Gunnison River: UGRWCD gets @CWCB_DNR grant for @COWaterPlan watershed planning

Gunnison River Basin via the Colorado Geological Survey
Gunnison River Basin via the Colorado Geological Survey

From The Crested Butte News (Crystal Kotowski):

In January the Colorado Water Conservation Board granted the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District (UGRWCD) and partners $175,000 to begin local watershed management planning efforts. The funding will support the gathering of baseline information, initial stakeholder outreach, and future needs assessments in three Upper Gunnison tributary basins from 2017 to 2020.

The goals of the Upper Gunnison Basin Watershed Management Plan are to protect existing water uses and water quality, and improve relationships between different water users. The plan also seeks to understand whether there are gaps between available water and future uses, and how to best manage that water moving forward. Water experts predict that the Colorado population will rise exponentially, putting more stress on the Front Range’s limited water supply and thus the Western Slope, and changing temperatures will reduce water availability.

The planning framework developed by the UGRWCD includes needs identified in the Colorado Water Plan, but also focuses on agricultural and municipal uses. Irrigated hay and pasture meadows have rights to approximately 95 percent of the basin’s water resources. “Our planning process distinguishes between ‘watershed management’ and ‘stream management,’” explained UGRWCD board member and outreach coordinator George Sibley.

“’Stream management’ in the Colorado Water Plan focuses almost entirely on environmental and recreational needs. Watershed management covers our interactions with all of the water resources in the entire watershed, including groundwater, and water removed from streams for human purposes,” said Sibley…

Gunnison River watersheds encompass over 8,000 square miles of western Colorado and are critical headwaters of the Colorado River. “The Upper Gunnison River Basin is a headwaters basin, which means it is not yet really a river, but many flows of water becoming a river. Most of those streams organize themselves into seven main watersheds, each unique in its natural and human cultural geography,” said Sibley…

Locally, the assessments will begin with the Ohio Creek, East River and Lake Fork watersheds, providing a framework for the other four watersheds over the next four years.

Each watershed study begins with a needs assessment inventory of known and anticipated needs stretching out to mid-century from industry, recreation, agriculture, and human settlements in general—while subsequently identifying areas with significant environmental concerns.

The studies will seek to understand ecosystem function needs, river flows, infrastructure in need of improvement, water quality impairment issues, and ensuing legal frameworks. This first phase will also address information gaps and develop pilot projects to demonstrate best management practices. Pilot studies and demonstration projects in each watershed will look at options to reconcile instream and diversion needs. Potential demonstration projects include ditch repair, stream channel reconfiguration, wetland enhancements, coordination irrigation or other conservation practices.

The UGRWCD will be the coordinating agency for the watershed management planning processes, working with other water-related agencies and organizations within the Upper Gunnison Basin, including but not limited to the Gunnison County Stockgrowers Association, the seven municipal/domestic water suppliers in the Upper Gunnison Basin, Trout Unlimited, High Country Conservation Advocates, the Coal Creek Watershed Coalition, the Lake Fork Conservancy, recreational organizations, and federal and state land management agencies.

@CWCB_DNR: Next Water Availability Task Force Meeting February 15, 2017 #cwcbwatf

From email from the Colorado Water Conservation Board (Ben Wade):

The next Water Availability Task Force meeting will be held on Wednesday, February 15, 2017 from 12:30-1:30pm at the Colorado Parks & Wildlife Headquarters, 6060 Broadway, Denver in the Red Fox Room. (Please note the earlier start time of 12:30p.

Lodore Canyon via Timothy O'Sullivan
Lodore Canyon via Timothy O’Sullivan

Three directors step off the CWCB board as their terms expire

Alan Hamel, left, April Montgomery, center, and Travis Smith, right. The three long-serving directors on the Colorado Water Conservation Board are stepping down as their current term ends.
Alan Hamel, left, April Montgomery, center, and Travis Smith, right. The three long-serving directors on the Colorado Water Conservation Board are stepping down as their current term ends.

By Brent Gardner-Smith, Aspen Journalism

DENVER – Three members of the Colorado Water Conservation Board were given a warm send-off by their fellow board members Tuesday as their latest three-year terms on the board came to an end.

Alan Hamel, representing the Arkansas River basin, Travis Smith, representing the Rio Grande River basin, and April Montgomery, representing the San Miguel, Dolores, Animas, and San Juan river basins, are all leaving the board of the state agency charged with planning to meet Colorado’s water needs.

Dating back to 1937, the CWCB board has 15 members, ten of whom are voting members. Eight of the members represent one of the state’s major river basins and the ninth member represents the city and county of Denver.

The tenth voting board member is the director of the state’s department of natural resources, and ex-officio non-voting board members include representatives from the Dept. of Agriculture, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the attorney general’s office, and the state engineer.

