New #Water Plan: Charting #Colorado’s Water-resilient Future for Birds and People: Colorado Water Plan Update Explainer and Coming Audubon Engagement — Audubon Rockies

The Colorado River. Photo: Abby Burk

Click the link to read the post on the Audubon Rockies website (Abby Burk):

Water connects us and supports the lives of every bird and Coloradan every day. It’s time for action for Colorado’s birds and people. People tend to evade challenging work in water until a crisis. Now is an opportune time to lean in and work for holistic water solutions that sustain a more water-resilient Colorado to support our birds, fish, other wildlife, rivers, and all people—equally.

Ironically, water stress can bring hope. [ed. emphasis mine] Pressure can sharpen focus towards innovative actions to protect what is precious to us. The draft Colorado Water Plan update is an opportunity to engage in our sustainable water future—for all of us. After intense work by Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) staff and directors, the draft plan made a public debut on June 30th and is open for comment through September 30th. The plan will be finalized in January 2023 and direct Colorado’s water priorities for ten years.

Coloradans shape our water planning and management. A diversity of voices, needs, and knowledge must be integrated into this water plan update process. Our solutions are stronger with diversity and collaboration. Understanding how, when, and where to engage in water is essential. In 2015, Audubon contributed thousands of public comments and technical input to the completion of the inaugural water plan. We will again call on you, the broad Colorado Audubon network, to engage in this critical water plan update. In the coming weeks, help us define this moment for birds, rivers, and people.

Water Plan Orientation

Audubon thanks and acknowledges the sizeable efforts by the Colorado Water Conservation Board staff and directors in creating this draft update. The draft updated plan is half the size and a very different water plan than 2015. There’s a new format based on four pillars of work: Thriving Watersheds (Cuencas Prósperas), Resilient Planning (Planificación Resiliente), Vibrant Communities (Comunidades Dinámicas), and Robust Agriculture (Agricultura Robusta). All four of these areas are integrated and must lift together.

The updated water plan calls on Coloradans to actively contribute to our water-resilient future through participating in any of the approximately 50 identified partner actions. Colorado is a local control state. So, local participation is critical to the health of Colorado’s local river systems and economies. The updated plan also details 50 actions that state agencies will take to help advance local water projects and initiatives.

The plan update also reflects the very real and everyday impacts of climate change—like aridity, wildfires, and floods—on Colorado’s water resources. Over the majority of the last ten years, Colorado has been racking up superlatives like “hottest,” “driest,” and sadly, more than one “historical wildfire” title.

Audubon encourages our membership to track down where your water comes from, commit to an expanded water stewardship ethic (see Water ’22 or Habitat Hero for ideas), and read about your basin as well as chapter six in the draft updated water plan.

Here are some top highlights from our review focused on the “Thriving Watersheds” and “Resilient Planning” sections of the draft plan.

Top Three Likes

  • Resiliency is a core pillar in the draft plan. We all depend on watersheds and natural systems for delivery and eco-services to access reliable, clean water. Wildlife and people must be able to respond to what nature gives us. Birds, other wildlife, and all people must be able to respond to and sustain themselves in both scarcity and abundance of water—this is the core of resilience to climate change shocks.
  • The draft plan acknowledges the need for and inclusion of river health assessment frameworks, a stream construction guide, nature-based solutions, green infrastructure strategies and techniques, and water-dependent native species data coordination and access. Resilience requires a baseline understanding of our watershed and river systems to support sustainable and positive management. Rivers and river health are a crucial part of how we meet our water challenges in Colorado. We need to understand river health conditions more and easily access data to manage and restore this invaluable resource nimbly. Audubon thanks the CWCB staff for the many meetings discussing the importance and inclusion of these topics.
  • The draft plan also begins down the path of how to engage everyone working towards equity, diversity, and inclusivity in the Colorado water space. The decisions we make about water impact everyone. A diversity of voices representing a diversity of needs strengthens Colorado’s water decisions. The draft update contains leaps forward from the 2015 plan with more substantive diversity content regarding the inclusion of the Water Equity Task Force principles. This includes translating the entire plan and factsheets into Spanish for better language equity, and broader inclusion of the Ute Mountain Ute and Southern Ute Indian tribes in the plan’s vision and actions. The advancements in the water equity, diversity, and inclusivity space are notable, while considerable work in actualizing this critical work must still follow. “Connectivity must begin with identifying those most vulnerable around us, building their capacity to engage, and assuring that their needs are prioritized. A region, after all, is only as strong as its most vulnerable communities,” notes the 2020 California Water Resilience Portfolio.
  • Top Three Needs

  • Coloradans know we need to act on behalf of water resilience and act quickly. There is an urgency to start implementing water security solutions at scale and take advantage of once-in-a-generation federal funding. Although the draft plan sets an ambitious scope of activity and vision, how will we track work in a transparent and publically accessible way? What are the timelines for achieving this critical work?
  • The need for more traditional storage is mentioned numerous times in the draft plan. Colorado’s current reservoirs are often far below their capacities. Building more dams to hold questionable water supply is not a sustainable solution to the water crisis. Instead, we need balanced strategies for innovative storage opportunities looking at forest health, pre-wildfire watershed readiness, and creativity to complement storage with nature-based solutions like wet-meadow and wetland restoration. These strategies increase wildlife habitat, improve water quality and cycling, lift wildfire preparedness and recovery, increase overall river health, and provide recreational opportunities for local communities and economies.
  • River health is a key component of Colorado’s water resilience. In the draft plan, there is a high priority on watershed-scale work and less on the scale of streams and rivers. The plan needs to include more weight on statewide river health, as Colorado’s river-related recreation is a major economic driver for the state, with more than $10 billion spent each year and nearly $19 billion in overall economic output. Birds, recreation, and agriculture all depend on healthy rivers flowing from resilient watersheds. All of us rely on healthy river ecosystems to thrive.
  • ​Colorado’s future depends on water and each of us—birds and people—is connected by it. Even if you are not a water right holder, we are all responsible for engaging in the Colorado Water Plan update and contributing to the stewardship of our water resources. When we understand the connections—where our water comes from and how much we depend upon it—we value water for what it is: life and sustainability for people and nature. Watch for guided water plan engagement opportunities from Audubon. Kingfishers, American Dippers, Snowy Egrets, and Colorado’s water-resilient future depend on you to lean in and participate. Thank you in advance for your engagement in the update of the Colorado Water Plan.

    #Colorado Water conservation board approves $17 million for #drought resilience and aging #water infrastructure projects — The Ark Valley Voice

    West Drought Monitor map July 19, 2022.

    Click the link to read the article on the Ark Valley Voice website (Jan Wondra). Here’s an excerpt:

    During its bi-monthly meeting on Wednesday this week, the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) – the state’s water policy agency, considered and unanimously approved the Governor’s request for $17 million to kick-start local-level implementation of the recently updated Colorado Water Plan…

    This newly transferred funding is on top of an additional $3 million previously authorized to the state’s Water Supply Reserve Fund. The recommendation to significantly increase the total amount of funding ($20 million) for basinwide and local water projects comes from severance tax revenue.

    Colorado outlines its plan for how the state will deal with #water shortages worsened by #ClimateChange and population growth — #Colorado Public Radio #ActOnClimate

    Click the link to read the article on the Colorado Public Radio website (Michael Elizabeth Sakas). Here’s an excerpt:

    Colorado’s water leaders have released an updated blueprint detailing how the state will manage and conserve water supplies as climate change and population growth strain the system in unprecedented ways

    In the years since, continued warming, poor snowpack and low river flows have devastated available water supplies for farmers and ranchers. The reservoirs on the Colorado River, which starts in the mountains of Colorado and supplies more than 40 million people in the West with water, have hit critically low levels in the last year. The emergency has prompted the federal government to step in and demand the use of less Colorado River water…

    The new analysis in the draft version of the new Colorado Water Plan, which was written by a team overseen by the Colorado Water Conservation Board, finds that cities, towns and industries in Colorado could be short 230,000 to 740,000 acre-feet of water annually by the year 2050 — enough water, depending on different drought and climate scenarios, to supply between 500,000 and 1.5 million homes. As the state faces warmer temperatures and less water, analysis in the draft plan finds that statewide water use in towns, cities and industries will climb between 35 percent and 77 percent by 2050…

    The plan calls on leaders of Colorado’s nine river basins — known as roundtables — to identify local needs and projects that the Colorado Water Conservation Board can fund. Right now, about 1,800 such projects have been identified, a running list in various stages of readiness that comes with a hefty price tag: about $20 billion in funding to be fully completed. Some of the proposed projects include building new reservoirs and expanding old ones, watershed improvements, environmental restoration projects and infrastructure improvements.

    The pie chart shows how much water each sector uses in Colorado, as well as how much water originating here leaves the state.
    CREDIT: COURTESY COLORADO WATER PLAN

    #CrystalRiver rancher, Water Trust again try to boost flows: Agreement will pay Cold Mountain Ranch to leave #water in the river — @AspenJournalism #RoaringForkRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Crystal River rancher Bill Fales stands at the headgate for the Helms Ditch, with Mount Sopris in the background. As part of an agreement with the Colorado Water Trust, Fales could be paid to reduce his diversions from the ditch when the river is low. CREDIT: HEATHER SACKETT/ASPEN JOURNALISM

    Click the link to read the article on the Aspen Journalism website (Heather Sackett):

    A Crystal River Valley rancher and a nonprofit organization are teaming up for the second time to try to leave more water in a parched stream.

    Cold Mountain Ranch owners Bill Fales and Marj Perry have inked a six-year deal with the Colorado Water Trust to voluntarily retime their irrigation practices to leave water in the Crystal River during the late summer and early fall, when the river often needs it the most. In addition to a $5,000 signing bonus, the ranchers will be paid $250 a day up to 20 days, for each cubic foot per second they don’t divert, for a maximum payment of $30,000.

    The water would come from reducing diversions from the Helms Ditch and could result in up to an additional 6 cfs in the river. The agreement would become active in the months of August and September any time streamflows dip below 40 cfs and once becoming active, will extend through October. The agreement will lift if streamflows rise above 55 cfs.

    The goal of the program is to use voluntary, market-based approaches to encourage agricultural water users — who often own the biggest and most senior water rights — to put water back into Colorado’s rivers during critical times.

    The program has the hallmarks of demand management, a much-discussed concept over the past few years at the state level: it’s temporary, voluntary and compensated. Other pilot programs that focus on agricultural water conservation usually involve full or split-season fallowing of fields, but with this agreement Fales still intends to get his usual two cuttings of hay.

    “The idea is to find something that is a flexible way for water rights owners to use their water in years where it makes sense for something different than strictly agricultural practices,” said Alyson Meyer-Gould, director of policy with the Colorado Water Trust. “It’s another way to use their water portfolio.”

    Map of the Roaring Fork River drainage basin in western Colorado, USA. Made using USGS data. By Shannon1 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=69290878

    New #Colorado #Water Plan outlines how to mitigate water challenges statewide — KRDO

    The pie chart shows how much water each sector uses in Colorado, as well as how much water originating here leaves the state.
    CREDIT: COURTESY COLORADO WATER PLAN

    Click the link to read the article on the KRDO website (Mallory Anderson). Here’s an excerpt:

    A draft of the 2023 Colorado Water Plan has been released and outlines what the state needs to do in order to conserve resources as rivers, lakes, and reservoirs dry up…

    A new analysis by the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) says up to 740,000 additional acre-feet of water could be needed by 2050 to meet community and industrial demands. For agriculture, an even bigger number. An estimated 2.6 to 3.5 million acre-feet of water is needed.

    “I think we’re presenting a very honest view of where things are at,” said Russ Sands, Section Chief for Water Supply Planning with the Colorado Water Conservation Board. “It’s going to be tough. We can’t change things like mega-fires. We can’t stop the drought. But, we can do a lot of things to work together to mitigate the worst impacts of what is headed our way.”

    […]

    A major way the Colorado Water Plan hopes to mitigate impacts is through local projects the CWCB is ready to give grants to…The Water Plan estimates that $20 billion is needed to address the water crisis…Despite the high price, the CWCB is staying positive when looking towards the future of water in our state…Public comment is now open for the Water Plan draft and closes on September 30, 2022.

    A turbine whirls on a farm east of Burlington, Colo. Colorado’s eastern plains already have many wind farms—but it may look like a pin cushion during the next several years. Photo/Allen Best

    The plan contains no silver bullet for the challenges facing cities, farms, forests, recreation and conservation areas in the state. It does lay out the challenges and points toward potential solutions to a future far shorter on water than what the recent past has experienced.

    As noted in a quotation from former Colorado Justice Gregory Hobbs in a preamble to the document, “The 21st Century is the era of limits made applicable to water decision making. Due to natural western water scarcity, we are no longer developing a resource. Instead, we are learning how to share a developed resource.”

    The plan picks up Hobbs’ “sharing” advice with a call for greater collaboration between the water basins and water decision makers in the state and beyond.

    Headwinds in the use of Colorado water include multiple factors:

  • The population is growing. It’s nearly 6 million now and will be 8.5 million by 2050.
  • Nineteen other states plus Mexico also depend upon water that originates in Colorado.
  • It’s getting hotter. Average temperatures are up 2 degrees Fahrenheit in the past 30 years.
  • Rainfall is coming less often. It’s been below average since 2000.

    Yet some progress in meeting challenges has been made, the report said.

  • Conservation efforts have reduced per capita water consumption by 5% since 2000.
  • Cities have worked collaboratively to lease 25,000 acre feet of agricultural water since then, instead of buying-and-drying.
  • About 400,000 acre feet of storage has been created since the turn of the century, too.
  • Competing for resources, varying flows are expected of #ColoradoRiver Basin, draft #water plan states — The Summit Daily #COriver #aridification

    Some of the snowmelt flowing in the Blue River as it joins the Colorado River near Kremmling, Colo., will reach the Lower Basin states. Dec. 3, 2019. Credit: Mitch Tobin, the Water Desk

    Click the link to read the article on the Summit Daily website (Eliza Noe). Here’s an excerpt:

    The plan focuses on four “interconnected action areas,” including resiliency planning, thriving watersheds, robust agriculture and community. It describes 50 “partner actions,” or project ideas that could be supported by Water Plan grants, as well as 50 “agency actions,” to support local projects, conservation and wise-water development. Overall, however, basin roundtables and stakeholders identified more than 1,800 potential future projects statewide, and 321 are in the Colorado Basin with 36 being in Summit County. In total, over $20 billion would be spent on the projects by 2050. Russ Sands, senior program manager of water supply planning for the Colorado Water Conservation Board, said that projects in the database are designated as near-term, midterm or long-term when it comes to getting them done. They’re also not all infrastructure projects. Some may work toward water conservation and others may be educational projects or environmental…

    According to the plan, the Colorado Basin — which includes Summit County and the Blue River — faces issues such as competing resources for agriculture, tourism, protection of endangered species and potential for Colorado River Compact administration. The basin encompasses about 6% of the state’s population, and between 2015 and 2050, population is expected to increase 48-88%. Flows are also projected to be variable over the next several decades. Decreased peak flows across the basin create risks for wetland plants and fish habitats. Instream flows and recreational in-channel diversions may not be met if summer flows decrease due to climate change. Each year, water providers in the South Platte and Arkansas Basins export approximately 480,000 acre-feet each year from the Colorado Basin for eastern slope agricultural, municipal and industrial uses. Across the basin, as much as 70% of the river’s water flows out of Colorado…

    The pie chart shows how much water each sector uses in Colorado, as well as how much water originating here leaves the state.
    CREDIT: COURTESY COLORADO WATER PLAN

    “(June 30) opens up the 90-day public comment period,” Rebecca Mitchell, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, said. “This updated new and improved Water Plan is designed to meet today’s water challenges and builds on the legacy that we have in Colorado of collaborative statewide water planning.

