urban agriculture producers, will be discussed in a later blog post.

    Ideally, such facilitated dialogues will lead to additional working sessions, inclusion in water planning procedures at the state level, participation in Basin Roundtables, submission of public comments, and general advocacy pointed toward agricultural water planning. This approach may foster a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive 2022 Colorado Water Plan, and a better water planning process into the future.

    #Colorado Water Plan Update Is Underway — @AudubonRockies

    > Great Blue Herons. Photo: Pamela Underhill Karaz/Audubon Photography Awards

    From Audubon Rockies (Abby Burk):

    Help define this moment for birds, rivers, and people.

    What memories can you recall from five years ago? Well, you may remember that Colorado’s inaugural Water Plan had just been finalized in November of 2015. The Audubon network, our partners, and Coloradans were key in defining the plan. Five years of plan implementation have flown by. As the plan moves forward in its first update, what have we learned to set the course for necessary immediate and long-term steps to ensure water security for people and the environment? We need your statewide engagement, again.

    The Water Plan in Short

    Colorado’s Water Plan 2015 is a framework pointing the way toward safeguarding Colorado’s water values as population, water variability, and drought increase. Colorado’s water values are supporting healthy watersheds and the environment, robust recreation and tourism economies, vibrant and sustainable cities, and viable and productive agriculture.

    The plan’s foundation stands on work by Colorado’s nine basin roundtables and their basin implementation plans, the Interbasin Compact Committee, the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB), partners, and stakeholders statewide. The collaboration that fueled the Colorado Water Plan sparked the state’s largest civic engagement and the CWCB received more than 30,000 public comments on priorities and direction for the plan. Audubon’s network provided nearly 20 percent of general comments received, and Audubon staff provided consented technical environmental resilience and stream ecology language. The top-two categories of all public comments received were support for healthy rivers and better use of water in cities and towns. The unprecedented public engagement truly produced Colorado’s Water Plan.

    Without a strong plan and funding for implementation, Colorado’s birds, rivers, and people will face a problematic future with unacceptable consequences.

    Why Update Now?

    Colorado is changing and the Colorado Water Plan must be responsive. Our population is over 5.7 million today and could nearly double by 2060. With climate change increasing temperatures and making water supply less predictable, rivers are already stretched thin. Within the next few decades, even assuming aggressive water conservation and the completion of dozens of water projects currently being considered, the state could face a shortfall that exceeds 500,000 acre-feet annually.

    The plan update will complete in 2022 and map Colorado water resource management for the next seven years. As a headwaters state, the value of Colorado’s rivers flows far beyond its boundaries. Healthy, flowing rivers support all water uses and users—both wildlife and people. Protecting rivers protects our economy, our birds, and our way of life, but their future is uncertain. Audubon was closely involved in the creation of the plan and currently is involved in its implementation. Now, five years later, we’re helping to update the plan.

    (Abby Burk and other experts explain how Colorado can best update the Colorado Water Plan.)

    How to Engage

    Audubon is committed to protecting the health of Colorado’s rivers, ecosystems, and sustainable water supplies—values that benefit everyone. We are working across water interests to show that water connects rather than separates us. Together, we can protect Colorado’s incredible rivers and the birds that depend upon them. Public input on the Colorado Water Plan update will be critical. Here’s how you can participate:

    Engage in Your Local Basin

    Each of Colorado’s nine basin roundtables has been updating their local water supply and management plans called basin implementation plans (BIPs). Updated BIPs will soon be ready for public review. Click on your basin here to find your basin roundtable website, then click through to the BIP update status. Updated BIPs are getting ready to roll out soon. Also, due to COVID-19 concerns, basin roundtables have been meeting virtually. If you have not already, you can attend a virtual basin roundtable meeting to get to know your basin’s scope of work and your basin’s hardworking volunteers leading local water management efforts.

    Engage on the State Plan

    Everyone needs healthy rivers. Our hope is that this plan update will represent not only the human needs, but also a healthy ecosystem on which we and our wildlife depend. Currently, the Colorado Water Conservation Board is collecting survey feedback on the direction for the Colorado Water Plan update. Staff and stakeholder input has informed the current thinking, which is summarized in five informational sheets: Water Plan Update Vision, Vibrant Communities, Robust Agriculture, Thriving Watersheds, and Resilient Planning. Please review the information sheets and fill out the survey here.

    Audubon Rockies will be asking for local involvement through comments on the basin implementation plans and the statewide plan, so be on the lookout for more timely ways you can engage!

    #Colorado Water Plan Scoping Workshop: Agriculture Irrigation Infrastructure — @CWCB_DNR, @DARCAonline, Ag Water Alliance

    The Ella Ditch, which irrigates agricultural land south of Carbondale, placed a call on the Crystal River for the first time ever in 2018. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    Click here for all the inside skinny and to register.

    Join a roundtable discussion focusing on agricultural irrigation infrastructure issues and solutions to inform the 2022 Colorado Water Plan.

    The Colorado Water Conservation Board, in partnership with the Colorado Agricultural Water Alliance and Ditch and Reservoir Company Alliance, invites you to participate in a virtual, Colorado Water Plan Update Scoping Workshop focusing on agricultural irrigation infrastructure issues and solutions. The format of the workshop will be an expert roundtable discussion that will inform the scoping process of the Colorado Water Plan Update (more information here: https://engagecwcb.org/colorado-water-plan-update).

    The Colorado Water Plan provides a roadmap for addressing water resource challenges; informing strategies, policy development, and programming. The event will be open to the public.

    New poll: Slim majority supports spending more to protect #Colorado’s #water — @WaterEdCO

    Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013

    From Water Education Colorado (Jerd Smith):

    A majority of Colorado voters believe the state should spend more money on protecting and conserving its water resources, but they’re not willing to support new state taxes to fund the work, according to a series of bipartisan polls conducted over the past 18 months.

    “Roughly 55 percent of voters said the state should spend more money,” said Lori Weigel, a pollster and principal with the firm New Bridge Strategy.

    Though the polling also showed some support for such potential tools as a new statewide tourism tax or a bottle tax, that support eroded quickly when likely voters were asked about a new statewide tax, with 39 percent of likely voters saying they were skeptical the state could be trusted to spend the money wisely, Weigel said.

    Her comments came Tuesday at a meeting of the Inter Basin Compact Committee (IBCC), a statewide group charged with helping develop consensus-based solutions to the state’s water issues, including funding.

    The bipartisan polling was conducted before and after the elections of 2019, when Colorado voters narrowly approved a sports gambling tax whose proceeds will help fund the Colorado Water Plan, and again before and after the elections of 2020. In those contests voters in the Glenwood Springs-based Colorado River District, and the Longmont-based St. Vrain and Left Hand Water Conservancy District overwhelmingly approved new taxes for local water projects.

    Funded by For the Love of Colorado, a nonpartisan coalition that includes environmental groups, water utilities and industry groups, the polling was designed to help policy makers and lawmakers decide how best to raise an estimated $3 billion over the next 30 years to help cities and farmers cope with looming shortages, while ensuring streams have enough water for fish and kayakers.

    That’s the amount of money estimated to be needed from new sources to fully fund the Colorado Water Plan. But to date, lawmakers and other sources have only been able to provide between $5 million to $30 million annually. And though the new sports betting tax is likely to bring in $6 million to $11 million dollars annually, it will still fall short of the needed revenues.

    State officials hope to build on the recent modest, but still significant, 2020 election wins to create a more stable, permanent source of funding.

    “For the first time in a long time we’ve had success,” IBCC Chair Russ George told the group on Tuesday.

    But the wins and the recent polls show the state must build broad coalitions and work harder to dispel distrust among voters over how any new statewide tax revenues would be spent if they were approved, officials said.

    Aaron Citron, a member of the IBCC and a policy analyst with The Nature Conservancy, said the funding shortfall is likely to become more dire without a permanent statewide funding source because traditional sources, such as oil and gas tax revenues, are plummeting as production declines.

    “The situation is likely to get worse,” Citron said. “Yes we should emulate what was done so successfully in the Colorado River and St. Vrain districts and figure out how to build that [statewide] trust. It’s possible but it’s going to be tough.

    “The assumption [when the Colorado Water Plan was being developed] was that we would be able to have severance tax revenues into the future. But we can expect them to continue to be unstable and continue to decline because of global market pressures, and state and federal greenhouse gas and renewable energy goals,” Citron said. He was referring to state commitments that call for oil and gas and fossil fuels to gradually be replaced with cleaner energy sources, a process that will phase out oil and gas production and the associated tax revenue it generates.

    Andy Mueller, general manager of the Colorado River District, said voters in his district were willing to raise their property taxes last fall to help fund local water projects, but there was no local support for using those new taxes to make up for missing state funds.

    “The state has an obligation to fund water projects,” Mueller said. “This is a much bigger issue at $100 million a year than the $4.2 million my district was able to raise. It doesn’t get us anywhere if it can’t be leveraged against additional state and federal funding.”

    Jerd Smith is editor of Fresh Water News. She can be reached at 720-398-6474, via email at jerd@wateredco.org or @jerd_smith.

    #Colorado Water Plan turns five: Is it working? — @WaterEdCO

    The entrance to the popular Gates of Lodore stretch on the Green River. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    From Water Education Colorado (Sarah Kuta):

    In the five years since Colorado’s Water Plan took effect, the state has awarded nearly $500 million in loans and grants for water projects, cities have enacted strict drought plans, communities have written nearly two dozen locally based stream restoration plans, and crews have been hard at work improving irrigation systems and upgrading wastewater treatment plants.

    But big challenges lie ahead — drought, population growth, accelerating climate change, budget cuts, wildfires and competing demands for water, among others.

    And though the state has made progress on the plan’s ambitious goals and funding needs since November 2015, it hasn’t yet been able to secure the estimated $100 million needed each year through 2050 to fully fund the plan.

    Colorado water leaders are optimistic about advances made under the plan thus far. But they acknowledge that this five-year milestone is just the beginning of a long-term effort with no easy path forward. The plan is also undergoing a comprehensive update that will help refine its direction moving forward by incorporating lessons learned and better data.

    “Five years in water time is really a blink of an eye,” said Lauren Ris, deputy director for the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB), the statewide water policy agency tasked with administering the plan. “Even though we’re so proud of the progress we’ve made, we’ve got a lot of work in front of us. There’s a lot to celebrate but I also think we can’t rest too much on our laurels here.”

    The water plan, explained

    The plan provides a framework for ensuring there’s enough good-quality water for all of Colorado’s diverse users, as well as the state’s downstream neighbors. Gov. John Hickenlooper called for the plan’s creation in May 2013, which set in motion 30 months of meetings, public input, writing and reviewing to ultimately create the 567-page plan.

    Forecasts show water supplies will not keep pace with demand by 2050 for agricultural (Ag) or municipal and industrial (M & I) needs if Colorado does not find new approaches. Source: 2019 Analysis and Technical Update to the Colorado Water Plan.

    Colorado has long faced unique water challenges in part because its high-altitude rivers deliver water to 18 other states and Mexico, activity that is carefully governed by legal agreements that include compacts and treaties. Accelerating climate change and rapid population growth have only added more complexity. Colorado’s population is expected to grow as high as 8.1 million by 2050, up from 5.76 million in 2019, with much of that growth occurring on the East Slope. Meanwhile, 70 to 80 percent of the state’s water originates on the West Slope.

    Forecasts show water supplies will not keep pace with demand by 2050 for agricultural (Ag) or municipal and industrial (M & I) needs if Colorado does not find new approaches. Source: 2019 Analysis and Technical Update to the Colorado Water Plan.

    Many Colorado water leaders agree that the plan — and the multi-year processes for creating and updating it — has fostered an authentic spirit of collaboration. Even if they disagree, people have to work together to find common ground because the plan prioritizes projects that achieve multiple benefits, which in turn makes them more likely to receive state funding.

    “Collaboration is now the starting point of conversations about water and maybe that wasn’t always true before,” said Russ Sands, water supply planning section chief for the CWCB. “Like any dinner party, you have some strong conversations and it’s hard. But then ultimately, we do come together around these multi-purpose, multi-benefit projects.”

    Key to putting the plan to work are the public roundtables in each river basin, whose volunteer members are charged with identifying each region’s needs and the methods and funding to meet those needs.

    The plan hasn’t completely eased tensions, but it has given water users a forum for voicing their opinions, popular or unpopular. And, perhaps above all else, it has succeeded in keeping water top of mind.

    “The best thing the water plan has done is kept the water problem in everybody’s face,” said Max Schmidt, manager of the Orchard Mesa Irrigation District and Grand Valley Project Power Plant. “Traditionally, we have a dry year and everybody gets all worried. Then the next year’s a wet year and everybody forgets about it. People are now saying, ‘This is a long-term, serious problem.’”

    Progress under the plan

    Work on the plan is occurring mostly on specific projects in Colorado’s eight river basins, which are often funded by loans and grants administered by the CWCB. Five years in, the plan has provided $63.5 million in grants to 241 projects, and $420 million in loans to 82 projects.

    According to the CWCB’s data, 76 percent of the plan’s actions have been initiated or completed, but how this translates to progress on the plan’s eight measurable objectives isn’t clear yet. Those objectives set measurable targets for things like water conservation, new water storage, and water-smart land use, as well as informing the public. When asked about progress toward the objectives, the CWCB said it is no longer calculating specific progress metrics using the objectives but is instead tracking new projects or programs that work toward the goals outlined in the plan.

    Since taking office in 2019, Gov. Jared Polis has made water one of his “Wildly Important Goals,” issuing a call to the CWCB and roundtables to create a database of 500 local water projects that are ready or nearly ready to launch and are backed by strong data demonstrating costs and potential outcomes.

    While the “water WIG,” as it is known, did not come with any funding attached, the exercise has forced local water leaders to refine, prioritize and provide cost estimates for their most promising ideas.

    Though the focus on specific projects has been effective for achieving goals in each river basin, some water leaders feel the plan doesn’t go far enough to address statewide issues.

    “We need to think more broadly about water,” said Kathleen Curry, chair of the Gunnison Basin Roundtable on the West Slope, rancher and lobbyist. “Having a project-specific focus is great if you’re the entity pushing the projects, but really, overall forest health, stream measurement, snowpack measurement, some of the overall statewide water supply challenges that are out there, those need to be part of the plan as well. [We need to] make sure the plan isn’t simply a laundry list.”

    Funding wins and challenges

    Since the Colorado Water Plan’s inception, state funding for implementation has ranged from a low of $5 million in 2016 to $30 million in 2019, far short of the estimated $100 million needed each year through 2050

    In 2020, lawmakers appropriated $7.5 million for the water plan, however, that money is expected to be stretched over three years because of declining oil and gas severance tax revenue and the economic consequences of COVID-19 on the state budget. Many other water-related programs are also not expected to receive additional funding in the near future, according to CWCB spokesperson Sara Leonard.

    Southwest of Denver, partners used water plan funding to reallocate Chatfield Reservoir’s storage space to make room to store water for farms and cities as well as environmental flows, while maintaining its historical ability to control flooding. A view of Chatfield Reservoir in Chatfield State Park, in Douglas and Jefferson counties in Colorado. The view is towards the west and the park’s swim beach. The border between Jefferson and Douglas counties lies in the middle of the channel and extends from left to right. The photographer is standing in Douglas County and the swim beach is in Jefferson County. By Jeffrey Beall – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=61091231

    The plan got a new funding source in 2019 when voters approved Proposition DD, which legalized sports betting and directed tax revenue to the water plan.

    Sports betting got off to a slow start in the spring of 2020, thanks to the near-total shutdown of sporting events because of the coronavirus pandemic. But activity picked up speed during the second half of the year, generating $3.4 million in taxes between May and December, double the estimated $1.5 million to $1.7 million per year.

    Though not an immediate source of cash, the sports betting initiative was a big win in a state where voters have historically balked at statewide funding for water.

    “The water plan requires about $100 million a year in sustainable funding to meet many of the goals outlined for 2025, 2030, 2050,” said Alec Garnett, D-Denver, the lead sponsor of the sports betting bill. “We never thought Prop DD was going to achieve that annual goal, but at least it established a reliable critical revenue source.”

    Garnett said he always envisioned general fund money, plus the sports betting tax revenue, to help get the water plan closer to $100 million a year, but this year’s state budget challenges showed just how fraught that path forward may be. Since its launch, lawmakers have contributed general funds to the plan just once.

    “Our economy and state budget have been turned upside down by the pandemic and we have to move through this period before we can talk about sustainable funding,” Garnett said. “It’s just hard to navigate with the changing environment.”

    There were other wins for water funding over the last five years, too. Several local water districts and initiatives found success at the polls, garnering millions of dollars in new taxpayer support for an array of local and regional goals aligned with the plan.

    In November 2020, voters approved property tax increases to support water projects in the Glenwood Springs-based Colorado River Water Conservation District and the Longmont-based St. Vrain and Left Hand Water Conservancy District.

    “We’re already seeing where [funding is] being piecemealed together so maybe it’s statewide or maybe it’s a local thing,” said Garrett Varra, who chairs the South Platte Basin Roundtable and sits on the board of the St. Vrain and Left Hand Water Conservancy District. “Voters are more apt to trust people they know and be able to sit down and talk with directly than maybe the state Legislature itself or the CWCB or whoever it is. One way or another, whether it’s done region by region or statewide, it will happen at some point.”

    Looking ahead

    Colorado water leaders are in the middle of a comprehensive water plan update that will conclude in 2022. The update will incorporate five potential supply and demand scenarios for Colorado water in 2050, created by adjusting variables like water availability, climate change and population growth.

    “It’s about choices that we make,” said the CWCB’s Ris. “We’re not locked into any future, that we have the ability to make choices in how we deal with everything coming down the pipe, including population growth, funding, climate change.”

    Using the various planning scenarios and other data, the CWCB has also developed new tools to help estimate the environmental impacts and costs of water projects, as well as the costs and consequences of doing nothing. The board also created a new “Engage CWCB” website to encourage more community engagement with the plan.

    This month, the Interbasin Compact Committee, a statewide board charged with helping shape policy and coordinating among the various river basins, will re-ignite talks about how best to fund the water plan and, ultimately, achieve its goals.

    Set against the backdrop of record-setting wildfires, intensifying drought in the Colorado River Basin and other parts of the state, escalating climate change, and fears around potential water speculation, state water leaders say that funding can’t come soon enough.

    “There’s a lot of talk about how do we get to that $100 million mark with the ever-increasing challenges that Colorado faces, with climate change happening faster than anyone really thought, even in 2015 when the water plan was created,” said Garnett.

    Sarah Kuta is a freelance writer based in Longmont, Colorado. She can be reached at sarahkuta@gmail.com.

    Graphics created by Chas Chamberlin, principal with cdcgraphics. He can be reached at chasdcham@gmail.com.

    Some good news on funding for water: Sports betting tax revenue gaining strength — @WaterEdCO

    The 2015 Colorado Water Plan, on a shelf, at the CU law library. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    From Water Education Colorado (Sarah Kuta):

    Coloradans legally bet more than $1.1 billion on sports in 2020, exceeding expectations and funneling some cash to the Colorado Water Plan sooner than anticipated.

    Colorado collected more than $3.4 million in sports betting taxes in 2020, with operators running from May through December. Voters agreed to legalize and tax sports betting in November 2019 with the passage of Proposition DD, which also directed much of the tax revenue to the Colorado Water Plan, a comprehensive vision for the state’s water future created in 2015.

    Colorado’s fiscal year runs from July 1 to June 30, which makes the sports betting numbers even more promising, since December was only the halfway mark for the current fiscal year. From July to December 2020 — the first half of the current 2020-21 fiscal year — Colorado collected $3.1 million in sports betting tax revenue.

    Even with six months remaining in the fiscal year — a span that includes big-time sporting events like the Super Bowl, March Madness, the Kentucky Derby and more — that $3.1 million is already double the gaming division’s initial projections of $1.5 million to $1.8 million for the full 2020-21 fiscal year. That means the Colorado Water Plan could see sports betting funds as soon as this fall, a year earlier than initially projected.

    “We took a very conservative approach based on how fast the market would pick up, how fast people would embrace it, what effect we were going to have on moving people from the black market to the regular market, and we’ve just really blown all of those things out of the water — no pun intended for the water front,” said Dan Hartman, director of the Colorado Division of Gaming. “We really moved a lot of needles a lot further, a lot faster that we thought we were going to. We’re optimistic and really excited about where sports betting is and, ultimately, that there’s going to be better-than-projected amounts going to the water plan.”

