Monitoring will make sure Aspen snowmaking doesn’t harm creeks — @AspenJournalism

Aquatic ecologist Bill Miller, left, and chair of the Pitkin County Healthy Streams Board Andre Wille stand on the banks of Castle Creek as Miller prepares to take macro-invertebrate samples. The county hired Miller to collect baseline data to ensure increased snowmaking on Aspen Mountain won’t harm the health of the stream. Photo credit: Heather Sackett/Aspen Journalism

From Aspen Journalism (Heather Sackett):

On a recent snowy morning, aquatic ecologist Bill Miller dipped what’s known as a Hess sampler into the frigid waters of Castle Creek near Aspen.

Miller stirred up the streambed with his hands, funneling the rocks, sediment and leaves — along with macro-invertebrates such as insects and worms — into the collection container.

After putting the organic material into smaller jars and giving each one a squirt of alcohol as a preservative, heferried them to a lab in Fort Collins. Scientists there will count the number and types of bugs in each sample.

“By the different species that are there, you can get a good indication of stream and water quality, and overall ecological function,” Miller said.

Miller’s work is part of a program that will monitor the health of Castle and Maroon creeks, ensuring that Aspen Skiing Co.’s increased water use for snowmaking on Aspen Mountain won’t harm the aquatic environment of the creeks. The stream-monitoring program was set out in September as a condition of Pitkin County’s approval of Skico’s Aspen Mountain Ski Area Master Plan.

“I think the idea of this is we don’t want the snowmaking to cause significant harm to the creeks,” said Andre Wille, chairman of Pitkin County Healthy Rivers board.

Aquatic ecologist Bill Miller shows the bugs and worms from Castle Creek that he collected with a Hess sampler. Starting in the 2020-21 season, Aspen Mountain will use an additional 57 acre-feet of water from city supplies, which come from Castle and Maroon creeks, for snowmaking per season. Photo credit: Heather Sackett/Aspen Journalism

Aspen Mountain expansion

As part of its planned expansion, Aspen Mountain will use an additional 57 acre-feet of water per season, bringing the total average snowmaking water use to roughly 257 acre-feet. For context, Wildcat Reservoir, which is visible from the Snowmass Ski Area, holds about 1,100 acre-feet of water.

Skico is expanding its snowmaking for the 2020-21 season on 53 acres near the summit of Aspen Mountain, which will make it easier to have reliable and consistent snow coverage to ensure a Thanksgiving opening. Skico draws its water for snowmaking on Aspen Mountain from the city’s treated municipal supply, which is from Castle and Maroon creeks.

When Skico makes snow in November and December, the upside is there are fewer municipal water users pulling from local streams — outdoor irrigation season is over and holiday crowds have yet to arrive —but snowmaking uses water when natural streamflows are at some of their lowest points of the year.

“We were definitely concerned with the possibility of too much water being taken out in those early months of the winter,” Wille said.

Miller collected samples from above and below the city’s diversion dams on both lower Castle and Maroon creeks. His samples will act as a baseline against which the condition of the streams in future — and perhaps drier — years will be measured.

According to the resolution approving Aspen Mountain’s master plan, if the county’s aquatic ecologist determines, in future years, that the additional water usage is having a negative effect on stream health, the county could limit Skico’s water use to historical levels — about 200 acre-feet a year.

Aquatic ecologist Bill Miller, left, shows chair of Pitkin County Healthy Streams Board Andre Wille the three samples of macro-invertebrates he collected from Castle Creek. Some say the instream flow water rights held by the Colorado Water Conservation Board don’t necessarily go far enough to protect stream health. Photo credit: Heather Sackett/Aspen Journalism

Instream flows

There is another safeguard to keep water in the river, but some say it may not go far enough to ensure stream health.

The Colorado Water Conservation Board, a state agency, holds instream-flow water rights on both Castle and Maroon creeks. And the state has determined that it requires at least 12 cubic feet per second of flowing water to protect the environment to “a reasonable degree” on lower Castle Creek and 14 cfs on lower Maroon Creek.

