@AmericanRivers: The big picture of @ColoradoWaterPlan – two years in

Click here to listen to the podcast. From the American Rivers website:

Last week, the state celebrated the second anniversary of Colorado’s Water Plan. Over the last two years, the state has made solid progress funding grants to advance water projects and increase funding for stream management plans. However, the challenges identified in the plan are significant. A swelling population is stretching our water resources, and climate change is having an impact, by reducing flows on the Colorado River. We need to pick up the pace toward implementing all of the Plan’s water solutions if we are to reach our goal of securing clean reliable water for our communities, preserving our agricultural heritage, and protecting our rivers. Over the next few months, We Are Rivers will highlight the Colorado Water Plan through a series of episodes breaking down the opportunities, challenges, and successes to date from Colorado’s Water Plan. Join us for the first installment, as we look back at the last two years of the water plan and identify a sustainable path forward.

Growing up in New York, I envied the posters pinned up in my middle school hallways that honored Colorado landscapes like the Maroon Bells, Dinosaur National Monument, the Great Sand Dunes, and of course the Colorado River as it weaves through canyons and deserts. But moving to Colorado six years ago, tacking on to Colorado’s growing population, I haven’t exactly made life easier for the state’s water managers. Without the native badge, I empathize with the influx of people flooding into Colorado who have recreational fervor, career hopes, and of course adventure in mind, straining the West’s already overtapped water supply.

Colorado’s population is projected to double by 2050, with most of the growth occurring on the Front Range, where about 80% of the people live. With about 80% of the state’s water coming from west slope snowpack, the imbalance is striking. Additionally, like many other states across the Southwest, Colorado is experiencing higher temperatures, reduced precipitation, and earlier and faster runoff. With growing population and climate change impacts, how can Colorado work to close our gap in supply and demand? Through increased collaboration, dialogue, and efficiencies, the Colorado Water Plan sets out to address this grand dilemma.

The Colorado Water Plan sets a goal of conserving 400,000 acre-feet of municipal and industrial water by 2050. By 2025, if the Water Plan objectives are met, 75% of Coloradans will live in communities that have water-saving actions incorporated into land-use planning. Furthermore, by 2030, the plan sets out to A) re-use and share at least 50,000 acre-feet of water amongst agricultural producers, B) cover 80% of locally prioritized rivers with Stream Management Plans, and C) ensure 80% of critical watersheds with Watershed Protection Plans. In order for a project to utilize the Water Plan’s budget to meet these goals, the proposed conservation project must be appropriate in that it addresses real needs and is cost-effective, sustainable, and supported by local stakeholders.

The state has taken a great step forward by allocating $10 million per year for Water Plan Implementation grants. While this is a first step, we must further fund the plan’s broader strategies as well. Public investment in water projects must be smart, which starts with meeting all of the “criteria” in the Colorado Water Plan. Before any new, significant projects are proposed, the state should apply all of the Water Plan’s criteria in order to demonstrate that the state is committed to investing in (or endorsing) only projects that use public resources wisely, protect rivers and wildlife, and reflect community values. The last two years have seen state funding disproportionately spent on costly structural projects while sustainable, cost-effective methods, such as water reuse and flexible water-sharing agreements have been undervalued and underfunded. Creative conservation projects are essential in upholding the Water Plan to sustain the natural beauty of Colorado’s rivers and streams and ensure a safe and reliable drinking water supply.

However, it is important to note that there is nothing legally binding in the Water Plan that requires Colorado to abide by its outlined goals. Therefore, the success of the plan solely relies on the motivation of everyday people to work together as a community to hold politicians and basin roundtables accountable with respect to the plan. I encourage you to learn more about where your water comes from and what you can do as an individual to reduce your water consumption. We all need to work collaboratively to reduce our demand for water.

As we celebrate the second anniversary of Colorado’s Water Plan, we have an opportunity, and a responsibility to rally behind the premise of the Plan, keeping Colorado beautiful and sustainable for all. Join us over the next few months as we dive into the mechanics of Colorado’s Water Plan, and why it is so important to see it succeed.

Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013

Sterling: Northeast Livestock Symposium recap

North Sterling Reservoir

From The Sterling Journal-Advocate (Jeff Rice):

Increased water conservation along Colorado’s Front Range doesn’t translate into increased water supplies in the farmlands along the South Platte River.

That was part of the message Jim Yahn had for the Northeast Livestock Symposium in Sterling Tuesday. Yahn, who is manager of the North Sterling and Prewitt reservoirs and who represents the South Platte Basin on the Colorado Water Conservation Board, briefed the three dozen people attending the symposium on the Colorado Water Plan of 2015 and how that plan is being put into effect.

Yahn repeated the assertion that, by 2030, the need for water in Colorado will exceed supplies by 560,000 acre feet, or 182 billion gallons per year, and most of that is here in the South Platte River Basin.

The Colorado Water Plan is the road map to closing that gap…

Yahn said the plan is important because developers along the Front Range, where the building and population booms continue unabated, have no plan to provide water for the growth other than to heavily promote water conservation. The Colorado Water Plan calls for conservation measures to save 400,000 acre feet of water per year by 2030. While conservation is important, Yahn said, it’s not nearly enough to close the gap between supplies and demand.

“When cities start conserving (water) less water comes downstream, and we rely on those return flows to irrigate,” he said. “So the 400,000 acre feet of conservation does not apply directly to the gap. It’s not a one-to-one return, one for one, so if municipality has xeriscaping, we don’t see that runoff down here for agricultural use.”

That’s why increasing storage is vital to closing the water gap by 2030, Yahn said. He told the symposium that $21 million in water supply reserve funds already has been approved to find new storage and more than $65.6 million in loans has approved since the governor’s receipt of the Colorado water plan two years ago.

Yahn also pointed to what are called “alternative methods of transfer” to temporarily move water from agricultural uses to non-ag uses when the water isn’t needed for irrigation. He said there are seven known ATMs in Colorado; two in the Arkansas River Basin, four in the South Platte basin and one in the Colorado River basin.

Two of the four in the South Platte basin are with the North Sterling Irrigation Co., which Yahn manages; one is for 3,000 acre feet with Xcel Energy for its Pawnee Generation Plant at brush, and one for 6,000 acre feet with BNN Energy for hydraulic fracturing of oil and gas wells in Weld County.

Yahn pointed out that ATMs aren’t a panacea to closing the water gap, but are better than permanent sale of irrigated crop land to obtain water rights.

Comment deadline for #COleg Water Resources Review committee for @COWaterPlan looms

Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Charles Ashby):

Under a bill approved by the Legislature in 2014 a year before the plan was implemented, the committee that reviews and suggests new legislation dealing with water issues is required to review specific elements of the plan.

Although it is not required to, the committee then can suggest bills altering that plan, but such measures would require the full approval of the Legislature and the governor.

The committee is scheduled to vote on final recommendations on the plan on Oct. 5.

The current plan, called for by Gov. John Hickenlooper back in 2013, sets a number of goals for water basins in the state to meet by 2050 in order to ensure there is enough water for a growing population, while still maintaining adequate in-stream flows for environmental and recreational purposes.

A new report released earlier this month updating how the plan is being implemented says those goals are being met.

#ColoradoRiver District seminar recap @ColoradoWater #CRDseminar #COriver

Rebecca Mitchell was named to the Colorado Water Conservation Board on July 5, 2017. Photo credit the Colorado Independent.

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

Becky Mitchell, who has been the director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board for about two months, spoke Friday at the Colorado River District’s annual water seminar in Grand Junction.

She told attendees that when it comes to meeting the state’s water needs, “it’s really all hands on deck. Everyone here plays an important role. … What you’re doing is equally as important as anything we’re doing.”

Steps already taken by entities ranging from her agency to the river district to agricultural interests, environmental stakeholders and members of river basin roundtables “have really shown me that we are at a point where we’re ready to work together and that the success that we’ve had has been because of collaboration,” Mitchell said.