    Based on tax revenue collected in the first half of the current fiscal year, and factoring in the other ways sports betting tax revenue must be spent under the new law, the water plan so far stands to gain a little more than $1 million — and counting.

    That’s still well short of the $100 million officials estimate they need each year in new funding to accomplish the water plan’s goals by 2050, but sports betting was never expected to fully fund the water plan — and every little bit counts, said Alec Garnett, D-Denver, the lead sponsor of the sports betting bill.

    “We’ve always known that Coloradans love sports. We always knew that there was a black market and that people were already doing this,” Garnett said. “From a regulatory standpoint, I feel very strong and good about what these numbers mean for the market we created.”

    If these early numbers are any indication, the sports betting program is likely to continue to grow in future years as the market matures and sports calendars get back to normal.

    Though he has not created an official updated projection based on 2020’s wagers and tax revenue, Hartman said he believes annual sports betting tax revenue could double by next year.

    “I’m comfortable in projecting that we’re probably on pace to do twice as much next year as we did this year,” Hartman said.

    Sports betting got off to a slow start in Colorado, since it launched in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic when many sporting events were canceled. But as the sports betting program got underway and more live sporting events were held (often without fans in the seats), the tax revenue started growing.

    Even so, before any of that money goes to the Colorado Water Plan, the gaming division must first pay back the $1.7 million lawmakers allocated from the state’s general fund to start the new sports betting program, which will likely happen at the beginning of March, Hartman said. The program’s ongoing operating costs are paid for with fees from licensed sports betting operators in the state, which now number 17.

    The gaming division must also set aside 6 percent of tax revenue for a hold-harmless fund, provide $130,000 per year to the Colorado Department of Human Services’ Office of Behavioral Health, and give $30,000 per year to Rocky Mountain Crisis Partners to operate a gambling hotline.

    Any remaining tax revenue can then go to the Water Plan Implementation Cash Fund, pending the approval of the Colorado Limited Gaming Control Commission, according to Suzi Karrer, a spokesperson for the Colorado Division of Revenue.

    “The gaming commission will take that up in one of their meetings in the fall,” Hartman said. “Legislatively, it’s been turned over to the commission to follow the formula and give [the funds] to the beneficiaries.”

    The early sports betting numbers were also a small bright spot for the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB), the state agency tasked with administering the water plan, which expects to be rationing much of its current funding over the next two years.

    CWCB hasn’t received any of the sports betting tax revenue yet and, since it’s difficult to predict how much Coloradans will wager in future years, the agency hasn’t yet made plans for spending it.

    “Based on what has been collected so far, sports betting revenue does look promising as an additional — and more permanent — funding source for the water plan and important water projects, but again, it is still new, and we really don’t know yet what the revenue generation capacity will be,” said Sara Leonard, CWCB spokesperson.

    As of right now, the CWCB is not planning to ask the Colorado Legislature to allocate funding to the Colorado Water Plan for the next two years and will instead rely on the 2020-21 allocation of $7.5 million, according to Leonard and state budget officials speaking at recent CWCB meetings.

    The approval of the new sports betting tax, which created a dedicated funding source for the Colorado Water Plan, was an accomplishment in a state where voters have historically rejected statewide water funding efforts. But it’s still not enough to meet the ambitious goals outlined in the plan.

    To that end, state and local water leaders plan to re-start conversations about water funding this month. Those talks will begin at the Feb. 23 meeting of the Interbasin Compact Committee (IBCC), according to the committee’s director Russell George. The IBCC, created in 2005, is a statewide public board that helps set policy and coordinate talks between river basins.

    “We’re going to re-ignite that large discussion and see where we can go,” said George during his Jan. 25 update to the CWCB. “I don’t have to tell you the need for an input, an infusion of capital, in all of the things that we’re trying to do…It’ll just be the beginning of a conversation that I think’s going to go on until we’ve succeeded.”

    Garnett said he wasn’t aware of any upcoming legislation related to new funding sources for the water plan, but said he was happy that funding for Colorado’s water future remains in the public eye.

    “There’s just a lot of focus on this area because of the pressures that are being put on our most precious natural resource,” he said. “It’s always hard to find dedicated revenue streams in Colorado and it was certainly a hard process to get Proposition DD passed. I’m sure everyone has their eyes wide open about the challenges.”

    Sarah Kuta is a freelance writer based in Longmont, Colorado. She can be reached at sarahkuta@gmail.com.

    Demand Management reviewed at @CWCB_DNR board meeting — The Delta County Independent #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Gunnison River in Colorado. Source: Bureau of Reclamation via the Water Education Foundation

    From the Colorado Water Conservation Board via The Delta County Independent:

    During the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) meeting on Jan. 25, an update on the current and ongoing Demand Management Feasibility Investigation was presented, including reiteration of the state’s guiding principles and the first steps of potential framework concepts for what a program could look like.

    “The Demand Management Investigation remains an open, collaborative process, as we continue conversations with the Interbasin Compact Committee, Tribal Nations, non-governmental organizations, and stakeholders across the state,” said CWCB Director Rebecca Mitchell. “The big question is, can we design a program that creates a net benefit for Colorado and protects Colorado water users?”

    The Step II Work Plan, which was approved in November 2020, aims to use information developed throughout the course of work done pursuant to the previous 2019 Work Plan to analyze whether a Demand Management program would be achievable, worthwhile, and advisable for Colorado as a whole.

    The guiding principles articulated at the board meeting include: Demand Management is not a foregone conclusion; The framework is not a program, but a point for discussion; Issues are explored in an open and collaborative manner including engagement with Tribal Nations; and a program would be run by the state for the benefit of the whole state and its water users.

    As part of the Step II Work Plan, CWCB will develop strawman concepts based on a matrix of elements, which were identified by each of the eight workgroups last year.

    At the board meeting, staff presented on elements for monitoring and verification; education and outreach; and environmental considerations areas. These were presented as examples, as staff develops content relating to the other subject areas.

    While no large-scale pilot programs will be implemented at this time, CWCB will soon begin looking at opportunities to use existing programs and funding sources to conduct smaller-scale demonstration projects that might help with on-the-ground learning. CWCB will also work to incorporate existing and ongoing projects and information into the framework.

    A CWCB workshop will be scheduled in the near future to provide the next update on the feasibility analysis. The date and time of this virtual event will be added to the CWCB calendar.

    #Colorado sports betting is popular enough to quickly benefit state #water projects after all — The Colorado Sun

    Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013

    From The Colorado Sun (Jesse Paul):

    Sports betting got off to a hot start, meaning enough tax revenue has already been collected to start benefiting Colorado’s Water Plan projects…

    Colorado had already collected more than $3.4 million in sports betting tax revenue through the end of December, more than enough to cover the roughly $2 million in startup costs that had to be paid off before wagering dollars could start being directed to the water plan projects, including increasing storage capacity.

    Sports betting began in Colorado in May, after voters passed Proposition DD in November 2019. More than $1 billion has been wagered so far…

    Proposition DD was pitched to voters as a way to direct money to the state’s water plan, which could have a price tag as large as $40 billion. But in December 2019, Polis’ Department of Revenue warned state lawmakers that it would possibly take until the 2021-22 fiscal year before enough tax revenue came in for the water plan to benefit.

    The sports betting tax revenue is still far lower than the Colorado General Assembly’s fiscal analysts projected. But the upshot is that there’s already plenty of sports betting tax dollars — which are generated by a 10% tax on casinos’ net proceeds — to turn on the water-plan-funding spigot…

    Gamblers have placed more than $1.1 billion in wagers since sports betting began in Colorado last year.

    American football saw the most bets in December, with $88.1 million in wagers placed with retail and online operators, followed by basketball at $42.8 million. Coloradans continue to show interest in betting on table tennis, with $10.9 million in bets coming in for the sport last month.

    From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Wayne Heilman):

    Betting on professional football and basketball, and college basketball added up to more than half of the $284.6 million total in December. Last month’s total was up 23.1% from November but the amount sportsbooks kept after paying winners fell by 36.7% to $5.67 million, in large part because sportsbooks gave away nearly $11 million in free bets on promotions.

    “Hitting the $1 billion mark is a milestone event for the department, leading us to believe that the trust and competition in the industry are leading bettors from the black market to the regulated market,” said Dan Hartman, director of the Colorado Division of Gaming, which regulates sports bettering and casinos. The $1.19 billion in bets last year generated $3.4 million in tax revenue for the state. Sportsbooks pay a 10% tax on profits, which funds Colorado water projects.

    After pro football, and pro and college basketball, college football and table tennis were the two next-most-popular sports with bettors, attracting $14.1 million and nearly $11 million in wagers, respectively. Parlays and combination bets accounted for $46.4 million in wagers and other sports combined to total another $45.9 million. More than 98% of all bets were placed online or with mobile applications, and nearly 94% of all amounts wagered were paid to winning bettors.

    #Colorado Ag Alliance February 2, 2021: Planning for #Drought

    From email from the Colorado Ag Alliance:

    Drought Advisors

    Farmers and ranchers throughout the state can call/text (970) 988-0043 or email droughtadvisors@colostate.edu to be connected to resources and a team to work with you to address short and long-term drought conditions.

    Community Agriculture Alliance: The mighty #YampaRiver, our valley’s livelihood #GreenRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Scott Hummer, water commissioner for District 58 in the Yampa River basin, checks out a recently installed Parshall flume on an irrigation ditch. Hummer said most water users in the Yampa are complying with a state order issued nearly a year ago that requires measuring devices. Photo credit: Heather Sackett/Aspen Journalism

    Here’s a guest column that’s running in the Steamboat Pilot & Today (Gena Hinkemeyer):

    Did you know that Colorado’s Water Plan calls for 80% of locally prioritized rivers to be covered by a stream management plan by 2030? Yes, that includes our Yampa River Basin.

    The Yampa White Green Basin Roundtable is one of nine grassroots water policy roundtables throughout Colorado working to develop locally driven collaborative solutions to water supply challenges. The roundtable’s Integrated Water Management Plan will combine community input with science and engineering assessments to identify actions that protect existing and future water uses and support healthy river ecosystems in the face of growing populations, changing land uses and climate uncertainty.

    So where do we begin with the IWMP process? Why not start with the biggest users of water here in the basin, our agricultural stakeholders. Stakeholders have been clear that agricultural infrastructure is in need of improvement, but there is limited documentation about specific needs. Stakeholder engagement is the most important factor to successful IWMPs. That’s where I come into play.

    As a segment coordinator for the project, I am reaching out to our agricultural users to listen and learn from them about their use of water and riverside lands, plus their management concerns and opportunities they may see for improvements. I wasn’t really sure what my job would entail. I had visions of field work and lots of interaction with ranchers. Our work was delayed by COVID-19 restrictions, but we were able to roll with the punches and conduct our interviews over the phone.

    Virus or not, ranchers still had to irrigate their fields, so we found a way to continue our work. As it turns out, I learned more about irrigation and the effects irrigation has on our community than I ever thought possible. From the headgates of the Yampa all the way down to the confluence of the Green River, our team chose 50 water diversion structures for assessment.

    What does a diversion assessment entail, you might ask? A technical team, J-U-B Engineering out of Grand Junction, conducted site visits on the 50 river structures. The site visit included a field inspection of the river headgate, ditch conditions, inventory and assessment of control structures, measurement devices and level of functionality, overall structural integrity and diversion functionality, along with the ability of the structure to divert a wide range of flows.

    The results of the diversion assessment will benefit irrigators by providing a technical evaluation of their structure, including suggestions of ways to improve or modify the structure, if needed. The roundtable will use the information along with a combination of other studies regarding river health and recreation to select future priorities and action planning.

    As the work of the IWMP continues, the assessments will also support regional decision making regarding multi-benefit projects — those that overlap agriculture, environment and recreation. Working on the IWMP has opened my eyes to how important agriculture and water are to this community. It’s our livelihood and our heritage.

    For more information on the IWMP project, visit yampawhitegreen.com/iwmp.

    Gena Hinkemeyer is segment coordinator for the Yampa White Green Basin Roundtable Integrated Water Management Plan.

    Yampa River Basin via Wikimedia.

    Opinion: Protecting rivers is key to preparing #Colorado for wildfires — The Colorado Sun #ActOnClimate

    Aspen trees in autumn. Photo: Bob West via the Colorado State Forest Service.

    From The Colorado Sun (Abby Burke):

    Contrary to the common phrase, fire and water actually do mix – and there’s often a direct connection between the two.

    This year in particular, wildfires have gripped Colorado with historic magnitude. And while we often think of property damage and air quality as the most immediate consequences of severe wildfire, rivers and drinking water supplies are often wildfire casualties as well.

    2020 was Colorado’s third-driest water year on record and one of our warmest, with the hottest August since record-keeping began in 1895. Models show that climate change and historic drought will continue to affect the Colorado River Basin and increase the severity and frequency of wildfires.

    Abby Burke brings a lifetime love of rivers, particularly of the Colorado River and its tributaries. As the western rivers regional program manager for Audubon Rockies. Photo credit: Audubon Rockies

    To combat this, we must strive to bolster the resiliency of both land and water, including our rivers and streams, to support our communities that rely upon them.

    The good news is that Coloradans across the state recognize the need to invest in our rivers.

    Voters this year approved two ballot measures that will generate additional funding to support the St. Vrain and Left Hand Water Conservancy District as well as the Colorado River Water Conservation District. The measures will generate a combined $8 million per year to support healthy rivers, local agriculture, watershed health and water quality across both districts.

    That local funding will support the types of solutions and water-management projects outlined in Colorado’s Water Plan. The plan, finalized in 2015, provides a blueprint to address the gap between water supply and demand across the state.

    And now we have a critical opportunity to build on that work – and voters’ recent mandates – by making updates to the Water Plan. These updates will provide a chance to identify and recommend a path towards a healthy, secure water future.

    “From extreme drought to extreme fires, 2020 highlights the need for us to build our climate resilience and protect the watersheds that sustain our streams, farms and cities. Finding these opportunities and identifying the state of the science is at the heart of the Colorado Water Plan Update,” says Colorado Water Conservation Board Director Rebecca Mitchell.

    Wildfire-related impacts on river health are significant, including post-fire floods, debris flows, erosion, and the threat of toxic debris flowing into our rivers and water supply. Laurie Rink of the Middle Colorado Watershed Council says that key stakeholders have expressed the need for coordinated planning and response to Colorado’s wildfires.

    “Immediate focus will be on post-fire recovery and rehabilitation to reduce post-fire hazards, such as flooding and erosion. Longer-term efforts can turn towards planning for and implementing future fire risk mitigation throughout the watershed,” Rink says.

    Healthy rivers flow from healthy watersheds. We must broaden the river health conversation beyond the river channel itself, to include the entire “riverscape,” comprised of the streams, floodplain, and vegetation surrounding them.

    Riverscapes support bird and wildlife habitat, as well as ecological services that directly influence water quality and quantity. Nearly 80% of Colorado’s clean, reliable drinking water comes from these forested watersheds. But significant data gaps exist around watershed health, and without current science, the effort to create projects and management plans to protect Colorado’s rivers is daunting.

    Ensuring that Colorado’s riverscapes and forests can recover from future wildfires at a landscape scale is crucial. Implementing proven wildfire mitigation strategies such as forest treatments and prescribed fires, as well as investing in the health of our rivers and streams, will promote increased resilience to climate change and mitigate the effects of wildfires on water supplies and communities.

    Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013

    Colorado’s Water Plan strives to develop stream management plans for at least 80% of rivers and streams across the state, as well as 80% of critical watersheds with watershed protection plans, all by 2030.

    Current, accurate, scientific data is crucial for the development of these stream management and watershed plans. Fortunately, river health assessments can inform locally driven projects to protect or improve conditions and empower communities to develop tailored resilience strategies and track river health over time.

    It’s essential that an updated Water Plan provide funding and guidance for addressing river health information gaps.

    While rivers connect all Coloradans, so does drought and wildfire in 2020. When we invest in the health of our rivers, we are also investing in future resilience to climate change and associated disruptions to our rural heritage and Colorado lifestyle.

    Abby Burk is the Western Rivers Regional Program Manager for Audubon Rockies.

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

    Program expanding to map #Colorado mountain #snowpack — @AspenJournalism

    This map shows the snowpack depth of the Maroon Bells in spring 2019. The map was created with information from NASA’s Airborne Snow Observatory, which will help water managers make more accurate streamflow predictions. Jeffrey Deems/ASO, National Snow and Ice Data Center

    From Aspen Journalism (Heather Sackett):

    Front Range water providers are hoping to expand a program that uses a new technology they say will revolutionize water management in Colorado. But for now, the expensive program isn’t worth it for smaller Western Slope water providers.

    The Northern Colorado Water Conservation District is seeking state grant money to expand the Colorado Airborne Snow Observatory program. The ASO program uses remote-sensing lasers on airplanes known as LiDAR, which stands for light detection and ranging, to precisely measure snow depth…

    The technology creates a much clearer picture of how much water is contained in the snowpack and has been used in pilot studies in the Gunnison River basin and for Denver Water.

    But these flights have been scattered and lack consistent funding. A geographically expanded program with consistent funding would revolutionize water management in Colorado, according to the grant application.

    “This technology is kind of a no-brainer when it comes to helping us understand what water we have to work with each year,” said Laurna Kaatz, the climate science, policy and adaptation program manager for Denver Water. “We know ASO adds value and is kind of the game-changer in water management.”

    Denver Water, which provides water to 1.4 million people along the Front Range, is the ASO expansion project manager, while Northern Water is the fiscal agent. The Colorado, South Platte, Metro, Gunnison and Arkansas basin roundtables have each committed $5,000 toward the project.

    The project would not fund the flights themselves but would be used to develop an expanded, collaborative, well-funded plan to identify which basins to fly each year.

    A flight from NASA’s Airborne Snow Observatory gathers data about the snowpack above Dillon Reservoir on a flight. Information gathered from the flight helped Denver Water manage reservoir operations. Photo courtesy of Quantum Spatial

    SNOTEL limitations

    Important data points that water managers and streamflow forecasters use for measuring snowpack — and the water contained in that snowpack, known as snow-water equivalent (SWE) — are snow-telemetry (SNOTEL) sites, a network of remote sensing stations throughout Colorado’s mountainous watersheds that collect weather and snowpack information. But they provide just a snapshot of conditions at one location.

    “A large amount of SWE is in that high-elevation snow band, which doesn’t get captured by the SNOTEL program,” said Steve Hunter, utilities resource managers for the city of Aspen.

    In the spring of 2019, Denver Water learned just how valuable ASO technology is in predicting runoff. Data from a June ASO flight showed there was about 114,000 acre-feet of water in the snow above Dillon Reservoir, Denver Water’s largest storage pool, even though SNOTEL sites, at about 11,000 feet, registered as melted out already. The water provider increased outflows from Dillon so they could make room for the coming snowmelt and avoid downstream flooding.

    “I think this is going to revolutionize water management in the West,” Kaatz said. “If you have the ability to have more information and we know that it’s accurate information, it is gold in the water industry.”

    This map shows the snowpack depth of Castle and Maroon valleys in spring 2019. The map was created with information from NASA’s Airborne Snow Observatory, which will help water managers make more accurate streamflow predictions. Jeffrey Deems/ASO, National Snow and Ice Data Center

    Expensive technology

    ASO technology was developed by NASA and researchers at the National Snow and Ice Data Center at the University of Colorado Boulder. But the technology is expensive — between $100,000 and $200,000 per flight, according to Kaatz — and still not worth it for smaller Western Slope municipal water providers who don’t have to carefully coordinate the operation of large reservoirs.

    The city of Aspen and the Eagle River Water & Sanitation District are part of the collaborative workgroup helping to create the ASO program expansion plan. Other entities include Colorado Springs Utilities, city of Fort Collins, city of Boulder, city of Greeley, Thornton Water, Pueblo Water, Aurora Water, city of Westminster, Ruedi Water Power and Authority, and the Colorado River Water Conservation District.

    Hunter said more data is better when it comes to managing Aspen’s water supply, which comes from Castle and Maroon creeks. The city is trying to install a SNOTEL site and another stream gauge in its watershed. Hunter said the collaborative workgroup has also been exploring ways to sustainably fund an expanded ASO program.

    “Airborne measurements of both snow depth and density to come up with your SWE is a great alternative, but it’s cost prohibitive,” Hunter said. “If they have this great technology but nobody can use because nobody can afford it, that doesn’t help anybody.”