“We don’t feel it’s advisable to look at what the CWCB may have decreed in the past for a minimum instream flow,” said John Ely, Pitkin County attorney. “That’s not necessarily indicative from a scientific point of view of what is actually needed to maintain a healthy stream.”

That’s why the county hired Miller — who also is the longtime consulting biologist for the city of Aspen — to do its own assessment of stream health.

Ely said stream samples may not need to be taken every year — just in dry years when snowmaking could exacerbate already low flows. He estimated the annual cost of the monitoring program at about $5,000 to $10,000.

Jeff Hanle, Skico’s vice president of communications, said the company is taking steps to increase the efficiency of its on-mountain storage for snowmaking, such as adding two new ponds on Gent’s Ridge, so it won’t need to pull as much water from the city’s supply during the early season.

Although Skico and Pitkin County still need to work out the details of the stream-monitoring program, Hanle said the company is on board with preserving the ecological health of Castle and Maroon creeks.

“We would not make snow if it’s harming the stream, even if it could shorten a season,” he said. “We aren’t going to damage our home.”

Aspen Journalism collaborates with The Aspen Times and other Swift Communications newspapers on coverage of rivers and water. This story ran in the Nov. 11 edition of The Aspen Times.

The Yampa/White Basin Roundtable is developing a #YampaRiver integrated water management plan #COWaterPlan

Serene corner on the Yampa River. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

From the Yampa/White Basin Roundtable (Gena Hinkemeyer) via The Craig Daily Press:

The Yampa-White-Green Basin Roundtable is one of nine basin roundtables in Colorado established to address the ever-increasing water challenges facing our state.

As part of its mission and to meet the Colorado Water Plan, the roundtable is developing an Integrated Water Management Plan for the Yampa River Basin that best represents the interests and needs of all water users. These interests include agricultural, recreational, environmental, municipal, industrial and water providers. The first phase of the Management Plan focuses on the Yampa River main stem and the Elk River basin.

In order to make the Management Plan a success, the roundtable seeks to provide the community with meaningful opportunities to participate and provide valuable input for the Management Plan. To do this, two subcommittees where formed — stakeholder and technical — to complete related tasks.

The stakeholder subcommittee is working to implement a community outreach program designed to listen and learn in an open communication process. This subcommittee will provide a forum for dialogue on water related issues for all water users, including agriculture, recreational, municipal and environmental aspects of a healthy river.

The technical subcommittee was formed to look at the science-based river health for each of the identified geographic segments. One of the many related tasks is working with a private engineering contractor to conduct 40 to 50 voluntary water diversion assessments within the Yampa River Basin.

The goal is to learn more about the diversion effectiveness and incorporated environment aspects at the diversion site. Ultimately, this may help identify water projects that have positive impacts for the water diversion and broader river health.

The Management Plan recognizes the importance of agriculture to the Yampa River Basin. One of the roundtable priorities is to protect and maintain agricultural water rights in the region in consideration of increasing water demands and water availability fluctuations. Another goal is to help identify potential funding for water infrastructures that have multiple benefits and are in need of improvement for interested and volunteering agricultural stakeholders.

Two segment coordinators, Gena Hinkemeyer and Jerry Albers, are working as contractors on this project to listen, learn and seek input from agricultural stakeholders. Hinkemeyer has lived in the Yampa Valley for most of her life and will be working in the lower and middle Yampa River regions. Albers has lived in Stagecoach for the last 15 years and will be working in the Upper Yampa and the Elk River Basin.

