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Colorado’s Water Plan turned one year old in November.
This CWCB Confluence issue is dedicated to celebrating the work of Coloradans across the state to implement the plan and ensure that the state’s most valuable resource is protected and available for generations to come.
FromThe Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):
The head of the Colorado River District is defending an ongoing water study from Front Range concerns about its intent and possible regional bias.
Eric Kuhn, the district’s general manager, says while Front Range water interests view the project as a water supply study, that’s not the case.
“It was a how-should-we-be-prepared-for-another-drought study,” he said Monday in providing an update to the Colorado Basin Roundtable water group.
The first phase of a study undertaken by the four Western Slope river basin roundtables, with the leadership of the river district and Southwestern Water Conservation District, found that another severe drought such as the one in the early 2000s could cause enough of a drop in Lake Powell to jeopardize Glen Canyon Dam’s ability to generate electricity. It also could create a risk of Colorado and other Upper Colorado River Basin states being unable to meet their downstream water delivery obligations under a 1922 interstate compact and under guidelines established in 2007. That could result in a cutback in Upper Basin water uses.
The Western Slope is now planning a second phase of the study that would cost about $90,000. The goal is to further quantify the drought risks to water users in the state by looking at use-reduction scenarios for making up for a deficit of water in Powell.
Four Western Slope roundtables are asking the Colorado Water Conservation Board for $10,000 apiece, or $40,000 total, for the study’s second phase, with the river district and Southwest district splitting the difference. But Jim Lochhead, chief executive officer and manager of Denver Water and president of the Front Range Water Council utilities group, has written a letter arguing that such a study would be best conducted at a statewide or Upper Colorado River Basin level, “with all interested water users represented, rather than by particular sub regions or individual roundtables.”
Some of the proposed involuntary water-use curtailment alternatives in the study’s second phase “potentially favor limited special interests,” Lochhead wrote, stressing the need instead for a state-led discussion that considers all interests.
He also voiced the council’s concern that assumptions used in phase one “may be creating biased impressions regarding the amount of the remaining developable water” in the Colorado River Basin, and that phase one may be viewed by some outside the state “as representative of the State of Colorado’s position on remaining developable water.”
How much of that water remains to be developed is a sensitive issue for the Western Slope, where most of Colorado’s water originates, and for the Front Range, which diverts a substantial amount of Colorado River water and wants to divert more.
Kuhn says the study is simply intended to contribute toward developing a collaborative program for avoiding Colorado River compact problems for existing uses and some reasonable amount of new uses on the Western Slope. Collaboration aimed at heading off such curtailments on use due to interstate obligations was identified in the new state water plan as one of seven principles for guiding any discussions of new transmountain diversions out of the river basin.
The CWCB’s director, James Eklund, has agreed to head up meetings aimed at resolving Front Range concerns about the study and its funding. Kuhn said he sees the result being that the state has a bigger say in the study’s scope of work, not that it takes over the study altogether.
Contacted at his home over the holiday weekend…[Jerry Sonnenberg] said the issues the legislature will be grappling with are becoming more acute as time goes on. And none are more contentious than those facing the committee the popular Sterling farmer will again be chairing. Commonly called the Ag Committee, the panel is actually the Senate Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Energy committee — three areas that can come into conflict when it comes to lawmaking.
The biggest challenge Sonnenberg sees for that committee in the coming session is getting meaningful legislation out of the Colorado Water Plan. Only one bill, the South Platte storage survey, which Sonnenberg sponsored in the Senate, came out of this year’s session. He believes there will be much more legislation on that issue next year but it will be more contentious.
“It appears that people only want to implement the conservation part of the (CWP) and not the storage,” Sonnenberg said. “I see the Colorado Water Conservation Board as largely ignoring the whole storage issue.”
But storage has to be on the table in any bill that reaches the Sonnenberg-led ag committee.
“You can’t get stuff through my committee until we have a conversation about (water storage,)” he said…
Sonnenberg is again on the Senate Appropriations Committee, and it’s the one that may actually be dearest to his heart because it’s where he can apply his conservative philosophy of government thrift. That’s not necessarily less spending, but spending where it does the most good, he explained.
