“If I was to look at the one thing that changed the most in my public life, it’s the collaborative approach” — Gov. John Hickenlooper

Here’s an in-depth look at Gov. Hickenlooper’s legacy from Marianne Goodland writing for The Colorado Springs Gazette. Here’s an excerpt:

In a fast-growing state that places greater demands on its water supply each day, a state that regularly faces withering droughts, Hickenlooper has spent his eight years in office navigating water issues and leading the development of a state water plan that Denver’s chief water official calls a “real act of political courage.”

But not everyone believes the governor has made all the right choices on water. Colorado still faces daunting water-supply challenges. Some say Hickenlooper should have done more to promote dams and reservoirs and there’s no clear way to pay for the ambitious state water plan he fostered.

Still, many give Hickenlooper credit for reshaping how Colorado deals with water.

“He was the first governor to put water at the forefront,” said veteran northern Colorado water manager Eric Wilkinson.

Hickenlooper’s legacy may depend on what is done with the water plan that he is leaving for his successor. Colorado Politics talked to members of Colorado’s water community to see what they think his legacy in water looks like – and the governor weighed in on that, too.

US Drought Monitor June 25, 2002.

The beginnings

When Hickenlooper became mayor of Denver in July 2003, the state was already entering the second year of a record-setting drought. Gov. Bill Owens, in his 2003 State of the State address six months earlier, claimed the 2002 drought was the worst in 350 years, with most of Colorado in what the U.S. Drought Monitor called “exceptional drought,” the worst stage in their rankings.

So water got into the future governor’s mind early on, although as mayor, his control was limited primarily to appointing commissioners to Denver Water, the state’s largest water utility.

But as he saw it, he wasn’t dealing with just Denver’s water. It was water that belonged to the entire state, he said.

At the time, state officials were also trying to figure out how to solve the water problem. In the midst of devastating drought, the General Assembly and Owens began working on several ideas that still hold water today, including a new assessment of Colorado’s water supply, known as the Statewide Water Supply Initiative (SWSI)…

In the 2005 session, the General Assembly approved a law setting up groups known as basin roundtables, which divided Colorado into nine regions, each representing a major river, plus one for Denver.

But the groups weren’t required to work with each other. There were differences among the regions, including claims from the Western Slope that the Denver area was seeking more “transmountain diversions” to channel water from the Colorado River and other western waters through the mountains to the Front Range. That claim still sticks today.

And there were long-standing hard feelings over what happened about 15 years earlier, when ski towns joined forces with environmentalists to help defeat a major Denver reservoir project…

Two Forks was a proposed dam on the South Platte River that would have created a million acre-feet reservoir, flooding 30 miles of canyon from Deckers south to the river’s confluence with its north fork.

Advocates said the project was vital to supplying growing metro Denver. But environmentalists sounded the trumpets, complaining of the potential drowning of much of Cheesman Canyon with its prime fishing, hiking and kayaking areas, and the Environmental Protection Agency vetoed a permit for the project in 1990.

Denver Water, which exhausted its appeals of the rejection in 1996, was forced to shift to conservation rather than looking for major new water supplies from storage.

That’s the environment that Hickenlooper walked into as mayor. And that’s when his water legacy started, says Eric Kuhn, who has spent 40 years working on the Colorado River, including as general manager of the Colorado River Water Conservation District.

It was then, he said, that the groundwork was laid with Denver Water board members to build cooperation with Western Slope water providers.

Knowing that Denver Water controlled a quarter of the state’s water supply, it meant new conversations with the Western Slope water community. Those discussions started in 2006 between Denver Water and 42 Western Slope partners, ranging from water providers to local governments to ski resorts.

That eventually became the groundbreaking Colorado River Cooperative Agreement, first reached in 2011 and signed by all parties by 2013. The agreement resolved at least some of the historic fights over the Colorado River. It focused on efforts to improve the river’s health and looked for ways to provide additional water supplies to Denver Water…

Hickenlooper got one other big advantage during his time as mayor: The Denver Water board selected a new general manager, Jim Lochhead, who would continue the agenda set forth by the board and with Hickenlooper’s vision in hand. That took place in 2010.