The three-year terms of the board’s appointed members are staggered. The members are appointed by the governor and must be approved by the state Senate after approval by the Senate’s agricultural committee. No more than five of the nine members appointed by the governor can be from the same political party and they each must live in the river basin that they represent on the board.

There are no formal term limits on the CWCB board, but Gov. Hickenlooper has imposed an informal two-term limit on the current board.

Citizens interested in serving on the CWCB board must submit applications to the governor’s office and there have been numerous applications already submitted for each of the three open seats, according to CWCB Director James Eklund.

It’s possible that new board members won’t be appointed by the board’s March meeting, so the three board members who stepped down Tuesday may be asked to come back for one more meeting, as their terms officially last until a replacement is sworn in.

Pueblo Reservoir, near Pueblo, a key component of water management in the Arkansas River basin.
Pueblo Reservoir, near Pueblo, a key component of water management in the Arkansas River basin.

Alan Hamel

Hamel was appointed to the CWCB board in 2011 and re-appointed in 2014. A self-acknowledged “water buffalo,” he’s been working in Colorado’s water sector for 57 years, including having served 30 years as executive director of the Board of Water Works of Pueblo. Hamel’s name is also on Pueblo Water’s headquarters building in downtown Pueblo.

“You’re like Yoda,” CWCB Director James Eklund told Hamel Tuesday, reflecting on his young family’s current obsession with Star Wars. “You put everything in the right context.”

The reference didn’t go unnoticed by one CWCB staff member, who quickly developed a graphic with Hamel’s face on Yoda’s body to share with the board in the next section of Tuesday’s meeting.

Jim Yahn, who represents the South Platte River basin on the CWCB board, told Hamel, “You have so much knowledge and so much wisdom.”

Patrica Wells, who represents Denver on the board, and is the general counsel for Denver Water, said Hamel’s “signature self-deprecating sense of humor” was a key part of what made him a good board member.

Hamel, who is unfailingly polite and welcoming to newcomers to the water world, said, “It has truly been an honor to serve on this board. The state is fortunate to have this board.”

The members of the CWCB board do get to know each other quite well while serving on the board, especially as the board meets in different parts of the state every other month, so there is often lots of travel and new shared experiences for the board members.

The current board members also spent an intense several years working together to develop and publish the Colorado Water Plan in December 2015 after the governor called for the CWCB to write the plan in 2013.

The headwaters of the Rio Grande River basin.
The headwaters of the Rio Grande River basin.

Travis Smith

Smith, of the Rio Grande basin, has served on the CWCB since 2005 and served as board chair in 2007 and 2008. Professionally, he is the superintendent of the San Luis Valley Irrigation District, a rancher, and a self-described “ag guy.”

He said he’s learned over the years to listen to his fellow board members.

“We like to think this is the water business, but it’s the people business,” Smith said.

During the formation of the Colorado Water Plan, Smith often said he wanted the plan to read more like a novel and less like a report, and was known for reminding his fellow board members that “words matter.”

Wells, of Denver, said that Smith was the “epitome of a CWCB board member” because while he was an expert on his own basin’s water issues, he also brought a statewide perspective to the board.

Smith noted that he had been appointed to the CWCB board by three different governors, served on the board with five different directors of the Dept. of Natural Resources, and served under three different directors of the CWCB.

“It has been a great ride,” Smith said, observing that he sees “a new era of cooperation” in Colorado water.

A view of the Dolores River below Slickrock.
A view of the Dolores River below Slickrock.

April Montgomery

Montgomery, representing the southwest corner of the state on the CWCB since 2009, often brought more of an environmental perspective to the board than other members. A resident of Norwood, she works professionally as the vice president of the Telluride Foundation and sat on the Southwestern Water Conservancy District board for 12 years.

“I call you all friends now,” Montgomery told her fellow board members. “And I appreciate how much we listen to each other.”

Montgomery was praised by Wells for “working tirelessly” on CWCB issues and for taking an “enormous amount of care.” John McClow, who represents the Gunnison River basin on the board, said he valued the “fresh and valuable” perspective she brought to the table, and Eklund noted the “skill and diplomacy” Montgomery deployed in dealing with the complicated issues in her corner of the state.

As a parting gesture, Montgomery gave the CWCB board members and CWCB staffers a gift of a small jar of honey from bees that she keeps.

Ty Wattenberg, a rancher representing the North Platte River basin on the board, told Montgomery her gift of honey was her way of hoping he’d “sweeten up.”

The CWCB board was scheduled to wrap up their January meeting by mid-afternoon on Tuesday. Their next meeting is on March 22 and 23 in Greeley.

