@CWCB_DNR: March 2019 #Drought Update

From the Colorado Water Conservation Board/Colorado Division of Water Resources (Ben Wade):

In response to persistent and prolonged drought conditions throughout the southern half of the state and along the western border, ​the C​olorado Drought Mitigation and Response Plan​ was activated for the agricultural sector​ ​on May 2, 2018​, additional counties in northwest Colorado were added in September and activation remains in effect; information can be found HERE​.

February and March-to-date have both seen impressive snow accumulation statewide, but especially in the southern half of the state where snowpack is currently above 150 percent of normal for all basins. This persistent moisture and near normal temperatures has resulted in significant drought improvements across the region. We will continue to monitor throughout the snow melt season to determine inflows to reservoirs and streamflow levels. Post wildfire flooding remains a concern and will be closely monitored. The daily flood threat bulletin can be accessed May 1 through September 30 ​HERE​.

  • As of March 19th, exceptional drought (D4) and extreme drought (D3) have been entirely removed from Colorado. Severe drought covers just 0.63 percent of the state while moderate drought covers an additional six percent. Forty percent of the state is currently experiencing abnormally dry conditions, a significant improvement in recent weeks. Most of the western slope has seen three and even four class improvements in drought conditions since the start of the water year (see image below).
  • El Niño conditions are now present, and will likely continue through spring (80 percent chance) and even summer (60 percent chance) of this year. Historically spring during an El Niño event trends toward wetter conditions, and the NOAA Climate Prediction Center outlooks for April, and for the April-May-June period show increased chances of wetter-than-average conditions, with less confidence in the temperature outlook.
  • SNOTEL snow water equivalent statewide is 142 percent of average with all basins well above average. The highest snowpack is in the Southwest basins of the San Miguel, Dolores, Animas & San Juan at 158 percent of median, while the lowest is tied with both the Yampa-White and the North Platte at 128 percent of median (see image below).
  • Many basins, as well as the state as a whole are near maximum observed snowpack for this time of year and short term forecasts indicate that an active storm pattern is likely to remain.
  • Reservoir storage, statewide remains at 83 percent of normal but is expected to increase as soon as the runoff season begins. The South Platte, Colorado, and Yampa-White, all above 90 percent of average as of March 1st. Storage in the Arkansas and Upper Rio Grande basins are at 87 and 78 percent of normal, respectively. The Southwest basins of the San Miguel, Dolores, Animas & San Juan, and Gunnison remain the lowest in the state at 58 and 63 percent of normal, respectively.
  • Streamflow forecasts are near to above normal statewide and have been steadily increasing in recent weeks. As a result the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center has adjusted their April-July unregulated inflow forecasts as follows: Blue Mesa Reservoir 960 KAF (142% of average) a 32 percent of average increase, McPhee Reservoir 480 KAF (163% of average) a 51 percent of average increase. The Lake Powell inflow forecast is 9.50 MAF (133% of average) an increase of 2.2 million acre-feet or 31% of average.
  • The ​Drought Visualization Tool​ is now live; please take a minute to provide feedback on this tool ​HERE​.
  • #RioGrande “State of the Basin” recap #COWaterPlan

    Map of the Rio Grande watershed. Graphic credit: WikiMedia

    From the San Luis Valley Water Conservancy District via The Monte Vista Journal:

    During the 2019 “State of the Basin Symposium” at Adams State University, the Rio Grande Basin was reminded that Colorado has a water plan as Heather Dutton, manager of the San Luis Valley Water Conservancy District and Rio Grande Basin representative on the Colorado Water Conservation Board, shared some insights on the Colorado Water Plan.

    Officially completed on Nov. 19, 2015 by the Colorado Water Conservation Board, the statewide effort followed an Executive Order from Governor John Hickenlooper and represents a great deal of work and input from many experts across the state. Dutton opened her remarks by giving a brief history of the San Luis Valley Water Conservancy District. Next, she turned the focus of her presentation to some of the components of the plan and the work of the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

    Dutton noted that the plan was designed to address the major water issues that Colorado faces. Some of the key areas that the plan focuses on include agriculture, conservation, land use, the supply-demand gap, storage, and watershed health environment, funding, and outreach and education. The plan has been called a roadmap for the future of Colorado’s water. There are numerous goals that the plan has outlined such as maximizing alternatives to permanent agriculture dry-up and the promotion of water efficiency ethic for all Coloradans. The overarching goal of the plan is to help Colorado meet its water needs relative to growing population levels and reach a degree of sustainability by 2030.
    Dutton also mentioned the Colorado Water Plan Grant Program, which is the funding portion of the plan that is designed to provide needed financial assistance for vital water projects across the state. “The CWCB is putting its money where its mouth is,” said Dutton.