    Photo from http://trmurf.com/about/

    State officials looking for engagement on updated #water plan: $20 billion needed for projects to address shortfalls — @AspenJournalism

    Raymond Langstaff, a rancher and president of the Bookcliff Conservation District, irrigates a parcel north of Rifle. The 2023 Water Plan update says agriculture could experience an even bigger water supply gap in the future. CREDIT: HEATHER SACKETT/ASPEN JOURNALISM

    Click the link to read the article on the Aspen Journalism website (Heather Sackett):

    State officials are hoping dire climate predictions and water shortages will convince Coloradans to get involved in planning how to share a dwindling resource.

    Colorado Water Conservation Board staff released the second iteration of the Colorado Water Plan on Thursday, which is now open for public comment. The first version of the plan was implemented in 2015.

    Words from the late water expert and former Colorado Supreme Court Justice Greg Hobbs set the tone on page 1 of the document: The 21st century is no longer about developing a resource, it is now an era of limits and learning how to share a developed resource.

    “I think we get to educate and engage and inspire and be an example and I think that’s the benefit,” said CWCB Executive Director Becky Mitchell. “I think when we are given the opportunity to lead, Coloradans do that.”

    The updated plan lays out four interconnected areas for action: vibrant communities, robust agriculture, thriving watersheds and resilient planning. Although municipal and industry does not currently experience a gap, the plan predicts a 230,000 to 740,000 acre-foot shortfall for cities and industries by 2050. According to the plan, about 20% of agriculture diversion demand is currently not met statewide, and that gap could grow to a 3.5 million acre-foot shortfall by 2050 under the “hot growth” scenario that would see temperatures rise 4.2 degrees Fahrenheit.

    Meeting these supply-demand gaps will require hundreds of water projects throughout Colorado’s eight river basins, and carries a price tag of $20 billion. These projects, many of which have benefits to more than one water-use sector, are laid out in each roundtable’s Basin Implementation Plan.

    Boaters float the Yampa River. According to the updated state Water Plan, summer recreation flow needs may not be met in the future due to lower peak flows, fueled by climate change.
    CREDIT: HEATHER SACKETT/ASPEN JOURNALISM

    Backdrop of climate change

    The 239-page document is set against the backdrop of climate change, which plays a bigger role in this water plan than in the 2015 version. The first water plan did not include projections of future climate change in its analyses. Three of the five planning scenarios now include assumptions of hotter conditions in the years to come.

    According to the plan, Colorado has had three of the top five driest years on record since 2000 and has experienced a 2 degree Fahrenheit increase in average temperature. The state may see an additional 2.5 to 5 degree warming by 2050. Most projections show a decline in spring snowpack and more frequent heat waves, drought and wildfire, all of which have implications for water.

    Environmental and recreation water needs could see the worst impacts since those uses generally have the most junior water rights.

    “Peak runoff may shift as much as one month earlier, which could lead to drier conditions in summer months and impact storage, irrigation and streamflow,” the plan reads. “Decreased peak flows across the basin create risks for riparian/wetland plants and fish habitat. Instream flows and recreational in-channel diversions may not be met if June-August flows decrease due to climate change.”

    The pie chart shows how much water each sector uses in Colorado, as well as how much water originating here leaves the state.
    CREDIT: COURTESY COLORADO WATER PLAN

    Old tensions and trends

    The new plan addressed a tension from the first plan: Front Range water providers would like the ability to develop new transmountain diversions in the future, while Western Slope stakeholders say not to look to the Colorado River basin for more water for thirsty cities. Colorado’s Front Range currently takes about 500,000 acre-feet of water a year from the headwaters of the Colorado River basin across the Continental Divide.

    The plan stopped short of a detailed analysis of transmountain diversions because of ongoing litigation and permitting processes, but promised that state staff would facilitate discussions about transmountain diversions before the next update to the plan.

    “Our promise to West Slope folks was when we could get past those legal barriers, we would take an honest look at trying to have a better conversation,” said Russ Sands, senior program manager for the CWCB’s water supply planning section. “I think we owe it to our stakeholders to try and focus on analysis.”

    The plan says Colorado will continue the slow but steady transformation of moving water from agriculture — by far the largest water user — to cities, with nearly 14,000 acres of irrigated land expected to be urbanized, one-third of that in the Grand Valley. Stakeholders estimate the loss of irrigated land to “buy-and-dry” to be even greater at 33,000 to 76,000 acres, which is three times higher than the 2015 Water Plan estimate.

    But this could be eased by innovative and flexible agreements between water users that allow the temporary transfer of water from one use to another. Formerly known as Alternative Transfer Methods, state officials have rebranded them Collaborative Water Sharing Agreements, which allow water sharing, but prevent the permanent removal of water from the land.

    The Crystal River wends its way downstream along the flanks of Mount Sopris to its confluence with the Roaring Fork River near Carbondale. State officials have released an update to the 2015 Water Plan, which includes hotter and drier future planning scenarios.
    CREDIT: HEATHER SACKETT/ASPEN JOURNALISM

    Equity and engagement

    State officials have also made an effort to be more inclusive this time around and in March 2021 convened a Water Equity Task Force to help shape a guiding set of principles around equity, diversity and inclusion to inform the water plan. Abby Burk, the western rivers regional program manager with Audubon Rockies, was an equity task force member.

    “People are engaging and leaning into the space other than just the water right owners,” she said. “We are all supported by water every single day. How do we expand this decision-making to include more voices? How do we open our arms and encourage more people to come into this space?”

    The 2015 Water Plan racked up more than 30,000 comments and state officials are hoping Coloradans become even more involved this time around. The plan lays out three levels of engagement citizens can take and encourages Coloradans to promote water conservation, join water-focused stakeholder groups and coordinate with local leaders to advance water policy.

    And there is a small bright spot that shows the potential for change when citizens get engaged: The plan says that Coloradans have reduced their per-person water use from 172 to 164 gallons a day, a 5% reduction in demand since 2008, mainly due to conservation efforts.

    Sands said the tough conditions can open people’s minds and make them more willing to come to the table to talk.

    “I think we are actually going to see more collaboration than ever,” he said.

    The update to the Colorado Water Plan is open for public comment until September 30 and CWCB staff will also hold four online listening sessions. The plan is scheduled to be finalized by the CWCB in January 2023.

    Aspen Journalism covers water and rivers in collaboration with The Aspen Times.

    #Colorado’s water shortages are already here and getting worse, according to updated state #water plan — KUNC

    Blue Mesa Reservoir is the largest storage facility in Colorado in the Upper Colorado River system. Prolonged drought and downriver demand is shrinking the reservoir. Credit: Tom Wood, Water Desk

    Click the link to read the article on the KUNC website (Luke Runyon and Alex Hager). Here’s an excerpt:

    Colorado’s water shortages are not relegated to the distant future. Water supplies cannot meet current demands in many communities, and are only likely to worsen as climate change heats up and dries out the state’s cities and farms. That message is front and center in the Colorado Water Conservation Board’s first draft of a comprehensive update to the Colorado Water Plan, originally passed in 2015. Its initial creation was spurred by then-governor John Hickenlooper.

    The plan anticipates a supply-demand gap of 240,000 to 740,000 acre-feet for cities and industries by 2050…For agricultural users, shortages are already a way of life. The plan projects that an existing shortfall of 2.6 million acre-feet for farmers and ranchers could increase to 3.5 million acre-feet by the middle of this century.

    The plan is candid about the harsh effects of climate change, and the likelihood that Colorado’s water future will be shaped by warming and drying patterns. This includes acknowledgements of “aridification” – the idea that the West is not just experiencing the normal ebb and flow of drought, but instead becoming permanently drier. Climate scientists broadly agree that rising temperatures are driving a batch of changes that result in a shrinking water supply for much of the Southwest.

    Click the link to read a release on the Water for Colorado website:

    Today, the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) released the draft update of the Colorado Water Plan for a 90-day public comment period. The plan, originally developed in 2015 under the direction of Governor John Hickenlooper, is meant to address growing water scarcity in Colorado and ensure the state has a sustainable water future that meets the needs of a wide range of water uses by all Coloradans. In response to the release of the updated plan, Water for Colorado has issued the following statement.

    “We appreciate all of the hard work by CWBC staff and board members and Department of Natural Resources to prepare a draft update to the Colorado Water Plan. We have already begun our thorough and detailed review and we look forward to providing comments. Our coalition was founded seven years ago to help influence the development of the 2015 Water Plan through providing technical review and driving civic engagement. We will submit comments and engage in a robust conversation with stakeholders on how we can best protect Colorado’s watersheds and rivers for all Coloradans and for future generations. ​​We look to this Water Plan update to improve water security throughout the state by equitably addressing many of our watershed and water conservation needs.

    This revision of the Colorado Water Plan will certainly play an important role in advancing our water goals throughout the state. But it alone will not be sufficient to meet the growing water challenges we face. This was further emphasized by recent statements by federal officials about the need for substantial water reductions by all states and in all water sectors to avoid critically low levels in the Colorado River basin’s largest reservoirs. Worsening hydrology and increased demands placed on dwindling water resources guarantee that additional, urgent actions will need to be taken to ensure a secure water future for Colorado. Governor Polis has called 2022 the “year of water” for Colorado, and we look forward to working with Governor Polis and his administration, other elected officials, Basin Roundtables, and communities on the critically important issues facing our state in 2022 and beyond. We must meet this pivotal moment in a way that positions Colorado as a leader in collaborative water management — our state’s future depends on it.”

    The coalition has spokespeople available for comment now and in the coming 90 days, during which both partner organizations and the public have a vital opportunity to ensure that their voices are heard, that their interests are considered, and that Colorado’s water plan is truly that — a plan for the entire state.

    2023 Colorado Water Plan draft released — Colorado Water Conservation Board @CWCB_DNR

    Click the link to go to the Colorado Water Plan website:

    The Colorado Water Plan provides a framework for helping Colorado meet its water challenges through collaborative action around water development and water conservation. The plan includes a range of collaborative partner actions that stakeholders can advance through grant funding & local projects, as well as specific actions the Colorado Water Conservation Board and other agency partners will commit to in order to advance the plan. The plan guides future decision-making and supports local actions to address water challenges with a collaborative, balanced, and solutions-oriented approach that builds resilience.

    READ THE DRAFT PLAN

    LEE EL BORRADOR DEL PLAN

    The Colorado Water Plan uses state-of-the-art data and tools to analyze the state’s water issues, including adapting to aridification and climate change, embracing innovative ideas and new technology that align with Colorado’s evolving water goals. The Plan includes four main focus areas that work together for a stronger state: Vibrant Communities, Robust Agriculture, Thriving Watersheds, and Resilient Planning.

    Colorado Water Plan grants support a range of multi-beneficial projects for water storage, water conservation, the water-land use nexus, agricultural efficiency, water education and awareness, watershed health, and outdoor recreation. The Colorado Water Plan’s focus areas will address overlapping themes to address identified risks and challenges: funding, supply, equity, climate change, land use planning, storage, efficiency, education, and forest health.

    Please comment on the plan, commit to taking action, and share your own stories of water resilience.

    Credit: Colorado Water Conservation Board

    Opinion: Act now to claim federal water infrastructure dollars — The #GrandJunction Daily Sentinel

    Wildlife biologist Bill Vetter and Western Rivers Regional Program Manager with Audubon Rockies Abby Burk walk along an irrigation ditch in Grand County. An avian monitoring program aims to learn more about how birds use irrigated agriculture.
    CREDIT: HEATHER SACKETT/ASPEN JOURNALISM

    Click the link to read the opinion piece on the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel website (Gail Schwartz and Abby Burk). Here’s an excerpt:

    It should come as good news then that the bipartisan infrastructure package Congress passed last fall appropriated a landmark $8.3 billion for investment in western water, along with $50 billion earmarked for projects to bolster resilience to climate change. Collectively, the infrastructure package is the largest investment in water infrastructure and the resilience of physical and natural systems in American history. Additionally, last year’s American Rescue Plan Act delivered $3.8 billion to Colorado, a portion of which will fund necessary and overdue investments in projects to protect sources of drinking water, increase resilience to climate-driven drought, and provide capital for critical infrastructure that would finally deliver safe, reliable drinking water to Tribal communities.

    While these historic federal investments have been made, the equally vital work of putting them to use has only just begun. Given the high demand and the competitive nature of the funding available through the federal infrastructure bill, Colorado must take proactive steps to secure these federal funds. As two Western Slope residents — one a former state senator and CWCB director, one the Western Rivers Regional Program Manager for Audubon Rockies — we thank the general assembly and Governor Polis for making Colorado more competitive by passing and signing into law HB22-1379 and SB22-215 this past legislative session. This is a down payment toward a more secure water future…

    The billions of dollars that have been set aside for western water and climate resilience in the infrastructure package represent an unparalleled opportunity for state decision makers to advance implementation of Colorado’s Water Plan. The coalition members of Water for Colorado, along with our partners across the state, stand ready to help the administration expedite the pace and scale of efforts to fund and implement water projects across Colorado. Our investment in these efforts now will pay dividends to strengthen Colorado’s communities and protect Colorado’s water resources for future generations.

    Capturing these federal funds isn’t a given. It necessitates a concerted effort and leadership from local governments and state agencies such as the Colorado Water Conservation Board, Colorado State Forest Service, Department of Agriculture, and Department of Public Health and Environment to apply for federal infrastructure funds and work with eligible entities to move swiftly, implementing projects that protect our water resources. Additionally, in many cases, access to funds is contingent upon being matched by state or private dollars, making it critically important that money appropriated toward that end from HB1379 — Wildfire Prevention Watershed Restoration Funding and SB216 — Responsible Gaming Grant Program reaches its goals. Multi-benefit projects that support healthy watersheds, protect rivers, enhance climate resilience, accelerate urban water conservation and work toward a future in which everyone has access to clean, reliable water supplies are within reach if we meet this moment.

    A Confluence of Funding for #Water, Watersheds, and Capacity: Learn about beneficial bills passed during the 2022 #Colorado legislative session — Audubon Rockies

    Click the link to read the article on the Audubon Rockies website (Abby Burk);

    Water supports the lives of birds and people every day and was a high, bi-partisan priority for Colorado lawmakers during the 2022 legislative session. The General Assembly wrapped up the 120-day session on May 11. Audubon and our partners were active in securing several wins for water, our most precious natural resource. Funding for water projects, watershed resilience, and capacity are through lines for these wins. Here are a few highlights.

    Watershed Assessment Vulnerability Evaluation (WAVE) volunteers work to install silt fencing immediately above Northern Water’s Willow Creek Reservoir. Photo by Emanuel Deleon, Colorado State University

    Wildfire Prevention Watershed Restoration Funding, HB22-1379 appropriates $20 million from the Economic Recovery and Relief Cash Fund for projects to protect watersheds and river resiliency from wildfire impacts. The funding breaks down as $2 million to the Wildfire Mitigation Capacity Development Fund, $3 million to the Healthy Forests and Vibrant Communities Fund, and $15 million to the Colorado Water Conservation Board to fund watershed restoration projects with a boost for capacity to assist in applying for natural resource management federal grants. The Audubon network activated and supported HB-1379 by submitting 2,468 supportive responses!

    Water infrastructure as sidewalk art

    Infrastructure Investment And Jobs Act Cash Fund, SB22-215 creates a new cash fund that allows the state or local governments to receive federal funds for certain categories of infrastructure projects allowed under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA). For Colorado to be competitive for this once-in-a-lifetime funding under IIJA, it is necessary to have funds available as nonfederal match. SB-215 requires the state treasurer to transfer $60 million to the fund. Among the winners, 25 percent of this fund will be used toward water, environmental, and resiliency programs. The money in this fund is appropriated by the general assembly and the governor. Audubon and our partners met with decision makers and applaud bill sponsors for the foresight in creating this fund.

    Mrs. Gulch’s Blue gramma “Eyelash” patch August 28, 2021.