“I’m going to question, where is this money coming from?” he said. “Is this money coming out of education or is it coming out of transportation? Are we robbing Peter to pay Paul? I think those are very important things to watch out for.”
The first regular session of the 71st Colorado General Assembly will convene on Jan. 11, 2017.
Efforts continue throughout Colorado with implementation of the one-year-old state water plan, and Summit County is trying to do its part.
A countywide push led by the town of Frisco and the High County Conservation Center (HC3) recently garnered a $94,000 grant from the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) to move forward with a comprehensive Blue River watershed efficiency-planning project. The regional venture, scheduled to start in January 2017, has a total budget of $162,500, and matching cash and in-kind labor contributions from each of the county’s major municipal water providers make up the difference…
The Blue River itself acts as a source for drinking water and agricultural irrigation to Summit’s 29,000 year-round population, not to mention the countless visitors who spend time on the water body each year for recreation. Projections suggest the local population will increase by at least 5 percent over the next decade, meaning the need to conserve and discover additional efficiencies is one of the more painless ways to get ready for the additional ask.
“Water doesn’t recognize geopolitical boundaries, so it’s important we work as a watershed to accomplish some really good water conservation goals,” said Frisco Councilwoman Jessica Burley, who is also HC3’s community programs manager. “The state has set some interesting water goals, and it’s our job to go forth and conquer from a regional perspective. With these initiatives and this plan, hopefully we will make an impact on the Colorado River basin.”
The statewide plan calls for 400,000 acre-feet of new storage and that same total in conservation from urban areas. An acre-foot is the U.S. standard measurement for water bodies and equates to about 326,000 gallons. Sharing 50,000 acre-feet of water possessed by agriculture based on senior rights through alternative methods is another facet of the state plan.
Thus far, the execution of much of the lofty benchmarks has been sluggish, in part due to a lack of funding. It’s why obtaining dollars from the state for such municipal projects is so important. Not only does it provide capital at present while the research is done, but the initial approval also offers eligibility for future grants and loans. Without an CWCB-endorsed efficiency plan in place, funds are otherwise not available.
Mimicking a model previously created by the Roaring Fork Valley, Summit’s Blue River planning enterprise is backed by Breckenridge, Frisco, Copper Mountain Metro, Dillon, Silverthorne, as well as Summit County government — “So we all have a little skin in the game, so to speak,” said Burley — with the primary objective of reducing water consumption by a measurable amount in the next few years. The consortium anticipates a 14-month investigation and review process, followed by some potential actionable items, such as leak detection and repairs, education and outdoor watering mandates, as soon as a year after that.
“This is the first step into bringing the Colorado Water Plan to fruition,” explained Jim Pokrandt of the Colorado River District, a public policy agency in charge of protecting the named basin. “Part of being more water efficient is finding those leaks and stopping them. That’s efficiency at a systematic level, then it drills down to the retail level with things like lawn irrigation, efficient appliances and efficient spigots and showerheads.”
If it’s to be successful, putting the ambitious state plan into practice will ultimately fall more on the shoulders of each local community and watershed, he added, rather than through commands dictated at the state level. And that’s a summons Summit County leadership recognizes and is attempting to embrace one year later.
In the year since Gov. John Hickenlooper and the Colorado Water Conservation Board released a much-ballyhooed plan to grapple with a looming water shortage, a critical question remains: How to come up with the estimated $20 billion to pay for it?
“Money is a key part of making this work,” said Bart Miller, Healthy Rivers Program Director for the conservation group Western Resource Advocates.
The water plan, adopted last November, seeks to head off the looming water shortage created by Colorado’s population boom. In 2050, the state’s population is expected to hit roughly 11 million, double what it is now. The water conservation board projects that demand will outstrip supply by about one million acre-feet of water per year, or enough water to satisfy four million families in Denver.
