Demand management discussions continue amid worsening #ColoradoRiver crisis — @AspenJournlism #COriver #aridification

Lake Powell is shown here, in its reach between where the Escalante and San Juan rivers enter the reservoir, in an October 2018 aerial photo from the nonprofit environmental group EcoFlight. Colorado water managers are considering the implications of a program known as demand management that would pay irrigators on a temporary and voluntary basis to take less water from streams in order to boost water levels in Lake Powell, as an insurance policy against compact curtailment.
CREDIT: ECOFLIGHT

From Aspen Journalism (Heather Sackett):

CWCB not yet ready to adopt next-steps timeline

The crisis on the Colorado River is not waiting for the state of Colorado to develop a program to avoid water shortages.

That was the message that Colorado Water Conservation Board members received from some commenters at their regular meeting Wednesday. The state water board is investigating the feasibility of a program known as demand management, which would pay irrigators on a temporary and voluntary basis to not irrigate and instead use that saved water to meet downstream obligations on the Colorado River.

James Eklund, former head of the CWCB and one of the architects of the Drought Contingency Plan, which allows for the possibility of a demand-management program, urged the board in the public-comments portion of the discussion to take swift action on what he called arguably the largest water crisis Colorado has ever faced.

“Time is not your or our collective out. If you wait, that’s a decision that you make to determine whether or not we have a hand on the steering wheel as we move forward with this river,” he said. “The waiting is, I think, folly.”

In written comments, some environmental nonprofit organizations, including The Nature Conservancy, Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and Trout Unlimited, said they were in favor of a demand-management program and urged the state to move forward more quickly.

The state received the comments in response to a draft framework released in March of what a demand-management program could look like, with three tiers of implementation options, guiding principles, threshold issues, trade-offs and equity considerations. The framework matrix is based on the findings of nine workgroups assigned to tackle different aspects and challenges of a potential program.

In addition to written comments, Trout Unlimited Colorado Water Project’s director, Drew Peternell, also told board members at the meeting that the group has concluded that demand management should be one tool Colorado uses to avoid compact curtailment.

“We realize you are taking on some very tough issues, but I also want to urge you to pick up the pace,” he said. “Hydrology on the West Slope is not good. Additional shortages on the system are likely. They would be painful. Now is the time to get something done.”

Gail Schwartz, who represents the main stem of the Colorado River basin on the nine-member board, noted the gravity of the situation and invoked the warnings of 19th-century explorer and river runner John Wesley Powell, after whom the second-largest reservoir in the country and ground zero for many of the basin’s most pressing problems is named. In 1893, the prescient Powell said the American West was “piling up a heritage of conflict and litigation over water rights, for there is not sufficient water to supply these lands.”

“I think that we are at this extraordinary moment in time,” Schwartz said. “This is a desert and we are going to empty every bucket, we are going to empty every river, and this is the inevitable unless we can develop the courage and the ability to step forward.”

The controversial water-banking program, which some fear could harm agriculture on the Western Slope, has sparked a lot of discussion but little agreement over the past two years. Some have expressed frustration with what they say is the state’s slow pace of a program rollout and want to begin pilot projects to test the program’s feasibility. Mark Harris, general manager of the Grand Valley Water Users Association, urged the board in his comment letter to take aggressive action.

“The only way to really raise the important questions and to identify the positive and negative consequences of our actions is to try something,” Harris said. “There is no other way to advance the agenda without taking some well-considered risk.”

Water from the Government Highline Canal pours into Highline Lake in Mack. Water from the Government Highline Canal pours into Highline Lake in Mack. The Grand Valley Water Users Association – the group that regulates water flow in the canal – is calling for the state to take more aggressive steps to test out the concept of demand management.
CREDIT: BETHANY BLITZ/ASPEN JOURNALISM

Drought Contingency Plan

Under the 2019 Drought Contingency Plan, signed by the seven Colorado River basin states, the Upper Basin (Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and Wyoming) can develop a program to send up to 500,000 acre-feet of saved water downstream to Lake Powell as a kind of insurance policy to bolster levels in the reservoir and help meet Colorado River Compact obligations. If the Upper Basin states were not able to deliver the 75 million acre-feet of water over 10 years to the Lower Basin (Nevada, Arizona and California), as required by the 1922 agreement, it could trigger what’s known as a compact call, which would force involuntary cutbacks in water use.

Over the past two decades, climate change has been robbing the Colorado River system of flows, and levels in the river’s two largest reservoirs, Lake Powell and Lake Mead, have plummeted to record lows. Federal officials have begun making emergency releases from Upper Basin reservoirs to prop up levels in Lake Powell and preserve the ability to make hydroelectric power. But some water managers say unless this Upper Basin reservoir water is replenished with big snow next winter, the releases may be a one-time, stopgap solution.

In addition to the urgency imposed by the worsening hydrology, the clock is ticking on the storage agreement laid out in the Drought Contingency Plan, which allows for the development of a demand-management program. It expires in 2026, when a new round of negotiations begins. All four Upper Basin states must agree to move forward with a demand-management program; Colorado cannot go it alone.

The “bathtub ring” at Lake Powell evidences lower flows coming into the reservoir. Federal officials are making emergency releases from upper basin reservoirs to prop up levels and Lake Powell and preserve the ability to make hydroelectric power.
CREDIT: BRENT GARDNER-SMITH/ASPEN JOURNALISM

Decision making roadmap

Despite the sense of urgency expressed by some members, the CWCB did not approve the next step forward that was recommended by staff: adopting a decision making roadmap, which sets out a timeline for determining if demand management is achievable and worthwhile for Colorado. Tackling whether demand management is achievable was set to tentatively begin in September, and looking into whether the program is worthwhile for Colorado was supposed to begin in November.

Schwartz made a motion to adopt the roadmap but later withdrew it after some board members said it was too broad, left too many questions unanswered and did not incorporate feedback from the board.

“I feel this roadmap is incomplete, and until I see the roadmap with the comments from the board, I don’t feel comfortable moving forward,” said Jackie Brown, who represents the Yampa and White river basins.

This field in lower Woody Creek is irrigated with water that eventually flows into the Colorado River. The state of Colorado is exploring how to fund a program that would pay irrigators to reduce their consumptive use in order to send water downstream to a savings account in Lake Powell.
CREDIT: BRENT GARDNER-SMITH/ASPEN JOURNALISM

River District’s interests

Demand management was also a topic at the Colorado River Water Conservation District’s quarterly board meeting in Glenwood Springs on Tuesday. Amy Ostdiek, the CWCB’s deputy section chief for interstate, federal and water information gave a presentation on the state’s progress.

The River District, which represents 15 counties and advocates to keep water on the Western Slope, is conducting its own investigation into the feasibility of demand management through meetings with water users and plans to release a report of its findings. The River District has not yet taken a position on the potential program.

“My personal view is that we are going to keep pushing to protect the River District’s interests in a demand-management program, but we realize this is something necessary to move forward sooner rather than later,” said Peter Fleming, River District general counsel.

Board president Marti Whitmore, who represents Ouray County, asked staff to come up with a proposal with specifics on a demand-management program.

“The time is right to come up with something to put on the table for discussion purposes,” she said. “I’m just looking to break the logjam here, so we are talking some substance instead of just frameworks and process. It could be an opportunity for the River District to provide some leadership.”

CWCB board members plan to continue discussing demand management at an Aug. 18 workshop.

Aspen Journalism covers water and rivers in collaboration with The Aspen Times. For more, go to http://www.aspenjournalism.org.

A land where life is inscribed in #water — The #GrandJunction Daily Sentinel #aridification #COWaterPlan

The Yampa River at Deerlodge Park July 24, 2021 downstream from the confluence with the Little Snake River. There was a ditch running in Maybell above this location. Irrigated hay looked good. Dryland hay not so much.

Here’s a guest column from Phil Weiser and Bob Rankin that’s running in The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel:

From the very founding of our state, our predecessors recognized that, in Colorado, life is inscribed in water. This truth is even written on our Capitol walls beneath the gold dome. As we continue to grapple with the implications of a changing climate and an ever-growing population, one thing is clear — the water management challenges we face require collaboration, innovation, planning, and major funding.

From the San Luis Valley to the Western Slope to the Eastern Plains, our communities depend on water for our agriculture, our outdoor recreation economy, and our lives. But we cannot simply stand pat and continue a status quo in the face of a growing population and decreasing water supplies on account of reduced snowpack.

We must invest in water infrastructure with a sense of urgency — so we can deliver win-win solutions. And we need to do this now as we have unprecedented opportunity to utilize federal and state funds. Our forecast for state revenues for the next few years rebounded dramatically from the initial hit from the COVID-19 pandemic. On top of that, the American Rescue Plan Act provides Colorado $3.8 billion to recover from the pandemic and invest in our future. Water projects are one such investment in which these funds can and should be invested. Furthermore, Congress may very well send additional funds to Colorado this summer through a bipartisan infrastructure package. To be sure, there are competing demands for these funds, such as investing in broadband infrastructure for unserved areas. At the top of the list, however, we should prioritize water infrastructure.

Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013

We believe investment from these combined sources will dramatically strengthen Colorado’s water security and enable us to implement water management projects called for by the Colorado Water Plan. These funds will not address every need, or even every high-priority project, but they will drastically accelerate construction and maintenance work, such as repairing pipes and water leaks, on the systems we rely upon to deliver safe and clean water to our communities.

Colorado has both a vision and a strategy — as well as priorities — for how to allocate funding for water projects. The Colorado Water Plan, adopted in 2015, represents a visionary promise for how Colorado will manage its water resources. For starters, we are committed to protecting all of Colorado and not allowing wholesale “buy and dry” situations. When “buy and dry” plans are implemented, which has already happened in some rural counties, those plans spur the decline of rural communities’ infrastructure, undermine their agriculture, damage the economy, and hurt the local population. There are many cautionary tales in rural Colorado warning us that this is not how to manage water.

The Water Plan also calls for significant investments in water infrastructure, storage, and conservation efforts to meet tomorrow’s water needs. In particular, the plan identified billions of dollars in needs across water supply, infrastructure, recreation, and the environment over the next 30 years. Currently, as noted by the water plan, a fraction of the state budget goes toward water projects. We need to prioritize such investments.

In the Colorado Water Plan, we have a broad roadmap to invest in Colorado’s water future. But right now our biggest challenge is funding. With continued growth on the horizon, planning for the future of water management will become even more important. And to fulfill the plan’s vision, it will take billions of dollars. To be sure, the General Assembly has commendably found both some one-time funding and dedicated funding streams to fund the water plan in recent years. But to properly fund Colorado’s water will take billions more.

Colorado can have a bright future that enables our entire state to thrive. Ensuring that future, however, is going to require smart and innovative investments in how we manage our water. By investing a meaningful portion of the billions provided to Colorado under the American Rescue Plan Act, we can shore up critical water infrastructure that will enhance our resilience going forward, and deliver dividends by strengthening rural communities, creating jobs for agricultural and outdoor recreation centers, and ensuring water resources are protected for the next generation. We have the available resources now to do it and should come together to make the investments called for by the Colorado Water Plan. We both stand ready to work and support the effort to do just that.

Phil Weiser is the attorney general of Colorado. Bob Rankin is a state senator and represents Garfield, Grand, Jackson, Moffat, Rio Blanco, Routt, and Summit counties.

Yampa River at the mouth of Cross Mountain Canyon July 24, 2021.

Roundtable discussion at @DenverWater focuses on #collaboration in the face of #ClimateChange — YourHub

Photo credit: Denver Water

From YourHub (Cathy Proctor):

Tackling the challenges surrounding climate change and water supply will require collaboration and creative thinking, Colorado’s top water leaders and senior federal officials agreed Thursday.

More than a dozen state officials and water leaders from across the state met at Denver Water’s Operations Complex with Department of the Interior Secretary Deb Haaland to discuss the impacts of climate change, the ongoing drought across the Colorado River Basin and how leadership and collaboration at every level will be needed to help address it.

After the discussion, Jim Lochhead, Denver Water’s CEO/Manager, welcomed the group — which included Interior’s Assistant Secretary for Water and Science Tanya Trujillo, Colorado Congresswoman Diana DeGette, Rebecca Mitchell, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, and Colorado Commissioner of Agriculture Kate Greenberg — to a news conference at the utility’s Administration Building, completed in 2019, that is itself a demonstration of the future of water and water efficiency in an urban setting.

Graphic via SustainableWater.com.

Lochhead said the roundtable also included a discussion of the investments Denver Water is making in watershed health, through its From Forests to Faucets program that includes partners at the state and federal level, water conservation, resiliency and sustainability.

Haaland said she was glad to tour “this beautiful building” and praised the roundtable for bringing a wide range of people together for a thoughtful and important discussion…

Greenberg said it meant a lot to the people working across Colorado’s agriculture sector to know issues surrounding climate change were “top of mind” at both the state and federal level…

Attendees at the water leaders’ roundtable discussion were:

  • Deb Haaland, Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior.
  • Tanya Trujillo, Assistant Secretary for Water and Science, U.S. Department of Interior.
  • Davis Raff, Chief Engineer, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.
  • Carly Jerla, Senior Water Resources Program Manager, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.
  • Diana DeGette, U.S. Representative for Colorado’s First Congressional District.
  • Colorado Gov. Jared Polis.
  • Colorado Lt. Governor Dianne Primavera.
  • Kate Greenberg, Colorado Commissioner of Agriculture.
  • Dan Gibbs, Executive Director, Colorado Department of Natural Resources.
  • Rebecca Mitchell, Director, Colorado Water Conservation Board.
  • Jim Lochhead, CEO/Manager, Denver Water.
  • Christine Arbogast, representing Colorado Water Congress.
  • Peter Fleming, General Counsel, Colorado River Water District.
  • Jim Broderick, Executive Director, Southeastern Colorado Water Conservation District.
  • Ken Curtis, General Manager, Dolores Water District Manager (retired).
  • Steve Wolff, General Manager, Southwest Water Conservation District.
  • Jennifer Pitt, Colorado River Program Director, National Audubon Society
  • The Weminuche Audubon Society: Monthly chapter meeting, Wednesday, July 21, at 6:30 p.m.

    Swim class on the San Juan River. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    From the Weminuche Audubon Society (Jean Zirnhelt) via The Pagosa Springs Sun:

    The Weminuche Audubon Society invites you to join us for our monthly chapter meeting on Wednesday, July 21, at 6:30 p.m.

    The meeting will take place on Zoom and the link may be found on the Events tab of our website, http://www.weminucheaudubon.org.

    Water, always an important topic in our area, will be the focus of this month’s meeting. In July, we will learn about the work of the Upper San Juan Watershed Enhancement Partnership (WEP), a local organization working to address the management of this precious resource.

    Al Pfister, on behalf of the WEP, will be presenting the results of data collected in Phase II of the WEP’s assessment of the environmental, recreational and agricultural infrastructure needs in the Upper San Juan River. The WEP’s data collection is a part of the implementation of the Colorado Water Plan of 2015 in the development of a Stream Management Plan/Integrated Watershed Management Plan. The WEP’s data collection efforts were done to assess local environmental, recreational and agricultural infrastructure needs in the face of a warming and drying climate.

    Pfister is a semi-retired fish and wildlife biologist who has worked in seven western U.S. states dealing with endangered species issues, trying to find a balance between conserving imperiled fish, wildlife, plants, herptiles and invertebrates, while still allowing the various uses (development, recreation, grazing, timber harvest, energy development, etc) to coexist. In addition to his work with WEP, he serves on the board of the Geothermal Greenhouse Partnership and on the board of the San Juan Water Conservancy District. He is a past board member of the Weminuche Audubon Society.

    Audubon meetings are open to the public. Please come with your questions about this important management tool. We hope to be able to return to in-person meetings this fall if conditions allow.

    Why the Southwest’s shrinking water reservoirs matter to #Colorado — The #Denver Post #COriver #ColoradoRiver #aridfication #COleg #COWaterPlan

    Lake Powell is seen in a November 2019 aerial photo from the nonprofit EcoFlight. Keeping enough water in the reservoir to support downstream users in Arizona, Nevada and California is complicated by climate change, as well as projections that the upper basin states of Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and New Mexico will use as much as 40% more water than current demand. A recent white paper from a lineup of river experts calls those use projections into question.
    CREDIT: ECOFLIGHT via Aspen Journalism

    From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

    Polis signs latest $20 million infusion for Colorado Water Plan as hotter, drier climate grips Southwest

    Colorado Gov. Jared Polis has signed off on increased funding for water development projects that state officials regard as critical to meet growing demands. But the state’s plans to secure more water from rivers here are colliding with the hotter, drier climate that’s hammering the Southwest, where Colorado River reservoirs are at record-low levels.

    Federal authorities warn hydropower electricity for millions of people (and their air conditioners) could be jeopardized if water levels in Lake Powell and Lake Mead — now both about 34% full — fall much lower. That’s partly why water officials from seven states met in Denver this week to size up perils before their next round of negotiations over how states deal with diminishing water.

    Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming (the Upper Basin states along the Colorado River) are facing pressure from Lower Basin states (Arizona, Nevada, California) to use less water — even though the 1922 Colorado River Compact legally entitles them to use more — to try to save the downriver reservoirs.

    “There’s a reality that we do have a shrinking water supply and we’re all going to have to figure out new ways to reduce our use. We try to stay out of any state’s business, but we also realize there’s not enough water for the Upper Basin to use its full allotted water under the compact,” said Bill Hasencamp, the Colorado River resources manager for the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, which serves 19 million people in the Los Angeles area and San Diego…

    Colorado leaders over the past six years have awarded more than $500 million in grants and loans for 323 projects in carrying out the state’s water plan — which calls for $100 million a year through 2050. Polis last week signed the latest monetary infusion into law: HB21-1260 for $20 million more to the Colorado Water Conservation Board to go toward increased water storage capacity and supply. The bill provides $15 million for loans and grants and $5 million for the regional “roundtable” panels that have planned 500 local water development projects.

    Polis also signed off on SB21-189 to spend $1.2 million more in construction funds for the implementation of the overall $20 billion water plan, which was launched in 2015 to ensure enough for a productive economy — from cities to farms to the recreation industry — while preserving healthy rivers through efficient water use and carefully designed water projects. Two in progress would siphon significantly more water out of the Colorado River basin — an expanded reservoir for Denver and enlarged Moffat system that diverts west-flowing water to the northern Front Range…

    “We are already actively talking about and experiencing cuts, which have been particularly painful in this very dry year,” [Rebecca Mitchell] said, referring to the state’s allocation system that forces junior water-rights holders to use less in dry times. “These are historically low conditions and we need basin-wide solutions that we work on together.”

    State officials in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming contend they’re entitled under the 1922 compact to use as much as 2 million acre-feet more water. But those shares are based on century-old calculations for how much water the river can provide — 15 million acre-feet a year — rather than the 12.3 million acre-feet average total flow since 2000.