Hickenlooper “made very thoughtful appointments” to the Denver Water board, including people like Tom Gougeon, John Lucero and George Beardsley, Lochhead told Colorado Politics. They were “really strong leaders with the ethics for moving Denver Water forward but with having us take a far-sighted approach with the Western Slope,” he said.

Part of a strategic plan

Hickenlooper says he tackled water issues again shortly after being elected governor in November 2010. The state found itself in another multi-year drought starting in 2011, and that’s when Hickenlooper asked if drought would be the new normal and how Colorado would deal with it.

He talked to other governors to research the best practices they employed, and found that what Colorado lacked was a comprehensive water plan, which he called a “serious vacuum” in the state’s framework. It was a risky proposition, given that Coloradans were historically polarized around the issue of water, he said.

There were things – like boosting water conservation – that he knew would be difficult. He knew rural Colorado’s farmers and ranchers did not want to be told what to do. “We couldn’t deny people the right to sell their property,” he said, referring to water rights. But the plan would look at how to incentivize farmers to at least temporarily lease their water rather than sell.

With the traditional east-west divide over water evolving with the completion of the Colorado River agreement, the time to strike came early on in Hickenlooper’s first term. He began asking his cabinet about a water plan.

According to James Eklund, who first served as Hickenlooper’s senior deputy legal counsel and then as director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB), the governor was asked if he was willing to spend his political capital by wading into the water wars.

“Some governors only touch (the issue) on a superficial level,” Eklund told Colorado Politics. Previous governors would go to the Colorado Water Congress (the state’s leading water advocacy organization), pound the table, say that water is the lifeblood of the West and then get out.”

After the discussions with the other governors, that wasn’t going to be Hickenlooper’s way. “We have no choice but to treat this as a serious discussion” and to engage in strategic planning, according to Eklund.

Hickenlooper – a former restaurateur – looks at everything through a business lens, Eklund said. That meant that if water is so important to Colorado’s bottom line and there isn’t a strategic plan, that’s not acceptable.

In May 2013, Hickenlooper announced he would task Eklund and the CWCB to come up with a state water plan…

In November 2015, the water plan was unveiled after more than 30,000 public comments from all over the state. “We wanted to make sure all the interests were represented, not just conservation,” Hickenlooper said. “We also put in water storage,” meaning reservoirs, but that also ruffled the feathers of environmentalists, he said.

Hickenlooper said he was most pleased with the ability of the basin roundtables – set up in that 2005 legislation – to take the long view, especially for groups historically polarized over water.

According to many in the water community, it’s the statewide water plan that most defines Hickenlooper’s water legacy…

‘Water at the forefront’

The water plan attempts to address what is now expected to be a 1 million acre-feet shortage of water in Colorado by 2050, based in part on projected population growth of another 3 to 5 million people on top of the state’s current population of 5.6 million.

It focuses on a number of strategic goals: 400,000 acre-feet of water to be gained through conservation, another 400,000 to be gained through new or enhanced storage (dams and reservoirs), and the rest from other steps, such as agricultural water sharing.

The plan has its detractors who have criticized it for lack of specific objectives in how to achieve those goals. And some lawmakers believe the General Assembly has been shut out of the process and that storage gets short shrift.

Senate President Pro Tem Jerry Sonnenberg of Sterling told Colorado Politics that he’s been frustrated with the plan’s lack of attention to storage and that there hasn’t been enough emphasis on how to avoid “buy and dry” – the practice of buying up agricultural land for its water rights and then draining the land dry…

Sonnenberg disagrees that the water plan is a positive legacy for Hickenlooper.

“He tried to put the plan together and it didn’t get a lot of attention other than from the environmental community that wants to make sure we leave more water in the rivers. If you want to be a water leader with a water legacy, you must support water storage that is paid for by the communities planning for growth,” Sonnenberg said, citing the Northern Integrated Supply Project (NISP), which plans two reservoirs – Glade, near Fort Collins and Galeton, east of Greeley.

Sonnenberg complained that the governor has not yet endorsed those projects, although Hickenlooper did endorse two other reservoir projects two years ago: Chimney Hollow, near Loveland, and expansion of Gross Reservoir, near Boulder.

