In 2018, SWSI is being updated using the latest information and will it serve as the technical mainframe for the revisions of the Colorado Water Plan and the Basin Implementation Plans. SWSI 18 will provide parameters that will help plan revision teams consider a variety of scenarios based on climate variance, existing supply and demands, and population growth. This will help these teams make the revised plans, maps that truly guide Colorado and the basin’s water future.
Want to know more? Visit the Colorado Water Conservation boards website at http://cwcb.state.co.us/Pages/CWCBHome.aspx or join in the Rio Grande Basin Roundtable meetings which are held the second Tuesday of each month at the San Luis Valley Water Conservancy District, 623 Fourth Street in Alamosa. Meetings begin at 2 pm. Also visit http://www.rgbrt.org.
A state-imposed mandatory curtailment of water in the Colorado River Basin within Colorado was discussed as a looming possibility during a meeting of the Colorado Water Conservation Board on September 19 in Steamboat Springs.
Representatives from the Western Slope told the statewide water-planning board that while they favor creating a new legally protected pool of water in Lake Powell and other upstream federal reservoirs to help prevent a compact call on the river, they have significant concerns about the pool being filled outside of a program that is “voluntary, temporary and compensated.”
However, Front Range water users told the board that a voluntary program may not get the job done and that a mandatory curtailment program, based on either the prior appropriation doctrine or some method yet to be articulated, may be necessary to keep Lake Powell and Glen Canyon Dam functioning so Colorado, Utah and Wyoming can deliver enough water to California, Arizona and Nevada to meet the terms of the 1922 Colorado River Compact.
“With the repeat of historic hydrology beginning in the year 2000, Lake Powell will be dry, and when I say dry I mean empty, within about three years,” Jim Lochhead, CEO and manager of Denver Water told the CWCB board.
Lochhead said that while a voluntary demand management program might help bolster water levels in Lake Powell, “it doesn’t necessarily solve the problem.”
“So we may need — I know we don’t want to implement — but we may need other mechanisms to accelerate the creation of water into Lake Powell in the event of an emergency,” Lochhead said. “This is not something that Denver Water wants, or is asking for. What we are asking for is that the contingency plans be put into place. We need to have those plans in place before the system collapses.”
On Wednesday, Brent Newman, the chief of CWCB’s Interstate, Federal, & Water Information Section emphasized that neither they, nor the state attorney general’s office, is at this point “assessing, pursuing or recommending to the CWCB board any type of involuntary or ‘anticipatory’ curtailment scenario.”
And yet, such scenarios are on a lot of people’s minds.
(Please see related memo, slides and audio from the meeting. The audio is via YouTube, as provided by CWCB. The file opens well into the discussion, so click back to the beginning of the file, which opens just after the agenda item began, with brief introductory comments from CWCB Director Becky Mitchell. It’s well worth listening to. Also please see related story from Sept.18.).
Lochhead said Denver Water wants to see a voluntary, temporary and compensated program created as a “first priority,” but also said “I also don’t think that by not talking about mandatory curtailment we can pretend the problem will go away. We need to be thinking about it, and we need to be thinking about it proactively.”
However, Western Slope water interests as represented by the Colorado River Water Conservation District and the Southwestern Water Conservation District are concerned that if a new storage pool is created in Lake Powell, and a mandatory curtailment program is used to fill it, it could have dire consequences for agriculture on the Western Slope.
“This is our livelihood,” Kathleen Curry, a rancher in Gunnison who serves on the Gunnison River Basin Roundtable, told the CWCB. “This water is what we depend on. If we move in the direction of mandatory curtailment, and it isn’t equitable, you are going to have significant impacts to the water users in the state of Colorado, especially on the Western Slope.”
The two regional Western Slope water conservation districts had drafted a resolution they wanted the CWCB to adopt Wednesday, which did not happen, as the CWCB declined to vote on it.
The resolution stated that any mandatory curtailment program would be developed on a “consensus basis” with the two districts at the table, and not just be a directive of the state.
However, Bennett Raley, the general counsel for the Northern Water Conservancy District, which provides water to nearly a million people in northeastern Colorado, said the state, as a sovereign entity, should not be constrained by consensus.
He also said that mandatory curtailment may well be necessary in Colorado.
“If the drought continues, there are two paths,” he told the CWCB board. “If there is an infinite source of money, then voluntary works. Great, we’re all happy. If the drought continues and there is not an infinite source of money, then the state will go to mandatory. The Supreme Court will ensure that, sooner or later, it’s not a question.”