    Contingency plans for enduring severe droughts are expected to force mandatory cutbacks next year in Arizona, Nevada and Mexico.

    2021 #COleg: Governor Polis Approves Stimulus Funding to Support #COWaterPlan Projects Statewide — @CWCB_DNR

    L. to R. Dan Gibbs, Kate Greenberg, Jared Polis, Rebecca Mitchell at Confluence Park in Denver June 2021.

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

    The Colorado Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) celebrated with Governor Polis and legislative leaders on signing legislation into law, which will provide $20 million in state stimulus funding towards the Colorado Water Plan, the state’s collaborative framework for addressing water challenges.

    “This investment in our water is a significant boost for the Colorado Water Plan. Our water supply is highly variable, and our demands are growing, all while much of our state deals with a lingering drought. The Water Plan sets a vision and allows our state to plan better for Colorado’s water future,” said Dan Gibbs, Executive Director, Colorado DNR. “We greatly appreciate the strong support of legislators, water providers and other partners for this needed and timely funding to help us address our water challenges head on.”

    Of the funding from House Bill H.B.21-1260, $15 million is directed from the state’s General Fund to the Water Plan Grant Program for statewide goals, and $5 million is directed to local water projects recommended by each of the state’s nine stakeholder-driven basin roundtables.

    “We are so grateful for the legislature’s support in funding critical water projects around the state that will help us all meet our future needs. This funding is not only important for water supply, but also for ensuring that we have a healthy environment, productive agriculture, and robust recreational opportunities,” said CWCB Director Becky Mitchell.

    CWCB awards Water Plan Grants to agricultural water projects, conservation and land use planning efforts, engagement and innovation, environment and recreation projects, and projects that enhance water storage and supply. The upcoming deadlines for grant applications are July 1 and December 1.

    Funding dedicated to projects at the local level are intended to assist Colorado water users in addressing their critical water supply issues and interests. Grants must be approved by at least one of Colorado’s nine basin roundtables and are then forwarded to the CWCB for final approval.

    On the same day, Governor Polis signed Senate Bill 21-189, the annual CWCB Construction Fund Projects Bill, which includes funding for a variety of CWCB programs and projects including satellite monitoring systems, the floodplain map modernization program, weather modification permitting, and funding for Water Education Colorado, among other programs.

    Governor Polis declares #drought emergency for West Slope #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Colorado Drought Monitor map June 29, 2021.

    Here’s the proclamation from the Governor’s office:

    WHEREAS, the State is in Phase 3 activation of the State Drought Plan for twenty-one (21) Colorado counties; and

    WHEREAS, Phase 3 of the State Drought Plan advises a “Drought Emergency” be declared by Proclamation of the Governor; and

    WHEREAS, the State received a summary of heightened concerns emerging from county commissioners, local emergency managers, and consistent, critical input from the Water Availability, Agriculture Impact, and Municipal Impact Task Forces; and

    WHEREAS, the Department of Natural Resource and State Drought Task Force jointly sent a memorandum to the Governor recommending entering a drought emergency for western Colorado counties experiencing impacts from extensive severe (D2), extreme (D3), and exceptional (D4) drought conditions, including Moffat, Routt, Jackson, Rio Blanco, Grand, Garfield, Eagle, Summit, Mesa, Delta, Pitkin, Gunnison, Montrose, Ouray, San Miguel, San Juan, Hinsdale, Dolores, Montezuma, La Plata, and Archuleta; and

    WHEREAS, counties impacted along the continental divide in abnormally dry (D0) conditions and moderate (D1) drought will continue to be closely monitored and added to a drought emergency proclamation as appropriate; and

    WHEREAS, the severe drought conditions and associated impacts in Colorado constitute a drought emergency;

    THEREFORE, I, Jared Polis, Governor of the State of Colorado, do hereby proclaim a drought emergency in Colorado for the following twenty-one (21) western counties: Moffat, Routt, Jackson, Rio Blanco, Grand, Garfield, Eagle, Summit, Mesa, Delta, Pitkin, Gunnison, Montrose, Ouray, San Miguel, San Juan, Hinsdale, Dolores, Montezuma, La Plata, and Archuleta; and
    THEREFORE, I further direct the following measures:

  • The Drought Task Force will continue to meet and monitor evolving conditions;
  • Unmet and urgent needs from communities and regional liaisons will be reported to the Drought Task Force chairs;
  • The Agricultural Impact Task Force and Municipal Water Task Force will continue to meet monthly or as needed to recommend opportunities for incident mitigation to minimize potential impacts; and
  • The need for additional task forces, such as energy or wildlife response teams, will continue to be evaluated as conditions evolve through identified agency representatives.
  • in the State of Colorado.

    GIVEN under my hand and the Executive Seal of the State of Colorado, this thirtieth day of June, 2021 — Jared Polis

    West Drought Monitor map June 29, 2021.

    From Heart of the Rockies Radio (Danny “Dan R” Ridenour):

    Governor Jared Polis has formally declared a drought emergency for western Colorado by Proclamation of the Governor as counties continue to face evolving impacts and water shortages from a multi-year, severe drought episode affecting industries and citizens.

    On June 22, 2020, Phase 2 of the State’s Drought Mitigation and Response Plan was activated for 40 counties and expanded to all 64 counties by September. As extreme drought and record setting fires expanded across the state, drought response moved into Phase 3 (the highest level of activation) of the State Drought Plan. Spring 2021 precipitation resulted in the stark contrast between significant drought relief for counties east of the continental divide and deepening drought and fire danger for the entire west slope…

    While Colorado can face a range of shortages across the state every year, the cumulative impacts of drought stress our landscapes, reservoir storage, wildfire risks, and capacity of many water-dependent economies to rebound from previous year impacts and debts. We continue to work with our neighboring states to implement interstate agreements and consider additional potential solutions.

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

    If #LakePowell’s Water Levels Keep Falling, A Multi-State Reservoir Release May Be Needed — #Colorado Public Radio #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    From Colorado Public Radio (Michael Elizabeth Sakas):

    Lake Powell’s water level is the lowest it’s been in decades, and the latest 24-month projections from the Arizona and Utah reservoir show that it’s likely to drop even further — below a critical threshold of 3,525 feet by next year.

    Graphic credit: USBR

    A 20-year megadrought and a hotter climate has contributed to shrinking water supplies in the Colorado River. If Lake Powell’s levels continue to dwindle, it could set off litigation between the seven states and the 40 million people that all rely on the Colorado River.

    “This is really new territory for us,” said Amy Ostdiek, deputy section chief of the federal, interstate and water information section of the Colorado Water Conservation Board…

    States agree Lake Powell must stay above certain level

    Ostdiek said it’s a “universally-accepted goal” among the seven states to avoid that situation. That’s why they agreed to the 2019 Colorado River Drought-Contingency Plan, which includes the provision that if Lake Powell drops below 3,525 feet, the upper-basin states and the Bureau of Reclamation have a plan in place to send more water to Lake Powell.

    Those meetings are happening. Ostdiek said the upper-basin states have recently switched to planning mode due to the low water levels forecasted for Lake Powell. The plan to protect Powell could involve releasing water from upstream reservoirs of Flaming Gorge, Blue Mesa, and Navajo in Utah, Colorado and New Mexico.

    But the hope is to avoid the need for that plan by keeping Powell above the 3,525-foot threshold.

    At capacity, Lake Powell holds more than 26 million acre-feet of water that originates as snowpack from the Upper Basin. (Source: U.S. Bureau of Reclamation via the Water Education Foundation)

    USGS Report: Assessment of Streamflow and Water Quality in the Upper #YampaRiver Basin, Colorado, 1992–2018

    Click here to read the report (Natalie K. Day). Here’s the abstract:

    The Upper Yampa River Basin drains approximately 2,100 square miles west of the Continental Divide in north-western Colorado. There is a growing need to understand potential changes in the quantity and quality of water resources as the basin is undergoing increasing land and water development to support growing municipal, industrial, and recreational needs. The U.S. Geological Survey, in cooperation with stakeholders in the Upper Yampa River Basin water community, began a study to characterize and identify changes in streamflow and selected water-quality constituents, including suspended sediment, Kjeldahl nitrogen, total nitrogen, total phosphorus, and orthophosphate, in the basin. This study used streamflow and water-quality data from selected U.S. Geological Survey sites to provide a better understanding of how major factors, including land use, climate change, and geological features, may influence streamflow and water quality.

    Analysis of long-term (1910–2018) and short-term (1992–2018) records of streamflow at main-stem Yampa River and tributary sites indicate downward trends in one or more streamflow statistics, including 1-day maximum, mean, and 7-day minimum. Long-term downward trends in daily mean streamflow in April (22 percent overall) at Yampa River at Steamboat Springs, Colorado, correspond to observed changes in streamflow documented across western North America and the Colorado River Basin that are predominately associated with changes in snowmelt runoff and temperatures. During the short-term period of analysis, decreases in streamflow at main-stem Yampa River and some tributary sites are likely related to changes in consumptive use and reservoir management or, at sites with no upstream flow impoundments, changes in irrigation diversions and climate.

    Concentrations of water-quality constituents were typically highest in spring (March, April, and May) during the early snowmelt runoff period as material that is washed off the land surface drains into streams. Highest concentrations occurred slightly later, in May, June, and July, at Yampa River above Stagecoach Reservoir, Colo., and slightly earlier, in February and March at Yampa River at Milner, Colo., indicating that these sites may have different or additional sources of phosphorus from upstream inputs. Yampa River at Milner, Colo., and Yampa River above Elkhead Creek, Colo., had the highest net yields of suspended sediment, Kjeldahl nitrogen, and total phosphorus, and are likely influenced by land use and erosion as the basins of both of these sites are underlain by highly erodible Cretaceous shales.

    Upward trends in estimated Kjeldahl nitrogen and total phosphorus concentrations and loads were found at Yampa River at Steamboat Springs, Colo. From 1999 to 2018, the Kjeldahl nitrogen concentration increased by 10 percent or 0.035 milligram per liter, and load increased by 22 percent or 26 tons. Total phosphorus concentration increased by 20 percent or 0.0081 milligram per liter, and loads increased by 41 percent or 6.2 tons. Decreases in streamflow and changes in land use may contribute to these trends.

    During multiple summer sampling events at Stagecoach Reservoir, the physical and chemical factors indicated conditions conducive to cyanobacterial blooms, including surface-water temperatures greater than 20 degrees Celsius and total phosphorus and total nitrogen concentrations in exceedance of Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment interim concentrations for water-quality standards. Local geological features (predominately sandstones and shales) and additional inputs from upstream land use likely contribute to the elevated nutrient conditions in Stagecoach Reservoir.

    Yampa River Basin via Wikimedia.

    2020 #COleg: Water for Colorado Coalition Celebrates Legislature’s Allocation of $20 Million for State Water Plan Implementation

    The 2015 Colorado Water Plan, on a shelf, at the CU law library. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    Here’s the release from Water For Colorado:

    The Water for Colorado Coalition today celebrated the passage of HB21-1260, which allocates $20 million to the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) and Basin Roundtables for implementation of Colorado’s Water Plan.

    The bill, co-sponsored by House Speaker Alec Garnett, Rep. Marc Catlin, and Sens. Kerry Donovan and Cleave Simpson, passed both the state House and Senate with unanimous approval, illustrating continued, widespread support for water funding in Colorado. The bill will provide the CWCB $15 million for grant projects — like the ones featured here — that will benefit water users and rivers through conservation and education efforts across the state. It also allocates $5 million to be distributed directly to Colorado’s nine Basin Roundtables.

    In response to the passage of HB21-1260, the Water for Colorado Coalition issued the following statement:

    “We are thrilled by the unanimous approval of $20 million to support critical state water priorities, and applaud the Colorado General Assembly for their continued prioritization of water conservation needs. These funds will bolster ongoing water projects and programs and pave the way for new grants, allowing the state to increase resilience to climate change, safeguard flowing rivers, and support thriving communities. We look forward to working with the Colorado Water Conservation Board, Basin Roundtables, and local communities as these funds are distributed to ensure that our rivers and water continue to meet the needs of all who rely on them.”

    In #Fountain, #Colorado, There’s Plenty Of Room For New Homes. But There Isn’t Enough #Water — Colorado Public Radio

    Sprawl

    From Colorado Public Radio (Michael Elizabeth Sakas):

    Colorado Springs is one of the fastest growing regions in the state. Homes are getting more expensive and harder to buy. The boom is expanding into nearby cities — and the pressure is building…

    There are currently fewer than 9,000 taps, or connections, to Fountain’s water supply. Over the last year, Blankenship said developers have applied for nearly 30,000 new taps to the city’s water system.

    [Dan] Blankenship is telling developers, Fountain is tapped out…

    To support that many new taps, the city would need to buy additional rights to use more water. They would also need a place to store that water, and the city would need to treat it and find a way to get it to homes.

    Summary of Observed Wet & Dry Surface Water Hydrology via SCW

    That’s getting harder to make happen in a state like Colorado, where most of the people live on the Front Range but most of the water is on the Western Slope.

    Where the city of Fountain gets its water from

    Fountain gets most of its water from the Pueblo Reservoir, which is filled with water that would otherwise end up in the Colorado River. The reservoir project was built in the 1970s. It’s unlikely the city would be able to build something similar today, Blankenship said. It’s a lot tougher to do that now, just because of the environmental concerns…

    Smith said it’s becoming more common for developers to have to secure water rights and pay for additional water infrastructure if they want to build a big project.

    But he said the situation in Fountain is unusual…

    Fountain hasn’t finalized any plans yet, but they say developers are going to need to help pay the millions of dollars to buy those new water rights, reservoirs, and pipes needed to support that kind of growth. Blankenship, Fountain’s utility director, said instead of the city paying for that upfront, he wants to shift that cost to developers…

    No matter how a developer might have to secure water for a new project, the cost will get rolled into the price of a new home, said Kevin Walker, with the housing and building association in Colorado Springs…

    Kevin Reidy, a senior water conservation specialist with the Colorado Water Conservation Board, said other water utilities are also worried about how to keep up with growth. Fountain is just the first to talk so openly about the issue…

    A big part of Reidy’s job is to get water and land planners to work together, which he said have been too siloed. Reidy helps host training events to get water and land people in the same room to talk about these issues.

    “I think we’re kind of hitting that point where people are kind of saying, ‘Okay wow, we’ve got to do things differently,’” Reidy said.

    For Fountain, that means telling developers this town doesn’t have the water you need. If you want to build here, you’ll have to bring your own.

    The Confluence Newsletter June 2021 is hot off the presses from @CWCB_DNR

    The Colorado Water Conservation Board, after unveiling the Colorado Water Plan in Denver in November 2015. Photo credit: Colorado River District

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

    Scoping Phase Finalized for Colorado Water Plan Update
    The scoping phase for the Colorado Water Plan update process took place between March and early June 2021. During this phase, the Colorado Water Conservation Board collected feedback and input by hosting 13 workshops including 40 speakers and involving 600 participants. Topics ranged from environmental and recreation impacts, forest health, land use planning, climate change, agricultural viability, and more.

    The updated Water Plan will also incorporate eight Basin Implementation Plans – smaller, tailored plans for water issues in each of Colorado’s river basins. These sections of the Plan are set to be finalized in January 2022.

    To follow the Water Plan update timeline, visit http://engagecwcb.org.

    Shaped By #Storage: The How and Why of Storing #Water in #Colorado — Headwaters Magazine

    Here’s an excerpt from the Spring 2021 issue of Headwaters Magazine (Caitlin Coleman):

    INTO THE MODERN STORAGE ERA

    Most Coloradans rely on some form of water storage in order to live. Water is collected when available and later released when and where it’s needed. Water storage is a necessity, providing year-round access to water that would otherwise come in a rush each spring as snow melts into runoff and flows hurriedly out of state.

    “If we were to leave it up to the natural systems, we would be dry for a big part of the year,” says Lauren Ris, deputy director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board. (Ris also serves on the Water Education Colorado Board of Trustees.)

    Farview Reservoir Mesa Verde NP

    The Ancestral Puebloans, who once inhabited the Four Corners region, knew this and relied on water storage like Morefield Reservoir, which anthropologists indicate was used between 750-1100 A.D. and is still evidenced by mounds in Mesa Verde National Park.

    Standley Lake sunset. Photo credit Blogspot.com.

    Years later, upon settlement by non-native populations including land grant recipients, homesteaders and miners, reservoir construction proved vital to sustain a larger population. Dams were rapidly constructed in the late 1800s through 1910, primarily for agricultural water needs. In the early 1900s some 290 dams were built in Colorado, the most dams erected in a single decade.

    Grays and Torreys, Dillon Reservoir May 2017. Photo credit Greg Hobbs.

    The 1930s through 1970s brought a boom of reservoir construction to meet the demands of the state’s growing municipal water needs. Toward the end of this municipal era, the 1960s saw the greatest water storage volume constructed in any decade, with more than 1.8 million acre-feet, including two of the state’s largest water bodies: Blue Mesa Reservoir near Gunnison and Denver Water’s Dillon Reservoir.

    Graphic credit: RogerWendell.com

    The rapid construction of big storage projects in Colorado and the West slowed starting in the 1970s as environmental laws and community concern about environmental impacts grew stronger and project permits became more difficult to obtain. The 1980s Two Forks dam and reservoir project debate and subsequent veto, where local community groups raised enough opposition to stop a planned 615-foot dam southwest of Denver, was a turning point. Two Forks marked the very end of the era in which big reservoirs were the primary answer to Colorado’s water supply, and the start to substantial community involvement.

    The past 10 years have brought the fewest new dams and least amount of new storage volume in 120 years. Yet the call for storage from stakeholders across the state continues. Through the 2015 statewide water planning process, basin roundtables — stakeholder groups who have been working together on a regional, river-basin-wide scale to develop water priorities, assessments and goals — developed Basin Implementation Plans. All of the eight plans identified the need for new, restored or better-maintained storage.

    Evaluating Conserved Consumptive Use in the Upper #ColoradoRiver: A discussion on the initial findings of a groundbreaking research project exploring water conservation in high-altitude ranching operations, June 24, 2021 — @CWCB_DNR #COriver #aridification

    Photo credit: Colorado Water Conservation Board

    Click here for all the inside skinny and to register:

    About this event

    Persistent drought and climate change are putting increasing pressure on our limited water supplies, and stakeholders throughout Colorado are exploring solutions to address these challenges in ways that support our economy, our environment, and our way of life. Providing options to temporarily reduce agricultural water use is one potential solution, but significant knowledge gaps exist about how this can work in practice for the high-altitude perennial grasses that make up the majority of the irrigated acreage on Colorado’s Western Slope.

    With support from the Colorado Water Conservation Board ,the Colorado Basin Roundtable is leading a multi-year field research project with ag producers in the Kremmling area, researchers from multiple universities, and conservation groups in directly tackling this information gap.

