Alternative plan to Wild and Scenic River designation for upper #ColoradoRiver OK’d — @AspenJournalism #COriver #aridification

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

From Aspen Journalism (Heather Sackett):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Opposition to W&S

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pragmatic Discussions

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

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

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

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

Loff was more pragmatic.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fishing the Big Thompson River. Photo credit: Larimer County

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

From The Colorado Sun (Lauren Irwin):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From The Ag Info Network (Maura Bennett):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dry streambed. Photo credit: The Colorado Water Conservation Board

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

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

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

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

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

Colorado Drought Monitor June 16, 2020.

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

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

From the Business for Water Stewardship (Claudia Hensley):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    […]

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

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

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

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

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

    With Speakers:

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

    #RioGrande Basin to assist in #COWaterPlan update — The Conejos County Citizen

    From the Rio Grande Headwaters Restoration Project via The Conejos Citizen:

    In 2015, then-Governor John Hickenlooper signed a momentous document into being — the Colorado Water Plan. At the time, decades of analysis concluded that a gap was widening between the limited supply of water and an increasing demand from users.

    This gap in water supply and demand would only grow worse and more insurmountable without decisive action. Simply conserving water wasn’t enough. The drought of 2002 drove home the fact that a decreasing and erratic snowpack would become the norm, wreaking havoc on communities and river systems across the state. Lawmakers, farmers, water managers, and others saw the writing on the wall and determined to be strategic and proactive.

    The Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB), the government agency tasked with overseeing water supply and management and utilizing technical data and analysis to assist decision-making, were key partners in spearheading the unprecedented strategy. They couldn’t undertake the entire process on their own and looked to the Roundtables for on the ground planning.

    Just as in the first BIP process, stakeholders from the Rio Grande Basin are encouraged to participate in subcommittees on each of the five target areas.

    This update process will be facilitated by a local expert who has been trained in coordination with Local Experts from other basins by the state’s general contractor for the 2021 Water Plan. The Rio Grande local expert is the Rio Grande Headwaters Restoration Project (RGHRP) staff, with Daniel Boyes as lead expert. The RGHRP was involved in the first BIP and works to improve the health of streams and riparian areas across the San Luis Valley and recently completed Stream Management Plans for the Rio Grande, Conejos River and Saguache Creek.

    Boyes and the other RGHRP staff have begun holding meetings to determine project possibilities and data gaps within the five key areas with community members providing valuable input. These meetings will determine what projects, goals, and objectives represent the Rio Grande Basin’s priorities for each of the key areas, providing once again valuable input to the overall state water plan.

    With a below average snowpack for 2020 and no guarantee of continuing moisture or increased snow in 2021 or beyond, the Rio Grande Basin will face similar challenges as the rest of the state over the coming year: The creation of subdistricts to meet aquifer sustainability requirements, newly approved well rules and regulations for groundwater use, and the new SLV radar are unique local responses to these challenges. Participating in identifying and prioritizing new projects and goals is a simple way for the community to involve themselves with these crucial water decisions. With the help of the community, Rio Grande water leaders are working diligently to ensure our resources are able to meet needs and continue our San Luis Valley way of life.

    The Roundtables, one for each major river basin plus an additional Roundtable serving the Denver metro population, were created in 2004 as a regional answer to address water needs as identified by a variety of stakeholders. All of these partners were needed to become the task force, which created the first-ever Colorado Water Plan.

    These five hundred plus pages of graphs, data, photos, and text combined to tell the story of each of Colorado’s major river basins. But more than that, it creates a compass for Colorado’s basins to identify and implement projects in their region that addressed a multitude of issues such as stream flows, reservoir storage capacity, agricultural sustainability, environmental needs, water administration and even education and outreach on water topics. The Colorado Water Plan includes five major areas of water use: Municipal & Industrial, Agriculture, Environment & Recreation, Water Administration and Education & Outreach. Each of these areas affects all the river basins; however, water leaders recognize that the plan could not be a one size fits all effort. Geography, population, tourism, and other factors affect each region differently, so state officials decided to utilize the leadership of local roundtables. The resulting comprehensive state plan was made possible by thousands of hours of donated time from people in each basin who created an individual plan outlining the needs of their region and highlighting potential projects to address those needs. This basin implementation plan process, or BIP, allowed each basin to prioritize projects and informed the larger Water Plan’s goals and objectives. With many projects completed and numerous goals met over the past five years, new ones are needed to answer the increasingly pressing question of how to adequately meet diverse water needs with an ever-dwindling supply. To that end, the Colorado Water Plan is in its first iteration of updates, scheduled for completion in 2021.

    For the past two years, CWCB staff has worked with stakeholders in all basins, as well as engineering firms, to complete data analysis through Technical Advisory Groups (TAGs) using updated data and the most up-to-date modeling tools available. These teams created five potential future scenarios facing Coloradans in the next 20-50 years. Each scenario incorporates existing data from the basins regarding current water use coupled with projected water use, population and economic growth, and, in some scenarios, potential impacts of climate change on water supply and use.

    These technical updates necessitate an updated Basin Implementation Plan incorporating the modeling and identifying where other data gaps exist. In addition, projects which will address the gaps and meet Basin goals and objectives need to be prioritized for the next five years.

    The current Colorado Water Plan can be found at https://www.Colorado.gov/pacific/cowaterplan/plan and the Rio Grande Basin Implementation Plan is online at http://rgbrt.org/rgbip-update/. To get involved or receive information about the current Rio Grande BIP process, please contact Daniel Boyes at daniel@riograndeheadwaters.org. Any community member from the six counties of the San Luis Valley is encouraged to attend Rio Grande Basin Roundtable’s monthly meetings (currently held virtually, with agenda and meeting information available at http://www.rgbrt.org , visit the Rio Grande Basin Roundtable’s Facebook page, or sign up for the quarterly Roundtable newsletter at info@riograndeheadwaters.org to learn more about upcoming BIP meetings and timelines.

    Screen shot from the Vimeo film, “Rio Grande Headwaters Restoration Project: Five Ditches,” https://vimeo.com/364411112

    #Colorado Water Plan Listening Sessions — @CWCB_DNR #COWaterPlan

    Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013

    Click here for all the inside skinny and to register:

    We want to hear about your hopes for the Water Plan update! Please join us for any or all of the Colorado Water Plan Listening Sessions, a series of conversations on the future of water in Colorado.

    The Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) will host a series of online public listening sessions to share updates about the Colorado Water Plan (Water Plan), hear from water leaders across the state, and gather feedback about how the Water Plan should approach the critical issues around Agricultural, Municipal & Industrial, Environmental & Recreational, and Forest Health & Watershed Health.

    The format will be a GoToMeeting webinar that will include:

  • A CWCB summary of the current Water Plan update process
  • A panel discussion with community and industry leaders
  • Open discussion with attendees
  • Session dates and times are listed below:

  • June 3, 10 AM-11:30 AM – Municipal & Industrial
  • June 4, 10 AM- 11:30 AM – Forest Health & Watershed Health
  • June 10, 10 AM-11:30 AM – Agriculture
  • June 11, 10 AM – 11:30 AM – Environment & Recreation
  • We are rivers podcast: We can make a lot happen when we have a plan — @AmericanRivers #COWaterPlan

    From American Rivers (Page Buono):

    Join us for a two-part miniseries of our podcast series We Are Rivers. We’ll learn more about Stream Management Plans, an innovative planning tool prioritized in Colorado’s Water Plan, from people working with stakeholder groups and communities across Colorado to put them in place.

    Orr Manufacturing Vertical Impact Sprinkler circa 1928 via the Irrigation Museum

    Water has always been the architect of life in Colorado. Communities have worked within the availability, demands, and constraints of water to engineer lives and livelihoods. Water designs our lives as much by its availability as it does by scarcity—perhaps even more. In 2013, the State of Colorado recognized the impending impacts of rising populations, increasing demand across the state and the West, and a changing climate, then-Governor John Hickenlooper called for a plan to address these issues. He directed the Colorado Water Conservation Board—the government entity tasked with conserving, developing, protecting and managing the state’s water—to work with diverse stakeholders and develop Colorado’s first water plan. You can learn more about the Plan from Episode 6 in our podcast series.

    Seven-point draft conceptual agreement framework for negotiations on a future transmountain diversion screen shot December 18, 2014 via Aspen Journalism

    In some ways, Colorado’s Water Plan articulated and formalized ways to meet the needs of agriculture, land use, and storage that were already in place. But it also did something else: for the first time, the Colorado Water Plan called for the consideration and integration of environmental and recreational flow needs. This decision came from growing recognition of the critical role rivers play in local economies, and the immense ecosystem services that healthy, functioning rivers and streams provide for all values—human and environmental. With this in mind, the Water Plan outlined a goal of inspiring community-driven development of Stream Management Plans for 80 percent of locally prioritized rivers and streams.

    In the first episode of this miniseries, we hear from Nicole Seltzer, Science and Policy Manager of River Network, who talks us through the fundamentals of the stream management planning process. Holly Loff, Executive Director of Eagle River Watershed Council, shares on-the-ground experiences of a community planning effort along the Eagle River, and Chelsea Congdon-Brundige, a watershed consultant in the Roaring Fork Valley, shares her highlights from a similar but unique effort for the Crystal River.

    As you’ll hear in the podcast, a critical component of Stream Management Planning is the diversity of stakeholders and interests at the table; the important and foundational role of science; and the way each Plan is unique to the community that builds it. SMP’s (as they’re often referred to) are really more about process than a final product, and the greatest win is the long-lasting trust inspired through tough but important conversations across values. SMPs aren’t designed to prioritize any one interest, but instead to bring agriculture, the environment, municipal needs, and recreation alongside one another for the best possible solutions for all.

    Screen shot from the Vimeo film, “Rio Grande Headwaters Restoration Project: Five Ditches,” https://vimeo.com/364411112

    If you’re inspired by this first Episode, and we suspect you will be, make sure to tune in for part 2 (coming 6/1/20) . We’ll hear from some of the same voices and from new ones from the Rio Grande Basin – including Heather Dutton with the San Luis Valley Water Conservancy District and Emma Reesor with Rio Grande Headwaters Restoration Project – about the groundbreaking and inspiring ways communities are working together to plan for the future of the rivers and streams that bind them, and all of us, together. Join us – and listen in today!

    Ground-breaking #ClimateChange Mitigation Tool Allows Communities to Assess Risks — @CWCB_DNR

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

    A new state study and web-based visualization tool called Future Avoided Cost Explorer (FACE:Hazards), led by the Colorado Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management (DHSEM) and the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) in partnership with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), is now available to help communities examine the economic risks of climate change.

    FACE:Hazards empowers communities to justify mitigation and adaptation investments using climate and risk-informed decisions.

    The FACE:Hazards explorer displays study results as an interactive dashboard to help inform preparedness and resilience policies, support recovery and adaptation investments, and provide decision-makers with tools to quantify the growing cost of inaction.

    “This pilot study provides decision-makers with a greater understanding of future economic risks compared to today’s baseline. At its foundation, the Future Avoided Cost Explorer opens new doors for inquiry and examination of how adaptation actions can offset future damages,” said CWCB Senior Climate Specialist Megan Holcomb.

    FACE:Hazards measures the current and future impacts from flood, drought and wildfire across multiple sectors of Colorado’s economy. County-level damages are analyzed under current and 2050 climate and population conditions to explore the effects of unmitigated development and increased hazard intensity on certain economies.

    The FACE:Hazards tool is important to Colorado because, until now, the State of Colorado did not have a tool to quantify future risk to climate hazards or the potential savings from strategic resilience. By creating this web-based, climate data-informed explorer, local governments can inquire, evaluate, and prioritize investments today to reduce economic vulnerabilities over the next three decades.

    After the 2013 Floods, DHSEM received a post-disaster mitigation grant from FEMA to complete a required three-phased update to the State’s Natural Hazard Mitigation Plan.

    “The success of this three-phased project was due in part to the dedication of all state agencies involved and our partnership with FEMA Region VIII. This is a testament to promoting a holistic, comprehensive and integrated approach to emergency management and subsequent enhanced mitigation efforts in order to serve all of Colorado,” said Patricia Gavelda, DHSEM Mitigation Planning Team Supervisor and project manager for all three phases.

    Opinion: Here’s how we can save the #ColoradoRiver — Bruce Babbit #COriver #aridification

    A hayfield near Grand Junction irrigated with water from the Colorado River. State officials are now exploring a demand management program that would pay willing irrigators to fallow hay fields and send the water otherwise use to Lake Powell. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    Here’s a guest column from Bruce Babbit that is running in The Vail Daily:

    It is no exaggeration to say that a mega-drought not seen in 500 years has descended on the seven Colorado River Basin states: Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, Nevada, Arizona and California. That’s what the science shows, and that’s what the region faces.

    Phoenix, Denver, Las Vegas and San Diego have already reduced per capita water use. Yet they continue to consume far more water than the river can supply. The river and its tributaries are still overdrawn by more than a million acre feet annually, an amount in consumption equaled by four cities the size of Los Angeles.

    To close the deficit, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the states have been struggling to apportion the drastic cuts necessary.

    So far, the parties have proceeded by adhering rigidly to historic doctrines: first users have absolute rights, though those rights were based on rosy projections of the river’s annual flow.

    For example, in Arizona, the six million residents of Phoenix and Tucson will lose 50% of their share before California gives up a single drop.

    Nevada, which has a 2% share, the smallest of any state, is called on to take more cuts ahead of California, which has the largest share, 29%.

    Within California, water to 20 million residents in cities will be completely shut off before farming districts adjacent to and within the Imperial Valley take any cuts.

    And in the upper basin, the states of Utah, Colorado, Wyoming and New Mexico are faced with draconian reductions in their entitlements because they must deliver water to the lower basin states.

    Brad Udall, a water scientist at Colorado State University, warns that something must give — that we cannot continue with a system that increasingly “violates the public’s sense of rightness.”

    There is a better, more equitable pathway for reducing the deficit without forcing arbitrary cuts. It involves 3 million acres of irrigated agriculture, mostly alfalfa and forage crops, which consume more than 80% of total water use in the basin.

    By retiring less than 10% of this irrigated acreage from production, we could eliminate the existing million acre-foot overdraft on the Colorado River, while still maintaining the dominant role of agriculture. Pilot programs in both the upper and lower basins have demonstrated how agricultural retirement programs can work at the local level. What’s lacking is the vision and financing to bring these efforts to a basin scale.

    Fortunately, there’s a precedent administered by the Department of Agriculture; it’s the Conservation Reserve Program, established in 1985 by the Congress. It authorizes the Farm Service Agency in the Department of Agriculture to contract with landowners to retire marginal and environmentally sensitive agricultural lands in exchange for rent.

    Farmers who join the Conservation Reserve remain free to return the lands to production at the end of the renewable contract period, typically 10 to 30 years.

    The national Conservation Reserve currently holds nearly 22 million acres under contracts with more than 300,000 farms. This legislation has strong support from the farming community and in Congress, which appropriates nearly $2 billion each year for the program.

    With this precedent, it’s time to create an Irrigation Reserve Program. To work, it must be voluntary, and farmers who participate must be adequately paid for the use of their irrigation rights.

    A new Irrigation Reserve on a basin scale will also require significant public funding. But the mechanism for financing an Irrigation Reserve is already available in existing federal law.

    In 1973, faced with deteriorating water quality in the River, the Colorado River Basin states came together and persuaded Congress to enact a law known as the Colorado River Basin Salinity Control Act.

    To fund salinity control projects throughout the Basin, Congress allocated revenues from the sale of hydropower from Hoover Dam, Glen Canyon Dam and other federal dams throughout the Basin.

    Three hydropower accounts — the Lower Colorado River Basin Development Fund, the Upper Colorado River Basin Fund and the Hoover Powerplant Act — continue to capture and allocate revenues to basin projects. Congress should now add financing of an Irrigation Reserve to the list of eligible expenditures.

    With these two precedents, the Conservation Reserve Program and the Salinity Control Act, we have the road map to establish a basin-wide irrigation reserve. I urge the seven basin states to make common cause and join together to obtain congressional legislation.

    Bruce Babbitt is a contributor to Writers on the Range.org, a nonprofit dedicated to spurring lively discussion about Western issues. He served as Secretary of the Interior from 1993-2001.

    Virtual Mesa State of the River, May 20, 2020 #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Click here for all the inside skinny.

    Water future: Community input sought — The Pagosa Sun #COWaterPlan

    Here’s a guest column from Al Pfister that’s running in The Pagosa Sun:

    We are living in an age where we are facing drier and warmer times ahead. While we have had a few wet years over the past two decades, looking over that entire time span, we have been in a drought. We are currently in a severe drought with gradually worsening conditions in southern Colorado over the past few months. This scenario is believed to be a foreshadowing of our future.

    The Colorado Water Plan, completed in December 2015, recognized these conditions and outlined numerous strategies to guide all water users in collaboratively addressing our challenging water future.

    One of those strategies was the development of stream management plans (SMPs). SMPs are intended to compile a community’s understanding of a watershed’s collective environmental, recreational, agricultural and municipal water needs, identifying information gaps, and promoting projects and processes that meet those needs and gaps.

    In 2018, community representatives formed a group, now called the Upper San Juan Watershed Enhancement Partnership (WEP), to better understand current and future local water use and needs through the Colorado Water Plan’s SMP process. Funding for this local effort is provided by the state through Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB), Southwest Basin Roundtable, San Juan Water Conservancy District, Archuleta County, Town of Pagosa Springs, Banded Peak Ranch and numerous other partners.