In comments to the group and in an interview, she addressed the monetary challenges for Colorado in meeting its future water needs. An initial estimate for paying for projects identified in the new water plan in coming decades was about $20 billion — already a daunting amount — but Mitchell’s agency now believes the price tag could be twice that much when the cost of water quality projects, generally involving water or wastewater treatment, are included.

The state water board is looking into the cost issue through a statewide water supply initiative analysis that is expected to come out next year…

She said it will be important to rely on a prioritization of projects by roundtable groups in each river basin. Also key is to focus on projects that provide multiple benefits, because having multiple interests in a project could lead to multiple sources of money to pay for it, she said.

“It’s not necessarily the responsibility of the state to come up with the entire amount to implement the water plan,” Mitchell said. “A lot of it goes back to the local level and how we can support work that’s being done on the ground.”

Mitchell worked on developing the plan as a staff member of her agency before being promoted after her predecessor, James Eklund, left to take a job as an attorney with a legal firm.

“We’re at a really important time in the state where we have a capability to make a big difference in how we’re looking at our water future. It’s an exciting time and I’m excited to be a part of it,” Mitchell said.

As for Eastern Slope/Western Slope water matters, “I am optimistic that we’ll be able to work through issues like we have done. When we’ve found solutions, it’s when we’ve come together regardless of the side of the (Continental) Divide. I think where we’re going to see solutions is where we come together,” she said.

Eric Kuhn along the banks of the Colorado River in Glenwood Springs, general manager of the Colorado River District. Photo via the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel.

From KJCT8.com:

The Colorado River is the hardest working river in the world, that’s according to local experts. Hundreds of water experts are gathered in the valley to put together their game plan to tackle the biggest challenges facing the river.

The General Manager Colorado River Water Conservation District, Erik Kuhn, says there are a lot of ideas to better manage the Colorado River, before it runs out in southern California. In order to stretch the water even further, one idea is to move the waters in Lake Powell to Lake Mead.

“So it would allow for the recovery of lands that are now inundated by water in Lake Powell, natural recovery of those. It’s called the ‘Fill Mead First’. He’s talking about that. We don’t think that works very well for a number of reasons. But it’s one of those things that’s caught a lot of press attention of late,” Kuhn said.

The Colorado River helps supply water to people in Denver all the way to about 20 million people in the Los Angeles, California area.

The Colorado River Basin is divided into upper and lower portions. It provides water to the Colorado River, a water source that serves 40 million people over seven states in the southwestern United States. Colorado River Commission of Nevada

@AmericanRivers: #Colorado families need a Ford not a Ferrari for a @COwaterplan budget

Red Canyon from Roaring Fork River. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith.

From American Rivers (Sinjin Eberle, Kristin Green, Rob Harris, Brian Jackson)

A recent article suggested that the Colorado Water Plan could cost much more than anticipated – but estimates of higher cost are misguided, as all the proposals for proposed projects, and smart prioritization, is not yet final. Low-cost conservation measures will bring down the cost of the plan, and protect Colorado’s rivers for drinking water stability and healthy rivers.

SMART PRIORITIZATION AND COLLABORATION CRITICAL

Most everyone in Colorado knows that we can’t take a reliable water future for granted. Having clean, secure water for our communities, businesses, and agriculture, along with healthy rivers for respite, recreation, and to fuel our economy is not a given. In 2015, Colorado adopted a water plan, setting a course to achieve a reliable water future. Many applauded the balance of solutions and goals, including bolstering water conservation and reuse, looking for favorable ways to share water between cities and agriculture, and ensuring we had plans, and ideally actions, to keep our streams healthy.

Recently, the cost of the plan has come up in discussion.

There is no firmly identified cost to implement the water plan. We only have estimates at this time for what it will take to secure reliable water for our communities, agriculture, and environment. Those costs will become clearer as the state and water providers prioritize what water conservation, new supplies, water reuse, and stream restoration we want to do.