But Eric Wilkinson, who recently retired as general manager of Northern Water, which runs NISP, does believe in Hickenlooper’s water legacy.

“He was the first governor to put water at the forefront,” Wilkinson told Colorado Politics. He was pleased with Hickenlooper’s endorsement of Chimney Hollow, a Denver Water reservoir project, which he said tells federal agencies that the project has cleared Colorado’s permitting and is ready to go forward. That was part of the state water plan, too, Wilkinson noted.

ilkinson also pointed to the people Hickenlooper put in charge of water issues as part of the legacy: Stulp, Eklund and Becky Mitchell, the current head of the CWCB; and both of his heads of the Department of Natural Resources, first Mike King and now Bob Randall.

In the water plan, the balance between conservation and new storage is a pragmatic solution for the state’s future, Wilkinson said. “We need to have a greater ability to manage the water resources, and to do that, conservation is first, but infrastructure is very much needed. The water plan calls that out.”

The timing was right and the leadership was right, Stulp told Colorado Politics.

Hickenlooper saw what had been taking place for the past seven to eight years, after the formation of the basin roundtables, which came up with projects for their own regions. The time was right to pull all that together, Stulp said.

Eklund, now with the law firm Squire Patton Boggs, is still involved in water issues, partly as Colorado’s representative on the Upper Colorado River Commission. He said Hickenlooper’s legacy isn’t only about the water plan; it’s also where he positioned Colorado internationally on water issues.

Colorado’s position as a headwater state that provides water to 18 downstream states and Mexico means “we punch above our weight on water policy,” Eklund said. The eyes of the water-stressed world are on the Southwest United States.

Colorado finally has a platform in that discussion by coming up with the water plan, which he called a “gold standard” for water planning. Other states and nations can look at what Colorado is doing and judge for themselves, he said.

Colorado now speaks with one voice on water, said Mitchell, who was in charge of water planning prior to becoming the CWCB’s latest director.

“The default starting point now on water talk is cooperation, not confrontation,” she told Colorado Politics.

The water plan shows what’s possible, she added, when people with polarized perspectives and faulty assumptions sit down together, listen and speak with civility and respect…

Hickenlooper told Colorado Politics he hopes the next governor recognizes the funding gap for implementing the plan. The General Assembly has so far devoted about $17 million over the past two budget cycles to funding projects in the water plan, but it’s a drop in the bucket compared to the need, which is estimated at around $20 billion.

Water providers are expected to shoulder most of that, but the state’s obligation is expected to be around $3 billion, at $100 million per year for 30 years, starting in 2020.

No one, including Hickenlooper, has come up with a solid plan for where that money is coming from. Lots of ideas have been floated, such as changes to the state’s severance tax structure on oil and gas operations – a no-go with Senate Republicans – bottle taxes, water tap fees and the like.

Hickenlooper said he believes funding for the water plan is sufficient for the next few years, but there is a gap, and at some point, the state will need to spend more money on water infrastructure…

That political courage, and part of the legacy, as Lochhead sees it, is that Hickenlooper opened the door for the next governor to come in and pick up where Hickenlooper ended and made it a little safer for a governor to jump into water issues.

So how does Hickenlooper view his legacy in water?

“If I was to look at the one thing that changed the most in my public life, it’s the collaborative approach,” the governor said. “This is everyone’s issue.”

A look at “Buy and Dry”

Photo credit: Allen Best

From KUNC (luke Runyon, Matt Bloom & Esther Honig):

“Buy and dry” describes a class of water transactions that typically involve a municipality or other local government paying the owner of a farm for some or all of their available water rights.

It’s a slow, mostly invisible flow of water from the region’s heritage industry — agriculture — to a new powerhouse: real estate development and urban growth.

The transactions go back decades, with plenty of cautionary tales to guide both farmers and government officials, casting various Front Range cities and Eastern Plains farming communities as both villains and victims.

Concern about the practice has reached a fever pitch. The state’s water plan, adopted in 2015, frowns at buy and dry tactics. Water prices continue to rise. Some alternative methods for leasing water are slowly being implemented, at the same time multi-million dollar checks are passed from developers and city planners to farm families.