    Water managers for Eagle River Water & Sanitation District, which supplies water to the Vail Valley, said that although they are participating in the workgroup meetings and find the science interesting and useful, the expense is not something they can bite off right now. Their reservoirs are small and mostly used for augmentation, not to supply municipal water.

    “I think there’s value in the whole system and understanding the water that’s available,” said Len Wright, the senior water resources engineer for Eagle River Water & Sanitation District. “But we don’t have anything that would justify the expense right now.”

    Northern Water and Airborne Snow Observatories, Inc. will each contribute $5,000 worth of in-kind services to the project. Also, Denver Water will contribute $10,000 in-kind and the collaborative workgroup will give $24,000 of in-kind services. The Colorado Water Conservation Board is being asked for $20,000 from the statewide Water Supply Reserve Fund account and is scheduled to consider the grant application at its March meeting.

    Aspen Journalism is a local, nonprofit, investigative news organization covering water and rivers in collaboration with The Aspen Times and other Swift Communications newspapers. This story ran in the Dec. 5 edition of The Aspen Times.

    One of the two Twin Otter aircraft used by the Airborne Snow Observatory mission to study snowpack in the Western U.S. Credit: NASA

    Guest commentary: #Colorado wildfires are impacting our water; here’s what we can do — the Aspen Times

    The Cameron Peak fire soon after it started on Aug. 13, 2020. By Sept. 11, the fire had grown to more than 102,000 acres (now >200,000 acres) and was not expected to be considered out until Oct. 31. Photo credit: InciWeb via The Colorado Sun

    From The Aspen Times (Jill Ozarski):

    One year ago, exactly zero parts of Colorado were officially designated as being abnormally dry or in drought. What a difference a year makes.

    Now, even as the ski season starts up, every corner of our state is facing drought conditions. As the effects of unchecked climate change continue to worsen, these conditions, which previously would have been considered extreme, are sadly becoming the new normal, and the impacts are wide ranging.

    As Coloradans know all too well, these hot, dry conditions played a significant role in fueling wildfires that tragically steal away lives, communities and our beloved natural landscapes. Images from recent months of families fleeing burning homes and beleaguered firefighters waging battle while air tankers swoop overheard are pictures that we won’t soon forget.

    Some of these record-breaking wildfires — like Cameron Peak — are still burning, even as it snows. Last year, the Fern Creek Fire burned all winter, in a place where fire has not occurred in 500 years.

    The impacts of these disasters stretch well beyond the fire lines, and have downstream effects on our precious rivers and waterways.

    Colorado’s mountains supply water to seven downstream states and the wildfires can directly impact the quantity and quality of that water. This problem is likely to only worsen in the years and decades ahead, which is why we need to take action now to safeguard our water supplies and ensure that our state’s vital natural resources are protected.

    This may seem like a daunting problem, but there is so much that our society can do. Fortunately, voters know that protecting our water is critical. Colorado voters are notoriously anti-tax, but on Nov. 3, voters in 23 Colorado counties approved two ballot measures to protect our water and rivers. That follows 2019, where statewide voters approved a measure to provide as much as $29 million annually to implement Colorado’s Water Plan. Similar local county measures were enacted in 2016 and 2018.

    The results are clear: Coloradans are aware of the threats facing our water supplies and are willing to dedicate state resources toward preserving and protecting them.

    The dollars from these measures are critical and will go a long way toward protecting our water for future Coloradans, but only if we leverage them in the right ways and build on a coalition. This is an all-hands-on-deck moment, and if we’re serious about tackling these issues we need to marshal all of the support we can find and elicit the help of as many stakeholders as possible.

    The federal government can help by funding water conservation efforts by both cities and the agricultural sector, who have both been largely leading the charge. It also can help support natural water storage and build on “natural infrastructure,” i.e. natural or naturalized areas that are strategically managed to conserve the ecosystem’s protective functions while also providing economic and societal benefits.

    What does that mean in layman’s terms? It means providing jobs to restore healthy forests. It means safeguarding the wetlands and streams that naturally clean our water, provide firebreaks, and support the wildlife and scenery for which our state is famous. We know these techniques can work, we just need the resources to properly implement them.

    And the only way to protect enough forests, wetlands and streams at a big enough scale to make a difference is to layer public funds with other sources of funding in creative ways. The innovative Environmental Impact Fund under development in southwest Colorado is a perfect example of such creativity.

    This fund is the result of years of partnerships and collaboration that have brought all stakeholders together with local leadership — homeowners, water providers, agriculture, hikers and agencies. They are working together to combine and leverage funding so that they can protect forests and water resources in a coordinated and cost-efficient way that provides jobs, reaches economies of scale, and protects the community and its water for people, agriculture and nature.

    Finally, let’s not forget that all of this helps implement Colorado’s Water Plan, which is currently marking its fifth anniversary. The plan was developed with input from community leaders and residents throughout the state. The resulting plan outlines solutions to address the gap between our finite water supplies and demand, while setting a goal of achieving 400,000 acre-feet of municipal and industrial water conservation savings by 2050. It also outlines steps for maintaining our vital agricultural economy, which bolsters our communities while supplying food and fiber around the world.

    Studies show that the entire American Southwest is on the precipice of a historic megadrought, which means that our climate and ecosystems are entering into uncharted territory. The future is already here: We must act now to help our communities and environment navigate future wildfires and intensifying drought.

    Protecting Colorado’s rivers and streams today means acting to protect future generations of Coloradans. But we’re Coloradans. We have proven that water is an issue that unites us, and we are poised to lead the nation on creative and effective solutions to address this issue head-on.

    Jill Ozarski is a program officer in the Environment Program focusing on the Colorado River initiative for the Walton Family Foundation.

    Scouring soil, sowing seeds and spending millions for wildfire recovery in Glenwood Canyon — The #Colorado Sun #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Grizzly Creek Fire August 11, 2020. Photo credit: Wildfire Today

    From The Colorado Sun (Jason Blevins):

    Glenwood Springs is spending more than $10 million on repairs and upgrades to water supply infrastructure following Grizzly Creek Fire.

    The Grizzly Creek Fire was not even 10% contained. Jumbo jets still were dousing flames as firefighting teams from across the country scrambled to protect Glenwood Springs and a critical watershed above the Colorado River. And teams of scientists were in Glenwood Canyon, too, battling alongside firefighters.

    Those hydrologists, biologists, geologists, archaeologists and recreation specialists are still there, even after the flames are gone, waging a behind-the-scenes battle to protect water and natural resources…

    Burned Area Emergency Response — or BAER — teams typically come in when a fire is 50% contained to assess damage and create a multi-year restoration plan. Roberts and the Grizzly Creek Fire BAER crew were on the ground when less than 10% of the fire was contained as both forest and fire managers recognized threats to water supplies. In less than three weeks, they had a map detailing where the Grizzly Creek Fire burned hottest, which helped the Colorado Department of Transportation identify areas where rockfall hazards increased in the fire.

    In a twist on the BAER assessment — which usually focuses on protecting resources after a fire — the team helped build an emergency communication plan that helped firefighters in the canyon, and identified areas where they could swiftly take cover in the event of rockfall or a sudden rainstorm that could sweep debris and rocks off canyon walls…

    It was this early assessment that sparked an urgent plea for help from Glenwood Springs. As firefighters battled back flames on the western edge of the wildfire, the city’s leaders rallied politicians far and wide to acknowledge damage to the city’s water supply infrastructure. Barely three weeks after the wildfire sparked along Interstate 70 in Glenwood Canyon, the city had a list of immediate work needed to protect the city’s watershed.

    Sen. Michael Bennet prodded the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) to unleash millions from the federal Emergency Watershed Protection program. Glenwood Springs was first in line, with a clear message that spring snowmelt, or even a rainstorm, could cripple the city’s water supply…

    It didn’t take long for Glenwood Springs to identify immediate repairs and upgrades to protect water systems from expected sediment and debris flowing from scorched canyon walls. First on the list were intake systems on Glenwood Canyon’s Grizzly and No Name creeks. The city also needed an upgrade to a backup water intake on the Roaring Fork River, should the systems in the canyon go down. And finally, the city is eager to finish a long-planned bridge that could help residents flee a wildfire on the south end of town.

    By early September, less than a month after the Grizzly Creek Fire started, the city had a list of $86 million in projects. And the money started flowing almost immediately.

    The city secured more than $1 million from the NRCS’s Emergency Watershed Program for projects to protect intake infrastructure on No Name and Grizzly creeks, high above the Colorado River…

    The Grizzly Creek Fire jumped Grizzly Creek north of Glenwood Canyon. (Provided by the City of Glenwood Springs)

    The city asked the NRCS for wiggle room on the requirement that municipalities pay 25% of the total grant. The service agreed to an 80-20 split, which meant the city needed a little less than $200,000 to protect the structures that funnel millions of gallons of water a day into the city’s water treatment plant.

    Work on the Grizzly Creek intake started first, with helicopters ferrying workers 3.8 miles up the drainage. The workers put in steel plates to protect the diversion and valve systems from debris that could clog the intake during the next big rain or spring melt. They stabilized the banks upstream and downstream of the intake, which required flying 11 cubic yards of cement up the drainage.

    New plating at the Glenwood Springs water intake on Grizzly Creek was installed by the city to protect the system’s valve controls and screen before next spring’s snowmelt scours the Grizzly Creek burn zone and potentially clogs the creek with debris. (Provided by the City of Glenwood Springs)

    The team finished in October and then turned to No Name Creek, where intake diversions and valves are accessible by truck. That work included similar protections as Grizzly Creek, plus a concrete wall to keep debris from hitting a city structure on No Name Creek.

    The No Name work also included upgrades to a 1962 tunnel near the bottom of the creek, with new strainers and filters designed to remove bulky sediment before water reaches the treatment plant. The No Name work is ongoing but will be completed before the spring melt.

    In addition to the intake repairs and upgrades, Glenwood Springs this month secured an $8 million loan from the Colorado Water Conservation Board. The money was among the first awarded through the board’s 2020 Wildfire Impact Loan program, which streamlines funding for municipalities racing to protect watersheds after a wildfire. The program offers 30-year loans with no payment necessary for the first three years.

    The $8 million will help design and construct new pipelines from the city’s pump station on the Roaring Fork River, which delivers water uphill to the Red Mountain Water Treatment Plant. Glenwood Springs has two water sources: the intake systems on No Name and Grizzly creeks and the pumps on the Roaring Fork River. The Roaring Fork water is a backup in case either of the intakes on the creeks above the Colorado River go down. But the intakes in Glenwood Canyon and the pumps on the Roaring Fork cannot run at the same time, and the city is building a second pipeline into the Red Mountain Water Treatment Plant so the two sources can deliver water simultaneously, if needed.

    “This will give us a lot of resiliency moving into the future. Not just fire resiliency, but it gives us a lot of water resource resiliency,” said Matt Langhorst, the public works director for Glenwood Springs. “Having one water source is not acceptable. We need two or three and this would give us three.”

    Glenwood Springs is applying for a Department of Local Affairs grant for the pipeline running from the Roaring Fork River, which would reduce its loan amount from the CWCB.

    A third project, still part of that $8 million from the Colorado Water Conservation Board, will plan and construct a concrete basin above the Red Mountain Water Treatment plant that will mix water coming from the Grizzly Creek and No Name intakes with the water from the Roaring Fork River. The mixing basin helps remove sediment and creates a consistent type of water so technicians do not need to overhaul various treatment processes to accommodate different sources of water.

    A fourth project — and the biggest — would upgrade the entire Red Mountain Water Treatment Plant, which has not been updated since 1977. An upgraded plant, with new technology, would be able to more quickly and efficiently remove sediment from higher volumes of incoming water…

    Sprinkling special-made seeds

    The Colorado Water Conservation Board’s emergency loan program was developed in response to the 2013 floods. The idea was to get emergency funds approved by the board ahead of time so communities do not have to wait through a prolonged application and review process. The board’s emergency loan program distributed $23 million in emergency watershed protection funding following the devastating floods in September 2013…

    With the fire climbing out the canyon by the middle of September and the risk to crews reduced through communication plans and safety maps, Roberts’ BAER team of specialists started their work on emergency stabilization and long-term restoration.

    They created a second burn severity map along with a satellite-derived data map of vegetation in the burn zone. The U.S. Geological Survey’s Landslide Hazards Program also created a similar map identifying areas where debris flow could be heaviest during a rainstorm.

    The BAER team started hiking into the canyon, sometimes driving up to the top of the canyon and dropping in from above, and sometimes hiking up. They scoured the soil in burn areas for organic, woody debris and intact roots, which raise the likelihood of natural recovery. Roberts said new plants already are pushing through the charred topsoil.

    “What we have seen to date is there is a lot of that organic material and native seed left in the soil that is allowing a lot to come back,” Roberts said, describing a patchy burn in a “mosaic” pattern. “We see good potential for recovery.”

    […]

    Roberts and her team assisted the natural recovery process, sprinkling seeds as soon as rain and snow dampened the soil. They walked all the fire suppression lines where bulldozers hastily cleared entire swaths of forest and yanked out non-native weeds that took root. And they threw seeds everywhere.

    Roberts collected native grass seed from the nearby Flat Tops to create a seed mix for Glenwood Canyon. The mix will produce resilient grasses that help stabilize soil and combat invasive weeds. The team’s reseeding of suppression lines is nearing completion as the snow piles deeper. The stabilization work will continue into next summer.

    Emergency trail and road stabilization will pick up in the spring, when Roberts will move into the restoration phase, which includes aggressive mitigation to prevent non-native weeds and monitoring vegetation growth.

    Researchers with Utah State University also joined Roberts in the field and launched a year-long study of how the Grizzly Creek Fire impacts runoff and erosion. The researchers expect the data — gathered from USGS gauges upstream and downstream of the burn zone as well as monitoring equipment inside the canyon — will help better calibrate the models used to predict debris flow in areas burned by wildfire.

    @CWCB_DNR November 2020 #Drought Update

    Click here to read the update (Megan Holcomb & Tracy Kosloff):

    Water Year 2020 has concluded as the 12th warmest water year on record in Colorado since 1895. The winter months presented near normal temperatures with warmer temperatures occurring throughout summer months. Water Year 2020 was the third driest water year on record, trailing only 2002 (driest) and 2018 (2nd driest). October temperatures were above normal and precipitation was below average for the majority of the month, despite a strong cold snap that hit the state just before Halloween. So far in November, eastern Colorado has experienced above average temperatures that are likely to continue, while several decent storms blanketed the mountains, resulting in average snowpack for this time of year in western Colorado. On November 30th, Governor Polis activated Phase 3 of the State Drought Mitigation and Response Plan along with a Municipal Water Impact Task Force to help water providers coordinate and prepare for a potential multi‐year drought.

    Colorado Drought Monitor November 24, 2020.

    A critically hot spring, high winds, dry summer, and multiple monsoon seasons with poor to no moisture have contributed to 2020’s record breaking fires. The three largest wildfires in Colorado history occurred in the summer and fall of 2020. Historically, Colorado’s largest wildfires occur in June following poor winter snowpack and an early springtime melt out. However, the Cameron Peak and East Troublesome fires experienced rapid and intense expansion in October ‐ a completely unprecedented phenomenon.

    The Nov. 25 U.S. Drought Monitor logged 27% of the state in D4 (exceptional) drought conditions; D3 (extreme) drought in 47% of the state; D2 (severe) covering 19%; and D1 (moderate) drought covering 6% of the state.

    The 90‐day Standardized Precipitation Index (SPI) (August 19 to Nov 16) values continue to show drier than normal conditions across the state.

    The ENSO forecast predicts that moderate La Niña conditions will last through the winter. La Niña generally means an increase in moisture to the north and less to the south. Historically this pattern leads to snowier winters in the northern Rockies and less precipitation to the south.

    The NOAA Climate Prediction Center three month outlook maps indicate an increased chance for above average temperatures over the winter with an equal chance (e.g. unclear trend) of precipitation.

    Statewide reservoir storage is currently at 82% of average. Storage in the northern half of the state is near average while the southern basins range

    Municipal water providers continue to report increased demands and most municipalities report normal to slightly below normal storage. Water providers are closely monitoring conditions due to the likelihood of extended drought to prepare for a dry spring.

    Water officials working on draft of demand management concept — The #GrandJunction Daily Sentinel #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

    State water officials are hoping early next year to roll out a draft demand management proposal to help in evaluating the concept as a possible response to managing Colorado River water supplies in times of drought.

    Creating a framework of what the program could look like isn’t meant to tie hands and say what the Colorado Water Conservation Board thinks it should look like, CWCB staff member Amy Ostdiek told the board in its meeting earlier this month. Rather, it’s aimed at giving everyone involved the ability to have something to respond to, with the hope of perhaps creating a better draft or a new concept, she said…

    The CWCB, which sets state water policy, says demand management would involve temporary, voluntary and compensated reductions in consumptive use of Colorado River Basin water. This is expected to entail use reductions in municipal, agricultural and other uses, with agricultural cuts resulting from measures such as short-term fallowing of fields.

    The idea is drawing particular scrutiny from entities such as the Western Slope’s Colorado River District due to concerns about potential economic impacts on agriculture-based communities. A recent study commissioned by a work group including the district found that the secondary economic impacts of paying western Colorado farmers to temporarily fallow fields could be similar to the secondary benefits from the spending of those payments. But it said the dollars from payment spending would flow to different businesses, perhaps shifting to larger towns and cities from smaller, ag-based towns.

    Among other criteria for going forward, a demand management program would have to be found to be feasible by every Upper Basin state. This means looking at things such as availability of funding, whether a program would comply with state and federal laws, how it would be administered, etc.

    The CWCB began evaluating the concept by establishing work groups involving experts and stakeholders from around the state looking at issues surrounding demand management.

    With their input now in hand, the agency is taking the next step in investigating the concept. That will entail considering if it is achievable in terms of things such as funding, worthwhile when it comes to questions such as how much water would be stored, and ultimately advisable to pursue in Colorado.

    CWCB plans to continue its evaluation in a public, collaborative way, involving water users, tribal entities, nongovernment organizations and other stakeholders in commenting on the draft proposal, Ostdiek said.

    Becky Mitchell, the CWCB’s director, told the board at its meeting that fires and drought affected every Coloradan this year.

    She said that with the climate changing and drought becoming more frequent and intense, it would be irresponsible for the CWCB not to look at every tool available to respond, including demand management.

    Map of the Colorado River drainage basin, created using USGS data. By Shannon1 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=65868008

    Governor Polis Activates Next Phase of #Colorado #Drought Plan, Prepares for Continued Severe Conditions into 2021

    Here’s the release from the Colorado Water Conservation Board:

    As severe drought conditions have persisted across 100% of Colorado for over 15 weeks, Governor Jared Polis directed a shift from Phase 2 to Phase 3 (full activation) of the State Drought Mitigation and Response Plan.

    This includes convening the Municipal Water Impact Task Force, chaired by staff from the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) and Department of Local Affairs, with the objective of coordinating with water providers to prepare for anticipated drought-related challenges well into 2021.

    “Now with three drought task forces activated going into the winter season, the state will have time to coordinate with agriculture, municipal, and other sectors across the state to develop a plan for mitigation of drought-related impacts starting in spring of 2021,” said CWCB Director Rebecca Mitchell. “Climate outlooks for 2021 indicate that drought conditions are likely to continue into the next year, so it is important that we are proactively thinking about mitigation and that we remain hopeful for strong winter snowpack statewide.”

    The Municipal Water Task Force will join the Drought Task Force and the Agricultural Impact Task Force, which were activated in June. Drought condition summaries are released monthly from water and climate specialists on the Water Availability Task Force.

    Colorado Departments of Agriculture and Natural Resources are seeking public input about drought impacts in communities across the state. Submit personal and local accounts of drought, including agricultural impacts, on the Virtual Drought Tour platform.

    For updates and background on Colorado drought, visit the CWCB website.

    Colorado Drought Monitor November 24, 2020.

    Dry Gulch loan deactivated — The Pagosa Springs Sun #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification #SanJuanRiver

    Dry Gulch Reservoir site. Credit The Pagosa Daily Post

    From The Pagosa Springs Sun (Chris Mannara):

    During a meeting on Nov. 16, the San Juan Water Conservancy District (SJWCD) Board of Directors approved the deactivation of a loan the district currently has with the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB).

    According to SJWCD President Al Pfister, the reasoning behind the decision is the state budget situation.