Part of the fear of such a mandatory program is that hardly anyone, outside of perhaps the state engineer, knows what it would look like.
“Ultimately it’s a state decision, it’s a decision of the state engineer as to how water rights would be curtailed to meet the state’s obligations under the Colorado River Compact,” said Lochhead, when asked after the meeting how mandatory curtailment would work. “The short answer is, I don’t know. There are a lot of questions and viewpoints.”
Lochhead did say Denver Water is willing to “work with the state and with the West Slope to ensure that any curtailment doesn’t disproportionally impact any region of the state, whether it’s on the West Slope or the Front Range, and that essentially the same rules apply to everybody.”
Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism is collaborating with The Aspen Times and other newspapers in the Swift Communications group in Colorado on the coverage of rivers and water. The Times published this story on Thursday, September 20, 2018. The Glenwood Springs Post Independent also published it on Sept. 20, as did the Vail Daily.
Andy Mueller, the general manager of the Colorado River District, presented six principles last week to guide an emerging federal and state program designed to reduce water use in order to avoid a compact call on the Colorado River.
Mueller spoke at a seminar produced by the River District in Grand Junction that attracted 265 people. The theme of the seminar was “Risky Business on the Colorado River.”
The first two principles Mueller described Friday at the meeting relate to a legal bucket-within-a-bucket that the upper-basin states of Colorado, Utah and Wyoming plan to create through federal legislation in Lake Powell, which would allow the three states to control water that they deliver to the big federal reservoir through a demand management, or water-use reduction program.
The River District’s first principle is that such a storage program in Lake Powell should be “free of charge” and designed “for the benefit of the upper basin to avoid a compact violation.”
The district’s second principle says water stored in Lake Powell from a demand-management program should “not be subject to equalization or balancing releases from Lake Powell.”
That principle stems from a set of interim guidelines approved in 2007 by the upper-basin states and the lower-basin states of California, Arizona and Nevada that seek to use water from Lake Powell, when it is at certain levels, to keep Lake Mead operational.
Mueller and other upper-basin regional water managers think the guidelines, which expire in 2026, now allow the lower basin to take more water than they deserve under the 1922 Colorado River Compact.
Mueller told his audience that the demand-management pool to be created in Lake Powell is “for preventing lower-basin entities from sucking too much water down that river.”
So, the second principle is meant to protect the upper basin from the lower basin.
The other principles are designed to either protect the Western Slope from the state, which is discussing potential mandatory cutbacks in water use in order to avoid a compact call, or from the Front Range, which may support such a measure, according to Mueller.
The River District’s board members are determined to protect agricultural interests on the Western Slope, which use about 1.4 million acre-feet of water from the Colorado River system every year, mainly for irrigating alfalfa fields and pastures.
By comparison, Front Range cities use about 360,000 acre-feet of water a year from the Colorado River Basin through their transmountain diversion systems, which are junior to the 1922 Colorado River Compact.
And if those cities have that water cut off in the face of a call under the compact, Mueller said they would come buy out willing irrigators on the Western Slope and dry up their fields.
The River District’s third principle is that any use-reduction program in the upper-basin states must be “voluntary, temporary and compensated” and “must reflect proportionate contributions from each upper division state.”
Mueller said the River District supports a “guided market” approach to paying water users to use less water and let it flow instead to Lake Powell.
“What we’re opposed to is some form of mandatory uncompensated curtailment of water rights, whether it is pre- or post-compact,” he said.
The fourth principle is that there must be “no injury to other water rights.”
The fifth principle is that there must be “no disproportionate impacts to any single basin or region with Colorado.”
Mueller said Friday that the demand-management program must “make sure that the pain that comes with the reducing consumption of water is actually equitably distributed and applied to all users, everybody with a straw in the river.”
Mueller explained that the post-1922 water rights in the Colorado River basin are roughly split equally between the transbasin diverters on the Front Range and users on the Western Slope.
“These junior water rights that are diverting significant amounts of water to the Front Range, along with our junior water rights on the West Slope, are the ones that need to be willing to share in this demand-management program, in the intentional reduced use,” Mueller said.
The sixth principle is that a demand-management program must be consistent with what’s known as “the conceptual framework” in Colorado’s 2015 water plan relating to future potential transmountain diversions.
“We’re not going to curtail our uses on the West Slope and send demand-management water down to Lake Powell, only to have another transmountain diversion come in and suck water to the East Slope,” Mueller said. “That’s what the state agreed to when it agreed to the state water plan, and we’re saying that needs to be upheld.”