The coordinators will be reaching out to members of the agricultural community to better understand water related issues confronting agriculture and seek input on planning efforts. If you are interested and would like to learn more visit the Yampa-White-Green Basin Roundtable site at or contact Gena Hinkemeyer

Colorado Bets on New Funding for Water Plan — @AudubonRockies

Common Mergansers. Photo: Lynn Cleveland/Audubon Photography Awards

From Audubon Rockies (Abby Burk):

The four-year-old Colorado Water Plan—the Centennial State’s proactive response to drought, flood, unpredictable water supplies, climate change, and a booming population that is likely to rise from 5.7 million today to nearly 9 million Coloradans in the next 30 years—is now guaranteed some of the annual $100 million needed to implement the plan. This month, Colorado voters narrowly approved Proposition DD to legalize sports betting (and a 10% tax on these casino revenues) which will result in an estimated $12 million to $29 million annually, the majority of which will go toward the Water Plan.

While we likely won’t see $29 million for the first several years, DD revenues bring Colorado’s first dedicated funding source to Water Plan implementation. The sports-betting tax money will flow into a new fund overseen by the Colorado Water Conservation Board. Revenues from DD are a drop in the bucket that renew every year, and represent a much-needed down payment toward the full $100 million per year for the Water Plan.

Revenues from DD could be used for a variety of Water Plan purposes including: stream and watershed management improvements, urban water conservation and efficiency, improved irrigation infrastructure for farms and ranches, and storage projects. At this point, it is not clear how the state will spend these dollars given the various priorities and the considerable funding gap. The language in DD was vague and will need refinement, and transparency. Stakeholders will likely explore options with the legislature to guide how DD funds are spent on Water Plan implementation.

Audubon will engage to advocate for spending that supports healthy rivers for the birds and people that depend on them—as we support a fully funded Water Plan. But even with the revenues DD will provide, additional dollars, heightened public awareness, and action will be critical to ensure healthy rivers—and the sustainable water future they enable for Colorado’s birds, economies, communities, recreation, agricultural heritage, and quality of life.

Audubon is proud to have supplied nearly 20 percent of the nearly 30,000 public comments that informed Colorado’s inaugural Water Plan, and Audubon will be there every step of the way through Water Plan implementation. Colorado cannot thrive unless its rivers do too.

Everything we love about Colorado is connected to water. We need your help in raising awareness about water and healthy rivers throughout Colorado. Spread the word. Join us as Audubon works across the state for a water-secure future for people and the environment.

Colorado Ag Celebrates Proposition DD —

Longs Peak

From (Maura Bennett):

Download the report

The Colorado Farm Bureau, Colorado Cattlemens’ Association and most agriculture organizations are celebrating the measure approved by voters to allow sports betting in the state. But it’s not a cure-all for what ails us.
The Farm Bureau’s Shawn Martini says it was a given they would support Proposition DD, as it is a way to guarantee future funding for the state’s Water Plan. The Water Plan – a blueprint for ensuring stable water supplies in the years and decades to come.

Martini: “And thus far it has not been funded anywhere close to what it needs. That initial figure of about 100 million dollars a year we need to fully fund the state’s water plan. While this doesn’t get us up to a 100 million a year, it at least provides us a dedicated revenue stream of maybe even up to 30 million a year to help continue to implement and build the projects that are a key part of the state’s water plan.”

Martini says they are waiting to see how much the state legislature will add to the Water Plan funding on a yearly basis. But with the passage of Prop. DD there is now a dedicated stream of funding that will allow the state to begin to chip away at the backlog of projects that need to be done to fulfill the state’s future water supply.

DD will legalize sports betting in Colorado and create a 10 percent tax on casinos’ house winnings that would largely benefit the Water Plan. Colorado’s 33 casinos will be able to offer in-person and online wagering on professional, collegiate, motor and Olympic sports beginning in May 2020.

It was a squeaker, but Colorado voters say yes to sports betting, cash for state’s water plan — @WaterEdCO

Urban areas and ski counties say yes to sports-betting, water initiative. Source: Colorado Secretary of State. Nov. 6, 2019 via Water Education Colorado

From Water Education Colorado (Jerd Smith):

Colorado voters narrowly approved a new sports-betting tax whose proceeds will help fund water projects across the state, including conservation programs, stream restoration, and new reservoirs.

The vote is a major victory for the bi-partisan coalition that backed the measure and represents the first voter-approved effort to fund the four-year-old Colorado Water Plan.