When Hickenlooper ordered the plan in 2013, he said “every conversation about water needs to start with conservation.” That’s among the two biggest goals of the plan: to ask Coloradans to conserve about 400,000 acre-feet of water per year. The second lofty goal is about storage – either above-ground reservoirs or refilling aquifers, especially in the Front Range – and that goal is also 400,000 acre-feet of water per year. An acre-foot is the amount of water it would take to cover Mile High Stadium from endzone to endzone with one foot of water.
The plan also aims to align water conservation with land-use planning, and calls for sharing of agricultural water and greater protection of watersheds.
The $20-billion cost of the plan is its biggest hurdle. In the plan’s first year, the state was able to invest about one-tenth of one percent of that, about $18 million, in various projects. The state also loaned $90 million to help a water storage project get off the ground near Loveland.
But, it’s not at all clear whether the state will be able to continue to raise even that much money in the short-term future. The General Assembly is tapping severance taxes to cover costs of projects related to the water plan, and that money stream, too, has gone from a stream to a trickle due to the slump in oil and gas, coal and mineral industries.
With the oil and gas industry struggling, it’s difficult for the water conservation board to figure out how to keep the water plan going “at high gear,” former Speaker of the House Russ George of Rifle and water conservation board chair told The Colorado Independent. What’s needed most is a predictable forecast of revenues in order to plan the projects that will solve the problems, he said. That’s just not something that’s possible right now with severance tax revenues and that makes paying for the water plan “risky these days,” he said.
The magnitude of the shortage predicted for Colorado has repercussions across the state, from cities to farms and ranches. The Colorado River, the state’s signature waterway, is already over-tapped. More water is needed from it than it produces annually.
In the year since the plan was adopted, the General Assembly passed an $8 million grant program that will, among other things, pay for a water supply study of the Bear Creek Reservoir, dredge state reservoirs to provide more water storage; and improve watersheds, the swaths of lands that drain all streams and rainfall to a common outlet. One million of the $8 million was earmarked for an update to a water conservation board study that projected the gap between supply and demand would hit one million acre-feet shortage a year by 2050. Water experts now say the shortage is likely to be greater.
The state Legislature also kicked in another $5 million as part of an annual water projects bill. The projects include watershed-level flood and drought planning; funding for water forecasting and measuring, money to update re-use regulations and a training program on water loss.
One of the major collaborations in the first year has been among the four western roundtables (Yampa/White River, Colorado, North Platte and the Southwest) and the Colorado Water Conservation Board on the first phase of a $52,000 study to examine the possibility of a “call” on the Colorado River. Seven states downstream of Colorado would exercise their rights under contracts made with the state to draw more water out of the river that originates here. Such a “call,” has become increasingly probable because both Lake Powell on the Utah-Arizona border and Lake Mead on the Nevada-Arizona border are reaching levels so low the lack of supply could jeopardize the generation of hydroelectricity that supplies the Western power grid.
The chance that the states will issue a call, a situation that could create havoc among them — as well as in Mexico, which also relies on Colorado River water — is on the horizon, but not imminent, said Chris Treese of the Colorado River District.
Colorado agriculture also faces a supply-and-demand gap, and the conservation board teamed up with the Department of Agriculture to devise ways to save water and preserve rural Colorado’s farming and ranching communities and their cultures. The hope is to avoid “buy and dry,” the practice employed by municipal water providers to buy farm and ranch land for its water rights, leaving the land unsuitable for farming. Alternative transfer methods, or ATMs for short, allow farmers and ranchers to lease water rights, rather than sell off their land and the water rights that go with it. ATMs also encourage farmers and ranchers to plant crops with shorter growing seasons.
Farming and ranching use 89 percent of the state’s “consumed” water –meaning water that is used and doesn’t return to a waterway or ditch. Most of that agricultural water comes from the Western Slope and is funneled to the ag-rich eastern part of the state through tunnels built through the mountains during the 20th century.
The water plan’s goal is to use ATMs to conserve 50,000 acre-feet of water a year. The two ATMs currently in place are saving only a fraction of that – 2,500 acre-feet annually, said water conservation board Director James Eklund. “We’ve got a long way to go,” he told the board last week.
In addition to state funding, the success of the water plan relies upon local water providers and municipalities to continue to pay for much of the infrastructure needed to stave off a water shortage.
The Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, based in Berthoud, is into the 12th year of a project to add 40,000 acre-feet of water (enough water to supply 160,000 families in 15 northern Front Range communities) to two reservoirs near Fort Collins and Greeley. A third project, to build the Chimney Hollow reservoir west of Carter Lake in Loveland, will add another 30,000 acre-feet of water. Total cost for the three projects: around $1.2 billion. Chimney Hollow is expected to break ground in about two to three years. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers must give final approval for the Glade and Galeton reservoirs. That is not expected until 2018.
Denver Water also is working on a storage solution: the expansion of Gross Reservoir, west of Boulder. That expansion will add 77,000 acre-feet of water, almost all of it for Denver Water customers along the Front Range at a cost of $380 million. That, too, counts toward the $20 billion cost of the water plan.
As implementation of the water plan began last year, some conservationists complained of a slow start. But, a year in, groups including Conservation Colorado, Western Resource Advocates and American Rivers collectively deemed this year’s efforts to be “a good first lap,” according to a statement issued by the groups last week.
As the 2017 legislative session approaches, Hickenlooper’s administration is preparing to ask lawmakers to approve a three-to-five-year $55 million funding plan that would provide grants and loans for water projects. The money would come from a reserve fund controlled by the Department of Natural Resources. Of that $55 million, $10 million would go directly to fund projects tied to the water plan. Those projects are currently in the application process and have not yet been identified.
The $55 million also includes a $30 million loan guarantee fund for water providers that they can then use to obtain large loans in the financial markets. The CWCB estimates project participants could obtain up to $300 to $400 million in the finance market through this loan fund.
Board director Eklund echoed water conservation board chair George’s concern that severance tax and federal mineral lease revenues aren’t consistent and reliable forms of funding. So, too, did Miller of Western Resource Advocates, who also said it’s critical that the $55 million plan be adopted and the projects launched. The water conservation board is looking for other revenue sources that would provide more stable funding, although George and Eklund declined to identify what those sources might be.
However, The Nature Conservancy recently commissioned a study on various ways the state could generate the money needed to cover that $3 billion state obligation on the water plan. The study came up with nine ideas that could bring in between $10 million and $86 million per year. Those ideas included peak water use fees, a tourism fee; and fees on marijuana grow operations, paid for by consumers or the industry. Summit Economics, which conducted the study, said they would not make a specific recommendation, citing the need for more analysis based on water plan criteria. As a next step, the economists suggested the state gauge public opinion on the top two or three options.
Aaron Citron of the Nature Conservancy said the organization is primarily interested in the environmental goals of the plan, but acknowledged that the funds will support other goals as well.
The water plan wasn’t a high priority in the 2016 session; lawmakers were much more concerned about finding a way to fund transportation infrastructure and K-12 education.
Whether the $55 million ask in the coming session gets approved may depend on the selling job by the water conservation board and supporters of the water plan, including the governor. In the past several sessions, rural lawmakers have been loathe to touch severance tax revenue for anything other than its major intended purpose: to mitigate impacts of oil and gas or other mining activities in local communities. Many of those communities have have been hard hit by declines in oil and gas production and mining, but still have to deal with the impacts of those activities.
Republican Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg of Sterling says he doesn’t have much confidence in the way the water conservation board is proceeding with the water plan. Sonnenberg is most interested in seeing progress on building or expanding water storage, particularly along the South Platte River.
Sonnenberg, who chairs the Senate Agriculture, Natural Resources and Energy Committee, also is not wild about the water conservation board tapping a reserve to cover the $55 million request in 2017. The state, he said, should pay back the severance tax money it has been “stealing” for the last several years, which has often used to balance the budget or pay for other priorities. The water conservation board also ought to do a better job of prioritizing its projects, he said. It may result in a slower pace for the water plan, but the state has to figure out how to allocate the severance tax dollars it has, Sonnenberg said.
Democratic Sen. Pat Steadman of Denver, who sits on the Joint Budget Committee, said the administration’s $55 million request is reasonable and believes that severance tax revenues should cover it. But he also said this might not be the best time to make that request, given a recent court case involving oil giant BP.