    Results from this research project will address three key questions on how ag water conservation can work in practice: How can we accurately and cost-effectively measure water use and water savings at scale? What are the impacts of reduced irrigation on these grass fields and how do they recover under normal irrigation? What does participation in a water conservation project mean for producers’ bottom line and for the ag-based community and economy of the region?

    The CBRT and CWCB invite you to join the project partners for a webinar covering results from the first year of the project and the implications for these challenging questions.

    Basin roundtables push back on Colorado Water Conservation Board’s proposed code of conduct — @AspenJounalism

    The eight major river basins, plus the Denver metro area, are shown on this map from the South Platte River Basin Roundtable. Each basin has its own roundtable, made up of volunteers, to address local water issues.
    Credit: Colorado Water Conservation Board

    From Aspen Journalism (Heather Sackett):

    The state water board is encouraging all nine basin roundtables to adopt a code of conduct requiring members to communicate in a professional, respectful, truthful and courteous way. But some Western Slope roundtables are pushing back.

    Over roughly the last month, Colorado Water Conservation Board Director Rebecca Mitchell has been visiting the remote roundtable meetings on Zoom, answering questions about the code of conduct and urging the roundtables to adopt it. The goal of the document is to make sure everyone feels comfortable speaking up in meetings.

    Mitchell said that with important and potentially contentious discussions on the horizon for water-short Colorado, it’s important to have a set of conduct standards in place to guide those discussions.

    Gunnison River Basin Roundtable member Bill Nesbitt said at the May meeting it was a “third-grade sandbox question.” Mitchell agreed.

    “I think it is similar to a third-grade sandbox, but not every sandbox is fair and some kids throw sand in other kids’ eyes,” Mitchell said. “We need to make the message clear about the expectations as we move forward to some of those really difficult discussions.”

    Some members of the Southwest Basin Roundtable welcomed the code of conduct.

    “I support adopting a policy,” said Mely Whiting, environmental representative and legal counsel for Trout Unlimited. “I think that things do get more and more controversial as we move forward. In my experience on this roundtable, in recent times things have gotten a little bit out of hand and quite a bit more aggressive. I’ve been, myself, uncomfortable quite often.”

    The Colorado legislature created the nine basin roundtables — South Platte, Metro, Arkansas, Rio Grande, San Juan/Dolores (collectively known as Southwest) Gunnison, Colorado, Yampa/White/Green and North Platte — in 2005 to encourage locally driven collaborative solutions on water issues. They represent each of the state’s eight major river basins, plus the Denver metro area, and are made up of volunteers from different water sectors like agriculture, environment, recreation and municipal.

    In addition to asking members to promote an inclusive environment that treats everyone fairly, the code also lays out best practices for conducting business. According to the code, the roundtables have the responsibility for noticing meetings, adhering to federal and state laws and public health orders and performing job tasks promptly and effectively.

    Members at both the Southwest and Gunnison roundtables had issues with the best practices section. Montezuma County representative Ed Millard said the best practices section seemed more relevant to employees of the Division of Water Resources, not a volunteer board.

    “I just think it’s going to have to be tuned to a volunteer organization before we adopt it,” he said at the April Southwest Roundtable meeting. “We certainly do need to resolve the tension and friction, but I don’t think adoption of (an) employee code is the way to do that.”

    Southwest adopted the rest of the code of conduct, minus this best practices part at its May meeting. In the Gunnison basin, a motion to adopt the code of conduct failed; the discussion has been tabled until the July meeting.

    Roundtable member Michael Murphy, who represents Hinsdale County, said the group already holds their meetings with respect and that the code was unnecessary.

    “We are western Colorado. We don’t like being told what to do,” he said at the May Gunnison Basin Roundtable meeting.

    The Colorado Water Conservation Board is hoping the nine basin roundtables adopt their code of conduct. 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.
    CREDIT: HEATHER SACKETT/ASPEN JOURNALISM

    While the code of conduct will be the policy of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, Mitchell admitted there was little the CWCB could do to enforce it on the roundtables, and the roundtables don’t have to adopt it.

    “Being perfectly honest and transparent, enforcing a code of conduct on a volunteer roundtable is difficult,” she told the Southwest Roundtable. “(Enforcement) is as much a responsibility of me as a self-policing in the way we treat each other.”

    Arkansas and Yampa/White/Green roundtables are aware of the code of conduct, but have not adopted it. The Rio Grande, South Platte and Metro basin roundtables have formally adopted it. The Colorado and North Platte basin roundtables have not discussed it yet.

    This story ran in the May 24 editions of The Aspen Times and the Sky-Hi News.

    #Colorado Water Plan Scoping Workshop: Innovations in Irrigation Technology, May 26, 2021

    Efficient irrigation systems help save water and decrease leaching of salts. Photo credit: U.S. Climate Resilience Toolkit

    Click here for the inside skinny and to register:

    A Colorado Water Plan Scoping Workshop focusing on innovations in on-farm irrigation technology and water management.

    About this event

    This will be a two-hour, virtual (zoom) session facilitated by Colorado Water Conservation Board and the Irrigation Innovation Consortium (IIC). The focus of this session will be on bringing together knowledgeable stakeholders on innovations in on-farm irrigation technology and water management. The discussion will be centered around specific actions (e.g. programming, public policies, resources, research) to be included in the Colorado Water Plan Update.

    Measuring the snow below, from 20,000 feet — News on Tap

    The mountain ranges above Dillon Reservoir, seen through the lens of the data collected by sophisticated equipment onboard a plane that flew over the Blue River Basin to measure the amount of water frozen in the snow above Denver Water’s largest reservoir. Image credit: Airborne Snow Observatory Inc.

    From Denver Water (Cathy Proctor):

    New generation of high-tech snow measurements feeds Denver area’s water supply models.

    On April 18, a Beech A90-1 King Air stuffed with sophisticated equipment took off from Gunnison’s regional airport and soared over the mountains above Dillon Reservoir.

    The flight occurred toward the end of the 2020-21 snow season, a nail-biter that has seen streaks of unusually warm, sunny days — and record-breaking heat in early April — broken by waves of storms and inches of snow that extended the ski season at some resorts.

    In the air for three hours, the plane cruised above 20,000 feet, flying back and forth across the 335 square miles of high-country snow drifts that make up the Blue River Basin. Snow melting off high peaks and tumbling down the basin’s creeks ultimately ends up in Dillon Reservoir and the Blue River below Denver Water’s dam.

    And as the Airborne Snow Observatories Inc. plane crisscrossed the sky, lidar equipment it carried shot beams of light at the snow below, capturing reflections from its frozen surface and measuring its depth. The company grew out of a seven-year research effort by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

    Reams of data collected during the flight provide Denver Water with an assessment of the amount of water frozen in the snow.

    Those calculations will in turn feed the utility’s forecast of the amount of water expected to flow into the largest reservoir in the utility’s system that 1.5 million people rely on for drinking water.

    Red splashed across the mountains in the Blue River Basin show where the snow was the deepest in mid-April. The line of dots down the mountain is a ski run at Breckenridge Ski Resort where snow-making machines have added snow to the ground. Image credit: Airborne Snow Observatory.

    “About 80% of Denver Water’s supply comes from snowpack and we want to be able to forecast spring runoff as accurately as possible,” said Nathan Elder, Denver Water’s manager of water supply.

    “Getting more and better information improves accuracy and that helps us know if we have to go on watering restrictions, or what the impacts of runoff will be on the environment and recreation, how we should manage and move our water resources,” he said.

    The mid-April flight was timed to be at or close to the peak of the season’s snowpack. It was the first of two flights Denver Water commissioned to collect data over the Blue River Basin this season.

    Information from the first flight indicated there were normal amounts snow in the middle and lower elevations, but less than expected at higher elevations, Elder said.

    “That’s important to know, because where the snow is on the mountain will dictate when it starts melting for the runoff,” Elder said.

    A second flight in late May or early June will collect information about how much snow might be lingering at the highest elevations.

    he flight path of a plane tasked with collecting data on the snowpack above Dillon Reservoir in mid-April, as it flew a pattern back and forth across the Blue River Basin. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    That’s important because by then, snow at the four SNOTEL measurement sites in the basin, perched at about 11,000 feet, will have already melted away, leaving the utility and other snow watchers blind to water that might still be frozen in place at higher elevations — or may have already melted away.

    “Based on the measurements and history we have, we can overpredict the amount of water in the snow or underpredict. Either way has consequences for how we operate our system, and is something we want to avoid,” Elder said.

    Historically, Denver Water and other water watchers gather information about snowpack and water supplies by looking at data from SNOTEL sites scattered across the mountains, including four in the Blue River Basin area, and information collected by crews snowshoeing to remote locations. Information collected during the season is compared to historical data.

    But Elder compares the SNOTEL measurement spots to pixels in a TV screen.

    “If you have four sites in the Blue River Basin, imagine watching TV and you have four pixels for the entire screen – you won’t be able to tell what’s going on. And if the pixels are in a line across the middle, like the SNOTEL sites are all between 10,500 and 11,400 feet, you can’t see anything above or below that line,” Elder said.

    Throw in additional layers of uncertainty in shifting weather patterns due to climate change, and the confidence in data collected the same way it’s been done for decades starts to slide.

    Denver Water caretaker Per Olsson snowshoes through the woods to access snow-measuring sites. Olsson retired from Denver Water in 2018 after 26 years of service. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    “What we see now isn’t the same as what we’ve seen in the past. You can’t base today’s forecast on yesterday’s data, conditions are changing,” Elder said.

    Gathering data on the snowpack by flying above it started in California and Colorado in 2013 and has occurred occasionally in various river basins across Colorado for several years, as utilities and others have had money available to commission flights.

    Denver Water flew two flights above the Blue River Basin in 2019, then skipped 2020 amid the pandemic.

    But several Colorado water utilities and entities are looking at the possibility of banding together to coordinate future flights, sharing costs and also sharing the data that comes from the flights.

    “When Denver Water did the first Airborne Snow Observatory flights in 2019, we found incredible value from the information and we started to tell the story of those pilot flights at conferences,” said Taylor Winchell, a water resource engineer at Denver Water who works on climate change adaptation and water supply planning issues.

    “There’s a lot of interest, but there also are a lot of questions about the cost, the information, timing – when do you fly – and where those flights might be the most useful,” Winchell said.

    Information collected from the flights is another tool to be integrated into the wealth of information that exists about Colorado’s snowpack, and how it might change in coming years, he said.

    How many inches of water were frozen in the snow in mid-April? The shaded blue band shows how the amount of water changed as you go from 9,000 feet to 14,000 feet on the mountains above Dillon Reservoir. Image credit: Airborne Snow Observatory.

    In April, the Colorado Water Conservation Board gave $45,000 to fund the Colorado Airborne Snow Observatory Expansion Plan, allowing the group to work through all the questions.

    “This project isn’t designed to pay for the flights, but to create a plan for developing a sustainable operation in Colorado with consistent flights, across many watersheds, every year, with costs and information shared – similar to the California program,” Winchell said.

    The planning team includes Denver Water, Northern Water, Dolores Water Conservancy District, Airborne Snow Observatories Inc. (a company that grew out of the NASA-led pilot flights in California) and Lynker, which specializes in water resources planning and analysis.

    Winchell said the planning process is expected to get a diversity of water perspectives across Colorado, spanning state and federal agencies, agriculture and recreation interests, water providers, cities, researchers, environmental groups and Native American tribal groups.

    “Airborne snow flights have benefits for everyone who is involved in water management,” Winchell said. “We’re trying to make sure all perspectives are included in developing this program.”

    Looking to the south from a plane above Dillon Reservoir in June 2019, during an Airborne Snow Observatory flight to gather data on the snowpack above the reservoir for Denver Water. Photo credit: Quantum Spatial.

    Blanco Basin agricultural irrigation needs survey underway — San Juan Conservation District #SanJuanRiver #COWaterPlan

    Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013

    From the San Juan Conservation District via The Pagosa Springs Sun (Cynthia Purcell):

    The San Juan Conservation District has been focusing efforts on evaluating irrigation systems in the Upper San Juan River Basin and looking for opportunities to improve them.

    We have completed our inventory from the upper reaches of the San Juan River Basin down to the Blanco Basin watershed. We are now looking to assess the needs within both the Upper and Lower Blanco Basin.

    We have assembled a team of natural resource professionals to perform this agricultural in ventory. Sterling Moss, a retired Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) conservationist from southwest Colorado, will be leading the team.

    With technical assistance from NRCS, the team will be reaching out to ditch representatives, water right holders and agricultural water users to discuss voluntary participation in this process. They will be out in the watershed throughout the summer evaluating the ditches and are happy to perform a free on-site visit to evaluate private on- farm systems when they are in the area. According to the landowner’s identified goals and objectives, agriculture water system improvements will be developed, with cost estimates provided for the improvements. The ultimate goal is to find funding to help improve these irrigation systems.

    This is part of a larger project in cooperation with the Upper San Juan Watershed Enhancement Partnership to understand local water supply needs and identify potential project areas in the Upper San Juan River Basin. This process is part of the Colorado Water Plan and is funded in part by the Colorado Water Conservation Board as well as local organizations and partners.

    The San Juan Conservation District is a special district of the state of Colorado and was established in 1947 to help farmers and ranchers with soil erosion as a result of the devastation of the Dust Bowl. Today, our mission is to promote the prudent use and adequate treatment of all land, water and related resources within its boundaries to sustain the use of these resources for future generations and to assist in restoration of these resources. We serve the residents of Archuleta County and parts of Hinsdale and Mineral counties up to the Continental Divide. We also work closely with our federal counterpart, the NRCS, and share an office with them.

    Private landowner information will be kept confidential and not released to the public.

    If you would like to have your irrigation water needs evaluated or have questions, please contact Cynthia Purcell, district manager, at (970) 731-3615 or cynthia.purcell@co.nacdnet.net.

    2021 #COleg: Busy #Colorado general assembly session continues, bills could have local impact — The Ark Valley Voice

    LadyDragonflyCC — Creative Commons, Flickr

    From The Ark Valley Voice (Jan Wondra):

    HB21-1260: General Fund Transfer Implement State Water Plan

    Sponsored by Senators Kerry Donovan and Cleave Simpson, this bill is focused on allocating $20 million from the general fund to the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) to be spent to implement the state water plan as follows:

  • $15 million, which is transferred to the water plan implementation cash fund for expenditures and grants administered by the CWCB to implement the state water plan; and
  • $5 million, which is transferred to the water supply reserve fund for CWCB to disperse to the basin roundtables.
  • Ensuring that Colorado can meet its future water needs is critical to maintaining our state as a competitive place to work, play, and live. Colorado has recently faced some of its worst drought years in the state’s history, and predictions are that the growing water demands will continue to strain our limited resources.

    The Colorado Water Plan has been established as the state’s framework for solutions to preserve water values to support a productive economy, healthy agricultural sector, and robust recreation industry. But the bill’s sponsors say the state Water Plan is currently underfunded and needs investments to ensure the state’s long-term economy and protection of our natural resources.

    April 2021 #Drought Update — @ColoradoDNR

    The U.S. Drought Monitor from April 20th showed slight improvements in areas near Larimer and Boulder counties. Similar to last month, exceptional (D4) drought currently covers 15% of the state; extreme (D3) drought covers 17%; severe (D2) drought covers 28%; moderate (D1) drought covers 29%; and recent precipitation resulted in patches of abnormally dry (D0) areas in 10% of the state.

    Colorado Drought Monitor April 27, 2021.

    The 90-day Standardized Precipitation Index (SPI) values from Jan. 11 to Apr. 11 highlight continued dry conditions on the western slope. North eastern Colorado’s SPI data points reflect areas of above average precipitation after January and March snowstorms. The 12-month SPI map depicts the long-term drought conditions due to precipitation deficits in 2020 across the state, especially in the west.

    The NOAA Climate Prediction Center three month outlook indicates increased chance of above normal temperatures and below normal precipitation are in the upcoming months. These forecasts are consistent with long-term temperature trends, and a strong signal in seasonal models of inordinate high pressure ridging over the West. Monsoon season remains uncertain. The current La Niña pattern continues to weaken and is expected to revert to neutral conditions in the summer. This is typical; ENSO signals are often dampened in summer. Development of a 2nd La Niña year is anticipated this fall through winter. The last two 2nd year La Niña events were water years 2012 and 2018. Both were drought years.

    Water providers across the state report average to slightly below average storage levels and near normal demands. Drought management planning and potential restrictions are being discussed through multiple coordination groups. Stakeholders can follow along with state drought response actions and activities through public engagement pages for the Municipal Water Task Force and Agricultural Impact Task Force.

    Colorado Public Safety presented an overview of the wildfire outlook for the coming year to the Water Availability Task Force. Many factors contribute to the extremity of a fire season including humidity, lightning or human created ignitions, rainfall during monsoon season, and winds. In the past, Colorado’s fire season began in late May through June into late August and September. More recently, this pattern has changed around the state and fires can occur during any month. The number of fires has been decreasing across the nation, but the number of acres covered by fires has increased. In 2020, 4 of the 20 largest fires in Colorado occurred, including the first, second and third largest fires in the state’s history.

    Stream Management Planning & Rancher Stewardship in #Colorado — The River Network

    Photo credit: The River Network

    From The River Network (Mikhaela Mullins):

    Since 2017, River Network has worked to increase the number and quality of Stream Management Plans in Colorado. Stream Management Plans, or SMPs, were developed as a result of 2015’s Colorado’s Water Plan, which set goals and measurable objectives to map out the future of water management in the state. One of these objectives is that 80% of locally prioritized streams have an SMP by 2030. River Network is helping watershed coalitions meet this objective by developing guidance on best practices, facilitating a peer learning network, and providing direct support to local coalitions throughout Colorado.

    “Everybody has an interest in water now. There’s a lot more fingers in the pie and it’s a lot easier to all work together to dig out the pie than it is to fight over it.” — Greg Higel, Centennial Ditch Superintendent

    SMPs are data-driven assessments of river health that help communities determine how to protect or enhance environmental and recreational assets in their watershed. SMPs are accomplished by stakeholders convening to evaluate the health of their local river through an assessment of biological, hydrological, geomorphological and other data. This site-specific information is used to assess the flows, water quality, habitat, and other physical conditions that are needed to support collaboratively identified environmental and/or recreational values. To date, there are 26 SMPs that have been completed or are underway. SMPs are as much about people and communities as they are about the functional health of the river. Community and stakeholder buy-in is seen as a critical aspect of a successful SMP.

    As the second-largest economic sector and the largest consumer of water in Colorado, agriculture is a key stakeholder in SMPs. In the San Luis Valley, the Rio Grande Headwaters Restoration Project has done an incredible job at engaging local farmers and ranchers in their SMP and related projects, many of whom have been farming and ranching there for generations. In a recent trip River Network staff, Mikhaela Mullins, had the opportunity to hear directly from these ranchers to discuss the deep connection they have with the land and the Rio Grande River.