Urban growth is a driver

The practice of buy and dry is primarily driven by the growth of water-short cities – of all sizes – along the Front Range. According to Colorado’s State Demography Office, communities along the I-25 corridor in Weld and Larimer counties are the fastest growing. Populations there are increasing at a rate twice as fast as the state as a whole…

Windsor, like many fast-growing Front Range communities, sees agricultural water as a viable source to supplement future growth. As recently as May, Windsor purchased water rights from at least two different farming families, according to allotment contracts from the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District.

One purchase was of units of water within the Colorado-Big Thompson Project from the John Ernest Lucken Revocable Trust. The other with the Andrew H. Blase Family Trust.

In both cases Wagner says he doesn’t know whether the town’s purchases led to farms “drying up.”

“I’m not sure of what’s happened to those farms,” he said. “Whether they still have enough water rights to irrigate or whether they’ve reduced the farming acreage.”

Wagner added that Windsor, unlike other cities, has not specifically purchased farms to own them and take the water off them. When asked about the likelihood of the town doing that, Wagner said it very well could…

Water rights worth millions

For farmers in the West, access to water is a key part of making agriculture possible in an arid region. Without irrigation farmers are significantly limited on the range of crops they can grow and in the profitability of the land they own.

With commodity crop and milk prices at low points, selling water rights can help make a farm operation whole.

That’s the case for Colorado dairy farmer Timothy Bernhardt, just down the road from Windsor in Milliken. The Bernhardt family has farmed there since the 1920s. Access to water to quench the thirst of his 900 dairy cows is essential, Bernhardt says.

“Cattle drink a lot of water, so about 50 to 100 gallons of water a day,” he says. “So it’s critical for milk production because milk is made up mostly of water.”

In May Bernhardt and his brother made the choice to sell 175 units of water within the Colorado-Big Thompson Project — about 57 million gallons — to the city of Milliken for nearly $5 million.

That money will be used to pay off debt, Bernhardt says. Like many businesses, farms rely on loans and credit to operate and the brothers wanted to pay it off because they’re each older than 60 and looking at retirement. Their children aren’t interested in running a dairy farm, so when they retire, the business ends with them…

Cautionary tales

There’s no arm-twisting in buy and dry, cities are often quick to say. These transactions involve willing buyers and sellers. Cities get what they need — new water supplies — and farm families get an opportunity to pay off debt, make on-farm upgrades or retire.

But on a regional-scale, water managers and government officials are troubled. Water flowing from farms to the Front Range means a movement of power and economic activity, from rural areas to cities. Take the Colorado-Big Thompson Project as an example.

When the vast network of reservoirs was originally built in the 1930s to transport water from the state’s wetter Western Slope to the east, agriculture was the majority user of its stored water. Today, 70% of the project’s water is used by municipalities and industry…

Conversations about buy and dry often turn to the Arkansas River valley and the communities of Crowley, Ordway and Sugar City. Water managers don’t really have to imagine what a future of rampant buy and dry could look like. It has already happened there…

Cronin and a handful of other water managers in the South Platte Regional Opportunities Working Group recently started a conversation about what it would take to allow Front Range cities to keep growing, without draining farms in the process. It looked like at least three — maybe four — new reservoirs positioned along the South Platte River to the stateline with Nebraska to supplement water supplies for cities and farmers.

Cronin cautions that these are preliminary discussions.

He calls the discussion of new reservoirs a “generational” one — if the idea gains enough supporters for it to happen at all. Large-scale water projects often take decades in planning, permitting and litigation before a shovel hits the ground. This one would likely follow a similar timeline, Cronin says. Questions still linger about how much it would cost, another big hurdle to bringing it to fruition.

The latest “CWCB Confluence” newsletter is hot off the presses from @CWCB_DNR

West Drought Monitor June 5, 2018.

Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:

STATE OF THE WATER STATE

Drought Activation

On May 2, 2018, in response to persistent and prolonged drought in portions of Colorado, the Governor activated the Colorado Drought Mitigation and Response Plan for the agricultural sector for select counties. The Drought Task Force, a cabinet level group, will meet throughout the period of drought activation to ensure coordination among state agencies, the Governor’s Office, and federal partners. The Agricultural Impact Task force is also meeting throughout the period of activation and will assess and track the impacts to the agricultural sector, as well as work with federal partners to get aid and resources to people in the impacted areas. The goal of these groups is to improve communication among state and federal agencies, increase the speed with which aid gets to impacted communities, and to address concerns before they become crises. Learn more about the drought.

Fryingpan River proposal would increase winter flows, help trout populations — @AspenJournalism

Flow in the Fryingpan. Photo credit Brent Gardner-Smith (@AspenJournalism).

From Aspen Journalism (Heather Sackett):

A proposal to increase winter flows on the lower Fryingpan River could have big benefits for downstream trout populations.

The Colorado River District is proposing to the Colorado Water Conservation Board a one-year, renewable lease of some of the water it owns in Ruedi Reservoir to boost winter flows in the Fryingpan. CWCB staff presented the proposal to the board at its May meeting in Salida.

Currently, the decreed instream flow rate between Nov. 1 and April 30 in the Fryingpan below Ruedi is a minimum of 39 cubic feet per second. Often, winter flows are higher than this, but in dry years they can hover around the minimum amount.

But 39 cfs is not enough to maintain a healthy food source for the Gold Medal fishery’s population of trout. The proposal seeks to boost the minimum flow to 70 cfs.

The proposal is a collaboration between the Colorado River District and the Roaring Fork Conservancy.

Heather Tattersall Lewin, watershed action director with the conservancy, explained that low streamflows, combined with frigid temperatures, can lead to the formation of anchor ice on the bottom of the river.

This ice has a negative effect on the population of aquatic insects, known as macroinvertebrates, which are food for the brown, rainbow, and cutthroat trout that call this 14-mile stretch of river home.

“When the water and air temperatures are both really cold, the anchor ice can scour the bottom of the river,” Tattersall Lewin said. “It can scrape the macroinvertebrates in that area and they can get moved downstream. The insect population is what we are concerned about because it’s the fish food.”

Extra water in the stream will prevent anchor ice from forming. The conservancy estimates that 56 days is the maximum amount of time the leased water would be needed during the winter.

“This is a great opportunity to manage water to the benefit of environmental and recreational needs,” Tattersall Lewin said.

Under the proposal, the CWCB would lease up to 3,500 acre-feet of Ruedi Reservoir water from the river district. It would cost $65.25 per acre-foot, plus a $400 application fee, which for the total 3,500 acre-feet would cost $228,775.

The river district owns a total of 11,413.5 acre-feet of water in Ruedi, with 7,500 acre-feet of that available for leasing. Of the total the river district owns, 5,412.5 acre-feet is to support flows for the endangered fish recovery program.

Colorado River District General Manager Andy Mueller said there are two reasons his organization decided to offer up their water for lease. The first is to improve the health of the river and its trout populations. The second is related to the business arm of the district.

“We are charged with maximizing our assets and our assets are pools of water in different reservoirs,” Mueller said. “In this instance, we are leasing water to the CWCB and they are paying our district’s enterprise fund to release that water. It’s a win-win from our perspective.”

The Fryingpan River is popular with anglers because of predictable hatches that lead to fish feeding frenzies and great conditions for dry fly fishing.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife supports the increased winter flows.

In a letter of support to the CWCB, CPW instream flow program coordinator Jay Skinner wrote, “recent history has taught us that more flow during the winter months improves fish habitat, increases spawning success and fry emergence for brown trout, promotes a more robust macroinvertebrate food base for fish and most importantly, addresses issues related to anchor ice formation and accumulation.”

The CWCB will consider the proposal for approval at its July meeting. If approved, the increase in flows could begin this winter.

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism is collaborating with The Aspen Times, the Glenwood Springs Post Independent, the Vail Daily and the Summit Daily on the coverage of rivers and water. The Times and the Post Independent published this story in their print editions on Thursday, June 7, 2018.

Fryingpan River downstream of Ruedi Reservoir. Photo credit Greg Hobbs

@CWCB_DNR: May 2018 #Drought Update

Colorado Drought Monitor May 15, 2018.