Last spring, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled in favor of BP and against the Colorado Department of Revenue in a lawsuit over tax refunds. Energy companies are allowed to deduct transportation, manufacturing and processing costs from revenue when they value oil and gas for severance tax purposes. The Court ruled the energy companies could also include the cost of capital for transportation, manufacturing and processing, and the Court made the ruling retroactive to 2012.
The legislature, concerned that lots of other companies and individuals would seek similar refunds, put the state’s main revenue source, the general fund, on the hook to cover those refunds, estimated in August at about $51.4 million.
Hickenlooper has proposed clearing out several severance tax accounts to reimburse the general fund for those refunds, Steadman noted. And that’s going to cut back on what’s available to the water conservation board for its projects.
The public needs to be weighing in on this, George said, because the infrastructure that people want government to provide has to be paid for somehow. “Growth and demand are outpacing revenue available to modernize our infrastructure,” he said, adding,“that’s a political conversation that persists without solution. The state water plan will be held back if we can’t get over that hump of political decision-making.”
At the Colorado Water Conservation Board meeting the board pledged to secure $55 million in funds for implementation, a big win for year two!
Water is deeply intertwined in Colorado’s way of life. The water we drink, the businesses supporting our economy and the recreation we enjoy depends on clean water and flowing rivers. Until last year, Colorado was one of the few states in the west without a plan for managing our water.
In 2013, Governor Hickenlooper recognized the state needed a long-term water plan and through executive order directed the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) to work with stakeholders across the state to develop a comprehensive water management plan. Last year, important conversations between farmers and ranchers, environmental groups, water suppliers, recreation advocates and concerned citizens at public meetings, at the grocery store, and on the river paid off. In November 2015, Governor Hickenlooper signed the Colorado Water Plan committing our state to coordinated and sustainable water management for the next 35 years.
Colorado is a headwaters state for the Colorado River basin. The Colorado River not only matters to the state and its economy, but it also downstream to the six other states and Mexico that also depend on snowpack that originates here. How and why we manage our water not only affects us, but also our neighbors downstream.
Healthy, flowing rivers support our thriving economies like agriculture and recreation, and our growing cities. Clean water, and enough of it, are essential to support our growing region. Colorado’s heritage and culture is built upon our natural resources and rivers are at the heart of it all. With an abnormally dry fall, it is clear how critical it is to protect and restore our rivers and solidify our commitment to water conservation. Drought volatility varies from year to year across the southwest, and the continuation of this 15-year drought across the basin in the coming years is not out of the realm of possibilities.
November 16, 2016 marked the first anniversary of signing of the Colorado Water Plan. To celebrate the work that has been done across the state, Governor Hickenlooper proclaimed this date as Colorado Water Plan Implementation Day. This proclamation applauds efforts over the past year, and further supports the important work that must continue to move forward goals and objectives contained within the Colorado Water Plan. While this milestone is something to celebrate, implementation thus far has been slower than anticipated. However, at a recent CWCB meeting, new energy was breathed into the plan’s implantation when the CWCB pledged to secure funds for implementation. The CWCB voted to:
Direct the first $30 million of this request towards the creation of a loan guarantee fund
Focus the other $25 million towards funding other important objectives of the Plan, including: $10 million in supplemental funding for the Water Supply Reserve Fund to fund water supply projects; $5 million directed to the Watershed Restoration Program; $10 million towards Water Plan Implementation Funding that will fund non reimbursable investments
How does this funding help support healthy rivers and streams here in Colorado?
American Rivers, along with environmental partners and other stakeholders are gearing up to begin work on stream management plans on rivers statewide. These plans are a part of the Watershed Restoration Program, which focuses on developing methods to help manage important rivers and streams in Colorado to keep them healthy for both nature and people. As a part of the budget allocation, the CWCB pledged $5 million to help with the planning and development of Stream Management Plans.