    Turf Replacement Program, HB22-1151 creates a program to incentivize water-wise landscapes. Irrigation of outdoor landscaping accounts for nearly half of the water use within cities and towns and is mostly used for nonnative turf grass. Voluntary and incentivized replacement of nonessential irrigated grass turf with water-wise landscaping increases communities’ resilience regarding drought and climate change, reduces the sale of agricultural water rights to municipal demand, and helps protect river flows. The bill defines water-wise landscaping as a water- and plant-management practice that emphasizes using plants that need less water. To learn more about native plants that support birds and pollinators, visit Rockies’ Habitat Hero program. Audubon thanks Habitat Hero Ambassador Don Ireland for his influential testimony in support of this bill.

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

    Colorado Water Conservation Board Construction Fund Project, HB22-1316 appropriates $8.2 million from the Colorado Water Plan implementation cash fund to the Colorado Water Conservation Board for grant-making for projects that assist in implementing the Colorado Water Plan. Water Plan grants serve as the bridge for Coloradans to implement actions within the plan. The Plan contains actions that can improve river health and support clean, reliable drinking water for communities and flourishing economies. Without a strong plan and funding for implementation, Colorado’s birds, rivers, and people will face a problematic water future with unacceptable consequences.

    Heron wading in the Colorado River. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith

    Thank you for your engagement during the 2022 Colorado legislative session! Great Blue Herons, Yellow Warblers, and American Dippers depend on you to support our healthy rivers, wetlands, and watersheds for all of us. Audubon will continue to work with lawmakers and partners to prioritize water security for people, birds, and the healthy freshwater ecosystems that we all depend upon.

    The latest Confluence Newsletter for April 2022 is hot off the presses from @CWCB_DNR

    Rancher Bryan Bernal irrigates a field that depends on Colorado River water near Loma, Colo. Credit: William Woody

    Click the link to read the newsletter on the Colorado Water Conservation Board website. Here’s an excerpt:

    Colorado Water Conservation Board to Focus on Water Resilience within the State as Demand Management Investigation Paused

    In March, the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) decided to pause its Demand Management Feasibility Investigation in Colorado. Demand Management is the concept of temporary, voluntary, and compensated reductions in the consumptive use of water in the Colorado River Basin. Colorado has been a leader among the Upper Basin States in the feasibility investigation, gathering information from Colorado water users, stakeholders, and the public since 2019, and developing a Roadmap for answering questions in the future. CWCB stands ready to continue its investigation when more information becomes available from the ongoing feasibility investigations in the other Upper Basin States. All Upper Basin States would need to agree to a program if it is to be established, and any such program would depend upon a storage pool in Lake Powell, which could only be used to ensure ongoing Compact compliance. This pause provides an opportunity for CWCB to focus on what can be done in the more immediate future within Colorado. CWCB will consider a full range of mechanisms that would not be dependent on other states or the broader Colorado River System and could be implemented by and within Colorado, with the purpose of protecting Colorado’s water users through increased hydrologic shortage and variability.

    #LakePowell continues to disappear as #Colorado hits pause on plan to prop up levels — The Salt Lake Tribune #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Lake Powell boat ramp at Page, Arizona, December 17, 2021. Photo credit: Allen Best/Big Pivots

    Click the link to read the article on the Salt Lake Tribune website (Zak Podmore). Here’s an excerpt:

    The reservoir could drop below the level needed to generate power at the Glen Canyon Dam this year if other ways of increasing the elevation of the lake aren’t used

    …water managers in Colorado announced last week that they will stop exploring one proposal to prop up the rapidly depleting levels in Lake Powell. The plan — known as demand management — would compensate farmers and ranchers for voluntarily stopping irrigation on a temporary basis, sending water that would have been used for agriculture to the reservoir. A drought contingency plan developed in 2019 by Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Wyoming identified demand management as one method that could be used to keep the water level in Lake Powell above 3,525 feet in elevation, around a quarter of its capacity, in order to protect electricity generation. The four-state demand management proposal was met with suspicion by agricultural interests, according to Anne Castle, a senior fellow at the University of Colorado Law School who previously worked on Colorado River issues under the Obama administration. Skeptics of the plan feared it could “wipe out irrigated agriculture” in parts of the river basin and fundamentally alter rural economies, Castle said at a recent University of Utah symposium hosted by the Wallace Stegner Center. She said those fears were “not unfounded” and “they would have to be dealt with in an equitable demand management program.”

    […]

    Utah still supports a four-state demand management program, said Amy Haas, executive director of the Colorado River Authority of Utah, but it is also prepared to move forward with water conservation pilot projects and potentially pursue a smaller-scale demand management program on its own. She pointed to Utah’s investments in water measuring infrastructure, studies looking at switching to crops that require less water and other programs…

    The Bureau of Reclamation recently announced that it is studying modifications to the Glen Canyon Dam that would allow for power generation at lower water levels. That could include installing turbines on bypass tubes that are located below the current hydropower intakes…

    But Brad Udall said finding the political will and leadership at federal and state levels to permanently reduce demand is difficult.

    “My biggest fear,” Udall said, “is that it’s easier to let the system crash than it is to find the painful solutions that are needed.”

    He defined a system crash as letting the two largest reservoirs in the U.S. — Lake Mead and Lake Powell — empty because of an inability to respond to declining flows. Udall added there have been incremental, positive solutions implemented in the basin over the last two decades, but he said future solutions have to be “more than incremental” to deal with the crisis.

    Brad Udall: Here’s the latest version of my 4-Panel plot thru Water Year (Oct-Sep) of 2021 of the Colorado River big reservoirs, natural flows, precipitation, and temperature. Data (PRISM) goes back or 1906 (or 1935 for reservoirs.) This updates previous work with
    @GreatLakesPeck.

    #Colorado #Water Conservation Board Approves 50+ Grants to Advance #COWater Plan

    MAYBELL DIVERSION Located on the lower Yampa River, a tributary to the Colorado River, the Maybell diversion provides water for 18 agricultural producers in northwest Colorado. © The Nature Conservancy

    Click the link to read the article on the CWCB website:

    During its March meeting, the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) – a group of 15 governor-appointed representatives from each major Colorado river basin with expertise in water policy and planning – approved 52 grants through the Water Plan Grant Program.

    “The Colorado Water Conservation Board is pleased to approve more than 50 projects this month to help advance the Colorado Water Plan, many of which are a direct result from recent stimulus funding approved by Governor Polis,” said CWCB Chair Jackie Brown. “We also look forward to utilizing funding from sports betting as enacted by Proposition DD in the near future to make an even bigger impact. And as we prepare to release the next Water Plan, securing future funding will become increasingly important for our water future.”

    This grant program provides critical funding for multi-beneficial water projects in all eight river basins that advance actions outlined within the Colorado Water Plan.

    ‘Where’s the water coming from?’: As #Colorado eyes asserting #water rights on the #SouthPlatteRiver, #Nebraska looks at securing its own — The North Platte Telegraph #COleg

    The South Platte Hotel building that sits at the Two Forks site, where the North and South forks of the South Platte River come together. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    From From The North Platte Telegraph (Todd von Kampen):

    Here’s the other question: “Where’s the water coming from?”

    That may be the greater mystery in Keith and Lincoln counties, whose residents usually see bare trickles in the South Platte — except for four floods since 1995 — and know it’s due to Colorado agriculture and ever-growing Denver and the Front Range.

    Despite all that growth, Nebraska and Colorado water officials agree, there’s still South Platte water to talk about.

    Counting “return flows” from upstream irrigators, a recent Colorado study contended, Nebraska receives enough South Platte water at the state line northeast of Julesburg to fill Lake Maloney 15 times…

    The Legislature’s Natural Resources Committee will hold a public hearing at 1:30 p.m. CT Wednesday [Februay 9, 2022] on Legislative Bill 1015. It would set aside $500 million to finish the Perkins canal, whether or not Nebraska routes it into Perkins County.

    Its hearing follows the Colorado Legislature’s introduction of a bill late last week to make South Platte water storage that state’s top priority for water projects.

    Senate Bill 22-126 says it’s intended to boost “the beneficial consumptive use of Colorado’s undeveloped waters to which Colorado is entitled under the South Platte River Compact,” as well as to reduce the need for transferring water east across the Rockies…

    Jesse Bradley, assistant director of the Nebraska Department of Natural Resources, said his department has barely begun to explore how such a canal gets built in 2022.

    But the evidence suggests Nebraska should invoke its compact rights before it’s too late, Bradley said…

    Rein and Lauren Ris, deputy director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, said their state’s water officials are still seeking to clarify Nebraska’s concerns. Both spoke with The Telegraph before Colorado lawmakers introduced their bill to make South Platte projects the state’s top priority.

    Ris said the 282-project list comes from her board’s online database of hoped-for water projects by local “roundtables” in each of Colorado’s nine river basins…

    But the vast majority of those, she said, are studies and other projects that won’t sink a well or move dirt for a new water project.

    Very few of them — and none between Brush and the Nebraska line — are even close to seeking major funding, Ris added…

    The far larger Parker project, touching both Logan and Washington counties, would create two reservoirs as well as a pipeline. Parker lies about 107 miles southwest of Sterling and 89 miles southwest of Akron, the counties’ respective seats.

    A canal, a century-old compact between #Nebraska and #Colorado, and a sea of unknowns — The Omaha World-Herald

    eople work on the Perkins County Canal in the 1890s. The project eventually was abandoned due to financial troubles. But remnants are still visible near Julesburg.
    Perkins County Historical Society

    From The Omaha World-Herald (Sara Gentzler):

    It seems to be a striking proposal: That Nebraska could use eminent domain in Colorado and build a canal that diverts water from the South Platte River for irrigation in Nebraska.

    But the idea — floated earlier this month by Gov. Pete Ricketts and other Nebraska officials — is laid out in a compact agreed to by the two states and approved by Congress almost 100 years ago.

    Nebraska officials want to invoke the 1923 South Platte River Compact to build that canal and a reservoir system, and ensure Nebraska continues receiving water that they say is at risk as the population on Colorado’s Front Range booms.

    But with a $500 million estimated price tag, a history of failed attempts, confusion from Colorado, the potential for lawsuits and a stream of unknown details, one fundamental question hangs over the proposal: Would it be worth it?

    Canal idea predates compact

    Even in communications between Delph Carpenter, who negotiated the compact for Colorado, and then-Nebraska Gov. Samuel McKelvie, the canal project was referred to as “old.”

    “The old Perkins County canal was projected in the early (1890s) with the object of diverting water from the South Platte some miles above Julesburg, within the State of Colorado, for the irrigation of lands in Nebraska lying south of the river and particularly of that beautiful area of land in Perkins County between Ogallala (sic) and Grant,” a 1921 letter from Carpenter reads.

    Construction efforts had started in 1891, according to the Nebraska Department of Natural Resources. But it was abandoned due to financial troubles.

    Remnants of the abandoned ditch are still visible near Julesburg.

    Another effort to pursue the canal, this time by the North Platte-based Twin Platte Natural Resources District, was derailed in the 1980s because it didn’t comply with requirements of the Nongame and Endangered Species Conservation Act.

    The compact, borne out of a desire to resolve litigation, is more than the canal…

    Current director Tom Riley told The World-Herald that flows drop below 120 cfs nearly every year at times during that time period. When it happens, Nebraska calls Colorado and it addresses the issue by limiting its users who are subject to the compact.

    Another part of the compact would allow Nebraska to also claim water outside that growing season — provided there’s a canal.

    Ovid, entering from the east on U.S. Route 138. By Jeffrey Beall – Own work, CC BY 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=56445787

    The canal could run from near Ovid, Colorado, east near the route of the abandoned “Perkins County Canal,” it says. And Nebraska could buy land or even use eminent domain to make it happen.

    With such a canal, the state would be entitled to divert 500 cfs for irrigation between Oct. 15 and April 1.

    However, data from the Julesburg gage suggests Nebraska has been getting about that much from Colorado for the last 10 years of record during the non-irrigation season, Riley said. The goal of the project would be to keep it that way.

    Asked how the state would avoid what happened in the ‘80s, Riley pointed out that was 40 years ago. And, as he understands it, those proponents chose not to try to comply with endangered species requirements…

    Colorado disputes Nebraska’s rationale

    In revealing his desire to resurrect the plan, Ricketts earlier this month sounded alarm bells that without the project, agriculture, drinking water across the state, power generation and the environment could be affected…

    Colorado Gov. Jared Polis and the state’s Department of Natural Resources said they learned of the situation the same day Ricketts announced it publicly…

    Since then, officials haven’t shared a vision of an exact route for the newly proposed Perkins County Canal, nor details of the reservoir system it would feed into.

    Despite its colloquial name, the canal wouldn’t be located in Perkins County, according to the Governor’s Office. It could be on or close to the county’s northern border, though.

    The general manager of the Twin Platte Natural Resources District, Kent Miller, has been promoting the project for over 25 years…

    Ninety-eight of the [Colorado Water Plan] projects are in process or complete, according to Sara Leonard, spokesperson for the Colorado Water Conservation Board. But not all are construction projects. Some are water conservation projects, she said, and environment and recreation enhancements.

    Joe Frank, a roundtable member and general manager of the Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District in Colorado, said he hadn’t sorted through how many of the projects would even impact the flow of the river, but said that many of them would not…

    As for Nebraska’s assessment that flows could be restricted by 90%, he can’t understand how that figures.

    A Nebraska Department of Resources fact sheet features that projection. That sheet shows the 90% was inferred from a 2017 Colorado report on water storage options along the South Platte to capture flows that would usually leave Colorado “in excess of the minimum legally required amounts.”

    But Frank said that level of restriction could never actually happen…

    More important than the straight cost estimate, though, may be another question: Would the water Nebraska actually gets out of this be worth the cost?

    Anthony Schutz, a law professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and Dave Aiken, longtime water and agricultural law specialist at UNL, both pointed out it’s uncertain how much water Nebraska could get out of such a canal…

    Colorado would have dibs on some water before Nebraska, even if it were to build the canal. Colorado has the right to divert the first 35,000 acre-feet of water for its own off-season storage, Aiken said, even if it cuts into what Nebraska wants to divert…

    Schutz pointed out that there are other water users in line ahead of Nebraska’s canal in the compact, too — anything on the “upper” part of the river, and uses in place before Dec 17, 1921…

    Could canal lead to a court battle?

    There’s some ambiguity in the compact, Aiken said, and people have built projects and invested in them in the years since it was signed. The states could resolve any differences by negotiation, or by litigation…

    Riley, with DNR, said that Nebraska’s approach will be to work collaboratively with Colorado, and that he expects Colorado to comply without a need for court action. If disagreements aren’t resolved, though, he said interstate compacts and conflicts like that are addressed by the U.S. Supreme Court…

    The question still remains, though: How much water would Nebraska actually get out of this? Riley didn’t give an estimate, but said actual yield would vary year to year.

    The South Platte River Basin is shaded in yellow. Source: Tom Cech, One World One Water Center, Metropolitan State University of Denver.

    Opinion: Sonnenberg: Time for #Colorado to unite to save our #water — The #Sterling Journal Advocate #SouthPlatteRiver

    South Platte River Storage Study Area. Illustration shows water availability, in blue circles, compared with demand at various places along the South Platte River. The yellow area is the study area. (Illustration by Stantec).

    From The Sterling Journal-Advocate (Jerry Sonnenberg):

    Governor Ricketts is an elected official who I have always thought does a good job – especially for agriculture – and someone that I tend to support. With that said, he blew it earlier this month when he made some bold and inaccurate statements regarding Colorado’s water.

    The fact is, Colorado is in compliance with our South Platte Interstate Compact.

    Our compact says that we must deliver 120 cubic feet per second to Nebraska between April 1 and October 15. We do that and we do our best to not send them more than is required because of our needs as a state with both populous urban areas and a vital agriculture industry based in rural Colorado.