    “The state was asking us whether we wanted to deactivate our existing loan of $1.9 plus million that we had applied for and had been approved contingent upon us getting a mill levy approved to pay for that,” Pfister explained during the meeting. “It’s been three years since that was initially approved and, I’ll say, standard procedure is to, basically, after three years of actions have been taken, they deactivate those loans.”

    Pfister noted that he told CWCB that the district was fine with deactivating its loan at this time but, by doing this, it would not preclude the district from applying in the future.

    “I just want to clearly emphasize that this does not in any way mean that we are not going to pursue a reservoir project in the future,” SJWCD board member John Porco added.

    In conversations with CWCB representatives, Pfister explained that the CWCB indicated that CWCB would not take this decision to mean that SJWCD was not pursuing its San Juan River Headwaters Project…

    The motion to approve the CWCB loan deactivation was approved unanimously by the SJWCD board.

    In a follow-up interview on [November 23, 2020], Pfister explained that the loan that was deactivated was to enable the SJWCD to purchase additional lands that were needed to complete the district having ownership of the pool basin for the San Juan River Headwaters Project.

    Additionally, the loan was for environmental work for the land exchange, Pfister added.

    @CWCB_DNR approves second phase of investigation into demand-management program — @AspenJournalism #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Water from the Colorado River irrigates farmland in the Grand Valley. The state of Colorado is looking into how to fund a program that would pay irrigators to reduce their consumptive use in order to send water downstream to a savings account in Lake Powell.Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    From Aspen Journalism (Heather Sackett):

    The state of Colorado will embark on the second phase of studying a potential water-savings plan, this time by developing a draft framework to test how the structure and design of such a program could work.

    The Colorado Water Conservation Board approved at its regular meeting Nov. 18 a Step II Work Plan for its investigation into the feasibility of a demand-management program.

    “People in my basin, including myself, are very excited to get down the road of this next phase,” said CWCB board member Jackie Brown, who represents the Yampa, White and Green river basins. “I think it will bring us a lot of certainty with where we end up on this really heavy issue.”

    Since June 2019, eight workgroups composed of water experts from different sectors around the state have been hashing out the potential benefits, downsides and challenges of a voluntary and temporary program that would pay water users to cut back in order to leave more water in the Colorado River. The workgroups tackled eight subject areas: law and policy; monitoring and verification; water-rights administration and accounting; environmental considerations; economic considerations and local government; funding; education and outreach; and agricultural impacts. A ninth workgroup, led by the Interbasin Compact Committee, focused solely on equity.

    Their work is now done. The results of a year’s worth of meetings, in-depth discussions and workshops resulted in a 200-page report, released in July.

    A project management team, made up of state officials from the CWCB, the Division of Water Resources and the attorney general’s office, will now take the input from the workgroups and use it to begin Step II. The overarching goals of this phase are to figure out if demand management would be achievable, worthwhile and advisable for Colorado.

    “Ultimately, again, the question is: Is demand management a feasible tool to protect Colorado water users against the risks and impacts of a potential curtailment, and can we create some additional benefits as well?” said Amy Ostdiek, CWCB deputy section chief for interstate, federal and water information.

    At the heart of a potential demand-management program is a reduction in water use in an attempt to send water downstream to Lake Powell to bolster levels in the giant reservoir and meet 1922 Colorado River Compact obligations. If Colorado does not meet its obligation to deliver water to the lower basin, it could face mandatory cutbacks, known as curtailment.

    Under such a program, agricultural water users could get paid to temporarily fallow fields and leave more water in the river, in order to fill a 500,000 acre-foot pool set aside in Lake Powell as a modest insurance policy. But developing a program raises many thorny questions such as how to create a program that is equitable and doesn’t result in negative economic impacts to agricultural communities.

    In Step II, the project management team, with the help of consultants SGM, CDR Associates and WestWater Engineering, will develop a draft “strawman” framework of a demand-management program. Step II does not include a large-scale pilot program, but it leaves the door open to develop one in the future, potentially in collaboration with other upper-basin states. Ostdiek said the project management team should have the initial draft framework ready for the board to look at early next year.

    CWCB Director Rebecca Mitchell reminded board members that demand management is just one tool — but an important one — that the state is looking at to deal with looming water shortages.

    “When we look at the challenge of a changing climate or a changing hydrology and the frequency and drought and the intensity of drought, it would be irresponsible of us not to look at every tool available,” she said. “I think this is the next, right, appropriate step.”

    Aspen Journalism is a local, nonprofit, investigative news organization covering water and rivers in collaboration with The Aspen Times and other Swift Communications newspapers. This story ran in the Nov. 27 edition of The Aspen Times.

    As pandemic hammers its finances, #Vail [Resorts] pulls out of state #cloudseeding program — @WaterEdCO #COVID19 #coronavirus #ColoradoRiver #COriver

    Ullr: Guardian Patron Saint of Skiers

    From Water Education Colorado (Jerd Smith):

    Vail Resorts Inc., one of the largest financial contributors to Colorado’s cloud seeding program, has dropped out this year, leaving a major hole in the program’s budget.

    Cloud seeding is a practice in which silver iodide pellets are sprayed into storm clouds in an effort to trigger more snowfall and ultimately, in the spring, more snowmelt to feed the state’s streams.

    Vail has been participating in the program for more than 40 years, state officials said.

    Hard-hit by the pandemic, the ski resort company had planned to contribute $300,000 to this year’s effort, roughly 20 percent of the nearly $1.5 million the state spends annually, according to the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB), which oversees the program.

    Vail officials did not respond to a request for comment, but their most recent financial statements indicate that the company’s revenues dropped nearly 70 percent for its latest fiscal year as the Covid-19 pandemic forced it to close its resorts early last spring.

    According to its financials, revenues for its 2020 fiscal year ending July 31 came in at $503.3 million, down from $706.7 million for the prior year.

    “We’re all hoping this is just a temporary suspension in funding from Vail,” said Andrew Rickert, who oversees the cloud seeding program for the CWCB. “Vail is the oldest partner we have in Colorado. They are very serious about the program, but no one is immune to these economic hardships.”

    In addition to Vail, the cloud seeding program receives cash from several Lower Colorado River Basin states, who are interested in helping do anything they can to boost water supplies in the Upper Colorado River Basin, on whose flows they rely.

    The state and several Front Range water utilities, including Denver Water, the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District and Colorado Springs Utilities, also help pay for the work.

    This year the CWCB will oversee six permitted cloud seeding operations that span the state, from Durango to Winter Park and beyond. The operations are sited in areas most likely to produce snow and aid rivers.

    Among the largest of these is a permit operated by the Colorado River District, which includes Grand, Summit, Eagle and Pitkin counties, according to Dave Kanzer, deputy district engineer for the Glenwood Springs-based water agency.

    Vail’s cloud seeding program is nested within that area and its annual $300,000 contribution represents more than half the money typically spent in that four-county region, Kanzer said. If additional funding isn’t found, fewer cloud seeding generators will operate there this season.

    “It’s a challenging time with respect to Covid-impacted budgets,” Kanzer said. “The overall program is alive and well, but it is a topic of concern.”

    Kanzer and CWCB Director Becky Mitchell said the state is actively reaching out to other entities for additional funding for this year’s work, including states in the Lower Colorado River Basin and Front Range utilities.

    As the current drought continues, forecasts for the winter indicate that the southern part of Colorado is likely to see light winter snows, while the northern part of the state is likely to see heavier accumulations. Overall, the state has a long way to go to make up for the dry summer and fall.

    How much new snow and water seeding clouds actually produces has been difficult to detect, although scientists recently have produced studies indicating it can create new snow.

    “Our scientists indicate we can increase water supplies by about 5 percent on an annual basis, with increased snowfall of 5 to 10 percent, although it’s highly variable,” Kanzer said.

    Colorado and other Upper Colorado River Basin states have long used cloud seeding as a way to boost water supplies, and with this year’s drought it’s more important than ever that additional water be generated if possible.

    “It’s especially acute coming after a pretty dry 2020,” Kanzer said.

    “But we’re cautiously optimistic. As the year plays out we will try to carefully manage the resources that we have. I’m not optimistic that we will be able to fill the entire gap. But if we came up with a third [of the money lost], that will be a success in my mind.”

    Jerd Smith is editor of Fresh Water News. She can be reached at 720-398-6474, via email at jerd@wateredco.org or @jerd_smith.

    Cloud-seeding graphic via Science Matters

    #GlenwoodSprings gets $8 million loan for water-system upgrades following #GrizzlyCreekFire — @AspenJournalism #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    The Colorado River divides Glenwood Canyon slurry on the ridge from the Grizzly Creek Fire on Monday, August 24, 2020. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times via Aspen Journalism)

    From Aspen Journalism (Heather Sackett):

    Glenwood Springs has received approval for a loan of up to $8 million from the state to upgrade its water system to deal with the impacts of this past summer’s Grizzly Creek Fire.

    The Colorado Water Conservation Board approved the loan for system redundancy and pre-treatment improvements at its regular meeting Wednesday. The money comes from the 2020 Wildfire Impact Loans, a pool of emergency money authorized in September by Gov. Jared Polis.

    The loan will allow Glenwood Springs, which takes most of its municipal water supply from No Name and Grizzly creeks, to reduce the elevated sediment load in the water supply taken from the creeks as a result of the fire, which started Aug. 10 and burned more than 32,000 acres in Glenwood Canyon.

    Significant portions of both the No Name Creek and Grizzly Creek drainages were burned during the fire, and according to the National Resources Conservation Service, the drainages will experience three to 10 years of elevated sediment loading due to soil erosion in the watershed. A heavy rain or spring runoff on the burn scar will wash ash and sediment — no longer held in place by charred vegetation in steep canyons and gullies — into local waterways. Also, scorched soils don’t absorb water as well, increasing the magnitude of floods.

    The city will install a sediment-removal basin at the site of its diversions from the creeks and install new pumps at the Roaring Fork River pump station. The Roaring Fork has typically been used as an emergency supply, but the project will allow it to be used more regularly for increased redundancy. During the early days of the Grizzly Creek Fire, the city did not have access to its Grizzly and No Name creek intakes, so it shut them off and switched over to its Roaring Fork supply.

    The city will also install a concrete mixing basin above the water-treatment plant, which will mix both the No Name/Grizzly Creek supply and the Roaring Fork supply. All of these infrastructure improvements will ensure that the water-treatment plant receives water with most of the sediment already removed.

    “This was a financial hit we were not anticipating to take, so the CWCB loan is quite doable for us, and we really appreciate it being out there and considering us for it,” Glenwood Springs Public Works Director Matt Langhorst told the board Wednesday. “These are projects we have to move forward with at this point. If this (loan) was not an option for us, we would be struggling to figure out how to financially make this happen.”

    Without the improvement project, the sediment will overload the city’s water-treatment plant and could cause long, frequent periods of shutdown to remove the excess sediment, according to the loan application. The city, which provides water to about 10,000 residents, might not be able to maintain adequate water supply during these shutdowns.

    According to the loan application, the city will pay back the loan over 30 years, with the first three years at zero interest and 1.8% after that. The work, which is being done by Carollo Engineers and SGM, began this month and is expected to be completed by the spring of 2022.

    Langhorst said the city plans on having much of the work done before next spring’s runoff.

    “Yes, there is urgency to get several parts and pieces of what the CWCB is loaning us money for done,” he said.

    The impacts of this year’s historic wildfire season on water supplies around the state was a topic of conversation at Wednesday’s meeting. CWCB Director Rebecca Mitchell said her agency has hired a consultant team to assist communities — through a watershed restoration program — with grant applications, engineering analysis and other support to mitigate wildfire impacts.

    “These fires often create problems that exceed impacts of the fires themselves,” she said. “We know the residual impacts from these fires will last five to seven years at minimum.”

    Aspen Journalism is a local, nonprofit, investigative news organization covering water and rivers in collaboration with The Glenwood Springs Post-Independent and other Swift Communications newspapers. This story ran in the Nov. 19 edition of the Glenwood Springs Post-Independent.

    Amber Weber appointed to Arkansas Basin Roundtable — Ag Journal

    From The Ag Journal (Christian Burney):

    Amber Weber via LinkedIn

    At the Nov. 2 Board of County Commissioners meeting, commissioners decided to appoint Amber Weber to the Arkansas Basin Roundtable at the recommendation of County Administrator Amy White-Tanabe…

    Weber is no stranger to the Arkansas Basin Roundtable. She has participated on the roundtable in other capacities before. Since 2018, she’s served at the roundtable as Public Education, Participation and Outreach Coordinator. She is also on the Basin Implementation Plan Committee, which Weber said facilitates the discussion of how the Arkansas Basin fits into the Colorado Water Plan.

    “I facilitated educational opportunities, discussions, curated content, hosted workshops, et cetera, all surrounding one goal — water in the Arkansas Basin,” Weber told the La Junta Tribune-Democrat in an email.

    As a PEPO Coordinator, Weber has engaged in agricultural, municipal, recreational and environmental sectors of water, she said.

    “As I transition into a voting role, I am thrilled that I have the opportunity to represent Otero County and will be able to represent the best interests of the County and the citizens within it,” said Weber. “Through this voting seat for Otero County, I will be speaking with the commissioners regularly and ensuring each of them are kept in the loop on all items that come to the roundtable.

    Likewise, Weber will communicate Otero County’s ideas and concerns to the roundtable.

    Weber works as a consultant to Otero County Commissioners in other areas of county interest as well, such as the Ditch and Reservoir Company Alliance, a state-wide organization whose goal is to serve and protect water delivery providers, Weber said; she also serves as the soil health director for the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District “as the district works to navigate the nexus between water and soil quality.”

    Water for #Colorado Coalition Applauds the Passage of $8 Million to Protect Colorado’s Rivers — Western Resource Advocates

    Here’s the release from Western Resource Advocates (Jennifer Talhelm):

    Today, the Water for Colorado coalition celebrates the passage of two key local ballot measures that will increase investment in Colorado’s rivers and streams. Together these measures will generate nearly $8 million annually to support critical water-related needs.

    Voters approved a property tax increase for the St. Vrain and Left Hand Water Conservancy District, which will provide $3.3 million a year to protect water quality, safeguard drinking water, maintain healthy forests, rivers and creeks, plan ahead for dry years and grow food locally. The funds will be allocated using the District’s recently developed 5-Point Water Action Plan that will protect rivers, forests, and local water quality.

    On the West Slope, voters approved a mill levy increase for the Colorado River Water Conservation District, which will bring in nearly $5 million a year to support healthy rivers, local agriculture, watershed health, and water quality in the 15 counties that make up the district. According to its Fiscal Implementation Plan, the District will allocate these funds through partnerships with water users and communities for priority projects identified by local communities and Basin Roundtables.

    Local funding from both measures will support the types of solutions and water management projects outlined in Colorado’s Water Plan. The Water Plan, finalized in 2015, provides a blueprint to address the gap between water supply and demand across the state.

    “Whether they’re on the Front Range or the West Slope, Coloradans know that water is essential for life; they value protecting our rivers and streams, and that’s why an incredibly diverse group of Coloradans unified in support of the two funding measures,” said Bart Miller, Western Resource Advocates’ Healthy Rivers Program Director. “The passage of these two ballot measures will mean communities will have $8 million more a year working to ensure there is enough water for everyone – for drinking, farming and ranching, recreation, and wildlife. But while we’re justifiably celebrating today, the wildfires that have been burning across the state this fall are a destructive reminder that climate change and drought will keep stressing our water, and we all need to keep working for full funding for Colorado’s Water Plan.”

    “Both measures provide an essential blueprint to these river districts to better manage water supplies and, in turn, support the communities and economies that rely on them,” said Matt Rice, Director of the Colorado Basin Program for American Rivers. “Voters have clearly rallied around water as a shared priority and recognized the urgent need to safeguard our drinking water, protect forests that are critical to water supplies, and maintain healthy rivers and creeks.”

    “Our economy depends on a healthy, reliable Colorado River System, and Colorado voters realized that in the passage of two ballot issues on water yesterday. Billions of dollars are generated every year in Colorado by river-related recreation, and we know that healthy rivers mean a thriving economy across our communities. The St. Vrain and Left Hand Water Conservancy District can now implement their five-point plan to protect that area’s rivers and water sources, and the Colorado River District can continue its important, locally driven work throughout the 15 counties they serve,” said Molly Mugglestone, Director of Communications and Colorado Policy for Business for Water Stewardship.

    “The passage of these measures comes as Colorado continues to grapple with extreme wildfires and ongoing drought conditions across the state. The water Coloradans use to drink, irrigate crops, recreate, and sustain our communities is water that we share with wildlife that depend on our rivers, streams, and lakes. In the face of a historic drought and the ongoing threat of climate change, these kinds of forward-looking investments in how we care for and sustain our water supplies are critical to ensuring the collective future of the people and wildlife of Colorado,” said Abby Burk, Western Rivers Regional Program Manager for Audubon Rockies .

    “I want to applaud Coloradans who voted to keep our rivers healthy and flowing. The wise investment they approved will protect clean drinking water and iconic waterways now and for future generations,” said Kelly Nordini, Executive Director of Conservation Colorado.

    Coloradans continue to prioritize water by voting to approve ballot measures that use tax revenues to invest in healthy rivers, clean drinking water, resilient agriculture, and a thriving recreation economy. This year’s double win marks another voter-approved effort to fund work that supports the Water Plan. In November 2019, voters passed Proposition DD to legalize sports betting and use the resulting taxes to help fund Colorado’s Water Plan.

    However, the Water for Colorado Coalition will continue its efforts to fully fund the Water Plan. This is essential, because even though these local ballot measures will generate significant funding for water in Colorado, a larger funding gap for implementing Colorado’s Water Plan remains. The Water Plan estimates that $100 million dollars per year is needed to protect scarce water resources and to prevent future water shortages in the state.

    About the Water for Colorado Coalition
    The Water for Colorado Coalition is dedicated to ensuring our rivers support everyone who depends on them, working toward resilience to climate change, planning for sustained and more severe droughts, and enabling every individual in Colorado to have a voice and the opportunity to take action to advocate for sustainable conservation-based solutions for our state’s water future.

    The community of organizations that make up the Water for Colorado Coalition represent diverse perspectives and share a commitment to protecting Colorado’s water future to secure a reliable water supply for the state and for future generations.

    Hick on Western Slope water: ‘Don’t divert … unless it’s absolutely necessary’ — Real Vail #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    These wetlands in the Homestake Creek valley are near the site of the proposed Whitney Reservoir. The Forest Service is considering whether to issue a permit for drilling and a geotechnical study to test whether the site would support a dam. Photo credit: Heather Sackett/Aspen Journalism

    From Real Vail (David O. Williams):

    RealVail.com also checked in with Hickenlooper — a Democrat who’s leading incumbent Republican U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner in most polls in the Nov. 3 election – on the topic of transmountain diversions of water from the Western Slope drainages of the dwindling Colorado River Basin to the Front Range cities where most of the state’s people live.

    The former Denver mayor, brew pub owner and oil and gas geologist said that, as much as possible, Western Slope water should stay on the Western Slope.

    “When we created the Colorado Water Plan, one of the real focuses there was to make sure that we don’t divert water from one basin to another unless it’s absolutely necessary,” Hickenlooper said. “One of the things we set up in the water plan is the process by which we debate that and when people get crosswise over water, you don’t just go to a fight.”

    The context of the question was a proposal by Homestake Partners, comprised of the Front Range cities of Aurora and Colorado Springs, to conduct test drilling in the Homestake Creek drainage near Red Cliff to determine the best site for a new dam for the proposed Whitney Reservoir, which would provide the cities up to 20,000 acre-feet in average annual yield.

    Local towns, politicians and statewide conservation groups oppose even the test drilling, which was delayed in the U.S. Forest Service permitting process by the record wildfire season…

    Climate Change Amplifies Colorado’s Water Diversion Debate

    Nearly 5 million people live on the eastern side of the Rocky Mountains, along what’s known as Colorado’s “Front Range,” where communities established on semi-arid prairie land need more water to keep expanding.

    Now a water battle is brewing over whether the booming population centers of Aurora and Colorado Springs, with nearly 900,000 residents combined, can claim water from a remote valley on the other side of the Rockies, collect it in a new reservoir and pump it across the Continental Divide.

    For many residents of bucolic Eagle County on the “Western Slope,” where Homestake Creek meanders through mountain meadows, lush wetlands and ancient fens on its way to the endangered Colorado River, it’s time to end transmountain diversions once and for all as the climate warms and drought intensifies.

