@AmericanRivers: The big picture of @ColoradoWaterPlan – two years in

Click here to listen to the podcast. From the American Rivers website:

Last week, the state celebrated the second anniversary of Colorado’s Water Plan. Over the last two years, the state has made solid progress funding grants to advance water projects and increase funding for stream management plans. However, the challenges identified in the plan are significant. A swelling population is stretching our water resources, and climate change is having an impact, by reducing flows on the Colorado River. We need to pick up the pace toward implementing all of the Plan’s water solutions if we are to reach our goal of securing clean reliable water for our communities, preserving our agricultural heritage, and protecting our rivers. Over the next few months, We Are Rivers will highlight the Colorado Water Plan through a series of episodes breaking down the opportunities, challenges, and successes to date from Colorado’s Water Plan. Join us for the first installment, as we look back at the last two years of the water plan and identify a sustainable path forward.

Growing up in New York, I envied the posters pinned up in my middle school hallways that honored Colorado landscapes like the Maroon Bells, Dinosaur National Monument, the Great Sand Dunes, and of course the Colorado River as it weaves through canyons and deserts. But moving to Colorado six years ago, tacking on to Colorado’s growing population, I haven’t exactly made life easier for the state’s water managers. Without the native badge, I empathize with the influx of people flooding into Colorado who have recreational fervor, career hopes, and of course adventure in mind, straining the West’s already overtapped water supply.

Colorado’s population is projected to double by 2050, with most of the growth occurring on the Front Range, where about 80% of the people live. With about 80% of the state’s water coming from west slope snowpack, the imbalance is striking. Additionally, like many other states across the Southwest, Colorado is experiencing higher temperatures, reduced precipitation, and earlier and faster runoff. With growing population and climate change impacts, how can Colorado work to close our gap in supply and demand? Through increased collaboration, dialogue, and efficiencies, the Colorado Water Plan sets out to address this grand dilemma.

The Colorado Water Plan sets a goal of conserving 400,000 acre-feet of municipal and industrial water by 2050. By 2025, if the Water Plan objectives are met, 75% of Coloradans will live in communities that have water-saving actions incorporated into land-use planning. Furthermore, by 2030, the plan sets out to A) re-use and share at least 50,000 acre-feet of water amongst agricultural producers, B) cover 80% of locally prioritized rivers with Stream Management Plans, and C) ensure 80% of critical watersheds with Watershed Protection Plans. In order for a project to utilize the Water Plan’s budget to meet these goals, the proposed conservation project must be appropriate in that it addresses real needs and is cost-effective, sustainable, and supported by local stakeholders.

The state has taken a great step forward by allocating $10 million per year for Water Plan Implementation grants. While this is a first step, we must further fund the plan’s broader strategies as well. Public investment in water projects must be smart, which starts with meeting all of the “criteria” in the Colorado Water Plan. Before any new, significant projects are proposed, the state should apply all of the Water Plan’s criteria in order to demonstrate that the state is committed to investing in (or endorsing) only projects that use public resources wisely, protect rivers and wildlife, and reflect community values. The last two years have seen state funding disproportionately spent on costly structural projects while sustainable, cost-effective methods, such as water reuse and flexible water-sharing agreements have been undervalued and underfunded. Creative conservation projects are essential in upholding the Water Plan to sustain the natural beauty of Colorado’s rivers and streams and ensure a safe and reliable drinking water supply.

However, it is important to note that there is nothing legally binding in the Water Plan that requires Colorado to abide by its outlined goals. Therefore, the success of the plan solely relies on the motivation of everyday people to work together as a community to hold politicians and basin roundtables accountable with respect to the plan. I encourage you to learn more about where your water comes from and what you can do as an individual to reduce your water consumption. We all need to work collaboratively to reduce our demand for water.

As we celebrate the second anniversary of Colorado’s Water Plan, we have an opportunity, and a responsibility to rally behind the premise of the Plan, keeping Colorado beautiful and sustainable for all. Join us over the next few months as we dive into the mechanics of Colorado’s Water Plan, and why it is so important to see it succeed.

Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013

Sterling: Northeast Livestock Symposium recap

North Sterling Reservoir

From The Sterling Journal-Advocate (Jeff Rice):

Increased water conservation along Colorado’s Front Range doesn’t translate into increased water supplies in the farmlands along the South Platte River.

That was part of the message Jim Yahn had for the Northeast Livestock Symposium in Sterling Tuesday. Yahn, who is manager of the North Sterling and Prewitt reservoirs and who represents the South Platte Basin on the Colorado Water Conservation Board, briefed the three dozen people attending the symposium on the Colorado Water Plan of 2015 and how that plan is being put into effect.