    The compact also says that Colorado has full and uninterrupted use and benefit of the water in the river the rest of the time… except…

    The exception is that 99 years ago there was a potential ditch near Ovid that Nebraska wanted to try to use for additional irrigation but abandoned and they referenced that ditch and future construction in the compact. They can complete that ditch anytime but in order to do so, Nebraska would have to buy land in Colorado, or try to use eminent domain and just take it. Rest assured, that won’t go any better for the Big Red Bureaucrats riding in to Colorado than it would in western Nebraska with any of their own land owners.

    Governor Ricketts claims that our plans in Colorado could reduce water flows into his state by as much as 90%. Give me a break. I don’t know where his advisors learned their math but perhaps their schools teach that your answer is never wrong if you feel good about it.

    On average over the last couple of decades, Colorado has allowed around 350,000 acre feet annually to leave our state over and above the requirements of the compact. Water that could be used in Colorado by Coloradans.

    The consequences of this is that after all the court battles and millions spent on attorneys, if – and it is a big if – Nebraska would win, augmentation would be called out of priority. In other words, much of the farm ground along our South Platte River in Logan and Sedgwick counties would dry up. It would also destroy what Colorado accomplishes to meet our requirements for Endangered Species Protections.

    So what is the answer?

    We finally have an issue in which all of Colorado can unite behind. Governor Polis in his State of the State address this year vowed to fight Nebraska over their claims. The way we do this is water storage.

    The compact says that before Nebraska can take a drop of additional water, all of the water rights have to be satisfied upstream of basically the Prewitt Reservoir which means that if we build a reservoir in Morgan County, we could fill it before downstream uses and then utilize agreements and exchanges to allow our current augmentation to continue.

    That same compact also gives Colorado the first 35,000 acre feet of water that passes the gauging station near the Prewitt Reservoir so let’s build a 35,000 acre feet reservoir near the state line.

    It is interesting that if Nebraska builds this ditch and diverts water in the winter months, where will they go with it and what will they use it for. They attached a $100 million price tag for the entire project which doesn’t get them much in a consistent source of water.

    Screen shot of the site of the Narrows Dam which was proposed to be built on this Weldon Valley land located one-half mile below the Narrows Bridge. (Fort Morgan Times photo)

    I have a better idea. We in Colorado will work with Nebraska and partner in the cost of storage along the South Platte so both of us can benefit from a consistent source of water. The average 350,000 acre feet that we lose to Nebraska each year could be stored in Colorado and we can use a large portion of that to relieve the pressures from our urban cousins to dry up farm ground so they can water their lawns.

    No matter what the outcome of their bizarre claim, we would be well advised to unite as Colorado residents and build that water storage with or without Nebraska’s help so that Denver, our wildlife that depends on the river and the farmers and ranchers that feed the world, have access to all the water we are entitled to use.

    Jerry Sonnenberg represents Senate District 1 in the Colorado Senate.

    Dropping reservoirs create ‘green light’ for #sustainability on #ColoradoRiver: Lower-basin 500+ Plan fits in window of opportunity — @AspenJournalism

    This photo from December 2021 shows the famous “bathtub ring” at Lake Mead due to declining water levels. The lower basin states are planning to save water in the reservoir through the 500 + Plan.
    CREDIT: HEATHER SACKETT/ASPEN JOURNALISM

    From Aspen Journalism (Heather Sackett):

    Some Colorado River scholars say that a plan by the lower-basin states to leave more water in Lake Mead embodies a principle they explore in a recently published article: Dropping reservoir levels have opened a window of opportunity for water-management policies that move the river system toward sustainability.

    In December, water managers from California, Nevada and Arizona signed a memorandum of understanding, or MOU, to spend up to $200 million to add 500,000 acre-feet of water in both 2022 and 2023 to Lake Mead, the nation’s largest reservoir, which has dropped precipitously low due to climate change and drought.

    Water managers developed the program, known as the 500+ Plan, in just four months — lightning speed for something that requires the cooperation among — and millions of dollars from — each participant.

    Water experts say part of the reason the plan came together so quickly is because it got a push from last year’s record-bad conditions. Water managers have watched reservoir levels in lakes Powell and Mead slowly dwindle for the past two decades, but 2021 was a wake-up call for many. A near-normal snowpack translated to just 31% of normal runoff, which was the second-worst inflow into Lake Powell ever.

    “We had no idea how bad 2021 hydrology would be,” said Bill Hasencamp, manager of Colorado River resources for the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California. “We knew it was a dry year, but when it turned out to be 31%, it was an eye-opener.”

    It wasn’t until June that water managers realized how bad the situation was, and talks about the 500+ Plan began in August, Hasencamp said. That quick turn-around tracks with the findings of a new article by John Fleck, a writer-in-residence at the Utton Center at the University of New Mexico, and Anne Castle, senior fellow at the Getches-Wilkinson Center at the University of Colorado. Their paper, “Green Light for Adaptive Policies on the Colorado River,” was published in December.

    The paper says that frenzied media attention, dramatically dropping reservoirs to their lowest levels ever and the first-ever shortage declaration by federal water managers created an opening for the political will necessary for an innovative solution. Rapidly dropping reservoirs create a “green light” scenario for river management where conditions shift from a situation to be monitored to a problem that needs to be solved.

    “That visceral experience we have with low reservoirs and seeing the snowpack not end up in them last year is part of what’s created this moment of opportunity,” Fleck said. “When we look at those reservoirs — which have been our safety for a long time, they have been our security blanket — and they’re gone, you see political leadership lurching to the issue.”

    Click the image to go to the interactive Tableau version on Aspen Journalism’s website.

    500+ Plan builds on previous work

    But since political will can be fickle and fleeting, it’s important that policy solutions — usually the product of years of careful crafting — are ready to be implemented quickly when the timing is right and the “green light” window of opportunity opens. Although formal discussions about the 500+ Plan were only four months long, much of the groundwork had been laid over previous years.

    “We know the technocrats behind the scenes, the people working at NGOs and government offices, they are thinking about this stuff and producing policy before we need it so they can attach it onto a problem when a problem arises,” said Elizabeth Koebele, a researcher at the University of Nevada and who studies how government policies get made collaboratively.

    The lower basin is taking action after modeling showed that Lake Mead’s surface elevation could drop below 1,030 feet, which is a critical threshold identified in the 2019 Drought Contingency Plan. The reservoir is currently at 1,066 feet elevation.

    The basic way the program will work is by municipal water providers paying irrigators to not use water so it can be stored in Lake Mead. It will be funded by $40 million from the Arizona Department of Water Resources; $20 million each from the Central Arizona Project, Metropolitan Water District of Southern California and Southern Nevada Water Authority; and $100 million in matching funds from the federal government.

    The 500+ Plan is resonant of the System Conservation Pilot Program, which ran from 2015 to 2018 and paid upper-basin farmers and ranchers to voluntarily fallow fields in order to boost levels in Lake Powell.

    “These were ideas they didn’t have to make up from scratch,” Fleck said. “I was amazed at the speed with which (the 500+ Plan) came together. It was very impressive because it built on work that had been going on behind the scenes for a long time.”

    This photo from December 2021 shows one of the intake towers at Hoover Dam. California, Nevada and Arizona recently penned a deal to keep 500,000 acre-feet of water in Lake Mead to boost the declining reservoir levels.
    CREDIT: HEATHER SACKETT/ASPEN JOURNALISM

    Upper-basin lessons?

    Rebecca Mitchell, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board and Colorado’s representative to the Upper Colorado River Commission, said in an email that she generally supports the lower basin’s efforts to take less water out of Lake Mead.

    She pointed out challenges with shortages and water saving in the upper basin: Water users don’t have large reservoirs on which to rely the way that the lower basin does. Emergency releases from upper basin reservoirs last summer and fall to prop up Lake Powell and preserve the ability to make hydropower have harmed local businesses and left the reservoirs low, she said.

    “Given the drastic shortages already occurring in the upper basin, coupled with these emergency releases, it is unclear how much more Colorado can provide,” Mitchell said.

    Mitchell said that the upper basin states only use about half of what they are entitled to under the Colorado River Compact and that the lower basin states use far more than their share.

    But with climate change continuing to rob the river of flows, the amount of water promised to each basin in the century-old agreement may no longer exist. Fleck said the other reason why the lower basin was able to come up with the 500+ Plan seemingly quickly is because water managers there have been having difficult conversations for years that acknowledge the river’s hugely diminished flows — something upper basin water managers still seem averse to.

    “(The upper basin states) have to have those difficult conversations with water users who don’t want to hear it, but they might not get what the compact promised,” he said. “Those are conversations we just need to be having in the upper basin right now, and we are not having them.”

    Aspen Journalism covers water and rivers in collaboration with The Aspen Times.

    Lees Ferry streamgage and cableway downstream on the Colorado River, Arizona. (Public domain.)

    #Nebraska governor’s $500M #water plan in #Colorado puzzles politicians, experts in both states: Even if Nebraska builds a new canal in northeast Colorado, its payoff remains unclear — The #Denver Post

    The upper South Platte River, above the confluence with the North Fork of the South Platte. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    From The Denver Post (Conrad Swanson):

    The 99-year-old South Platte River compact between the two states does outline plans for such a project, according to Anthony Schutz, an associate law professor at the University of Nebraska Lincoln. But the project was started and abandoned decades ago and the question of starting it up again might have to be decided in a costly and lengthy court battle.

    Even if the canal is built, it’s unclear how much extra water it would yield to Nebraska or for what it could be used, Schutz said…

    [State] Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, said the Nebraska governor must be mistaken. That list of projects comes from a report generated by legislation Sonnenberg helped pass in 2016, the senator said. And it outlines possible water projects around the state, not work that is actively being proposed…

    Colorado Gov. Jared Polis said in a statement, Ricketts’ plans “seem to reflect a misunderstanding of Colorado’s locally driven water planning process.”

    Officials in Colorado will look to more fully understand Nebraska’s “concerns and goals, as so far those concerns and goals are quite simply hard to make sense of,” Polis continued…

    Sonnenberg said that likely means the two states will end up in court to determine whether Nebraska can use eminent domain to build the canal or whether it can take more water out of the South Platte if it’s built…

    Currently, Colorado is meeting all its water obligations to Nebraska, said state Engineer Kevin Rein. During the irrigation season, April 1 to Oct. 15, the South Platte must flow at 120 cubic feet per second into Nebraska. That flow is measured at a water gate in Julesburg, just south of the Colorado border, Rein said.

    Should flows dry below that threshold, Colorado officials must curtail water use in certain areas for water rights holders whose rights were established after 1897, Rein said. But Colorado has no additional obligation to increase flows.

    During the non-irrigation season, there is no such requirement for Colorado and its officials believe the state has uninterrupted water rights for the South Platte, Rein said.

    There is no set volume Colorado must allow to flow into Nebraska every year, Rein said.

    #Colorado Governor Polis is warning he will “protect and aggressively assert” his state’s #water rights after #Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts announced a plan to spend $500 million on a canal and reservoir project — CBS #Denver #SouthPlatteRiver

    The Platte River is formed in western Nebraska east of the city of North Platte, Nebraska by the confluence of the North Platte and the South Platte Rivers, which both arise from snowmelt in the eastern Rockies east of the Continental Divide. Map via Wikimedia.

    From the CBS Denver Youtube channel:

    Colorado’s governor is warning he will “protect and aggressively assert” his state’s water rights after Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts announced a plan to spend $500 million on a canal and reservoir project.

    From Omaha World-Herald (Nancy Gaarder) via The Lincoln Journal-Star:

    Colorado Gov. Jared Polis said Wednesday that his state would work to protect its water rights in light of Nebraska’s proposal to build a canal in his state to pull water from the South Platte River.

    In a statement, Polis said Colorado would “protect and aggressively assert Colorado’s rights under all existing water compacts.”

    […]

    Ricketts said the canal is needed because Colorado is planning “nearly 300 projects and over $10 billion of expenditures to ensure no ‘excess’ water leaves its state.”

    If those proposals are carried out, Ricketts estimates, there would be a 90% reduction in flows coming into Nebraska.

    Polis said Ricketts’ comments reflect a “misunderstanding of Colorado’s locally driven water planning projects.”

    […]

    Polis said Colorado has used roundtable discussions to generate grassroots ideas for solutions to Colorado’s water needs. These brainstorming ideas “should not be taken as formally approved projects.”

    […]

    Colorado, he said, has complied with the South Platte Compact for its 99 years and continues to respect the agreement. “We hope that our partners in Nebraska will show they share that respect.”

    In response, Ricketts issued a statement saying he “welcomes future conversations with Gov. Polis as we move forward to secure Nebraska’s access to water.”

    Any project involving U.S. waterways typically faces rigorous scrutiny. Polis said any project by Nebraska in Colorado would have to comply with the compact, private property rights, state and federal laws and regulations, including environmental ones.

    Archuleta County Board of County Comissioners grants river enhancement funds The #Pagosa Springs Sun #SanJuanRiver

    Yamaguchi South Planning Project site layout via the City of Pagosa Springs.

    From The Pagosa Springs Sun (Clayton Chaney):

    On Dec. 21, 2021, the Archuleta County Board of County Commissioners (BoCC) committed $10,000 through a letter of commitment to be used as part of the cash match for the Town of Pagosa Springs and the Upper San Juan Watershed Enhancement Partnership’s ( WEP) grant application for the south Yamaguchi Park project.

    The funds will be taken from the county’s Conservation Trust Fund, which can only be used for outdoor recreation purposes.

    The grant being applied for will be dispersed by the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) next March.

    WEP representative Al Pfister first approached the BoCC in regard to the matching fund request on Dec. 7, 2021.

    Pfister previously explained that the total cost of the project is just over $664,000, with more than $500,000 coming from the grant.

    The WEP needs a 25 percent cash match, or just over $166,000, to be awarded the grant. Six other entities have been asked to com-mit funds including the Town of Pagosa Springs, San Juan Water Conservancy District, Trout Unlimited, Friends of the Upper San Juan, The Nature Conservancy and Weminuche Audubon.

    County Attorney Todd Weaver noted that “it’s a community col- laborative effort.”

    The letter of commitment sent to the CWCB reads, “This project is part of the Upper San Juan Basin Integrated Water Management Plan and would create various new and/or improved river access points and channel features for the San Juan River, thereby enhancing recreation options at various river flows, reducing access conflicts, create diverse aquatic habitat to support fisheries, and develop a more resilient river facing changing hydrology and temperatures in the future.”

    Commissioner Warren Brown mentioned he felt it was a “worthwhile” project to support, noting it will likely have a positive impact on tourism in the community.

    Commissioner Ronnie Maez mentioned the project will be a “huge improvement.”

    Commissioner Alvin Schaaf noted it will serve as a benefit “to all of the community.”

    The letter of commitment of funds was approved unanimously.

    Archuleta County Board of County Commissioners consider funding request for south Yamaguchi Park — The #PagosaSprings Sun #SanJuanRiver

    Yamaguchi South Planning Project site layout via the City of Pagosa Springs.

    From The Pagosa Springs Sun (Clayton Chaney):

    During a work session held by the Archuleta County Board of County Commissioners (BoCC) on Dec. 7, the board heard from Al Pfister with the Upper San Juan Watershed Enhancement Program (WEP) in regard to a matching fund request for the south Yamaguchi Park project.

    The WEP is requesting $10,000 in matching funds. The funds would come from the county’s Conserva- tion Trust Fund (CTF), which can only be used for outdoor recreation purposes.

    The total cost of the project is estimated at just over $664,000, with more than $500,000 coming from the grant.

    The WEP needs a 25 percent cash match, or just over $166,000 to be awarded the grant.

    Pfister explained the WEP is a stakeholder group that was formed to develop a stream management plan for the upper San Juan River basin…

    He explained the WEP is working under the Colorado Water Plan and the Southwest Basin Roundtable Implementation Plan (SWBIP), “which sets the framework for how water issues are going to be addressed throughout the state.”