    But officials in Aurora, a Denver suburb, and Colorado Springs, argue they can collect the water in a new reservoir and make use of it without drastically disturbing the surrounding wilderness. More to the point: they’ve owned the rights to 20,000 acre-feet of average annual yield since 1952 and say it’s time to start exploring if they can use it—for drinking water and on suburban lawns.

    “Because water is the lifeblood and it’s so important, we have been doing a relatively good job of having collaborative conversations that are getting us to a point, but the issue is growth and climate change are both happening now so fast and historically these collaborative conversations take a really long time,” said Eagle County Commissioner Matt Scherr.

    “Are we going to be able to address that at the scale and speed that the problem is moving?” Scherr added. “So, you hate to see this end up being essentially a war for water, but if we don’t figure out how to do it in a holistic way, that could be our future.”

    @CWCB_DNR Notice of Public Rulemaking Hearing and Proposed Revisions to the ISF Rules

    From email from the Colorado Water Conservation Board (Rob Viehl):

    The Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) has drafted proposed revisions to the Rules Concerning Colorado’s Instream Flow and Natural Lake Level Program (ISF Rules). The revisions to the ISF Rules will: (1) address the rulemaking requirements of HB20-1157; (2) update a reference to the CWCB’s website; and (3) update references to Colorado Parks and Wildlife. Staff held two informal stakeholder meetings on August 3 and August 18, 2020 to discuss the draft ISF Rules revisions. Staff also has drafted a Statement of Basis and Purpose for the revised ISF Rules.

    On September 16, 2020, the CWCB authorized staff to initiate the formal rulemaking process. On October 14, CWCB staff filed a Notice of Public Rulemaking Hearing and proposed revisions to the ISF Rules the Colorado Secretary of State, which will be published in the Colorado Register on October 25, 2020. The rulemaking hearing will be held on January 26, 2021. Applications for party status should be submitted to the CWCB’s Hearing Officer, Amy Beatie, by email to amy.beatie@coag.gov and will be accepted through November 13, 2020. For more details on applying for party status, see the Notice of Public Rulemaking Hearing. For more information on this rulemaking process, contact Linda Bassi at linda.bassi@state.co.us or (303) 866-3441, ext. 3204.

    Aquatic ecologist Bill Miller, left, shows chair of Pitkin County Healthy Streams Board Andre Wille the three samples of macro-invertebrates he collected from Castle Creek. Some say the instream flow water rights held by the Colorado Water Conservation Board don’t necessarily go far enough to protect stream health. Photo credit: Heather Sackett/Aspen Journalism

    Grants to aid in keeping restored riversides restored — The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

    RiversEdge West, a nonprofit based in Grand Junction, has been awarded $164,566 from the Colorado Water Conservation Board, a state agency, to support the creation of what the group is calling a Western Colorado Sustainable Stewardship model to protect and sustain restoration work. A $40,000 grant from the Bacon Family Foundation also will help with that initiative and let RiversEdge West continue to provide leadership and support for the Desert Rivers Collaborative in Mesa and Delta counties. This includes planning and mapping work, and technical, coordination and fundraising assistance.

    RiversEdge West formed the Desert Rivers Collaborative in 2012. The collaborative has completed more than 1,565 acres of riparian restoration on the Colorado and Gunnison rivers. Among the partners are private landowners, other nonprofits, state and federal agencies including Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the Bureau of Land Management, volunteers, Mesa County, and municipalities including Palisade, Grand Junction and Fruita.

    In addition, RiversEdge West co-leads, along with the Southwest Conservation Corps, the Dolores River Restoration Partnership. That collaborative effort has treated nearly 6,000 acres along 200 miles of the Dolores River in six counties and two states.

    The partnerships have focused particularly on two invasive species — tamarisk and Russian olive. Shannon Wadas, associate director of RiversEdge West, said those species outcompete native plants, are less conducive to providing wildlife habitat, pose a higher wildfire risk, affect instream habitat relied upon by native fish, and can interfere with river and bank access for recreation…

    That’s where the sustainability component of restoration work comes in. RiversEdge West is working to incorporate long-term monitoring of restored areas and training of partners in that monitoring. Wadas said monitoring protocols are in place already on the Dolores River and RiversEdge West plans to implement those on the Colorado/Gunnison restored areas as well.

    It also plans to create, and provide partners with, a framework and guide to help with decisions regarding when and where restoration work should be completed. The CWCB money also will fund two-person “strike teams” with the Southwest Conservation Corps and Western Colorado Conservation Corps to do ongoing maintenance work such as treating tamarisk and Russian olive resprouts and secondary weeds, and doing revegetation.

    Wadas said the sustainability efforts are intended to protect the investments already made in riverside restoration, and the hope is that the new sustainability model will be used not just by watershed groups across western Colorado.

    Permit renewal sought for Grand Mesa cloud-seeding — The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Eric Hjermstad, field operations director, Western Weather Consultants, lights a cloud seeding generator north of Silverthorne, Colorado. Photo credit: Denver Water

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

    The entity that operates a long-running cloud-seeding program aimed at boosting snowfall on Grand Mesa is seeking to have its state permit for the program renewed for 10 years.

    The effort by the Water Enhancement Authority is one of a couple of permit renewal applications now before the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

    Durango-based Western Weather Consultants is seeking a renewal of a program for Vail Corp.’s ski areas at Vail and Beaver Creek, and another permit renewal is being pursued in southwest Colorado.

    Water Enhancement Authority proposes to continue conducting the Grand Mesa operation on behalf of entities including the city of Grand Junction, Grand Mesa Water Conservancy District, Grand Mesa Water Users Association, Ute Water Conservancy District, Powderhorn Ski Co. and Collbran Water Conservancy District.

    Altogether, 16 organizations are involved, said Mark Ritterbush, the authority’s secretary and treasurer, during a recent online public hearing on the permit renewal conducted by the conservation board. Ritterbush also is water services manager for the city of Grand Junction.

    The Grand Mesa program dates back decades, and irrigation companies originally pooled money to create it. It now targets some 320 square miles roughly above 8,000 feet in elevation.

    Any of 13 manually operated seeders and five remotely operated ones can be used to send silver iodide particles skyward into storm clouds when factors such as wind direction and temperature are right, in an attempt to enhance snowfall as supercooled water attaches to the particles.

    The Grand Mesa program estimates it has boosted snowfall by an average of 4% since 1990, and by 7% to 8% percent each of the last three years as it has improved its operations through measures such as more targeted seeding and more use of remote seeders. The remote devices can be located at higher elevations closer to clouds, making it easier to get silver iodide into those clouds.

    The program estimates the amount of snowfall enhancement by comparing snowfall averages at Grand Mesa and non-seeded locations in the region to historic averages before Grand Mesa seeding began.

    Ritterbush estimates that an 8% increase in snowpack on the Grand Mesa translates to about 2,000 additional acre-feet of water. An acre-foot is about 326,000 gallons.

    Based on the program budget, it’s costing about $7 an acre-foot for that additional water, which Ritterbush said doesn’t just help municipal water supplier and irrigators, but also helps the environment by boosting stream flows, and supports recreation activities such as skiing and rafting…

    Altogether, there are eight cloud-seeding programs in Colorado. Funding comes from a variety of sources, including Front Range municipal water entities and from within states in the Colorado River’s Lower Basin.

    Andrew Rickert with the Colorado Water Conservation Board said at the Grand Mesa program hearing that new funding is allowing for three new remote seeders to be installed in Colorado, including one on Grand Mesa if the permit there is renewed. Statewide, some 112 manual seeders and 13 remote stations are in use now.

    Story Map: Swimming Upstream — The Story of the Upper #ColoradoRiver #Endangered Fish Recovery Program #COriver @CWCB_DNR

    Click here to view the story map that tells the story of the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Program. H/T to the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

    Secondary economic benefits of fallowing could offset secondary impacts, study finds — The #GrandJunction Daily Sentinel #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Rancher and fly fishing guide Paul Bruchez’s daughter and nephew sit in a hay field at the family ranch near Kremmling. Bruchez is helping spearhead a study among local ranchers, which could inform a potential statewide demand management program. Photo credit: Paul Bruchez via Aspen Journalism

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

    The secondary economic impacts of paying western Colorado farmers to temporarily fallow fields in times of drought could be similar to the secondary benefits resulting from the spending of those payments, a new study has found.

    But BBC Research and Consulting says the dollars from payment spending would flow to different businesses, potentially shifting from smaller, agriculturally focused communities to larger towns and cities.

    In addition, the payments would only benefit the regional economy if they come from outside western Colorado, because payments originating on the Western Slope would only result in shifting money around within the region as opposed to creating a new economic benefit, the study says.

    The research was commissioned by the Colorado River Water Bank Workgroup, which consists of the Colorado River District, the Southwestern Water Conservation District, The Nature Conservancy, the Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, the Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association, the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District and the Grand Valley Water Users Association.

    It’s intended to help gauge the impact on local agricultural economies should Western Slope farmers participate in voluntary, temporary, compensated fallowing as part of a demand management program involving Upper Colorado River Basin states including Colorado.

    Such a program is being considered as a means for the states to be able to store extra water in Lake Powell so they can continue meeting their water delivery obligations to downstream states in times of drought, and head off potential mandatory curtailment of water uses under an interstate compact…

    FARMING IMPACTS
    The study looks at fallowing grass hay, alfalfa and corn. It estimates that regionally it would cost an average of $236 per acre-foot of water involved, or about $470 per fallowed acre, to get farmers to participate. It says producers also may require payments covering direct fallowing costs, such as weed and pest control, and payments also may have to be made to irrigation companies for lost revenues and added management costs.

    The study evaluates a moderate, 12,700-acre hypothetical fallowing program involving 25,000 acre-feet of water a year for five years across western Colorado, and a more aggressive, 52,100-acre program that would involve 25,000 acre-feet a year for five years within each of four major Western Slope river basins.

    The study finds that the moderate approach would result in a minimum of a $5.7 million annual reduction in crop production, and the aggressive approach, at least a $23.2 million reduction.

    Those reductions would result in an estimated loss of at least 64 or 260 on-farm jobs, respectively, although most of those would involve the farmers themselves who are being compensated.

    The study estimates that when comparing that compensation to their lost farm income, farmers collectively would come out at least $2.2 million ahead each year in the moderate scenario and $8.6 million ahead in the aggressive approach.

    SECONDARY CONCERNS
    The bigger focus of the study is what secondary effects would result from the fallowing due to impacts on businesses such as farm and ranch suppliers, and businesses providing household goods and services to affected workers.

    In the moderate scenario, the study estimates at least 55 secondary jobs would be lost to reduced crop production, while there would be an increase of at least 27 jobs resulting from spending of fallowing payments.

    Under the aggressive scenario, at least 236 secondary jobs could be lost from reduced production, compared to at least 109 new jobs being supported related to payment spending.

    But the study says there could be a net annual gain of $546,000 in secondary income from the fallowing under the moderate scenario, and $2.4 million under the aggressive one.

    Doug Jeavons, managing director at BBC Research and Consulting, said that despite the net job loss, the new jobs that would be created could tend to be in banking and finance, and those could pay more than the lost farm-related jobs.

    The fallowing would mean fewer sales of seed, fertilizer, hauling services and labor, but could boost spending in areas such as purchase of vehicles and farm machinery, with some of the fallowing payments also being used for household consumption and reducing debt…

    The study also says annual net secondary income also could fall with fallowing, by as much as $393,000 under the moderate scenario and as much as about $1.46 million under the aggressive one.

    This could happen if farmers spend less of their fallowing money locally. It also accounts for the possibility that reduced forage production from fallowing could affect the livestock industry, driving up hay prices and causing ranchers to reduce herd sizes.

    It says that based on what has been historically seen when it comes to hay production declines in the region, the moderate fallowing approach could result in just over a 0.5% drop in livestock production and a $3 million drop in annual livestock sales, and the aggressive approach, a possible 2.2% production drop and $13.4 million annual revenue loss.

    GATHERING DATA
    The Colorado River District said in its news release that its board hasn’t weighed whether a fallowing program is good for the Western Slope, but is gathering data through efforts such as the study to determine if it would have negative impacts, and if so, at what scale.

    It also said if a demand management program is created in Colorado, Western Slope agriculture would only be part of the solution and Colorado River users in all parts of the state must contribute water to the program. This would include Front Range cities that divert that water across the Continental Divide…

    Speaking on a river district webinar Thursday on the study, Sonja Chavez, general manager of the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District, said any Western Slope fallowing program won’t be one-size-fits-all, and would have to be structured to address local concerns such as soil impacts…

    One concern in her district is that parts of it may have such shallow soils that they could take three to five years to recover from fallowing.

    Another consideration is that some western Colorado basins export substantial amounts of hay to other states, and even other countries.

    If fallowing primarily reduced exports, effects on local livestock production might be minimal.

    But BBC Research and Consulting’s report notes that hay exporters may be resistant to jeopardize customer relationships by fallowing fields…

    BBC Research and Consulting says measures such as split-season versus full-season fallowing could reduce economic impacts from fallowing, and ensuring that participation is spread widely across and within various river basins could spread out the impacts.

    Chavez likes the general idea of widely distributing fallowing, but says that could increase costs for monitoring such a program, evaluating results and ensuring that conserved water makes it downstream to be stored rather than being used elsewhere.

    The new study may be found at http://www.coloradoriverdistrict.org/supply-planning/studies-reports-2/.

    The webinar can be watched at http://www.coloradoriverdistrict.org/annual-seminars.

    #ColoradoRiver District releases new study examining impacts of a possible Demand Management program on West Slope communities #COriver #aridification

    A hayfield near Grand Junction, irrigated with water from the Colorado River. Under demand management pilot programs, the state could pay irrigators to fallow fields in an effort to leave more water in the river. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    From email from the Colorado River District (Alesha Frederick):

    Study found demand management could result in fewer agricultural support jobs and reduce livestock production on the West Slope

    The Colorado River Basin is in the 21st year of drought, and major reservoirs on the river are sitting at less than half full. There is growing concern that agricultural economies on the West Slope might be harmed if Colorado and other Upper Basin states (Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico) are unable to meet their obligations under the Colorado River Compact. With these concerns in mind, the state of Colorado is looking at ways to prevent such a crisis from occurring. One of the ideas Upper Basin states are discussing is paying water users to consume less water. The water saved would then be banked in Lake Powell. The states are calling it demand management.

    The question is, if farmers and ranchers are paid to voluntarily fallow their fields, how would it change West Slope communities where agricultural businesses employ people, pay taxes and buy equipment? The recently released Upper Basin Demand Management Economic Study in Western Colorado sought to determine the secondary economic impacts that might occur if West Slope agricultural producers participate in a demand management program.

    Consistent with its charge to represent and protect the Western Slope’s water interests, the Colorado River District has been actively engaged in statewide conversations about a potential Demand Management program. Through its participation in the Water Bank Workgroup , the District led the call for additional economic analysis that would help to inform the state’s decision whether or not to move forward with such a program.

    “Our job is to protect West Slope water users. Studying the potential negative impacts of a new program such as demand management is vital to this work,” said Colorado River District General Manager Andy Mueller. “This secondary economic impact study ensures that agricultural producers on the West Slope have the information they need to make decisions about their farms and ranches. It’s part of the River District’s ongoing efforts to ensure water security for our farms, ranches, and rural communities.”

    The Colorado River District’s Board of Directors has not weighed in on whether such a program is good for the West Slope. However, the Board is gathering data from efforts like this study to determine if such a program will have negative impacts, and if so, what the scale of those impacts is likely to be.

    While the study examined the impacts of fallowing West Slope agriculture if a demand management program is created in Colorado, Western Colorado agriculture will only be one piece of the solution. If such a program is implemented, all types of Colorado River water users in all regions of the state must contribute water to the program. This study is not an endorsement of demand management but a study of its potential impacts.

    The study examined two scenarios, a moderate and aggressive demand management program. The moderate demand management scenario considered a 25,000 acre-feet per year reduction in consumptive use by Western Colorado agricultural users for five years, while the aggressive scenario considered 25,000 acre-feet per year within each Western Slope river basin over a 5-year timeframe.

    These are some of the key findings of the study:

    * To pay producers at a level that they would incentivize participation in such a program, annual payments to irrigators are projected to range from an average of $194 per acre-foot under the moderate scenario to $263 per acre-foot under the aggressive scenario.
    * For compensation payments and spending of those payments to benefit the regional economy, funding for those payments must come from outside of Western Colorado. If all that money was raised in Western Colorado, the payments would shift money around within the region, but it would not create a new economic benefit to offset the impacts.
    * Growers producing forage crops including grass hay, alfalfa and corn are most likely to take part in such a program compared to fruit growers and small grain producers.
    * Reduced production of forage crops, mostly hay, would require fewer purchases of items such as seed, fertilizer, labor, hauling and other services. This in turn could lead to a loss of an estimated 55 agricultural support jobs under a moderate scenario and 236 jobs under the aggressive scenario. Jobs supported by demand management payments could look very different from the jobs currently supported by hay production.
    * Under an aggressive demand management scenario, a demand management program could increase local hay prices by about 6% and decrease the regional livestock inventory by about 2%. The potential price and livestock impact under the moderate demand management scenario would be much smaller.

    To read the study, visit: http://www.coloradoriverdistrict.org/supply-planning/studies-reports-2/

    You can watch a webinar about this study, as well as earlier webinars shown during the Colorado River District’s Annual Water Seminar, here: http://www.coloradoriverdistrict.org/annual-seminars

    The study was completed by BBC Research and Consulting and commissioned by the Colorado River Water Bank Workgroup made up of the Colorado River District, Southwestern Water Conservation District, The Nature Conservancy, Tri-State Generation and Transmission, the Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association, Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District and the Grand Valley Water Users Association.

    Feds issue red flag warning on #LakePowell and #LakeMead — @WaterEdCO #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Lake Powell, behind Glen Canyon Dam, shows the effects of persistent drought in the Colorado River Basin. (Source: U.S. Bureau of Reclamation)

    From The Fresh Water News (Jerd Smith):

    Risk of severe water shortages in the seven-state Colorado River Basin have risen dramatically since April with new forecasts indicating that lakes Powell and Mead could hit crisis levels much sooner than previously expected.

    U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman said the change in the forecast is noteworthy.

    “We’re dealing with more uncertainty than we thought,” she said during a virtual press conference Tuesday.

    The Bureau of Reclamation is responsible for managing the two storage vessels and monitoring the mountain snowpack and runoff that feeds them every year.

    As recently as April, when the last forecast came out, inflows to Lake Powell were projected to be roughly 75 percent of average this year. The latest report, however, indicates inflows will be just 55 percent of average.

    In just five months, the risk that reservoir levels could fall low enough by 2025 to threaten power generation and the ability to release physical water to downstream users has risen 12 percent, according to Reclamation.

    Carly Jerla, a hydrologist and water modeling expert, runs the modeling team for Reclamation’s Lower Basin operations.

    The 21-year stretch of drought in the Colorado River Basin has made the system extremely vulnerable to changes in weather patterns, Jerla said.

    “In this system, one year of poor hydrology can influence the ways these reservoirs are impacted for multiple years into the future,” she said.

    Reclamation officials stopped short of saying how states should respond to the dire water supply predictions.

    Seven U.S. states share water from the Colorado River Basin. These include Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico and Utah in the Upper Basin, and Arizona, California and Nevada in the Lower Basin. Mexico also relies on the river’s flows.

    Graphic credit: Western Water Assessment

    The two regions in the U.S. are governed separately, with the Upper Basin states overseen by the Upper Colorado River Commission and the Lower Basin overseen by the Bureau of Reclamation.

    The river is a major source of water in Colorado, where it supplies roughly half of the drinking water on the Front Range and irrigation water for ranches, fruit orchards and corn fields on the Western Slope and Eastern Plains.

    Brad Wind is general manager of Northern Water. It serves cities and farms from Boulder to Greeley and is one of the largest water providers in the state. Wind said the rising risk levels aren’t that surprising.

    But, he said, to help the drought-stressed system regain some semblance of balance will require much more work. “We can’t walk away from this.”

    Last year, for the first time in history, the seven states agreed to adopt a basin-wide Drought Contingency Plan. The Lower Basin component of that plan is now complete and requires cutbacks in water use as levels in the reservoirs fall and reach certain elevations. Arizona has already had to cut back its water use in 2020 as a result of the agreement, and Mead’s levels have risen as a result of these actions and other conservation programs. Now at 44 percent full, the reservoir is the highest it’s been in six years, according to the Bureau of Reclamation.