Yahn repeated the assertion that, by 2030, the need for water in Colorado will exceed supplies by 560,000 acre feet, or 182 billion gallons per year, and most of that is here in the South Platte River Basin.

The Colorado Water Plan is the road map to closing that gap…

Yahn said the plan is important because developers along the Front Range, where the building and population booms continue unabated, have no plan to provide water for the growth other than to heavily promote water conservation. The Colorado Water Plan calls for conservation measures to save 400,000 acre feet of water per year by 2030. While conservation is important, Yahn said, it’s not nearly enough to close the gap between supplies and demand.

“When cities start conserving (water) less water comes downstream, and we rely on those return flows to irrigate,” he said. “So the 400,000 acre feet of conservation does not apply directly to the gap. It’s not a one-to-one return, one for one, so if municipality has xeriscaping, we don’t see that runoff down here for agricultural use.”

That’s why increasing storage is vital to closing the water gap by 2030, Yahn said. He told the symposium that $21 million in water supply reserve funds already has been approved to find new storage and more than $65.6 million in loans has approved since the governor’s receipt of the Colorado water plan two years ago.

Yahn also pointed to what are called “alternative methods of transfer” to temporarily move water from agricultural uses to non-ag uses when the water isn’t needed for irrigation. He said there are seven known ATMs in Colorado; two in the Arkansas River Basin, four in the South Platte basin and one in the Colorado River basin.

Two of the four in the South Platte basin are with the North Sterling Irrigation Co., which Yahn manages; one is for 3,000 acre feet with Xcel Energy for its Pawnee Generation Plant at brush, and one for 6,000 acre feet with BNN Energy for hydraulic fracturing of oil and gas wells in Weld County.

Yahn pointed out that ATMs aren’t a panacea to closing the water gap, but are better than permanent sale of irrigated crop land to obtain water rights.

Fundraising goal met for a 500 AF environmental pool in Chatfield Reservoir

Proposed reallocation pool — Graphic/USACE

From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

Denver’s project to ensure at least some water for fish in a 40-mile urban stretch of the South Platte River — even during the winter low-flow months when people practically drain it — is gaining momentum.

A fundraising goal has been met to buy space in Chatfield Reservoir, southwest of Denver, to store an “environmental pool” of water – about 500 acre-feet (163 million gallons), Denver Water officials confirmed last week.

Starting next year, state aquatic biologists plan to release that water strategically, concentrating on 65 or so low-flow days each year. The South Platte still will be one of the world’s most tightly controlled rivers, unable to be a natural river that meanders through a flood plain moving sediment…

Water releases will begin “after the completion of the Chatfield Reallocation Project,” Denver Water officials said, with the water moving from Chatfield through a Colorado Parks and Wildlife fish hatchery. Fish grown there, including rainbow trout, may be used to stock river pools where fish currently struggle to reproduce on their own.

Storing water at Chatfield, built for flood control but now in the process of “reallocation” for water supply, costs $7,500 per acre-foot (325,851 gallons). Denver Water officials agreed to spend $1.8 million and match 19 contributions made by metro county and municipal governments, the Greenway Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation. “The pledge drive was successful and complete,” Denver Water spokeswoman Stacy Chesney said…

The Colorado Water Conservation Board will serve as the owner of the water held in Chatfield for environmental purposes. Water rights owned by the agricultural Central Colorado Water Conservancy District are being used to create that pool.

Aquatic biologists say that, by putting more water into the river, river managers can mimic natural flows, lost after the channelization of the Platte following a ruinous 1965 flood that destroyed structures built in the floodplain.

Stream management plans emerging for Eagle, Colorado and Roaring Fork rivers

The view on Homestake Reservoir in 2014. The reservoir is a key component of the upper Eagle River watershed and is part of a system that diverts water from the basin. The reservoir, and potential new water storage facilities, will likely play a role in a new integrated water management plan being developed by the Eagle River Watershed Council.

By Heather Sackett, Aspen Journalism
EAGLE — The Eagle River Watershed Council is moving ahead with an environmental and recreational needs assessment for the Eagle River basin as part of its effort to create an integrated water-management plan for the river and potentially its tributaries.

To do so, the organization is pulling together disparate groups for some difficult conversations about how the river is used — a requirement of the 2015 Colorado Water Plan.

“We decided the time is right to call all the people into the room,” said Holly Loff, executive director of the Watershed Council.

The Eagle-based nonprofit organization wrapped up meetings last week with representatives from stakeholder groups such as river guides, private land owners, conservation groups, local governments, federal and state agencies, ranchers, water commissioners and trans-mountain diverters in the Eagle River basin, which include the cities of Aurora and Colorado Springs. Representatives from each of the groups are scheduled to participate in a joint meeting this week.