    He mentioned that, currently, the SWBIP is being revised and should be coming out for public comment in January 2022.

    As part of that plan, the WEP is applying for a matching grant from the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB), Pfister noted…

    He explained that the project objectives are to enhance the recreational experience for both anglers and river enthusiasts, improve pub- lic access to recreational features, improve fish habitat quality and pro- mote sediment movement through this section of the San Juan River.

    “Everybody in the county is going to see some benefit from it, even if they don’t get in the river,” Commissioner Alvin Schaaf said.

    During a work session held by the BoCC on Dec. 14, County Attorney/ Interim Administrator Todd Weaver indicated that the county does have sufficient funds in its CTF to commit $10,000 to the WEP out of the 2021 budget.

    He noted the BoCC will likely vote on the matter at its next regular meeting scheduled for 1:30 p.m. on Dec. 21at 398 Lewis St., in the commissioners’ room.

    @CWCB_DNR: Forest Health White Paper Finalized

    From the Colorado Water Conservation Board:

    Forest health is an important driver of overall watershed health and is a focus area in the Colorado Water Plan. A recent “Forest Health Study: 10 Takeaways to Inform the Colorado Water Plan” was completed by the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) to evaluate relevant forest health research, identify active workgroups focused on watershed and forest health, and assess modeling and analysis tools for critical decision making. The study was based off interviews with 30 subject matter experts on forest and watershed health and it identifies ten major takeaways that emerged from the research and interviews conducted in the study.

    This effort will inform statewide dialogue around challenges and opportunities in forest health. This document can guide stakeholders in their local forest health and/or watershed health enhancement efforts and will be used to inform the Colorado Water Plan update.

    First Update of #RioGrande Basin Implementation Plan Nears Completion — #Alamosa Citizen

    Rio Grande Pyramid

    From the Rio Grande Basin Roundtable via The Alamosa Citizen (Chris Lopez):

    THE 2015 Colorado Water Plan (CWP) was developed in response to Gov. John Hickenlooper’s 2013 Executive Order and is focused on strategies to address the state’s growing water demands. Alongside the CWP, eight Basin Implementation Plans (BIPs) were also developed in 2015 by the state’s basin roundtables to identify short- and long-term objectives and projects that are critical to meeting each basin’s current and future water challenges.

    The original 2015 Rio Grande BIP, developed by the Rio Grande Basin Roundtable (Roundtable), identified several goals aimed at addressing the basin’s major water challenges. Another key focus of the 2015 BIP was identification of projects that would help meet the basin’s water needs and have multiple benefits for water users and the environment.

    As conditions change from year to year, updates to the BIP are important. In 2019, the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) worked with the state’s basin roundtables to initiate the first update to the original BIPs. and the roundtables are currently in the final stages of completing this update. The Rio Grande Basin Roundtable selected a local nonprofit watershed group, the Rio Grande Headwaters Restoration Project (RGHRP) to facilitate the BIP Update process. Led by the RGHRP, the Roundtable formed BIP Update subcommittees, made up of diverse local stakeholders, from local, state, and federal agencies to nonprofits, landowners, and community members. The subcommittees were tasked with developing strategies to meet the basin’s water needs, from agricultural and municipal/industrial water use to water administration and water resources education.

    The updated Rio Grande BIP features project accomplishments since 2015, new data and analyses related to the basin’s current and future water use, projects and strategies to meet the basin’s water needs, and updated basin goals. Since the publication of the 2015 BIP, a variety of projects have been completed, many of which were funded in part by the Roundtable. During the BIP update process, more accurate agricultural and municipal water use data and well defined environmental and recreational attributes allowed the Roundtable to identify strategies to meet these water needs. Finally, the updated goals center around healthy watersheds and sustainable surface and groundwater that supports the basin’s communities.

    CWCB and the Roundtable are seeking feedback on the draft BIP Update, which is currently available on the website: http://engagecwcb.org This public comment period will remain open through Nov. 15.

    @CSUSpur water symposium shares scaleable solutions — @ColoradoStateU

    Screenshot from the Water in the West Symposium November 3, 2021.

    Here’s the release from Colorado State University (Tiana Kennedy):

    One key takeaway: The situation around water is dire – more dire than it has ever been before.

    Yet, as the Fourth Annual CSU Spur Water in the West Symposium convened experts from across the country on Wednesday, the focus was on learning from one another’s successes and finding solutions at-scale to water issues.

    “As in past years, the Symposium will touch on the challenges that face us in water, but we won’t dwell there – instead we’ll spend most of our time on the solutions to these challenges. This year we have the opportunity to link these solutions to one another in specific ways – across scales at which these solutions have been applied to-date,” said Dr. Tony Frank, Chancellor of the CSU System. “Our hope is that today you will listen with an ear toward features of water solutions that you might be able to apply at the scale at which you work.”

    The Water in the West Symposium was launched in 2018 as an early offering of the CSU Spur campus, set to open its first public-facing building in Denver this January. The Symposium is an example of the kinds of convenings and conversations that will happen at the CSU Spur campus.

    The 2021 Symposium, hosted virtually, began with CSU Native American Cultural Center Director Ty Smith sharing the CSU land acknowledgement, recognizing that the lands of the university’s founding came at a dire cost to Native Nations, and sharing a commitment toward education and inclusion.

    Rancher Bryan Bernal irrigates a field that depends on Colorado River water near Loma, Colo. Credit: William Woody

    Water is a common thread

    Water connects all things, all people, all lands. It’s at the heart of basic human needs of water, food, habitability, equity … and there is much work to be done.

    Keynote speaker Tanya Trujillo, assistant secretary for Water and Science for the U.S. Department of the Interior, noted that nearly 90% of the West is experiencing some level of drought conditions – with Lake Mead and Lake Powell making recent headlines for being at all-time lows – and that water issues require collaborative solutions and solutions that have a “solid foundation in science.”

    Water solutions also require ongoing optimism, perseverance, patience, and a focus on relationship building – “we’re looking for win-wins and patience,” she said.

    “We have seen over the past 20 years great examples of being able to work among constituencies in individual states and to determine solutions to conflicts from an interstate perspective,” Trujillo said.

    “The Colorado River Basin is one where we have been able to bring diametrically opposed perspectives together.”

    The difference between the terms equality equity and liberation illustrated. Credit: Shrehan Lynch https://www.researchgate.net/publication/340777978_The_A-Z_of_Social_Justice_Physical_Education_Part_1

    Water in Climate & Equity

    Climate challenges and equity often go hand-in-hand, and Symposium panelists reiterated that water is no different.

    Adel Hagekhalil, general manager of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, outlined the efforts of Metropolitan and noted the focus on sustainability and climate resiliency and efforts to build the plans into a holistic One Water infrastructure. Water recycling is the future, he noted – showcasing that they are building one of the largest water recycling programs in the nation – recycling, reusing, and returning water to the ground – which will create 150 million gallons of recycled water a day, equivalent to water for 500,000 households. It’s a regional solution that California, Southern Nevada, and Arizona are collaborating on, and the federal government is helping to fund.

    Metropolitan covers 5,200 square miles and six counties, which include diverse and underserved communities.

    “I believe strongly that we need to do something that can help everyone. And to me the future is One Water — One Water is a holistic solution, a solution that brings everyone together,” Hagekhalil said.

    Andrew Lee, acting general manager, Seattle Public Utilities, reiterated that point.

    “Community centered, One Water, zero waste, that’s the heart of our statement. We believe that water and wastewater services are a platform for greater social good,” Lee said, acknowledging that equity work is a constant learning process of empowering voices, listening to people, and finding places where underrepresented communities have power to make decisions that impact them.

    “Equity is at the heart of all of it,” he continued.

    Water, while seemingly accessible to all, is actually an area where equity is a large issue.

    Native American homes are 19 times more likely than white homes to lack indoor plumbing; Black and Latinx homes are twice as likely to not have drinking water, said Bidtah Becker, associate attorney of the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority. She noted that there have been some successes when it comes to Tribal water but shared that she has unprecedented hope for the future.

    In addition to subsidizing residential water usage, the biggest outcomes can come through policy changes, John Entsminger, general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority, noted. He said that Nevada expects its gallons per capita/day to increase by nine gallons, simply due to the increasing temperatures.

    “We’ve added over 800,000 new residences to Southern Nevada, using 23% less water in that same timeframe— and we’re not done yet,” he said. “In the next five years, the Nevada Legislative Assembly Bill 356 will prohibit the use of Colorado River water for watering nonfunctional turf.”

    Jennifer Pitt, Colorado River program director of the National Audubon Society, showed a photo of the dried-up Colorado River Delta.

    “Not everyone fully appreciates that the Colorado River trickles to its end in the sand between the U.S. and Mexico,” Pitt said. “It’s the beginning of the end of the Colorado River’s Delta.”

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

    The Colorado Water Plan brings a shared vision to water and water in Colorado, which is designed to be a living document that will seek input on its next version in June 2022.

    “We did imagine that the future would look different than the past,” said Director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board Becky Mitchell. “Colorado has to come together to solve its challenges.”

    “These are challenging times,” Mitchell said. “[For instance] we also want to avoid the risk of curtailment in the upper Basin, because if there is a curtailment situation on the Colorado River, every Coloradan will be affected whether they know it or not. That would have a heavy impact economically, socioeconomically.”

    While the issues are clear and vast, panelists – whether from national, regional, state, or local interests – reiterated the importance of innovating on the path toward increasingly smarter and more sustainable solutions, and of working together and using learnings from each other to scale these solutions.

    “By putting more than just the usual suspects … by including other stakeholders at the table, the solution sets grew because we had more to talk about,” Pitt said. “Adaptation in this Basin, creating climate resilience, is going to take a generational investment, no question about it.”

    Share your project ideas for San Juan, Blanco, Navajo watersheds — The #PagosaSprings Sun #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    San Juan River Basin. Graphic credit Wikipedia.

    From The Pagosa Springs Sun (Al Pfister):

    The Upper San Juan Watershed Enhancement Partnership (WEP) has been working under the Colorado Water Plan to develop a stream management plan (now referred to as an integrated watershed management plan) for the Upper San Juan, Blanco and Navajo River watersheds.

    The past three years of efforts have emphasized identifying the environmental, recreational and agricultural infrastructure needs of these three watersheds and what enhancements in the watersheds might be made. This has been accomplished via field data gathering, interviews and surveys with different user groups, stakeholders and landowners, under the guidance of a steering committee representative of the agricultural, environmental, municipal and recreational water interests of the community.

    In June, the WEP initiated its third and final phase of a planning process to develop a local water plan that includes project opportunities that support river health and our community’s ability to rely on rivers for multiple uses, now and in the future.

    For example, several projects have already been identified by or shared with WEP with the potential to enhance the efficiency of irrigation infrastructure, recreational opportunities and improve the health of the rivers.

    We hope these will just be the start of many project ideas com- munity members can consider and add their own ideas for projects or actions to develop a shared list of on-the-ground opportunities to support the agricultural, environ- mental, municipal and recreational water use needs in the San Juan, Blanco and Navajo watersheds.

    The WEP hopes to offer multiple options for community members and visitors to participate and in- form this water planning process.
    First, we hope you will join our next public meeting on Dec. 8 from
    5:30 to 7:30 p.m. (virtual or in-per- son to be determined depending on COVID-19 guidelines).

    Second, you can take one or all three of the WEP’s watershed sur- veys (upper San Juan, Blanco and Navajo) to share your opinions and project ideas, including options to mark on maps specific areas or locations you are concerned about or want to suggest an improvement project idea.

    Third, you can sign up as an individual or small group to discuss your water-related values, concerns or project ideas with members of the WEP.

    Details on how to join our Dec. 8 public meeting, links to watershed surveys and to the project discussion sign-up sheet can all be found at: http://www.mountainstudies.org/sanjuan/smp.

    If you would like to learn more about the WEP and the planning process, visit http://www.mountainstudies.org/sanjuan/smp and contact Al Pfister (westernwildscapes@ gmail.com) or Mandy Eskelson (mandy@mountainstudies.org).

    Your Voice Matters for #Colorado’s Rivers: Engage in the #COWaterPlan Update Process — @water4colorado

    From Water for Colorado:

    During the development of the Colorado Water Plan six years ago, Water for Colorado came together to help ensure Coloradans’ voices were heard in the creation of the plan. In the end, 30,000 public comments were submitted to the Colorado Water Conservation Board, making it one of the largest and most celebrated examples of civic engagement in state history.

    It’s time to once again ensure Coloradans’ voices are heard as the Colorado Water Plan undergoes an update. As you may have read about in last week’s blog post, the state’s nine Basin Implementation Plans (BIPs) that inform the Water Plan are in the process of being updated, and it’s time for us all to get involved to ensure the long term health of our water and rivers. The month-long public comment period on BIP drafts has opened and runs through November 13, allowing residents to provide input on what they want to see in their community’s plan.

    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

    Basin Implementation Plans aren’t just important to the local basins and watersheds; they help build the scaffolding of the Colorado Water Plan overall. Crucially, the BIP public comment period is the first opportunity to engage community members, decision-makers, and all water stakeholders (that means you!) – especially those who may have been left out in years past – to ensure their voices are being heard.

    Meaningfully commenting on your local plan can be as simple as asking your Basin Roundtable representatives to prioritize and protect local river flows and ensure opportunities for river enjoyment and recreation by all. To help you do this, Water for Colorado is collecting comments, which will then be submitted on your behalf to your local Basin Roundtable once the public comment period ends on Nov. 13.

    If you want to get involved but are unsure of what to say or how to comment, we’ve used the expertise of our nine organizations to compile a few key recommendations that encompass what we believe is necessary for ensuring healthy and thriving rivers and watersheds as we face unprecedented climate change.

    WATER FOR COLORADO’S KEY RECOMMENDATIONS:
    HEALTHY FLOWING RIVERS:

    Manage rivers to benefit healthy flows for all communities, recreation, and fish and wildlife across the state by encouraging flexible, collaborative water-sharing and conservation programs to enhance environmental and recreational flows.

    RESILIENT WATERSHEDS:

    Actively manage our watersheds‘ forests, streams, and wetlands, the source of our clean drinking water, to improve their resilience to drought and fires by incorporating nature-based solutions that protect, sustainably manage and restore headwater streams, riparian corridors, and wetlands. This includes scaling up projects that utilize natural process based restoration methods (e.g. beaver mimicry structures and other natural approaches) that result in beneficial ecological and hydrological processes to ensure communities and habitats are more resilient to a changing climate.

    EQUITY:

    Water is one of the few things that truly connects us all, so we must support clean water and healthy river access for everyone by ensuring ongoing opportunities for public outreach and engagement to ensure diverse, inclusive, and equitable engagement on basin-level water planning efforts.

    SUPPORT IRRIGATED AGRICULTURE:

    Support our local food, local families, and wildlife through water-smart agriculture practices such as upgrading agricultural infrastructure to provide multiple environmental and recreational benefits, promoting soil health, and developing markets for lower water use crops.

    WATER CONSERVATION AND EFFICIENCY:

    Support water-smart planning for our new growth (including limits to areas of non-essential turf grass) and increase water reuse and recycling. Reduce current legal and financial barriers to the adoption of water conservation and efficiency programs and practices.

    SUSTAINABLE FUNDING:

    Encourage basin funding prioritization of multi-benefit projects enhancing river and watershed health, which includes support for the development of regional funding programming (ex: 2020 7A ballot measures) and the efficient implementation of all state and federal funds.

    Now that you have a deeper sense of the types of updates that would benefit not only the local plans, but eventually the statewide Water Plan update for the sake of our rivers and communities at large, visit our action alert and take just a few moments to make your voice heard!