    Envisioned as a three-phase process, the ultimate purpose of this effort to explore opportunities to conserve the Upper San Juan Basin streams and their uses with wide-ranging community support and decisions based on local input and current science and assessments. In order to ensure a broad representation of the community’s interests are brought forward and maintained through the process, a steering committee was formed. Representatives of agricultural, environmental, recreational, and municipal water users, private landowners, business owners, and local government comprise the steering committee.

    While forming the steering committee and informing stakeholders about this endeavor, the local water users decided to call it the Upper San Juan Watershed Enhancement Partnership to recognize the voluntary and collaborative nature of this effort. Phase I, just completed, of this effort entailed formation of the steering committee and outreach to stakeholders, identification of our community’s collective values on issues, opportunities and the geographic scope of the WEP. Funding for Phase II has been obtained and is now awaiting formal approval from the CWCB in order to proceed with implementation.

    Phase II will focus on assessing the environmental, recreational, and agricultural structural water needs and values of our community. We will be working with partners, San Juan Conservation District and Lotic Hydrological, to evaluate current and future water needs via community input and scientific analysis. Our goal is to complete an assessment that can prioritize projects and processes to meet those needs. This assessment will inform the development of an Integrated Water Management Plan that lists goals, potential projects and actions in Phase III, as determined by the local community.

    In order to accurately assess and identify projects that align with local values and needs, the WEP is again asking for community input throughout Phase II. To help the WEP and our partners better understand environmental, recreational and agricultural structure needs this year, our partners will be working directly with ditch companies, land owners, governmental agencies, as well as providing updates to the general public throughout the process. We greatly appreciate your involvement and input, helping our communities in the San Juan River Basin better prepare and secure our water future.

    More detailed information on the WEP can be obtained at our website: http://www.mountainstudies.org/sanjuan/smp, or by contacting Al Pfister at (970) 985-5764.

    San Juan River Basin. Graphic credit Wikipedia.

    #ColoradoRiver keeps flowing — so do concerns about its future — The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel #COriver #aridification #COWaterPlan

    Palisade is just east of Grand Junction and lies in a fertile valley between the Colorado River and Mt. Garfield which is the formation in the picture. They’ve grown wonderful peaches here for many years and have recently added grape vineyards such as the one in the picture. By inkknife_2000 (7.5 million views +) – https://www.flickr.com/photos/23155134@N06/15301560980/, CC BY-SA 2.0,

    Here’s a guest column from Hannah Holm that’s running in The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel:

    It seems like the pandemic has soaked up most of the newsprint lately, but even now, when so much has come to a standstill, our rivers keep flowing. As Jim Pokrandt pointed out in a recent op-ed, our canals have started flowing, too, as Grand Valley farmers begin the annual ritual of putting water on the land to reap a harvest, and an income, later in the year.

    Another annual ritual, monitoring the forecasts for how much spring snowmelt will flow down the rivers, has also begun. This year, we have an above-average snowpack in the mountains that feed the Colorado River, but below-average runoff into Lake Powell is expected. Parched soils from last year’s dry summer are expected to soak up much of the water before it can make it into the river.

    If that forecast proves accurate, it will mark the 15th time in 20 years in which runoff into Lake Powell has been below average. This is one more piece of data to support the conclusion that the Colorado River is shrinking. Coming to terms with this fact is the central challenge facing all who depend on the Colorado River — about 40 million people throughout the Southwest.

    A shrinking river is a particularly hard to adapt to when it is already being completely used up — the Colorado River rarely reaches the sea any more, and its major reservoirs are less than half full. So how, and what, are we doing? Here’s a rundown of a few things that are happening.

    Downstream, California, Arizona and Nevada agreed to a detailed schedule of water delivery cuts triggered by different water levels in Lake Mead. This is the first year they are taking reduced deliveries.

    Here in Colorado, along with Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico, water leaders are continuing to study “demand management:” paying water users to temporarily leave some of the water they are entitled to in the river. State-sponsored work groups on demand management are hashing out technical details on financing, legal issues, how to measure saved water, and the potential economic and environmental impacts of different approaches. You can learn more about these discussions here: https://cwcb.colorado.gov/demand-management.

    In related efforts, scientists and ranchers are about to start working together in Grand County to figure out what happens to high-elevation hay fields if you take a pause on irrigating them. This will help ranchers determine whether they might want to participate in demand management or not. Other studies are also looking at the potential impacts on communities of reductions in irrigated agriculture.

    Scientists are also working hard to refine their tools for understanding and forecasting water supplies. A new report from Western Water Assessment at CU-Boulder synthesizes information from nearly 800 studies and reports on Colorado River Basin science and hydrology. If you are interested, you can check it out at https://wwa.colorado.edu/.

    So far, we’re mostly studying different options for cutting back our water use from the Colorado River, without many people actually having to do it yet. But if current trends continue, which long-term projections indicate that they will, that day will come.

    Any change is hard, and abrupt change is especially hard. Abrupt change without data is terrifying, as we’ve recently learned. The good thing about the troubling situation on the Colorado River is that we don’t have to suffer the terror of change without data. The bad thing about the situation on the Colorado River is that we can’t study our way out of actually having to do something about it — sooner or later. [ed. emphasis mine]

    Hannah Holm coordinates the Hutchins Water Center at Colorado Mesa University, which promotes research, education and dialogue to address the water issues facing the Upper Colorado River Basin. Support for Hutchins Water Center articles is provided by a grant from the Walton Family Foundation. You can learn more about the center at http://www.coloradomesa.edu/water-center.

    Hayfield message to President Obama 2011 via Protect the Flows

    @CWCB_DNR: April 2020 #Drought Update

    From the Colorado Water Conservation Board (Ben Wade):

    In western drought reporting, an average water year is cause for celebration. While average statewide snowpack and reservoir levels provide many water managers with above-average relief, our dry southern peaks and windy eastern plains are of notable drought concern. Statewide snowpack peaked at 104% of normal on April 8th, yet melt-out rates may be dramatic across the southern basins. North Central Colorado benefited from repeated snow events throughout late March and April, with the Boulder station breaking the 1908-09 snowfall record on April 16th. Drought Task Force members convened remotely on April 23rd for an annual review of roles and procedure should the State’s Drought Plan be activated. The purpose of the Drought Task Force is to direct early implementation of water conservation programs and other drought response measures intended to minimize the state’s vulnerabilities to localized drought impacts.

    ● The 90-day Standardized Precipitation Index (SPI) (from Jan. 1 to Apr. 18) shows below average moisture for the SW and SE and above average for the central and north mountain regions.
    ● The U.S. Drought Monitor, released April 23, shows gradual worsening conditions across all of southern CO compared to preceding months. D0 (abnormally dry) conditions cover 13% of the state; D1 (moderate) covers 25%; D2 (severe) drought covers 29% of the southern edge (​up from 3% in March​); 33% of the state (north-central) remains drought free.

    Colorado Drought Monitor April 21. 2020.

    ● ENSO forecasts are still trending toward neutral conditions for spring and summer 2020, with a few model traces pointed toward La Nina.
    ● NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center three month outlook maps show increased probability for warmer than average temperatures May through July for much of the state and favorable, slightly higher than average, precipitation outlooks for the Eastern Plains.
    ● Reservoir storage remains above average for all major basins except the Rio Grande (83%) and Arkansas (93%). Statewide, reservoirs are at 107% of average and 61% capacity.

    ● Long-term trends confirm our summers are getting hotter. The current seasonal forecast is a reflection of this.
    ● Water providers and water users did not report any unusual impacts or concerns at this time.

    We Are Rivers episode 24: Understanding #Colorado’s instream flow program — @AmericanRivers

    From American Rivers (Fay Hartman):

    Tune into the 24th episode of our podcast: We Are Rivers. Learn all about Colorado’s instream flow program, and the significance it has on surrounding rivers and communities.

    The Yampa River Core Trail runs right through downtown Steamboat. Photo credit City of Steamboat Springs.

    Join us for Episode 24 of We Are Rivers, as we de-wonk Colorado’s instream flow program, a critical tool to protect and enhance river flows across the state of Colorado.

    Rivers form the lifelines of Colorado’s economy and lifestyle. On both sides of the Continental Divide, rivers provide world class fishing, paddling and fantastic scenic canyons. Not only do rivers provide engaging recreation opportunities, they also provide most of Colorado’s clean, safe, reliable drinking water, support our thriving agricultural communities, and substantially contribute to Colorado’s culture, heritage, and economy.

    Recognizing the importance of rivers and the fact that the state needed to correlate the demands humans place on rivers with the reasonable preservation of the natural environment, Colorado established its Instream Flow Program in 1973. This program allows the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) to hold instream flow water rights – a legal mechanism to keep water in a specific reach of a river – to preserve or improve the natural environment of a stream or lake. The CWCB is responsible for the appropriation, acquisition, protection and monitoring of instream flow water rights.

    The CWCB is the only entity in the state that can hold an instream flow water right, however many different entities including cities, agriculture, recreation and the environment benefit from instream flow water rights. In this episode of We Are Rivers, we explore the benefits of the program and discuss the important partnerships and collaborations that occur between different water users.

    Take for example the City of Steamboat Springs. The 2002 and 2012 droughts significantly reduced flows in the Yampa River, impacting all water users. In 2002, the river experienced some of its lowest flows on record. River sports shops closed their doors, there was a voluntary ban on angling, and farmers and ranchers had less water. The river and the community suffered. Flash forward to 2012, and the community faced similar drought conditions. But partners got creative, and used the instream flow program to bolster flows in the Yampa River, preventing history from repeating itself. This partnership included the CWCB, Colorado Water Trust, and Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District. Together, they temporarily leased water from Stagecoach Reservoir, improving flows in the Yampa through the City of Steamboat. The short-term leases from Stagecoach Reservoir were vital to the health of the Yampa River and its surrounding communities, and were used not only in 2012, but also 2013 and 2017. This is just one example of how a diverse set of partners came together and utilized the instream flow program for many benefits.

    The instream flow program underwent an exciting expansion earlier this year that will provide more opportunities for communities to benefit from collaborative instream flow solutions. After a multi-year stakeholder effort, the Colorado Legislature passed a bill to expand Colorado’s existing instream flow loan program – HB20-1157. The law expands protection of rivers without threatening or hindering existing water rights. It authorizes a targeted expansion of the loan program that makes the program more useful to water right owners and benefits Colorado’s rivers and streams. Specifically, it adjusts the amount of time a user can exercise a renewable loan from 3 years out of 10, to 5 years out of 10 years and it allows water right owners to renew participation in the program for up to two additional 10-year periods, for a total of 30 years. This is a huge opportunity for rivers and communities: take, for example, the benefit this provides to the Yampa River. The partners working together to secure the 3 in 10 instream flow loan on the Yampa through the city of Steamboat Springs now have two additional years in this 10-year period where water can be leased under the expanded program. Future climate conditions make frequent droughts more likely, and the opportunity to curb impacts during those back-to-back drought years is another important and timely benefit of the expanded ISF program.

    The complexity of Colorado Water Law is a lot to digest, and the instream flow program is no exception. We hope you join us for Episode 24 to break down the specifics of the instream flow program and what it means for rivers and communities.

    Yampa River Basin via Wikimedia. Ranchers and farmers in the valley have largely ignored Division Engineer Erin Light’s order to install measuring devices as of December, 2019.

    We are rivers episode 24: understanding #Colorado’s instream flow program — @AmericanRivers

    City of Steamboat Springs. Photo credit: American Rivers

    From American Rivers (Fay Hartman):

    Tune into the 24th episode of our podcast: We Are Rivers. Learn all about Colorado’s instream flow program, and the significance it has on surrounding rivers and communities.

    Join us for Episode 24 of We Are Rivers, as we de-wonk Colorado’s instream flow program, a critical tool to protect and enhance river flows across the state of Colorado.

    Rivers form the lifelines of Colorado’s economy and lifestyle. On both sides of the Continental Divide, rivers provide world class fishing, paddling and fantastic scenic canyons. Not only do rivers provide engaging recreation opportunities, they also provide most of Colorado’s clean, safe, reliable drinking water, support our thriving agricultural communities, and substantially contribute to Colorado’s culture, heritage, and economy.

    Recognizing the importance of rivers and the fact that the state needed to correlate the demands humans place on rivers with the reasonable preservation of the natural environment, Colorado established its Instream Flow Program in 1973. This program allows the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) to hold instream flow water rights – a legal mechanism to keep water in a specific reach of a river – to preserve or improve the natural environment of a stream or lake. The CWCB is responsible for the appropriation, acquisition, protection and monitoring of instream flow water rights.

    The CWCB is the only entity in the state that can hold an instream flow water right, however many different entities including cities, agriculture, recreation and the environment benefit from instream flow water rights. In this episode of We Are Rivers, we explore the benefits of the program and discuss the important partnerships and collaborations that occur between different water users.

    Take for example the City of Steamboat Springs. The 2002 and 2012 droughts significantly reduced flows in the Yampa River, impacting all water users. In 2002, the river experienced some of its lowest flows on record. River sports shops closed their doors, there was a voluntary ban on angling, and farmers and ranchers had less water. The river and the community suffered. Flash forward to 2012, and the community faced similar drought conditions. But partners got creative, and used the instream flow program to bolster flows in the Yampa River, preventing history from repeating itself. This partnership included the CWCB, Colorado Water Trust, and Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District. Together, they temporarily leased water from Stagecoach Reservoir, improving flows in the Yampa through the City of Steamboat. The short-term leases from Stagecoach Reservoir were vital to the health of the Yampa River and its surrounding communities, and were used not only in 2012, but also 2013 and 2017. This is just one example of how a diverse set of partners came together and utilized the instream flow program for many benefits.

    The instream flow program underwent an exciting expansion earlier this year that will provide more opportunities for communities to benefit from collaborative instream flow solutions. After a multi-year stakeholder effort, the Colorado Legislature passed a bill to expand Colorado’s existing instream flow loan program – HB20-1157. The law expands protection of rivers without threatening or hindering existing water rights. It authorizes a targeted expansion of the loan program that makes the program more useful to water right owners and benefits Colorado’s rivers and streams. Specifically, it adjusts the amount of time a user can exercise a renewable loan from 3 years out of 10, to 5 years out of 10 years and it allows water right owners to renew participation in the program for up to two additional 10-year periods, for a total of 30 years. This is a huge opportunity for rivers and communities: take, for example, the benefit this provides to the Yampa River. The partners working together to secure the 3 in 10 instream flow loan on the Yampa through the city of Steamboat Springs now have two additional years in this 10-year period where water can be leased under the expanded program. Future climate conditions make frequent droughts more likely, and the opportunity to curb impacts during those back-to-back drought years is another important and timely benefit of the expanded ISF program.

    The complexity of Colorado Water Law is a lot to digest, and the instream flow program is no exception. We hope you join us for Episode 24 to break down the specifics of the instream flow program and what it means for rivers and communities. Take a listen today!

    April 2020 “Confluence” newsletter is hot off the presses from @CWCB_DNR

    Cache la Poudre River from South Trail via Wikimedia Foundation.

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

    Governor Polis Signs Bill to Expand Voluntary Loans Process for Instream Flows

    On March 20, Governor Jared Polis signed into law House Bill 1157 (HB20-1157), which provides additional tools to the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) for managing voluntary loans from water rights owners for the purposes of preserving and improving the natural environment… Read More

    Six Feet in Solidarity – Week 4: Water Reuse — @WaterEdCO

    From Water Education Colorado (Caitlin Coleman):

    The Promise of Reuse

    For decades, Colorado has been recycling water for landscaping purposes. More recent has been indirect potable reuse, where treated wastewater flows through an environmental buffer, such as a river, before being extracted for further treatment to make it suitable for drinking and other domestic uses.

    Now, Colorado and several other water-stressed states are moving toward direct potable reuse. “Widespread development of potable reuse will be an important facet of closing the future water supply-demand gap,” said the Colorado Water Plan, published in 2015 in Chapter 6.3.2, the Water Supply Management-Reuse chapter, which includes information on reuse beginning on page 6-75.

    Potable reuse most certainly won’t be a cure-all for Colorado’s water shortages. It’s just one potential tool in a kit, applicable for specialized settings. But wide adoption of direct potable reuse relies, at least in part, on adoption of state standards governing treatment processes and monitoring protocols. Read about it in “Purified” from our Fall 2018 issue of Headwaters magazine, which focused on water reuse.

    Is Colorado working on state regulations to govern direct potable reuse?

    Yes. A new report, crafted by a National Water Research Institute-organized panel of reuse experts, details potential Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment regulations for direct potable reuse (DPR), which isn’t addressed in current regulations.

    The report is part of WateReuse Colorado’s efforts to follow up on the water plan, which said Colorado needed a clear regulatory framework on reuse if reuse is to help address the future water supply-demand gap.

    Getting this framework in place will give utilities the certainty they need to pursue DPR, which is critical for optimizing supplies they already have, says Laura Belanger from Western Resource Advocates.

    Read what the report says and next steps in Colorado in the story “Getting Closer to Governing Direct Potable Reuse” from the new Spring 2020 issue of Headwaters magazine.

    How does reuse optimize water supplies?

    Check out the graphic below to conceptualize the multiplying effect of reuse:

    Graphic credit: Water Education Colorado

    Is water reuse on the rise?

    In February, 2019, WEco offered a webinar exploring this question. Watch it to hear local experts discuss why more communities are turning toward water reuse and what regulations, policies, or other next steps need to fall into place for water recycling to grow. Watch it

    Our first crack at legislation ends in success! — @COWaterTrust

    Poudre River Bike Path bridge over the river at Legacy Park photo via Fort Collins Photo Works.