Mueller’s last slide said “the Colorado Water Conservation Board and the state engineer should agree to abide by these principles and not go beyond them without unanimous agreement among those entities charged with protecting the state.”
He plans to deliver that message to the CWCB when it meets Wednesday in Steamboat Springs.
On Tuesday, the River District also released a series of letters and a draft resolution on the issue, including a letter from the River District and the Southwestern Water Conservation District to the CWCB board, a draft resolution from the River District and Southwestern they want the CWCB to approve, a letter from the Colorado Basin Roundtable to the CWCB, and a letter from the Front Range Water Council to the CWCB.
The letter from the Front Range Water Council, an ad hoc collection of the largest water providers on the Front Range, was dated Sept. 13. It includes a reference to the possibility of a non-voluntary water curtailment program in the upper Colorado River basin states of Colorado, Utah and Wyoming.
“If the quantity of conserved water made available through a voluntary compensated demand management program is not sufficient to ensure compliance with the Colorado River Compact,the state of Colorado and the Upper Colorado River Commission may need to adopt alternative measures to generate water for storage in an Upper Division storage account,” the letter states. “We will work with the state of Colorado to develop an alternative mechanism for generating conserved water for the Upper Division storage account.”
In its letter to the CWCB, the Colorado River District and the Southwestern River District, stressed the need for consensus, and their inclusion, on any sort of mandatory curtailment program.
“We are concerned about recent discussions that a demand management program might morph into a mandatory ‘anticipatory curtailment’ program or something else that has not been publicly vetted,” said the letter. “That is the reason we request that the CWCB adopt of (sic) formal resolution or policy-statement regarding a demand management program, and that the CWCB commit that such a program be consistent in particular with Principle 4 of the Conceptual Framework set forth in the Colorado Water Plan.”
Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism is collaborating with The Aspen Times, the Glenwood Springs Post Independent, the Vail Daily and other Swift Communications outlets on the coverage of rivers and water.
Click here to read the update and to check out their graphics:
In response 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, additional counties in northwest Colorado were added this month; information can be found HERE.
With only three weeks left in the 2018 water year, October through August of this year has been the third warmest and the fourth driest October through August period in the 123 year record. Warm and dry conditions continued to persist in Western Colorado in August and early September.
SNOTEL water year to-date precipitation statewide is 68 percent of average, but ranges from 49 percent of average in the Southwest basins to 86 percent of average in the South Platte River Basin. The Rio Grande is at 54 percent of average; while the Gunnison is at 58 percent. The Arkansas is faring slightly better at 63 percent, while the northern basins of the Colorado and Yampa- White are at 76 and 75 percent of average, respectively.
High temperatures, and below average precipitation have led to increasing water demand across much of the state. Reservoir storage, statewide is at 82 percent of normal, with the Arkansas, Colorado, Yampa- White, and South Platte all above 90% of average for the end of August, despite recent declines. Storage in the Upper Rio Grande basin is 88% of normal. The Southwest basins of the San Miguel, Dolores, Animas & San Juan, and Gunnison have seen significant decreases in reservoir storage and are now at 48 and 59 percent of normal, respectively.
Agriculture has been heavily impacted this growing season by both high temperatures, drought, and hail. Hay prices are higher than in the last few years and producers are concerned about finding enough feed for cattle resulting in continued sell off. The Governor is likely to issue an executive order relaxing restrictions on trucks carrying hay into Colorado.
Long term forecasts indicate an increased likelihood of above average temperatures for September through November. Southwestern Colorado is forecast to continue to benefit from additional monsoon moisture and has an increased likelihood of above average precipitation into Fall.
ENSO-neutral conditions are likely to continue through September with El Niño conditions likely to develop in the fall. El Niño could bring an increased chance of wet extremes for southeastern Colorado this winter.
Reservoir storage remains strong, 82% of average for the end of August statewide. Water users with access to storage, especially municipal water suppliers, have been able to avoid major restrictions on water use operations by relying on storage.
Western Colorado has seen above normal and record warm temperatures for the water year to date.
4th driest in 123-year record (behind WY 2002, WY 1934, WY 2012), -4.55” below the 16.67” average.
FromColoradoPolitics.com (Marianne Goodland) via The Cortez Journal:
The Colorado water year, which ends Oct. 31, looks to be the fourth driest on record since the state began tracking water supplies 123 years ago.
Southwest Colorado is expected to set a record for the lowest precipitation and driest water year on record, according to water officials who met Tuesday to review the state’s water supplies. Statewide, 2018 looks to be about the fourth driest, behind 1934, 2002 and 2012, with precipitation (rain and snow) about 4.55 inches below the statewide average of 16.67 inches.
