@CWCB_DNR: The latest “CWCB Confluence” newsletter is hot off the presses

Dolores River watershed

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

Collaboration in the Dolores River Watershed (Celene Hawkins):

About one year ago, I was backcountry skiing into some of the highest elevations of the Dolores River watershed near Lizard Head Pass. I was appreciating the above-average snowpack that Mother Nature blessed the basin with, which covered the always-spectacular beauty of the San Juan Mountains.

Over the course of 2017, I got to visit and revisit that snowpack as it melted and flowed down the upper portions of the Dolores watershed, filled McPhee Reservoir (where it would serve important municipal, industrial, agricultural, and Tribal uses), and provided enough water for a rare and large managed release from McPhee Reservoir into the lower Dolores River.

Because the Dolores River watershed has experienced so few recent years of abundant water, the abundant 2017 water year provided cause for local and regional celebration. Local farmers had full supplies of water from the Dolores Project to support their agricultural operations, recreational users of the Dolores River below McPhee Dam enjoyed a whitewater boating season of 63 days, and the entire ecology of the Dolores River benefitted from the longest and highest flows experienced in a decade.

Yet, now, in January 2018, I’m watching one of the driest and warmest early winters in recent history, reflecting on local water work in 2017. The bigger and more interesting story in the Dolores River watershed is not one about the snowpack or water supplies, but is instead one about collaborative water and resource management work in the watershed.

Collaborative work can take a significant amount of time and resources from already-taxed governmental agencies and non-profit groups. Collaborative work around water and watershed management requires a delicate balance of a proper respect for important private property interests in the use and delivery of critical water supplies, and the ability to find creative solutions and projects to protect the wider public and resource management interests, as well as private industry, that rely on the same river and watershed. On the Dolores River, water managers; federal, state, local, and Tribal governmental agencies; non- profit groups; local industry; private citizens; and others are working throughout the watershed to address important and often difficult water and natural resource management challenges.

Two major collaborative efforts on the Dolores River saw significant growth and success in 2017, and it is worth celebrating now and continuing to watch and support in 2018.

The Upper Watershed—Dolores Watershed Resilient Forest Collaborative

In 2015, Firewise of Southwest Colorado and the Dolores Water Conservancy District launched a new effort to form a collaborative network in the Dolores River watershed to address community wildlife and post-fire risks at a watershed scale. This new collaborative effort recognizes that droughts, beetle infestation, and a perennially longer fire season are all setting the stage for a broad-scale natural disaster in the forested upper Dolores River watershed. The potential for such a natural disaster puts at risk community lives, property, and public and natural resources (including the water in McPhee Reservoir that supports cities, farms and ranches, industry, and rural areas in the Montezuma Valley).

Momentum for establishing and growing capacity in the Dolores Watershed Resilient Forest Collaborative (known by the charming acronym of the “DWRF Collaborative”) has been tremendous over the last two and a half years. By the end of 2017, over 40 different public and private entities were participating at some level in the collaborative.

Some example partners include: the Dolores Water Conservancy District, Montezuma and Dolores counties, the towns of Dolores and Dove Creek and the City of Cortez, the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, San Juan National Forest, Colorado State Forest Service, Tres Rios BLM, representatives of the local timber industry (including Aspen Wall Wood, Findley Logging, Montrose Forest Products, and Stonertop Lumber), conservation organizations (including Mountain Studies Institute, San Juan Citizens Alliance, The Nature Conservancy, and Trout Unlimited), and private citizens.

The DWRF Collaborative has also successfully garnered resources to support capacity building within the organization, including the impressive coordination work of Rebecca Samulski, Assistant Director for Firewise of Southwest Colorado. She says, “The stakeholders continue to show up each month and share the workload. It is inspiring to see the conversations that continue after each stakeholder meeting, then to hear about the efforts that have emerged among participants because the DWRF Collaborative has gotten them in a room together.”