    Kyler Brown (left) and Thad Elliott (right). Photo credit: The River Network

    Local ranchers, Greg Higel, Rick Davie, Thad Elliott, and Kyler Brown, shared that stewardship for the land and water has always been important to them and their families. In recent years they had wanted to make improvements to their ditches, diversion structures, and headgates but lacked the resources to make these needed improvements. When they were approached by the Rio Grande Headwaters Restoration Project about partnering on infrastructure improvement projects, they were eager for the opportunity to work together. “The river needed help, and we needed to make sure we did that right,” says Greg Higel, Centennial Ditch Superintendent. Through these partnerships, a number of ditches and related infrastructure were updated. Over time, the ranchers have been able to reduce the amount of time needed to maintain these structures and have seen water quality improve, wildlife return to their land, an increase in riparian plant diversity, and an increase in water quantity resulting in a longer season of water access. The ranchers spoke about how working with Rio Grande Headwaters Restoration Project and other conservation organizations has been a win-win-win situation for all involved in these multi-beneficial projects.

    Thad Elliott with photos of the Rio Grande River from the 80’s. Photo credit: The River Network

    In the future, River Network will continue to support watershed coalitions as they tackle important river planning and identify how it can provide benefits to farmers and ranchers. River Network looks forward to continuing to shift the conversation between conservation and agricultural stakeholders by expanding the role of agricultural organizations, such as conservation districts, to have more of a leadership role. Learn more about the work that River Network has done in Colorado in this video.

    Learn more about the Rio Grande Headwaters Restoration Project at http://www.riograndeheadwaters.org. Learn more about the River Network Colorado Stream Management Plan program at http://www.coloradosmp.org.

    Dear 2021 #Monsoon: Don’t be lame again this year #cwcbwatf

    This pretty much sums up the mood at today’s DNR Water Availability Task Force Meeting.

    @CWCB_DNR: Confluence Newsletter April 2021

    Left Hand Creek NW of Boulder, Colorado. By Kayakcraig – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=48080249

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

    Emergency Flood Loan Completed for St. Vrain Creek and Left Hand Lake
    More than seven years after the devastating floods of September 2013, the final project supported by a Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) Emergency Flood Loan Program — the St. Vrain and Left Hand Lake No. 4 Repair — has been completed.

    In the immediate aftermath of the flooding, CWCB awarded more than $23 million in interest-free and no-payment bridge loans to affected water suppliers for repairing damaged infrastructure. Lake No. 4, located along the St. Vrain Creek was filled with floodwater and debris, eventually causing its embankment dam to collapse. The St. Vrain and Left Hand Water Conservancy District received a loan of up to $4.5 million to repair the dam and construct a new emergency spillway to prevent damage in any similar flood event.

    The 2013 Emergency Flood Loan Program served as a model for the current Wildfire Impact Emergency Loan Program created in response to the 2020 wildfire season. The Wildfire Impact Emergency Loan Program has already authorized more than $9 million in low interest loans.

    Coffin vs. Left Hand Ditch location map via the Left Hand Watershed Cenber

    Bonus: Coffin vs. Left Hand Ditch

    @CWCB_DNR Releases #DemandManagement Framework, Continues Feasibility Investigation #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification #DCP

    The Crystal River runs low outside of Carbondale on September 1, 2020. With average temperatures warming in summer months by as much as 3.5 degrees since the 1950s in Garfield County, streamflows are trending down as peak runoff comes earlier and more water is sucked up by evaporation and dry soils, stressing available water supplies in late summer and fall. Photo credit: Dan Bayer/Aspen Journalism

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

    Following nearly two years of stakeholder discussions and input from Coloradans across the state and from various sectors, the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) released a draft Demand Management Framework. The Framework captures threshold issues; implementation options; and proportionality, fairness, and equity considerations.

    Demand Management is the concept of temporary, voluntary, and compensated reductions in the consumptive use of water in the Colorado River Basin in order to ensure ongoing Colorado River Compact compliance and avoid involuntary curtailment of Colorado water uses.

    Notes to consider while viewing the Framework include: Demand Management is not a foregone conclusion; The framework is not a program, but a point for discussion; Issues will continue to be explored in an open and collaborative manner; and a program would be run by the state for the benefit of the whole state and its water users.

    The CWCB is currently scheduling several virtual events to ask questions and provide input on the Framework from April through June 2021. Details will be published on the Demand Management Upcoming Events chart online.

    Following these initial workshops and meetings, CWCB staff will host a Demand Management Public Listening Session on June 29. CWCB staff will track the input received and then present findings to the Board in July 2021.

    In addition to attending a workshop or listening session, interested parties and individuals are encouraged to complete the public survey on http://engagecwcb.org or submit a question or comment to demandmanagement@state.co.us.

    “We look forward to continuing this open and collaborative feasibility investigation, now focusing on various implementation options for a potential Demand Management program,” said CWCB Director Rebecca Mitchell. “We encourage all Coloradans to help inform the investigation by reviewing the Framework, attending a workshop, and filling out our online survey.”

    Demand Management Engagement Process

    Graphic credit: The Colorado Water Conservation Board

    #Colorado #Water Plan Environmental & Recreational Workshop — @CWCB_DNR #COWaterPlan

    Fishing the Big Thompson River. Photo credit: Larimer County

    Click here for all the inside skinny and to register:

    Join the Colorado Water Conservation Board and Water for Colorado for an E&R scoping workshop for the Colorado Water Plan Update.

    About this Event

    Join us for a collaborative workshop to discuss how local and statewide Environmental and Recreational interests might be incorporated in the Colorado Water Plan update.

    This workshop will cover:

  • Focus Area mapping and work on Basin Implementation Plans to date
  • Other tools to analyze stream health and prioritize actions
  • Stream Management Plans and Fluvial Hazard Zone Mapping
  • Watershed health
  • Recreational interests
  • Breakout Sessions for each Basin to review updated draft focus area maps, identify what else should be included, and a discussion of how a future decision support tool could be helpful.
  • OPINION: #Water issues and wolves — Don Coram via The #Montrose Daily Press #COleg

    Image from Grand County on June 6, 2020 provided courtesy of Jessica Freeman via Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

    Here’s a guest column from Don Coram that’s running in The Montrose Daily Press:

    While the cat is away, the mice will play. That is exactly what is going on in the Colorado General Assembly. With all the COVID-19 issues from the last session, the executive branch and regulatory agencies had full control of Government. It appears the regulatory agencies are still trying to flex their muscles.

    It has been that agencies used fiscal notes to gain favor or opposition using this analysis of the cost of enacting a bill. Last week I had SB 21-034 in the Agricultural and Natural Resources Committee. This bill was to have the conversation of funding for Colorado’s water future. To bring a little history to the subject, Gov. Hickenlooper directed in the spring of 2013 for the Colorado Water Conservation Board to create a plan for Colorado’s water future. When asked where, does the legislature and general public fit? The director of the Department of Natural Resources told us we did not. Under the leadership of former Sen. Ellen Roberts, she and I drafted legislation to bring the conversation to the designated river basins. Ironically, our largest meeting was in Durango. From those meetings, the Colorado Water Plan was written.

    With all the information, the Colorado Water Plan has never been really implemented, because of no stable funding source. So, to start the conversation I drafted and introduced SB-034; it also sat on the shelf for two years prior to introduction. The measure would send to the voters in November of 2022 the question of creating a new enterprise to fund Colorado’s water future. The enterprise would combine the CWCB and the Water and Power Authority to provide grants to water issues, such as treated domestic water, gray water, infrastructure and projects among others.

    Now to the source of my frustration. The fiscal note states that CWCB who already has a grant program for funds that are expended from dollars generated by severance tax would require 7.6 new employees and over $1.25 million to implement the first year and more than $1 million annually to continue. The entire ag committee was frustrated by the department’s position on the projected costs. Estimated cost to the average household was $1.59 per month, and annual revenue was in excess of $38.2 million. The bill failed on party line vote, but the message was sent.

    SB 21-105 is another example of fiscal note jeopardy. With the passage of Amendment 114, reintroduction of the gray wolf, it stated that a plan for reintroduction shall be completed by Dec. 31, 2023. In addressing the Colorado Wildlife Commission, Gov. Polis seemed to give a strong desire to have wolves on the ground in early 2022. Let me make it perfectly clear, I am not challenging the vote of the people. I just want to ensure CPW does it as prescribed in Amendment 114. Side by side comparisons were shown except for the addition on chickens and alternative livestock. The Blue Book projected first year costs at $344,000 and second year costs at $467,000 Those must be some expensive chickens, because the fiscal note asks for $841,414 in the first year and one FTE and $1,003,945 and three FTE in the second year; $300,000 a year for a meeting facilitator; $600,000.00 to host meetings for two years. That seems to be better and less time consuming than this legislator gig. Once again committee members rail on such asinine projections. Final vote, it failed on a party line vote. There is no funding for the wolf reintroduction. So, tell me whose ox gets gored? Education, transportation, health and environment, department of corrections, governor’s office, or what?

    On Saturday, March 20, 2021 Colorado may have had an air quality alert from all the meat that was grilled or served in restaurants throughout Colorado. The Governor’s meatless proclamation certainly had a ripple effect in perhaps setting the record for the most meat consumed in one day in Colorado. I don’t think that was the plan, but my gratitude for all those who stood with Colorado ranchers and farmers.

    FYI, the “Cat” is in the building.

    2020 #COleg: New #Colorado Instream Flow and Natural Lake Level Program Rules Now Effective (HB20-1157 Loaned Water For Instream Flows To Improve Environment) — @CWCB_DNR

    An angler in the Yampa River in Steamboat Springs in early March 2020. Designating part of the Yampa River as over-appropriated would require some water users with wells to have an augmentation plan.
    CREDIT: ALLEN BEST/ASPEN JOURNALISM

    Here’s the release from the Colorado Water Conservation Board (Sara Leonard):

    On March 17, amended rules governing the Colorado Water Conservation Board’s (CWCB) Instream Flow and Natural Lake Level Program became effective.

    The amended rules create additional tools and expand CWCB’s authority regarding temporary loans of water rights to the agency for instream flow use, including the ability to improve the natural environment, and allowing loans to be renewed for two additional 10-year periods, among other features.

    The rule revisions implement Colorado House Bill 20-1157, sponsored by Senator Kerry Donovan and Representatives Dylan Roberts and Perry Will. On January 26, 2021, CWCB held a rulemaking hearing at which public comments were heard and the CWCB ultimately adopted the amendments to its existing rules.

    “The CWCB staff is looking forward to working with the water community on both expedited and renewable loans, and appreciates having additional tools for protecting flows in Colorado’s streams,” said Linda Bassi, CWCB Stream and Lake Protection Section Chief.

    The new Instream Flow Rules, Statement of Basis & Purpose, public comments, and other related documents are available on the CWCB website.

    No blarney: State approves up to $75 million for water projects, fire-scarred watersheds — @WaterEdCO

    From Water Education Colorado (Jerd Smith):

    Colorado’s fire-scarred mountainsides, small-town water districts, drought-stricken rivers and ranches, and the Colorado Water Plan will see a one-time cash infusion of $32 million to $75 million under a bipartisan stimulus program approved by Gov. Jared Polis and Colorado lawmakers last week.

    The Colorado Recovery Plan, as it is known, sets out a $700 million spending plan that includes funds for transportation, education and small businesses, among others, and also includes:

    +$10 million to $25 million for wildfire recovery and risk mitigation;

    +$10 million to $20 million for projects identified under the Colorado Water Plan;

    +$10 million to $25 million for mountain watershed restoration; and

    +$2 million to $5 million for agricultural drought response.

    In hard-hit cities such a Glenwood Springs, where last summer’s Grizzly Creek fire came close to destroying its mountain water system, the cash could help the city’s multi-million-dollar effort to rebuild its water treatment plant and other projects.

    “The details aren’t clear yet,” said Glenwood Springs City Manager Debra Figueroa, “but we absolutely plan to look into it.”

    For groups that have been working for years to establish a permanent source of funding for the Colorado Water Plan’s myriad projects and programs as well as stream and watershed restoration projects, the funding is expected to provide a much-needed boost.

    “The good news is that this will reach projects all over the state,” said Bart Miller, healthy rivers program director at Western Resource Advocates and member of the Water for Colorado Coalition. “I think it’s going to be money well spent. It’s one-time, but it’s going to have a big impact for the water plan and drought [mitigation].”

    The Colorado Water Conservation Board oversees the water plan.

    “We don’t yet have any plans in place to determine how the funding would impact our programs,” said spokesperson Sara Leonard. “Watershed funding is of course needed for post-fire mitigation needs, and we also look forward to working with the legislature on how funding can be put to the best use.”

    The recovery plan also allocates millions of dollars for rural communities and the ranches and cattle operations that have struggled during the pandemic and persistent drought conditions.

    “Agriculture has been hard hit by the drought, and we do need more money for water projects,” said Gene Manuello, an Eastern Plains rancher near Sterling.

    But Manuello said the sprawling spending plan raised questions in his mind about whether the state was spending money too freely.

    “I’m a Republican and I am, in general, not in favor of these kinds of government stimulus programs,” he said.

    The $700 million recovery program is being funded by a better-than-expected recovery in state tax revenue collections. Last year as the pandemic swept the country, shutting down businesses and government offices, Colorado slashed $3.3 billion from the state budget, anticipating that it would take several years before tax revenues recovered enough to restore state spending.

    But the turnaround came faster than expected, allowing lawmakers and the governor to jump-start infrastructure work and job creation in order to help the state recover faster.

    Western Resource Advocates’ Miller said the $32 million to $75 million will be useful for dozens of groups and communities.

    “I’m very encouraged,” Miller said. “It’s a great opportunity.”

    Jerd Smith is editor of Fresh Water News. She can be reached at 720-398-6474, via email at jerd@wateredco.org.

    A #ColoradoRiver Showdown Is Looming. Let The Posturing Begin — KUNC #COriver #aridification #DCP #LakePowellPipeline

    Horseshoe Bend.

    From KUNC (Luke Runyon and Lexi Perry):

    A showdown is looming on the Colorado River. The river’s existing management guidelines are set to expire in 2026. The states that draw water from it are about to undertake a new round of negotiations over the river’s future, while it’s facing worsening dry conditions due in part to rising temperatures.

    That means everyone with an interest in the river’s future — tribes, environmentalists, developers, business groups, recreation advocates — is hoping a new round of talks will bring certainty to existing water supplies and demands.

    The table at which those deals will be hammered out is beginning to take shape. The federal government, mostly in the form of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, and the seven basin states hold the greatest power in determining what will be up for debate, what will be left out, and whose voices are listened to.

    To prepare for the talks, and to coalesce around a set of priorities, leaders in the individual states are attempting to settle their internal issues before coming to that broader negotiating table. We reached out to leaders in three of those states to learn how they’re preparing:

    Sand Hollow Reservoir proposed terminal storage for the Lake Powell Pipeline. Photo credit: Utah Department of Natural Resources

    Utah

    In Utah, all eyes are pointing toward the state’s southwest corner. That’s where the proposed Lake Powell pipeline would transport water from the Colorado River’s second largest reservoir and deposit it near the fast-growing communities of Washington County.

    The proposed pipeline is shaping up to be an important bargaining chip in the state’s overall Colorado River negotiation strategy.

    Utah’s pursuit of the project has also led the six other states in the watershed — Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico, Nevada, California and Arizona — to raise serious concerns…

    Central Arizona Project Mark Wilmer Pumping Plant. By No machine-readable author provided. Kjkolb assumed (based on copyright claims). – No machine-readable source provided. Own work assumed (based on copyright claims)., CC BY 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=830400

    Arizona

    In Arizona, water from the Colorado River enters the Central Arizona Project (CAP) canal, and becomes a ribbon of blue that winds through miles of arid desert to reach the cities of Phoenix and Tucson, where it supplies homes, gardens, businesses, agriculture and golf courses.

    Under the 2019 Drought Contingency Plan, Arizona is already taking cuts to its CAP supply. If current projections hold, those cuts will increase nearly three-fold next year, said Ted Cooke, the project’s general manager.

    “So 512,000 acre-feet coming out of the CAP supply is about a third — 30% to a third. That’s a lot,” Cooke said.

    Arizona could lose a lot more water if the levels in Lake Mead keep dropping. The state’s junior rights mean its Colorado River supply is more vulnerable than others. With drought plans in place now, Arizona is getting good practice at reining in its uses and finding flexibility as supplies shrink, he said…

    Colorado River “Beginnings”. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    Colorado

    The Colorado River starts as a modest-sized stream high up in Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park. As the river flows through the Southwest, it picks up enough water from its tributaries to supply 40 million people across the seven basin states and Mexico.

    About 70% of the river’s flow comes from Colorado’s Western Slope. That fact alone leads water officials in the state to feel protective of the river, said Colorado Water Conservation Board director Becky Mitchell. She also sits on the Upper Colorado River Commission.

    “First and foremost, I think it’s important, as Colorado’s commissioner, that we’re looking at protecting our legal entitlement on the Colorado River and protecting our state’s waters for those who depend on it,” Mitchell said.

    Leading up to this new round of negotiations, Upper Basin leaders, like Mitchell, have been under pressure to consider implementing what’s referred to as a “demand cap.” In theory, it could be one half of a “Grand Bargain,” a concept that’s been in the Colorado River management ether for years.

    Water demands on the river in Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico have been flat since the late 1980s. Putting a hard limit on future uses would give water planners throughout the entire basin more certainty, and could appease downstream users from ever issuing a dreaded Compact Call on the river. But Mitchell said that much buzzed-about concept is a non-starter.

    Virtual Public Meeting: Conditions on the upper San Juan, Navajo, and Blanco Rivers, Hosted by: The Upper #SanJuanRiver Watershed Enhancement Partnership, March 31, 2021 #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Click here for all the inside skinny.

    From The Upper San Juan Watershed Enhancement Partnership (Mandy Eskelson and Al Pfister) via The Pagosa Springs Sun

    A Pagosa Springs-based collaborative group, called the Upper San Juan Watershed Enhancement Partnership (WEP), has been working since 2018 to identify concerns and opportunities to address the needs of the diverse water users of the Upper San Juan River Basin.

    The WEP strives to be a community-driven effort that supports values and needs unique to our basin while assisting the broader state and regional goals of the Colorado State Water Plan and Southwest Basin Implementation Plan. The state calls these local planning efforts of multiple water uses either Stream Management Plans (SMP) or Integrated Water Management Plans (IWMP).

    The WEP’s three-phased IWMP process is designed to ensure there is ample time to gather public feed- back, conduct analysis and create a plan with local priorities, which is why we encourage all community members to attend our upcoming virtual public meeting. We are excited to share our updates from our work and hear your ideas on how this information can be used to support local water users.