    Dutton further noted that part of the process of creating the plan included gathering input from each of Colorado’s respective basin roundtables. Each basin was required to submit its own plan. This led to the Rio Grande Basin Implementation Plan. The result was the San Luis Valley water community having a voice in the entire process. Dutton acknowledged the work of many of the leaders that were present.

    While the implementation process is ongoing, Dutton expressed optimism that Colorado Water Plan will continue help the Rio Grande Basin and the rest of the state see a brighter future when it comes to water.

    #Colorado’s new Department of Natural Resources head talks oil and water — The Colorado Independent #ActOnClimate

    Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013

    From The Colorado Independent (John Herrick):

    Hundreds of men and women who work in the state’s oil and gas fields flocked to the state Capitol this week to protest a bill that, if passed, will impose dramatic changes on the way oil and gas drilling is conducted in Colorado. Workers filled the halls of the Capitol ahead of what ended up being a 12-hour committee hearing on the proposed legislation. Many who lined up to testify said they feared the new regulations would end up costing them their jobs.

    Also waiting to testify was Dan Gibbs, the newly appointed executive director for the Department of Natural Resources. The 43-year-old from Breckenridge will play a key role in guiding oil and gas regulators — who work in his department — through any regulatory changes. The bill, which is expected to win approval of the Democrat-controlled legislature and Gov. Jared Polis, calls for landmark regulatory changes, including elimination of the mandate that state regulators foster oil and gas development.

    Gibbs, a former county commissioner and state lawmaker, has made it clear that he supports the bill, especially a provision that would give local communities more say in permitting decisions. Current Colorado law says that responsibility for regulating fracking falls to the state. Still, several cities across the Front Range have sought in vain to control drilling within their borders, including outright bans. As a state representative, Gibbs helped strengthen regulations over oil and gas, sponsoring a bill to protect wildlife from drilling impacts. He brings his more regulation-focused perspective to the department on the heels of a record production year for the $31-billion industry.

    During his testimony, Gibbs said he heard similar fears of job cuts when he was a lawmaker working on oil and gas bills.

    “We didn’t see any evidence of any job loss as a result of these bills. In fact, there was an increase in activity from 2007 to what we see now,” said Gibbs, who was sitting next to Erin Martinez, a survivor of the Firestone explosion in April 2017. Her husband and brother were killed.

    Gibbs grew up rafting, fly fishing, skiing and ultrarunning. He wears a sports watch and carries his wildland firefighting red card at all times. He worked for former U.S. Sen. Mark Udall in Washington, D.C., served as a state representative before being appointed to the Senate by a vacancy committee, and has been elected Summit County commissioner three times.

    The Department of Natural Resources, made up of 1,465 employees, oversees drilling, mining, water management and state parks in Colorado. In addition to navigating changes to Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission [COGCC], the body that regulates and promotes oil and gas development, he will also be responsible for another urgent challenge: trying to figure out how to pay for the Colorado Water Plan. The plan, which will cost an estimated $100 million a year to implement, is part of a solution to avert projected water shortages due to population growth, climate change and obligations to other states and tribes that rely on the Colorado River.

    We spoke to Gibbs before Tuesday’s marathon Senate Transportation and Energy committee hearing, and again afterward. Our conversation has been edited for clarity and brevity.

    You spend a lot of time outdoors. Is there anything you’ve seen that for you really exemplifies climate change?

    In 2009, I was fighting the Old Stage Fire in Boulder County during the second week of January on the first day of the legislative session…

    That’s when former Gov. Bill Ritter was giving his State of the State address.

    Yeah, he actually mentioned me. ‘As we speak, Dan Gibbs in on the fire line.’ Never did I think I would be fighting a fire in Colorado in January. But that just shows how clearly things are changing. You know, in Summit County, we have 156,000 acres of dead trees as a result of the mountain pine beetle. It was like a slow-moving tsunami, moving from Grand County into Summit County. … I mention this because the mountain pine beetle is a situation of climate change where the winters historically have not been cold enough.

    What do you think the economic impacts of oil and gas drilling in Colorado are?