    From the Colorado Water Trust (Kate Ryan):

    Last week, Governor Polis signed into law two bipartisan bills that will help us in our mission to restore water to Colorado’s rivers in need. We couldn’t be more excited about HB 20-1037—a bill that provides direction for instream flow augmentation plans—and HB 20-1157—a bill that expands a program for temporary loans of water to the environment. Each of these bills was two years in the making, and ended up better for it. Water users from across the state weighed in on how these changes could work in tandem to both complement historical water uses, particularly agricultural, and to improve environmental conditions.

    So, how will these bills work to restore water to rivers in need? We refer to HB 20-1037, as the the instream flow augmentation bill. This bill will facilitate court-approved plans under which water users can add water back into hard working, heavily used rivers under the auspices of the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB). Water added back to the river will be protected as “instream flow,” or water that is designated for environmental purposes, but other water users can continue to divert water from the river for consumptive uses like agriculture and municipal delivery just as they always have. It’s a brand new concept using augmentation plans for instream flow—and required this clarification of old law. With this change, we can now move forward on our long-time goal of connecting the Cache la Poudre river from Fort Collins to Greeley.

    HB 20-1157 is what we call the instream flow loan bill. It will add tools to a loan program that the CWCB has managed for some time. Until this bill, a water user could only loan their water right to the CWCB to be used for instream flow use in 3 out of 10 years. This legislation increases that to 5 out of 10 years. Additionally, in the past, only one ten-year loan period was allowed, but now that loan period can be extended for two additional ten-year periods. In sum, a water user can now loan their water to the CWCB for up to fifteen out of thirty years. There are many more details under this program, but what the legislation boils down to is a big benefit to aquatic environments and flexibility for water users who want to engage in this program, often for compensation.

    We are proud to have worked with project partners including Cache la Poudre Water Users, the cities of Thornton, Fort Collins and Greeley, Northern Colorado Water Conservation District, the CWCB and Colorado Parks and Wildlife as proponents of the instream flow augmentation bill. It was our first foray into original legislative work, and a big success. And, we are thankful to The Nature Conservancy and Conservation Colorado for spearheading the legislative effort for the instream flow loan bill. Now, we can’t wait to do what the Water Trust does best—use these tools for projects that will restore water to our rivers. First stop, the Cache la Poudre River with the instream flow augmentation bill. Onward!

    Study: $3.2B-plus collaborative water system on #SouthPlatteRiver could work, may signal new era of cooperation — @WaterEdCO

    Ducks patrol the South Platte River as construction workers shore up bank. Oct. 8, 2019. Credit: Jerd Smith

    From Water Education Colorado (Jerd Smith):

    As COVID-19 continues to roil Colorado and the world, experts are suggesting that the pandemic may teach all of us to work together better. If that’s the case, then a collaborative water system for the Front Range may be a harbinger of things to come, according to a new study.

    Released March 10, just days after Colorado reported its first cases of COVID-19, the study indicates that if Front Range cities band together to build a large-scale water reuse and delivery system, water sufficient to serve 100,000 homes could be developed.

    It would rely on moving water between cities and farms, building new pipelines, as well as storing water underground and in off-channel reservoirs, and could be done without tapping new sources on the West Slope.

    Such a project, if built, would cost $3.2 billion to $4.4 billion, according to the study, a price that is in line with other water delivery systems now being developed.

    That cost includes 50 years of operations and maintenance and assumes the water would likely need to be heavily treated.

    The study comes as the Front Range faces the most acute water shortages in the state, with a gap between water supply and demand for municipal and industrial users of as much as 540,000 acre-feet projected by 2050, according to a recent analysis by the state. Farmers could face a gap nearly twice that large, particularly in dry years.

    Lisa Darling, executive director of the South Metro Water Supply Authority, helped oversee the study. She said once Colorado recovers from COVID-19, she hopes communities will be able to use it as a roadmap toward future water supplies. (Editor’s note: Darling is president of Water Education Colorado, the non-partisan nonprofit that sponsors Fresh Water News.)

    “It shows that it’s feasible, and it will allow people to see exactly what it might look like,” she said.

    The South Platte Regional Opportunities Water Group (SPROWG), a group that includes dozens of Front Range water districts, sponsored the work. The study analyzed different alternatives for capturing water in the South Platte River as it approaches the Nebraska border, an area where flows are typically more abundant than they are closer to metro Denver, where the river is heavily used and its waters largely claimed by existing users.

    Because the river’s supplies in average years are already spoken for, any new water would be developed by capturing some during flood years and, in other years, reusing water already diverted from other basins via new water treatment plants and pipelines, making that water supply go farther.

    Funded by the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) and several cities, including Denver and Aurora, the study was geared to help taxpayers from metro Denver to Brighton to Greeley and beyond determine whether they want such a project, how it would be configured, and who would benefit and shoulder the cost.

    A group called the South Platte Regional Opportunities Working Group, or SPROWG, is proposing to store 175,000 acre-feet of water in a series of reservoirs on the South Platte River, from north of Denver to the Morgan County line. The project also includes a long pipeline to pump water from the river back to the metro area to be cleaned and re-used. Graphic credit: CWCB via Aspen Journalism

    “The price tag sounds like a lot, but it is comparable to other projects in the South Platte Basin,” said Mary Presecan, a consultant with Leonard Rice Engineers and one of the study’s authors.

    Water sold through the Loveland-based Colorado-Big Thompson Project is selling for $78,000 to $92,000 an acre-foot, Presecan said, while the SPROWG study analysis shows water developed through this new partnership would cost from $44,000 to $58,000 an acre-foot. An acre-foot equals nearly 326,000 gallons, enough water to serve on average two urban homes for one year.

    In addition to water for fast-growing small communities, the study examined providing water to farmers on the Eastern Plains. These farmers control some of the oldest, most senior water rights in the region, but the water is increasingly being sold to thirsty cities, threatening local economies and the livelihoods of farmers left behind, and ultimately reducing the state’s ability to grow food.

    A collaborative reuse project could provide additional water to water-short farms, as much as 35,000 acre-feet a year, allowing them to maintain their agricultural production.

    “If there is an opportunity to be part of a regional partnership and address the ag gaps, we are all for it,” said Joe Frank, general manager of the Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District, a sponsor of the study.

    “SPROWG is a concept where we are starting at a high level and drilling down. Can we bring the whole [South Platte River] Basin together to figure out if this can work,” Frank said.

    Early on, the study drew fire from West Slope interests and environmental groups, who feared it would inevitably lead to bigger efforts to tap the drought-stressed Colorado River and could harm the South Platte River.

    But feedback from dozens of meetings with citizens, environmentalists, taxpayers and water officials during the past year led the study’s authors to conclude that the project can be structured in such a way to provide environmental benefits, as well as water for cities and farms.

    “This is a collaborative way, and an innovative way to conjunctively manage and use a variety of water sources for multiple beneficiaries,” said Matt Lindburg, a consultant with Brown and Caldwell and one of the study’s authors.

    State water officials, such as Gail Schwartz, who represents the Colorado River Basin on the Colorado Water Conservation Board, said she believed the regional, collaborative premise underlying the early work could be utilized elsewhere.

    “It’s a great model for collaborative thinking,” she said, at the CWCB’s March board meeting in Lakewood. “I think it could work for other parts of the state too.”

    Whether the pandemic will bench the work on this new South Platte water delivery planning isn’t clear yet.

    But Frank is optimistic work will continue. “The pandemic could slow us down, but it definitely won’t stop us. Now the next step will be determining [which communities] are really serious about coming together and taking this to the next level,” he 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.

    2020 #COleg: @GovofCO Polis Signs Bill to Expand Voluntary Loans Process for Instream Flows — @CWCB_DNR

    Photo credit: Jonathan Thompson

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

    On March 20, Governor Jared Polis signed into law House Bill 1157 (HB20-1157: Loaned Water For Instream Flows To Improve Environment), which provides additional tools to the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) for managing voluntary loans from water rights owners for the purposes of preserving and improving the natural environment.

    Specifically, the bill expands the number of years within a 10-year period that a renewable loan may be exercised from 3 years to 5 years, but for no more than 3 consecutive years, and allows a loan to be renewed for up to 2 additional 10-year periods. It also expands the CWCB’s ability to use loaned water for instream flows to improve the environment.

    “This is a really helpful tool for instream flows that fall short. It is always good to have more ways to work with partners to protect flows in Colorado’s streams,” said CWCB Stream and Lake Protection Section Chief Linda Bassi.

    CWCB’s Instream Flow Loan Program is critical for boosting stream flows, especially in late summer when flows are low, temperatures are high, and fish are particularly stressed. The CWCB appreciates the stakeholder coordination that resulted in this bill advancing to the Governor’s desk.

    State demand-management investigation moves ahead — @AspenJournalism

    The Government Highline Canal, seen here just before its filled for irrigation season, irrigates farmland in the Grand Valley near the Utah state line. Some Grand Valley irrigators may welcome the chance to be paid to leave water in the Colorado River. Photo credit: Heather Sackett/Aspen Journalism

    From Aspen Journalism (Heather Sackett):

    State workgroups charged with making sense of a program to add water to a savings account in Lake Powell have begun narrowing down the complicated questions such a program would have to grapple with.

    But some state officials worry that a Western Slope group is going its own way, possibly undermining the state process.

    Water managers and experts from around the state met for two days in early March to compare notes on their current investigation of the feasibility of a voluntary, temporary and compensated water-use-reduction program, known as demand management.

    The workshop brought together many of the participants who sit on the eight workgroups created by the state to explore different aspects of a demand-management program: law and policy; monitoring and verification; water-rights administration and accounting; environmental considerations; economic considerations and local government; funding; education and outreach; and agricultural impacts.

    At the heart of a demand-management program is a reduction in water use in an effort to send up to 500,000 acre-feet of water downstream to Lake Powell to bolster levels in the giant reservoir and meet 1922 Colorado River Compact obligations. Under such a program, agricultural-water users could get paid to temporarily fallow fields and leave more water in the river.

    Russell George, a former Colorado lawmaker and chair of the Interbasin Compact Committee who helped create the state’s basin roundtables, rallied participants and acknowledged that tackling demand management was a hugely ambitious and thorny project.

    “It’s time for this and here we are, to wrestle to the ground this monster that just does not want to give,” he said.

    The Colorado Water Conservation Board is heading up the investigation into demand management and is about nine months into the process. Workgroups have met two or three times so far, and many have acknowledged the chicken-or-egg dilemma in front of them.

    “It’s like going on vacation, but we don’t know if we even want to go on vacation or where we are going or who’s going with us,” said CWCB Interstate and Federal Manager Amy Ostdiek.

    Some groups say they can’t complete their work because they need the input of other groups to inform their work. Some want to know what the alternative to demand management — shutting off water rights in the event of a compact call, known as curtailment — would look like before they commit to creating a water-use-reduction program.

    Under the terms of the Colorado River Compact, the Upper Basin states (Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico and Utah) are required to deliver 75 million acre-feet over 10 years to the Lower Basin states (Arizona, Nevada and California). If the Upper Basin fails to deliver the water, the Lower Basin could make a “compact call,” triggering cutbacks — something water managers want desperately to avoid.

    Some members of the Colorado Water Conservation Board expressed concern that the Colorado River Water Conservation District’s demand management study may be at odds with the state process. From left, back row: Steve Anderson, Dan Gibbs, Kevin Rein, Jim Yahn, Heather Dutton, Russell George, Curran Trick, Greg Felt; front row: Jessica Brody, Gail Schwartz, Celene Hawkins, Jaclyn Brown, Becky Mitchell. Photo credit: Heather Sackett/Aspen Journalism

    Equity

    Equity is one topic that demand-management discussions keep turning to again and again. Some Western Slope water users fear that their ranches and fields will be ground zero for a water-use-reduction program. And with temporarily dry fields comes the potential for secondary negative economic impacts to agricultural communities.

    “The other side of the fairness coin is mistrust,” George said.

    But members of the agricultural-impacts workgroup pointed out that equity means equity of opportunity, not just shared burden. Some irrigators may welcome payment for their water.

    “There are many people in ag that don’t want others being too quick to take away potentially profitable opportunities for their farm or ranch,” said Mark Harris, general manager of the Grand Valley Water Users Association. “If demand management can be considered a different kind of crop, farmers and ranchers will consider it because they have an economic incentive. Farmers and ranchers are not dead-set against it.”

    But for all the uncertainty still out there, workgroups have begun to narrow the focus of their work down to “threshold” issues, some of which overlap among the eight workgroups.

    The two-day workshop concluded with a group exercise that found the following issues to be the most important for those who could be crafting Colorado’s demand-management program: simplicity of monitoring; state-wide resiliency; environmental impacts and benefits; agriculture viability; and shared responsibility.

    Some said it was time to stop talking and start acting. According to a real-time text poll, 57% of the workshop participants said the demand-management feasibility investigation was moving too slowly.

    “It’s time to take the next step and start doing some pilot projects,” said Barbara Biggs, general manager of Roxborough Water and Sanitation District. “We can’t answer questions sitting around a room talking about it.”

    This cornfield in Fruita is an example of agricultural land that could be temporarily fallowed and farmers paid under a demand management program. State workgroups are working toward narrowing the scope of a demand management feasibility investigation. Photo credit: Heather Sackett/Aspen Journalism

    River District study

    A week after the state-led demand-management workshop, Colorado River Water Conservation District general manager Andy Mueller stood before the CWCB board at its regular meeting and told board members that the River District had received a grant for its own study of demand management and water marketing on the Western Slope, a move that some board members saw as subverting the state’s grassroots process.

    “All the conversations we had in this room for two straight days and to preempt that discussion, that bothers me somewhat because I think we are getting out in front as a river district,” said Gail Schwartz, a former lawmaker and Basalt-based CWCB board member who represents the Colorado main stem on the board.

    CWCB South Platte River Basin representative Jim Yahn agreed.

    “We have to be careful because it could be somewhat confusing,” he said. “We want to project this unified front. We are looking at everything we can, but we want to be on this path together.”

    Mueller said the study, which will be funded in part by a $315,721 WaterSMART grant from the Bureau of Reclamation, is meant not to compete with the state process but, rather, to feed into it. He said the decision to undertake the study is not a result of dissatisfaction with the CWCB’s work but, rather, is based on the need to fulfill the River District’s mission.

    “We think our district has an obligation to the water users in the communities within our district to make sure that the water supply within our district and for water users in our district is adequate for all our needs,” Mueller said. “(The CWCB) is not the only governing body that has the right and obligation to be involved with demand management; the River District shares that obligation.”

    The mission of the River District, which represents 15 Western Slope counties, is to protect, conserve, use and develop water in the Colorado River Basin. Mueller said the study is meant to come up with policy recommendations for the state if and when it develops a demand-management program.

    Still, the move had echoes of a lingering and long-standing mistrust between Western Slope and Front Range water users, which George had alluded to the week before.

    “There can be a perception in rural Colorado that people on the Front Range don’t have our best interest in mind,” Mueller said.

    @CWCB_DNR: March 2020 #Drought Update

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

    This year’s spring and summer drought outlook may be tough to predict, but currently the state’s northern mountains and Front Range look strong. There are increasing concerns of dry conditions along the Eastern Plains, in the southwest and San Juans where we are seeing slightly below average snowpacks and reservoir levels. There are reports of extremely dry subsoils on the Eastern Plains. Precipitation averages statewide have slipped from 95 to 90% of average statewide since mid-February. Statewide snowpack has decreased from 110% to 104% since mid-February. Streamflow forecasts are already showing the implications of dry autumn precipitation with forecasts ranging from 54% (Surface Creek near Cedaredge) to 132% (Spinney Reservoir Inflow) of median streamflow values.

    ● The 90-day Standardized Precipitation Index (SPI) (from Dec 18 to Mar 17) shows below average moisture for the SW and NE and distributed average or slightly above for the central and north mountain regions.
    ● The U.S. Drought Monitor, released March 19, shows worsening conditions in NE Colorado. D0 (abnormally dry) conditions cover 25% of the state; D1 (moderate) covers 42%; D2 (severe) drought covers 3% of the SE and SW corners; and 30% of the state (north-central) remains drought free.
    ● ENSO forecasts are still trending toward neutral conditions for spring and summer 2020.

    Colorado Drought Monitor March 17, 2020.

    ● NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center three month outlook maps show increased probability for warmer than average temperatures March through May for much of the state, and equal chances of near, above, or below average precipitation outlooks.
    ● Reservoir storage remains near to above normal: 84% to 123% of average in all major basins and 107% of average statewide. Last March 2019, statewide reservoirs were at 83% of average.
    ● SNOTEL Snow Water Equivalent (SWE) sites show statewide snowpack at 104% of record median (as of Mar 19).
    ● Water providers and water users did not report any unusual impacts or concerns at this time.

    #ColoradoRiver drought study advances as participants call for fairness between cities, ranches — @WaterEdCO #COriver #aridification

    Lake Powell would become home to a special 500,000 acre foot drought pool if Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico agree to save enough water to fill it. Credit: Creative Commons

    From Water Education Colorado (Jerd Smith):

    If Colorado decides to join in an historic Colorado River drought protection effort, one that would require setting aside as much as 500,000 acre-feet of water in Lake Powell, can it find a fair way to get the work done? A way that won’t cripple farm economies and one which ensures Front Range cities bear their share of the burden?

    That was one of the key questions more than 100 people, citizen volunteers and water managers, addressed last week as part of a two-day meeting in Denver to continue exploring whether the state should participate in the effort. The Lake Powell drought pool, authorized by Congress last year as part of the Colorado River Drought Contingency Plan, would help protect Coloradans if the Colorado River, at some point in the future, hits a crisis point, triggering mandatory cutbacks.

    But finding ways to set aside that much water, the equivalent of what roughly 1 million people use in a year at home, is a complex proposition. The voluntary program, if created, would pay water users who agree to participate. And it would mean farmers fallowing fields in order to send their water downstream and cities convincing their customers to do with less water in order to do the same. The concept has been dubbed “demand management.”