    In Phase I, the WEP organized a steering committee comprised of representatives of the agricultural, environmental, municipal and recreational water users of our community to begin outlining water-related needs and issues. Through multiple public meetings, the steering committee gathered input on the geographic scope/focus, concerns and potential project opportunities to help guide what information was known, what gaps existed, new data to collect, and what analysis and modeling the community wanted in Phase II.

    In 2020, as part of Phase II, the WEP has partnered with experts Lotic Hydrological and San Juan Conservation District/NRCS to analyze components identified as priorities during public meetings, such as current and future river flows, riparian habitat, forest health/wildfire risk influences on water resources, and agricultural infrastructure conditions and needs. Based on public feedback and the capacity of models and our partners, the WEP’s work has mainly focused on the upper San Juan watershed, but we continue to include steering committee members and project components from the Rio Blanco and Navajo watersheds.

    Results from Phase II’s data analysis, field assessments and model outputs now need to be reviewed and approved by you, the community. Our upcoming public meeting on Wednesday, March 31, held via Zoom
    from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m., will present the preliminary results of these assessments and models, gather feedback to ensure it aligns with local experience and knowledge, or identify where additional data and analysis may be needed. WEP steering committee members Joe Crabb and Justin Ramsey will also present on local water systems and drought preparations.

    Learn how to access the March 31 public meeting and find additional information about the Upper San Juan Watershed Enhancement Partnership at http://www.mountainstudies.org/sanjuan/smp.

    To learn more about other Colorado watershed groups conducting a SMP/IWMP process, visit www. coloradosmp.org. If you have questions, please contact Al Pfister at westernwildscapes@gmail.com or Mandy Eskelson at mandy@mountainstudies.org. We hope to “see” you on March 31.

    San Juan River Basin. Graphic credit Wikipedia.

    Underrecognized and underserved communities in #Colorado #water planning — @WaterEdCO

    Selection of the 2015 native heirloom maize harvest of the seed library of The Acequia Institute in Viejo San Acacio, CO
    Photo by Devon G. Peña

    From the Water Education Colorado Blog (Willow Cozzens, Samantha Grant, Amelia Nill, and Andrew Primo):

    This is the second blog post in a series on diversity, equity and inclusion in Colorado agricultural water planning. Find the first post here.

    As discussed in our previous post, Colorado has an exciting opportunity to create a truly sustainable future for residents by making its water plan update process more inclusive. There are at least three groups that have been historically excluded from Colorado statewide agricultural water planning: the Colorado Ute tribes, those who operate under acequia management systems, and urban agriculture producers. While these groups have been included at an interstate level and at the local level through the Basin Roundtables, intrastate coordination and statewide inclusion of these folks is in need of improvement.

    The 2015 Colorado Water Plan (CWP) acknowledges federally recognized tribes within Colorado and their federally reserved water rights, these important topics are only covered at a high level without in-depth examination of more local nuances. Additionally, the term acequia is mentioned only once in the entire 2015 CWP, in a footnote of a farmer profile.

    Colorado should thoughtfully integrate more explicit inclusion for these groups not only in the Colorado Water Plan 2022 update, but also within the Interbasin Compact Committee, the Colorado Water Congress, and the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB). The CWCB has made efforts to initiate more inclusion in the CWP update process through the newly announced Equity Committee. This Committee will constitute two representatives from each of the nine river basins, plus one representative from each of the two Colorado Ute tribes. The true purposes and outcomes from this committee, however, remain to be seen. To create a more thoughtful and equitable Colorado water planning process, the equity committee must focus on creating robust measures for water justice in each element of the Colorado Water Plan Update.

    This post will focus particularly on agricultural stakeholders who have been excluded from Colorado water planning. The following sections will provide background and discussion for the three groups identified. While these groups are related in that they were not adequately included in the 2015 CWP, each community is quite distinct. Both acequia water management systems and tribal water users have a rich history in Colorado that must not be ignored in planning discussions. Separately, urban agriculture, while not entirely novel, is a rapidly emerging practice in Colorado’s cities and may serve as an important tool not only to preserve agricultural viability but also to facilitate water stewardship and education. These three communities each have uniquely valuable and important perspectives on regional water issues in the state and should be given specific consideration in the planning process.

    San Luis People’s Ditch March 17, 2018. Photo credit: Greg Hobbs

    Acequias in Colorado

    For communities in Colorado and northern New Mexico, an acequia is a physical system, an irrigation ditch, but it is also a deeply embedded philosophy of community and governance. The philosophy revolves around loyalty to the community and a common understanding that water is both a shared resource and a shared responsibility. This ideology has shaped relationships between humans and the environment for centuries in Colorado, creating a resilient natural and cultural system that supports families, communities, and the food system.

    Acequia water management systems have been largely excluded in Colorado’s state water planning process, despite the fact that there are thousands of acres of acequias between Colorado’s Rio Grande and Arkansas River Basins. Among the Statewide Water Supply Initiatives, the 2015 Colorado Water Plan, the 2017 Technical Update, and the 2019 Ripple Effects Report, the word acequia is mentioned only once一in a footnote in the 2015 Plan. Acequias are briefly discussed in the 2015 Rio Grande Basin Implementation Plan, and they are not mentioned in the 2015 Arkansas Basin Implementation Plan.

    Fig. 2. Mexican Land Grants in Colorado and New Mexico. The Baumann map depicted here mislabels these Mexican land grants as “Spanish”. Source: Paul R. Baumann 2001. SUNY-Oneonta.

    Acequia stakeholders are often absent from statewide planning process meetings and forums. The newly established Colorado Water Equity Task Force does not include any representation for acequia stakeholders. Excluding acequias from the Colorado water planning process shuns an entire population of Coloradans一primarily farmers of color一from statewide water planning and funding. Farmers and others who operate under acequia management must be recognized and included in the statewide planning process for the 2022 CWP update.

    Colorado water planners may look to acequia management in New Mexico to model pathways for inclusion. Despite the similarities in culture and natural resource demands in the San Luis Valley, Colorado’s and New Mexico’s governance approaches to acequias are starkly different. Acequia recognition has been written into New Mexico law since the mid-19th century. Furthermore, throughout New Mexico’s statewide water plan, almost every time that agriculture or irrigation is discussed, so are acequias. For example, as mentioned above, the culture of shared scarcity that underlies acequias is crucial to farmers in times of drought. New Mexico’s Water Plan explicitly acknowledges this strength, illustrating that this type of water sharing should be encouraged to support holistic agricultural viability. Colorado water planning could benefit from a similar outlook on the resilience of acequias.

    Though the 2009 Colorado Acequia Recognition Statute codified that acequias hold unique powers and rights under Colorado water law, the statute only allows acequias with written bylaws to have the special powers and unique rights recognized under Colorado law. This can be a barrier for acequia communities, as some producers may not have the means to hire a lawyer to draft legally acceptable bylaws. New Mexico’s Water Plan also discusses how the state supports acequia bylaw creation. Such programs are absent in Colorado, where acequia users rely on non-governmental organizations and academic institutions, such as the Getches-Wilkinson Center Acequia Assistance Project and the Sangre de Cristo Acequia Association, rather than on funds directly from the state.

    Colorado water planners should consult with stakeholders within Colorado’s acequia communities on how to best include planning and funding for acequias in statewide water management. Historically, the relationship between acequia managers in the San Luis Valley and in the Arkansas Basin with the Colorado Water Conservation Board has not been the strongest. CWCB should be inclined to add another seat to the equity committee specifically for acequia representation to try to remedy this historic exclusion.

    From the 2018 Tribal Water Study, this graphic shows the location of the 29 federally-recognized tribes in the Colorado River Basin. Map credit: USBR

    Colorado Ute Tribes

    The Ute peoples are the oldest continuous inhabitants of the land now called Colorado. They have been intimately tied to the waters of the region for many centuries, long before incursion by European colonizers and settlers. However, beginning in the mid-19th century, the United States federal and Colorado state governments began systematically dispossessing the Ute people of their land and separating them from their sources of water.

    By the end of the 19th century, the only three bands of Ute peoples remaining in the state had been relegated to its southwest corner, in what are now the Southern Ute Indian and Ute Mountain Ute reservations. Although the Ute people had been gradually pressured to adopt a settled agricultural lifestyle, they were removed to some of the least suitable lands for agriculture in the state.

    Despite these setbacks, both tribes have fostered successful agricultural communities on their reservations; the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe’s Farm and Ranch Enterprise, for instance, has been repeatedly recognized at both state and national levels for its products.

    Much has been done in the last 30 years to address some of the historical inequities created by the separation of the Colorado Ute Tribes from their ancestral lands and traditional water sources. The 1988 Colorado Ute Indian Water Rights Settlement Act and subsequent 2000 Amendments clarified and quantified the Tribes’ reserved rights and authorized a reduced Animas-La Plata Project as well as deliveries from McPhee Reservoir to provide a reliable source of water to the tribes. Both tribes are active members of the Southwest Basin Roundtable and are represented on the Colorado Water Equity Task Force, and the importance of Tribal reserved rights is addressed in the 2015 Water Plan.

    Both tribes, however, still face significant supply and infrastructure challenges, as detailed in the 2018 Colorado River Basin Ten Tribes Partnership Tribal Water Study. Some of these infrastructure projects, such as the Pine River Indian Irrigation Project, are nominally maintained by the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs, although that agency’s budget and staffing challenges make adequate upkeep difficult.

    As holders of federal reserved water rights, the Southern Ute Indian and the Ute Mountain Ute tribes are invaluable partners to the State of Colorado and the Southwest Basin in addressing water management challenges, particularly issues of interstate compact compliance. Much of the groundwork for this partnership has been laid in the Ten Tribes Partnership Study, which provides detailed data on the challenges faced by the Colorado Ute Tribes, as well as opportunities that working closely with the tribes can provide state and regional water planners. The study provides an excellent starting point for addressing the challenges faced by the tribes and highlights their importance in addressing the water challenges faced by the State and the region.

    Given the challenges and opportunities posed by the tribes’ unique water rights and the long history of oppression and exclusion of Indigenous peoples by both the federal and state governments, particular considerations of equity and justice must be extended to the Colorado Ute Tribes in regards to water issues. This is particularly important because tribes’ vital cultural, spiritual, and ceremonial uses are often not adequately addressed in Western legal and economic structures.

    Careful, intentional, and respectful consultation with the tribes一as well as inclusion in statewide deliberative water planning processes一is essential to developing a robust understanding of their needs, as well as the cultural significance and intended uses of water.

    The dome greenhouse gleams in the Sun at the center of the park. To the right is a new restroom and on the far left is the Community Garden. Along the walk way is a small paved amphitheater like space for presentations and entertainment. Photo credit The Pagosa Springs Journal.

    Urban Agriculture

    Urban agriculture (UA) is most simply defined as “all forms of agricultural production occurring within or around cities.” In any given urban area, this may include quite a variety of operations and projects, including ground-based outdoor gardens and farms, indoor hydroponic or aquaponic growing, rooftop gardens and farms, landscaping and nurseries, urban livestock, and more. The sector is growing as cities become home to more UA-focused organizations, citizens get more creative with urban landscapes, and policies incentivize green infrastructure. Such programs or policies are often intended to promote public health, economic development, and enhance socio-ecological relationships.

    Over time, UA has taken on a new form and meaning. With connections now to social justice and environmental sustainability, urban farming has taken root in countless large and small city centers across the nation, oftentimes appearing in the form of community gardens, rooftop gardens, and greenhouses. UA is not recognized in the Colorado Water Plan, or many other western state water plans, despite its growing popularity across the nation. UA offers a multitude of exciting opportunities to foster resilience within western water planning and our food systems.

    Regardless of the form it takes, all UA operations require water. Water resources may be utilized on a wide spectrum of UA irrigation tactics一from traditional flood irrigation in peri-urban fields to precision application in a vertical farm. The increasing prevalence of UA operations in Colorado cities requires more attention from water planners, especially as food production technology advances and local food becomes more popular among citizens. The CWP update should not only provide support for both existing operations, but also recognize the potential water-efficient food production in the future of UA. This will be especially important as Colorado could see a shifting food system in the face of climate change and urbanization. The current trajectory of UA could provide a significant contribution to water resilience planning and food production for Colorado.

    Though this growth may represent an exciting shift in the food system, it is crucial to recognize UA’s capacity for exacerbating environmental injustices. Often, initiatives led by non-residents may be detrimental to local communities. This is especially prevalent when mostly young, white non-residents have led initiatives in predominantly Black and/or Latinx neighborhoods, “unintentionally excluding people of color from participating in or reaping the benefits of such efforts.” Furthermore, residents of lower-income communities and/or people of color are more likely to experience difficulty accessing land, funding, and political support for UA projects than white and middle class individuals or organizations. Therefore, in order to avoid perpetuating injustice, UA implementation must be nuanced and place-based. A successful and anti-racist CWP update will recognize possible inequities and provide support for urban residents to facilitate UA projects within their own neighborhoods.

    This overview intends to provide the background and ethics necessary to integrate the Colorado Ute Tribes, acequias, and urban agriculture considerations into the Colorado Water Plan update. In an effort to begin the process of elevating voices of underrepresented communities, this research team hosted a virtual listening session and working meeting for water planning professionals and UA stakeholders. This event was meant to serve as a platform for stakeholder and administrator collaboration with the goal of creating a more equitable and inclusive CWP update. Our next post will detail the process and results of this meeting.

    San Juan Water Conservancy District approves strategic plan — The #PagosaSprings Sun #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    San Juan River Basin. Graphic credit Wikipedia.

    From The Pagosa Springs Sun (Chris Mannara):

    The San Juan Water Conser- vancy District (SJWCD) approved its strategic plan for 2021 at a meeting on Feb. 15.

    The strategic plan, which had been in development since 2018, is to be used to help the district identify water resource issues in the Upper San Juan River Basin within the district’s geographical scope, according to the plan.

    Additionally, the plan outlines that its purpose is to help the district evaluate its options for addressing water resource issues and outlining which options could be acted upon.

    Other objectives include the SJWCD Board of Directors developing long-term goals and direction for the district and relaying that information to the public, the plan notes.

    Mission and value statements

    Included within the plan is the SJWCD’s mission statement, which reads “To be an active leader in all issues affecting the water resources of the Upper San Juan River Basin.”

    […]

    These statements note that the SJWCD board is “committed to ensuring that various current and future water supply needs are met through whatever conservation and water management strategies and methodologies are available.”

    Another value statement reads, “The Board opposes any new transfers of water from the Upper San Juan River and its tributaries upstream of Navajo Reservoir to basins outside of the Upper San Juan River Basin.”

    The opposition toward this comes from the SJWCD believing that transfers would interfere with existing beneficial uses of water, damage to economic stability and reduced environmental quality, the plan indicates.

    Other value statements include that the SJWCD board is commit- ted to managing water rights it holds, supporting wise land-use policies and processes, and man- aging and funding effective monitoring, protection and restoration programs.

    One value statement notes that the SJWCD board believes that the district must participate in statewide processes, like the Colorado Water Plan, to address various issues such as climate change, drought and water shortages.

    2021 #COleg: On tap at capitol: wildfire restoration, underground water storage, new #water funding authority — @WaterEdCO

    Colorado state capitol building. Photo credit: Allen Best/The Mountain Town News

    From Water Education Colorado (Larry Morandi):

    Colorado lawmakers are considering three major water bills that would help finance wildfire mitigation and forest health projects, study underground water storage for future beneficial use, and create a state enterprise to fund drinking and wastewater projects through fees paid by water utility customers.

    A burnt sign on Larimer County Road 103 near Chambers Lake. The fire started in the area near Cameron Peak, which it is named after. The fire burned over 200,000 acres during its three-month run. Photo courtesy of Kate Stahla via the University of Northern Colorado

    Wildfire mitigation and forest health

    Last year was Colorado’s worst wildfire season ever. The three largest fires on record burned over 600,000 acres. Water providers fear that spring runoff will clog streams and reservoirs with ash and sediment, damaging clean water supplies.

    House Bill 1008 is sponsored by Rep. Jeni Arndt, D-Fort Collins, and Rep. Marc Catlin, R-Montrose. (Editor’s note: Rep. Arndt is a board member of Water Education Colorado, which sponsors Fresh Water News). HB21-1008 (Forest Health Project Financing) aims to help fund local wildfire mitigation and forest health efforts to protect watersheds. It would allow counties, municipalities and special districts to band together and form special improvement districts empowered to levy property taxes to fund wildfire mitigation and forest health projects. It would also make those improvement districts eligible for $50 million from a Colorado Water Resources and Power Development Authority (CWRPDA) bond program, and expand the program’s life by 10 years to last through 2033.

    Arndt said districts would be formed voluntarily and noted that any property tax assessments would require voter approval. “The Colorado way,” she said, “opt in.” Catlin, the bill’s co-sponsor, agreed. “This is an opportunity for communities to take some preemptive steps and, if needed, be able to bond through the state to get help and make the payments to take care of the problem.” Keith McLaughlin, CWRPDA executive director, emphasized that “every $1 in fire mitigation efforts saves between $3 and $6 in fire suppression costs.”

    The House Agriculture, Livestock, & Water Committee passed the bill unanimously to the House Finance Committee Feb. 22. It will be heard there on March 4.

    Water treatment process in Greeley. Graphic via Greeley Water

    Underground water storage

    Concern with declining water tables and the volume of water leaving the state in excess of compact requirements led Rep. Richard Holtorf, R-Akron, a rancher and dryland farmer, to introduce HB21-1043 Study Underground Water Storage Maximum Beneficial Use. The bill would require the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) to contract with a state university to study ways to maximize beneficial use of water by storing excess surface flows in aquifers for future use. The study would identify aquifers with storage capacity, funds to pay for storage, specific storage projects, and proposed legislation to implement its recommendations. It would be due to the interim Water Resources Review Committee by Aug. 1, 2022.

    While acknowledging the value of underground water storage, some House Agriculture, Livestock, & Water Committee members questioned the need for the study since several similar studies had already been done and at least two large water providers—Denver and Greeley—are already storing water underground. There were also concerns about who would have rights to excess surface flows. Rep. Arndt, committee chair, asked, “Who would get those rights…you can’t just capture excess water?” Rep. Holtorf replied that whoever’s next in line when it reenters the river would gain use to the water; nothing changes the prior appropriation doctrine.

    Rep. Holtorf concluded, “I’m not going to say it’s not complicated, but at the end of the day we’ve got to do something to get maximum beneficial use of water that we give away and try to keep it in our state for the beneficial use of everyone.” He had the backing of the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association, Colorado Farm Bureau, Colorado Water Congress and Colorado Groundwater Association. The committee passed the bill 9-1 to the House Finance Committee.

    A screenshot from the website for Colorado’s Water Plan.