The nail-biter margins, 1.5 percent at press time, provide a cautionary tale on how much support exists for water funding and how much more will be needed in the future, backers said.

“I was surprised. It was super close,” said Alec Garnett, D-Denver, the lead sponsor of the bill that referred Proposition DD, as it was known, to voters. “But it’s a reminder to everyone that Colorado is a fiscally conservative state.”

Proposition DD legalizes sports betting and imposes a 10 percent tax on casino revenue derived from this new form of gambling. A statewide map of the vote count showed voters on the Front Range and in ski counties, such as Eagle, Summit and Ouray, had the most enthusiasm for the measure, while rural counties on the West Slope and Eastern Plains rejected it.

Garnett said he was proud of the consensus on water demonstrated by the win, and the power of the bi-partisan coalition of politicians, environmentalists, water utilities, and agriculture groups that came together to back the campaign.

“Any legislator will say, ‘You’re electing me to go in to help solve problems and bring people together,’ and I’m proud of how we did that here,” he said.

The vote sends an important signal to lawmakers and others, according to political pollster Floyd Ciruli.

“There is no better conversation to have than a ballot issue. You get everyone’s attention. This vote shows people do believe water is important and that this is a good way to [fund] it,” Ciruli said.

Early on, Prop DD was barely showing up on voters’ radar, with early polls indicating little support. But a digital and TV ad campaign launched last month helped turn the tide, Ciruli said.

Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, opposed the measure and said he remains concerned that there isn’t enough transparency in how the money will be managed and that it is improper to use a so-called “sin tax” to pay for something as fundamental as water resources.

“Water is such an important issue we should pay for it out of the general fund or out of severance taxes,” Sonnenberg said, adding that he will continue to fight in the Legislature to ensure the money is used for the water plan.

Estimated to total between $12 million to $29 million annually, the sports-betting tax money will flow into a new fund overseen by the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB). It could be used for a variety of purposes, including water-saving programs for cities and farms, habitat restoration programs, storage projects, land use planning, and environmental water supplies for water-short streams.

Since 2015, the CWCB has financed the water plan using income derived from severance taxes, the state’s general fund, and other sources. Those amounts have varied widely, with the state setting aside $30 million this year, up from $5 million in 2015, according to the CWCB.

Backers characterize DD as a valuable down payment on the water plan. Assuming the tax is able to eventually generate $29 million a year, that’s still less than one-third of the $100 million a year the state has previously estimated it will take to protect scarce water resources and to prevent future water shortages.

This year, another group emerged whose intent is to raise additional money for the water plan. For The Love of Colorado, backed by the Walton Family Foundation (also a funder of Fresh Water News) and the Gates Family Foundation, is preparing to run a large public awareness campaign about the critical nature of the state’s water challenges and the need for funding.

The group’s executive director, Tim Wohlgenant, said the close vote demonstrates how much more work is needed.

“It’s great that voters did this. But I need to emphasize it’s literally only a drop in the bucket. And even though it passed, it barely passed. We have more work to do.”

David Nickum, executive director of Colorado Trout Unlimited, said he hopes Prop DD will stimulate environmental and water conservation programs, much like Great Outdoors Colorado has. GOCO is the 1992 ballot initiative that has helped preserve hundreds of thousands of acres of historical ranches and open space across Colorado, protecting them from development. It is funded with state lottery proceeds.

“We’re pleased that Colorado voters are making a decision to invest in our resources, using the water plan as a road map for that,” Nickum said.

“Hopefully it will lead to a proliferation of projects, much like GOCO did,” he said.

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

Colorado Conservation, Sportsmen Groups Celebrate Passage of Proposition DD for Colorado’s Water — Western Resource Advocates #COWaterPlan

From Western Resource Advocates (Jennifer Talhelm):

DD secures an important down payment for Colorado’s Water Plan, but full funding is still needed

Credit: Cattleman’s Ditches Pipeline Project II Montrose County, Colorado EIS via USBR.