    Among the key issues discussed at the joint Interbasin Compact Committee and demand management work group confab last week is whether there is a truly equitable way to fill the drought pool that doesn’t disproportionately impact one region or sector in the state.

    In addition, a majority of participants reported that they wanted any drought plan to include environmental analyses to ensure whichever methods are selected don’t harm streams and river habitat.

    Some pointed to the need to identify “tipping points” when reduced water use would create harmful economic effects in any given community, and suggested that demand management be viewed as a shared responsibility.

    Flipping the narrative of shared responsibility, participants said sharing benefits equally was important as well. They want to ensure that people selected to participate would do so on a time-limited basis, so that a wide variety of entities have the opportunity to benefit from the payments coming from what is likely to be a multi-million-dollar program.

    “People are starting to get it,” said Russell George. George is a former lawmaker who helped create the 15-year-old public collaborative program which facilitates and helps negotiate issues that arise among Colorado’s eight major river basins and metro area via basin roundtables. He chairs the Interbasin Compact Committee, composed of delegates from those roundtables.

    “It’s understood that we have to be fair about this and we have to share [the burden] or it won’t work. I think we’re making great progress,” George said.

    The Colorado River is a major source of the state’s water, with all Western Slope and roughly half of Front Range water supplies derived from its flows.

    But growing populations, chronic drought and climate change pose sharp risks to the river’s ability to sustain all who depend on it. The concept behind the drought pool is to help reduce the threat of future mandatory cutbacks to Colorado water users under the terms of the 1922 Colorado River Compact.

    The public demand management study process, facilitated by the Colorado Water Conservation Board, has caused concern among different user groups, including farmers. Because growers consume so much of the state’s water, they worry that they are the biggest target for water use reductions, which could directly harm their livelihoods if the program isn’t implemented carefully and on a temporary basis.

    In early 2019 the seven states that comprise the Colorado River Basin—Arizona, California and Nevada in the Lower Basin, and Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming in the Upper Basin—agreed for the first time to a series of steps, known as the Colorado River Basin Drought Contingency Plan, to help stave off a crisis on the river.

    Colorado River Basin. Map credit: The Water Education Foundation

    And while Lower Basin states have already begun cutting back water use in order to store more in Lake Mead, the four Upper Basin states are still studying how best to participate to shore up Lake Powell. For the drought pool program to move forward, all four states would need to agree and contribute to the pool. George pointed to Colorado as a leader among the four states, saying it would likely be responsible for contributing as much as 250,000 acre-feet to the pool.

    “We appreciate the focus, dedication and collaboration of our work group members,” said CWCB Director Rebecca Mitchell in a statement. “This workshop was the next step in sharing ideas for Colorado’s water future, and positioning our state as a national leader for cooperative problem solving.”

    The eight major volunteer work groups, addressing such topics as the law, the environment, agriculture and water administration, will continue meeting throughout the year, with a mid-point report based on their findings to date due out sometime this summer.

    Travis Smith, a former CWCB board member from Del Norte who is now participating on the agriculture work group, said he is hopeful that the work groups will be able to come up with a plan the public will endorse. Any final plan will likely have to be approved by Colorado lawmakers.

    “Coming together to address Colorado’s water future is something we’ve been practicing through the [nine river basin roundtables] for years. Will we get there? Absolutely,” Smith 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.

    2020 #COleg: #Colorado bill to expand loan of water to the environment has wide support — @AspenJournalism

    Little Cimarron reach downstream of the McKinley Ditch intake structure. The Little Cimarron River near the McKinley Ditch gets a boost in flows because of the state’s instream flow water loan program, which lets agricultural water users leave water in the river for the benefit of the environment. House Bill 20-1157, which aims to expand the program, is making its way through the state legislature with broad support. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    From Aspen Journalism (Heather Sackett):

    A bill aimed at expanding Colorado’s instream-flow loan program is moving through the state legislature and has support from agricultural water users, Front Range water providers and environmental organizations, in contrast to last year when the bill ran into opposition.

    House Bill 1157 [Loaned Water For Instream Flows To Improve Environment], which last week passed the House in a unanimous 60-0 vote, would allow water-rights holders to temporarily loan their water to the Colorado Water Conservation Board’s instream-flow program with the goal of improving the natural environment.

    The bill expands the number of years from three to five (but for no more than three consecutive years) that a loan may be exercised within a 10-year period. The loan also may be renewed for two additional 10-year periods, meaning that holders of agricultural water rights could theoretically loan their water for the benefit of the environment for 15 of 30 years.

    Environmental groups, including The Nature Conservancy, Colorado Sierra Club and Conservation Colorado, support the legislation, and so do water-user organizations, including the Colorado Water Congress, Denver Water, Northern Water, and the Grand Valley Water Users Association.

    HB 1157 is sponsored by Sen. Kerry Donovan (D-Vail) and District 26 Rep. Dylan Roberts (D-Avon), both of whom floated a similar bill last year. This year’s iteration gained the sponsorship of District 57 Rep. Perry Will (R-New Castle).

    After the bill faltered in last year’s legislative session, Roberts knew he had some work to do before he brought it back to lawmakers, so he spent the summer and fall talking with the many interested parties about how to improve it.

    “I represent Eagle and Routt counties, which are home to four major river systems, and I know how vital it is to the Roaring Fork Valley, the Eagle River Valley and the Yampa River Valley to have a really strong flowing river,” he said.

    The Eagle, Colorado and Roaring Fork rivers flow through Eagle County, and the Yampa River flows through Routt County.

    “Instream-flow loans allow people to loan the water back and help the river, while not losing their water rights,” Roberts said.

    n the new bill, lawmakers added more protections for water-rights holders by increasing the window for people to appeal a loan. The legislation quadruples the comment period from 15 to 60 days so that those who feel they could be harmed by a loan of water have sufficient time to raise their concerns with the state engineer

    State Sen. Kerry Donovan, middle, speaks at the legislative session at Colorado Water Congress in January. Donovan and Rep. Dylan Roberts, right, along with Rep. Perry Will (not pictured) are sponsors of House Bill 20-1157, which would expand the state’s instream flow water loan program and allow agricultural water users to leave more water in the river to the benefit of the environment. Photo credit: Heather Sackett/Aspen Journalism

    Instream flow program

    Colorado’s instream-flow program gives the CWCB the ability to hold water rights specifically for preserving the natural environment “to a reasonable degree” by keeping water flowing in the river. Since 1973, the CWCB has appropriated instream-flow rights on nearly 1,700 stream segments, covering more than 9,700 stream miles.

    Instream water rights are administered under Colorado’s prior appropriation system. And, given that none of the instream rights were in place before 1973, most of them are junior to senior agricultural water rights. Those rights, which can date to the 1860s in Colorado, have a higher priority under the “first in time, first in right” doctrine.

    Senior ag rights divert significant amounts of water from the state’s rivers and streams and can even dry up some reaches in drought years. However, the state’s instream-flow program does allow owners of such senior water rights not to use their rights for irrigation and instead leave their irrigation water in the river, on a temporary basis, to bolster low flows. And the new legislation expands that option.

    The temporary loan program — where water-rights owners offer, in exchange for payment, to contribute their water to one of these segments with an existing instream-flow right — has only been used seven times since its creation in 2003. In Division 5, temporary water loans have occurred on Deep Creek, the Fraser River and the Colorado River.

    CWCB officials estimate an additional two to four loans under the program over the next few years.

    In past deals, irrigators have been paid for the loan of their water by the state, Trout Unlimited or the Colorado Water Trust.

    According to CWCB Stream and Lake Protection section chief Linda Bassi, the loan program can help boost streams in late summer when flows are low, temperatures are high and fish are stressed.

    “It’s a really helpful tool for instream flows that fall short,” she said. “It’s always good to have more tools to help preserve the environment.”

    Stagecoach Reservoir on the Yampa River, was part of a temporary water loan under the CWCB instream flow program. House Bill 20-1157, which aims to expand the program, is making its way through the legislature with broad support via the Applegate Group

    River District support

    The bill has garnered the support of the Glenwood Springs-based Colorado River Water Conservation District, which helped shape the revamped 2020 bill with its input. The River District board voted unanimously to support the measure, according to Zane Kessler, director of government relations.

    “Rep. Roberts went above and beyond to make sure the bill addressed the River District’s needs and provides meaningful protections to our constituents on the West Slope and agricultural water users across the state,” Kessler said.

    Also, the legislation requires the CWCB to give preference to loans of water stored in reservoirs, when available, over agricultural and other water rights diverted directly from rivers and streams. This provision was included at the request of the River District.

    Kirsten Kurath, attorney for the Grand Valley Water Users Association, said lawmakers worked with the association over the past year to improve the bill from 2019.

    “I think, in general, that the bill is much more protective now of other water-rights users on the stream,” Kurath said.

    The bill is now under consideration by the state Senate.

    Aspen Journalism collaborates with The Aspen Times and other Swift Communications newspapers on coverage of water and rivers. This story ran in the Feb. 29 issue of The Aspen Times.

    @USBR awards $150,000 to the @CWCB_DNR to develop tool to inform water management decisions in the #ArkansasRiver Basin

    Here’s the release from the Bureau of Reclamation (Peter Soeth):

    The Bureau of Reclamation selected 19 projects to receive $3.5 million in WaterSMART Applied Science Grants to develop tools and information that will inform and support water management decisions. These projects will be matched by more than $4.5 million, non-federal cost-match, supporting a total project cost of $8 million.

    “Water managers need the most updated information to ensure they are making the best water management decisions,” said Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman. “Applied Science Grants fund tool development and studies that help make western water more reliable.”

    The projects selected are as follows:

  • City of Sierra Vista (Arizona), Web-based Hydrologic Information Portal for the Upper San Pedro Basin, $99,000
  • Mojave Water Agency (California), Integrated Model Development and Alternatives Evaluation, $150,000
  • Pala Band of Mission Indians (California), Pala Tribe Innovative Practices in Hydrologic Data Acquisition and Use for Water Management, $55,120
  • Point Blue Conservation Science (California), California Central Valley Wetlands Water Budget Tool Development, $150,000
  • Rancho California Water District (California), Groundwater Modeling Enhancement for the Murrietta-Temecula Groundwater Basin, $195,000
  • University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources (California), A California Crop Coefficient Database to Enhance Agricultural Water Demand Estimations and Irrigation Scheduling, $299,627
  • University of California, Merced (California), Defining the Rain-Snow Transition Zone in the Northern Sierra Nevada, $299,976
  • Colorado Water Conservation Board (Colorado), Arkansas River Colors of Water and Forecasting Tool, $150,000
  • The Henry’s Fork Foundation (Idaho), Predictive Hydrologic Modeling and Real-Time Data Access to Support Water Resources Management, $273,211
  • Idaho Power Company (Idaho), Precipitation Modeling Tools to Improve Water Supply Reliability, $300,000
  • Desert Research Institute (Nevada), Quantifying Environmental Water Requirements for Groundwater Dependent Ecosystems, $296,740
  • New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, New Mexico Water Data Initiative and Regional Pilot Project for Improved Data Management and Decision Support Tool in the Lower Pecos Valley, $300,000
  • Office of the State Engineer/Interstate Stream Commission (New Mexico), Developing a Projection Tool for Rio Grande Compact Compliance, $141,272
  • Oklahoma State University (Oklahoma), Improving Seasonal Streamflow Forecasts for Irrigation Districts by Incorporating Soil Moisture Information Derived from Remote Sensing, $88,476
  • Oklahoma State University (Oklahoma), Applying Unmanned Systems for Water Quality Monitoring, $150,000
  • Texas Water Trade (Texas), Modeling Aquifer Properties in the Contributing Zone of Comanche Springs, $150,000
  • Gulf Coast Water Authority (Texas), Enhancement of Water Availability Models of the Lower Brazos Basin $30,000
  • Utah State University (Utah), A Platform Toward an Early Warning System for Shortages in Colorado River Water Supply, $91,078
  • Washington State University (Washington), Quantifying the State of Groundwater in the Columbia Basin with Stakeholder-Driven Monitoring, $299,940
  • Learn more about all of the selected projects at https://www.usbr.gov/watersmart/appliedscience/.

    The Arkansas River, at the Crowley County line. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    2020 #COleg: HB20-1095 [Local Governments Water Elements In Master Plans]. “Everybody has to do something in order to create sustainability” — Greta Follingstad

    From The Colorado Sun (Moe Clark):

    To ensure that they don’t develop beyond the limits of their water supply, Riley says [Woodland Park] has closely integrated its land-use decisions with local water conservation and efficiency goals that align with the Colorado Water Plan.

    A new bill at the Colorado Capitol hopes to encourage more local governments to do the same. House Bill 1095 says that if a community identifies it will need more water to grow, it should also include conservation measures for its existing supply.

    “In a state that hates mandates, this is a gentle nudge for communities to make sure they are planning for the future when it comes to water,” said state Rep. Jeni Arndt, a Fort Collins Democrat who is bringing the bill.

    Woodland Park via Ute Pass Cams.

    The Colorado Water Plan five years ago set the goal that by 2025, 75% of Coloradans will live in communities that have incorporated water-saving actions into land-use planning.

    Currently, 24 communities have completed the Sonoran Institute’s Growing Water Smart Training, a leading program that helps communities integrate land use planning and water conservation efforts, said Sara Leonard, a spokeswoman for the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

    Leonard estimates that 15 to 20 more communities have participated in similar workshops, but many more would need to take part in order to meet the state’s goal…

    HB20-1095 would also make permanent a temporary, partially grant-funded position in the Department of Local Affairs that assists local governments in integrating water conservation in their land use planning — though there is currently no money allocated in the bill to support the position.

    “Historically, water resource planning and land-use planning have been implemented on parallel tracks. By separating these planning areas into different silos, the impacts from each on the other are not fully addressed,” Leonard said.

    “With a growing population in Colorado, it is imperative to synchronize land and water planning to help planners to better understand the impact of new growth and redevelopment on future water demand in our urban areas.”

    Today, Woodland Park has added dozens of regulations and ordinances into its zoning and building codes that focus on water conservation. It also limits the number of houses that can be built each year by setting a cap for how many new taps can be installed.

    What the bill would do –– and what it wouldn’t

    One of a dozen water bills introduced this session, ranging from water well inspections to fee exemptions, House Bill 1095 requires that if a local government’s comprehensive plan includes a water supply element, it must also include conservation policies.

    A comprehensive plan is an advisory document that outlines long-term goals for community development, and often includes guidelines for things like transportation, utilities, land use, environmental protection, recreation and housing.

    But comprehensive plans are not regulatory documents.

    These conservation policies may include “goals specified in the state water plan, and may also include policies to implement water conservation and other state water plan goals as a condition of development approval, including subdivisions, planned unit developments, special use permits, and zoning changes,” the bill says.

    Jeni Arndt. Photo credit: ColoradoCapitolWatch.com

    Though state statute requires every municipality or county in Colorado to have a comprehensive plan, it doesn’t require them to include water element. But if it does, water conservation measures must be added the first time the plan is amended after the bill takes effect, but no later than July 1, 2025.

    Gretel Follingstad, a Colorado-based land use planner and consultant who specializes in water resource management, said the language in the bill makes the recommendations “optional” and minimizes the bill’s potential impact.

    “If you really want a strong policy around water, and you really want the state water plan goals to come to fruition, you need a will, not a may,” she said. “Because otherwise communities won’t do it if they don’t have the funding for it or they don’t have the political will, or if they don’t feel like they have a problem.”

    But just by adding water into the local comprehensive plans, it’s changing the conversation, she said.

    “We can’t change the fact that Colorado uses water districts as water suppliers and that those water districts are separate entities from their community,” Follingstad said. “All we can do is to teach the community planners that water is not infinite.”

    […]

    In July, the Colorado Water Conservation Board released a technical analysis and update to the state’s supply and demand projections. The update examined water supply under five scenarios, with the two biggest drivers for water supply gaps being population growth and a warming climate.

    The scenarios project that municipal and industrial water users may see water supply gaps ranging from 250,000 to 750,000 acre-feet by 2050. Approximately one acre-foot can support the needs of two families of four to five people a year, according to the Colorado Water Center at Colorado State University.

    “It’s unlikely that conservation efforts can completely close the gap,” Arndt said. “But it can certainly help.”

    Colorado Counties Inc., which lobbies on behalf of the state’ county governments, testified at the bill’s Feb. 3 hearing before the the House Rural Affairs and Agriculture Committee that its members worry the measure could open the door to formal regulations…

    Gervais also added that counties and local governments already have the authority to include water planning in their land-use planning process. A 1991 law requires water utilities with a demand of greater than 2,000 acre-feet annually to have a water conservation plan.

    “I’m glad we have that, but that’s not a substitute for a five- or 10-year visionary master plan,” Arndt said.

    For Follingstad, comprehensive plans are crucial tools for communities envisioning the future. And that they can provide a policy framework for zoning and development regulations…

    Avoiding the worst case scenario

    Even though the bill doesn’t give local governments more authority, advocates hope it helps bring water conservation into the land-use conversation at the beginning of the community planning process, not the end.

    “So, basically, utilities have been expected to come up with a supply to meet the demands,” Follingstad said.

    “But when you insert population growth that’s beyond the capacities of many watersheds and water systems, and you insert climate change, which is making water, especially in the West, especially in Colorado because of the Colorado River compact, much more scarce — that’s not a sustainable system.”

    Follingstad helped create the Growing Water Smart handbook — a guidebook that helps local governments integrate water conservation measures into their land use planning.

    Since 2017, Colorado’s Water Conservation Board has worked with the Sonoran Institute and Babbitt Center for Land and Water Policy to host Growing Water Smart workshops in communities across Colorado. The next workshop is May 6-8 in Breckenridge.