    Financing water projects

    The Colorado Water Plan, adopted in 2015, projects a need to spend an additional $100 million a year for 30 years in state money to fully fund water projects and activities to meet its objectives. Funding to date has come nowhere near that figure, but a bill introduced this session will try to put a dent in it.

    SB21-034 (Water Resource Financing Enterprise), sponsored by Sen. Don Coram, R-Montrose, would create the Water Resources Financing Enterprise made up of both the CWRPDA and CWCB board of directors. The new enterprise would provide grants and loans for drinking water, wastewater treatment, and raw water delivery projects. The enterprise could issue revenue bonds to be repaid from fees assessed on drinking water customers of 25 cents per 1,000 gallons of water delivered each month in excess of the first 4,000 gallons. SB21-034 would generate roughly $37 million annually. If passed, it would go on the November 2022 ballot as a legislatively referred measure for approval by voters statewide.

    The bill is similar to legislation Sen. Coram introduced last year. That bill was defeated in committee with assurances that it would be studied in greater detail by the interim Water Resources Review Committee. The pandemic, however, wiped out all interim studies. SB21-034 has been assigned to the Senate Agriculture & Natural Resources Committee and is scheduled to be heard on March 4.

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

    Demand Management Feasibility Investigation Framework Concepts Workshop, March 2, 2021 — @CWCB_DNR #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    A bend in Glen Canyon of the Colorado River, Grand Canyon, c. 1898. By George Wharton James, 1858—1923 – http://digitallibrary.usc.edu/cdm/ref/collection/p15799coll65/id/17037, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=30894893

    Click here for all the inside skinny.

    This workshop is intended for staff to present to the Colorado Water Conservation Board Members what a potential framework concept for a Demand Management program could look like.

    The workshop will be live streamed on YouTube for public viewing.

    If you would like to make a public comment during the workshop, please complete the Request to Address the Board Form prior to the workshop.

    With questions or for more information, contact Sara Leonard.

    Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in the Colorado Water Plan Update — @WaterEdCO

    What we are working to protect. Culebra-Gallegos maíz de concho grown at Acequia Institute farm in Viejo San Acacio. Photograph by Devon G. Peña

    From Water Education Colorado (Willow Cozzens, Samantha Grant, Amelia Nill, and Andrew Primo):

    Effective agricultural water planning is critical for a sustainable and resilient future in Colorado. Not only does the agricultural sector account for 86.7% of the state’s consumed water, but agriculture is also the crucial economic and cultural foundation for many communities. The 2015 Colorado Water Plan (CWP), a statewide roadmap for water management, is currently undergoing a multi-year update that includes new information, critical action items, and revised water planning schemes for all sectors. This update will be published in 2022. In order to foster lasting resilience, the CWP update must be more inclusive of all Coloradoans and provide comprehensive planning for historically underserved communities across the state.

    True sustainability can not be divorced from empowering all communities. Studies show that systems with many sources of knowledge are generally more resilient. Just as farmers often plant several different crops to prepare for potential vulnerabilities, water planning must strive to be as diverse as possible to create a water resilient future.

    Who has been excluded from agricultural water planning?

    Colorado has an exciting opportunity to be more inclusive in water planning and subsequently create a truly sustainable CWP. But first, underserved groups must be identified throughout all sectors. This will necessitate nuanced outreach and calls to action. Three groups who have been historically excluded from Colorado water planning in agriculture are:

    In southern Colorado’s San Luis Valley, Judy Lopez with Colorado Open Lands and landowner Dave Marquez discuss upcoming restoration work on the Culebra River, which
    traverses his property. Marquez irrigates from the Francisco Sanchez Acequia to grow alfalfa-grass hay. The acequia worked with Colorado Open Lands and the bylaws project to develop bylaws that preserve their oral traditions. Photo by Christi Bode
  • People who operate under acequia management systems. For communities in Colorado and northern New Mexico, an acequia is a physical system, an irrigation ditch, but it is also a deeply embedded philosophy of community and governance. These producers are primarily Hispanic or Latinx and reside in the San Luis Valley within the Rio Grande River Basin or in the Arkansas River Basin. The term “acequia” is mentioned only once in the entire 2015 CWP — in a footnote of a farmer profile.
  • Many Indian reservations are located in or near contentious river basins where demand for water outstrips supply. Map courtesy of the Bureau of Reclamation.
  • Tribal water users. Two federally recognized tribes have designated land reservations within the borders of Colorado: the Southern Ute Indian Tribe (SUIT) and the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe (UMUT). While it must be acknowledged that 48 contemporary tribal nations are historically tied to the lands that make up Colorado, the Ute tribes are holders of federal reserved water rights in the state. Both the SUIT and UMUT tribal reservations are located within the Southwest Basin (e.g. San Juan/Dolores), though the UMUT reservation also includes land in New Mexico and Utah. While the tribes have become more frequent partners in broader interstate negotiations, inclusion at the intrastate level is still limited to the Southwest Basin Roundtable. Given the Ute tribes’ status as the state’s original water users and the unique nature of their federally reserved rights, more efforts should be made to explicitly include tribal representatives in deliberative processes.
  • Hanging Oyster mushroom columns growing on waste coffeegrounds via Gro Cycle
  • Urban agricultural producers. Urban agriculture in Colorado may include a variety of production methods and water uses, such as community gardens, hydroponic growing facilities, small-scale market farms, and more. It is important to note that there is not necessarily the same rich history or record of exclusion for urban agriculture as the above two groups. Rather, planning for water in urban agriculture could present an exciting opportunity to foster resilience in the food system and land use planning for the future of Colorado. Before defining demographics and practices within urban agriculture, a standard definition of urban agriculture in Colorado must be implemented.
  • Tribes are acknowledged in the Southwest Basin Implementation Plan, and acequias are acknowledged in the Rio Grande Basin Implementation Plan. Urban agriculture is not mentioned in the 2015 CWP or in any of the Basin Implementation Plans (BIPs). The BIPs could serve as an opportunity to elevate underserved voices, given their regional focus, and create a space for them at the state level. An equitable and just water planning process at all levels, from local to basin to state, is critical for Colorado’s present and future water needs.

    Paving the way toward more inclusivity in Colorado water planning

    The Department of Natural Resources has recently announced the formation of a water equity committee, which is set to include representatives from each river basin and each tribal nation. Within this engagement process, Colorado water planners must make the effort to explicitly solicit input and feedback from underserved individuals and groups in agriculture and all other water sectors. Outreach efforts must be nuanced for each community, each conversation, and each stage in inclusive planning. Overall, CWCB should focus on elevating voices of change makers within historically underserved communities and solicit consistent feedback for a more inclusive, equitable, and holistic Colorado Water Plan.

    This strategy should aim to advance diverse representation in natural resource planning and provide opportunities for more equitable funding. Explicit inclusion via community outreach may also encourage diversity in water planning schemes, which can in turn create a more sustainable future. The equity committee and the CWCB should reach out to representatives of underserved communities and facilitate dynamic and interactive working sessions where stakeholders can discuss water challenges and opportunities with the CWCB.

    In partnership with CWCB and the University of Colorado – Boulder, we conducted an initial working session with a goal of establishing a more inclusive dialogue for producers. This work session, which focused on water issues among urban agriculture producers, will be discussed in a later blog post.

    Ideally, such facilitated dialogues will lead to additional working sessions, inclusion in water planning procedures at the state level, participation in Basin Roundtables, submission of public comments, and general advocacy pointed toward agricultural water planning. This approach may foster a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive 2022 Colorado Water Plan, and a better water planning process into the future.

    #Colorado Water Plan Update Is Underway — @AudubonRockies

    > Great Blue Herons. Photo: Pamela Underhill Karaz/Audubon Photography Awards

    From Audubon Rockies (Abby Burk):

    Help define this moment for birds, rivers, and people.

    What memories can you recall from five years ago? Well, you may remember that Colorado’s inaugural Water Plan had just been finalized in November of 2015. The Audubon network, our partners, and Coloradans were key in defining the plan. Five years of plan implementation have flown by. As the plan moves forward in its first update, what have we learned to set the course for necessary immediate and long-term steps to ensure water security for people and the environment? We need your statewide engagement, again.

    The Water Plan in Short

    Colorado’s Water Plan 2015 is a framework pointing the way toward safeguarding Colorado’s water values as population, water variability, and drought increase. Colorado’s water values are supporting healthy watersheds and the environment, robust recreation and tourism economies, vibrant and sustainable cities, and viable and productive agriculture.

    The plan’s foundation stands on work by Colorado’s nine basin roundtables and their basin implementation plans, the Interbasin Compact Committee, the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB), partners, and stakeholders statewide. The collaboration that fueled the Colorado Water Plan sparked the state’s largest civic engagement and the CWCB received more than 30,000 public comments on priorities and direction for the plan. Audubon’s network provided nearly 20 percent of general comments received, and Audubon staff provided consented technical environmental resilience and stream ecology language. The top-two categories of all public comments received were support for healthy rivers and better use of water in cities and towns. The unprecedented public engagement truly produced Colorado’s Water Plan.

    Without a strong plan and funding for implementation, Colorado’s birds, rivers, and people will face a problematic future with unacceptable consequences.

    Why Update Now?

    Colorado is changing and the Colorado Water Plan must be responsive. Our population is over 5.7 million today and could nearly double by 2060. With climate change increasing temperatures and making water supply less predictable, rivers are already stretched thin. Within the next few decades, even assuming aggressive water conservation and the completion of dozens of water projects currently being considered, the state could face a shortfall that exceeds 500,000 acre-feet annually.

    The plan update will complete in 2022 and map Colorado water resource management for the next seven years. As a headwaters state, the value of Colorado’s rivers flows far beyond its boundaries. Healthy, flowing rivers support all water uses and users—both wildlife and people. Protecting rivers protects our economy, our birds, and our way of life, but their future is uncertain. Audubon was closely involved in the creation of the plan and currently is involved in its implementation. Now, five years later, we’re helping to update the plan.

    (Abby Burk and other experts explain how Colorado can best update the Colorado Water Plan.)

    How to Engage

    Audubon is committed to protecting the health of Colorado’s rivers, ecosystems, and sustainable water supplies—values that benefit everyone. We are working across water interests to show that water connects rather than separates us. Together, we can protect Colorado’s incredible rivers and the birds that depend upon them. Public input on the Colorado Water Plan update will be critical. Here’s how you can participate:

    Engage in Your Local Basin

    Each of Colorado’s nine basin roundtables has been updating their local water supply and management plans called basin implementation plans (BIPs). Updated BIPs will soon be ready for public review. Click on your basin here to find your basin roundtable website, then click through to the BIP update status. Updated BIPs are getting ready to roll out soon. Also, due to COVID-19 concerns, basin roundtables have been meeting virtually. If you have not already, you can attend a virtual basin roundtable meeting to get to know your basin’s scope of work and your basin’s hardworking volunteers leading local water management efforts.

    Engage on the State Plan

    Everyone needs healthy rivers. Our hope is that this plan update will represent not only the human needs, but also a healthy ecosystem on which we and our wildlife depend. Currently, the Colorado Water Conservation Board is collecting survey feedback on the direction for the Colorado Water Plan update. Staff and stakeholder input has informed the current thinking, which is summarized in five informational sheets: Water Plan Update Vision, Vibrant Communities, Robust Agriculture, Thriving Watersheds, and Resilient Planning. Please review the information sheets and fill out the survey here.

    Audubon Rockies will be asking for local involvement through comments on the basin implementation plans and the statewide plan, so be on the lookout for more timely ways you can engage!

    #Colorado Water Plan Scoping Workshop: Agriculture Irrigation Infrastructure — @CWCB_DNR, @DARCAonline, Ag Water Alliance

    The Ella Ditch, which irrigates agricultural land south of Carbondale, placed a call on the Crystal River for the first time ever in 2018. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    Click here for all the inside skinny and to register.

    Join a roundtable discussion focusing on agricultural irrigation infrastructure issues and solutions to inform the 2022 Colorado Water Plan.

    The Colorado Water Conservation Board, in partnership with the Colorado Agricultural Water Alliance and Ditch and Reservoir Company Alliance, invites you to participate in a virtual, Colorado Water Plan Update Scoping Workshop focusing on agricultural irrigation infrastructure issues and solutions. The format of the workshop will be an expert roundtable discussion that will inform the scoping process of the Colorado Water Plan Update (more information here: https://engagecwcb.org/colorado-water-plan-update).

    The Colorado Water Plan provides a roadmap for addressing water resource challenges; informing strategies, policy development, and programming. The event will be open to the public.

    New poll: Slim majority supports spending more to protect #Colorado’s #water — @WaterEdCO

    Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013

    From Water Education Colorado (Jerd Smith):

    A majority of Colorado voters believe the state should spend more money on protecting and conserving its water resources, but they’re not willing to support new state taxes to fund the work, according to a series of bipartisan polls conducted over the past 18 months.

    “Roughly 55 percent of voters said the state should spend more money,” said Lori Weigel, a pollster and principal with the firm New Bridge Strategy.

    Though the polling also showed some support for such potential tools as a new statewide tourism tax or a bottle tax, that support eroded quickly when likely voters were asked about a new statewide tax, with 39 percent of likely voters saying they were skeptical the state could be trusted to spend the money wisely, Weigel said.

    Her comments came Tuesday at a meeting of the Inter Basin Compact Committee (IBCC), a statewide group charged with helping develop consensus-based solutions to the state’s water issues, including funding.

    The bipartisan polling was conducted before and after the elections of 2019, when Colorado voters narrowly approved a sports gambling tax whose proceeds will help fund the Colorado Water Plan, and again before and after the elections of 2020. In those contests voters in the Glenwood Springs-based Colorado River District, and the Longmont-based St. Vrain and Left Hand Water Conservancy District overwhelmingly approved new taxes for local water projects.

    Funded by For the Love of Colorado, a nonpartisan coalition that includes environmental groups, water utilities and industry groups, the polling was designed to help policy makers and lawmakers decide how best to raise an estimated $3 billion over the next 30 years to help cities and farmers cope with looming shortages, while ensuring streams have enough water for fish and kayakers.

    That’s the amount of money estimated to be needed from new sources to fully fund the Colorado Water Plan. But to date, lawmakers and other sources have only been able to provide between $5 million to $30 million annually. And though the new sports betting tax is likely to bring in $6 million to $11 million dollars annually, it will still fall short of the needed revenues.

    State officials hope to build on the recent modest, but still significant, 2020 election wins to create a more stable, permanent source of funding.

    “For the first time in a long time we’ve had success,” IBCC Chair Russ George told the group on Tuesday.

    But the wins and the recent polls show the state must build broad coalitions and work harder to dispel distrust among voters over how any new statewide tax revenues would be spent if they were approved, officials said.

    Aaron Citron, a member of the IBCC and a policy analyst with The Nature Conservancy, said the funding shortfall is likely to become more dire without a permanent statewide funding source because traditional sources, such as oil and gas tax revenues, are plummeting as production declines.

    “The situation is likely to get worse,” Citron said. “Yes we should emulate what was done so successfully in the Colorado River and St. Vrain districts and figure out how to build that [statewide] trust. It’s possible but it’s going to be tough.

    “The assumption [when the Colorado Water Plan was being developed] was that we would be able to have severance tax revenues into the future. But we can expect them to continue to be unstable and continue to decline because of global market pressures, and state and federal greenhouse gas and renewable energy goals,” Citron said. He was referring to state commitments that call for oil and gas and fossil fuels to gradually be replaced with cleaner energy sources, a process that will phase out oil and gas production and the associated tax revenue it generates.

    Andy Mueller, general manager of the Colorado River District, said voters in his district were willing to raise their property taxes last fall to help fund local water projects, but there was no local support for using those new taxes to make up for missing state funds.

    “The state has an obligation to fund water projects,” Mueller said. “This is a much bigger issue at $100 million a year than the $4.2 million my district was able to raise. It doesn’t get us anywhere if it can’t be leveraged against additional state and federal funding.”

    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.

    #Colorado Water Plan turns five: Is it working? — @WaterEdCO

    The entrance to the popular Gates of Lodore stretch on the Green River. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    From Water Education Colorado (Sarah Kuta):

    In the five years since Colorado’s Water Plan took effect, the state has awarded nearly $500 million in loans and grants for water projects, cities have enacted strict drought plans, communities have written nearly two dozen locally based stream restoration plans, and crews have been hard at work improving irrigation systems and upgrading wastewater treatment plants.

    But big challenges lie ahead — drought, population growth, accelerating climate change, budget cuts, wildfires and competing demands for water, among others.

    And though the state has made progress on the plan’s ambitious goals and funding needs since November 2015, it hasn’t yet been able to secure the estimated $100 million needed each year through 2050 to fully fund the plan.

    Colorado water leaders are optimistic about advances made under the plan thus far. But they acknowledge that this five-year milestone is just the beginning of a long-term effort with no easy path forward. The plan is also undergoing a comprehensive update that will help refine its direction moving forward by incorporating lessons learned and better data.

    “Five years in water time is really a blink of an eye,” said Lauren Ris, deputy director for the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB), the statewide water policy agency tasked with administering the plan. “Even though we’re so proud of the progress we’ve made, we’ve got a lot of work in front of us. There’s a lot to celebrate but I also think we can’t rest too much on our laurels here.”

    The water plan, explained

    The plan provides a framework for ensuring there’s enough good-quality water for all of Colorado’s diverse users, as well as the state’s downstream neighbors. Gov. John Hickenlooper called for the plan’s creation in May 2013, which set in motion 30 months of meetings, public input, writing and reviewing to ultimately create the 567-page plan.

    Forecasts show water supplies will not keep pace with demand by 2050 for agricultural (Ag) or municipal and industrial (M & I) needs if Colorado does not find new approaches. Source: 2019 Analysis and Technical Update to the Colorado Water Plan.

    Colorado has long faced unique water challenges in part because its high-altitude rivers deliver water to 18 other states and Mexico, activity that is carefully governed by legal agreements that include compacts and treaties. Accelerating climate change and rapid population growth have only added more complexity. Colorado’s population is expected to grow as high as 8.1 million by 2050, up from 5.76 million in 2019, with much of that growth occurring on the East Slope. Meanwhile, 70 to 80 percent of the state’s water originates on the West Slope.

    Forecasts show water supplies will not keep pace with demand by 2050 for agricultural (Ag) or municipal and industrial (M & I) needs if Colorado does not find new approaches. Source: 2019 Analysis and Technical Update to the Colorado Water Plan.

    Many Colorado water leaders agree that the plan — and the multi-year processes for creating and updating it — has fostered an authentic spirit of collaboration. Even if they disagree, people have to work together to find common ground because the plan prioritizes projects that achieve multiple benefits, which in turn makes them more likely to receive state funding.

    “Collaboration is now the starting point of conversations about water and maybe that wasn’t always true before,” said Russ Sands, water supply planning section chief for the CWCB. “Like any dinner party, you have some strong conversations and it’s hard. But then ultimately, we do come together around these multi-purpose, multi-benefit projects.”