The group has already undertaken an impressive mix of “on the ground” forestry and fire- adaptive treatment projects, planning work, and engaging on key issues in the upper Dolores watershed. In 2016 and 2017, the DWRF Collaborative implemented forestry and fire- adaptive treatment projects near Joe Moore Reservoir (Lost Canyon tributary) and on Granath Mesa, which sits directly above McPhee Reservoir and the Town of Dolores.

The DWRF Collaborative has allowed the San Juan National Forest to establish Good Neighbor Authority projects with the Colorado State Forest Service (bringing additional capacity and resources to accomplish cross boundary projects on private lands and adjacent national forest lands).

The DWRF collaborative has also completed modeling of wildfire risk and post-fire flooding and erosion risk that will inform a Watershed Wildfire Protection Plan with a better understanding of how wildfires are likely to affect key community values (such as public safety, structures, infrastructure, and water resources) and how to target future treatment projects.

Finally, the DWRF collaborative has launched into key local issues in the Dolores River watershed through professional background presentations to the stakeholders and working groups. These efforts include engagement and support of the local timber industry to explore opportunities that will make forest restoration for watershed protection more cost effective.

An emerging bark beetle epidemic in the Dolores River watershed is another key issue that the collaborative is developing local strategies for, such as an identification and management workshop series to launch in 2018.

Below McPhee Dam—Dolores River Native Fish Monitoring and Recommendation Team

Water managers and diverse groups of stakeholders have been engaged in collaborative work on the Dolores River below McPhee Dam for more than a decade. For example, the Dolores River Restoration Partnership (a public-private partnership) has been working hard and successfully since 2009 to restore the riparian corridor of the Dolores River below McPhee Dam. They have worked to control invasive plant species and restore riparian vegetation.

Since the Dolores River Dialogue (DRD) re-initiated discussions about the Dolores River downstream ecology in 2004, water managers and a large and diverse group of stakeholders have been working to address some of the toughest land, resource, and water management challenges facing McPhee Reservoir and the Dolores River below McPhee Dam.

In 2017, the Dolores River Native Fish Monitoring and Recommendation Team (M&R Team), tasked with monitoring changes to the downstream river ecology, really stepped up to provide guidance and monitoring work on the largest managed release from McPhee Reservoir in more than a decade. The M&R Team was formed during a multi-year, science-driven collaborative planning process around the needs of the sensitive, native warm-water fisheries in the Dolores River that resulted in the finalization of the Lower Dolores River Implementation, Monitoring and Evaluation Plan for Native Fish (2014) (“2014 Plan”). Both the 2014 Plan and the M&R Team’s work to help implement opportunities identified in the plan are guided by the DRD purpose statement, which is “. . . to explore management opportunities, build support for and take action to improve the ecological conditions in the Dolores River downstream of McPhee Reservoir while honoring water rights, protecting agricultural and municipal supplies, and the continued enjoyment of boating and fishing.”

Because the 2014 Plan was finalized in the middle of a tough span of especially dry years on the Dolores River, the M&R Team was not able to use the 2014 Plan to help guide the management of any significant releases of surplus water from McPhee Dam for ecological and other purposes for several years. However, in 2017, the combination of an above-average snowpack in the San Juan Mountains in the Dolores River basin and good carry-over storage from 2016 in McPhee Reservoir provided water managers and the M&R Team with the opportunity to shape the largest managed release of surplus water from McPhee Dam in more than a decade.

Armed with the 2014 Plan (and a diverse team that includes the Dolores Water Conservancy District, Montezuma Valley Irrigation Company, the Bureau of Reclamation, the Tres Rios Field Office, Bureau of Land Management, San Juan National Forest, Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, Colorado Parks & Wildlife, Dolores, Montezuma, San Miguel, and Montrose counties, American Whitewater, The Nature Conservancy, Trout Unlimited, and San Juan Citizens Alliance) the M&R Team was able to help water managers begin to make decisions about how to plan for the large managed release as early as February of 2017.