A coalition of environmental and sportsmen groups today hailed passage of Colorado Proposition DD to help conserve and protect the state’s rivers and streams and drinking water. The coalition – which includes Conservation Colorado, Environmental Defense Fund, Trout Unlimited, Western Resource Advocates, American Rivers, Business for Water Stewardship, and the Colorado Water Trust issued the following joint statement:

“Passage of Proposition DD is a big win for Colorado and the quality of life we enjoy here. Taxing the revenue from legalized sports betting will create a dedicated down payment to help ensure that Colorado has healthy rivers and enough water for all. Still, it’s important to remember that this is just the first step toward addressing the growing gap between the water we have and the water we need.

“Four years ago, Coloradans came together to create Colorado’s Water Plan to protect all the things we love about our Colorado way of life – from healthy flowing rivers, to farming and ranching, and even beer. Our rivers contribute over $9 billion annually to the state’s economy, yet Colorado has not lined up adequate funding for the plan, despite overwhelming bipartisan support from across the state.

“Proposition DD will help generate a much-needed revenue stream to improve wildlife habitat, protect our agricultural heritage and the open spaces that come with it, and strengthen our economy. But the plan estimates the total need to be $100 million a year for the next 30 years, and we must keep working to ensure Colorado fully funds our water future.”

Proposition DD places a 10 percent tax on casinos’ profits from sports wagers, up to $29 million annually, and the majority of the revenue raised will go to implementing Colorado’s Water Plan. The annual funding is expected to be between $10 million and $15 million annually in the first few years.

Blue Mesa Reservoir

From The Colorado Independent (John Herrick):

It was a squeaker, but sports betting will be legal in Colorado beginning in May 2020.

Voters on Tuesday approved a ballot measure 51% to 49% to legalize and tax betting on certain professional and collegiate games at casinos and online, according to results from the Colorado secretary of state. The vote was too close to call until mid-afternoon Wednesday. The Associated Press called the race at 2:33 p.m.

Revenue from a 10% tax on the net proceeds companies make on sports betting will help pay for some of the state’s critical water needs. It is, in other words, a narrowly focused tax targeted for a widespread need.

The vote was far from the slam dunk many expected. While the success of its sister ballot measure, Prop CC, was always uncertain, Colorado voters have historically been more receptive to so-called sin taxes.

But the measure had critics on both sides of the political spectrum. For conservatives, the question about raising taxes may have been a non-starter. And for liberals, a regressive tax paid by gamblers, some of whom may struggle with addiction to gambling, perhaps was too problematic to support.

“This has always been a white-knuckles job,” said Josh Penry, a former Republican state Senator and political strategist who worked on the Prop DD campaign. “There is real skepticism. It’s not a traditional right-vs-left issue.”

More than 90% of that new tax revenue, estimated at an average of $16 million per year, and as much as $29 million, would help pay for managing the state’s dwindling water supplies. That tax revenue alone is not enough to meet the state’s water needs, but in the minds of most of its supporters, it represents the best shot yet to pay for the general projects outlined by the 2015 Colorado Water Plan.

“The Colorado Water Plan will have a permanent, dedicated funding source,” said Becky Mitchell, the director for the Colorado Water Conservation Board, in a statement. “Sports betting tax revenue for the Water Plan will support critical environmental, agriculture, and storage projects as well as promote outdoor recreation opportunities across the state.”

Coming up with the money to help better manage Colorado’s water supplies is seen as critical to maintaining the state agriculture and recreation industries and preserving healthy river ecosystems threatened by slow flows and warming waters. The estimated cost of implementing the water plan is $100 million a year.

Lawmakers have struggled to find that money. They pulled together nearly $30 million in one-time money for water projects and planning last session, a historic yet insufficient amount. Prop DD, which was referred to the ballot by state lawmakers, was seen as the best shot at getting at least some funding and getting it fast.

“This is not the best way to fund such an important need, but we have to take the opportunities that come to us,” said Scott Wasserman, the president of the Bell Policy Center, a left-leaning think tank.