    The training focuses on reducing the demand for water by utilizing three key strategies: decreasing water use by modifying consumption behaviors; using technology and optimizing building or site designs to use less water; and increasing water recycling.

    She says Colorado lags behind other states in terms of integrating water conservation into land use plans. And that lack of governmental guidance has created a false sense of security for some communities.

    “Everybody has to do something in order to create sustainability,” she said. “And this is a way of making sure that towns and communities across Colorado, No. 1, understand that there is a state water plan and that the goals in that plan are real and serious and have consequences. And two, that there is a way at the local level that they can make a difference.”

    If signed into law, the bill would take effect on Aug. 5.

    How big are the discrepancies with snowpack-measuring tech? — The Montrose Press #snowpack #runoff

    San Juan Mountains March, 2016 photo credit Greg Hobbs.

    From The Montrose Press (Michael Cox):

    The primary tool currently in use to measure snowpack in the Western United States is SNOTEL. We all rely on the SNOTEL website to see what’s happening during winter in the Rockies. But, you may be surprised to learn that the SNOTEL (SNOw TELemetry) has been missing the mark in its automated reading of snow depth in the Western US. How do we know that? Because, there is a new tool – actually an old one, repurposed – that could enhance greatly the accuracy of the 732 SNOTEL stations currently being used for the critical purpose of measuring snowpack in the mountains to help water managers forecast the potential runoff.

    The solo SNOTEL system was as good as it got for 50 years when it came to measuring snow in the mountains. The system of sensors that measure snow depth and the amount of water contained in the snow was put into use back in the 1970s. It has not been updated since then, although some stations were added in the 1980s. SNOTEL measures two primary parameters, snow depth and density. Density tells us how much water is in the snow. It does this by sensing the weight of the snow on something called a snow pillow. The pillow is about eight feet square and as the snow builds up, it gets weighed. That number and the depth at the station are reported to the system as what we call the snowpack.

    SNOTEL actually functions pretty well up to a point. The biggest drawback with it is the minuscule sampling of a vast area of snow production. The 732 stations are spread out through the mountain snow regions of all the Western states, including Alaska. That area is 1.76 million square miles, of which about a third is mountainous and has snow pack. That means there is a SNOTEL station for every 800 square miles of mountain terrain. Some of the stations are not as accurate as they need to be because of location. Some terrain, where extraordinary snow accumulation occurs, such as the bottom of an avalanche chute, never get measured because they are below the altitude level where SNOTEL stations are located. The avalanche-prone San Juans may have much more snow than we ever knew.

    Given the increasingly critical nature of determining even short term snow inventories, people like John Lhotak, an operations hydrologist with the Colorado River Basin Forecast Center, told a press meeting, “SNOTEL is the best network we have, but there are definitely shortcomings.”

    Enter LIDAR. LIDAR is one of those pseudo-acronym things that the lab guys and bureaucrats love. This one stands for Light Detection and Ranging.

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

    Quite simply, if you flew over the mountains without snow on them and determined the height (compared to sea level), and then flew over and scanned them when the snow is in place, you would simply deduct the original snow-less height from the snow packed image and “voila!!!” you get the snow depth of the whole mountain almost to within centimeters.

    Sounds simple enough, but the data crunching is mind numbing. All the data points from the ground-only image must be overlaid with the image taken with snow on the ground. The measurement points are chosen and then comes all the subtraction and interpolation. The people like Jeffrey Deems at the National Snow and Ice Center and Sam Tyler at Utah State University (and their teams) have developed the computer tools to breakdown the gigabytes of data collected to simple usable terms.

    The whole concept was first tested in California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains eight years ago. The dry model of the mountains was made by flying at 20,000 feet in a straight back-and-forth pattern. After some storms passed the location, the team went back and flew the same pattern at the same altitude. The resulting 3D images were a precise measurement of the snow on the ground. Tyler’s team also did a test of the system near Logan, Utah, at about 8,000 feet…

    The Airborne Snow Observatory (ASO) folks tell us, “We see it as moving from a sparse-point base network (with SNOTEL) to a system that can map the entire snow pack in a river basin,” Jeffrey Deems said, “It is really an enabling technology.”

    In 2013 the ASO tested the system on selected sections of the Front Range, Gunnison Basin, Rio Grande Basin, and Uncompahgre watershed. Deems said, regarding the SNOTEL numbers, “We were missing a lot of the picture. We need to fix that.”

    What the tests revealed was that in the Rio Grande Basin, for example, the forecasts were way off, reporting as much as 50% less snow and water than what was actually on the ground. That makes accurate forecasts and water use management for that basin impossible…

    But the bean counters aren’t so sure. First of all, flying several thousand miles back and forth over the Colorado peaks costs a lot of money. The tab for flying for the new imagery on a regular basis could cost $400,000 a year or more, according to Frank Kugel, director of the Southwest Water Conservation District. Is the return on investment really there?

    SNOTEL Site via the Natural Resources Conservation Service

    Also, everyone in the water biz seems to agree that we will still need SNOTEL. It is currently the only tool for proofing the accuracy of the LIDAR images and vice versa. It is also the best tool for the density issue. For the time being, people like Deems think using SNOTEL in tandem with LIDAR is the right way to get the best measurements. Rather than replacing SNOTEL, Deems would opt for even more SNOTEL stations…

    Deems said [February 6, 2020] that the cost of LIDAR seems justified when you consider the cost of a bad forecast. It is no secret that the low estimate on the Rio Grande in 2013 translated into millions of dollars of water misused after the forecast. Making the investment available for better measurements seems like a no brainer…

    Meanwhile, the Colorado Water Conservation Board has already decided to invest $250K in 2021 for flights to measure the Gunnison Basin, of which the Uncompahgre River is a part.

    Map of the Gunnison River drainage basin in Colorado, USA. Made using public domain USGS data. By Shannon1 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=69257550

    Garfield County to lease its Ruedi Reservoir water to help endangered fish in #ColoradoRiver — @AspenJournalism #COriver #aridification

    The “braiding” of shallow water and exposed riverbed concerns biologists. The 15-mile reach of the Colorado River near 19 Road in Grand Junction is home to four species of endangered fish. Garfield County is leasing some of the water it owns in Ruedi Reservoir to help bolster flows during late summer and early fall. Photo © Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    From Aspen Journalism (Heather Sackett):

    Through the release of water it owns in Ruedi Reservoir, Garfield County will help endangered fish species in an often-depleted section of the Colorado River.

    Garfield County will lease 350 acre-feet of water annually over the next five years to the Colorado Water Conservation Board under the CWCB’s instream-flow program. The water will bolster flows July through October in the 15-mile reach of the Colorado River near Grand Junction, home to the endangered humpback chub, bonytail, razorback sucker and Colorado pikeminnow. The CWCB board approved Garfield County’s offer at its meeting last week in Westminster.

    Garfield County owns 400 acre-feet a year of Ruedi water as a backup source for the county, municipalities and other water users within its service area. Since the county does not immediately need the water, it will lease the water to the CWCB for five years at $40 an acre-foot for the first year and $45 an acre-foot for the second year. The price would go up in years three through five by 2% annually. The maximum price the CWCB would pay for the water is $14,000 in 2020 and $78,915 over the five years of the lease.

    Water from Ruedi Reservoir flows down the Fryingpan River and into the Roaring Fork, which flows into the Colorado River at Glenwood Springs.

    “We are really appreciative that Garfield County stepped up and offered to lease the water,” said Linda Bassi, CWCB’s stream- and lake-protection chief. “You never know what kind of water year we are going to have, so it’s great to have an extra supply to send down to the reach for those fish.”

    The blue expanse of Ruedi Reservoir as seen from the air. Students with the Carbondale-based Youth Water Leadership Program took to the air with EcoFlight to see how people have modified water in the Roaring Fork watershed. Garfield County is leasing 350 acre-feet of water it owns in Ruedi Reservoir to help bolster flows in the Colorado River for endangered fish. A section of fish habitat known as the 15-mile reach often has low flows in late summer because of two large upstream irrigation diversions. Photo credit: Heather Sackett/Aspen Journalism

    Preserving Fryingpan fishing

    Late summer, flows in the 15-mile reach are often lower than what is recommended by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for healthy fish habitat mainly because of two large upstream irrigation diversions: DeBeque Canyon’s Grand Valley Project, known as the Roller Dam, and Palisade’s Grand Valley Irrigation Canal.

    Gail Schwartz, who represents the Colorado River mainstem, Fryingpan and Roaring Fork region on the CWCB board, reminded staffers of the need to coordinate flows out of Ruedi to preserve conditions for anglers. When flows exceed about 300 cubic feet per second, it becomes difficult to wade and fish the Fryingpan’s popular Gold Medal Fishery waters. At critical wading flows of 250 to 300 cfs, Colorado Parks and Wildlife recommends releases be capped at 25 cfs to avoid dramatic changes for anglers.

    “We want to support the economy and the recreation on the Fryingpan and we want to support the success of the 15-mile reach for the species,” Schwartz said.

    This map shows the 15-mile reach of the Colorado River near Grand Junction, home to four species of endangered fish. Water from Ruedi Reservoir flows down the Fryingpan River and into the Roaring Fork, which flows into the Colorado River in Glenwood Springs. Map credit: CWCB

    More fish water

    At its March meeting, the CWCB board will consider another lease of Ruedi water for endangered fish. The Ute Water Conservancy District, which provides water to about 80,000 people in the Grand Junction area, is offering to renew its lease of 12,000 acre-feet of water it stores in Ruedi Reservoir. The CWCB could lease the water at $20 an acre-foot for 2020, at a total cost of $240,000.

    Aspen Journalism collaborates with The Aspen Times and other Swift Communications newspapers on coverage of water and rivers. This story was published in the Feb. 6 edition of The Aspen Times.

    Fryingpan River downstream of Ruedi Reservoir. Photo credit Greg Hobbs

    The February 2020 “Confluence” newsletter is hot off the presses from @CWCB_DNR

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

    Colorado Water Leaders Gather for Annual Water Congress Convention

    On January 29 – 31, the Colorado Water Congress hosted its annual convention in Westminster, where hundreds of attendees discussed the biggest water issues facing Colorado this year. The Colorado Water Conservation Board moderated a variety of workshops and panels – covering the ongoing Demand Management Feasibility Investigation, Instream Flow Recommendations, Stream Management Plans, Water Conservation and Efficiency, Agriculture, Climate Change, and updates on the Colorado Water Plan.

    Other highlights included a forum for Colorado state legislators to share their perspectives on upcoming water policy, as well as addresses from Attorney General Phil Weiser and Governor Jared Polis.

    PHOTO: Chane Polo (Colorado Water Congress), Dianna Orf (Orf & Orf), Sen. Kerry Donovan, Rep. Dylan Roberts, Rep. Donald Valdez, Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg, Rep. Marc Catlin

    January 2020 #Drought Update — @CWCB_DNR

    From the Colorado Department of Natural Resources (Megan Holcomb/Tracy Kosloff):

    2019 Calendar Year in Review: 2019 followed one of Colorado’s warmest, driest years on record with a severe drought in southwest Colorado. This drought (of 2018) was followed by a cold, wet 2019 spring and 150% of normal snowpack that helped clear the state of drought by June 2019. The 2019 monsoon season, however, was nearly absent and September 2019 was the hottest September on record. The dry 2019 October set much of the state below normal for the 2020 Water Year. These early deficits can still be made up, particularly with snowpack running slightly above normal to date. This, however, does not guarantee an above average runoff given our dry soils.

  • The 90-day Standardized Precipitation Index (SPI) from October 22 – January 19 shows geographically distributed average and slightly below average precipitation statewide.
  • According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, released January 15, D0 (abnormally dry), D1 (moderate drought), and D2 (severe drought) collectively cover 53% of Colorado. 35% of the state is under D3 (extreme) and D4 (exceptional) drought.
  • The long term ENSO forecasts are trending toward neutral conditions remaining for spring and summer 2020, while losing El Niño conditions. This could mean reduced​ odds of SW Colorado spring moisture.
  • NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center shows warmer than average temperature outlooks February through April for the SW half of the state, and normal precipitation outlooks for the entirety of the state.
  • Reservoir storage remains near to above normal (86 to 124% of average) in all major basins and is 109% of average statewide. This time last year reservoirs were 81% of average statewide.
  • Water providers and water users did not report any unusual impacts or concerns at this time.
  • Colorado Drought Monitor January 28, 2020.

    Greg Felt appointed to #Colorado #Water #Conservation Board — The Ark Valley Voice @CWCB_DNR

    From The Ark Valley Voice (Jan Wondra):

    Greg Felt via his Facebook page February 2020.

    Chaffee County Commissioner Greg Felt has been appointed by Governor Jared Polis to serve on the Colorado Water Conservation Board; a three year term of office effective February 12, 2020 to February 12, 2023. According to Felt, the appointment represents a shift from what has traditionally been a Front Range focus.

    “The Front range gets more attention than we do. But what has been happening is a recognition and an understanding that these upper basins of our major river systems of the state are where the big, forested watersheds are,” said Felt earlier this week. “A lot of those are like ours – not in the best of health and at risk for wildfire. We need to focus more attention on those challenges, as we’ve done through the Envision process here.”

    Felt’s viewpoint; that our water infrastructure is dependent upon a healthy forest. “The forest is our greatest reservoir [of water] of all and if we don’t give it some attention, all the dams, and pipelines and ditches aren’t going to be nearly as effective. Watershed health is becoming a big part of the picture.”

    While he sees progress ahead, Felt says there are challenges. “How do we achieve those greater goods, without compromising the property? There are trade-offs – what are we willing to do to protect what we value? It will take some creative thinking – getting folks involved who aren’t purely part of the institutions of water management.”

    Felt, who still faces Colorado Senate confirmation, says that the role he is taking on is only possible because of the great mentorship he has received over the past several years. “I think I been fortunate to have some great mentors in this field. People like Terry Skanga, Ken Baker and Jim Broderick down at Southeastern [Colorado Water Conservancy] – Alan Hamel of Pueblo board of Waterworks – without their help and guidance I don’t think I’d be at the point where I’m ready to try this. It takes a long time to learn this stuff, and it’s important that we keep passing on the knowledge.”

    […]

    Three appointments were made to the CWCB. Felt is unaffiliated. Also reappointed to the CWCB were Celene Nicole Hawkins of Durango, Colorado, a resident of the San Miguel-Dolores-San Juan drainage basin and a Democrat, and Heather Renae Dutton, a Republican of Del Norte, Colorado, representing the Rio Grande drainage basin.

    2020 #COleg: Legislative Water Priorities in 2020 for #Colorado’s Rivers, Birds, and People — @AudubonRockies #ColoradoRiver #COriver #DCP #aridification #COWaterPlan

    Rocky Mountain National Park October 2019. Photo: Evan Barrientos/Audubon Rockies

    From Audubon Rockies (Abby Burke):

    Policy priorities for the 2020 Colorado legislative session.

    Colorado lawmakers returned to the Capitol on January 8th to kick off the 2020 legislative session. Even before bills were introduced, it was clear that the General Assembly will wrangle with issues that will touch every corner of the state and impact the daily lives of Coloradans. Water is one of these key issues.

    Despite the optimism from a snowy December, Colorado’s snowpack is now starting to fall closer to average. Although Colorado is perched at 108 percent average snowpack statewide, much of the West Slope remains in drought conditions. With enough snowpack, flurries will melt and become flows for healthy rivers that support all of us. But as water supplies are becoming more unpredictable, sharing a limited water supply—statewide—between urban, rural, agriculture, industry, environmental and recreational needs is the challenge at hand.

    Audubon Rockies is working with lawmakers and partners to prioritize water security for people, birds, and the healthy rivers that we all depend upon. Colorado’s birds and people cannot thrive unless our rivers do too. Here are three water priority areas for Audubon Rockies in the 2020 Colorado legislative session.

    Funding Colorado’s Water Plan

    Water security for Coloradans, birds, and rivers begins with implementing the state Water Plan. In the light of climate change and booming population growth, Colorado’s Water Plan, finalized in 2015, aims to ensure a sufficient supply of water for the various users across the state including environmental, agricultural, municipal, industrial, and recreational needs. Implementing Colorado’s Water Plan is projected to cost $3 billion in total, or $100 million a year over the next 30 years.

    In November 2019, voters approved Proposition DD to legalize sports betting and a 10% tax on these casino revenues which will result in an estimated $12 million to $29 million annually, the majority of which will go toward the Water Plan. Proposition DD is expected to generate more than $7 million in new tax revenue for the Colorado Water Plan in 2020, a significant bump up from past funding sources.

    At this point, it is not clear how the state will spend these dollars given the various priorities and the considerable Water Plan funding gap. The language in DD was vague and will need refinement and transparency. Stakeholders and lawmakers will likely explore options with the legislature to guide how DD funds are spent on Water Plan implementation.

    Audubon will advocate for spending that supports healthy rivers for the birds and people that depend on them, as we support a fully funded Water Plan.

    Supporting the Colorado River

    In 2019, the Drought Contingency Plan was adopted by the upper and lower Colorado River basin states. One of next steps for Colorado and the other upper basin states is to investigate the feasibility of a demand management program. The Water Resources Review Committee recommended SB20-024 to create a robust public engagement process similar to the development of the Water Plan before adopting any rules or recommendations regarding demand management. While public input is nearly always a positive, this process seems to get ahead of the process established by the Colorado Water Conservation Board’s (CWCB) demand management workgroup. Audubon is monitoring SB20-024.