What we do know is that it will take resources to preserve the Colorado we love, and keep our farms productive and taps flowing. We also know that the money we need to restore and protect our rivers and streams, and find innovative ways to conserve water, are currently underfunded.

The initial estimate for the plan put the cost of implementation around $20 billion. That estimate includes the cost of the projects proposed from each basin around the state, but given the state’s limited resources that number could change as stakeholders further prioritize those projects.

We recently heard a much higher estimate cited that is simply wrong. When a Colorado family needs a new car, most are not going to go out and buy a Ferrari when a Ford affordably meets their needs – and that’s what we have here. We can achieve all of what’s needed to secure Colorado’s water needs into the future while investing only in those ideas that provide the best return to ratepayers and taxpayers. That’s what Coloradoans expect and it can be done. We need to identify what projects are a priority and which are financially feasible. We need to make sure we don’t double count projects that overlap with each other.

We encourage the state to prioritize funding the most cost-effective and feasible projects to secure a reliable water supply and protect our rivers and streams. Water conservation is one of the most cost effective ways to get where we need to go. Other innovations like water reuse and agricultural-urban sharing can provide multiple benefits and help us achieve a reliable water future.

Do we need more money? Yes. There are water funding needs identified in the plan and we will likely need to find new sources of dedicated funding. New funding sources should be used to support stabilizing a clean water supply for people, river health, agricultural conservation and efficiency, municipal conservation for smaller and medium-sized communities, and environmental water transactions. These projects are modest in costs, like adding air conditioning to a Ford, not a splurging on a lavish luxury car.

Collaboration will be critically important to shaping our water budget. We look forward to working with water providers, businesses, consumers, the state, local leaders, and other stakeholders in exploring the best way to meet the goals of the Colorado Water Plan.

Aspen joins two adversaries in water court to apply for Colorado water funds

A crop of potatoes growing on an irrigated field in lower Woody Creek. The potatoes are being irrigated on land owned by Pitkin County as part of it's open space program.

Western Resource Advocates and Wilderness Workshop are opposing the city of Aspen’s efforts in water court to maintain conditional water storage rights tied to two potential dams on Castle and Maroon creeks. But the environmental organizations are formally collaborating with the city on finding water-supply alternatives to the two potential dams.

In late July, Western Resource Advocates and Wilderness Workshop joined the city in filing a preliminary application with the Colorado Water Conservation Board seeking state funds for a local study of potential “agricultural transfer mechanisms,” or ATMs.

Such programs provide alternatives to the “buy and dry” approach often used by cities to obtain water from ranchers and farmers.

“We all recognize that the issues that face our region will only be solved through the creative interaction of the entire community, and we hope that this effort will lead to more productive and collaborative projects,” Margaret Medellin, a utilities portfolio manager with the city, wrote in an email about the joint application.

CWCB officials recently asked water managers in the state to file either grant applications or notices of intent to apply so they could gauge interest for a new $10 million grant program designed to spur projects and programs spelled out in the 2015 Colorado Water Plan.

By the Aug. 1 deadline the state received 28 such notices for future grant cycles, including the one from the city and the environmental groups. In total, the “intent” notices identified more than $7.6 million in spending on various projects, according to a CWCB newsletter sent out Aug. 3. The CWCB also received 32 regular grant applications, requesting a total of $8.9 million for projects worth $60 million.
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The scope and details of the emerging collaborative effort among the city, Western Resource Advocates and Wilderness Workshop were not included in their preliminary application to the CWCB, including how much money the groups might seek.

“At this point, there isn’t much information to share as project details still need to be developed,” Medellin said. “Once we jointly identify a pilot project, we will submit an application to the CWCB for funds.”

The application says a statement of work, a budget and a list of other funding sources will be forthcoming.

The CWCB’s board of directors will review and approve the new water plan grants in a two-step, two-meeting, process. The next grant application deadline is Oct. 1.

A field in the Roaring Fork River valley below Aspen. The city of Aspen hopes to work with irrigators to develop a source of water to meet its needs.