    Key to putting the plan to work are the public roundtables in each river basin, whose volunteer members are charged with identifying each region’s needs and the methods and funding to meet those needs.

    The plan hasn’t completely eased tensions, but it has given water users a forum for voicing their opinions, popular or unpopular. And, perhaps above all else, it has succeeded in keeping water top of mind.

    “The best thing the water plan has done is kept the water problem in everybody’s face,” said Max Schmidt, manager of the Orchard Mesa Irrigation District and Grand Valley Project Power Plant. “Traditionally, we have a dry year and everybody gets all worried. Then the next year’s a wet year and everybody forgets about it. People are now saying, ‘This is a long-term, serious problem.’”

    Progress under the plan

    Work on the plan is occurring mostly on specific projects in Colorado’s eight river basins, which are often funded by loans and grants administered by the CWCB. Five years in, the plan has provided $63.5 million in grants to 241 projects, and $420 million in loans to 82 projects.

    According to the CWCB’s data, 76 percent of the plan’s actions have been initiated or completed, but how this translates to progress on the plan’s eight measurable objectives isn’t clear yet. Those objectives set measurable targets for things like water conservation, new water storage, and water-smart land use, as well as informing the public. When asked about progress toward the objectives, the CWCB said it is no longer calculating specific progress metrics using the objectives but is instead tracking new projects or programs that work toward the goals outlined in the plan.

    Since taking office in 2019, Gov. Jared Polis has made water one of his “Wildly Important Goals,” issuing a call to the CWCB and roundtables to create a database of 500 local water projects that are ready or nearly ready to launch and are backed by strong data demonstrating costs and potential outcomes.

    While the “water WIG,” as it is known, did not come with any funding attached, the exercise has forced local water leaders to refine, prioritize and provide cost estimates for their most promising ideas.

    Though the focus on specific projects has been effective for achieving goals in each river basin, some water leaders feel the plan doesn’t go far enough to address statewide issues.

    “We need to think more broadly about water,” said Kathleen Curry, chair of the Gunnison Basin Roundtable on the West Slope, rancher and lobbyist. “Having a project-specific focus is great if you’re the entity pushing the projects, but really, overall forest health, stream measurement, snowpack measurement, some of the overall statewide water supply challenges that are out there, those need to be part of the plan as well. [We need to] make sure the plan isn’t simply a laundry list.”

    Funding wins and challenges

    Since the Colorado Water Plan’s inception, state funding for implementation has ranged from a low of $5 million in 2016 to $30 million in 2019, far short of the estimated $100 million needed each year through 2050

    In 2020, lawmakers appropriated $7.5 million for the water plan, however, that money is expected to be stretched over three years because of declining oil and gas severance tax revenue and the economic consequences of COVID-19 on the state budget. Many other water-related programs are also not expected to receive additional funding in the near future, according to CWCB spokesperson Sara Leonard.

    Southwest of Denver, partners used water plan funding to reallocate Chatfield Reservoir’s storage space to make room to store water for farms and cities as well as environmental flows, while maintaining its historical ability to control flooding. A view of Chatfield Reservoir in Chatfield State Park, in Douglas and Jefferson counties in Colorado. The view is towards the west and the park’s swim beach. The border between Jefferson and Douglas counties lies in the middle of the channel and extends from left to right. The photographer is standing in Douglas County and the swim beach is in Jefferson County. By Jeffrey Beall – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=61091231

    The plan got a new funding source in 2019 when voters approved Proposition DD, which legalized sports betting and directed tax revenue to the water plan.

    Sports betting got off to a slow start in the spring of 2020, thanks to the near-total shutdown of sporting events because of the coronavirus pandemic. But activity picked up speed during the second half of the year, generating $3.4 million in taxes between May and December, double the estimated $1.5 million to $1.7 million per year.

    Though not an immediate source of cash, the sports betting initiative was a big win in a state where voters have historically balked at statewide funding for water.

    “The water plan requires about $100 million a year in sustainable funding to meet many of the goals outlined for 2025, 2030, 2050,” said Alec Garnett, D-Denver, the lead sponsor of the sports betting bill. “We never thought Prop DD was going to achieve that annual goal, but at least it established a reliable critical revenue source.”

    Garnett said he always envisioned general fund money, plus the sports betting tax revenue, to help get the water plan closer to $100 million a year, but this year’s state budget challenges showed just how fraught that path forward may be. Since its launch, lawmakers have contributed general funds to the plan just once.

    “Our economy and state budget have been turned upside down by the pandemic and we have to move through this period before we can talk about sustainable funding,” Garnett said. “It’s just hard to navigate with the changing environment.”

    There were other wins for water funding over the last five years, too. Several local water districts and initiatives found success at the polls, garnering millions of dollars in new taxpayer support for an array of local and regional goals aligned with the plan.

    In November 2020, voters approved property tax increases to support water projects in the Glenwood Springs-based Colorado River Water Conservation District and the Longmont-based St. Vrain and Left Hand Water Conservancy District.

    “We’re already seeing where [funding is] being piecemealed together so maybe it’s statewide or maybe it’s a local thing,” said Garrett Varra, who chairs the South Platte Basin Roundtable and sits on the board of the St. Vrain and Left Hand Water Conservancy District. “Voters are more apt to trust people they know and be able to sit down and talk with directly than maybe the state Legislature itself or the CWCB or whoever it is. One way or another, whether it’s done region by region or statewide, it will happen at some point.”

    Looking ahead

    Colorado water leaders are in the middle of a comprehensive water plan update that will conclude in 2022. The update will incorporate five potential supply and demand scenarios for Colorado water in 2050, created by adjusting variables like water availability, climate change and population growth.

    “It’s about choices that we make,” said the CWCB’s Ris. “We’re not locked into any future, that we have the ability to make choices in how we deal with everything coming down the pipe, including population growth, funding, climate change.”

    Using the various planning scenarios and other data, the CWCB has also developed new tools to help estimate the environmental impacts and costs of water projects, as well as the costs and consequences of doing nothing. The board also created a new “Engage CWCB” website to encourage more community engagement with the plan.

    This month, the Interbasin Compact Committee, a statewide board charged with helping shape policy and coordinating among the various river basins, will re-ignite talks about how best to fund the water plan and, ultimately, achieve its goals.

    Set against the backdrop of record-setting wildfires, intensifying drought in the Colorado River Basin and other parts of the state, escalating climate change, and fears around potential water speculation, state water leaders say that funding can’t come soon enough.

    “There’s a lot of talk about how do we get to that $100 million mark with the ever-increasing challenges that Colorado faces, with climate change happening faster than anyone really thought, even in 2015 when the water plan was created,” said Garnett.

    Sarah Kuta is a freelance writer based in Longmont, Colorado. She can be reached at sarahkuta@gmail.com.

    Graphics created by Chas Chamberlin, principal with cdcgraphics. He can be reached at chasdcham@gmail.com.

    Some good news on funding for water: Sports betting tax revenue gaining strength — @WaterEdCO

    The 2015 Colorado Water Plan, on a shelf, at the CU law library. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    From Water Education Colorado (Sarah Kuta):

    Coloradans legally bet more than $1.1 billion on sports in 2020, exceeding expectations and funneling some cash to the Colorado Water Plan sooner than anticipated.

    Colorado collected more than $3.4 million in sports betting taxes in 2020, with operators running from May through December. Voters agreed to legalize and tax sports betting in November 2019 with the passage of Proposition DD, which also directed much of the tax revenue to the Colorado Water Plan, a comprehensive vision for the state’s water future created in 2015.

    Colorado’s fiscal year runs from July 1 to June 30, which makes the sports betting numbers even more promising, since December was only the halfway mark for the current fiscal year. From July to December 2020 — the first half of the current 2020-21 fiscal year — Colorado collected $3.1 million in sports betting tax revenue.

    Even with six months remaining in the fiscal year — a span that includes big-time sporting events like the Super Bowl, March Madness, the Kentucky Derby and more — that $3.1 million is already double the gaming division’s initial projections of $1.5 million to $1.8 million for the full 2020-21 fiscal year. That means the Colorado Water Plan could see sports betting funds as soon as this fall, a year earlier than initially projected.

    “We took a very conservative approach based on how fast the market would pick up, how fast people would embrace it, what effect we were going to have on moving people from the black market to the regular market, and we’ve just really blown all of those things out of the water — no pun intended for the water front,” said Dan Hartman, director of the Colorado Division of Gaming. “We really moved a lot of needles a lot further, a lot faster that we thought we were going to. We’re optimistic and really excited about where sports betting is and, ultimately, that there’s going to be better-than-projected amounts going to the water plan.”

    Based on tax revenue collected in the first half of the current fiscal year, and factoring in the other ways sports betting tax revenue must be spent under the new law, the water plan so far stands to gain a little more than $1 million — and counting.

    That’s still well short of the $100 million officials estimate they need each year in new funding to accomplish the water plan’s goals by 2050, but sports betting was never expected to fully fund the water plan — and every little bit counts, said Alec Garnett, D-Denver, the lead sponsor of the sports betting bill.

    “We’ve always known that Coloradans love sports. We always knew that there was a black market and that people were already doing this,” Garnett said. “From a regulatory standpoint, I feel very strong and good about what these numbers mean for the market we created.”

    If these early numbers are any indication, the sports betting program is likely to continue to grow in future years as the market matures and sports calendars get back to normal.

    Though he has not created an official updated projection based on 2020’s wagers and tax revenue, Hartman said he believes annual sports betting tax revenue could double by next year.

    “I’m comfortable in projecting that we’re probably on pace to do twice as much next year as we did this year,” Hartman said.

    Sports betting got off to a slow start in Colorado, since it launched in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic when many sporting events were canceled. But as the sports betting program got underway and more live sporting events were held (often without fans in the seats), the tax revenue started growing.

    Even so, before any of that money goes to the Colorado Water Plan, the gaming division must first pay back the $1.7 million lawmakers allocated from the state’s general fund to start the new sports betting program, which will likely happen at the beginning of March, Hartman said. The program’s ongoing operating costs are paid for with fees from licensed sports betting operators in the state, which now number 17.

    The gaming division must also set aside 6 percent of tax revenue for a hold-harmless fund, provide $130,000 per year to the Colorado Department of Human Services’ Office of Behavioral Health, and give $30,000 per year to Rocky Mountain Crisis Partners to operate a gambling hotline.

    Any remaining tax revenue can then go to the Water Plan Implementation Cash Fund, pending the approval of the Colorado Limited Gaming Control Commission, according to Suzi Karrer, a spokesperson for the Colorado Division of Revenue.

    “The gaming commission will take that up in one of their meetings in the fall,” Hartman said. “Legislatively, it’s been turned over to the commission to follow the formula and give [the funds] to the beneficiaries.”

    The early sports betting numbers were also a small bright spot for the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB), the state agency tasked with administering the water plan, which expects to be rationing much of its current funding over the next two years.

    CWCB hasn’t received any of the sports betting tax revenue yet and, since it’s difficult to predict how much Coloradans will wager in future years, the agency hasn’t yet made plans for spending it.

    “Based on what has been collected so far, sports betting revenue does look promising as an additional — and more permanent — funding source for the water plan and important water projects, but again, it is still new, and we really don’t know yet what the revenue generation capacity will be,” said Sara Leonard, CWCB spokesperson.

    As of right now, the CWCB is not planning to ask the Colorado Legislature to allocate funding to the Colorado Water Plan for the next two years and will instead rely on the 2020-21 allocation of $7.5 million, according to Leonard and state budget officials speaking at recent CWCB meetings.

    The approval of the new sports betting tax, which created a dedicated funding source for the Colorado Water Plan, was an accomplishment in a state where voters have historically rejected statewide water funding efforts. But it’s still not enough to meet the ambitious goals outlined in the plan.

    To that end, state and local water leaders plan to re-start conversations about water funding this month. Those talks will begin at the Feb. 23 meeting of the Interbasin Compact Committee (IBCC), according to the committee’s director Russell George. The IBCC, created in 2005, is a statewide public board that helps set policy and coordinate talks between river basins.

    “We’re going to re-ignite that large discussion and see where we can go,” said George during his Jan. 25 update to the CWCB. “I don’t have to tell you the need for an input, an infusion of capital, in all of the things that we’re trying to do…It’ll just be the beginning of a conversation that I think’s going to go on until we’ve succeeded.”

    Garnett said he wasn’t aware of any upcoming legislation related to new funding sources for the water plan, but said he was happy that funding for Colorado’s water future remains in the public eye.

    “There’s just a lot of focus on this area because of the pressures that are being put on our most precious natural resource,” he said. “It’s always hard to find dedicated revenue streams in Colorado and it was certainly a hard process to get Proposition DD passed. I’m sure everyone has their eyes wide open about the challenges.”

    Sarah Kuta is a freelance writer based in Longmont, Colorado. She can be reached at sarahkuta@gmail.com.

    Demand Management reviewed at @CWCB_DNR board meeting — The Delta County Independent #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Gunnison River in Colorado. Source: Bureau of Reclamation via the Water Education Foundation

    From the Colorado Water Conservation Board via The Delta County Independent:

    During the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) meeting on Jan. 25, an update on the current and ongoing Demand Management Feasibility Investigation was presented, including reiteration of the state’s guiding principles and the first steps of potential framework concepts for what a program could look like.

    “The Demand Management Investigation remains an open, collaborative process, as we continue conversations with the Interbasin Compact Committee, Tribal Nations, non-governmental organizations, and stakeholders across the state,” said CWCB Director Rebecca Mitchell. “The big question is, can we design a program that creates a net benefit for Colorado and protects Colorado water users?”

    The Step II Work Plan, which was approved in November 2020, aims to use information developed throughout the course of work done pursuant to the previous 2019 Work Plan to analyze whether a Demand Management program would be achievable, worthwhile, and advisable for Colorado as a whole.

    The guiding principles articulated at the board meeting include: Demand Management is not a foregone conclusion; The framework is not a program, but a point for discussion; Issues are explored in an open and collaborative manner including engagement with Tribal Nations; and a program would be run by the state for the benefit of the whole state and its water users.

    As part of the Step II Work Plan, CWCB will develop strawman concepts based on a matrix of elements, which were identified by each of the eight workgroups last year.

    At the board meeting, staff presented on elements for monitoring and verification; education and outreach; and environmental considerations areas. These were presented as examples, as staff develops content relating to the other subject areas.

    While no large-scale pilot programs will be implemented at this time, CWCB will soon begin looking at opportunities to use existing programs and funding sources to conduct smaller-scale demonstration projects that might help with on-the-ground learning. CWCB will also work to incorporate existing and ongoing projects and information into the framework.

    A CWCB workshop will be scheduled in the near future to provide the next update on the feasibility analysis. The date and time of this virtual event will be added to the CWCB calendar.

    #Colorado sports betting is popular enough to quickly benefit state #water projects after all — The Colorado Sun

    Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013

    From The Colorado Sun (Jesse Paul):

    Sports betting got off to a hot start, meaning enough tax revenue has already been collected to start benefiting Colorado’s Water Plan projects…

    Colorado had already collected more than $3.4 million in sports betting tax revenue through the end of December, more than enough to cover the roughly $2 million in startup costs that had to be paid off before wagering dollars could start being directed to the water plan projects, including increasing storage capacity.

    Sports betting began in Colorado in May, after voters passed Proposition DD in November 2019. More than $1 billion has been wagered so far…

    Proposition DD was pitched to voters as a way to direct money to the state’s water plan, which could have a price tag as large as $40 billion. But in December 2019, Polis’ Department of Revenue warned state lawmakers that it would possibly take until the 2021-22 fiscal year before enough tax revenue came in for the water plan to benefit.

    The sports betting tax revenue is still far lower than the Colorado General Assembly’s fiscal analysts projected. But the upshot is that there’s already plenty of sports betting tax dollars — which are generated by a 10% tax on casinos’ net proceeds — to turn on the water-plan-funding spigot…

    Gamblers have placed more than $1.1 billion in wagers since sports betting began in Colorado last year.

    American football saw the most bets in December, with $88.1 million in wagers placed with retail and online operators, followed by basketball at $42.8 million. Coloradans continue to show interest in betting on table tennis, with $10.9 million in bets coming in for the sport last month.

    From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Wayne Heilman):

    Betting on professional football and basketball, and college basketball added up to more than half of the $284.6 million total in December. Last month’s total was up 23.1% from November but the amount sportsbooks kept after paying winners fell by 36.7% to $5.67 million, in large part because sportsbooks gave away nearly $11 million in free bets on promotions.

    “Hitting the $1 billion mark is a milestone event for the department, leading us to believe that the trust and competition in the industry are leading bettors from the black market to the regulated market,” said Dan Hartman, director of the Colorado Division of Gaming, which regulates sports bettering and casinos. The $1.19 billion in bets last year generated $3.4 million in tax revenue for the state. Sportsbooks pay a 10% tax on profits, which funds Colorado water projects.

    After pro football, and pro and college basketball, college football and table tennis were the two next-most-popular sports with bettors, attracting $14.1 million and nearly $11 million in wagers, respectively. Parlays and combination bets accounted for $46.4 million in wagers and other sports combined to total another $45.9 million. More than 98% of all bets were placed online or with mobile applications, and nearly 94% of all amounts wagered were paid to winning bettors.

    #Colorado Ag Alliance February 2, 2021: Planning for #Drought

    From email from the Colorado Ag Alliance:

    Drought Advisors

    Farmers and ranchers throughout the state can call/text (970) 988-0043 or email droughtadvisors@colostate.edu to be connected to resources and a team to work with you to address short and long-term drought conditions.

    Community Agriculture Alliance: The mighty #YampaRiver, our valley’s livelihood #GreenRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Scott Hummer, water commissioner for District 58 in the Yampa River basin, checks out a recently installed Parshall flume on an irrigation ditch. Hummer said most water users in the Yampa are complying with a state order issued nearly a year ago that requires measuring devices. Photo credit: Heather Sackett/Aspen Journalism

    Here’s a guest column that’s running in the Steamboat Pilot & Today (Gena Hinkemeyer):

    Did you know that Colorado’s Water Plan calls for 80% of locally prioritized rivers to be covered by a stream management plan by 2030? Yes, that includes our Yampa River Basin.

    The Yampa White Green Basin Roundtable is one of nine grassroots water policy roundtables throughout Colorado working to develop locally driven collaborative solutions to water supply challenges. The roundtable’s Integrated Water Management Plan will combine community input with science and engineering assessments to identify actions that protect existing and future water uses and support healthy river ecosystems in the face of growing populations, changing land uses and climate uncertainty.

    So where do we begin with the IWMP process? Why not start with the biggest users of water here in the basin, our agricultural stakeholders. Stakeholders have been clear that agricultural infrastructure is in need of improvement, but there is limited documentation about specific needs. Stakeholder engagement is the most important factor to successful IWMPs. That’s where I come into play.