Here’s the release from the Colorado Water Conservation Board (Taryn Finnessey) and the Colorado Division of Water Resources (Tracy Kosloff):

In order to respond to persistent and prolonged drought conditions throughout the southern half of the state and along the western border, the Governor activated the Colorado Drought Mitigation and Response Plan for the agricultural sector on May 2, 2018 , in the following counties:Montezuma, La Plata, Archuleta, Conejos, Costilla, Las Animas, Baca, Prowers, Bent, Otero, Huerfano, Alamosa, Rio Grande, Mineral, Hinsdale, San Juan, Dolores, San Miguel, Ouray, Montrose, Saguache, Custer, Pueblo, Crowley, Kiowa, Cheyenne, Lincoln, El Paso, Elbert, Gunnison, Mesa, Delta, Garfield and Rio Blanco. All of these counties are experiencing severe, extreme or exceptional drought as classified by the US Drought Monitor , and many have already received some level of drought designation from USDA . If present trends continue, other regions and sectors of the state’s economy may also be affected. Those areas will continue to be monitored closely.

■ October 2017 through April 2018 was the 5th warmest and the 5th driest on record for the state as a whole. Some locations throughout southern CO have experienced their driest and/or warmest Oct-Apr period on record.
■ Most regions of Southern Colorado reached their snow accumulation peak two to three weeks early and have experienced rapid snowmelt, resulting in melt out occurring three weeks earlier than normal.
■ Streamflow forecasts in the southern half of the state are extremely low, with multiple sites showing below 15 percent of normal.
■ Demand is increasing and reservoir storage in the most heavily impacted areas, the Southwest basins of the San Miguel, Dolores, Animas & San Juan have seen significant decreases in reservoir storage over the last two months. This combined basin currently has 91 percent of normal storage, the lowest storage levels in the state.
■ Isolated cattle sell off and prevented planting of some acreage has been reported. Due to high hay prices we anticipate additional cattle sell off, and unless conditions improve additional prevented and failed crop acres are likely.
■ Windy, dry conditions fueled fires in April leading to numerous large wildfires on both the west slope and the eastern plains. Current forecasts indicate above average potential for large wildfires through June (see image on reverse side) with late summer fire potential dependent on monsoon conditions.
■ As of May 15, exceptional drought, D4, continues to affect southwest Colorado and has also been introduced in the Sangre de Cristo mountains, covering eight percent of the state. Extreme drought, D3, covers 23 percent of the state; severe drought 20 percent and 14 percent is classified as moderate drought. An additional 14 percent of the state is currently experiencing abnormally dry conditions (see image on reverse side).
■ Reservoir storage statewide is at 111 percent of normal, with all but the southwest basins above average. The Arkansas basin is reporting the highest average storage at 129 percent. Front Range water providers mainly draw water resources from areas of the state that received near normal winter precipitation, and are therefore expecting reservoirs to fill, and are not anticipating any water use restrictions outside normal operations.
■ The Surface Water Supply Index (SWSI) values have declined slightly May 1, with much of the western slope classified as extremely dry. These values are largely driven by below average streamflow forecasts. The sub-basin with the highest value includes Lake Granby, a large reservoir.

@CWCB_DNR Proposed Acquisition of Contractual Interest in Ruedi Reservoir Water for ISF Use

The dam that forms Ruedi Reservoir, above Basalt on the Fryingpan River. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

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

DATE: May 16, 2018

RE: Proposed Acquisition of Contractual Interest in Ruedi Reservoir Water for ISF Use on Fryingpan River, Eagle & Pitkin Counties

The Colorado Water Conservation Board will be considering a proposal from the Colorado River Water Conservation District, acting through its Colorado River Water Projects Enterprise (“CRWCD”) to enter into a one-year renewable short-term lease of a portion of water that CRWCD holds in Ruedi Reservoir for instream flow (“ISF”) use to boost winter flows in the Fryingpan River below Ruedi Reservoir. The Board will consider this proposal at its May 23-24, 2018 meeting in Salida. The agenda for this Board meeting can be found at:
http://cwcb.state.co.us/public-information/board-meetings-agendas/Pages/May2018NoticeAgenda.aspx

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 at:
http://cwcb.state.co.us/legal/Documents/Rules/Final%20Adopted%20ISF%20Rules%201-27-2009.pdf

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: 3,500 Acre Feet

Proposed Reaches 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.