Opponents had concerns about paying for the Colorado Water Plan because it calls for possibly damming rivers to build reservoirs. The margins of victory in Boulder and Larimer counties were tight, areas where projects to expand or build reservoirs are planned. The Water Plan also calls for lining irrigation ditches, upgrading flood gates and paying farmers to use less water.

The measure struggled despite a $2.4 million campaign to promote it. FanDuel Group, a New York City-based sports betting company, spent $1 million backing the measure, according to campaign finance records with the secretary of state. Other top donors include DraftKings, a Boston-based sports betting company, Twin River Casino Hotel from Rhode Island and the Colorado Gaming Association.

A coalition of environmental groups backed DD, including American Rivers, Business for Water Stewardship, Colorado Water Trust, Conservation Colorado, Environmental Defense Fund, Trout Unlimited, and Western Resource Advocates. The Colorado Farm Bureau also supported the measure.

Colorado already allows limited stakes gambling — under $100 — in the towns of Black Hawk, Central City and Cripple Creek. Some supporters saw Prop DD as a way to regulate underground sports betting.

“Black markets aren’t conservative and they aren’t good for Colorado. Bringing sports betting into the daylight, regulating it, and leveraging it for the benefit of our water future is a common-sense approach,” said House Minority Leader Patrick Neville, a Republican from Littleton, in a statement.

A wetland area along Homestake Creek. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

From the Environmental Defense Fund (Brian Jackson):

Water in Colorado — one of the state’s most important natural resources — scored a major win today when voters approved Proposition DD. Prop. DD will provide up to $29 million a year for water projects from revenue raised by legalizing and taxing sports betting.

This funding will support critical projects to implement Colorado’s Water Plan and keep Colorado the state we know and love, with healthy rivers, clean drinking water, productive agriculture and abundant recreation.

EDF and EDF Action were key advocates for Prop. DD. We are thrilled voters approved the measure because it shows Coloradans across the political spectrum care deeply about building a more resilient future for our state.

Closing the water funding gap

Colorado’s Water Plan identified a funding gap of $100 million a year for 30 years to conserve and protect key elements of the state’s water system, including the environment, in the face of climate change and a growing population. Prop. DD will provide an impactful down payment to fill this funding gap.

Achieving voter approval of tax measures is always challenging, especially in Colorado, but EDF, EDF Action and our partners in the state worked hard to earn broad support for Prop. DD. Every major newspaper in Colorado endorsed it, and there was strong bipartisan support among state leaders and lawmakers who referred the measure to the ballot.

Uncommon partners rally around common-sense water solutions

The list of Prop. DD supporters was long and diverse, including the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association, Colorado Municipal League, Colorado River District, Colorado Farm Bureau, Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, Conservation Colorado and Western Resource Advocates, among many others. Working side by side with some of these unlikely allies paves the way for more collaboration to deploy the funding to Colorado’s highest water priorities and best projects.

The success of Prop. DD clearly demonstrates to our state lawmakers that water is a priority issue for Coloradans, and we hope policymakers will continue to focus on ensuring our water system meets our state’s needs for decades to come.

We can’t wait to roll up our sleeves to help effectively implement Prop. DD and usher in this important new era for water funding and resilience in Colorado.

Engaging ag producers on watershed and stream management planning — #Colorado Cattlemen’s Ag Water NetWORK #COWaterPlan

Colorado Rivers. Credit:

From the Colorado Cattlemen’s Ag Water NetWORK (Phil Brink) via The Fence Post:

The Colorado Water Plan includes twin goals of having 80 percent of the state’s critical watersheds covered by watershed management plans and 80 percent of the locally prioritized streams covered by stream management plans by 2030. Successful watershed and stream management planning involves people representing all local water interests, and that nearly always includes the agricultural community. Through ownership and leasing, agricultural producers control most of the water and land in Colorado. Agricultural input and cooperation is essential to achieving needed improvements in our streams and watersheds.