    There can be a balance with doing things in a more environmentally friendly way while recognizing the economic impacts of having oil and gas industry do well in Colorado. I don’t think it’s either-or. I worked on a bill that added a higher level of wildlife protections for oil and gas. … I was in the committee room. It was packed full of sportsmen wearing camo and blaze orange. And I also had support from oil and gas industry. At that time they were willing to be supportive of this particular bill, believe it or not. As a local government person, formerly as a county commissioner, county commissioners are in charge of looking at health, safety and welfare of people that live in that community and visit. … If someone wants to build something they have to go through a planning process to get approval. If they want to mine something — you know we have a lot of historic mines in Summit County — they need to get a [permit]. We have a gravel pit. And people had concerns about the trucks going by their house. Well, we can make sure the rocks are covered. We can mitigate the times of operation. We can make things more doable for people that have to be directly impacted by that.

    What about the economic impacts of drilling on industries like the outdoor recreation industry? I’m wondering if you think the economic impacts of drilling and coal mining go beyond just the jobs of the people that are working in the oil fields or the coal mines.

    I don’t think we need to pit one industry against another. I wouldn’t even call it the recreation industry because, where I live, it’s the environment that’s the economic driver. So the more we can protect the environment, the more it is beneficial to our economy. And I think that’s reflective of many parts of Colorado.

    How do you reconcile those two competing imperatives: to protect the environment, while at the same time protecting an industry that offers good-paying jobs and provides money for your department.

    We need to look at ways we can protect people, protect the environment, and people’s way of life. I think oil and gas can do things in a way that is not harmful to people’s health. I think there is a way to do it. I don’t think you need to set up oil and gas wells right next to where people live. I think there are ways to do better environmental monitoring of wells when they are close to where people live or when they are close to critical water storage areas. I think we can do things in a more environmentally friendly way where oil and gas can continue to do business in Colorado while minimizing harming the environment.

    The state legislature wants to do way with COGCC’s role of fostering oil and gas development and make it solely a regulatory agency. What’s your reaction to the bill in the legislature?

    I think there should be serious reforms within the structure with how we do things in Colorado. I support this bill, Senate Bill 181. I like having local government have a seat at the table if they want to. … Local governments are in the business of regulating land use issues. I’m shocked that local communities have never had the authority to shape land use decisions as it relates to oil and gas. Depending on many truckloads go through an area, things can be mitigated based on how close [that activity] is to homes, how close it is to critical wildlife areas like sage grouse.

    You’re going to be over at the state Capitol today. You may end up talking to a number of people who work in the industry who will say ‘I’m going to lose my job’ because of this bill. What are you going to tell them?

    I will say that’s not true. There is no evidence to reflect that this bill is trying to shut down industry in any way. What it’s trying to do is balance oil and gas activity with looking at what’s best for people and their communities. It’s not creating necessarily a veto power. It is adding a layer of oversight that doesn’t exist now. New oversight. So I would say that’s just not an accurate statement. But I’m sure we’ll hear that a lot. The industry is important in Colorado. And the bill, as it goes through the process, will have five, six hearings and discussions in the House and Senate and opportunities to amend. It’s not the ending point, but the starting point. The bill will likely change.

    I wanted to transition to water. Water projects are funded through severance taxes. And severance taxes are dependent on the production of oil and gas. Would you describe that as a competing mission — on one hand you have these environmental programs that are reliant on an industry that has an environmental impact?

    It’s funny you say that. Well, not funny. As a county commissioner, we funded all of our recycling programs through tipping fees at our landfills. The more trash we got, the more programs we could fund for diversion. And so, it’s similar, the more oil and gas activity you have in the state, the more we can fund environmental programs. … I think we need a new strategy in terms of how we fund environmental programs. And not just be dependent on severance funds. Looking at other programs I have: the Parks and Wildlife budget is about 85 percent contingent on hunting and fishing licenses. I’m going to be working on a more sustainable funding source moving forward that is not just contingent on hunting and fishing licenses.

    Should people who recreate, like backpackers, pay more to Colorado Parks and Wildlife?

    What we have right now for Parks and Wildlife is not sustainable. We need to look at every option on the table. … We really need to be creative to figure out who might be willing to help fund the trail system throughout Colorado and what opportunities exist with new foundations that could help with funding.

    What are you doing to come up with a new funding mechanism or revenue stream for the Colorado Water Plan?

    I just met with a group of stakeholders. The governor has more or less a line item request of $30 million this year. And that will go along with the [state budget]. And then, on top of that, we have the Colorado Water Conservation Board’s water projects bill, and that’s going to have $20 million associated with that. So we’re going to have $50 million going toward implementation strategies. We need about $100 million [per year] moving forward. I think this is a great place to start. You need a lot of local partners. It’s not just the state flipping the switch. … We have all these folks that are working hard to figure out a plan moving forward. There is talk of a possible ballot question in the future. All options are on the table.