    As a segment coordinator for the project, I am reaching out to our agricultural users to listen and learn from them about their use of water and riverside lands, plus their management concerns and opportunities they may see for improvements. I wasn’t really sure what my job would entail. I had visions of field work and lots of interaction with ranchers. Our work was delayed by COVID-19 restrictions, but we were able to roll with the punches and conduct our interviews over the phone.

    Virus or not, ranchers still had to irrigate their fields, so we found a way to continue our work. As it turns out, I learned more about irrigation and the effects irrigation has on our community than I ever thought possible. From the headgates of the Yampa all the way down to the confluence of the Green River, our team chose 50 water diversion structures for assessment.

    What does a diversion assessment entail, you might ask? A technical team, J-U-B Engineering out of Grand Junction, conducted site visits on the 50 river structures. The site visit included a field inspection of the river headgate, ditch conditions, inventory and assessment of control structures, measurement devices and level of functionality, overall structural integrity and diversion functionality, along with the ability of the structure to divert a wide range of flows.

    The results of the diversion assessment will benefit irrigators by providing a technical evaluation of their structure, including suggestions of ways to improve or modify the structure, if needed. The roundtable will use the information along with a combination of other studies regarding river health and recreation to select future priorities and action planning.

    As the work of the IWMP continues, the assessments will also support regional decision making regarding multi-benefit projects — those that overlap agriculture, environment and recreation. Working on the IWMP has opened my eyes to how important agriculture and water are to this community. It’s our livelihood and our heritage.

    For more information on the IWMP project, visit yampawhitegreen.com/iwmp.

    Gena Hinkemeyer is segment coordinator for the Yampa White Green Basin Roundtable Integrated Water Management Plan.

    Yampa River Basin via Wikimedia.

    Opinion: Protecting rivers is key to preparing #Colorado for wildfires — The Colorado Sun #ActOnClimate

    Aspen trees in autumn. Photo: Bob West via the Colorado State Forest Service.

    From The Colorado Sun (Abby Burke):

    Contrary to the common phrase, fire and water actually do mix – and there’s often a direct connection between the two.

    This year in particular, wildfires have gripped Colorado with historic magnitude. And while we often think of property damage and air quality as the most immediate consequences of severe wildfire, rivers and drinking water supplies are often wildfire casualties as well.

    2020 was Colorado’s third-driest water year on record and one of our warmest, with the hottest August since record-keeping began in 1895. Models show that climate change and historic drought will continue to affect the Colorado River Basin and increase the severity and frequency of wildfires.

    Abby Burke brings a lifetime love of rivers, particularly of the Colorado River and its tributaries. As the western rivers regional program manager for Audubon Rockies. Photo credit: Audubon Rockies

    To combat this, we must strive to bolster the resiliency of both land and water, including our rivers and streams, to support our communities that rely upon them.

    The good news is that Coloradans across the state recognize the need to invest in our rivers.

    Voters this year approved two ballot measures that will generate additional funding to support the St. Vrain and Left Hand Water Conservancy District as well as the Colorado River Water Conservation District. The measures will generate a combined $8 million per year to support healthy rivers, local agriculture, watershed health and water quality across both districts.

    That local funding will support the types of solutions and water-management projects outlined in Colorado’s Water Plan. The plan, finalized in 2015, provides a blueprint to address the gap between water supply and demand across the state.

    And now we have a critical opportunity to build on that work – and voters’ recent mandates – by making updates to the Water Plan. These updates will provide a chance to identify and recommend a path towards a healthy, secure water future.

    “From extreme drought to extreme fires, 2020 highlights the need for us to build our climate resilience and protect the watersheds that sustain our streams, farms and cities. Finding these opportunities and identifying the state of the science is at the heart of the Colorado Water Plan Update,” says Colorado Water Conservation Board Director Rebecca Mitchell.

    Wildfire-related impacts on river health are significant, including post-fire floods, debris flows, erosion, and the threat of toxic debris flowing into our rivers and water supply. Laurie Rink of the Middle Colorado Watershed Council says that key stakeholders have expressed the need for coordinated planning and response to Colorado’s wildfires.

    “Immediate focus will be on post-fire recovery and rehabilitation to reduce post-fire hazards, such as flooding and erosion. Longer-term efforts can turn towards planning for and implementing future fire risk mitigation throughout the watershed,” Rink says.

    Healthy rivers flow from healthy watersheds. We must broaden the river health conversation beyond the river channel itself, to include the entire “riverscape,” comprised of the streams, floodplain, and vegetation surrounding them.

    Riverscapes support bird and wildlife habitat, as well as ecological services that directly influence water quality and quantity. Nearly 80% of Colorado’s clean, reliable drinking water comes from these forested watersheds. But significant data gaps exist around watershed health, and without current science, the effort to create projects and management plans to protect Colorado’s rivers is daunting.

    Ensuring that Colorado’s riverscapes and forests can recover from future wildfires at a landscape scale is crucial. Implementing proven wildfire mitigation strategies such as forest treatments and prescribed fires, as well as investing in the health of our rivers and streams, will promote increased resilience to climate change and mitigate the effects of wildfires on water supplies and communities.

    Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013

    Colorado’s Water Plan strives to develop stream management plans for at least 80% of rivers and streams across the state, as well as 80% of critical watersheds with watershed protection plans, all by 2030.

    Current, accurate, scientific data is crucial for the development of these stream management and watershed plans. Fortunately, river health assessments can inform locally driven projects to protect or improve conditions and empower communities to develop tailored resilience strategies and track river health over time.

    It’s essential that an updated Water Plan provide funding and guidance for addressing river health information gaps.

    While rivers connect all Coloradans, so does drought and wildfire in 2020. When we invest in the health of our rivers, we are also investing in future resilience to climate change and associated disruptions to our rural heritage and Colorado lifestyle.

    Abby Burk is the Western Rivers Regional Program Manager for Audubon Rockies.

    Colorado River “Beginnings”. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    Program expanding to map #Colorado mountain #snowpack — @AspenJournalism

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

    From Aspen Journalism (Heather Sackett):

    Front Range water providers are hoping to expand a program that uses a new technology they say will revolutionize water management in Colorado. But for now, the expensive program isn’t worth it for smaller Western Slope water providers.

    The Northern Colorado Water Conservation District is seeking state grant money to expand the Colorado Airborne Snow Observatory program. The ASO program uses remote-sensing lasers on airplanes known as LiDAR, which stands for light detection and ranging, to precisely measure snow depth…

    The technology creates a much clearer picture of how much water is contained in the snowpack and has been used in pilot studies in the Gunnison River basin and for Denver Water.

    But these flights have been scattered and lack consistent funding. A geographically expanded program with consistent funding would revolutionize water management in Colorado, according to the grant application.

    “This technology is kind of a no-brainer when it comes to helping us understand what water we have to work with each year,” said Laurna Kaatz, the climate science, policy and adaptation program manager for Denver Water. “We know ASO adds value and is kind of the game-changer in water management.”

    Denver Water, which provides water to 1.4 million people along the Front Range, is the ASO expansion project manager, while Northern Water is the fiscal agent. The Colorado, South Platte, Metro, Gunnison and Arkansas basin roundtables have each committed $5,000 toward the project.

    The project would not fund the flights themselves but would be used to develop an expanded, collaborative, well-funded plan to identify which basins to fly each year.

    A flight from NASA’s Airborne Snow Observatory gathers data about the snowpack above Dillon Reservoir on a flight. Information gathered from the flight helped Denver Water manage reservoir operations. Photo courtesy of Quantum Spatial

    SNOTEL limitations

    Important data points that water managers and streamflow forecasters use for measuring snowpack — and the water contained in that snowpack, known as snow-water equivalent (SWE) — are snow-telemetry (SNOTEL) sites, a network of remote sensing stations throughout Colorado’s mountainous watersheds that collect weather and snowpack information. But they provide just a snapshot of conditions at one location.

    “A large amount of SWE is in that high-elevation snow band, which doesn’t get captured by the SNOTEL program,” said Steve Hunter, utilities resource managers for the city of Aspen.

    In the spring of 2019, Denver Water learned just how valuable ASO technology is in predicting runoff. Data from a June ASO flight showed there was about 114,000 acre-feet of water in the snow above Dillon Reservoir, Denver Water’s largest storage pool, even though SNOTEL sites, at about 11,000 feet, registered as melted out already. The water provider increased outflows from Dillon so they could make room for the coming snowmelt and avoid downstream flooding.

    “I think this is going to revolutionize water management in the West,” Kaatz said. “If you have the ability to have more information and we know that it’s accurate information, it is gold in the water industry.”

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

    Expensive technology

    ASO technology was developed by NASA and researchers at the National Snow and Ice Data Center at the University of Colorado Boulder. But the technology is expensive — between $100,000 and $200,000 per flight, according to Kaatz — and still not worth it for smaller Western Slope municipal water providers who don’t have to carefully coordinate the operation of large reservoirs.

    The city of Aspen and the Eagle River Water & Sanitation District are part of the collaborative workgroup helping to create the ASO program expansion plan. Other entities include Colorado Springs Utilities, city of Fort Collins, city of Boulder, city of Greeley, Thornton Water, Pueblo Water, Aurora Water, city of Westminster, Ruedi Water Power and Authority, and the Colorado River Water Conservation District.

    Hunter said more data is better when it comes to managing Aspen’s water supply, which comes from Castle and Maroon creeks. The city is trying to install a SNOTEL site and another stream gauge in its watershed. Hunter said the collaborative workgroup has also been exploring ways to sustainably fund an expanded ASO program.

    “Airborne measurements of both snow depth and density to come up with your SWE is a great alternative, but it’s cost prohibitive,” Hunter said. “If they have this great technology but nobody can use because nobody can afford it, that doesn’t help anybody.”

    Water managers for Eagle River Water & Sanitation District, which supplies water to the Vail Valley, said that although they are participating in the workgroup meetings and find the science interesting and useful, the expense is not something they can bite off right now. Their reservoirs are small and mostly used for augmentation, not to supply municipal water.

    “I think there’s value in the whole system and understanding the water that’s available,” said Len Wright, the senior water resources engineer for Eagle River Water & Sanitation District. “But we don’t have anything that would justify the expense right now.”

    Northern Water and Airborne Snow Observatories, Inc. will each contribute $5,000 worth of in-kind services to the project. Also, Denver Water will contribute $10,000 in-kind and the collaborative workgroup will give $24,000 of in-kind services. The Colorado Water Conservation Board is being asked for $20,000 from the statewide Water Supply Reserve Fund account and is scheduled to consider the grant application at its March meeting.

    Aspen Journalism is a local, nonprofit, investigative news organization covering water and rivers in collaboration with The Aspen Times and other Swift Communications newspapers. This story ran in the Dec. 5 edition of The Aspen Times.

    One of the two Twin Otter aircraft used by the Airborne Snow Observatory mission to study snowpack in the Western U.S. Credit: NASA

    Guest commentary: #Colorado wildfires are impacting our water; here’s what we can do — the Aspen Times

    The Cameron Peak fire soon after it started on Aug. 13, 2020. By Sept. 11, the fire had grown to more than 102,000 acres (now >200,000 acres) and was not expected to be considered out until Oct. 31. Photo credit: InciWeb via The Colorado Sun

    From The Aspen Times (Jill Ozarski):

    One year ago, exactly zero parts of Colorado were officially designated as being abnormally dry or in drought. What a difference a year makes.

    Now, even as the ski season starts up, every corner of our state is facing drought conditions. As the effects of unchecked climate change continue to worsen, these conditions, which previously would have been considered extreme, are sadly becoming the new normal, and the impacts are wide ranging.

    As Coloradans know all too well, these hot, dry conditions played a significant role in fueling wildfires that tragically steal away lives, communities and our beloved natural landscapes. Images from recent months of families fleeing burning homes and beleaguered firefighters waging battle while air tankers swoop overheard are pictures that we won’t soon forget.

    Some of these record-breaking wildfires — like Cameron Peak — are still burning, even as it snows. Last year, the Fern Creek Fire burned all winter, in a place where fire has not occurred in 500 years.

    The impacts of these disasters stretch well beyond the fire lines, and have downstream effects on our precious rivers and waterways.

    Colorado’s mountains supply water to seven downstream states and the wildfires can directly impact the quantity and quality of that water. This problem is likely to only worsen in the years and decades ahead, which is why we need to take action now to safeguard our water supplies and ensure that our state’s vital natural resources are protected.

    This may seem like a daunting problem, but there is so much that our society can do. Fortunately, voters know that protecting our water is critical. Colorado voters are notoriously anti-tax, but on Nov. 3, voters in 23 Colorado counties approved two ballot measures to protect our water and rivers. That follows 2019, where statewide voters approved a measure to provide as much as $29 million annually to implement Colorado’s Water Plan. Similar local county measures were enacted in 2016 and 2018.

    The results are clear: Coloradans are aware of the threats facing our water supplies and are willing to dedicate state resources toward preserving and protecting them.

    The dollars from these measures are critical and will go a long way toward protecting our water for future Coloradans, but only if we leverage them in the right ways and build on a coalition. This is an all-hands-on-deck moment, and if we’re serious about tackling these issues we need to marshal all of the support we can find and elicit the help of as many stakeholders as possible.

    The federal government can help by funding water conservation efforts by both cities and the agricultural sector, who have both been largely leading the charge. It also can help support natural water storage and build on “natural infrastructure,” i.e. natural or naturalized areas that are strategically managed to conserve the ecosystem’s protective functions while also providing economic and societal benefits.

    What does that mean in layman’s terms? It means providing jobs to restore healthy forests. It means safeguarding the wetlands and streams that naturally clean our water, provide firebreaks, and support the wildlife and scenery for which our state is famous. We know these techniques can work, we just need the resources to properly implement them.

    And the only way to protect enough forests, wetlands and streams at a big enough scale to make a difference is to layer public funds with other sources of funding in creative ways. The innovative Environmental Impact Fund under development in southwest Colorado is a perfect example of such creativity.

    This fund is the result of years of partnerships and collaboration that have brought all stakeholders together with local leadership — homeowners, water providers, agriculture, hikers and agencies. They are working together to combine and leverage funding so that they can protect forests and water resources in a coordinated and cost-efficient way that provides jobs, reaches economies of scale, and protects the community and its water for people, agriculture and nature.

    Finally, let’s not forget that all of this helps implement Colorado’s Water Plan, which is currently marking its fifth anniversary. The plan was developed with input from community leaders and residents throughout the state. The resulting plan outlines solutions to address the gap between our finite water supplies and demand, while setting a goal of achieving 400,000 acre-feet of municipal and industrial water conservation savings by 2050. It also outlines steps for maintaining our vital agricultural economy, which bolsters our communities while supplying food and fiber around the world.

    Studies show that the entire American Southwest is on the precipice of a historic megadrought, which means that our climate and ecosystems are entering into uncharted territory. The future is already here: We must act now to help our communities and environment navigate future wildfires and intensifying drought.

    Protecting Colorado’s rivers and streams today means acting to protect future generations of Coloradans. But we’re Coloradans. We have proven that water is an issue that unites us, and we are poised to lead the nation on creative and effective solutions to address this issue head-on.

    Jill Ozarski is a program officer in the Environment Program focusing on the Colorado River initiative for the Walton Family Foundation.

    Scouring soil, sowing seeds and spending millions for wildfire recovery in Glenwood Canyon — The #Colorado Sun #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Grizzly Creek Fire August 11, 2020. Photo credit: Wildfire Today

    From The Colorado Sun (Jason Blevins):

    Glenwood Springs is spending more than $10 million on repairs and upgrades to water supply infrastructure following Grizzly Creek Fire.

    The Grizzly Creek Fire was not even 10% contained. Jumbo jets still were dousing flames as firefighting teams from across the country scrambled to protect Glenwood Springs and a critical watershed above the Colorado River. And teams of scientists were in Glenwood Canyon, too, battling alongside firefighters.

    Those hydrologists, biologists, geologists, archaeologists and recreation specialists are still there, even after the flames are gone, waging a behind-the-scenes battle to protect water and natural resources…

    Burned Area Emergency Response — or BAER — teams typically come in when a fire is 50% contained to assess damage and create a multi-year restoration plan. Roberts and the Grizzly Creek Fire BAER crew were on the ground when less than 10% of the fire was contained as both forest and fire managers recognized threats to water supplies. In less than three weeks, they had a map detailing where the Grizzly Creek Fire burned hottest, which helped the Colorado Department of Transportation identify areas where rockfall hazards increased in the fire.

    In a twist on the BAER assessment — which usually focuses on protecting resources after a fire — the team helped build an emergency communication plan that helped firefighters in the canyon, and identified areas where they could swiftly take cover in the event of rockfall or a sudden rainstorm that could sweep debris and rocks off canyon walls…

    It was this early assessment that sparked an urgent plea for help from Glenwood Springs. As firefighters battled back flames on the western edge of the wildfire, the city’s leaders rallied politicians far and wide to acknowledge damage to the city’s water supply infrastructure. Barely three weeks after the wildfire sparked along Interstate 70 in Glenwood Canyon, the city had a list of immediate work needed to protect the city’s watershed.

    Sen. Michael Bennet prodded the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) to unleash millions from the federal Emergency Watershed Protection program. Glenwood Springs was first in line, with a clear message that spring snowmelt, or even a rainstorm, could cripple the city’s water supply…

    It didn’t take long for Glenwood Springs to identify immediate repairs and upgrades to protect water systems from expected sediment and debris flowing from scorched canyon walls. First on the list were intake systems on Glenwood Canyon’s Grizzly and No Name creeks. The city also needed an upgrade to a backup water intake on the Roaring Fork River, should the systems in the canyon go down. And finally, the city is eager to finish a long-planned bridge that could help residents flee a wildfire on the south end of town.

    By early September, less than a month after the Grizzly Creek Fire started, the city had a list of $86 million in projects. And the money started flowing almost immediately.

    The city secured more than $1 million from the NRCS’s Emergency Watershed Program for projects to protect intake infrastructure on No Name and Grizzly creeks, high above the Colorado River…

    The Grizzly Creek Fire jumped Grizzly Creek north of Glenwood Canyon. (Provided by the City of Glenwood Springs)

    The city asked the NRCS for wiggle room on the requirement that municipalities pay 25% of the total grant. The service agreed to an 80-20 split, which meant the city needed a little less than $200,000 to protect the structures that funnel millions of gallons of water a day into the city’s water treatment plant.

    Work on the Grizzly Creek intake started first, with helicopters ferrying workers 3.8 miles up the drainage. The workers put in steel plates to protect the diversion and valve systems from debris that could clog the intake during the next big rain or spring melt. They stabilized the banks upstream and downstream of the intake, which required flying 11 cubic yards of cement up the drainage.