    But the Upper Basin, though it has agreed to big-picture elements of an Upper Basin plan, has more work to do to define how a major piece of that plan involving large-scale water conservation, called demand management, would work.

    Rebecca Mitchell is director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, the agency managing the demand management study process in Colorado. She also serves on the Upper Colorado River Commission, representing Colorado. In a written statement, she said the 2019 Drought Contingency Plan has provided additional security for the system and that the study will move forward even as conditions on the river worsen.

    “Colorado will continue to track the hydrologic conditions, and work collaboratively with the other basin states,” she wrote.

    With the new forecast, however, pressure to cut back water use is rising.

    Since 2000, lakes Powell and Mead have lost nearly half of their stored water supplies. Back then the system was nearly full, at 94 percent, according to Reclamation. This year the two reservoirs are collectively projected to end what’s known as the water year, on Sept. 30, at just 53 of capacity.

    Climate change and warmer temperatures continue to rob the river of its flows. In fact, water flowing into Lake Powell during that 20-year period was above average just four out of the past 19 years, according to Reclamation.

    Jerd Smith is editor of Fresh Water News. She can be reached at 720-398-6474, via email at jerd@wateredco.org or @jerd_smith.

    Brad Udall: Here’s the latest version of my 4-Panel plot thru Water Year (Oct-Sep) of 2019 of the #coriver big reservoirs, natural flows, precipitation, and temperature. Data goes back or 1906 (or 1935 for reservoirs.) This updates previous work with @GreatLakesPeck

    #ColoradoRiver District Annual Water Seminar September 21, 22, 23, and 24, 2020 #COriver #aridification

    Click here to register and for all the inside skinny:

    Topic: Colorado River District’s Annual Seminar: Zooming in on West Slope Water

    Description

    Monday, noon to 1:15 p.m.: “West Slope Water 101.” This session will cover how water rights are deployed in irrigation, drinking water and recreation. Transmountain diversions will be described as will be the importance of water rights associated with irrigation in the Grand Valley and the Shoshone Hydropower Plant.

    Tuesday, noon to 1:15 p.m.: “Water Works: the Colorado River District in Action.” Learn how the Colorado River District overcomes challenges with its partners and constituents to protect the water security of western Colorado while promoting better water use and protection of the environment with projects across the district.

    Wednesday, noon to 1:15 p.m.: “Heating Up the Talk About Why River Flows are Down.” Rising temperatures are robbing the Colorado River system of flows. Drought, aridification of the West and reduced river flows are driving down Lakes Powell and Mead while impacting local water use at the same time. A panel of speakers will review the current science, the on-the-ground impacts and how two major water providers are planning for a new normal

    Thursday, noon to 1:15 p.m.: “Of Primary Importance: The Secondary Economic Impacts of Demand Management.” The River District and its partners in the Water Bank Workgroup commissioned a study of how demand management of water, meaning not using it and sending it to Lake Powell, would impact communities if water were to become a “cash crop.” Spending patterns could change. How would demand management impact our mainstreet economies? How would it change spending at rural businesses such as local diners and mechanics?

    A Colorado dashboard seeks to put a price on future wildfires, other natural disasters amid a warming climate — The #Colorado Sun

    The Cameron Peak fire soon after it started on Aug. 13, 2020. By Sept. 11, the fire had grown to more than 102,000 acres and was not expected to be considered out until Oct. 31. Photo credit: InciWeb via The Colorado Sun

    From The Colorado Sun (Lucy Haggard):

    FACE:Hazards offers a look into how much Colorado might have to fork out to respond to future natural hazards, and how communities could work now to avoid going broke later

    As Colorado experiences a record-breaking wildfire season amid accelerating population growth and statewide drought, many are asking: How can we be resilient in the face of inevitable disaster?

    It’s a dense question. To find an answer, the Colorado Water Conservation Board teamed up with the Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management and a handful of other state agencies to create the Future Avoidance Cost Explorer. The Federal Emergency Management Agency joined the effort as part of its Hazard Mitigation Grant Program, and contracting company Lynker helped with data analysis as well as creating an interactive website. Just a year after the project started, the technical report and the website were published this spring.

    Also known as FACE:Hazards, the dashboard explores the economic cost of natural hazards under a variety of different potential scenarios as they might look in 2050. Users can explore varying degrees of climate change and population growth, dive into the economics of one specific economic sector like agriculture or recreation, differences between geographic regions, and peruse the impacts different programs have on disaster resilience.

    A screenshot from the FACE:Hazards dashboard. This particular model analyzes the economic impact of wildfire based on a moderately warmer climate and medium population growth. Via The Colorado Sun

    The price tags estimated for these scenarios are likely lower than they would be in real life, according to Megan Holcomb, senior climate specialist at the Colorado Water Conservation Board and technical lead for the project. This is in large part due to incomplete data; not every county collects the same degree of data on the same economic sectors, for example, so the project could only do analysis when data from every county lined up. Additionally, the data is at a county-level scale, so while it gives a good picture of the state as a whole, cities and towns will need their own assessments for better accuracy.

    “We don’t know what parts of economies will be impacted the hardest sometimes,” Holcomb said. “We don’t know where in the state the most serious wildfires are going to happen, we don’t know how that’s going to affect recreation or tourism afterwards. A lot of disasters, by their very nature, are unpredictable … but we just know that these disasters will happen more frequently, and back to back or in conjunction with others.”

    Despite its shortcomings, Holcomb says the dashboard and its accompanying technical report can start to fill a much-needed role for decision-makers.

    “The Catch-22 of planning far into the future is that’s not how the decision-making process works, and not how funding works,” Holcomb said. “It’s very challenging, but we have to start somewhere.”

    While the project could have just been presented as a technical report to legislators, Steve Boand, state hazard mitigation officer and a project adviser, said the team decided from the get-go to make the data more accessible. Not only does this benefit lawmakers who likely don’t have the time to parse pages and pages of data, it also helps communicate the issue in a way that starts a conversation with the agencies like the Office of Emergency Management.

    “The goal is for local communities to ask, ‘What do you mean, this is going to cost $300 milion a year, how does that work?’” Boand said. “The general economic impact from fire, drought and flood can be staggering.”

    Of the $997,000 dedicated to the project, 75% came from FEMA, with the remainder funded through the state. Ryan Pietramali, recovery division director for FEMA Region 8, which includes Colorado, noted that this is the nation’s first project to take such a thorough look at the practical impacts of disaster planning.

    @CWCB_DNR: Proposed Acquisition of Contractual Interest in Ruedi Reservoir Water for ISF Use #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    This map shows the 15-mile reach of the Colorado River near Grand Junction, home to four species of endangered fish. Experts are concerned that rain on the Grizzly Creek Fire burn area could create ash and sediment flows that could pose a threat to fish. Map credit: CWCB

    From email from the Colorado Water Conservation Board (Rob Viehl):

    Proposed Acquisition of Contractual Interest in Ruedi Reservoir Water for ISF Use on the Fryingpan River and the 15-Mile Reach of the Colorado River

    The Colorado Water Conservation Board will be considering an offer from the Colorado River Water Conservation District, acting through its Colorado River Water Projects Enterprise (“District”) of a short-term lease of 3,500 acre-feet of water that the District holds in Ruedi Reservoir for instream flow (“ISF”) use. The proposal is to use the released water to supplement winter flows in the Fryingpan River below Ruedi Reservoir from January 1, 2021 – March 31, 2021; and from April 1 – December 31, 2021, to help meet or reduce shortfalls to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s flow recommendations for the endangered fish critical habitat in the 15-Mile Reach of the Colorado River. The Board will consider this proposal at its September 16-17, 2020 virtual meeting. The agenda for this Board meeting can be found at:

    https://cwcb.colorado.gov/virtual-board-meeting-september-16-17-2020

    Consideration of this proposal initiates the 120-day period for Board review pursuant to Rule 6b. of the Board’s Rules Concerning the Colorado Instream Flow and Natural Lake Level Program (“ISF Rules”), which became effective on March 2, 2009. No formal Board action will be taken at this time.

    Information concerning the ISF Rules and water acquisitions can be found here.

    The following information concerning the proposed lease of water is provided pursuant to ISF
    Rule 6m.(1):

    Subject Water Right:
    RUEDI RESERVOIR
    Source: Fryingpan River
    Decree: CA4613
    Priority No.: 718
    Appropriation Date: 7/29/1957
    Adjudication Date: 6/20/1958
    Decreed Amount: 140,697.3 Acre Feet

    Decree: 81CW0034 (Second Filling)
    Appropriation Date: 1/22/1981
    Adjudication Date: 12/31/1981
    Decreed Amount: 101,280 Acre Feet
    Bureau of Reclamation Contract: 079D6C0106
    Contract Use: Supplement winter instream flows in the Fryingpan River
    Contract Amount: 5,000 Acre Feet
    Amount Offered for Consideration: Up to 3,500 acre-feet

    The following information concerning the proposed additional use of leased water remaining after March 31, 2021 is provided pursuant to ISF Rule 6m.(1):

    Subject Water Right:
    RUEDI RESERVOIR
    Source: Fryingpan River
    Decree: CA4613
    Priority No.: 718
    Appropriation Date: 7/29/1957
    Adjudication Date: 6/20/1958
    Decreed Amount: 140,697.3 Acre Feet

    Decree: 81CW0034 (Second Filling)
    Appropriation Date: 1/22/1981
    Adjudication Date: 12/31/1981
    Decreed Amount: 101,280 acre-feet
    Bureau of Reclamation Contract: 139D6C0101
    Contract Use: Municipal use in Colorado River Basin; includes “use of water by . . . piscatorial users, including delivery of water to supplement streamflow. . . .”
    Contract Amount: 4,683.5 acre-feet
    Amount Offered for Consideration: Up to 3,500 acre-feet.

    Proposed Reach of Stream:
    Fryingpan River: From the confluence with Rocky Ford Creek, adjacent to the outlet of Ruedi Reservoir, downstream to its confluence with the Roaring Fork River, a distance of approximately 14.4 miles.

    Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program

    15-Mile Reach of the Colorado River: From the confluence with the headgate of the Grand Valley Irrigation Company (lat 39 06 06N long 108 20 48W) downstream to its confluence with the Gunnison River.

    Purpose of the Acquisition and Proposed Season of Use:
    The leased water would be used to supplement the existing 39 cfs ISF water right in the Fryingpan River to preserve the natural environment, and used at rates up to 70 cfs to meet the Roaring Fork Conservancy and Colorado Parks and Wildlife flow recommendations to improve the natural environment to a reasonable degree. The leased water would be used to also supplement the existing ISF water rights in the 15-Mile Reach to preserve the natural environment from July 1 – September 30, 2019, and to provide water at rates above the existing decreed ISF rates to help meet or reduce shortfalls to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (“USFWS”) flow recommendations for the endangered fish critical habitat in that reach to improve the natural environment to a reasonable degree from April 1 –December 31, 2019.

    Water stored in Ruedi Reservoir will be released to the Fryingpan River during the winter time period. The existing instream flow water right is decreed for 39 cfs from November 1 – April 30. The objective of the lease would be to maintain Fryingpan River flows at a rate of 70 cfs to prevent the formation of anchor ice at times when temperatures and low flows could otherwise combine to create anchor ice, which adversely impacts aquatic macroinvertebrates and trout fry.

    The 15-Mile Reach of the Colorado River provides critical habitat for two species of endangered fish: the Colorado pikeminnow and the razorback sucker. This reach is sensitive to water depletions because of its location downstream of several large diversions. It provides spawning habitat for these endangered fish species as well as high-quality habitat for adult fish. Due to development on the Colorado River, this reach has experienced declining flows and significant dewatering during the late summer months, and at times, there are shortages in the springtime. As a result, the USFWS has issued flow recommendations for the 15-Mile Reach since 1989 to protect instream habitat for the endangered fish.

    Supporting Data:
    Available information concerning the purpose of the acquisition and the degree of preservation and improvement of the natural environment, and available scientific data is available at:

    https://dnrweblink.state.co.us/cwcb/0/edoc/213103/6.pdf?searchid=2484c28a-57b0-4eb7-8831-b8085c8ffa2b

    Linda Bassi
    Stream and Lake Protection Section
    Colorado Water Conservation Board
    1313 Sherman Street, Room 721
    Denver, CO 80203
    linda.bassi@state.co.us
    303-866-3441 x3204

    Kaylea White
    Stream and Lake Protection Section
    Colorado Water Conservation Board
    1313 Sherman Street, Room 721
    Denver, CO 80203
    kaylea.white@state.co.us
    303-866-3441 x3240

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    Agricultural Emergency #Drought Response Program — @COWatershed

    From Colorado Watershed:

    Funding Opportunity

    Following the Governor’s official drought declaration in Colorado, the Agricultural Emergency Drought Response Program – a temporary grant program to mitigate drought impacts – is now open and accepting applications.

    Click here for more information.

    High Plains Drought Monitor August 18, 2020.

    State to host public confabs on next steps in study of #LakePowell drought pool — @WaterEdCO #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    The Grand River Diversion Dam, also known as the “Roller Dam”, was built in 1913 to divert water from the Colorado River to the Government Highline Canal, which farmers use to irrigate their lands in the Grand Valley. Photo credit: Bethany Blitz/Aspen Journalism

    From Water Education Colorado (Jerd Smith):

    A statewide public effort to determine whether Coloradans should engage in perhaps the biggest water conservation program in state history enters its second year of study this summer, but the complex, collaborative effort on the Colorado River has a long way to go before the state and its water users can make a go/no-go decision, officials said.

    On Aug. 26, the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) will hold a virtual public workshop to unveil some of the key findings from the first year’s work, as well as to gather more input on where to go from here. Another meeting is scheduled for Sept. 2 to brief the agency’s board members and discuss next steps. It will also be open to the public.

    More than a year ago, Colorado launched the study involving dozens of volunteer ranchers, environmentalists, water district officials, and others to determine if water users should opt to help fill a newly authorized drought pool in Lake Powell. The concept has been dubbed demand management.

    Ken Curtis, general manager of the Dolores Water Conservancy District in Cortez, said farmers in his district remain skeptical of the conservation effort primarily because there isn’t enough clarity about how it would work.

    “Clearly, one of the themes of our conversations down here has been momentum. There has been a lot of talk but it’s not out there as a policy with well-defined terms that can be read,” he said. “That tells us that we’re nowhere near a demand management program.”

    The 500,000 acre-foot pool, approved by Congress last year as part of the historic Colorado River Drought Contingency Plan, would help protect Coloradans if the Colorado River, at some point in the future, hits a crisis point, triggering mandatory cutbacks in the Upper Basin above Lake Powell.

    But finding ways to set aside that much water, the equivalent of what roughly 1 million average Colorado households use in a year, is a complex proposition. Although the concept is still evolving, most agree the voluntary program, if created, would need to pay water users who agree to participate. And it would mean farmers fallowing fields in order to send their water downstream and cities convincing their customers to do with less water in order to do the same.

    The Colorado River Basin includes seven U.S. states, Mexico, and more than two dozen sovereign tribal nations. Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and New Mexico comprise the Upper Basin, while Arizona, California and Nevada make up the Lower Basin before the river crosses the U.S.-Mexican border.

    The drought pool would belong to Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and New Mexico. Each of those states is examining whether filling it is doable and desirable.

    In Colorado, eight demand management work groups involving dozens of volunteers and experts on such issues as agriculture, economics, stream health, and water law met throughout the past year. Among the overarching conclusions to date, based on a report issued in July, is the need for equity between rural and urban communities, the need to analyze environmental impacts and benefits, and the need for a multi-pronged approach to funding such a program, which could include taxes, water-user fees, and cash from the federal government. The CWCB is funding and facilitating the process.

    “This has never been done before,” said Russell George, a former Colorado Speaker of the House who helped create the state’s hallmark system of local water governance, where each of its eight river basins, as well as the Denver metro area, is represented by a public roundtable.

    “What we’re doing is writing the textbook from whole cloth,” he said.

    Bart Miller is healthy rivers program director at Western Resource Advocates, which has participated in the work groups. Miller said the first year of work was noteworthy because no one was able to identify “a fatal flaw. No one came up with a reason this can’t be done,” he said.

    Despite the pandemic and deep state budget cuts, the CWCB has enough funding to move forward with another year of work, according to Amy Ostdiek, deputy chief of the Federal, Interstate and Water Information Section at the CWCB. The agency spent nearly $268,000 in the last fiscal year, which ended June 30, and has set aside another $396,000 for the current year.

    George said the work done to date represents only the beginning of the collaborative search for a statewide drought protection plan on the Colorado River.

    “When we started this, we didn’t want to foretell the answer to the question, ‘What does the end look like?’ I don’t think we’re ready to say yet. This is still the beginning,” George said.

    Jerd Smith is editor of Fresh Water News. She can be reached at 720-398-6474, via email at jerd@wateredco.org or @jerd_smith.

    Notice of Stakeholder Meeting on ISF Rules Revisions to Implement HB20-1157 — @CWCB_DNR

    From email from the Colorado Water Conservation Board (Rob Viehl):

    The CWCB staff has drafted proposed revisions to the Rules Concerning Colorado’s Instream Flow and Natural Lake Level Program (“ISF Rules”). The revisions to the ISF Rules will: (1) address the rulemaking requirements of HB20-1157; (2) update a reference to the CWCB’s website; and (3) update references to Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

    Staff will hold its second informal stakeholder meeting on Tuesday, August 18, 2020 from 1:00 p.m. – 3:00 p.m. to discuss the draft ISF Rules revisions, which are posted on the CWCB website . Staff intends to post a second draft of ISF Rules revisions by the end of this week, and invites interested parties to submit written comments on the draft ISF Rules revisions by emailing them to linda.bassi@state.co.us. Note that any comments received will be posted on the CWCB website . At the meeting, CWCB staff and attendees will discuss the draft ISF Rules revisions, comments received, and comments expressed at the meeting. If you have questions, contact Linda Bassi at linda.bassi@state.co.us or (303) 866-3441, ext. 3204.

    This meeting is a pre-Colorado Water Congress Conference Workshop for which no registration is required. The Colorado Water Congress Conference kicks off on Tuesday, August 25th at 12:00 p.m.

    Meeting Details:

    Tuesday, August 18, 2020 1:00 PM – 3:00 PM (MDT)

    Click on the following link: https://zoom.us/j/96023989153. Or dial in: 669-900-6833; Webinar ID: 960-2398-9153.

    The Roaring Fork River just above Carbondale, and Mt. Sopris, on May 3, 2020. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    Upper #ColoradoRiver will not be ‘Wild and Scenic,’ but conservationists still satisfied with new plan — The Vail Daily #COriver #aridification

    A view of the popular Pumphouse campground, boat put-in and the upper Colorado River. The BLM and Forest Service recently approved an alternative management plan that acts as a workaround to a federal Wild & Scenic designation. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    From The Vail Daily (John LaConte):

    The Catamount gauge on the Colorado River is a result of a big collaboration, and for now, it has gone a long way in quelling the concern of conservationists in the Upper Colorado River Wild and Scenic Stakeholder Group.

    Couple that with a few good-faith efforts from Front Range diverters to get more water into the river, and most everyone seems to be convinced that collaboration has been a lot better than the courtroom in this case.

    The stakeholder group was formed in 2008, and its mission was overt — convince the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service not to write a report stating that the Upper Colorado River is suitable for a Wild and Scenic Designation from the federal government…

    But while it takes an act of Congress to welcome a new river into the Wild and Scenic Rivers System, a report from the Bureau of Land Management or U.S. Forest Service saying a river is suitable for wild and scenic designation can trigger a change in management for the river…

    [Rob] Buirgy said the Colorado Water Conservation Board supported the stakeholder group using the state’s Wild and Scenic Rivers Fund for scientific studies, recreational surveys, and stakeholder group coordination and facilitation. The stakeholder group also recommended that the board appropriate three in-stream flow water rights to preserve the natural environment on the river from the confluence with the Blue River to the area just above the confluence with the Eagle River. The Colorado Water Conservation Board appropriated and the water court decreed those water rights in 2013.

    Colorado Parks and Wildlife is expected to help install biological metric tracking tools along the river in the coming months, and a few years ago a new USGS temperature and flow monitoring gauge was installed at the Catamount Boat Launch, near Bombardier’s house, which will measure temperature and serve as a resource guide.