The goal of the talks is to understand the concerns of stakeholders, which will help develop the objectives for the integrated water-management plan. Such plans are also often called “stream management plans.”

In addition to input from stakeholders, a study of the Eagle River basin is also compiling previously collected water-quality data. This information will guide future river-management efforts, as well as permitting and approval processes for future water projects. Loff described the project to members of the Colorado Basin Roundtable on Monday, Sept. 25, at a meeting near Kremmling.

The Eagle River flows past Wolcott in the spring of 2015. The Eagle River Watershed Council has begun talking with regional stakeholders about an emerging integrated water-management plan for the Eagle River.

Studying the river

Loff said the study area would include the length of the Eagle River, from its headwaters at Tennessee Pass to its confluence with the Colorado River at Dotsero. And the two-year planning effort will include a look at the prospect of additional storage in the river basin, as envisioned by a project described in the Eagle River Memorandum of Understanding, which includes a potential new reservoir on lower Homestake Creek below the existing Homestake Reservoir.

The Eagle River watershed plan, which was drafted in 2013 by the Watershed Council, lacks an understanding of environmental and recreational water needs, Loff said, a void the new effort seeks to fill. Carbondale-based Lotic Hydrological will be the hydrological consultant on the project and will perform field data collection and analysis.

The 2013 plans noted that “significant concerns were voiced” about conditions of streams in the Eagle River basin, including “continued impacts from mining, damage to riparian habitats, increasing demands for water, the lack of adequate in-basin storage, impacts from untreated urban and road runoff, the possibility of climate change and the prospect for future population growth and development.”

In addition to its work with various local stakeholder groups, the Watershed Council will soon be seeking input from residents of the Eagle River basin about its river-management plan.

“We do want this to be something the community feels they have a voice in,” Loff said. “The community will most certainly be asked to be involved.”

Eagle Park Reservoir, in the headwaters of the Eagle River basin. Water officials are looking at expanding the capacity of the reservoir.

State funding

The Boulder-based River Network has selected the Watershed Council as one of four organizations in Colorado to receive direct support and assistance in applying for state funding of the project.

Loff said funding for the study would come from the Colorado Watershed Restoration Program, which is overseen by the Colorado Water Conservation Board, with matching funds coming from a variety of sources, including stakeholders. But it is too soon to put a price tag on the project. Loff said the current process with stakeholder groups is helping to determine the scope of work. Only then can the Eagle River Watershed Council create a budget.

“It is unfortunate that we don’t have the scope, objectives or budget complete yet, but when you consider the fact that those are being established with the help of all of the stakeholders from the various groups, I think most would agree that it is the best approach and a good investment of time if we want this to be a strong plan with buy-in from all parties,” Loff said.

The upper Roaring Fork River, east of Aspen, near the river's confluence with Difficult Creek.

Plans for other rivers

The Watershed Council’s integrated water management plan for the Eagle River is one of many such stream management plans in development across the state. In 2015, the Colorado Water Plan called for 80 percent of priority streams in the state to be covered by stream management plans that address the needs of diverse stakeholders.

The Middle Colorado Watershed Council, for example, is working on a river management plan for 75 miles of the Colorado River from above Glenwood Canyon to DeBeque, according to the council’s executive director, Laurie Rink, who also briefed the members of the Colorado Basin Roundtable on Sept. 25. The plan will also include tributaries to the river along that stretch, but not the Roaring Fork River, which flows into the Colorado in Glenwood Springs, as the Roaring Fork Conservancy has previously studied it.

Link said Middle Colorado Council’s effort was also “very much a stakeholder driven process” and that there would be a “very heavy push on stakeholder agreements” as part of the planning process. Rink also said that her group’s aim is to eventually thread together the various river-management plans being developed in the Upper Colorado River basin, including the Eagle River plan.

The upper Roaring Fork River chundering through the Grottos around 6 p.m. on Thursday, June 16, 2016 after the Twin Lakes Tunnel had been closed and the natural flows of Lost Man and Lincoln creeks had been turned back into the river.

Roaring Fork advisors

In the Roaring Fork River basin, City of Aspen officials and a technical advisory group are working on a management plan for the upper reaches of that river above its confluence with Brush Creek, which flows out of Snowmass Village.

Aspen’s technical advisory group is made up of roughly 25 stakeholders and includes Pitkin County officials, the Roaring Fork Conservancy, Trout Unlimited, Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the Salvation Ditch Company, among others.

April Long, an engineer for the City of Aspen whose title is “clean river program manager,” is overseeing the Roaring Fork River management plan. Long said the group met twice during the summer. The meetings with the technical advisors were not open to the public, but Long said the city will seek public feedback as the plan progresses.