Sample hydrographs and ecological targets developed in the 2014 Plan were adapted for use with the specific forecasting for the Dolores River Basin’s 2017 water year to help shape a release plan that included a “peak flow” release of 4,000 cfs to support fish habitat maintenance on the Dolores River. Recreational and conservation interests from the M&R Team (American Whitewater and The Nature Conservancy), Colorado Parks & Wildlife, the Bureau of Land Management, and the Dolores River Boating Advocates all worked closely with the Dolores Water Conservancy District and the Bureau of Reclamation to assist the water managers with necessary adjustments to the release plan as the water managers addressed a wildly-fluctuating forecast and runoff pattern on the Dolores River in the spring of 2017.

In addition, flow hypotheses and measurable benchmarks from the 2014 Plan allowed members of the M&R Team to set up and deploy field monitoring along the Dolores River below McPhee Dam. Armed with years of scientific research and the 2014 Plan, Colorado Parks & Wildlife and The Nature Conservancy were able to develop an ecological monitoring plan and pull together a collaborative group of researchers to set up monitoring sites on the river within a few weeks of the first M&R Team meeting and notification from the Bureau of Reclamation about the potential magnitude of the 2017 managed release. American Whitewater and the Dolores River Boating Advocates launched a boater survey to evaluate recreational use of the Dolores River below McPhee Dam. Colorado Parks & Wildlife also deployed several fish monitoring crews on the Dolores River during the managed release, including undertaking a challenging fish survey in the remote Slickrock Canyon (which had last been surveyed in 2007) that provided important information on the status of the sensitive, native warm-water fisheries in that stretch of the river.

The collaborative research team is continuing to work on analyzing the results of this monitoring work over the winter of 2017-2018 to provide information to the M&R Team and water managers that may help inform future releases and other management efforts on the Dolores River.

“In 2017 we finally had the snowpack we needed to conduct and monitor a large managed release. In addition to the snowpack, mother nature also provided March warming driving early release, declining forecasts and wide temperature swings.

The fact that all ecological and water supply goals were met is due to the flexibility of the researchers working closely with reservoir managers. We shared in the responsibility for keeping all constituencies informed. Providing large and extended ecological releases with the assurance that all water obligations would be met and McPhee reservoir filled could only happen with this level of cooperation. Having this level of information and communication in managing and assessing a multiple- objective release was a water manager’s dream.” — Mike Preston, General Manager, Dolores Water Conservancy District.

Collaboration into 2018 and Beyond

The grim SNOTEL report for southwestern Colorado (sitting at 36 percent of average and just 21 percent of what we had in 2017 as of the end of January) and the current spring forecasts have many water managers and interests planning for a year of “famine” in 2018, after the relative water “feast” that occurred just a year ago in 2017. The increasing uncertainty around snowpack, water availability, and the timing of runoff that we are experiencing in southwestern Colorado, as well as other drivers of wildfire risk, will continue to be powerful motivators for collaborative work in the Dolores River watershed.

I look forward to supporting these continued collaborative efforts, through feast and famine, in this iconic Colorado watershed.

2018 #COleg: Is there a sentiment, outside of @GovofCO, to raise severance taxes to implement the #COWaterPlan?

James Eklund and Governor Hickenlooper roll out the Colorado Water Plan, Thursday, November 19, 2015 via The Colorado Independent

From Colorado Politics (Marianne Goodland) via The Durango Herald:

Hickenlooper was initially expected to talk about his water legacy during the Colorado Water Congress luncheon in southeastern Denver, but instead, he addressed how he regards water and how the state ought to pay for the water plan’s estimated $20 billion price tag.

Before the start of Hickenlooper’s remarks, the Water Congress took the pulse of those in attendance about what the next governor should do with the water plan. Seventy-three percent said “use it,” 8 percent said the next governor should ignore it and 19 percent said the state should embark on a different path with regard to its water future.

Pollster Floyd Ciruli said the results show the new governor has to make sure the water plan and its issues remain a top priority, along with rural broadband, transportation and public education funding.