    When do you expect the Surface Water Supply Index (SWSI) report [which projects Colorado’s water shortages] to be ready?

    Sometime over the summer.

    It was supposed to come out years ago. What explains the delay?

    I don’t know. But I will tell you that I think moving forward it’s important that we do regular updates to SWSI. Climate change, population growth, and a variety of different factors impact water availability. I think we need to get on a set schedule that gives us updates — I’m not saying every year — but fairly frequently. That will help us set policies going forward.

    Water shortages are projected in future years and there is no clear way to pay for the water plan. You still have oil and gas and local communities duking it out in the suburbs. There are a lot of pressing issues without easy answers. This job will pay about $160,000, but aside from that, what made you want to take on this challenge?

    I think daily about my young kids and the fact that I could be in this position right now and I can shape how we manage natural resources right now, but have an eye on what Colorado will look like in the next generation, in future generations. That really appeals to me. Working for a governor like Jared Polis, I support his vision of protecting the environment, understanding that protecting the environment is the best way that we can protect our economy in Colorado.

    What keeps you up at night?

    I think about the employees that work here for DNR. We have amazing staff here and ensuring that they are OK in the jobs that they have. But any day I could hear about an oil and gas explosion similar to Firestone. That definitely keeps me up. I worry about hearing about the mountain lion attack in Fort Collins and then looking at strategies that we have to deal with lions. This jobs is so diverse. Folks can call me at two in the morning with catastrophic situations like Firestone.

    Someone might call you up and bring you out to the fireline, too, right?

    Yeah, exactly. I get nervous about oil and gas. But once it hits summertime, I feel like we are one lighting strike, one unattended campfire, from having a mega-fire in Colorado that would have devastating consequences.

    The March 2019 @CWCB_DNR “Floodstage” newsletter is hot off the presses

    Cherry Creek Flood August 3, 1933 — photo via the Denver Public Library

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

    As of mid-February, Colorado’s statewide snowpack sat at 108% of normal. Snowpack is higher in the northern and eastern basins and lower in the southwestern basins. The climate forecasts through the runoff season suggest that these numbers could climb higher as fore- casts indicate a wet spring statewide.

    Higher snowpack percentages can increase the possibility of snow- melt flooding. Generally, watersheds are monitored for this once they reach 130% snowpack. Currently, no watersheds exceed this threshold, but state officials continue to monitor conditions due to the wet climate forecast moving forward. To view snowpack conditions and better understand the potential flood threat in your location, visit the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Snow Telemetry (SNOTEL) and Snow Course Data and Products page.

    It is worth mentioning that, as indicated by looking back through Colorado’s history, the majority of flooding events occurring through- out the state are rain-based and not snowmelt-based. In fact, the last year of widespread snowmelt flooding was in 1984, although isolated instances have occurred since then. One area of ongoing concern relates to rain-on-snow events, in which high elevation, late spring rainstorms fall on still surviving snowfields. This can quickly exacerbate runoff and create problems that wouldn’t exist in the absence of either the rain or the snow.

    Governor Polis Announces Water Appointments

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

    From email from the Colorado Department of Natural Resources:

    Governor Polis has announced three new board appointments to the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

    · Gail Schwartz of Basalt, Colorado, representing the Colorado River basin
    · Jackie Brown of Oak Creek, Colorado, representing the Yampa-White River basin
    · Jessica Brody of Denver, Colorado, representing the City and County of Denver

    In addition, the Governor appointed Russ George as the Director of the Inter-Basin Compact Committee in addition to five gubernatorial appointees.

    · Aaron Citron
    · Mely Whiting
    · Robert Sakata
    · Patrick Wells
    · Paul Bruchez

    “I’m excited to work with these appointments,” said Dan Gibbs, Executive Director of the Department of Natural Resources. “Their collective experience is unmatched.”

    Gail Schwartz has spent over two decades serving Colorado in both appointed and elected office. Jackie Brown brings a diverse background in natural resources and is a leader in the water community as the current Chair of the Yampa-White-Green basin roundtable. Finally, as General Counsel for Denver Water and formerly with the Denver City Attorney’s Office, Jessica Brody brings both municipal and environmental law experience.