Work with irrigators

The three entities told the state they “seek to work with one or more irrigators in the Roaring Fork Valley to develop an alternative transfer mechanism that will help meet local water needs and demonstrate an alternative to buy-and-dry.”

According to the state water plan, ATMs can include techniques such as “rotational fallowing,” where irrigators voluntarily enter into a lease to stop watering parts of their fields during drought conditions. Or they can take the form of “interruptible supply agreements,” where irrigators agree to lease a certain percentage of their water to a city.

The joint application to the state says “the exact type of ATM would be determined in collaboration between Aspen, irrigators, Wilderness Workshop and Western Resource Advocates, and be in accordance with ATM types described” in the water plan.

On Aug. 3, the city put forth a settlement agreement to the two environmental organizations it is now collaborating with and to eight other opposing parties in the water court cases regarding the potential dams.

The city said it was willing to move its conditional right to store 4,567 acre-feet of water on Maroon Creek to other locations in the Roaring Fork River valley, including land in Woody Creek next to the Elam gravel pit, and the gravel pit itself.

However, the city did not commit to moving its 9,062-acre-foot right in Castle Creek, apart from a small portion that might flood a sliver of the wilderness.

While Wilderness Workshop and Western Resource Advocates are collaborating with the city on alternatives to storage, they are firmly opposed to the city maintaining storage rights in either Castle or Maroon creek valley.

“Moving the dams out of these two iconic valleys is dead center with our mission,” said Sloan Shoemaker, executive director of Wilderness Workshop. “Working collaboratively with partners in exploring alternative approaches to water supply will help achieve that mission-centric goal.”

A status conference was held about the cases with the water court referee Aug. 10. The parties agreed to another 90-day period to continue settlement efforts, with the next status conference in the case set for Nov. 9.

Aspen Journalism is an independent nonprofit news organization collaborating with The Aspen Times on the coverage of rivers and water. The Times published this story on Thursday, Aug. 17, 2017.

Becky Mitchell’s appointment to CWCB is, “great news for Southwest Colorado” — @WaterBart

The Colorado Water Conservation Board, after unveiling the Colorado Water Plan in Denver in November 2015. The board includes eight voting members from river basins in Colorado and one voting member from the city and county of Denver.

Here’s a guest column from Bart Miller that’s running in The Durango Herald. Here’s an excerpt:

Here’s why. Water management continues to be one of the trickiest out-of-sight, out-of-mind challenges of our era.

Water resources are stretched thin because the state continues to grow (with about 100,000 new residents added every year) while water sources are shrinking – scientists predict a future with less water on average, with “drought” being more like the new norm. Fast-growing Front Range cities continue to rove in search of water, including from Western Slope streams and Front Range farmers.

The challenges above led to the creation of Colorado’s Water Plan in 2015. The two-year process to develop the plan engaged many around the state. Over 30,000 public comments were submitted. The vast majority of them highlighted the need for more urban water conservation, river protection, and increased flexibility of water policies to allow more voluntary and compensated agreements for water sharing between farms, cities, and rivers.

The plan did a good job of articulating the wide range of values Colorado has around water and set out objectives to meet our future demands. But it noted the vast majority of existing public funding is focused on traditional water infrastructure projects and not the often cheaper and more river-friendly water supply tools of expanding water conservation in cities and on farms, water reuse, and flexible water-sharing agreements. In fact, there is a multibillion dollar “gap” that prevents fully implementing these water security tools and improving river flows to support local river-dependent economies.

Here is where Mitchell comes in. As the new director of the CWCB, she has a huge opportunity to kick the plan into action. She is as well-suited for the job as anyone could be. She has nearly a decade of experience at the Conservation Board, including as a section chief. She’s technically savvy and politically astute.

She has gained trust from all water sectors and has shown a strong willingness to meet with water users and river enthusiasts all across the state, balancing her heavy work schedule with raising five kids at home.

Perhaps most importantly, Mitchell knows Colorado’s Water Plan like the back of her hand. After all, she had a major role in writing it. She seems ready to realign the agency’s priorities to support the full spectrum of water management tools that support our communities, rivers and agriculture.