@CWCB_DNR: January 2017 #Drought update

Click here to read the update (Taryn Finnessey, Tracy Kosloff):

Following a warm a dry autumn, winter has brought significant precipitation to the entire state, along with occasional cold snaps. As a result, all basins have experienced dramatic snow accumulation and are now well above normal for snowpack. Increased precipitation has also helped to alleviate drought conditions in many regions of the state, although moderate and severe drought remains on the eastern plains. Reservoir storage is above average and at this time water providers and agricultural producers have no significant concerns entering into the spring snow accumulation months.

  • Statewide water year- to- date snowpack as of January 18 is at 156 percent of average, representing a dramatic change from two months ago when snowpack accumulation was off to a much later than normal start. . The Yampa & White currently has the lowest snowpack in the state at 141 percent of normal while the basins of the Southwest have the highest snowpack at 170 percent of normal.
  • All basins received well above average precipitation in December ranging from a low of 144 percent in the Yampa & White to a high of 187 percent in South Platte. January to-date has seen even more accumulation ranging from a low of 236 percent of average in the Rio Grande to a high of 345 percent of average in the South Platte. Statewide December precipitation was 168 percent of average and January to date is at 280 percent of average.
  • Reservoir storage statewide remains high at 105% of normal. The Yampa &White River basins along with the Southwestern basins have the highest storage levels in the state at 118 and 114% of average, respectively. The Upper Rio Grande has the lowest storage levels at 86% percent.
  • Temperatures in northern areas of the state reached record lows of -48 degrees Fahrenheit (Walden) during recent cold snaps; while some SNOTEL sites are reporting 400+ percent of normal accumulation. On the plains the presence of snow on the ground provides insulation and protection to crops, like winter wheat, during these arctic blasts.
  • The Surface Water Supply Index (SWSI), calculated based on January 1 streamflow forecast and reservoir storage, is near normal statewide.
  • Despite heavy precipitation statewide, much of the eastern plains remain in some level of drought classification following a warm and dry fall. 20 percent of the state is currently experiencing abnormally dry conditions (D0) while 35 percents is classified as moderate drought (D1), less than 1 percent of the state, mostly in Lincoln County, is experiencing severe drought. This is an improvement from recent conditions.
  • A weak La Niña was diagnosed for late 2016, but forecasts indicate that it is unlikely to last and instead El Nino conditions are projected to develop during the spring. The development of a strong El Nino would favor increased precipitation for Colorado; however it is unclear if this will be a strong event.
  • Short term forecast show less active systems through the end of the month that are likely to result in dryer conditions than we have seen during the first half of January.
  • Globally 2016 was the warmest year on record, in Colorado 2016 was the 5th warmest year on record.
  • Colorado Drought Monitor January 17, 2017.
    Colorado Drought Monitor January 17, 2017.

    @COWaterPlan implementation update


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

    Engaging with the Colorado River Basin States
    CWCB Director James Eklund represents the State of Colorado in water-related discussions with the other six Colorado River Basin states and the federal government. Most recently, he has been working with Colorado’s fellow seven Basin States on drought contingency planning. Efforts within the Upper Basin include negotiation with the Department of the Interior on reservoir optimization to protect critical elevations at Lake Powell, exploring the feasibility and opportunities for demand management through voluntary conservation such as the System Conservation Pilot Program, and encouraging additional supply augmentation through weather modification and phreatophyte removal.

    In addition, Director Eklund has played an active role in negotiations regarding “Minute 32X,” a sub-agreement to the 1944 treaty between the U.S. and Mexico regarding the waters of the Colorado River. The U.S. and Mexico are seeking a Minute that will extend the environmental protections and infrastructure-maximizing provisions of Minute 319, with new drought response measures that help share the burden of stressed supplies. Discussions will continue through the end of 2017 with Colorado engaged and active at the negotiating table.

    ‘As the Poudre Flows — Forest to Plains’ theme of Poudre River Forum

    Scott Hummer, general manager of North Poudre Irrigation Company, talks about how his agency worked with Fort Collins Natural Areas and Colorado Parks and Wildlife to include a fish passage when the irrigation company replaced a diversion structure on the Poudre River that was destroyed by the 2013 floods. Work was completed [in February 2016]. (Pamela Johnson / Loveland Reporter-Herald)
    Scott Hummer, general manager of North Poudre Irrigation Company, talks about how his agency worked with Fort Collins Natural Areas and Colorado Parks and Wildlife to include a fish passage when the irrigation company replaced a diversion structure on the Poudre River that was destroyed by the 2013 floods. Work was completed [in February 2016]. (Pamela Johnson / Loveland Reporter-Herald)

    Here’s the release from Colorado State University (Jim Beers):

    The Cache la Poudre River, which flows from the mountains through Fort Collins, Timnath and Windsor to the plains east of Greeley, is at the heart of countless activities: from irrigating crops and lawns to providing drinking water for more than 365,000 people and hosting numerous recreational activities.