    #Water #conservation the goal with grant program: Several landowners near approval — The #Telluride Daily Planet #SanMiguelRiver #DoloresRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Crop residue. Photo credit: Joel Schneekloth

    From The Telluride Daily Planet (Suzanne Cheavens):

    Few in the American West have been spared the effects of the region’s long-standing drought, but on the frontlines of the sere conditions are those who work most closely with the land — farmers, ranchers and other agricultural producers. San Miguel County created a program, Payment for Ecosystem Services (PES) that compensates landowners for implementing practices in “drought resilience and other soil health improvement projects,” according to the county’s Parks and Open Spaces page n the county website. The Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) got an update from the department’s director, Janet Kask, and contractor Chris Hazen, on their efforts to enlist landowners in the forward-thinking program.

    The county was awarded a grant from the Colorado Water Conservation Board to enhance the PES program, Kask explained…

    The pilot program is seeking six partners and is currently in earnest talks with several interested landowners. Hazen, an independent contractor with The Terra Firm, is spearheading the administration of the CWCB grant in order to “continue with our soil health initiative,” Kask said…

    While talks with landowners are ongoing, Kask and Hazen reported there have been delays.

    “We’re disappointed that we haven’t had the landowner commitments that we initially set out to have,” Kask told the commissioners Wednesday. “We were looking at a total of six this year, but just based on active conversations Chris has had with certain landowners, some of them are on hold and hesitant to join and we do have somebody who’s almost ready to go, but waiting for their USDA number. There are some criteria that the landowners need to meet and adhere to on our end.”

    Norwood farmers Tony and Barclay Daranyi of Indian Ridge Farm are closest to qualifying as of Wednesday. Other participants close to being green-lighted are the owners of Laid Back Ranch and of Lizard Head Wilderness Ranch, Hazen said…

    Some of the practices the county is looking for in property being proposed for participation includes cover crops, intensive till to no-till or strip till, improved fertilizer management, conservation cover /cropland conversion, forage and biomass planting/convert cropland to grass/legume/biomass, convert cropland to permanent grass/legume cover, windbreaks, nutrient management, and other practices as called out by the Natural Resource Conservation Service…

    Some hiccups in meeting the goal of six participants include delays in submitting a USDA number, mapping challenges, the pandemic and other delays.

    The CWCB grant totals $34,646, with the county matching at $34,646 for a total of $69,293.

    For more information, contact Hazen at The Terra Firm 970-708-1221, with questions or to schedule a meeting to identify partnership opportunities.

    Nine #Colorado basin roundtables submit $20.3B in #water project lists, ask for public’s input — @WaterEdCO

    River rafters, fishermen and SUP users float on the Gunnison River on June 20, 2021. Credit: Dean Krakel

    From Water Education Colorado (Jerd Smith):

    Colorado communities from Greeley to Durango have identified $20.3 billion in water projects that will help ensure residents have adequate water, that agricultural supplies are protected, and that rivers and streams can continue to support fish and wildlife as population growth, chronic drought and climate change threaten future water supplies.

    According to the 2015 Colorado Water Plan, the state faces a gap between expected demand and existing water supply of as much as 560,000 acre-feet per year for cities and industry by 2050.

    Colorado is home to eight major river basins, each of which is governed by a public roundtable. A ninth basin roundtable represents the Denver metro area.

    These entities are charged with evaluating each region’s water needs and projects that would help meet those needs. Funding for those projects will likely come from several sources including local governments and water utilities, and state and federal funding.

    Known as basin implementation plans (BIPs), the working documents summarizing those projects and needs were submitted to the state earlier this month and are open for public comment through Nov. 15. These plans are updated versions of the originals that were initially developed by the roundtables in 2015 to inform the Colorado Water Plan.

    Since 2015, the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB), which is responsible for implementing the water plan, has spent some $500 million in grants and loans helping fund water projects across the state, according to Russ Sands, head of water supply planning at the CWCB.

    The plans are a key part of Colorado’s larger statewide effort to ensure it has adequate water supplies. The Colorado Water Plan is the primary document that guides state water policy and it relies on the planning efforts of the local roundtables.

    “The basin roundtables represent a grassroots initiative that allow access to state planning,” Sands said.

    The South Platte and Metro basin roundtables, which submitted a combined plan, have the most costly project list at $9.8 billion. This figure includes costs of projects that are planned, currently being implemented, or recently completed.

    The South Platte Basin is home to the largest population centers and covers metro Denver, Fort Collins, Boulder, Greeley and Sterling, among dozens of other communities.

    The next largest project list comes from the Colorado River Basin on the West Slope. It has identified $4.1 billion in water projects that will help it ensure its residents’ future needs are addressed.

    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

    The roundtables, made up of water professionals, citizens and local elected representatives, receive funding to operate from the CWCB. They also help fund projects each deem important to meeting a local need, whether it is improving an irrigation company’s diversion structure, building a new reservoir, funding a stream restoration project, or building a new kayak park.

    The plans are “important because the process was to identify gaps in what a basin needs for irrigated agriculture, municipal and industrial, and environmental and recreational needs,” said Jason Turner, who chairs the Colorado River Basin Roundtable. “We have a robust mix of all sorts of projects and it allows people who, say, live on the Roaring Fork [a tributary] to understand some of the bigger Colorado River issues as well.”

    Barbara Biggs is chair of the Metro Roundtable. She said the project list for the combined South Platte and Metro roundtables represents one of the most detailed assessments of water needs on the Front Range.

    “Just creating the project database is a huge step in the right direction because it will allow us to track and measure our success,” she said.

    The basin plans are scheduled to be finalized at the end of January 2022 and will be incorporated into an update of the 2015 Colorado Water Plan next year.

    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.

    Opinion: The #ColoradoRiver #drought contingency plan is no longer a contingency — The #Colorado Sun #COriver #aridification #DCP

    From The Colorado Sun (Rebecca Mitchell):

    Seven states will negotiate access to what’s left in the river. My job is to represent all of Colorado’s interests.

    Photo: DNR Director Dan Gibbs, Gov. Polis, CWCB Director Rebecca Mitchell, Colorado River District General Manager Andy Mueller at Elkhead Reservoir. Photo credit: Colorado Water Conservation Board

    If you live in Colorado—you get it. We don’t quit when challenged. Whether you live in a city, on a farm or ranch, in a rural town, or somewhere in between—you are part of the dynamic group of people who call Colorado home; people who understand when it comes to protecting Colorado water, specifically the Colorado River’s water, we must rise together to meet the challenge.

    From its headwaters in the Rocky Mountains, the Colorado River flows broadly across 1,450 miles of the southwestern United States, changing elevation by a remarkable 10,000 feet. More than 40 million people rely on the Colorado, the nation’s fifth-longest river, for drinking water and energy through hydroelectric power. In addition, the river supports an estimated $25 billion recreational economy and an agricultural economy of about $1.4 trillion a year.

    About 100 years ago, the seven states in the Colorado River Basin created an agreement known as the 1922 Colorado River Compact and divided the seven states into two groups, the Upper Basin states (Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming), and the Lower Basin states (Arizona, California and Nevada). It was the beginning of these seven states acting cooperatively to take the lead in managing and allocating the Colorado River’s annual flow of water.

    Brad Udall: Here’s the latest version of my 4-Panel plot thru Water Year (Oct-Sep) of 2021 of the Colorado River big reservoirs, natural flows, precipitation, and temperature. Data (PRISM) goes back or 1906 (or 1935 for reservoirs.) This updates previous work with
    @GreatLakesPeck.

    Yet, in the early 1900s, it was impossible to foresee that in the 21st Century, the dwindling supply of water due to climatic forces, coupled with growing demand, would result in the present-day low water levels in our nation’s two largest reservoirs.

    Extensive drought that began over 20 years ago in 2000—and continues to this day—has been a major factor leading to Lake Powell, on the Utah-Arizona border, reaching its lowest level since being filled. Lake Mead, the nation’s largest reservoir on the Arizona-Nevada border, also is at its lowest level since filling.

    The state of the river is important to every Coloradan – all 6 million of us. It is critical to providing for the needs of current and future generations of Coloradans. More broadly, it is critical to the 40 million people who directly rely on the water of the Colorado River.

    That is why all seven states agree that working collaboratively is critical to solving our own river management issues through cooperative agreements like the 2019 Colorado River Drought Contingency Plan.

    Signing ceremony for the Colorado River upper and lower basin Drought Contingency Plans. Back Row Left to Right: James Eklund (CO), John D’Antonio (NM), Pat Tyrell (WY), Eric Melis (UT), Tom Buschatzke (AZ), Peter Nelson (CA), John Entsminger (NV), Front Row: Brenda Burman (US), and from DOI – Assistant Secretary of Water and Science Tim Petty. Photo credit: Colorado River Water Users Association

    The Colorado River Drought Contingency Plan provides that, should Lake Powell’s water levels fall too low, Upper Basin states would release more of the river’s water from other reservoirs, to be stored in Lake Powell as part of the Drought Response Operations Agreement in the Upper Colorado River Basin.

    The agreement has been activated and the states now are in planning mode.

    Demand management engagement pyramid. Graphic credit: The Colorado Water Conservation Board

    Another tool could involve an effective demand-management program, which provides compensation for water users, such as farmers and ranchers and municipalities, to voluntarily conserve water on a temporary basis — without the loss of their ongoing water rights — while allowing for more water to be stored in Lake Powell with greater downstream water flow.

    So, where do we stand? The seven Colorado River Basin States soon will be negotiating new interim guidelines for Lake Powell and Lake Mead to coordinate operations of both reservoirs.

    As Commissioner representing Colorado’s interest in these negotiations, I am charged with effectively representing and protecting the state’s water and the water users’ interests, while also working collaboratively with the other six states and the federal government. As a state, we will continue leading the effort in conjunction with all the Colorado River Basin states.

    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

    Throughout the process, I commit to hearing the voices of tribal nations, key stakeholders, non-governmental organizations, and our fellow Coloradans. To learn how to make your voice heard, visit EngageCWCB.org.

    As we continue to face the challenges of climate change, persistent drought, and growing populations, we cannot quit.

    Rebecca Mitchell, of Denver, is Colorado commissioner for the Upper Colorado River Commission.

    #LakePowell 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

    Sports Betting: A win for Colorado’s water — Water for #Colorado

    From Water for Colorado:

    When Coloradans voted to legalize sports betting in November 2019, they made Colorado’s water the winner.

    Colorado places a 10% tax on casinos’ sports-betting profits, which has already begun raising millions of dollars each year to protect and conserve our water resources, fund grant projects specified in the state’s water plan and ensure there’s enough water for everyone. In fact, in its first year, sports betting raised $6.6 million for water.

    Colorado’s rivers, lakes and streams face increasing pressures from population growth and climate change. We must invest to protect and conserve our water so Colorado remains a world-class place to live, work and recreate.

    Up to 93% of revenue from the tax on casinos will go to fund the implementation of Colorado’s Water Plan. Check out our Colorado Water Plan Grant Projects Map below to learn more about the type of projects these funds will benefit.

    So, you want to help Colorado’s rivers, lakes and streams? You bet!

    Click on the screenshot to go to the Water for Colorado website and view the interactive project map.

    #Colorado Basin Roundtable updates its list of approved projects for the next 5 years: Projects such as the Silverthorne Kayak Park, French Gulch mine drainage cleanup can access state funding more easily — The Summit Daily

    Looking West to the Tenmile Range (07/19/2021). Photo credit: Swan River Restoration Project Blog

    From The Summit Daily (Jenna deJong):

    When environmental projects garner support from the Colorado Basin Roundtable, it’s a sign to the Colorado Department of Natural Resources that they fall in line with the Colorado Water Plan, thus making it easier to obtain grants and other funding. There’s a caveat though: The roundtable only updates its list every five years. If projects want to be added to the list, they must appeal to their representative…

    The roundtable’s focus is on the Colorado River Basin, one of nine watersheds in the state and one of the largest, according to the roundtable’s website. The eight counties in the basin that have representatives sitting on the roundtable include Summit, Grand, Routt, Gunnison, Eagle, Pitkin, Garfield and Mesa.

    The roundtable completed its own implementation plan in 2015 that outlines specific goals of the Colorado River Basin. Projects must fall in line with both this and the state plan, in addition to one of the roundtable’s six focus areas:

  • Encourage a high level of basin-wide conservation
  • Protect and restore healthy streams, rivers, lakes and riparian areas
  • Assure dependable basin administration
  • Sustain agriculture
  • Develop local water-conscious and land-conscious strategies
  • Secure safe drinking water
  • “If your project is listed on the basin’s implementation plan, then you have a better probability of obtaining the funding,” [Peggy] Bailey said “…Through their vetting process, (the roundtable) looks at what it does for the basin and if it’s in alignment with the interests of the basin’s implementation plan. Then they will put it on this list and they will also write a letter of endorsement for the project. Then that makes it easier for the project proponents to obtain funding.”

    Projects are divided into different tiers. Projects in the first tier are ready to launch, supported by an entity and determined to be of importance to the roundtable. Projects in the second tier are nearly ready to move forward, but still need to be pursued. The third-tier projects have less data, don’t have a clear entity supporting them and need to be fleshed out. Projects in the fourth tier are supported, but need to be tweaked before moving forward.

    Projects in the first tier include the Swan River restoration project and the Blue Valley Ranch fishery restoration on the lower Blue River. These projects are already well underway and have organizations securing funding that are responsible for moving them along.

    Another project in the pipeline is the second phase of the Blue River integrated water management plan. Backed by the Blue River Watershed Group, this was one that Bailey said she helped push forward when the roundtable was updating its list. Formerly in the second tier, this project moved to the first as the group began collecting data over the summer…

    Other projects in the second tier include the Silverthorne Kayak Park, backed by the town of Silverthorne, and cleanup measures in the French Gulch mine drainage, which is backed by the town of Breckenridge and Summit County government.

    Bailey pointed out that all of these projects are meant to protect the natural beauty and splendor of not just of Summit County but the entire basin, and that much of the county’s way of living is highly dependent on this single resource.

    Basin Implementation Plans Now Available for Public Comment — The #Water Information Program

    Here’s the release from the Water Information Program:

    The updated Basin Implementation Plan (BIP) documents are out now for public comment through November 15, 2021. There’s no one better suited to inform local planning than people like you, who live, work, and recreate in the basins and understand the critical role that water and healthy rivers play in our economy, environment, and everyday lives.

    This represents a critically important opportunity to learn more, engage in local conversations, and help shape the content of these plans which inform how water is managed at a local level. The Public are invited to review the BIP’s and provide comments! Feedback will be delivered to each basin for consideration. Check out the BIPs at: https://engagecwcb.org/bip-public-comment-period

    It’s especially important to engage right now. The Basin Implementation Plans (BIPs) — locally driven documents identifying goals and actions in each of Colorado’s nine river basins — are undergoing updates and will help inform the update of the state’s Water Plan, due to be final in late 2022.

    Basin Implementation Plan: Basin Implementation Plans (BIPs) are developed in a collaborative process by basin roundtables to help frame regional issues as part of the overall creation of Colorado’s statewide water plan. While the Colorado Water Plan seeks to address statewide water concerns, BIPs are more focused on local needs, plans, projects, and goals that provide a pathway to success. The BIPs are developed by basin roundtable members with support from the community and ultimately help inform the statewide water plan as well as direct spending priorities for the Roundtables. The new BIPs advance the basin roundtables’ 2015 efforts.

    For the first time, a shorter and standardized Volume 1 BIP strategy document makes comparing BIPs easier.

    Basin Roundtable: The basin roundtables were developed by the Colorado Water Conservation Board in 2005 to “facilitate discussions on water management issues and encourage locally driven collaborative solutions” (CWCB Basin Roundtables). These roundtables are composed of local volunteer members who represent a variety of interests including basin agriculture, environment, and recreation. Each basin has its own bank account and funds local projects. Monthly meetings are open to the public, and are where funding and other strategic decisions are made. This means you, and others who care about water conservation can participate and help influence the decision making process. Better yet, you can join these meetings virtually from the comfort of your home.

    The first step toward responsibly managing water is working to ensure the public helps shape these plans.