The [Water Availability Task Force] meets monthly to review precipitation and water levels at about 80 reservoirs scattered throughout the state. The review covers a water year – Nov. 1 to Oct. 31.
It has not been a good water year for most of Colorado. It started out badly with the warmest November on record, according to Zach Schwalbe of the Colorado Climate Center at Colorado State University. And this water year shapes up to be the third warmest on record, behind 1934 and 2000, at about 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit above the yearly average of 47.1 degrees.
Southwest Colorado has been exceptionally warm – a record, according to Schwalbe, – in addition to being exceptionally dry. Delta and Ouray counties alone were 4 degrees warmer than usual in August, Schwalbe said.
For example, a precipitation station at Mesa Verde National Park has recorded 7 inches of water this year. The average is about 20, he said.
The one bright spot has been northeastern Colorado, which has received above-average precipitation over the past two months, although it came with a fair amount of hail that caused considerable damage to farm crops in the region. One task force member from the area said his rain gauge was dented from baseball-sized hail, something he said has never happened before.
Schwalbe also spoke about hopes for an El Niño year, which would bring above-average moisture through the winter months. Experts predict about a 70 percent chance of a “moderate” El Niño year, but it won’t help all of Colorado. Forecast maps show northeastern and southeastern Colorado likely to see the most benefit.
At the same time, however, Schwalbe said that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicts the next three months will be above average in temperatures.
Colorado’s reservoirs have taken major hits during the summer, with higher than normal water demands, according to municipal water officials. Thornton is expected to join the list of Front Range communities with voluntary water restrictions, an action that is expected to be approved this week by the City Council, according to John Orr of Thornton. Those restrictions, which would limit lawn-watering to three days a week, could become mandatory next month, he said.
Colorado Springs already has voluntary water restrictions in place, said Justin Zeisler of Colorado Springs Utilities.
Demand on reservoir storage to cover agricultural, municipal and recreational water needs has drawn down water levels almost everywhere in the state.
Brian Domonkos, a hydrologist with the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, reported that statewide, Colorado’s reservoir levels are at 82 percent of average and at about 50 percent full. Compare that with 2017 – at this same time last year, levels were at 120 percent of average.
The South Platte River basin, which has 32 of the state’s 80 reservoirs, is at 105 percent of average; 19 reservoirs are above 50 percent full and only one – Elevenmile – is listed at being at capacity, or full.
The Arkansas River basin, which covers southeastern Colorado, is also in good shape, because of above average rainfall in August.
The reservoirs tied to the San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan rivers are dramatically low.
The same story is repeated in the Gunnison River basin, where Blue Mesa reservoir, the second largest in the state, is at 39 percent of capacity.
Domonkos said the Gunnison basin has seen record low precipitation this year, but received above average rainfall in the first 10 days of September.
If you are so inclined click here to view Coyote Gulch’s Twitter feed hash tag #cwcbwatf from the meeting yesterday.
According to the complaint filed this week, commissioners approved the floodway expansion over the resistance of local residents, who said the re-mapping would limit development on their private properties — some of which are functioning farms — and cause their flood insurance rates to skyrocket…
The re-drawing was performed by the Colorado Water Conservation Board, with assistance from Boulder County staff, and was approved last month 2-0 by commissioners. Commissioner Cindy Domenico was absent. When the change officially takes effect Oct. 1, it will substantially widen the floodway along portions of Lower Boulder Creek northwest of Erie.
A floodway is a narrow channel where, in the event of a flood, water will be flowing. A floodplain is where shallow water is likely to be during the event of a flood, though shallower and flowing at a lower volume, if at all, than water in a floodway.
The former, by definition of Boulder County’s standards, is more heavily regulated than a floodplain. Land regulated under floodway status is often limited to very specific redevelopment.
According to the complaint, plaintiffs’ efforts to have the hearing delayed to learn more about proposed expansion went unheeded…
The Colorado Water Conservation Board in 2015 changed the definition of a floodway, triggering a review of flood-hazard areas across the state. Wheeler Open Space, however, was not reassessed, given the lack of residential buildings on the land, Boulder County Senior Assistant Attorney Kate Burke said earlier this year.
In light of the planned oil and gas development on the site, a modeling with the new standards was performed. Under the new guidelines, the entirety of well site Section 1, which is in the open space, is within a floodway, according to documents Boulder County submitted in mid-April with its formal comments to the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.