Hickenlooper referred to his recent State of the State speech and his reference to “topophilia.” No, that’s not something bad – it’s a love of place, according to the governor. And Colorado must do all it can to preserve its clean air and water, two of the most important aspects of the state’s infrastructure, he said.

Funding for the water plan has not been identified, Hickenlooper said. The governor said he is looking for a bipartisan approach to funding the water plan, in part to avoid the sensitivity that people have to being asked to pay more taxes. That could include, he said, using severance taxes.

But it would take a structural change to how severance taxes are levied to raise the kind of revenue anticipated to cover the state’s share of the water plan costs: around $100 million per year for the next 30 years, beginning in 2020.

Hickenlooper explained the state has some of the lowest severance taxes in the nation. And that hasn’t gotten any better after a 2016 lawsuit from BP that challenged certain deductions on oil and gas equipment. BP won that lawsuit, which forced the state to tap tens of millions of dollars from severance taxes to cover not only BP’s deductions but that of other oil and gas companies. That lawsuit exposed structural problems in the way severance taxes are collected, Hickenlooper said.

A structural change to severance taxes is something the General Assembly will have to deal with, most likely through a ballot measure, the governor added.

The idea of using severance tax money for the water plan isn’t that far-fetched an idea. Those dollars have been going to water projects for years, mostly to water providers for infrastructure and through grants and loans, although in small amounts. And severance taxes have been tapped directly to fund the initial implementation of the water plan, in areas such as alternative transfers of water in agriculture, conservation and water efficiency. But the state has, in times of trouble, also raided the severance tax fund to cover shortfalls in the budget, to the tune of $322 million in the past two recessions.

Hickenlooper said he believes the oil and gas industry will not stand in the way if the state seeks higher severance taxes, based on conversations he’s had with oil and gas CEOs. “They’re not complaining” about how much severance tax they pay in Colorado, especially after winning the BP court case.

In #Colorado implementing the #COWaterPlan will fall to the next governor

Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Floyd Ciruli):

Although Colorado has identified its water needs and has a state plan, 2018 will be a year of political transition. Will a new governor and legislature keep water at the top of the agenda or allow it to drop until the next water crisis? Many local agencies need financial help that can’t be met through local ratepayers alone. The state water plan identified $3 billion in unmet needs. And, as California has demonstrated, conservation must be a well-articulated state goal with significant resources dedicated to public education. California cut statewide use by 25 percent during the last drought through massive education coordinated with local agencies. But, leadership, both local and from the state, is needed.

Gov. John Hickenlooper accelerated the work of former governors Bill Owens and Bill Ritter to help address the state’s projected water shortage, but he only has one year left in office. Fortunately, besides Hickenlooper’s advancement of the scientific base behind the need for new projects, his use of a state planning process that involved all eight water basins in cooperation and decision-making and his issuing of a completed state water plan in December 2015, he has also seen real progress during his term on projects. He helped facilitate approval of Denver Water’s Gross Reservoir and Northern Water’s Windy Gap projects. Still, much remains to be done.

■ How will pressing water issues fare through the upcoming political transition?

■ Will the research, river basin collaboration and planning continue?

■ Will permitting of the water projects now underway continue to make progress?

■ Will the next wave of projects — many in rural and small towns — get permitted, funded and built?

■ Will the state initiate and fund a statewide conservation public education program?

■ Will the state continue its planning processes in order to lead a ballot issue funding effort? (The previous proposal, controversial in design and promotion, failed in 2003, but lessons were learned.)

The planning and development capabilities of Colorado’s water community have grown significantly, but the needs are growing faster still. Through the 2018 political transition, we must ensure that water remains a top priority and not become another state plan ignored in a government file.

2018 @CWCB_DNR Instream Flow Workship, January 24, 2018

Rodeo Rapid, on the upper Colorado River. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith Aspen Journalism

From email from the CWCB (Rob Viehl):

Each year, the CWCB’s Stream and Lake Protection Section hosts an annual workshop that provides state and federal agencies and other interested persons an opportunity to recommend certain stream reaches or natural lakes for inclusion in the State’s Instream Flow (ISF) Program. The entities that make ISF recommendations will present information regarding the location of new recommendations as well as preliminary data in support of the recommendation. There will be an opportunity for interested stakeholders to provide input and ask questions. CWCB staff will provide an overview of the ISF Program and the new appropriation process, along with an update of pending ISF recommendations from previous years.