Purpose of the Acquisition:

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.

Proposed Season of Use:

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.

Supporting Data:

Available information concerning the purpose of the acquisition and the degree of preservation of the natural environment, and available scientific data can be found on CWCB water acquisitions web page at: http://cwcb.state.co.us/environment/instream-flow-program/Pages/RuediReservoirFryingpanRiver.aspx

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

Honing in on options for a potential White River Dam near Rangely

Looking up the White River valley, with the Wolf Creek valley opening up to the left. The view is from Hwy 64.

By Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

CRAIG — Three variations of a potential dam that could someday sit astride the main stem of the White River between Meeker and Rangely have been examined by the Rio Blanco Water Conservancy District in Rangely.

Last week in Craig, Steve Jamieson, a principal engineer and president at W.W. Wheeler and Associates, told the members of the Yampa, Green and White river basin roundtable that an 80-foot-tall dam built across the main stem of the White River at Wolf Creek could store 68,000 acre-feet of water.

He said a 104-foot-tall dam across the river could store 138,000 acre-feet.

And a 290-foot-tall dam across the valley floor could store 2.9 million acre-feet of water.

“The maximum you can get here is 2.9 million acre-feet in this bucket,” Jamieson said. “It’s a big bucket, and you can do that with a dam that it’s about 290 feet high. It would be a very efficient dam site, but you need to have the water to fill it.”

A slide being presented by Steve Jamieson of Wheeler a showing the range of dam and reservoir sizes that have been studied for the potential White River Dam on the main stem of the White River 23 miles east of Rangely. The dams range in size from 80-feet-tall to 290-feet-tall and could store between 68,000 AF to 2.9 MAF. The dam sizes were studied as part of Phase 2A of the White River storage project, and the state has provided $500,000 in funding so far to study the project.
Steve Jamieson, left, of Wheeler and Associates, and Brad McCloud, right, showing an illustration of where the axis of a 290-foot-tall dam across the White River would be. The big dam would require a 500-foot-wide spillway, which would mean relocating a section of Hwy 64.

Water enough

About 500,000 acre-feet of water a year runs down the lower White River each year, flowing through Meeker and Rangely and into Utah and the Green River.

And between 1923 and 2014, the annual flow in the White River at the Utah line ranged from 200,000 to 1.2 million acre-feet, according to Wheeler and Associates.

The potential White River Dam would be located 23 miles east of Rangely, along Highway 64.

The existing Taylor Draw Dam, which forms Kenney Reservoir on the main stem of the White River, is six miles east of Rangely.

That reservoir was built in 1984 to hold 13,800 acre-feet of water, but it’s gradually silting in, as was expected in a 1982 EIS done for the project. The surface area still “available for recreation,” or boating, is now less than 335 acres, down from 650 acres when the reservoir opened.

The dam’s hydro plant, however, is still generating about $500,000 a year in electricity revenue for the Rio Blanco district in a run-of-river setup.

A slide being presented by Steve Jamieson of Wheeler and Associates and Brad McCloud of EIS Solutions showing the range of dam and reservoir sizes that have been studied with state funding for the Wolf Creek drainage. The dams range in size from 80-feet-tall to 260-feet-tall and could store 41,000 AF to 1.6 MAF. The dam sizes were studied as part of Phase 2A of the White River storage project, and the state has provided $500,000 in funding so far to study the project.

Off-channel too

Jamieson also has been studying an off-channel dam in the Wolf Creek drainage, which is a broad, dry valley on the north side the river, just upstream of the proposed White River Dam site.

The Wolf Creek Dam would be located 3,000 feet back from the river and 170 feet above it.

An 80-foot-tall version of that dam could store 41,000 acre-feet of water, a 119-foot-tall dam could store 130,000 acre-feet, and a 260-foot-tall dam could store 1.6 million-acre feet, Jamieson said.

“This is really good dam site here, I like this,” Jamieson said. “It’s very flexible.”