    Those with connections to and concerns for the Poudre River will gather on Friday, Feb. 3 for the fourth annual Poudre River Forum. After its first three years at Larimer County Fairgrounds, the forum is moving down the river to Greeley as a reminder that the Poudre River is important to all who benefit from it — from its headwaters to its confluence with the South Platte. This year’s forum — the theme is “As the Poudre Flows — Forest to Plains” — will be held from 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. at the Island Grove Events Center, 501 N. 14th Ave., Greeley. Pre-registration is required for all participants.

    Understanding the river, each other

    Sponsored by the Poudre Runs Through It Study/Action Work Group, the forum serves as a community-wide gathering of people from agricultural, municipal, business, recreational and environmental backgrounds to learn about and discuss issues related to the Poudre River.

    “The Poudre River Forum brings together those who use the river for agricultural and urban diversions and those who work to improve its ecological health. In the past those groups have not necessarily seen eye to eye,” said MaryLou Smith, PRTI facilitator. “Increasingly our participants are open to the idea that it takes collective vision and action to make the Poudre the world’s best example of a healthy, working river.”

    Once again, this year’s event will be facilitated by the Colorado Water Institute at Colorado State University. “The Forum is a great opportunity for the communities connected by the Poudre River to come together to better understand the entire watershed, and each other,” said Reagan Waskom, director of CWI.

    Forests and water quality/quantity

    Laurie Huckaby with the U.S. Forest Service, will present “The last 1,000 years in the Poudre according to the trees,” to kick off the topic of how important the upper watershed is to water quantity and quality.

    “Water quality and forests are inextricably linked,” said Joe Duda of the Colorado State Forest Service, who will join Huckaby as one of the presenters. “Forest conditions and insects, disease and fire all can have profound impacts on water flow and quality. Only healthy, resilient forests can continuously supply clean water.”

    Global lessons for local success

    “Finding the Balance: Managing Water for People and Nature” is the message of keynote speaker Brian Richter. Richter has been a global leader in water science and conservation for more than 25 years, and currently serves as chief scientist for the Global Water Program of The Nature Conservancy in Washington D.C. Richter’s ideas about the importance of recognizing the balance of working river/healthy river are the basis for which PRTI was initially formed. He has consulted on more than 120 water projects worldwide, and has served as a water advisor to some of the world’s largest corporations, investment banks, the United Nations, and has testified before Congress on multiple occasions. Richter co-authored,with Sandra Postel, the 2003 book Rivers for Life: Managing Water for People and Nature and in 2014 wrote Chasing Water: A Guide for Moving from Scarcity to Sustainability.

    Change affects all sectors

    An afternoon panel session will probe the impacts of change — positive and negative — along the Poudre River and how they have been similarly and differently addressed by agriculture, urban, and environmental sectors. They will discuss what anticipated future changes might these three sectors see as opportunities or incentives for mutually beneficial collaboration that could result in a healthier, working river?

    “It has been said that the only thing that is constant is change,” said John Bartholow, retired ecologist from U.S. Geological Survey, and panel coordinator/moderator. “The question is, can we learn to adapt to those changes sure to come on the Poudre in ways that benefit agriculture, municipalities, and the environment?”

    The panel will include Eric Reckentine, deputy director, City of Greeley Water and Sewer; John Sanderson, director of science, Nature Conservancy of Colorado; and Dale Trowbridge, general manager, New Cache la Poudre Irrigating Company.

    Videos, displays and music too

    The day-long forum also includes “River Snapshots” highlighting more than 15 projects undertaken by a variety of groups on the Poudre last year; “My How the Poudre Has Changed,” featuring historical 1970’s footage of the Poudre; updates from both the cities of Greeley and Fort Collins on current water programs; and over two dozen river-focused displays from community organizations and agencies. The day concludes with a social hour including food, beer and other beverages, and river-themed door prizes.

    Registration is $50 and includes lunch. Scholarships for students and reduced rates are available. The deadline to register is Friday, Jan. 27 at

    For more information, contact event coordinator Gailmarie Kimmel at or 970-692-1443.

    @CWCB_DNR: Next Water Availability Task Force, January 19, 2017

    The Flatirons from Wheat Ridge photo via Wheat Ridge 2020
    The Flatirons from Wheat Ridge photo via Wheat Ridge 2020

    From email from the Colorado Water Conservation Board (Ben Wade):

    The next Water Availability Task Force meeting will be held on Thursday, January 19, 2017 from 9:30-11:30am at the Colorado Parks & Wildlife Headquarters, 6060 Broadway, Denver in the Red Fox Room.