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.