The second half of this workshop will focus on a partnership between the Colorado Water Trust (Water Trust), and the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) on a pilot strategic approach to ISF water acquisitions to preserve or improve the natural environment. This new Request for Water Acquisitions Pilot Process (Process) is intended to accomplish several goals: to proactively invite voluntary water right offers for ISF use from willing water rights owners; to provide a user-friendly mechanism for water rights owners to investigate working with CWCB and the Water Trust on ISF acquisitions; to streamline transaction processes and utilization of resources; to facilitate implementation of Colorado’s Water Plan objectives; and to add flows to river segments in need while coordinating with agricultural and other uses. Topics covered will include the Process timeline, available stream restoration and transaction tools, and information a water right owner needs to provide to initiate participation in the Process.

Open to Public

Date: January 24, 2018

Time: 2:00-5:00 PM

Location: Hyatt Regency Denver Tech Center, 7800 E. Tufts Avenue, Denver, CO 80237

For more information about this workshop, please contact Rob Viehl at rob.viehl@state.co.us

Two trips around the Sun for the #COWaterPlan

Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013

Here’s a guest column from Drew Beckwith that’s running in The Durango Herald. Click through and read the whole column. Here’s an excerpt:

On the second anniversary of the release of Colorado’s Water Plan, a few key facts are unchanged: A swelling population is stretching our water supplies, evidence is mounting that climate change is already reducing flows on the Colorado River and securing and sustaining Colorado’s supply of clean, safe drinking water continues to be top of mind…

This funding imbalance is one reason why progress on implementing Colorado’s Water Plan has been lopsided. First, the good news. Communities across Colorado, like those in the Roaring Fork and Gunnison valleys, have developed stream management plans identifying specific projects to improve the health of the river and nearby communities. In 2016, the Colorado Legislature appropriated $5 million for the development of watershed plans and another $1 million for implementing environmental and recreation projects, the latter receiving requests for funding far exceeding the allotment.

However, progress on urban water conservation, flexible water sharing, and river protection – projects that Coloradans said they value most – has been elusive and difficult to measure. Transparency is necessary so that Coloradans can see how well we are, or aren’t, doing on meeting urban conservation goals, environmental goals and other measurable objectives in the plan.

We must address the uneven focus on water storage projects, too. The state has routinely spent tens of millions of dollars on storage and infrastructure projects over many years, while spending just a few million dollars on conservation, environmental and recreational projects – and that only recently.

Two years in, it is clear what we need to do. We need Colorado to make smart investments in only the water projects that meet all of the criteria in Colorado’s Water Plan. We need state leaders to be more transparent about progress toward the plan’s goals. We need the Legislature to increase funding for urban water conservation, stream management plans that improve river health and innovative water agreements with agriculture.

And, because we don’t have enough money to implement the full suite of projects needed to maintain clean, safe drinking water and protect rivers and wildlife – even with a rebalancing of existing funds – we need to secure a new source of money to move Colorado’s Water Plan over the finish line.

Two trips around the Sun for the #COWaterPlan

Here’a report from Marianne Goodland) writing in Colorado Politics. Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

The 567-page plan sets nine goals, but its biggest focus is for a subset: Conservation and storage, with agricultural sharing and water recycling further down the list. The conservation goal asks for savings of 400,000 acre-feet of water, most of it to be born by municipal water providers and their customers. Storage needs hit the same number — 400,000 acre-feet — a gap that is most likely to be handled by water providers through new or expanded storage projects, such as those currently in the works in the Northern Front Range: the Windy Gap Firming Project, scheduled to break ground for a new reservoir near Loveland in 2019, and the Northern Integrated Supply Project, which is planning new reservoirs on the Poudre and South Platte rivers.