    The Public Comment Period for the BIPs runs from October 13, 2021 – November 15, 2021.

    For more information: contact@swbasinroundtable.com

    Special Report: As #LakePowell hits record lows, is filling a new drought pool the answer? — @WaterEdCO #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    The Colorado River flows towards Horsethief Canyon west of Grand Junction, Colo. Credit: William Woody

    From Water Education Colorado (Jerd Smith):

    The 96-degree heat has barely broken early on a September evening near Fruita, Colo. As the sun prepares to set, the ailing Colorado River moves thick and quiet next to Interstate 70, crawling across the Utah state line as it prepares to deliver billions of gallons of water to Lake Powell, 320 miles south.

    This summer the river has been badly depleted—again—by a drought year whose spring runoff was so meager it left water managers here in Western Colorado stunned. As a result Lake Powell is just one-third full and its hydropower plants could cease operating as soon as July of 2022, according to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

    “We’re looking at a very serious situation from Denver all the way to California and the Sea of Cortez,” said Ken Neubecker, an environmental consultant who has been working on the river’s issues for some 30 years. “I’ve never seen it in a worse state.”

    The Colorado River Basin is made up of seven states. Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico comprise the upper basin and are responsible for keeping Lake Powell full.

    Arizona, California and Nevada comprise the lower basin and rely on Powell’s larger, downstream sister reservoir, Lake Mead, just outside Las Vegas, to store water for delivery to Las Vegas, Phoenix, Los Angeles and more than 1 million acres of farmland.

    These are two of the largest reservoirs in the United States. Few believed Mead, built in the 1930s, and Powell, built in the 1960s when the American West had just begun a 50-year growth spurt, would face a future where they were in seeming freefall. The two reservoirs were last full in 2000. Two years ago they dropped to 50% of capacity. Now they are operating at just over one-third their original 51 million-acre-foot combined capacity.

    First-ever drought accord

    Two years ago, this unprecedented megadrought prompted all seven states to agree, for the first time, to a dual drought contingency plan—one for the upper basin and one for the lower. In the lower basin, a specific set of water cutbacks, all tied to reservoir levels in Mead, were put in place. As levels falls, water cutbacks rise.

    Those cutbacks began this year in Arizona.

    But in the upper basin, though the states agreed to their own drought contingency plan, they still haven’t agreed on the biggest, most controversial of the plan’s elements: setting aside up to 500,000 acre-feet of water in a special, protected drought pool in Lake Powell. Under the terms of the agreement, the water would not have to be released to lower basin states under existing rules for balancing the contents of Powell and Mead, but would remain in Powell, helping to keep hydropower operations going and protecting the upper basin from losing access to river water if they fail to meet their obligations to Arizona, Nevada and California.

    Rancher Bryan Bernal irrigates a field that depends on Colorado River water near Loma, Colo. Credit: William Woody

    The pool was considered a political breakthrough when it was approved, something to which the lower basin states had never previously agreed.

    “It was a complete reversal by the lower basin,” said Melinda Kassen, a retired water attorney who formerly monitored Colorado River issues for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership.

    But the idea was controversial among some powerful upper basin agricultural interests. Ranchers, who use some 80% of the river’s water, feared they would lose too much control of their own water supplies.

    Seeking volunteers

    As proposed, the drought pool would be filled voluntarily, largely by farmers and ranchers, who would be paid to temporarily dry up their hay meadows and corn fields, allowing the saved water to flow down to Powell.

    Two years ago, when the drought contingency plan was approved, the four upper basin states thought they would have several years to create the new pool if they chose to.

    But Powell’s plunging water levels have dramatically shortened timelines. With a price tag likely in the hundreds of millions of dollars, confusion over whether saved farm water can be safely conveyed to Powell without being picked up by other users, and concerns over whether there is enough time to get it done, major water players are questioning whether the pool is a good idea.

    “It was probably a good idea at the time and it’s still worth studying,” said Jim Lochhead, CEO of Denver Water, the largest water utility in Colorado. “But it can’t be implemented in the short term. We don’t have the tools, we don’t have the money to pay for it, and we don’t have the water.”

    Neubecker has similar concerns. “I fear it’s going to be Band-Aid on an endlessly bleeding problem…we need to do more.”

    Since 2019 the State of Colorado has spent $800,000 holding public meetings and analyzing the legal, economic and water supply issues that would come with such a major change in Colorado River management.

    Still no decisions have been made.

    A call to act

    Becky Mitchell is director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, which is overseeing the analysis.

    Aware of frustration with the state’s progress on studying the drought pool’s feasibility, formally known as its demand management investigation, Mitchell said the work done to date will help the state better manage the river in a drier future with or without the drought pool.

    “We’re still ahead of the game in terms of what we’ve done with the study. The other states are looking at feasibility investigations but ours has been incredibly robust,” Mitchell said. “If we’re going to do it we have to do it right and factor all these things in. Otherwise we’re going to be moving backward.”

    One example of a step forward is that new tools to measure water saved from fallowing agricultural land are now being developed.

    A large-scale experiment in a swath of high-altitude hayfields near Kremmling has demonstrated that ranchers can successfully dry their fields and deliver Colorado River water to the stream in a measurable way, and the data is considered strong enough that it could be used to quantify water contributions to the drought pool.

    Ranchers Joe Bernal, left, and his son Bryan inspect a feed corn field that depends on Colorado River water near Loma, Colo. Credit: William Woody

    But other regulatory and physical barriers remain.

    Under Colorado’s water regulations, rivers are only regulated where they cross state boundaries when water is scarce and the state would otherwise be unable to meet the terms of agreements with downstream states. But this is not yet the case on the Colorado River and its tributaries, so rules for determining who would get what in the event of cutbacks haven’t been developed.

    In addition, because there has never been a so-called “call” on the Colorado River, the state has yet to require that all those who have diversion structures pulling from the Colorado River system measure their water use.

    The situation is changing fast, though, with the 20-year drought and the storage crisis at Powell and Mead increasing pressure on state regulators to take action.

    Now the state is taking steps to better monitor the river and its tributaries, moving to require that all diversion structures have measuring devices so it has the data it needs to enforce its legal obligations to the lower basin. If, for instance, some water users had to be cut off to meet the terms of the 1922 Colorado River Compact, the state could manage those cutbacks based on the water right decrees users hold that specify amount and priority date of use.

    Such data would also be needed to administer a mass-fallowing program to help fill the Lake Powell drought pool.

    Kevin Rein, Colorado’s State Engineer and top water regulator, said what’s known as the mainstem of the Colorado River is fairly well monitored but major tributaries, such as the Yampa and Gunnison, are not.

    “A lot of tributaries don’t have the devices,” Rein said, adding that the state doesn’t know the extent of the problem. “But in important areas a lot of commissioners know there is a significant lack of measurement devices and that makes water administration difficult.”

    Joe Bernal is a West Slope rancher whose family has been farming near Fruita since 1920. He has water rights that date back to 1898 and, like others in this rich agricultural region, he and his family have abundant water.

    Bernal was an early supporter of the drought pool. He and his family participated in an experimental fallowing program in 2016, where they were paid to dry up their fields. He’s confident the problems can be solved.

    But he’s also worried that the 500,000 acre-foot pool may not hold enough water to stabilize the river system and that it may not be done fast enough.

    “We want to be sure the solution does some good, but the clock is ticking,” he said. “We don’t want to change the culture of this valley or our ability to produce food. But I think things need to move faster. We are taking too long implementing these solutions.”

    Checking the averages

    As Powell and Mead continue to drop—they were roughly half full just two years ago— Mitchell and Rein are quick to point out that Colorado remains in compliance with the 1922 Compact, which requires the upper basin to ensure 7.5 million acre-feet of water reaches the lower basin at Lee Ferry, Ariz., based on a 10-year rolling average. Right now the average is at roughly 9.2 million acre-feet, although it too is declining as the upper basin’s supplies continue to erode due to drought and climate change.

    The Colorado River flows past fruit orchards near Palisade, Colo. Credit: William Woody

    Climate scientist and researcher Brad Udall has estimated that the upper basin may not be able to deliver the base 7.5 million acre-feet in a year as soon as 2025. But the upper basin would remain in compliance with the 1922 Compact even then because the rolling average remains healthy.

    Still, if the reservoirs continue to plummet as quickly as they have in the past two years, when they dropped from 50% to 30% full, the upper basin could face a compact crisis faster than anyone ever anticipated.

    Major water users in the state, such as Denver Water, Northern Water and Pueblo Water, have water rights that post-date, or are junior to, the 1922 water compact, meaning their water supplies are at risk of being slashed to help meet lower basin demands.

    The big dry out

    Many river advocates hope the drought pool is approved because they believe it is an opportunity to test how the river and its reservoirs will work as the region continues to dry out.

    “What we knew in 2018 [when the drought pool was conceived] is that we have more to do,” said Kassen. The drought pool, she said, “was a big win and offers a way of testing what the upper basin can do. It’s squandered if they don’t use it.”

    Neubecker and others say it’s becoming increasingly clear that the river’s management needs to be re-aligned with the reality of this new era of climate change and multi-year drought cycles.

    And that means that water users in the lower basin and upper basin will need to learn to live with how much water the river can produce, rather than how much a century-old water decree says they’re legally entitled too.

    “We’re facing a 21st Century situation that was totally unforeseen by anyone,” Neubecker said, “and we no longer have the luxury of time.”

    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.

    Get To Know Your River Basins — #Water for #Colorado

    From Water for Colorado:

    Our rivers are the lifeblood of the American West, and we all know that river and water management are both fundamentally important and infinitely complex, governed through a dizzying network of boards and contracts, local entities and statewide groups, individual expertise, and communal understanding.

    Known as the “Mother of Rivers,” Colorado’s water impacts everyone and everything. It’s important that Coloradans from across the state have their voices heard as decisions about our critical waterways are made.

    Photo Credit: Russ Schnitzer

    It’s especially important to engage right now. The Basin Implementation Plans (BIPs) — locally driven documents identifying goals and actions in each of Colorado’s nine river basins — are undergoing updates and will help inform the update of the state’s Water Plan, due to be final in late 2022. The public comment period for BIPs begins next week and represents a critically important opportunity to learn more, engage in local conversations, and help shape the content of these plans which inform how water is managed at a local level. Before the comment period begins, Water for Colorado has prepared this blog to help you and your community understand the world of river basins and roundtables, and how you can speak up to protect healthy rivers for all who depend on them.

    Basins: In order to facilitate conversations around managing our water, Colorado developed nine unique Basins that encompass multiple rivers, natural or artificial boundaries, and watersheds. Each basin has its own governing body called a “basin roundtable” composed of local volunteers who plan and make decisions about how to manage precious water resources.

    So why are there nine basins and basin roundtables? The concerns of the Arkansas Basin — from the San Luis Valley to the Eastern Plains, where agriculture reigns supreme — are different from the concerns of the Metro South Platte — where rapid growth and a booming population are key challenges — which are different from the concerns of the Colorado — where the conversations around America’s hardest working river are both intensely local and surprisingly broad. As such, having governing bodies familiar with the unique concerns and opportunities in each basin helps ensure that the management within each basin is driven by locals. This process allows for decisions to be discussed and decided by locals who deeply engage with the rivers that support our environment, economies, and Colorado way of life.

    You can check out a map below to determine your river basin; and engage with the graphics at the bottom of this post to learn more about how each basin’s economy is impacted by the recreation in the area.

    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

    Basin Roundtable: The basin roundtables were developed by the Colorado Water Conservation Board in 2005 to “facilitate discussions on water management issues and encourage locally driven collaborative solutions” (CWCB Basin Roundtables). These roundtables are composed of local volunteer members who represent a variety of interests including basin agriculture, environment,and recreation. Each basin has its own bank account and funds local projects. Monthly meetings are open to the public, and are where funding and other strategic decisions are made. This means you, and others who care about water conservation can participate and help influence the decision making process. Better yet, you can join these meetings virtually from the comfort of your home.

    Basin Implementation Plan: Basin Implementation Plans (BIPs) are developed by basin roundtables to help frame regional issues as part of the overall creation of Colorado’s statewide water plan. While the Colorado Water Plan seeks to address statewide water concerns, BIPs are more focused on local needs, plans, projects, and goals. The BIPs are developed by basin roundtable members with support from the community and ultimately help inform the statewide water plan as well as direct spending priorities for the Roundtables.

    Yampa River. Photo Credit: Sinjin Eberle

    Colorado Water Plan: In 2015, then-governor John Hickenlooper ordered the creation of a plan to help coordinate and manage Colorado water. That moment was the impetus for our nine partner organizations to come together to form the Water for Colorado Coalition. The Water Plan was written and developed by the Colorado Water Conservation Board with support from stakeholders, interest groups, and the general public, who submitted 30,000 comments (which Water for Colorado played a major role in gathering) to inform the plan. The core values of the plan are designed to support a productive economy, create efficient water infrastructure, and protect the state’s diverse ecosystems. Colorado’s Water Plan remains a living piece of guidance that undergoes regular updates, the next of which is coming up in June 2022 — and is therefore already underway.

    Want to learn more about where your water comes from? Check out our partner organization American Rivers’ Report, “Do You Know Your Colorado Water?”

    Local engagement: Here’s where you come in!

    The first step toward responsibly managing water is working to ensure the public helps shape these plans. Members of the public need to speak up ensuring environmental concerns are addressed in the BIP updates. There’s no one better suited to inform local planning than people like you, who live, work, and recreate in the basins and understand the critical role that water and healthy rivers play in our economy, environment, and everyday lives. In the coming weeks, Water for Colorado will share opportunities for you to engage in the update process for the Basin Implementation Plans during the public comment phase that runs from October 13 through November 15. This is a critical opportunity for you to make your voice heard! Until then, we hope that you share this blog with members of your community to help all Coloradans understand the role they can play in supporting Colorado’s rivers and water!

    San Luis Valley water projects receive funding — The #Alamosa Citizen #RioGrande

    A powerful sprinkler capable of pumping more than 2,500 gallons of water per minute irrigates a farm field in the San Luis Valley June 6, 2019. Credit: Jerd Smith via Water Education Colorado

    From The Alamosa Citizen (Matt Hildner):

    THE Colorado Water Conservation Board handed out roughly $2.8 million last week to five projects in the San Luis Valley, including a first-of-its kind conservation easement program aimed at protecting the region’s groundwater.

    San Luis Valley Groundwater

    Colorado Open Lands garnered $1.4 million for a voluntary conservation easement program, which would reduce groundwater pumping while allowing for continued agricultural use. The management plans accompanying the easements would draw on the experience of the Natural Resources Conservation Service. The total cost of the project is $8.2 million, the majority of which will come from the NRCS.

    The Rio Grande Headwaters Restoration Project will use part of a recently awarded state grant to replace the Billings Ditch’s diversion structure and head gate, which are currently prone to debris and sediment buildup. Top photo: Daniel Boyes, program manager for restoration project, and Rick Davie and Steve Vandiver, both of whom sit on restoration project’s board, at the Ehrowitz Ditch, which will have the gravel push-up dam shown here replaced with a more efficient structure. It’s one of five irrigation ditches that will get improved diversions. Photos courtesy Rio Grande Headwaters Restoration Project. Photo credit: The Alamosa Citizen

    CWCB granted $818,030 to the Rio Grande Headwaters Restoration Project for work on the Anaconda, Independent No. 2, Knoblauch, Ehrowitz, and Billings ditches. The project would improve diversions for the respective ditches, all of which are in Rio Grande County, while also including fish and boat passage. Work crews would also restore 3,960 linear feet of stream bank and enhance aquatic habitat through willow planting, channel and stream bank shaping, and the installation of rock clusters.