    With Colorado’s water supply becoming more unpredictable and valuable, particularly on the West Slope, concerns were raised by the Water Resources Review Committee to address anti-speculation. Specifically, concerns were raised that agricultural water rights are being sold to entities with no real interest in farming or ranching in Colorado that are holding those rights for future, more profitable transactions. SB20-048, Study Strengthening Water Anti-Speculation Law, would create a working group to explore ways to strengthen anti-speculation laws and report its findings and recommendations to the committee next year. Audubon is in favor of SB20-48 to keep Colorado’s water out of the hands of risky transactions. We need to support our agricultural heritage and the habitats our working landscapes provide.

    Instream Flow

    For the second year, Colorado lawmakers will see the return of two similar bills attempting to expand the instream flow program. Since 1973, the instream flow program has given the CWCB the unique ability to hold instream flow rights—water rights with the sole purpose of preserving the natural environment by remaining in streams or lakes. First, HB20-1037, Augmentation of Instream Flows, is essentially a rerun from last year with key benefits for the Cache la Poudre River near Fort Collins. The bill permits the CWCB to use water for instream flow purposes, if the water has been decreed for augmentation without seeking a further change of use in water court. (Augmentation water restores water uses that are out of priority.) This would create a new pool of water, with lower administrative costs, which could be available for instream use.

    The second bill, HB20-1157, Loaned Water For Instream Flows To Improve Environment, looks to expand the existing instream flow loan program. Under the current law the instream flow loan program allows water right holders to loan water for three years out of a 10-year period to the CWCB to preserve water for rivers where there is an existing instream flow water right. The current program participation is not renewable.

    HB20-1157 looks to expand the instream flow loan program by increasing the years of participation from three to five years in a ten-year period, and allow for two additional ten-year renewal periods. It also supports greater notification to local water users, provides for an expedited process to address water-short river emergencies, and adds a longer term procedure for loaning water to instream flow decreed river segments for improvement of the environment. The instream flow loan program is completely voluntary and allows greater flexibility for the water right holder to use their property right in a beneficial way.

    In 2019, a similar bill to HB20-1157 passed the House of Representatives only to die in Senate Committee. Perceptions around the potential impacts to soil health from fallowed fields and on historical irrigation return flows from leaving water in stream rather than applying it on the land may have caused the bill to fail. With robust engagement and input from Audubon, partners, stakeholders and the Colorado Water Congress over the past year, bill sponsors are more optimistic for successful instream flow loan expansion in 2020.

    Audubon supports multiple tools in the toolbox to support healthy rivers, agriculture, and economies. HB20-1157 and HB20-1037 bring greater flexibility and beneficial options for rivers and water right holders.

    A new Colorado bill would allow water users to divert less water during dry years, helping to keep rivers flowing. Amid climate change, our rivers need this kind of flexibility. Urge your representative to support HB20-1157.

    Guest Column: Should a water management plan be developed for the White River? — The Rio Blanco Herald-Times #COWaterPlan #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridificatiion

    White River Basin. By Shannon1 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=69281367

    Here’s a guest column from the White River Conservation District that’s running in The Rio Blanco Herald-Times:

    The State of Colorado adopted the Colorado Water Plan in 2016. The Plan proposes to create a water management roadmap to achieve a productive economy, vibrant and sustainable cities, productive agriculture, a strong environment and a robust recreation industry. Specific to protecting and enhancing stream flows, the plan calls for 80% of locally prioritized rivers to be covered by Stream Management Plans (SMP) by 2030.

    Through this effort, locally-led groups are encouraged to develop plans that will help meet the above 80% goal. The Water Plan initially encouraged only SMPs using biological, hydrological, geomorphological and other data to assess the flows or other physical conditions that are needed to support collaboratively identified environmental and/or recreational values.

    However, experience across the State has shown the need to incorporate a more holistic approach including consumptive uses (agriculture, municipalities, energy, etc.). These types of plans are often called an Integrated Water Management Plan (IWMP). The local community is encouraged to determine what they want to accomplish and then find the right planning effort to help them achieve their goals.

    The White River and Douglas Creek Conservation districts embarked on an effort in 2019 to identify what local needs can be met through the development of a plan and to determine community support for this effort. The districts are working with a Planning Advisory Committee (PAC) made up of 16 individuals representing agriculture, municipalities, industry, environment, recreation and land/water right holders. The committee is well balanced geographically within Rio Blanco County and members have strong knowledge of water rights, water quality and quantity concerns, water planning efforts, and local customs and cultures.

    During December, district staff conducted approximately 25 interviews of local citizens identified by the committee. Questions developed by the committee were used for the interviews. The information gathered from the interviews are being used to develop a starting point for the much broader discussion within the community during January…

    More information on the process and Planning Advisory Committee is available on the districts’ website at http://www.whiterivercd.com. Please contact the district office at 970-878-9838 with any questions. We look forward to your input.

    Submitted by White River Conservation District

    @CWCB_DNR: Demand Management Statement from Director Mitchell @cwcb_becky #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

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

    Colorado Water Conservation Board Update on Demand Management January 2020:

    As we look forward into 2020, the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) continues the important work of investigating whether a Demand Management program would be feasible and advisable for the State of Colorado. Demand Management is the concept of temporary, voluntary, and compensated reductions in the consumptive use of water in the Colorado River Basin. Any water saved would be used only to ensure compact compliance and to protect the state’s water users from involuntary curtailment of uses.

    The Drought Contingency Plan, a suite of agreements among the seven Colorado River Basin States, was executed in May 2019, and provided the opportunity to begin initial discussions about a potential Demand Management program in the Upper Colorado River Basin. All Upper Basin States, including Colorado, are currently conducting their own feasibility investigations. Though these states recognized that Demand Management may be a mechanism for ensuring ongoing compact compliance, they also recognized that significant stakeholder outreach and interstate coordination would need to come first. In the event that Colorado reaches the conclusion that Demand Management is feasible and advisable, all other Upper Colorado River Basin States must agree to key elements before any program could be created.

    Colorado’s investigation is guided by the 2019 Demand Management Work Plan, which was adopted by the Colorado Water Conservation Board. The Plan provides a framework for initial stages of the investigation, including: workgroups, regional workshops, and education and outreach.

    Since the CWCB’s June 2019 update on Demand Management, the workgroups have met multiple times across the state to identify issues associated with a potential Demand Management program. Workgroups consist of experts in Colorado River issues and water management, along with water stakeholders. All meetings have been open to the public. Meeting details and reports are available on the CWCB website. In addition, the IBCC is aiding in this process by analyzing how principles of equity may be incorporated into any potential Demand Management program, if one is set up. This ongoing work is informing the feasibility investigation.

    The second regional Demand Management workshop will be held at the Colorado Water Congress https://www.cowatercongress.org/2020-annual-convention.html on January 29 from 9:00 – 11:30 am. This workshop will provide an update on the feasibility investigation, and an opportunity for attendees to provide feedback on the work completed so far and potential next steps.

    We are only in the initial stages of the feasibility investigation. CWCB staff plans to seek additional guidance this summer from the CWCB Board relating to the next steps of the feasibility analysis. Additionally, CWCB staff has reported to the Water Resources Review Committee as requested and continues to work with the Colorado General Assembly to secure funding for the feasibility investigation.

    The CWCB recognizes the importance of a thorough investigation, including discussions with Colorado water users, stakeholders, and others across the state. At this stage, we cannot provide a timeline for completion of this feasibility investigation.

    Get involved in the discussion:

  • Attend a workgroup meeting. All meetings are open to the public and provide opportunity for public comment.
  • Attend a regional workshop to hear updates on the feasibility investigation and provide feedback.
  • Reach out to us directly at demandmanagement@state.co.us.
  • The CWCB would like to thank workgroup members who have spent significant time considering these important issues, as well as the water stakeholders and other Coloradans who have been involved with this investigation throughout the process. The CWCB looks forward to continuing its important work on Demand Management in the New Year.

    To provide written comments on demand management, please email demandmanagement@state.co.us. For more information from CWCB staff, email Sara Leonard at sara.leonard@state.co.us.

    Sincerely,
    Rebecca Mitchell
    Director, Colorado Water Conservation Board

    Durango: “Securing Our Water Future,” from 6 – 8 p.m., Thurs., Jan. 23, 2020 — @ConservationCO #COWaterPlan

    From The Durango Telegraph (Miss Votel):

    Conservation Colorado, which has offices across the state to help organize citizen activism and engagement, will be hosting “Securing Our Water Future,” from 6 – 8 p.m., Thurs., Jan. 23, at 4Corners Riversports. The goal of the event is to discuss what local residents and businesses can do to help curb water usage, build drought resilience and support the goals of the [Colorado Water Plan]. The meeting will be held in partnership with local members of the Colorado Outdoor Business Alliance, which has 40 members in Southwest Colorado. In addition to free food and drinks, the evening will include an expert panel: Celene Hawkins, of the Nature Conservancy and Colorado Water Conservation Board; Marcie Bidwell, from the Mountain Studies Institute; and a representative from the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe.

    “The point is not to shame people for their water use,” Goodman said. “Instead, we will present more efficient irrigation strategies and programs.” Goodman said the biggest hurdle to implementing the state’s water plan right now is money. It’s estimated that putting the plan into action will require $100 million a year – which might seem like a lot but is a mere drop in the bucket compared to the state’s other budget items, he said. State legislators are currently looking at adding $10 million to next year’s budget toward the plan, and the recently passed Proposition DD, which legalized sports betting, will add about another $10 million a year (that number will be significantly less in its first year of implementation).

    Goodman said he hopes next week’s meeting, in addition to providing a dialogue, will spur local citizens to get active and encourage their representatives to fund the water plan.

    “This is a good starting point, our legislators need to know this matters to us and to make it a reality,” he said. “As great as the water plan is, if we don’t have money behind it, we won’t see results.”

    Lake Nighthorse and Durango March 2016 photo via Greg Hobbs.

    Colorado re-mapping floodplains of most-affected waterways — TheDenverChannel.com

    Flooding in Longmont September 14, 2013 via the Longmont Times-Call

    From TheDenverChannel.com (Deb Stanley):

    After the 2013 floods devastated communities and took several lives, the state of Colorado is remapping the regulatory floodplain of the most affected waterways in Colorado.

    “It’s important to provide public and local land use managers with the most accurate flood risk information so they can make better decisions,’ explained Thuy Patton, Flood Mapping Program Manager for the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

    In some counties, there are areas that now have higher flood risk and other areas that now have lower flood risk, which changes which homes are in the flood plain. NOTE: these numbers are approximate, based on public information, and are subject to change.

    In Boulder County, with this update, 420 new structures are in flood risk area and approx. 400 structures are now not in special flood hazard area, Patton explained.

    In Jefferson County, 53 structures were added.

    In Larimer County, 601 structures were added and 1,571 were removed.

    In Weld County, 453 structures were added and 1,994 were removed.

    In Sedgwick County, 85 structures were added and two were removed.

    In Washington County, 26 structures were added and 31 were removed.

    In Morgan County, 38 structures were added and four were removed.

    And in Logan County, 222 structures were added, while 59 were removed.

    FEMA uses Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRMs) to set flood insurance premiums. The Preliminary FIRMs will become FEMA’s final effective FIRMs in 2021, pending any appeals received by FEMA.

    Learn more about the mapping project here.

    Boulder County is starting a series of public meetings about the changes. Representatives from FEMA, the mapping team, and Boulder County will be present at each session. Each open house will focus on specific reaches, but residents are invited to discuss any stream at each meeting:

  • Lower Boulder Creek, New Dry Creek, Coal Creek, and Rock Creek – Tuesday, Jan. 14 | 5 to 6:30 p.m. (presentation at 5:15 p.m.) Boulder County Recycling Center – 1901 63rd Street in Boulder County
  • Saint Vrain Creek, Lower Left Hand Creek, Dry Creek #2, and Little Thompson River – Thursday, Jan. 16 | 5 to 6:30 p.m. (presentation at 5:15 p.m.) Boulder County Parks and Open Space Ron Stewart Building – 5201 St. Vrain Drive in Longmont
  • North, Middle, and South Saint Vrain creeks and Cabin Creek – Tuesday, Jan. 21 | 5 to 6:30 p.m. (presentation at 5:15 p.m.) Highlands Presbyterian Church – 1306 Business Highway 7 in Allenspark
  • Little James Creek, James Creek, Upper Left Hand Creek, and Geer Canyon – Tuesday, Jan. 28 | 5 to 6:30 p.m. (presentation at 5:15 p.m.) Jamestown Town Hall – 118 Main St. in Jamestown. This is a joint meeting between Boulder County and the Town of Jamestown
  • Fourmile Canyon Creek, Two Mile Canyon Creek, Gold Run, Fourmile Creek, Boulder Creek and North, Middle, and South Boulder creeks – Thursday, Jan. 30 | 5 to 6:30 p.m. (presentation at 5:15 p.m.). Boulder Public Library Main Branch, Boulder Creek Room – 1001 Arapahoe Ave. in Boulder
  • @CWCB_DNR: Platte River Recovery Implementation Program Extended 13 Years

    Platte River Recomery Implemtation Program area map.

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

    A victory for wildlife and Colorado water, Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt, Colorado Governor Jared Polis, and the Governors of Nebraska and Wyoming signed a Cooperative Agreement to extend the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program (Program) with $156 million.

    The Colorado Water Conservation Board has played a major role in this Program’s creation and ongoing efforts, including policy and financial support.

    “This collaborative program supports the recovery of four threatened and endangered species by improving and maintaining habitat in the Platte River in Nebraska while allowing for continued water use in Colorado,” said Colorado Water Conservation Board Director Rebecca Mitchell. “We look forward to continuing our role in the upcoming years of the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program.”

    “The commitment by the states and the U.S. Department of the Interior to continue the program’s innovative approach to species recovery and Endangered Species Act compliance is a win-win for the future of Colorado’s citizens and the environment,” said Governor Polis.

    The Program was set to expire at the end of 2019. However, with support from the Colorado Water Conservation Board; Colorado Parks and Wildlife; the Department of Natural Resources; and other state, federal, and non-governmental partners; a bill supported by the entire Congressional delegation from Colorado, Nebraska, and Wyoming was passed and signed by the President before the New Year.

    Together with its water users, the Colorado Water Conservation Board is celebrating the Program’s more than a decade record of success. As the Program enters into its next 13 years, it has momentum to continue to recover threatened and endangered species, which provides assurance for future water use in Colorado.

    Sandhill crane migration, Platte River via the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

    Colorado River District working to protect West Slope water users — The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel

    A large irrigation canal in the Grand Valley, which relies on water from the Colorado River to irrigate fields. The state is exploring how a voluntary, temporary and compensated water-use reduction plan, known as demand management, might work. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    Here’s a guest column from Andy Mueller that’s running in The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel:

    At the Colorado River District, we are working to ensure that whatever the future holds, there’s water on the West Slope to support our way of life.

    Whether you grow food, rely on clean water from your kitchen tap, or recreate on our rivers, the River District is working to develop every tool possible to ensure that West Slope water users are represented and protected.

    In fact, the District recently received a $315,000 “WaterSMART” grant, which we will use to analyze many of the risks that we face on the West Slope in an uncertain water future.

    Despite the optimism from recent snowfall, Colorado is still amid a prolonged decline of flows in the Colorado River — and facing more variable weather conditions and snowpack with each passing year. When you combine that with growing population in the Colorado River basin, both in Colorado and downstream, we’re looking at an uncertain water supply.

    Under the Colorado River Compact, Colorado and other states in the Upper Colorado River Basin are required to keep a certain amount of water flowing to states in the Lower Basin. But declining flows have signaled a risk to that obligation. And continued drought could mean water users in the Centennial State might have to reduce water use in the future without compensation in order to meet this compact commitment.

    As part of a multi-state plan to avoid that, Colorado is exploring the feasibility of a program called demand management, which would pay farmers, industry and cities to voluntarily and temporarily reduce water use in order to bank it in reservoirs for use in preventing an uncompensated call. At the Colorado River District, we have concerns about whether such a program is advisable or necessary, but even as we seek answers to those concerns, others are looking at how such a program will be structured.

    Right now, there are a lot of questions. As Colorado decides if and how demand management would be implemented, we want to advocate for rules that are the best possible for West Slope water users. We are studying the hypotheticals and talking to a broad set of water users to understand what might work in western Colorado.

    The Colorado River District received its $315,000 WaterSMART grant from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation as part of a federal water planning program. We will be working with the Southwestern Water Conservation District, Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, The Nature Conservancy, Basin Roundtables, the state of Colorado and others to study risks to our water supply. Leveraging these federal funds and partnerships allows us to do more to protect West Slope water users.

    Agricultural producers play a critical role in our local economies, whether it’s equipment repairs at a local mechanic or a ranch hand buying a burger at the local diner. Our main street businesses could see changes if farmers, even temporarily, aren’t farming.

    To understand how our local economies might be affected by demand management, the River District is sponsoring a study of the potential secondary economic impacts that such a program could have on the businesses and communities that West Slope agriculture supports.

    The grant will also fund the next phase of a multi-year study to understand the risk to Colorado’s water users if a call under the Colorado River Compact requires that we use less water. This study is designed to give us all an idea of what water rights might be curtailed by a compact call, giving water users across the West Slope a better idea of what could happen to their water.

    Finally, the WaterSMART grant will help us bring West Slope water users together to understand how to create a program that makes sense for them. While we can’t get the thousands of water users in the Colorado River District in a room to decide what demand management should look like, we’ll be working with a broad cross-section of water users from different industries and communities in the district to do just that. We want to be sure that if demand management is implemented, it works for ranchers, towns, and rivers in western Colorado.

    All these studies and conversations will give West Slope water users the information and tools they need to decide if they should take part in demand management. They will also better allow the Colorado River District to advocate for those users and protect water on the West Slope in an uncertain future.