    While resource guides do not mandate management action based on their readings, good-faith management efforts have been undertaken based on the Catamount gauge’s readings during the collaborative process. Bombardier says the readings have been crucial for that stretch of the river, which is prone to warm temperatures…

    [Ken] Neubecker said after spending more than a decade working toward Wild and Scenic designation on the Upper Colorado River, he feels the collaborative group’s plan represents the best effort conservationists could have expended toward maintaining the Upper Colorado River’s “outstandingly remarkable values,” or ORVs.

    “It got all of the people who would have been opposed to actual designation to sit down at the table and work out a plan that — if everybody plays along — will have the best shot we’ve got at protecting those ORVs,” Neubecker said.

    The agreement was formerly accepted by the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service in July. Participating groups include: American Rivers, American Whitewater, Aurora Water, Blue Valley Ranch, Colorado River Outfitters Association, Colorado River Water Conservation District, Colorado Springs Utilities, Colorado Whitewater, Confluence Casting, Conservation Colorado, Denver Water, Eagle County, Eagle Park Reservoir Company, Eagle River Watershed Council, Eagle River Water and Sanitation District, Grand County, Middle Park Water Conservancy District, Municipal Subdistrict of the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, Northwest Colorado Council of Governments, Summit County, Upper Colorado Commercial Boaters Association, Upper Colorado River Private Boaters Association, Upper Eagle Regional Water Authority, Vail Associates, Inc., and Yust Ranch.

    @CWCB_DNR Appropriates Himes Creek Water Right to Protect Rediscovered Cutthroat Trout Population

    Himes Creek. Photo credit: Colorado Water Conservation Board

    Here’s the release from the Colorado Water Conservation Board:

    The Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) received a water court decree for an instream flow water right on Himes Creek, located in San Juan National Forest, to protect a rare population of Colorado River cutthroat trout. This lineage of trout is native to the San Juan River Basin and was previously thought to be extinct.

    “This instream flow water right on Himes Creek is one of the most significant that the Colorado Water Conservation Board has appropriated in the program’s history,” said CWCB Stream and Lake Protection Section Chief Linda Bassi. “CWCB staff, along with Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the U.S. Forest Service, consulted with leading researchers and scientists for the past two years to develop a strategy to best protect this extremely rare and at-risk species.”

    When this instream flow recommendation was initially brought to CWCB in 2017, the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) was interested in protecting flows on Himes Creek to support a genetically pure population of Colorado River cutthroat trout. During data collection, genetic testing confirmed that the fish in Himes Creek have the same genetic markers as the San Juan lineage once thought to be extinct. Researchers estimate that the total number of San Juan lineage trout in all known populations is estimated to be as few as 1,000.

    The CWCB approved the Himes Creek instream flow recommendation in March 2019, and the water court issued a decree for the Himes Creek instream flow water right on July 27, 2020.

    Cutthroat trout historic range via Western Trout

    Notice of Stakeholder Meeting on Instream Flow Rules Revisions to Implement HB20-1157 — @CWCB_DNR

    Coal Creek near Redstone. Photo credit: Heather Sackett/Aspen Journalism

    From email from the Colorado Water Conservation Board (Rob Viehl):

    The CWCB staff has drafted proposed revisions to the Rules Concerning Colorado’s Instream Flow and Natural Lake Level Program (“ISF Rules”). The revisions to the ISF Rules will: (1) address the rulemaking requirements of HB20-1157; (2) update a reference to the CWCB’s website; and (3) update references to Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

    Staff will hold an informal stakeholder meeting on Monday, August 3, 2020 from 1:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m. to discuss the draft ISF Rules revisions. Staff invites interested parties to submit written comments on the draft ISF Rules revisions by emailing them to linda.bassi@state.co.us. Please submit comments by COB on July 29, 2020. Any comments received by that date will be posted on the CWCB website prior to the August 3 meeting. Written comments may be submitted after July 29, 2020, but might not be posted on the website prior to the August 3 meeting. At the meeting, CWCB staff and attendees will discuss the draft ISF Rules revisions, comments received prior to the meeting, and comments expressed at the meeting. If you have questions, contact Linda Bassi at linda.bassi@state.co.us or (303) 866-3441, ext. 3204.

    Meeting Details:
    Mon, Aug 3, 2020 1:00 PM – 4:00 PM (MDT)

    Please join the meeting from your computer, tablet or smartphone.
    https://global.gotomeeting.com/join/454890797
    When you log in to the meeting, please provide your full name for our records.

    You can also dial in using your phone.
    United States: +1 (224) 501-3412

    Access Code: 454-890-797

    2020 #COleg: #Water Wins from the 2020 #Colorado Legislative Session — Water for Colorado

    Mystic canyon on the Yampa River: Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    From Water for Colorado (Aaron Citron):

    2020 has been a tumultuous year, and as we enter our fifth month of quarantine and social distancing, it can be encouraging to find things to celebrate. With the close of Colorado’s legislative session last month and Governor Polis finalizing his bill signings, one thing that we can laud is the work that was accomplished for our rivers. Even though the Colorado General Assembly struggled to fully address a more than $3 billion budget shortfall, they maintained and expanded programs and investments necessary to keep our rivers flowing, and this is something we can be proud of.

    In March, Governor Polis signed two bills into law that expand and improve Colorado’s instream flow program. These bills, HB20-1157 and HB20-1037, provide new tools for water users and conservationists to work together to keep water in rivers for the benefit of fish and wildlife. HB20-1157 will be a particularly important tool for the Yampa River Fund which provides grants to improve the health of the Yampa River, including through leases of water from Stagecoach Reservoir to enhance late-season fish habitat, agriculture, and to benefit the local tourism and outdoor recreation economy.

    Colorado also made a new commitment to improve water conservation in our cities and towns. The Colorado Water Plan, finalized in 2015, sets a goal of achieving 400,000 acre-feet of municipal and industrial water conservation savings by 2050. The way that we plan and build our cities and towns contributes to how we use water, how much we use, and how quickly demands grow for new supplies. The new law, HB20-1095, authorizes local governments to include water conservation elements into their master plans, thereby encouraging local governments to combine their land and water use planning to accelerate the state toward its 400,000 acre-foot conservation savings goal.

    While budgets were slashed statewide, fortunately funding for the implementation of Colorado’s Water Plan was maintained. Over $7 million was included in the Colorado Water Conservation Board budget for Water Plan implementation grants or water projects across the state, and an additional $4 million was allocated to invest in stream and watershed management planning efforts to keep rivers healthy and flowing. We appreciate the state’s continued recognition of the importance of clean rivers and drinking water for all Coloradans and hope that this commitment continues.

    State Capitol May 12, 2018 via Aspen Journalism

    Just over six months ago, voters demonstrated their own commitment to healthy rivers and water supplies by legalizing sports betting and directing tax revenues to fund the implementation of Colorado’s Water Plan. As sports begin to start back up, we urge the General Assembly to respect the will of the voters and ensure this tax revenue is directed, as intended, to Water Plan implementation.

    While we celebrate these wins for Colorado’s waterways, we recognize there is still more work to be done.

    In June, the Trump administration issued rules that significantly reduce protections for Colorado’s rivers and wetlands under the Clean Water Act, leaving many previously protected waterways in limbo. The new federal rule leaves one out of every five stream miles in Colorado, including half of the state’s wetlands, unprotected from construction activity discharges. Thanks to a lawsuit led by Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser, the rule has been temporarily blocked pending resolution, which maintains protections for our state’s waterways—for now.

    Regardless of the outcome in court, it is time for Colorado to ensure that its rivers and wetlands will always be protected from destructive dumping and discharges. The Water community is coming together—virtually—this summer to try to find some common ground on this issue and we plan to bring a solution before the General Assembly for the 2021 legislative session.

    While 2020 seems to be the year of one bad headline after the next, we are heartened by the work of our state legislature and government to make positive strides toward safeguarding our water future.

    #Colorado official says demand management program holds #water — @AspenJournalism #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    The bathtub ring in Lake Powell in October 2014, which illustrates how reservoir levels have dropped since 2000. A state official says she sees no reason Colorado shouldn’t move forward with an investigation of a program that would send water to Lake Powell. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    From Aspen Journalism (Heather Sackett):

    After a year of meetings, workshops and in-depth discussions, state officials feel a feasibility investigation into a program that would pay water users to reduce consumption and add to a savings account in Lake Powell should continue.

    Although no formal decision has yet been made on whether to implement a voluntary, temporary and compensated water-use reduction plan known as demand management, Amy Ostdiek, Colorado Water Conservation Board deputy section chief for interstate, federal and water information, told the state agency’s board of directors on Wednesday she has not found a reason to keep from moving forward.

    “I didn’t identify any points that would indicate to me that we should stop the feasibility investigation,” said Ostdiek, who has been leading and organizing the process for the state. “From my perspective, we have not identified a reason not to continue the analysis or any hard reason it wouldn’t work.”

    At the heart of a potential program is a reduction in water use in an attempt to send up to 500,000 acre-feet downstream to Lake Powell to bolster levels in the giant reservoir and meet 1922 Colorado River Compact obligations.

    Under such a program, agricultural water users could get paid to temporarily fallow fields and leave more water in the river, in order to fill a 500,000 acre-foot pool as an insurance policy in case of continued drought or further reduction in average flows.

    This field near Carbondale is irrigated with water that eventually flows into the Colorado River. The state has wrapped up the first year of an investigation into a program that could pay irrigators to reduce their consumptive use in order to send water downstream to a savings account in Lake Powell. Photo credit: Heather Sackett/Aspen Journalism

    Report from workgroups

    In June 2019, the CWCB, a state agency responsible for developing and protecting Colorado’s water, named 74 water experts and managers to eight work groups tasked with tackling complicated issues and questions around the creation of a demand management program. The groups were divided by topics: law and policy; monitoring and verification; water-rights administration and accounting; environmental considerations; economic considerations and local government; funding; education and outreach; and agricultural impacts.

    A ninth group, headed by former Colorado lawmaker and chair of the Interbasin Compact Committee Russell George, has been focusing on how to ensure a demand management program is equitable among water users and basins. The IBCC facilitates conversations among representatives of different river basins and addresses statewide water issues.

    Each group met multiple times over the past year and their findings, as well as their lingering questions, were included in a 200-page demand management update report presented [July 15, 2020] to CWCB directors.

    The sprawling report summarizes the work completed by the groups and their overlapping key values, concerns and uncertainties. The sustainability of agriculture and agricultural communities ranked highest in the values category, while program design and participation ranked highest in the uncertainties category.

    Several board members offered their opinions on a potential demand management program. Steve Anderson, who represents the Gunnison-Uncompahgre River basin, questioned whether the state could create water savings by funding more projects outlined in the Basin Implementation Plans instead of crafting a demand management program. The BIPs identify how each basin’s water needs will be met through existing or new projects, policies and processes.

    “Once we become more efficient I think we would generate more system water for the Colorado,” he said. “At the end of the day we are going to have a choice between buying an insurance plan or using those funds elsewhere for conservation and efficiency.”

    It is unclear how much a demand management program would cost the state, but one of the work groups is dedicated to the funding question.

    The main goal of a demand management program would be to defend against what’s known as a “compact call,” which could happen if the upper basin states — Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and New Mexico — were not able to deliver the 75 million acre-feet of water over 10 years to the lower basin states, as required by the Colorado River Compact. Colorado water managers desperately want to avoid this scenario, which looms larger each year with the increasing effects of drought and climate change on an over-allocated river, because it could trigger mandatory cutbacks for water users.

    CWCB board member Greg Felt, who represents the Arkansas River basin, struck a dark tone, saying moving forward with a demand management program is necessary because one of the potential alternatives — involuntary cutbacks, also known as “curtailment” under a compact call — will be impossible to enforce.

    “I frankly think that people are not going to accept curtailments on any rights the way they have historically,” Felt said. “From what I’ve watched this year in rural Colorado, people aren’t going to be buying curtailment. The water is going to come out of the stream. You can’t have enough water commissioners to stop that.”

    Water from the Government Highline Canal pours into Highline Lake in Mack. If irrigators in Grand Valley need more water than what was supplied upstream, the Grand Valley Water Users Association – the group that regulates water flow in the canal – can close the gate to the lake to back up water as a last resort. Photo credit: Bethany Blitz/Aspen Journalism

    Funding for next steps restored

    With the first year of a feasibility investigation complete, the ultimate decision on whether to move forward with a demand management program lies with CWCB board members. The board plans to discuss the work presented by the work groups at a one-day workshop in September.

    CWCB staff also are planning a virtual regional workshop for the public to learn more about the first year’s findings. Both meetings will be open to the public.

    For several weeks there was uncertainty surrounding the future funding of the demand management feasibility investigation, when on May 1, Gov. Jared Polis suspended the program’s funding due to the COVID-19-caused state budget crisis. But the funding was restored in this year’s projects bill, according to CWCB Deputy Director Lauren Ris.

    The agency now has until the end of June 2021 to spend the remaining $834,000 of the original $1.7 million allocation, should the board decide to continue delving into the issue for another year.

    CWCB Director Rebecca Mitchell urged the board to be leaders for Colorado on the issue of demand management.

    “We want to do whatever we can to avoid a curtailment situation,” Mitchell said. “Everyone is looking to see what we do and how we handle this, and we do have a very unique opportunity at a very critical time to lead strongly on this.”

    Aspen Journalism is a local, nonprofit, investigative news organization covering water and rivers in collaboration with The Aspen Times and other Swift Communications newspapers. This story ran in the July 18 edition of The Aspen Times.

    Colorado’s Demand Management Feasibility Investigation Update — @CWCB_DNR

    Brad Udall: Here’s the latest version of my 4-Panel plot thru Water Year (Oct-Sep) of 2019 of the #coriver big reservoirs, natural flows, precipitation, and temperature. Data goes back or 1906 (or 1935 for reservoirs.) This updates previous work with @GreatLakesPeck

    Click here to read the report. Here’s the Executive Summary:

    The Upper Division States of the Colorado River Basin are currently investigating the feasibility of a potential Demand Management program. Demand Management is defined as temporary, voluntary, and compensated reductions in consumptive use. The Demand Management Storage Agreement, one element of the Drought Contingency Plan (DCP) finalized by the Colorado River Basin States in 2019, provides the authorization for the Upper Division States to store water created pursuant to a Demand Management program in Lake Powell. The water would only be used for Compact compliance purposes at the direction of the Upper Colorado River Commission. Whether a program is set up and how such a program would operate are still open questions. Each Upper Division State must make an initial determination that Demand Management is feasible before moving forward with creating a potential program.

    The Colorado Water Conservation Board is Colorado’s agency charged with setting the State’s water policy, and is therefore the agency with authority to determine whether Demand Management is feasible for Colorado. Following adoption of the DCP in March 2019, the CWCB Board adopted the 2019 Work Plan to help guide the initial stage of this feasibility investigation, to take place in Fiscal Year 2019-2020. The Work Plan had three primary components: (1) establish workgroups comprised of subject-matter experts and key Colorado River stakeholders, which were directed to meet publicly at least four times in Fiscal Year 2019-20, and to identify key threshold issues for board consideration; (2) regional workshops designed to facilitate the public discussion around Demand Management and provide opportunities for CWCB staff updates on the feasibility investigation; and (3) continued education and outreach. In addition, the Board directed staff to facilitate a literature review, currently underway by consultants hired following a Request for Proposal process.

    The purpose of this Report is to provide an update of work done pursuant to the 2019 Work Plan. This report will assist the CWCB Board in considering the key threshold issues associated with a potential Demand Management program. The purpose of the report is not to provide guidance on next steps of the feasibility investigation. However, it may help shape the discussions and decision-making about the next phases of Colorado’s feasibility investigation. While the complete report provides a full summary of workgroup discussions and other work, below is a summary of each workgroup’s main discussion points.

    Agricultural Impacts

    • To encourage agricultural participation, a potential program must be viewed as equitable and proportional while remaining voluntary; furthermore, it must be adequately communicated that the potential program is necessary to achieve the objectives set out in the Upper Basin Drought Contingency Plan and will serve as an insurance policy against mandatory curtailment.
    • In designing a potential program, care must be given to program design to minimize and mitigate on-farm and off- farm agronomic impacts such as reductions in crop yield and soil erosion, including the provision of technical assistance and information; furthermore, the program should account for secondary economic impacts and evaluate potential benefits.
    • Non-injury to water right holders and non-participants is critical and can be achieved through the possible consideration of utilizing existing change of water use approval processes and providing additional mitigation expenses to agricultural water providers to account for potential operational impacts.
    • Structuring the potential program application, review, and the contracting process should consider alignment with the timing of when producers make critical operational decisions and allow for some operational flexibility; furthermore, payments should consider all potential impacts including both agronomic and operational changes.
    • In considering the design of a potential Demand Management program, current programs in place similar to a potential Demand Management program, such as the Federal Conservation Reserve Program and Colorado Fallow-Leasing Pilot Program should be further analyzed; furthermore, pilot and demonstration projects could be useful in better understanding potential impacts and effects of temporary irrigation reductions and should be explored with an effort to capture the potential diversity of projects.

    Economic Impacts and Local Government

    • Any potential Demand Management program will be voluntary; those who do not wish to participate should not do so.
    • In designing any potential Demand Management program, the initial goal should be to “do no harm,” meaning to minimize and mitigate any adverse impacts to communities. A number of factors should be considered in analyzing this question, including but not limited to the type of water use, the duration of the Demand Management program, the length of individual project participation, and the geographic location and concentration of projects.
    • Any potential program should create benefits for individuals, the community, and the economy wherever possible. Potential benefits may include avoidance of Compact administration actions, increased revenue to local economies, environmental benefits, and opportunities to improve long-term management of water and land.
    • A number of process considerations should be taken into account when considering how to assure no harm is done to communities where possible, or mitigated if there is harm.
    • In operating a potential Demand Management program, the process should be transparent and collaborative.

    Education and Outreach

    • Workgroup members identified many challenges in helping the State explore threshold questions related to communication, education, and outreach needs around a potential Demand Management program.
    • In lieu of assisting with a communication plan for the active “investigation” process or a future program, the workgroup focused their expertise around priority considerations should the CWCB elect to continue with feasibility, project pilots, or full program development.
    • While it is essential to develop a communications plan well before a Demand Management program is enacted, content substance is needed to proceed in which common terms are defined across workgroups and state partners, clear frames are developed to help unite messaging across stakeholder groups, and essential content from FY19- 20 workgroups are considered by CWCB and incorporated into an agreement on a Demand Management program’s general (initial/draft) shape.
    • At this stage, there is a branding problem, as different stakeholders have different ideas of what a program may look like, how it can be explained, and how often communication is carried to individuals’ direct communities.
    • This workgroup recommends immediate messaging discussions to identify shared priority framing. Several guiding examples are presented in the workgroup’s final deliverable.
    • Throughout the investigation, workgroup members identified the need to help stabilize communication chains, the need for extra transparency, and the need to maintain an open line for all users to communicate concerns and ideas to/from CWCB and to/from one another.

    Environmental Considerations

    • A Demand Management program could provide opportunities for projects with net environmental benefits that would not be available under potential Compact administration.
    • A Demand Management program should not harm the environment, should build in considerations to minimize adverse environmental effects, and should incentivize projects that provide net environmental benefits.
    • A Demand Management program should use the suggestions in the Environmental Considerations document to evaluate project environmental benefits and impacts without creating an unnecessarily burdensome process for applicants. The suggestions should also be used as part of the criteria to prioritize projects. Potential environmental benefits are location and project specific and would need to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.
    • A Demand Management program should identify project impacts and benefits to environmental resources including changes to flow regimes, instream flows, water quality standards, critical habitat, management/planning documents, and conservation needs and strategies if evaluation tools are readily available and applicable (for a more detailed list of potential resources impacted, see Environmental Considerations document).
    • Research and data gaps exist for evaluating environmental benefits and impacts, such as information on changes to hydrology, return flows, and wetlands. Streamlined approaches and methods are needed to make these assessments.