However, the off-channel Wolf Creek Dam would require that water be pumped up from the river, at a high cost, or delivered via a 40-mile long canal or pipeline starting near Rio Blanco Lake — closer to Meeker than Rangely.

“It’s going to be a very long and expensive canal,” Jamieson said.

The pumping facility for a 90,000 acre-foot reservoir, which was studied in 2014, was estimated to cost $18.2 million build and up to $1.1 million a year to operate.

Jamieson said Highway 64 would need to be moved to accommodate the biggest White River Dam option, which requires a 500-foot-wide spillway on one side of the river valley.

The river itself would also have to be moved during construction.

“You’d be constructing two to three years at least,” Jamieson said. “So what we looked at is actually building a tunnel around into this abutment that we would divert the White River through during construction.”

A slide presented by Steve Jamieson of Wheeler and Associates on May 9, 2018, showing the maximum inundation area of a 290-foot-tall dam on the main stem of the White River. Jamieson presented the slide at the May 9, 2018 meeting in Craig of the Yampa/White/Green basin roundtable.

Gardner-sized

Jamieson said the district started studying the maximum size of the potential reservoirs after Sen. Cory Gardner asked during a site visit, “How big can you make this reservoir?”

During his presentation Jamieson repeatedly referred to Sen. Gardner, using phrases such as “this is the maximum Cory Gardner reservoir.”

A roundtable member asked, “Did the senator promise the money for this?”

The basin roundtables operate under the auspices of the Colorado Water Conservation Board and review grants for water projects.

“No, he did not, unfortunately,” said Brad McCloud of EIS Solutions, a public affairs consulting firm retained by the district. “We asked.”

The Colorado Water Conservation Board also wants to know what the maximum reservoir size is.

“Based on recent comments from some stakeholders, it may be beneficial to build the largest possible reservoir at Wolf Creek,” the scope of work for a 2017 grant from the board to the district states.

It also says “a much larger reservoir … could have additional benefits to the state.”

One of those benefits could be helping the state avoid a compact call on the Colorado River.

“Part of the Phase 2A study is to determine if the project may have the potential to provide Colorado compact curtailment insurance during periods of drought,” the 2017 grant application from the district said.

Since 2013, the district has received three grants totaling $500,000 from the Colorado Water Conservation Board for its White River project, and the potential benefit of compact compliance has been mentioned in all three grants.

The White River near the vicinity of the Wolf Creek drainage. The river sends about 500,000 acre-feet of water a year across the state line into Utah, with flows ranging from 200,000 AF to 1.2 MAF a year. The White drains the western side of the Flat Top Mountains and flows through Meeker and Rangely.

20,000 or 90,000

On Wednesday in Craig, Jamieson downplayed compact curtailment and focused on the district’s goal of creating a 20,000 or 90,000 acre-foot “working pool” of water inside larger potential reservoirs.

For example, it would require a 138,000 acre-foot on-channel reservoir to establish a 90,000 acre-foot working pool for the district, after allowances for a recreation pool and a 24,000 acre-foot sedimentation pool — which would fill in over 50 years.

To establish a need of the stored water, Jamieson cited a 2014 study showing demand in the basin at 91,000 acre-feet in 2065.

That’s on the high end, though.

The low-end need in 2065 was 16,600 acre-feet.

The district filed in water court in 2014 for a 90,000-acre-foot storage right at both the on-channel and off-channel locations.

But Erin Light, the division engineer in Div. 6, told the district in July 2017 “this application continues to contain aspects that are speculative and this is concerning to me.”

She questioned the district’s use of the highest estimates for such potential uses as oil shale production and flows for endangered fish.

The water attorney for the district, Ed Olszewski, responded to Light in August.

He said the district “disputes that any portion of the application is speculative” and the application is intended to be “as flexible as possible.”

As Jamieson wrapped up his presentation, he said the Rio Blanco district plans to “initiate project permitting” in 2019.

“I know we’re very aggressive,” Jamieson said. “We’re making progress.”

Aspen Journalism is covering water and rivers in collaboration with The Aspen Times and the Glenwood Springs Post Independent. The Times and the Post Independent published this story on Monday, May 14, 2018.