Irrigation water is a vital component of Colorado’s agricultural industry. Without it, crop and forage yields are dramatically lower. Colorado agricultural statistics indicate that an irrigated field of corn, for example, will produce almost three times more grain than a non-irrigated field of corn. Irrigation water is a big part of the reason Colorado agriculture contributes $41 billion to our state’s economy.

We often say that agriculture provides food, fiber and fuel, but Colorado agriculture accomplishes much more. It preserves open space and extraordinary vistas, provides wildlife habitat — including habitat for threatened and endangered species — and connects us with our agricultural heritage, helping to create a sense of place and community. Consider the farmer’s markets and Colorado-made foods and beverages we enjoy. Much of it would not be possible without irrigation water.

Agricultural producers want to engage on local water-related planning activities. Colorado Cattlemen’s Ag Water NetWORK’s 2019 state-wide survey of agricultural producers found almost one-fourth of respondents were “very interested” in participating (see chart). Eighty-eight percent of respondents said they were at least “somewhat interested” in getting involved in local watershed management planning efforts.

Like other stakeholders, agricultural producers have specific interests around water. Farmers need to utilize their water rights to grow crops and forage and to water livestock. For surface water users this means diverting water from rivers and streams and other surface water bodies and conveying it to fields for application.

The top three water-related challenges expressed by survey respondents were all irrigation-related (see chart below). Note that the survey allowed producers to select more than one challenge, so the percentages exceed 100 percent when totaled. Not having enough water (“amount of water”) was closely followed by water delivery infrastructure. These two challenges along with “water storage” — which was the fourth most frequently cited challenge — are often interrelated and addressing them can be capital intensive. Demand for grant and cost-share funding chronically exceeds available financial resources.


Through the watershed and/or stream management planning process, funding for irrigation water diversion and delivery infrastructure and source water protection can be obtained from a wider range of sources than is typically available to agriculture as long as projects are multi-benefit in nature. One example is the combination of stream channel and embankment improvements with a diversion dam replacement — which may also incorporate a fish passage that allows aquatic life to move past the diversion structure. Projects like these help wildlife, aquatic life, water quality and irrigators alike. Because this type of project benefits multiple uses, it can garner more funding and reduce the cost to irrigators.

The third greatest challenge cited by ag producers was irrigation efficiency. One of the benefits of watershed and stream management planning is that the process involves assessment and analysis of prioritized problems. This helps to ensure that solutions fix existing problems without creating unintended negative consequences. For example, how should individual farmers and ranchers best address irrigation ditch seepage and irrigation efficiency?

Increasing irrigation efficiency — like switching from flood irrigation to sprinkler — can reduce or even eliminate deep percolation of water as well as runoff from the edge of the field. Lining earthen ditches with concrete improves the delivery of water to fields by eliminating seepage. This can also improve water quality in streams by reducing the selenium and salinity content of seep water in areas where shale is near the surface.

However, leaky irrigation ditches also provide watering spots and seasonal wetlands — serving as an oasis for wildlife and birds in otherwise dry areas. Also, flood and furrow irrigated fields and meadows release water slowly back to streams and rivers later in the summer and fall, enhancing flows after snowmelt and summer rains have dwindled. This supplemental flow helps sustain fish and wildlife, and extends recreational use in some cases. So, a thorough evaluation of a canal or ditch system is crucial to understanding how to help agricultural producers and other stakeholders achieve multi-benefit solutions.

The ultimate goal of watershed and stream management planning is to implement actions that benefit watersheds and streams, as well as the stakeholders that use and rely upon them. Engaging agricultural producers and getting to know them and their water-related challenges will help achieve outcomes that benefit all stakeholders.

Phil Brink, Brink, Inc, is the Consulting Coordinator of Colorado Cattlemen’s Ag Water NetWORK ( Phil can be reached at

Graphic via: Ag Water NetWORK
Highlights of the 2019 Survey of Colorado Agricultural Producers on Watershed Management Planning