    Funding

    • The funding workgroup initially identified a number of questions to help frame the conversation around funding a potential Demand Management program, including how much funding would such a program require.
    • To help quantify potential funding needs, workgroup members discussed factors that could affect a Demand Management program and built scenarios around them.
    • The factors included: volume of water needed, cost of potential program (i.e. $/acre-foot), percent of water savings expected from a Demand Management program (versus funded investments in infrastructure), acute or chronic need, year by which water is needed, and reservoir storage options.
    • Workgroup members came up with a preliminary list of funding ideas noting that not one concept, but rather a portfolio (potentially paired with a reverse auction model) would be beneficial: statewide tax (income, sales, property), regional tax, statewide fee, Bureau of Reclamation contribution, hydropower user fee, export user fee (i.e. Front Range water user rate increase).
    • Even with a diverse portfolio, COIVD-19 fundamentally changed the calculus and workgroup members expect we will likely see transformations in many water use sectors and the larger economies of the Western US if hydrology continues to deteriorate and Compact Administration becomes necessary.

    Law and Policy

    • There are several open legal and policy questions relating to a potential Demand Management program, and the conclusions drawn could impact how a program operates and whether it works within existing law. These key legal and policy issues include, but are not limited to:
      • Would participation in a potential program be considered a beneficial use under Colorado law? What is the definition of Compact compliance?
      • How is program eligibility determined?
      • How is conserved consumptive use defined for purposes of participation in a potential program?
      • What is the appropriate definition of “temporary” in the context of a potential Demand Management program?
      • What is the appropriate procedure for project review and approval?

    Monitoring and Verification

  • Quantification, measurement, monitoring, and verification must be honest, accurate, and defensible.
  • Participation and monitoring and verification must be protective of other water users.
  • Participation must result in added water to the system.
  • Participation and monitoring and verification must be as simple, easy, and flexible as possible while still meeting the first three principles.
  • Water Rights Administration and Accounting

  • Any potential program should take into consideration the appropriate process for changing the use of a water right from its current use to Demand Management.
  • The question of whether Demand Management is a beneficial use of water should be considered before a potential program is established.
  • Changes in administration and accounting for storage should be considered in establishing a potential program.
  • Appropriate scrutiny for any program should be balanced against the need for ease and flexibility.
  • Alternative plan to Wild and Scenic River designation for upper #ColoradoRiver OK’d — @AspenJournalism #COriver #aridification

    A view of the popular Pumphouse campground, boat put-in and the upper Colorado River. The BLM and Forest Service recently approved an alternative management plan that acts as a workaround to a federal Wild & Scenic designation. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    From Aspen Journalism (Heather Sackett):

    Participants in a 12-year process to establish protections for a stretch of the upper Colorado River are calling the finished product — which amounts to a workaround of a Wild and Scenic River designation — a success.

    Last month, the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service formally approved the “Amended and Restated Upper Colorado River Wild and Scenic Stakeholder Group Management Plan.” The plan lays out a blueprint for protecting the “outstandingly remarkable values,” or ORVs, of the Colorado River from Kremmling to Glenwood Springs, with an emphasis on recreational floatboating and fishing.

    The ORVs must either be a unique, rare or exemplary feature located on the river or shoreline; contribute to the functioning of the river ecosystem; or owe their existence to the presence of the river. The plan seeks to balance these ORVs with water development and use by Front Range water providers and Western Slope water users.

    To ensure protection of the ORVs, the plan includes voluntary cooperative measures that the participants could take, such as the strategic timing of reservoir releases, enhancing spring peak flows and agreements with water users to acquire water rights, which would be used to preserve the natural environment.

    The plan includes a provision that addresses two big uncertainties that would lead to more transmountain diversions from the Colorado River: Denver Water’s Moffat Collection System Project and the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District’s Windy Gap Firming Project. The “poison pill” provision would allow any stakeholder to withdraw support for the plan if those projects — which are still in the permitting phase and mired in litigation, and which would provide a combined 48,000 acre-feet of water for the Front Range — negatively impact streamflows, especially for boating.

    Six interest groups — conservation/environment/fishing; local government; recreational floatboating; state interests; Front Range water users; and Western Slope water users — have been working on crafting the plan since 2008. The Eagle River Watershed Council has been involved as a stakeholder since 2013, said executive director Holly Loff.

    “It’s really exciting, and what a huge collaborative effort this has been, and I can’t really think of other situations that have been larger in scope and larger in the number of collaborators and all with very diverse interests — and we found a way to make it work,” Loff said. “It’s an amazing feat, really.”

    The scenic, and sometimes wild, Rodeo Rapid, one of the few rapids on the upper Colorado River between Pumphouse and Dotsero. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    Opposition to W&S

    The alternative management planning process came about after the BLM in 2007 found that 54 miles of the upper Colorado River from Gore Canyon to just east of No Name Creek in Glenwood Canyon possessed enough ORVs that they were eligible for a federal Wild & Scenic River designation. Created by an act of Congress in 1968, the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System seeks to preserve rivers with outstandingly remarkable scenic, recreational, geologic, fish and wildlife, historic and cultural values in a free-flowing condition.

    There are two ways that a river can be designated as Wild & Scenic: The secretary of the Interior can designate a river if a state governor requests it or Congress can designate a river, usually after a land-use agency conducts a study to see whether it’s eligible.

    Designation as Wild & Scenic brings protection from development. For example, new dams cannot be constructed on the designated stretch and federal water-development projects that might negatively affect the river are not allowed.

    But the possibility of federal government involvement and potential restrictions on water development on the upper Colorado doesn’t sit well with some groups. Municipal water providers such as Denver Water and Northern Water divert water from the Colorado’s headwaters to Front Range cities.

    “A lot of members of the water community find the idea of a Wild & Scenic designation kind of frightening and prohibitive,” said Colorado Water Conservation Board Stream and Lake Protection Section Chief Linda Bassi. “It would prevent potentially new reservoirs along a Wild & Scenic river (and) certain types of structures, and that is why the water community has typically been a little leery of Wild & Scenic designation.”

    In 2009, the Colorado General Assembly established the Wild and Scenic Rivers Fund. Despite what its name suggests, the fund is not dedicated to establishing Wild & Scenic designations of rivers, but to avoiding the federal designation through “work with stakeholders within the state of Colorado to develop protection of river-dependent resources as an alternative to wild and scenic river designation.”

    The Upper Colorado River Wild and Scenic Stakeholder Group has been the recipient of money from the state fund, which is allocated up to $400,000 a year and administered by the Colorado Water Conservation Board. According to a CWCB memo from May, when staff reviews requests for these funds, they evaluate whether projects will promote collaboration among traditional consumptive water interests, including irrigation, and non-consumptive interests, including recreation and the environment, and whether the project will still enable Colorado to fully use water it is allocated.

    “If we tried to go through designation, we don’t know if it would have ever made it past the state of Colorado,” said Kay Hopkins, outdoor recreation planner for the White River National Forest. “The state would have had to be supportive of our determination.”

    Despite its renowned river rafting, fishing and scenic beauty, which contribute to the recreation-based economy of many Western Slope communities, Colorado has just 76 miles of one river — the Cache La Poudre — designated as Wild & Scenic. That’s less than one-tenth of 1% of the state’s 107,403 river miles.

    Instead of a federal designation, the CWCB considers its instream-flow program to be a primary tool in the effort to protect ORVs. Instream flows are in-channel water rights aimed at preserving the natural environment to a reasonable degree. As a part of the alternative management plan process, the CWCB secured three instream-flow rights that date to 2011 on the upper Colorado River — from the confluence of the Blue River to Piney River; from Piney River to Cabin Creek; and from Cabin Creek to the confluence with the Eagle River.

    Bassi, who runs the state’s instream-flow program, has participated in the state interests group since planning began in 2008.

    “Those flow rates are designed primarily to meet the needs of fish,” Bassi said. “But they will help to maintain flows that provide for some levels of boating experiences.”

    This map shows a stretch of the upper Colorado River, between Kremmling and Glenwood Springs, that is subject to a new framework designed to protect ecological and recreational values, in balance with the needs of water users on the Western Slope and Front Range. Graphic credit: Upper Colorado River Wild and Scenic Stakeholder Group

    Pragmatic Discussions

    The Forest Service and BLM approval of the alternative management plan means that the stretch of the upper Colorado River has been deferred from Wild & Scenic eligibility. But if the plan fails or any of the stakeholders enact the “poison pill” provision, the river could revert to being considered for eligibility, meaning it would once again be up for federal scrutiny, something some stakeholders want to avoid.

    “That is the hammer behind the long-term commitments,” said Rob Buirgy, coordinator for the stakeholder group.

    Eagle County Commissioner and Colorado River Water Conservation District Board member Kathy Chandler-Henry believes the strength of the alternative management plan is the input of its many participants.

    “My first thought was the alternative management plan must be a lesser system of protection, but in my mind, it has not turned out to be that way because there are so many players at the table,” she said. “It doesn’t seem like a lesser process. It seems like a more publicly engaged process.”

    Loff was more pragmatic.

    “I don’t think (the alternative management plan) is better, but I don’t know that this group ever would have agreed to a standard Wild & Scenic designation. I don’t think that would have happened at all,” she said. “I think it’s better that we have this.”

    Aspen Journalism is collaborating with the Aspen Times and other Swift Communications newspapers on coverage of water and rivers. This story was published online and printed in the Aspen Times on July 11, 2020.

    Save the Date for Stakeholder Meeting: Instream Flow Rules Revisions to Implement HB20-115 — @CWCB_DNR #COleg

    From email from the Colorado Water Conservation Board (Rob Viehl):

    The CWCB staff is working on revisions to the Rules Concerning Colorado’s Instream Flow and Natural Lake Level Program (“ISF Rules”). The revisions to the ISF Rules will: (1) address the rulemaking requirements of HB20-1157; (2) update a reference to the CWCB’s website; and (3) update references to Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

    Staff will hold a virtual stakeholder meeting on Monday, August 3, 2020 from 1:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m. to discuss the draft ISF Rules revisions.

    A draft of the revised ISF Rules and information on how to access the meeting will be sent out prior to the meeting. If you have questions, contact Linda Bassi at linda.bassi@state.co.us or (303) 917-5916.

    Fishing the Big Thompson River. Photo credit: Larimer County

    One-third of Colorado is now in a severe #drought, mostly in the south — The #Colorado Sun

    From The Colorado Sun (Lauren Irwin):

    Nearly 83% of Colorado is experiencing abnormally dry conditions and 33% is reporting extreme or severe drought, as of Tuesday, the U.S. Drought Monitor reported, up slightly from the week before.

    A year ago, none of the state was experiencing drought conditions.

    The driest conditions are in the southern plains and in southwest Colorado, where wind-driven wildfires are burning in four locations…

    The Southwest Monsoon, which comes annually to Arizona, New Mexico and parts of Colorado in July, brings moisture — and its trademark thunderstorms and flooding — from southern Mexico and is important to farmers and ranchers in the region. This year, the monsoon is expected to relieve dry conditions in the southern parts of Colorado and lower the risk of wildfires there.

    “In seven to 10 days, we hope to be talking about the first moisture pulse coming out of the southwest,” he said. “The onset of the Southwest Monsoon is the first sign that fire and drought season will start moving north.”

    The abnormally dry conditions also have implications for farmers and ranchers and so Gov. Jared Polis has activated the state Drought Task Force. The panel, made up of the departments of Agriculture, Natural Resources, Local Affairs, Public Safety and the Colorado Water Conservation Board, will assess the potential damage to Colorado’s $8 billion agricultural economy.

    US Drought Monitor one week change map ending June 23, 2020.

    From The Ag Info Network (Maura Bennett):

    Governor Polis has issued an order to activate a state agricultural task force to determine potential crop and cattle damage from drought conditions. Drought is now impacting 40 state counties.

    The task force is directed to study the impact and the possible economic fallout for the state’s $8 billion farming industry.

    The Colorado Water Conservation Board (Water Availability) Task Force just highlighted the serious nature of the drought.

    Becky Bolinger, a climatologist at Colorado State University’s Colorado Climate Center, told the meeting that when spring arrived the “spigot turned off and the heat turned on.”

    Bolinger: Most areas of the state have been struggling with dry conditions ever since. Drought has extended in the last month and now 33% of the state is now in extreme drought conditions (D3). We have seen an ET event in June over the eastern plains kind of consistent with a flash drought, except we’re already in a drought so what it’s done is make that drought worse.

    The U.S. Drought Monitor reported this week that extreme drought expanded in eastern Colorado and northern New Mexico. The National Resource Conservation Service also reported that reservoir levels are dwindling in southern and southwestern Colorado, including the agricultural San Luis Valley and the Gunnison River Basin.

    Governor Polis Activates #Drought Plan and Task Force as Severe Drought Expands Across Southern, Eastern Regions — @CWCB_DNR

    Dry streambed. Photo credit: The Colorado Water Conservation Board

    Here’s the release from the Colorado Water Conservation Board:

    On June 22, Governor Jared Polis requested activation of Colorado’s Drought Task Force and Phase 2 of the State Drought Mitigation and Response Plan as drought conditions deepen, reaching more than 81% of the state, with severe and extreme drought conditions in 33% of the state (40 counties).

    Colorado’s Drought Task Force – which includes leadership from the Departments of Agriculture, Natural Resources, Local Affairs, Public Safety, and the Colorado Water Conservation Board – determined the need to activate Phase 2 of the Drought Plan on June 18 after a third of the state reached extreme drought conditions. “Phase 2” indicates officially directing the Drought Task Force to assess initial damages and impacts of drought in areas experiencing severe or extreme drought and to recommend mitigation measures. This Phase also activates the Agricultural Impact Task Force, which will conduct an initial assessment on physical and economic impacts and recommend opportunities for incident mitigation.

    Counties impacted by abnormally dry (D0) and moderate (D1) drought will continue to be closely monitored. The 40 counties currently experiencing severe (D2) and extreme (D3) drought include: Alamosa, Archuleta, Baca, Bent, Chaffee, Cheyenne, Conejos, Costilla, Crowley, Custer, Delta, Dolores, Eagle, El Paso, Elbert, Fremont, Garfield, Gunnison, Hinsdale, Huerfano, Kiowa, Kit Carson, La Plata, Las Animas, Lincoln, Mesa, Mineral, Montezuma, Montrose, Otero, Ouray, Pitkin, Prowers, Pueblo, Rio Grande, Saguache, San Miguel, San Juan, Washington, and Yuma.

    To stay informed on Colorado drought issues, sign up for the State’s Drought Updates or visit the Colorado Water Conservation Board Drought webpage.

    Colorado Drought Monitor June 16, 2020.

    #Water-Related Outdoor Recreation in #Colorado Generates Over $18 Billion Annually — The Business for Water Stewardship

    In the Gunnison River gorge, CPW Aquatic Biologist Eric Gardunio, holds a whirling-disease resistant rainbow trout. CPW is stocking fish resistant to the disease throughout the state. Photo credit: Colorado Parks and Wildlife

    From the Business for Water Stewardship (Claudia Hensley):

    New study finds Colorado’s waterways support over 100,000 jobs and billions in tax revenue across the state

    Anew​study​releasedbyB​ usinessforWaterStewardship​todayfoundthat water-related outdoor recreation in Colorado ​produces $18.8 billion in economic output, and contributes $10.3 billion to the state gross domestic product (GDP) overall​. According to the study:

  • 6.7 million people participate in water-related outdoor recreation​ in Colorado annually, whether in the form of hiking, jogging, camping, fishing or other water-related activities on or around Colorado’s waterways.
  • Water-related recreation supports over ​131,000 jobs a​ round the state that provide​ $6.3 billion in household income ​and generate an estimated ​$2.7 billion in tax revenue.
  • “The access to unparalleled outdoor recreation is part of what makes living in Colorado so special. But it’s not only about quality of life — outdoor recreation is a cornerstone of the state economy, and Colorado’s waterways are an essential economic engine,” said ​Molly Mugglestone, Director of Communications and Colorado Policy, Business for Water Stewardship​. “Investing in clean and plentiful waterways isn’t just good for the environment, it’s good for business. Continued stewardship of Colorado’s waterways is essential to the long-term health of Colorado’s economy, ecosystems, and communities.”

    “The access to unparalleled outdoor recreation is part of what makes living in Colorado so special. But it’s not only about quality of life — outdoor recreation is a cornerstone of the state economy, and Colorado’s waterways are an essential economic engine,” said ​Molly Mugglestone, Director of Communications and Colorado Policy, Business for Water Stewardship​. “Investing in clean and plentiful waterways isn’t just good for the environment, it’s good for business. Continued stewardship of Colorado’s waterways is essential to the long-term health of Colorado’s economy, ecosystems, and communities.”

    The study, conducted by ​Southwick Associates​, presents economic contributions based on estimated retail spending in Colorado attributable to time on or along the water spent engaging in one of nine target activities (trail sports, camping, picnicking or relaxing, water sports, wildlife-watching, fishing, snow sports, bicycling or skateboarding and hunting or shooting) across nine river basins (Arkansas, Colorado, Gunnison, Metro, North Platte, Rio Grande, San Juan / Dolores San Miguel, South Platte, Yampa / White Green). Of the nine basins surveyed, the Colorado River mainstem alone generates $3.8 billion in economic output annually and supports 26,768 jobs.

    “We believe it’s critically important to promote the outdoor industry’s importance to Colorado’s economy and our way of life. These figures are staggering, but not surprising,” said ​David Dragoo, founder of Mayfly Outdoors.​ “At Mayfly, we see the impact that recreation and engagement has on our community in Montrose as well as across the state. We think it’s part of our job to help ensure our communities can access and enjoy our rivers and waterways. Protecting river resources is even more important than ever as we recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.”

    In releasing this study BWS has partnered with the Outdoor Industry Association to promote the critical need to protect Colorado’s rivers and waterways. “Outdoor recreation is a huge economic driver in the state and Colorado is home to many outdoor businesses and to our industry’s largest gathering, Outdoor Retailer, said ​Lise Aaangeenbrug, executive director,​ ​Outdoor Industry Association.​ “While we can’t gather as an industry this summer in Denver, watching the growth of people going outdoors during the pandemic and the release of this important data gives the industry great hope for the future. Protecting our state’s public lands and waterways are more important than ever to provide places to go outside and support the health and wellbeing of our communities.”

    “We know that our great outdoors, including Colorado’s beautiful rivers, are a huge part of what makes our state such a great place to call home, drawing millions of people from around the globe every year and bringing industry and business here. But we can’t stop at enjoying nature – we must also protect it for the future. This study shows how much our state’s economy depends on preserving our rivers. We must continue to protect our quality of life and keep our environment as a top priority,” said ​Kelly Brough, President and CEO, Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce.

    A raft, poised for action, on the Colorado River. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    From The Denver Post (Judith Kohler) via The Broomfield Enterprise:

    The report released Monday by Business for Water Stewardship said 6.7 million people participate in water-related recreation annually, supporting more than 131,000 direct and indirect jobs. That translates to $6.3 billion in household income, $2.7 billion in tax revenue and roughly $10 billion to the state’s gross domestic product, according to the analysis by Southwick Associates.

    “The general message is the importance of rivers, waterways, to our economy,” said Molly Mugglestone, director of Colorado policy for the business organization. “We need to preserve and protect these areas that people want to go to and spend time on.”

    […]

    The report relies on spending data collected by Southwick Associates for the Outdoor Industry Association and a survey that looked at where people recreated. The report includes responses from 1,252 people and targets such activities as swimming, rafting, kayaking and other sports on the water as well as trail running along the water, fishing and wildlife watching.

    The report analyzes statewide data and date for nine river basins in the state…

    The Business for Water Stewardship’s promotion of keeping waterways healthy is a big benefit for the outdoor industry, [David] Dragoo said. “As an industry, we don’t really have any infrastructure, if you will. Our corporate infrastructure is our public lands and our waters.”

    Webinar: The Latest on Demand Management – Creating an equitable, feasible program: Where does #Colorado stand — @WaterEdCO

    During this May 8, 2020 webinar we heard an update on progress and current thinking around demand management in Colorado. Speakers discuss what “equity” might mean and how a pilot project slated to begin this summer could help answer some technical questions around feasibility. Join us to hear from leaders around the state working to move this exploration forward.

    With Speakers:

  • Amy Ostdiek, Deputy Chief of the Federal, Interstate and Water Information Section, Colorado Water Conservation Board
  • Paul Bruchez, Reeder Creek Ranch and Outfitter
  • Kyle Whitaker, Water Rights Manager, Northern Water
  • Mark Harris, General Manager, Grand Valley Water Users Association
  • Rancher and fly fishing guide Paul Bruchez’s daughter and nephew sit in a hay field at the family ranch near Kremmling. Bruchez is helping spearhead a study among local ranchers, which could inform a potential statewide demand management program. Photo credit: Paul Bruchez via Aspen Journalism