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

    Who should pay for water conservation in the West? Water managers wade into discussion — @AspenJournalism #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification #DCP #CRWUA2019

    Seen from the air, Glen Canyon Dam holds back the Colorado River to form Lake Powell. The state of Colorado is looking into how to fund a program that would pay irrigators to reduce their consumptive use in order to send water downstream to a savings account in Lake Powell. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    From Aspen Journalism (Heather Sackett):

    Water managers from throughout the Colorado River Basin took the stage at the Colorado River Water Users Association conference earlier this month to talk about conserving water in the face of the twin threats to the river: increasing demand and climate change.

    The state of Colorado is currently exploring a water-use-reduction program that is largely designed to pay farmers and ranchers on the Western Slope to voluntarily conserve water. While there’s still debate whether such a program should be implemented, the first question many ask is how to pay for such a program. In recent months, some water managers have come up with innovative ways to fund the controversial water-use-reduction plan — known as demand management — that wouldn’t rely entirely on taxpayers.

    The drought contingency plan, which water leaders inked at last year’s annual CRWUA meeting, set up a reserve account of 500,000 acre-feet of water that the Upper Basin — Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico — could use to store water in Lake Powell as an insurance policy against dwindling reservoir levels.

    In November, Colorado voters passed Proposition DD, which is projected to funnel roughly $16 million a year to the Colorado Water Conservation Board, or CWCB, by taxing sports betting. Demand management is one of the two things money from Proposition DD could fund (the other is Water Plan grants).

    However, it’s widely accepted that $16 million is not enough to fund either of those things in their entirety. Demand management needs other sources of money.

    Although the Glenwood Springs-based Colorado River Water Conservation District still isn’t convinced that a demand-management program is the right approach for the Western Slope, general manager Andy Mueller told the Las Vegas crowd that the Upper Basin has to reduce its water consumption — and explore creative solutions to accomplish that.

    “I often talk about the Lower Basin overuse and how that’s driving the problem, and I will say they in the Lower Basin need to fix that problem,” Mueller said. “I will also say we in the Upper Basin … need to reduce our use. The science is pretty clear. Water we all thought was there even 15 years ago is not going be there. You can’t have water for the environment and the people if we are not reducing consumptive use throughout the basin.”

    General Manager of the Colorado River Water Conservation District Andy Mueller speaks at the district’s annual seminar in 2018. Mueller told the audience the Upper Basin needs to reduce its consumptive use at the Colorado River Water Users Association conference in Las Vegas earlier this month. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    Who should pay?

    So, if nearly all water users on the Colorado River, including those in the Lower Basin — California, Nevada and Arizona — would stand to benefit from a demand-management program, who should pay for it?

    Not Colorado taxpayers, Mueller said, at least not entirely.

    “Eighty million (dollars) a year would need to be out there in payments to get the appropriate amount of water in Lake Powell,” he said. “That cost to taxpayers is too high. So you turn to: Who else benefits from us creating a storage account in Lake Powell?”

    One answer: power providers in both the Upper and Lower Basin states, who all need Lake Powell to remain above 3,525 feet, the minimum level required to continue generating hydropower. Some Upper Basin power cooperatives such as Western Area Power Administration, which sell power to local communities, including Aspen and Glenwood Springs, purchase hydropower generated at Lake Powell. Adding a small demand-management surcharge to customers’ bills is something that should be explored, Mueller said.

    “Power customers should share in the costs of us storing for demand management,” Mueller said.

    Another potential source of funds could be nonprofit environmental groups, since sending more water downstream to Lake Powell would also benefit stream health. The federal government, whose Bureau of Reclamation operates Lake Powell and Lake Mead, also has a role to play, Mueller said.

    But no matter where the money comes from, Mueller said it must be channeled through the CWCB in a heavily regulated market to prevent speculation by private buyers.

    “We have been very clear it needs to be a guided market if it’s going to happen, with lots of thoughtful, proactive rules to prevent lots of serious consequences,” he said.

    This field in lower Woody Creek is irrigated with water that eventually flows into the Colorado River. The state of Colorado is exploring how to fund a program that would pay irrigators to reduce their consumptive use in order to send water downstream to a savings account in Lake Powell. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    State-led exploration

    The CWCB currently has a workgroup devoted to exploring how to fund demand management. The group has met twice so far, but CWCB facilitator Anna Mauss said the two biggest questions the group is grappling with are these: how much water is needed and what would the cost be. The workgroup, she said, will dive deeper into funding strategies at the next meeting, scheduled for the end of January.

    “We are baby-stepping into this, trying to be diligent,” Mauss said. “It’s really just looking at scenarios at this point.”

    The state is also encouraging innovative ideas from the private sector. The CWCB recently awarded $72,000 to 10.10.10, a Colorado Nonprofit Development Center project that aims to tackle “wicked problems” in water and climate. Under the program, 10 entrepreneurs will, over 10 days, attempt to tackle 10 systemic issues that are not adequately addressed by government, organizations or institutions.

    “Yes, we are looking at demand management, and it could be one of the wicked problems we address,” said Jeffrey Nathanson, president of 10.10.10.

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

    Platform for payment?

    While some people work on finding sources of funding, others are already creating a platform to pay irrigators once the money is in place. Southwest Colorado water managers Steven Ruddell and David Stiller think a reverse auction to compensate water users for using less is the best way to go.

    A reverse auction, which features many sellers (farmers and ranchers) and one buyer (the state of Colorado through the CWCB), would allow water-rights holders to set the lowest price they are willing to accept to voluntarily send their water downstream. According to Ruddell and Stiller’s paper on the subject, a reverse auction would remove paying for demand management from a political process and move it into a market-based process that lets water-rights holders bid the fair-market value of their water. It would also keep costs down for the CWCB.

    Ruddell and Stiller presented their reverse-auction idea at the Upper Colorado River Basin Forum at Colorado Mesa University last month.

    “We’ve tried to bite off a small piece of demand management by suggesting we use an auction that people are familiar with,” Ruddell said. “It’s used to determine the value of something, especially in the ag world.”

    There are still many questions surrounding how a demand-management program might be paid for.

    “There are all sorts of options,” Mueller said. “We shouldn’t just focus on raising taxes in our state.”

    Aspen Journalism collaborates with The Aspen Times and other Swift Communications newspapers on coverage of water and rivers. This story appeared in the Dec. 30 edition of The Aspen Times.

    Click here to view the Twitter hashtag #CRWUA2019 from the conference.

    Gunnison County Board meeting recap #DCP #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    The Crystal River on Sept. 18, 2018. Photo by John Herrick.

    From The Crested Butte News (Katherine Nettles):

    Colorado River Water Conservation District (CRWCD) board member Bill Trampe spoke to the county commissioners this past fall on behalf of the neighboring river district. Kathleen Curry, the chairman of the Gunnison Basin Roundtable, also spoke with commissioners during that meeting.

    Trampe reported that the transfer of ownership of Wolford Mountain reservoir near Kremmling in Grand County occurs on January 1, 2020. “So at that point in time Denver Water gets 40 percent of the ownership,” he said.

    Trampe said demand management and drought contingency planning is always front and center for the board, and said the board is frustrated with the state process moving forward and its slowness putting the nine working groups involved in the state water planning process (Colorado’s Water Plan) to work…

    Trampe described issues relating to water resource demand management, with “interests” on the Western Slope trying to make deals with Front Range entities.

    Trampe said the district felt that individual groups making those deals could lead to a lot more “working the market and eventual condemnation rather than purchase—meaning condemnation by force rather than a deal between parties. If condemnation starts, I think that’s going to ruin everything.”

    The solution, he said, is to work together with Western Slope entities and keep a strong base in the river district to negotiate more collectively. “If there’s one pot of money under state control to pay for demand management, then that’s the way it ought to be. There shouldn’t be individual groups out there doing their own thing.”

    County commissioner John Messner asked if there’s been discussion among river districts about a de-Gallagherizing measure to open up current tax funding constraints. De-Gallagherizing refers to ballot measures that freeze the residential property tax rate as a way to stabilize budgets of rural governments.

    Messner asked if the CRWCD has an opinion on whether a measure will address special districts such as this one.

    “We considered a ballot issue for this fall, but didn’t think we were ready,” replied Trampe. He said the reason to wait was to start more outreach to the public in terms of what the districts are and what they do beforehand. He said the districts are hoping to do this in 2020.

    “Whether it’s de-Gallagherization, or TABOR issues, we’re still trying to decide. But yes, we’re going to do something. We’ve got to do something,” he said.

    Looking to support a water survey on the Crystal River basin

    Commissioner Jonathan Houck reported that during a fall Gunnison Basin Roundtable meeting, members discussed the Upper Crystal River watershed at length.

    That watershed has an application in with the state to conduct a water study, because the 2018 drought demonstrated that several subdivisions in that basin, some of which are in Gunnison County, had no water plan or storage without the Crystal River’s regular flow.

    The Water Supply Reserve Fund (WSRF) is managing that application, and the Gunnison Roundtable considered and ultimately decided on drafting a letter of support…

    Curry noted that a project in a different river basin asking an adjacent roundtable to write a letter is “a little out of the ordinary. So that threw our roundtable a little bit, wondering if that was even the right role. But I put it on our agenda since, if it involved looking at storage feasibility near Marble, in Gunnison County, I thought [commissioners] might be interested in that,” said Curry.

    Houck responded that the county should send a message as well. “We want to see good, thoughtful water planning per all residents within the county. Due to the size and geography of our county we actually span two watersheds. And it’s important for us to advocate for that but understand that the funding needs to come from the appropriate basin,” he said…

    Last, Curry said that the roundtable is preparing to submit a Basin Implementation Plan (BIP) in contribution to Colorado’s Water Plan, and that will include an updated project list. “This is our opportunity to change our project list,” she suggested, with additions or deletions as appropriate. The roundtable formed a subcommittee to begin the process, and its first meeting was this fall.

    Gunnison River Basin. By Shannon1 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=69257550

    2020 #COleg: #Colorado lawmakers to tackle #ColoradoRiver issues, funding water projects, and environmental streamflows in 2020 — @WaterEdCO #COriver #aridification #COwaterPlan

    From Water Education Colorado (Larry Morandi):

    Saving water on the Colorado River system, funding the state water plan, and preserving more water for streams are expected to top lawmakers’ water agenda when the Colorado General Assembly begins its work Jan. 8

    Saving Water on the Colorado River

    Last May the seven Colorado River Basin states signed a drought contingency plan that requires the three lower basin states, Arizona, Nevada and California, to cut water use. It also gives the four upper basin states — Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming — the option to create a large-scale water conservation program that would add more water to storage in Lake Powell. That water would be credited to the Upper Basin states and protect them from cutbacks if levels in Powell start to fall below those needed to generate power and to meet water delivery obligations to the Lower Basin. Colorado and other Upper Basin states are exploring whether such a conservation program, known as demand management, is feasible. Any water users who contributed to the new Powell storage account would do so voluntarily and would be paid for their participation.

    Where would that water come from? Since irrigated agriculture is the largest user, most of it is likely to come from farmers and ranchers. That troubles Colorado Rep. Marc Catlin, R-Montrose, former manager of the Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association in southwest Colorado. “We’re still looking at agriculture as a living reservoir that we don’t have to build,” he says.

    But Catlin sees “some shifting in the conversation” about sharing water cuts with East Slope communities, where there’s a growing recognition that “if it hurts western Colorado, it hurts the whole state.” That’s because East Slope urban water providers rely on transmountain diversions for much of their water supply. Denver Water, for example, counts on Colorado River imports for half its water. And since most of those rights are junior — acquired after the 1922 Colorado River Compact was signed — the metro area, along with irrigators in the South Platte and Arkansas River valleys that receive water via transmountain diversions, would also be affected by any cutbacks in Colorado River water deliveries. It is anticipated that those entities and regions would participate in conservation alongside West Slope irrigators.

    While the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) is now examining whether to create such a program, lawmakers this year will consider a bill that would require CWCB to involve the public and the state’s nine river basin roundtables in developing a demand management program. Although CWCB would have final say, it would have to submit any draft program to the Water Resources Review Committee and consider its feedback.

    Funding Colorado’s Water Plan

    Implementing Colorado’s Water Plan is projected to cost $3 billion over the next 30 years, or $100 million annually. The CWCB and the General Assembly have provided some funding for the water plan, but those amounts cover only a fraction of the water plan’s estimated costs.

    Enter Proposition DD, approved by voters in November. It legalizes sports betting and assesses a 10 percent tax on casinos’ net proceeds. The state can collect up to $29 million per year, with more than 90 percent of that going into a newly created Water Plan Implementation Cash Fund run by CWCB. Experience with sports betting in other states suggests that no more than $16 million in tax revenue will be generated annually, and during the first year just $7 million is expected.

    Lawmakers are expected to discuss options giving them some say in how CWCB allocates that revenue, but those talks may not result in legislation this year.

    Sen. Bob Rankin, R-Carbondale, a member of the Joint Budget Committee (JBC) and prime sponsor of the general fund water appropriations last year, does not expect Proposition DD to affect JBC’s water plan funding recommendations this year. Last year, for the first time, lawmakers approved $10 million in general fund money for the water plan. But Rankin cautions that appropriating another $10 million in general funds to support water plan implementation and demand management development will depend on how revenue forecasts shake out.

    Instream Flows

    Rep. Dylan Roberts, D-Avon, said he plans to introduce a bill that would expand the existing instream flow loan program. Under current law, a water right holder can loan water to the CWCB to further preserve water for rivers on stream segments where the board already holds an instream flow water right. The loan may be exercised for no more than three years in a single 10-year period. Roberts’ bill would increase the number of years the loan could be exercised from three to five, and allow for two additional 10-year periods.

    The proposed bill is similar to one that passed the House of Representatives but was defeated in Senate committee last year. Opposition to that bill centered on the potential impact on historical irrigation return flows from leaving water in the stream rather than applying it on the land, the effects on soils fallowed for long periods, and the tight comment period allotted after a loan application is filed in which opponents can make their case. Those issues were discussed during the interim session, but the Water Resources Review Committee took no action.

    Roberts says that recommendations developed by a Colorado Water Congress working group to provide water right holders with more opportunities to comment and protect downstream users will be incorporated into the new bill. With those changes, he’s optimistic that “we have arrived at a place where more of the water community feels comfortable with the program’s expansion.”

    Other Issues

    The Water Resources Review Committee recommended three other bills for consideration this session. One would address water speculation, with concerns raised that agricultural water rights are being sold to entities with no real interest in farming that are holding those rights for future, profitable transactions. The bill would create a working group to explore ways to strengthen anti-speculation laws and report its findings and recommendations to the committee next year.

    Another bill would task the University of Colorado and Colorado State University’s Colorado Water Center with studying new technologies to improve monitoring, management, conservation, and trading of water rights and report back to the committee in 2021.

    The final bill would increase the number of state water well inspectors and require rulemaking to help the state engineer identify high-risk wells for inspection.

    And although no legislation has yet been drafted, Sen. Kerry Donovan, D-Wolcott, said she anticipates discussion of how to better dovetail water planning with land use development to ensure large new communities have sustainable water supplies.

    Larry Morandi was formerly director of State Policy Research with the National Conference of State Legislatures in Denver, and is a frequent contributor to Fresh Water News. He can be reached at larrymorandi@comcast.net.

    Fresh Water News is an independent, non-partisan news initiative of Water Education Colorado. WEco is funded by multiple donors. Our editorial policy and donor list can be viewed at http://www.wateredco.org.

    George Washington addresses the Continental Congress via Son of the South

    Estimate of Proposition DD revenues in fiscal 2020-21 = $1.5 – $1.7 million #COWaterPlan

    Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013

    From The Colorado Sun (Jesse Paul):

    When Colorado voters OK’d Proposition DD last month, they were told sports betting would deliver millions in tax revenue toward solving the state’s water problems.

    But a new analysis from the Polis administration shows that likely won’t happen in the first full year of wagering.

    The Division of Gaming expects sports betting, which starts in Colorado in May, to generate between $1.5 million and $1.7 million in tax revenue in the 2020-21 fiscal year, which begins on July 1. That amount isn’t enough to reach the threshold under which funds would be transferred to water projects.

    The projection is wildly different from what state lawmakers anticipated when they put the measure on the November ballot. In fact, it’s about the same amount the Colorado General Assembly’s fiscal analysts projected would be generated in the first two months of sports betting.

    The annual revenue expectation also is far less than the $16 million in tax revenue that legislative analysts forecast would be collected each year for the first five years of sports betting in Colorado. The state is authorized to collect up to $29 million in sports betting tax revenue annually under the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights…

    The Division of Gaming’s estimates were presented Thursday to the Joint Budget Committee as it prepared to draft the $30 billion-plus spending plan for the coming fiscal year. And members of the panel expressed concern…

    It’s likely that enough tax revenue will be generated in future years to go toward the water plan, but how much water managers can expect appears lower overall given the latest projections by the gaming division. Proponents of sports betting are bullish that tax revenue figures will rise once the industry matures in Colorado, though they admit initial estimates were likely too high.

    A spokeswoman for the Department of Revenue, which oversees the Division of Gaming, noted “that all of these numbers are still projections.” She added that the department has been consistently conservative in its assumptions about sports betting revenue when speaking with lawmakers and legislative analysts…

    One reason revenue projections are lower: The gaming division doesn’t believe the state’s casinos, which will operate sports betting, will be willing to pay the $125,000 per license — which would have to be renewed every two years — to offer wagering as originally projected. Instead, gaming officials think that the most they could reasonably charge for a license fee would be $40,000 and possibly much less, according to a memo presented to the JBC on Thursday.

    Because the cost to implement sports betting is expected to exceed the tax revenue generated in the first months, it could actually end up costing taxpayers money.