The Colorado Water Plan can only be as successful as its implementation. We congratulate the CWCB and the Hickenlooper Administration for restating their dedication in this first year of the Plan. The Colorado State Legislature has an opportunity to continue the progress of the state’s first water plan by supporting the funding for water conservation measures and stream management plans as they approve the state budget. We must keep the pressure on to ensure future funding and support needed to protect our rivers for communities, agriculture, business, and wildlife. Our state’s future, and the health of an entire region, depends on it.
FromThe Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):
Colorado’s water plan hit its first birthday this month, prompting state water officials and some water activists to offer an assessment of how implementation has been going in addressing the state’s future water needs.
“I’d say that there have been quite a few activities done this past year,” said Bart Miller, Healthy Rivers Program director for the conservation group Western Resource Advocates.
But he and some others would like to see the state pick up the pace when it comes to work on the plan, which was an initiative of Gov. John Hickenlooper.
“We don’t want to see the plan sit on a shelf and gather dust,” said Craig Mackey, co-director of Protect the Flows, which represents more than 1,100 businesses that support protecting the Colorado River system.
James Eklund, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, a state agency, responded to such concerns during the board’s meeting last week, saying that “we are moving forward aggressively and I don’t think slowly at all.”
The plan sets out to eliminate, through a mix of conservation, new water projects and other means, what otherwise could be a 560,000-acre-foot gap between municipal and industrial water demand and supply in the state by 2050.
Miller credits the state for a number of recent actions it has taken to start carrying out the water plan. In September, the Board adopted new criteria for evaluating applications for loans and grants from its water supply reserve fund, which pays for projects that must be approved by the applicable local river basin roundtable. The new criteria are intended to match up with water plan goals, helping address identified water gaps, ensuring collaboration and local involvement, and avoiding or mitigating environmental and other impacts.
Miller also points to the $55 million in funding the Board approved last week related to the water plan. That includes $10 million in supplemental money for the reserve fund, the same amount for water plan implementation, $5 million for stream and watershed conservation, and $30 million in loan guarantee money.
The spending will require approval by the legislature in order to go forward.
Miller said while there’s still a long ways to go in carrying out the water plan, the approval of the spending is a good-faith show of progress.
“They’ve, I think, run a good first lap in this race and there’s quite a few laps to go,” he said.
But Mackey pointed to the billions of dollars the plan is expected to require to implement, and said educating the public about the plan and water in general is crucial.
“Our view is we’ve got a lot of work to do,” he said, as he called on everyone from Hickenlooper, to lawmakers, the business community and others to come together and show leadership in selling key components of the plan.
Part of Board’s meeting last week was devoted to reviewing educational efforts the agency is undertaking to show what work it has been doing on various elements of the plan. Among the achievements it cites are initiatives in areas such as integrating water considerations into land-use planning, working with other state agencies to address water-related concerns related to climate change, and exploring ways to divert agricultural water for other uses without altogether buying out, and drying out, farmland.
FromAspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith) via The Aspen Daily News:
The board of directors of the Colorado Water Conservation Board gave conceptual approval Wednesday to a $90 million loan to help finance the $400 million Windy Gap Firming Project, which will divert more water from the Colorado River.
The CWCB, charged with facilitating water supply projects in Colorado, has both a loan program and a grant program. And while its grant program is being challenged by a sharp drop in severance tax revenue from the oil and gas sector, the agency’s loan program remains robust, especially as Aurora just repaid a $70 million loan ahead of schedule.
The $90 million loan to Northern Water, which is developing Windy Gap, is the largest in the agency’s history. It will help facilitate a project that is more popular on the Eastern Slope than the Western Slope, given it will increase the level of water sent under the Continental Divide.
The loan, which still needs final approval from the CWCB board, will be part of a financing package for a new reservoir near Loveland called Chimney Hollow Reservoir, which will cost $400 million to construct.
Eric Wilkinson, the general manager of Northern Water, said he expects the project to be approved in 2017, that test drilling has begun at the dam site — next to Carter Lake Reservoir in Larimer County — and design work is well underway. Gov. Hickenlooper has also endorsed the Windy Gap project, even though final federal approval is still outstanding.