Now that the water plan has hit its two-year anniversary, what kind of progress has the water plan made? It depends on who you ask. Those who favor more storage, particularly in northern and northeastern Colorado, claim not enough money is being devoted to increasing storage capacity. Those who favor environmental goals say not enough money is being spent in that area, either.

According to a draft implementation update that is likely to become public in December, the water plan has made significant progress in the past year. That includes:

• Water plan grants to begin addressing the supply-demand gap: $2 million was set aside from a $10 million appropriation from the General Assembly in 2017 to pay for nine water plan grants, which the draft update said would reduce the municipal/industrial water supply gap by 48,000 acre-feet.

• Integrated water resource planning, part of the conservation goal: 22 water providers have submitted water efficiency plans to the CWCB, with 18 approved and 4 in review. These plans allow water providers to set local goals on indoor and outdoor conservation activities, including incentives, regulations, education and pricing mechanism. The CWCB has so far awarded more than $800,000 in grants for conservation planning and public education.

• $1 million (out of the $10 million for the water plan) to conservation and land use activities, drought planning, water meter replacements and projects to reduce water loss.

• The water plan sets an objective that by 2050, 75 percent of Coloradans will live in communities that have incorporated water-saving activities into land-use planning. The draft implementation report notes that the CWCB has teamed up with other organizations and state agencies to train more than 300 participants on how to integrate water and land-use planning.

• The water plan sets a goal of finding 50,000 acre-feet of water through agricultural sharing. In the past two years, the draft implementation report said, the CWCB and its partners have worked on education and assistance programs for farmers and ranchers that will promote water sharing, as well as $1 million for grant and loan programs that would improve aging agricultural infrastructure or other water efficiency projects.

• Under the goal of increasing water storage, the draft report notes a study underway to investigate storage possibilities along the South Platte, primarily near Sterling. The results of that study are expected relatively soon.

• Another $3 million funds water projects that will lead to the development of additional storage, according to the draft implementation report. That includes recharging water into aquifers and expanding existing reservoirs to provide more storage…

One of the organizations that has worked with the CWCB on water projects is Western Resource Advocates. Drew Beckwith, water policy manager, told Colorado Politics recently that the state has made good progress in the first two years, and that $10 million per year is “a sound start.”

The problem and urgency, as Beckwith sees it, is how to meet clean, safe and reliable drinking water standards and protect rivers. “We have to pick up the pace” to protect clean drinking water and preserve Colorado’s agricultural heritage, he said.

Gilcrest: The town scores dough from @CWCB_DNR, DOLA, South Platte Roundtable

HB12-1278 study area via Colorado State University

From The Greeley Tribune (Tyler Silvy):

Peterson is just happy the town is getting help, hundreds of thousands of dollars worth from the Colorado Water Conservation Board, the Colorado Department of Local Affairs and the South Platte Basin Roundtable Groundwater Technical Committee. Some members of those organizations have come out against allowing more well pumping around Gilcrest, so it puts the town in a tricky spot.

Money from those groups has covered emergency dewatering east of U.S. 85, a dewatering study and the drilling of a dewatering well at the sewage treatment plant.

Dewatering involves pumping water out of the ground and getting it directly to the river. Workers began drilling the well at the sewage treatment plant Friday.

The plan now is to pump water out of the ground and stick it in an old, 6-inch pipeline that will take the water to the South Platte. The pipeline is probably too small, state officials agree, because it’s also used to drain stormwater and sewage effluent. So the state may provide even more money to replace the pipeline.

But the town needs more money if it’s going to address flooding in residents’ basements. A study by JVA, a civil engineering consulting firm, was released this past fall, and it showed a couple options involving adding more dewatering wells — one for $7 million and one for $11 million. Add in hundreds of thousands of dollars in operating costs for the wells each year, and Peterson said she has no idea how the town will pay for that. Gilcrest is able to salt away only $75,000-$80,000 toward capital expenditures each year.