    If that deficit were to happen, the Joint Budget Committee would likely ask the Department of Revenue to dig into its pockets to cover the difference. The funds could, however, ultimately have to come out of the legislature’s discretionary fund, which goes toward paying for things like transportation and education…

    The division’s revenue estimates came after the agency gathered 75 people representing gambling companies and operators from around the world to help create its rules around sports betting. The agency also visited other states where sports betting has been legalized, like New Jersey, to better understand how to implement the wagering in Colorado and what to expect.

    #RioGrande Basin Roundtable meeting recap

    The northern end of Colorado’s San Luis Valley has a raw, lonely beauty that rivals almost any place in the North American West. Photo/Allen Best

    From The Valley Courier:

    Once the proceedings were underway, Wayne Schwab of the Trinchera Irrigation Company recognized Emma Reesor, Vice-Chair of the Roundtable, for being named “Basin Hero” for the Rio Grande Basin by the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

    Later, Bethany Howell of the Rio Grande Watershed Conservation and Education Initiative gave a funding request preview to add a staff position to the Public Education and Public Outreach (PEPO) program in the Basin. Howell pointed out that PEPO is becoming increasingly important because there is a growing lack of local and statewide water knowledge and a lack of communication between various entities that have the potential to collaborate. Also, she mentioned that PEPO could promote the work in the Basin along with highlighting “cutting edge” projects such as the new Doppler Radar System. Howell’s final presentation and the request will come at the January meeting.

    Following Howell’s remarks, Virginia Christensen of the Terrace Irrigation Company also gave a funding preview and request. The Terrace Irrigation Company is seeking to replace diversions that makeup its canal system in 2020. Upon approval, the project anticipated to improve the administration of the system’s water along with numerous other benefits.

    @ColoradoDNR: November 2019 #Drought Update

    A beaver dam on the Gunnison River. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    From the Colorado Department of Natural Resources (Megan Holcomb/Tracy Kosloff):

    Water Year 2019 was characterized by a near average temperature and was the 34th wettest year in a 125-year period. Multiple state records were established in 2019, such as the March 13th bomb cyclone, the July 19th 115°F record at John Martin Dam, and the August 13th hail storm over eastern Colorado.

    The start of Water Year 2020 (WY2020) saw dramatic temperature swings statewide: from the warmest September on record (Sep. 2019) to the 4th coldest October on record (Oct. 2019), marking one of the largest rank jumps on record and one of the state’s biggest changes in monthly average temperature. Grand Junction experienced the coolest Oct. on record while Alamosa and Pueblo experienced the 2nd coolest Oct. on record.

  • The 90-day Standardized Precipitation Index (SPI) from August 26 – November 23 shows notable precipitation deficits in the western half of the state.
  • According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, released November 21, D0 (abnormally dry), D1 (moderate drought), and D2 (severe drought) collectively cover 75% of Colorado. Compared to the start of the Water Year 2020 (Oct. 1) the drought monitor shows degregations of 1-2 classes in the southern and western quadrants of the state.
  • The long term ENSO forecasts are trending toward neutral conditions remaining into the summer (entirety of WY2020). With no El Niño or La Niña forecast to dominate large-scale patterns, the outlook remains a bit more uncertain for the winter.
  • Colorado Drought Monitor November 26, 2019.
  • NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center shows warmer than average temperature outlooks December through February, and near-normal precipitation outlooks for the majority of the state. Northern basins may lean toward slightly above average precipitation these next three months.
  • Reservoir storage remains near to above normal (95 to 126% of average) in all major basins and is 109% of average statewide.
  • Water providers and water users did not report any unusual impacts or concerns at this time.
  • Western Water Plans: How do Western states incorporate regional engagement into water resource planning? — @WaterEdCO

    Frozen Colorado landscape. Photo credit: Water Education Colorado

    From Water Education Colorado (Hannah O’Neill):

    This four-part series contrasts the processes behind the Colorado Water Plan with four other recent western water plans: California, Texas, Montana and Oregon.

    The production cycle of the Colorado Water Plan is a three-phase process, which involves regional engagement and project planning through basin roundtables and Basin Implementation Plans; statewide modeling, published in the Technical Update, and the publication of a comprehensive statewide plan. Not all states directly involve regional groups in state water plan development. Within the five Western water plans researched for this series, two states mandated the production of a high-level statewide policy document; while three states, including Colorado, mandated a regional or “basin” planning effort to inform statewide processes.

    These approaches can be described as “top-down” and “bottom-up.” A top-down approach produces a water plan entirely directed and developed through state agencies, with designated periods for public comment. The final product of a top-down approach, exemplified by the California and Oregon state water plans, is described by state agencies as a high-level policy plan. In contrast, a bottom-up approach is rooted in the recruitment of regional planning groups. These groups develop unique basin plans that directly inform the content and directives of the state water plan. Examples of this planning approach include Colorado, Montana and Texas. The product of a regional approach constitutes multiple products: multiple basin plans and a single comprehensive state water plan. This idea is embodied in the figure below, which features Colorado’s nine Basin Roundtable boundaries.

    This figure distinguishes two types of water plan production: a “top-down” process, executed and directed by state agencies; and a “bottom-up” process, where the production of regional plans informs the content and policy directives of a comprehensive statewide document.

    A legacy of collaboration

    The choice to pursue one strategy or another is rooted in the history of each states’ water governance, as well as contemporary policy and budgetary requirements. The Colorado Water Plan’s mandate for regional planning directly builds on the legacy of the basin roundtable process. The basin roundtable process was established in 2005 by the passage of House Bill 05-1177, “Colorado Water for the 21st Century Act.” This bill codified a deeply collaborative approach to addressing regional water concerns and visions for the future. This legislation also established the Interbasin Compact Committee to operate as a statewide forum for basin roundtables. The success of these volunteer groups directly informed the engagement efforts mandated in the 2013 gubernatorial executive order that called for the production of Colorado’s first statewide water plan.

    Trends across Western water plans: expanding regional engagement, water education, and data accessibility

    Regardless of the degree of regional authorship within a state water planning process, there is interest across Western state water plans in investing in locally identified water projects. For example, documents associated with California’s most recent “2018 Update” underscore a state interest in funding regional priorities. The report “Funding Mechanism Inventory and Evaluation” identifies watershed or river basin assessments as a potential vehicle for the state of California to fund locally-identified management actions.

    This trend in regional engagement is concurrent with an effort to expand water education programming and water policy accessibility. To this end, state water plans including Texas, California, and Colorado have developed (or are currently developing, in the case of Colorado!) interactive online components that will accompany their water plans. While the 2019 Utah Water Plan was not explicitly examined for this blog series, it will notably prioritize a new webpage interface over traditional printing.

    Recently published Western state water plans reflect an increasing emphasis on data transparency and accessibility, as well as state planning processes that better integrate stakeholder and regional perspectives into state water policy.

    Hannah O’Neill. Credit: Water Education Colorado

    Our next post, to be published the week of December 9, will contrast how uncertainty is incorporated across Western water plans. Read the first post in our Western Water Plans series, “How does the Colorado Water Plan compare to our neighbors,” here.

    Hannah O’Neill is a graduate student at CU-Boulder studying environmental policy and western water management. Hannah is a fifth generation Coloradan and Denver native, who has a professional background in fossil exploration and National Environmental Policy Act compliance. Hannah obtained a BS in Geology-biology from Brown University in 2014.

    Western Water Plans: how does the #Colorado Water Plan compare to our neighbors? — @WaterEdCO #COWaterPlan @CWCB_DNR

    This figure captures when the most recent water plan was published for each of these five Western states, as well as the length of the planning cycle. Colorado’s first comprehensive state plan was published in 2015, and set a seven-year planning cycle. Graphic credit: Water Education Colorado

    From Water Education Colorado (Hannah O’Neill, Bianca Valdez and Jakki Davison):

    This four-part series contrasts the processes behind the Colorado Water Plan with four other recent western water plans: California, Texas, Montana and Oregon.

    State water plans account for contemporary water resource challenges, detail supply projections and future demands, and catalyze community discussions around cooperative management. How does the Colorado Water Plan—both the final document and the planning processes involved—compare to other Western states?

    As we approach the second iteration of the Colorado Water Plan (set to begin in 2020, per the schedule outlined in the 2015 water plan), this blog series will explore a diversity of water planning processes. There are currently 17 U.S. states with water plans. Here, we explore five Western state plans that were all published in the last five years: Colorado, Oregon, Montana, Texas and California.

    What’s in a water plan?

    State water plans identify current water demands, project future water supply, and explore potential water projects that will close the gap between projections of future needs and availability. Every state water plan is unique and is largely rooted in the political context of an individual state. Creating a state water plan involves an enormous amount of stakeholder engagement and number crunching in order to understand statewide trends in population, climate and hydrology; articulate state and regional values with regards to water consumption and diversion; and identify both broad regional goals and local water projects to meet those goals.

    Unique Western states; unique water resource challenges

    Importantly, the states featured in this blog series represent two different legal frameworks in how water rights are administered: Colorado, Oregon and Montana operate under prior appropriation, while Texas and California operate under a dual regime of riparian rights and prior appropriation. Prior appropriation, or “first in time, first in right,” allocates water based on the chronology of water diversions for “beneficial use,” or the public good. In contrast to prior appropriation, riparian rights governance associates the ownership of water rights with the ownership of land adjacent to water bodies. Proposed water policies and projects are fundamentally shaped by how water rights are defined; in this manner, the legal framework within a given state provides essential context for how planning processes are applied.

    Each state planning process is informed by the state’s unique combination of legal doctrine of water governance, history of water planning and development, and current statewide priorities. Every state is working to meet unique planning and regulatory requirements in the implementation of water projects and programs; the discussion of differences within this blog series is not intended to imply differences in plan quality. Like any good policy, the water plans reviewed here all aim to keep pace with emergent environmental, social and fiscal needs.

    In the following three blog posts, we will contrast distinguishing components of these five Western water plans in order to better understand the planning process in Colorado. The focus of our discussion will contrast various strategies for executing regional engagement, modeling future scenarios, and incorporating uncertainty; all across our five states of interest: Colorado, Texas, Montana, Oregon and California.

    Our next post, to be published the week of December 2, 2019, will contrast regional engagement strategies across Western water plans.

    This series was developed by Hannah O’Neill, Bianca Valdez, and Jakki Davison, three graduate students studying environmental policy at the University of Colorado at Boulder’s Masters of the Environment program.

    La Plata County commissioners seek applicants for Southwest Basin Roundtable — The Durango Herald

    Basin roundtable boundaries

    From the La Plata County Board of Commissioners via The Durango Herald:

    The La Plata County Board of County Commissioners is seeking applicants to serve on the board of the Southwest Basin Roundtable.

    There are nine basin roundtables in Colorado, each of which facilitates local discussion about water issues and encourages locally driven, collaborative solutions on interstate water issues and works with other roundtables on interbasin and interstate water issues.

    Applicants with education and/or experience with local and state water concerns are preferred.

    Term length is five years, and meetings are held quarterly, alternating between Durango and Cortez.

    This position is advisory only and is not monetarily compensated.

    Applications are available at http://www.co.laplata.co.us/cms/one.aspx?pageId=1633876 or from the La Plata County Administration Office in the County Administration Building, 1101 East Second Ave.

    For more information, call 382-6219.

    Colorado Basin Roundtable OKs grant to study Crystal River backup water supply — @AspenJournalism

    The Colorado River Water Conservation District and the West Divide Conservancy District gave up their conditional water rights in 2011 that could have allowed for a reservoir on the Crystal River at Placita. A proposed back-up water supply study has some groups worried that the idea of dams on the Crystal could be resurrected. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    From Aspen Journalism (Heather Sackett):

    The fight over damming the Crystal River has been resurrected, this time before there are even any dam projects to fight over.

    The Colorado Basin Roundtable voted Monday to recommend the state give $25,000 toward a water study in the Crystal River basin, despite calls from some to deny the Water Supply Reserve Fund request because of concerns that a study might conclude there is a need for water storage.

    The Colorado River Water Conservation District and the West Divide Water Conservancy District brought the grant request to the roundtable in Glenwood Springs in an effort to solve a long-acknowledged problem on the Crystal: In dry years, there may not be enough water for both irrigators and some residential subdivisions.

    On Nov. 18, the Gunnison Basin Roundtable gave its unanimous support to the grant application, even though its support was not necessary. Although the Crystal is in the Colorado River basin, its headwaters are in Gunnison County, and so the Gunnison roundtable decided to voice its support.

    The feasibility study would look at water demands and options for creating a basinwide backup water supply plan, known as an augmentation plan. The study will look at small storage alternatives, probably off the main stem of the Crystal. Until the study is completed, it’s unclear how much water is needed for a basinwide backup supply.

    But some fear that the plan could include dams and reservoirs on the free-flowing Crystal, and they opposed the grant unless storage was off the table.

    Pitkin County Commissioner Kelly McNicholas Kury requested two amendments to the grant application: that any reservoir would be off the main stem of the river and would only be located downstream of the Sweet Jessup Canal diversion (about 2 miles downstream of Avalanche Creek) to preserve the possibility of designating 39 miles of the Crystal River as Wild and Scenic.

    “We are not going to support this application as it’s currently written,” McNicholas Kury told roundtable members Monday. “The county continues to support Wild and Scenic designation on the Crystal.”

    McNicholas Kury and two other roundtable members voted against the funding: recreation representative Ken Ransford and Eagle County representative Chuck Ogliby, who owns the Avalanche Ranch Cabins & Hot Springs in the Crystal River Valley.

    The Crystal River Caucus, which doesn’t have a seat on the roundtable, also objected to the grant application and passed a resolution at its Nov. 14 meeting to that effect. In a letter to the roundtable, the caucus said it does not support the grant and urged voting roundtable members to deny the request. The caucus would, however, support a study and augmentation plan that evaluates options other than storage.

    But others downplayed the threat of dams, insisting they won’t happen.

    “You’re not going to see a dam on the main stem of the Crystal,” said Colorado River District President Dave Merritt. “It’s not going to happen. The river district is not predisposed to dams. There is a need for a small amount of augmentation water up there. We are talking tens of acre-feet, probably.”

    The Sweet Jessup Canal’s diversion structure is on the Crystal River about two miles downstream from Avalanche Creek. Pitkin County wants any storage on the Crystal that an augmentation study might recommend to be located below the Sweet Jessup to keep open the possibility that the upper portion of the Crystal can one day qualify as Wild and Scenic. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    No backup supply

    During the historic drought of late summer of 2018, the Ella Ditch, which irrigates agricultural land south of Carbondale, placed a call on the river for the first time ever. This means, in theory, that junior-rights holders upstream have to stop taking water so that the Ella Ditch, which has water rights dating to 1885, can receive its full decreed amount.

    Most junior-rights holders have what’s known as an augmentation plan, which lets them continue using water during a call by replacing the called-for water with water from another source, such as a reservoir or exchange. The problem on the Crystal is that several residential subdivisions don’t have augmentation plans.

    Without an augmentation plan, these entities — which are the town of Carbondale, the Marble Water Company, Chair Mountain Ranch, Crystal River Resort, Crystal View Heights and Seven Oaks Commons — could be fined for every day they are out of priority and could potentially have their water shut off, if there is a call on the river.

    Colorado Division of Water Resources Division 5 engineer Alan Martellaro said instead of each subdivision coming up with its own augmentation plan, a basinwide approach makes more sense.

    “We think it would save everyone money if we had a reasonable regional solution,” he said. “It looks a lot to us that a call from the Ella Ditch is going to be more common in the future.”

    The Ella Ditch, which irrigates agricultural land south of Carbondale, placed a call on the Crystal River for the first time ever in 2018. Water managers are seeking solutions in the form of a basin-wide augmentation study, which the Colorado River Basin Roundtable recommended for grant money. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    Contentious history

    To understand why some groups are opposed to even just a study whether storage is an option, it helps to review the contentious history of water development in the Crystal River Valley.

    In 2011, the West Divide district and the Colorado River District abandoned their conditional water rights for nearly 200,000 acre-feet of water storage on the Crystal River after local groups — Crystal River Caucus, Pitkin County and Crystal Valley Environmental Protection Association — opposed the reservoirs tied to the conditional rights. Known as the West Divide project, the now-defunct conditional water rights were tied to a dam on the Crystal just downstream from Redstone, which would have created Osgood Reservoir, and a dam on the Crystal at Placita, which is at the bottom of McClure Pass.

    To try to prevent the specter of dams coming back to haunt the Crystal in the future, Pitkin County and other local groups have pushed for a federal designation under the Wild and Scenic River Act of 1968, which requires rivers to be free-flowing. The Colorado River District opposes the designation.

    “With our challenging history with both the river district and West Divide … this is why we are very nervous whenever we hear discussion of any dams on the Crystal River,” said Bill Jochems, Redstone resident and member of the Pitkin County Healthy Rivers board.

    In the end, the roundtable approved the grant request. A motion to amend the request with a no-storage requirement failed.

    “Obviously, storage is not the first choice,” said Ken Neubecker, the roundtable’s environmental representative and Colorado project director for environmental organization American Rivers. “But you have to look at all the options, including storage, or you’re just not being responsible.”

    The two conservation districts plan to ask for a $50,000 grant from the Colorado Water Plan grant fund in early 2020 to fund the roughly $100,000 project. West Divide plans to contribute $15,000 and the Colorado River District $10,000.

    Aspen Journalism collaborates with The Aspen Times and other Swift Communications newspapers on coverage of water and rivers. This story appeared in the Nov. 29 issue of The Aspen Times.

    Map of the Roaring Fork River drainage basin in western Colorado, USA. Made using USGS data. By Shannon1 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=69290878