Wilkinson also said that the prospect of a CWCB loan has galvanized financing discussions among the 12 different entities – including 10 cities from Broomfield north to Greeley — who are involved in the project as members of the Northern Water Municipal Subdistrict.
“The difference that this has made cannot be overstated,” Wilkinson told the CWCB board about the loan.
Savings needed to backfill drop in severance tax funding
The $90 million loan makes up a big chunk of this year’s “projects bill,” which is submitted annually by the CWCB to the state Legislature for approval. This year’s projects bill is $165 million in all, which makes it the largest annual spending request in the history of the CWCB, which dates back to 1937.
Another big part of the projects bill is $55 million for an array of grants and loans spurred by the Colorado Water Plan, which was approved a year ago by the CWCB board and presented to the governor.
Of the $55 million, $10 million is for projects to be funded at the discretion of the CWCB directors, and $5 million is specifically for watershed restoration efforts and stream management plans, which is a nod to environmental interests in the state.
Another $10 million is used to fund the agency’s Water Supply Reserve Fund, which helps fund local water supply projects identified and approved by the nine basin roundtables around the state, including the Colorado River Basin Roundtable, which meets in Glenwood Springs.
Funding for roundtable projects is supposed to come from severance taxes paid by oil and gas producers in the state to the tune of $10 million a year. But the combination of the slowdown in the gas patch and property tax rebates given to the industry means that the CWCB is only going to see about a quarter of the severance tax revenue this year that it normally receives.
As such, the CWCB is asking the Legislature to let it spend severance tax revenue it has tucked away from the good years. That approach, however, is fraught with danger, as the Legislature is busy trying to figure out how to fill a $500 million to $800 million hole in the state’s budget, which must be balanced each year by law.
James Eklund, director of the CWCB, said the Legislature will be looking in all nooks and crannies for funds, but he’s hopeful that the approval of the state water plan last year will help convince lawmakers that the CWCB has a legitimate need for the money it has set aside for future projects.
Also in the $55 million bucket in the projects bill is a $30 million “loan guarantee fund” to help water suppliers with varying credit ratings to gain better interest rates when funding new projects together.
Eklund is sensitive to criticism that not enough has been achieved after the publication of the Colorado Water Plan a year ago, which itself was the product of an intense two-year collaborative effort among water interests in the state.
On Wednesday, he told the CWCB directors that while the Water Plan was now a year old, it was “only five days old in water years.”
“We are moving forward aggressively,” Eklund said. “And I don’t think slowly at all, especially if you look at it in water time.”
Board renews Ruedi fish-water lease
Also at last week’s CWCB meeting, Eklund said that the Ute Water Conservancy District in Grand Junction has offered to once again lease 12,000 acre-feet of water it owns in Ruedi Reservoir to the CWCB, so the agency can help maintain flows in the Colorado River, as it has done the last two years.
While the water from Ruedi benefits endangered fish in a critical 15-mile reach of the Colorado, it has also kicked up river levels in the lower Fryingpan River below Ruedi Reservoir in the late summer and fall to the consternation of some anglers.
The CWCB board also approved a $1.7 million loan for improvements to the Grand Valley Power Plant, which controls one of the senior water rights that make up the “Cameo Call” on the Colorado River above Grand Junction.
The loan to the Grand Valley Water Users Association and the Orchard Mesa Irrigation District will help cover the costs of a $5.2 million project to modernize the hydropower plant, which was built in the 1930s.
Contracts were also finalized this week with a bevy of water consultants to prepare the next edition of the Statewide Water Supply Initiative, or SWSI, which is a more technical version of the state water plan.
The SWSI plan is slated to be finished by December 2017 and is designed to inform regional water plans created by the basin roundtables, known as “basin implementation plans,” as well as provide a base of data for the next version of the more policy-driven Colorado Water Plan.
Also, State Engineer Dick Wolfe informed the CWCB board he’ll be retiring in June 2017 at age 55, after nine years in his role as the state’s top water cop.
Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism and the Aspen Daily News are collaborating on coverage of rivers and water in Colorado. More at http://www.aspenjournalism.org.