Lotic Hydrological is also the consultant on the Roaring Fork plan. Long said officials are using a hydrological simulation computer model, as well as historical data from river gauges, to predict and evaluate different flow scenarios with and without certain diversions.

“You can turn those diversions on or off and see how the river responds when you manage flows differently,” Long said about the model, and can ask, “If you wanted a certain type of ecosystem, what sort of flow do you need?”

Long expects a draft plan of the Roaring Fork River plan to be released in late November.

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism is collaborating with the Vail Daily, the Summit Daily News, the Glenwood Springs Post Independent and The Aspen Times on coverage of rivers and water. The Vail Daily published this story on Saturday, Oct. 7, 2017. The Glenwood Post published the story in its print version on Monday, Oct. 9.

The latest @CWCB_DNR newsletter is hot off the presses

Photo credit: AgriExpo.com.

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

It’s clear that there is great interest and support for implementing alternatives to permanently drying up irrigated agriculture. This is not only true to maintain the bounty of locally grown food and feed products that come from the lower Arkansas River Valley and other farming locations throughout Colorado, but also to preserve all of the other consequential benefits that would be lost.” – Jack Goble

Central #Colorado cloud seeding update

Cloud-seeding graphic via Science Matters

From The Mountain Mail (Joe Stone):

Western Weather Consultants has applied for a permit to perform cloud seeding intended to increase snowfall in the Central Colorado mountains, including parts of Lake, Chaffee and Summit counties.

Sponsors of the application include the Colorado River Conservation District, the Front Range Water Council and the ski areas of Keystone, Breckenridge and Winter Park.

Western’s proposed weather modification program would use silver iodide crystals from ground-based “cloud nuclei generators” to seed clouds favorable for precipitation increases.

Information on the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) website indicates that precipitation from some clouds is limited by a shortage of “natural ice nuclei.” Silver iodide crystals seeded into the clouds become “artificial cloud nuclei.”

Ultimately, that enables clouds seeded with silver iodide “to grow larger, process more water vapor and yield more precipitation.”

The program goals, as stated in the legal notice, are to increase precipitation, snowpack and snow-water content “to benefit natural habitat, agriculture, municipal water, stock growers, recreational and tourism interests and the local economy.”

The American Meteorological Society and the World Meteorological Organization support the effectiveness of winter cloud-seeding projects, indicating that between 5 and 20 percent more snow is produced in target areas.

Data from Western’s operations show precipitation increases ranging from approximately 10 to 20 percent, and the company has operated cloud-seeding programs for more than 40 years in the San Juan and Central Colorado mountains.

During the 2011-12 season, Western’s data show increased snowfall from its cloud-seeding operations of 8 to 16 inches, resulting in an additional 55,253 acre-feet of water.

According to the CWCB, Western has previously held two sequential five-year permits for cloud seeding in this target area, which is generally above an elevation of 8,500 feet.

Western proposes to operate the cloud-seeding program from Nov. 1 through April 15 under another five-year CWCB permit.

According to Western and the CWCB, safeguards will limit weather modification operations based on daily monitoring of the snowpack’s snow-water equivalent, avalanche hazard levels and National Weather Service severe weather statements.

According to Western’s operational plan, “No seeding will be initiated during a period of ‘high potential hazard.’”

Complete details of the operations to be conducted are available by emailing westernweather@gmail.com…

Anyone unable to attend the public hearing can submit comments by email through Oct. 2 at joe.busto@state.co.us. Written comments may also be mailed by Oct. 2 to: Joe Busto, CWCB, 1313 Sherman St. No. 721, Denver, CO 80203.

All public comments will be considered for the record of decision.

For a copy of the map or application for this project, visit http://cwcb.state.co.us/water-management/water-projects-programs/Pages/PermitProgram.aspx.

Comment deadline for #COleg Water Resources Review committee for @COWaterPlan looms

Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Charles Ashby):

Under a bill approved by the Legislature in 2014 a year before the plan was implemented, the committee that reviews and suggests new legislation dealing with water issues is required to review specific elements of the plan.

Although it is not required to, the committee then can suggest bills altering that plan, but such measures would require the full approval of the Legislature and the governor.

The committee is scheduled to vote on final recommendations on the plan on Oct. 5.

The current plan, called for by Gov. John Hickenlooper back in 2013, sets a number of goals for water basins in the state to meet by 2050 in order to ensure there is enough water for a growing population, while still maintaining adequate in-stream flows for environmental and recreational purposes.

A new report released earlier this month updating how the plan is being implemented says those goals are being met.