    “I’m looking forward to working with the newly appointed board and IBCC members to continue implementing Colorado’s Water Plan. They bring valued expertise and leadership to the water community,” said Rebecca Mitchell, Director of the CWCB. “We sincerely thank the outgoing Board members and IBCC appointments for their service. Their dedication has been instrumental on numerous policy and planning efforts, including bringing a diversity of perspectives to Colorado’s Water Plan.”

    Russ George is a fourth generation native of the Rifle, Colorado area and brings a depth of state government and public service. Russ was instrumental in creating the IBCC and basin roundtables.

    “As the first champion of the IBCC and roundtable process, there’s no one better equipped to lead the IBCC. We’re embarking on a future of great opportunity in water, and Russ is the perfect choice to navigate the times ahead,” said Gibbs.

    @CWCB_DNR February 2019 #Drought Update

    A standup surfer in the Arkansas River at Salida during Fibark, the river celebration held in late June. Photo/Allen Best

    Here’s the report from the CWCB and DWR (Taryn Finnessey and Tracy Kosloff):

    In response to persistent and prolonged drought conditions throughout the southern half of the state and along the western border, t​he C​olorado Drought Mitigation and Response Plan​ was activated for the agricultural sector​ ​on May 2, 2018,​ a​dditional counties in northwest Colorado were added in September and activation remains in effect; information can be found ​HERE​.

    Calendar year 2019 has brought with it beneficial moisture that has nearly eliminated all exceptional drought conditions in Colorado and increased snowpack to above normal conditions. As a result, streamflow forecasts have increased in some areas and water providers looking ahead to the 2019 demand season are cautiously optimistic given current conditions. However, much of the snow accumulation season remains and reservoir storage and soil moisture will take time to rebound to pre-drought levels.

    ■ As of February 19th, exceptional drought, D4, has been almost entirely removed from the state. Only a small sliver remains in Archuleta county, covering about a tenth of a percent of the state. Extreme drought, D3, has also decreased and now covers 10 percent of the state; severe drought 29 percent and 27 percent is classified as moderate drought. An additional quarter of the state is currently experiencing abnormally dry conditions (see image below).

    ■ El Niño conditions are now present, and may continue through spring (55 percent chance). This is a weak event and given the timing it is unclear the impact that it will have.

    ■ SNOTEL snow water equivalent statewide is 115 percent of average with all basins above average. The highest snowpack is in the Arkansas basin at 123 percent of median, while the lowest is the Rio Grande at 111 percent of median (see image below).

    ■ Reservoir storage, statewide is at 83 percent of normal, with the South Platte, Colorado, and Yampa-White, all above 90 percent of average as of February 1st. Storage in the Arkansas and Upper Rio Grande basins are at 89 and 79 percent of normal, respectively. The Southwest basins of the San Miguel, Dolores, Animas & San Juan, and Gunnison remain the lowest in the state at 57 and 61 percent of normal, respectively.

    ■ Individual reservoir storage levels are highly variable statewide, some reservoirs have strong storage while storage in other reservoirs remain at low levels for this time of year. Historically, reservoirs take a long time to refill following a drought event.

    ■ March through May is an important period for annual average precipitation in Colorado, many regions receive a large portion of total precipitation during these spring months.

    ■ Outlooks for the spring season do not show a clear direction. There is a slightly increased chance of above-normal precipitation for the spring across Colorado, and equal chances of above, below, and near-normal temperature​.

    Statewide snowpack basin-filled map February 21, 2019 via the NRCS.
    Colorado Drought Monitor February 19, 2019.

    How much water can Colorado save? State is spending $20M to find out — @WaterEdCO

    Gross Reservoir , in Boulder County, holds water diverted from the headwaters of the Colorado River on the West Slope. The reservoir is part of Denver Water’s storage system. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    From Water Education Colorado (Jerd Smith):

    Colorado will launch a far-reaching $20 million conservation planning effort this spring designed to ensure the state can reduce water use enough to stave off a crisis in the drought-choked Colorado River Basin.

    The money, likely to be spent over a period of two to three years, will pay for a major public, consensus-based initiative to determine how to equitably set aside enough water to protect Colorado’s share of the river and how to pay farmers and potentially cities to reduce their use.

    The river is critical to Colorado’s water supply, with roughly half of the supplies for the Denver metro area coming from its annual flows and even larger amounts fueling the state’s farms.

    The initiative will include at least seven technical and public work groups examining the legal, economic, and environmental issues inherent in such a demand management program, according to Brent Newman, head of the Interstate and Federal water section of the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB). Demand management is the term water officials use to describe water conservation. It will also include a feasibility study and several pilot programs.

    State staffers expect the work to take more than a year to complete as they iron out whether and where to cut back use, how to measure those reductions, and how to protect the environment, local economies, and the legal rights of water users while the program is in effect.

    “We’re going to do this one bite at a time,” Newman said. “It’s not something that can be slammed together.”

    Water users on both the West Slope and Front Range are gearing up for the project, hopeful that a proactive conservation program will provide a sort of insurance policy should a full-blown crisis erupt on the river.

    “We’re pretty anxious,” said Brad Wind, general manager of the Berthoud-based Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, which manages the Colorado-Big Thompson Project. The project diverts Colorado River water from the West Slope for farmers and cities on the Northern Front Range. “We realize it’s going to take some time, but we would feel better having a little insurance than having nothing and having everything implode.”

    Seven states comprise the Colorado River Basin, with Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming forming the Upper Basin and Arizona, Nevada and California making up the Lower Basin.

    Last October, after nearly four years of work, the seven states agreed to a broad, preliminary set of drought guidelines, known as the DCP, or drought contingency plan, that begin to spell out how cutbacks will occur on the river.

    Under those agreements, Colorado and its Upper Basin neighbors could set aside up to 500,000 acre-feet of water in a special drought pool in Lake Powell. That’s enough water to serve roughly 1 million homes for a year.

    In addition, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation will be allowed to release up to 1 million acre-feet of water from three Upper Basin state reservoirs that, together with Powell, are part of the Colorado River Storage Project, to boost storage in Lake Powell if it reaches critical lows. Two of those are located at least partially in Colorado.

    How much time Colorado and the other states have to refine these drought plans and put them into action isn’t clear yet.

    On Feb. 1, after California and Arizona failed to hit a federal deadline for finishing their drought plans, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation said it was moving forward to impose its own water-saving plan on the region.

    Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman said she would halt that federal initiative only if Arizona and California complete their work by March 4. If that deadline isn’t met, the states may have to incorporate the federal government’s directives into their own work.

    Equally concerning is the weather.

    The drought has pushed Lake Powell and Lake Mead, the river’s two primary storage buckets, to critical lows. If the region endures another year as desperately dry as 2018, Lake Powell’s ability to produce hydropower, the major source of revenue for complying with the Endangered Species Act, could be in jeopardy. If utilities don’t have the money to comply with the ESA, the federal government can shut down their water diversions, as it has done in the past in places such as the Klamath Basin in Oregon in 2001.

    Even though early snows have helped boost mountain snowpacks across the region, they aren’t likely to be deep enough to pull the region back from the brink of a major water crisis. Inflows into Lake Powell this year, for instance, are projected to be just 64 percent of average, according to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, well below the super-sized numbers needed for it to begin to refill.

    At that rate, by August of this year, Powell will be shockingly close — within about 81 feet — of hitting its minimum power pool, a level it flirted with in 2012 and 2013, according to Heather Patno, a hydrologist with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation in Salt Lake City.

    In the Lower Basin, Lake Mead is already so low that Arizona is facing mandatory water cutbacks this year.

    “We need as much time and space to craft and sharpen these tools as we can get,” said James Eklund, Colorado’s representative on the Upper Colorado River Commission. “Knock on wood we’ll get a reprieve from the hydrology for a while.”

    If not, Newman said that the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation may release water from the Colorado River Storage Project reservoirs in Utah, Wyoming and Colorado to boost levels in Powell, giving Colorado and other states more time to figure out how to execute these unprecedented conservation measures.

    Water users across the state are closely watching this new water-saving initiative, with farm interests on the West Slope and out on the Eastern Plains intent on ensuring that any water cutbacks that may occur are done only on a paid, voluntary basis and that all water users shoulder the reductions equally.

    At the same time large urban water users, most of whom have less favorable water rights than the state’s farmers do, want to ensure their municipal supplies aren’t radically reduced.

    “We are at a point where the Upper Basin does have some time to get this demand management right,” said Andy Mueller, general manager of the Glenwood Springs-based Colorado River Water Conservation District. Looking for ways to reduce water use, he said at a meeting of the Colorado Water Congress earlier this month, “is an incredibly threatening concept to West Slope water users. But the River District is committed to proactively engaging and working with the CWCB to figure out how we can stand a program up that truly protects all of us.”

    A clearer outline of the state’s approach to developing the demand management initiative will be presented at a meeting of the CWCB March 20-21. Depending on the outcome of that meeting, the various task forces could begin work in April or May, Newman 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.