    Farmer Erin Nissen with some of her cattle. Under Subdistrict 1’s fallowed field program, she is still able to utilize the land for grazing. Photo credit: Luna Anna Archey/High Country News

    The board awarded $163,406 to the Rio Grande Water Conservation District to develop an in-basin water marketing strategy to secure the roughly 16,000 acre-feet needed by the Subdistricts to offset stream depletions. The program’s managers are eyeing tools such as temporary water leases or rotational fallowing toward that end. The Rio Grande Basin Cooperative Project, as the effort is known, also received $212,105 from the U.S Bureau of Reclamation, and roughly $163,000 from three other funders toward the $425,511 project cost.

    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.

    The Sangre de Cristo Acequia Association received $24,500 to hold seminars around irrigation, soil health and cropping in 2022. Funds would also go toward developing a stakeholder group to implement projects and the association’s hosting of the Congreso de Acequias.

    San Luis People’s Ditch spanning the long lot system

    Colorado Master Irrigator, a nonprofit educational group, received $414,875 to expand trainings on water and energy conservation and other efficiency practices across the state. Part of those funds will focus on expanding offerings into the San Luis Valley through a partnership with the Colorado Ag Water Alliance and Subdistrict No. 1.

    All of the funding for the Valley projects came from the Colorado Water Plan Grant Program. State lawmakers and Governor Jared Polis gave the grant program a boost in spring with $15 million from the state’s General Fund.

    Rio Grande River Basin via the Colorado Geologic Survey

    #ColoradoRiver District report highlights Western Slope concerns with state water-savings plan: Staff will present framework at October board meeting — @AspenJournalism

    These fields just south of Carbondale are irrigated with water from the Crystal River. The Colorado River Water Conservation District recently released a stakeholder report on a potential state program known as demand management that would pay irrigators to leave water in the river to send downstream to Lake Powell.
    CREDIT: HEATHER SACKETT/ASPEN JOURNALISM

    From Aspen Journalism (Heather Sackett):

    The Colorado River Water Conservation District staff plans to present its own framework for a water-savings plan — separate from one the state of Colorado is developing — at its October board meeting.

    The Glenwood Springs-based River District undertook its own investigation of a plan — known as demand management — that would pay water users to consume less and send the saved water downstream to Lake Powell. The Colorado Water Conservation Board is currently investigating the feasibility of such a program for the state, but the River District convened its own workgroup, made up of Western Slope water users, to look into the issue. Many of the workgroup’s stakeholders represented agricultural interests.

    River District staffers will come up with their own market structure and rules for demand management to present to the board, according to general manager Andy Mueller.

    “What we are presenting is not something we are necessarily as staff endorsing, but we are going to present more specifics than what the CWCB or our stakeholder group has come up with so far,” Mueller said.

    The framework will incorporate some of the findings and recommendations of the River District’s stakeholder group, which were released in an August report. Among these was the unanimous recommendation that the state not rely solely on a demand-management program as a solution to water shortages in the Colorado River basin.

    “It was recognized that demand management can’t be the only way in which the state successfully handles the impacts of climate change on the Colorado River,” Mueller said. “It may be a component of that, but the state needs to be really looking at conservation in all water segments.”

    At the heart of a demand-management program is paying Western Slope irrigators on a temporary and voluntary basis to use less water in an effort to avoid a Colorado River Compact call. Instead of being spread across hayfields, the water would be sent downstream to a special 500,000-acre-foot pool in Lake Powell, which was established as part of 2019’s Drought Contingency Plan.

    A compact call could occur if the upper basin states (Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico) can’t deliver the 7.5 million acre-feet of water per year to the lower basin states (Arizona, California and Nevada) as required by a nearly century-old binding agreement. Colorado water managers desperately want to avoid a compact-call scenario, which could result in mandatory water cutbacks.

    The participation of Western Slope agriculture is key to creating a workable demand-management program, but the report highlights several reasons this may prove challenging. Stakeholders expressed a strong distrust of decision-making and programs driven by state government and fear that Western Slope agriculture will be sacrificed to meet the Front Range’s and lower basin’s urban interests.

    “Many do not view the state as representing the best interest of agriculture on the Western Slope and instead are making decisions that are driven by east slope and municipal interests,” the report reads.

    These fields of the Crystal River Ranch outside of Carbondale are irrigated with water from the Crystal River. The Colorado River Water Conservation District released a report that recommends the state of Colorado not rely solely on a demand management program to address water shortages.
    CREDIT: HEATHER SACKETT/ASPEN JOURNALISM

    TMDs in conflict

    Other findings of the report are consistent with what River District and agriculture representatives have been saying since the state began its demand-management discussions in 2019: A program must not lead to the permanent dry-up of Western Slope agriculture, and additional diversions to the Front Range are in direct conflict with asking Western Slope water users to save water.

    “The committee finds it inconceivable that under a demand-management program, the West Slope could work to conserve 25,000-50,000 acre-feet per year only to see the east slope simultaneously increase water diversions to the Front Range,” the report reads. “This situation would be antithetical to the goals of a demand-management program and efforts to prevent a future compact violation.”

    The report says that transmountain diversions — in which Front Range water providers take water from the headwaters of the Colorado River and bring it under the Continental Divide to growing cities — are a driving factor in a potential compact violation. Most water managers agree that water rights that date to before the 1922 compact would be exempt from mandatory cutbacks in the event of a call. Post-1922 water-rights use would fuel a compact violation.

    According to numbers from a previous River District study, 57% of Colorado’s post-compact water use is on the Front Range. Therefore, the report says, the Front Range should contribute 57% of the water to a demand-management pool.

    Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer’s office

    #Parker Water & Sanitation District and Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District announce pioneering water partnership #SouthPlatteRiver

    The South Platte River Basin is shaded in yellow. Source: Tom Cech, One World One Water Center, Metropolitan State University of Denver.

    Here’s the release from the two entities (Deirdre Mueller):

    Parker Water & Sanitation District (PWSD) and the
    project to use a new water right that the two entities own along the South Platte River near Sterling, Colo. The announcement kicks off a unique collaboration between a Colorado conservancy district and a municipal water provider.

    Known as the Platte Valley Water Partnership, the project will make use of new and existing infrastructure to store and transport water for agricultural use in northeastern Colorado and municipal use along the Front Range. The project will increase the renewable water supply for PWSD’s existing and expanding customer base while preserving and supporting agricultural uses in the South Platte River Basin. This renewable water supply is predominately available during spring runoff and major storm events, and would otherwise leave Colorado.

    LSPWCD General Manager Joe Frank said of the agreement, “It’s critical for our community to avoid the buy-and-dry issues that have become commonplace. By working together with Parker Water & Sanitation District on an agreement that meets both of our needs, we’ve found a solution that addresses both agricultural and municipal water shortages without further drying up irrigated agriculture.”

    “We look forward to working together with Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District,” said PWSD District Manager Ron Redd. “We’ve been guided by the principles laid out in the Colorado Water Plan; by opening up a dialog we discovered we had many shared values and were able to create a regional solution that benefits us all.”

    More information about the Platte Valley Water Partnership and the project agreement can be found at https://www.pwsd.org/PVWP.

    From The Sterling Journal-Advocate (Jeff Rice):

    According to Thursday’s announcement, the project will make use of new and existing infrastructure to store and transport water for agricultural use in northeastern Colorado and municipal use along the Front Range…

    The partnership involves the phased development of the water right. The early phases would involve a pipeline from Prewitt Reservoir in Logan and Washington counties to Parker Reservoir, which supplies the City of Parker. Later developments would see a 4,000 acre-foot reservoir near Iliff on land owned by Parker, and a 72,000 acre-foot reservoir near Fremont Butte north of Akron. A pipeline, pump stations, and treatment facility will also be built as part of the project,

    The LSPWCD and PWSD have been in talks with each other and with landowners for several years. Lower South Platte general manager Joe Frank publicly briefed his board of directors in December 2019 about progress on the project and negotiations have been ongoing since then.

    The project will be used to capture excess water that would otherwise leave Colorado, primarily during spring runoff and storms. Colorado and Nebraska have an interstate compact that requires a certain amount of water to leave the state for downriver users, but in some cases millions of gallons of water in excess of that escape across the state line.

    Frank said Thursday the Platte Valley Water Partnership is a win-win for urban and rural water users…

    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.

    PWSD District Manager Ron Redd said the project is in line with Colorado’s Water Plan, a 2015 document that provides guidelines for providing an adequate water supply for the state’s growth through 2050.

    Community Agriculture Alliance: Update on the #YampaRiver integrated water management plan — The Steamboat Pilot & Today

    Yampa River. Photo credit: Yampa River
    Integrated Water Management Plan website

    From The Steamboat Pilot & Today (Gene Hinkemeyer):

    Did you know the Colorado Department of Natural Resources calls for 80% of 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 — YWG BRT — is one of nine grassroots water policy roundtables throughout Colorado working to develop locally driven, collaborative solutions to water supply challenges. The YWG BRT has been working on an integrated water management plan for the past several years.

    The overall goal of the integrated water management plan is to use science, data and community input to build a healthy, productive water future in the Yampa basin for all water users. A committee of volunteers selected by and reporting to the YWG BRT coordinates the project.

    Over the past two years, the integrated water management plan has focused on four geographic segments in the basin: upper, middle and lower main stem of the Yampa and the Elk River. Stakeholder interviews were conducted of agricultural, environmental/recreational and municipal/industrial water stakeholders in the basin. Interviews were conducted to learn about stakeholder’s operation and diversion infrastructure, water and riparian land management related concerns and opportunities for improvement.

    Diversion assessments were also conducted to identify, evaluate and recommend multibenefit projects. The diversion infrastructure assessment report, which can be found at http://YampaWhiteGreen.com, represents the findings of the structures assessed. The primary goal of the diversion assessments was to gain an understanding of infrastructure used for diversions and to identify locations where infrastructure improvements could provide multiple benefits to the river and water users. These assessments evaluate opportunities that could benefit the structure owner(s), fish passage, recreational boating and overall river health.

    So, what do we do with all this information? The integrated water management plan volunteer committee organized three focus areas around key topics to learn more and help identify projects for future work: ag infrastructure; riparian habitat/wetland/natural bank stability; and flows/shortages. A few projects are already in the works, with other projects to begin later this year.

    The ag infrastructure work group has identified an initial set of agricultural diversion infrastructure projects that the integrated water management plan hopes to support and fund starting in 2022. Using data collected from interviews, the riparian focused work group has identified landowners with concerns related to erosion, bank stability and riparian habitat. Follow up interviews over the next few months are planned to better characterize their concerns and learn more about potential solutions.

    Additional work has been completed, including a remote assessment that provided geomorphic, hydrological and ecological context for the integrated water management plan planning effort. This broad characterization applies remote sensing and GIS-based tools and techniques to assess moderate-resolution data sets across watershed and planning segment scales to identify and map trends and characteristics in physical and biological functions within the basin. Field assessments are underway to ground truth and verify the remote assessment findings.

    A fluvial hazard mapping project is also in progress to delineate areas vulnerable to sediment and debris impacts spurred by rainfall or rapid snowmelt. As a final product, these maps can be used to inform land use planning, stream interventions and to identify and prioritize the conservation or restoration of natural geomorphic floodplains, wetlands and river corridors within the basin.

    The integrated water management plan volunteer committee has been busy and continues to work hard on community driven plans for the Yampa Basin. We can only be successful with input and ideas from all stakeholders. If you would like to learn more, please visit our website, http://YampaWhiteGreen.com/iwmp.

    Gena Hinkemeyer is segment coordinator of the Yampa-White-Green Basin Roundtable.

    #Colorado Sports Betting Generates Nearly $8 Million for State Water Plan in FY21 — Casino.org #COWaterPlan

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

    From Casino.org (Steve Bittenbender):

    Colorado gaming officials on Thursday [September 23, 2021] announced that the first full year of legal sports betting in the state produced nearly $8 million in tax revenue that will help the state implement its water resiliency plan.

    The Colorado Limited Gaming Control Commission approved the allocation at its meeting Thursday.

    “In all, the state received nearly $8.6 million in revenue, that’s discounting $1.6 million state gaming officials returned to the general fund in March to reimburse for start-up costs covered to launch wagering in May 2020.”

    The Colorado Water Plan was established in November 2015 to help ensure the state’s long-term water needs would be met amid concerns about climate change and other challenges the state faces…

    Despite the water plan funding representing less than 1 percent of the actual bets placed, state officials are still pleased with the results so far.

    Teenage boys, young men, and a girl pose on the steps of a building, clothes include turtleneck sweaters, knee pants, a leather helmet, and duster hats. One holds a football. photographed by either Fred Garrison or Ola Aftinson Garrison.; History Colorado

    From The Denver Post (Conrad Swanson) via The Lamar Ledger:

    Since Colorado launched legalized sports betting in May 2020, the state has collected nearly five times more money for water projects than anticipated, gaming officials said.

    The start of the National Football League’s season provided yet another welcome financial bump, with about $44 million in bets during its first weekend (Sept. 9-13), according to Daniel Hartman, director of the state’s Division of Gaming…

    Money collected from gambling proceeds goes toward work meant to conserve water, protect natural habitats, improve infrastructure and more, according to Lauren Ris, deputy director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board. And more money equals funding new projects under the Colorado Water Plan at a time when Colorado River reservoirs downstream are low.

    Hartman said his office earmarked about $8 million from sports betting for the plan, which sets priorities through 2050 for projects in the following five categories: agriculture; conservation and land use; engagement and innovation; environment and recreation; and water storage and supply.

    The Colorado Water Conservation Board doles out the money, and Ris said it tries to fund projects that check more than one box, like work with Colorado Springs Utilities that brings water from the Eagle River Basin to Colorado Springs and Aurora — which she said “opened up quite a bit of fish and boating habitat.”

    Before voters legalized sports betting, Ris said her department was awarding grants with whatever money officials found in their “couch cushions.”

    At the outset, legislative analysts projected gambling could bring in between $9.7 million to $11.2 million in its first year, revenue department spokeswoman Suzanne Karrer said. But shortly after voters agreed to legalize the practice, state officials cut their estimates for 2020-2021 to between $1.5 million and $1.7 million in part because casinos weren’t willing to pay $125,000 every other year to host sports betting, Karrer said.

    Even when the pandemic shut down leagues for a few months, gamblers flocked to sports betting — made easy through apps. The $3 billion in bets from May 2020 to July 31, 2021, translates into $9.4 million in state revenue, Hartman said…

    Ris said the board can’t give out any of this windfall until next summer, after the 2022 General Assembly grants it permission to spend the money.

    Jackpot: #Colorado stimulus funds boost #water grants to $13M — @WaterEdCO

    ooking west across the 445 acre-foot Windy Gap Reservoir, which straddles the Colorado River (Summer 2011). Photo By: Jeff Dahlstrom, NCWCD via Water Education Colorado

    From Water Education Colorado (Allen Best):

    Thanks to a major infusion of COVID-related state stimulus cash earlier this year, nearly $13M in grants was awarded by the Colorado Water Conservation Board on Sept. 16 to projects designed to improve irrigation systems, aid the environment, improve water storage, and reconnect a critical channel on the Colorado River in Grand County.

    The Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) has historically dispensed $7.5 million annually in grants to assist projects that align with the goals of the 2015 Colorado Water Plan.

    Thanks to the state stimulus funding, state legislators delivered $15 million in cash to the grant program, more than double last year’s amount. The funds must be awarded by July 2023.

    In addition to supporting the water plan, the grants are designed to benefit multiple segments of the state’s economy, according to Anna Mauss, the CWCB’s chief financial officer.

    “That can be hard to define,” she says, “but we are looking at solutions that benefit all sectors.”

    The projects and their grants can be found here:

    https://cwcb.colorado.gov/events/hybrid-board-meeting-september-15-16-2021

    Environment and recreation projects represented the largest slice of the pie at $6.6 million. The second largest slice, at $4.2 million, went to water storage and supply projects. Four agriculture projects together got $1.5 million.

    The largest recipient of grants funds, at $3.8 million, is the Windy Gap Dam bypass, a project that will reconnect a critical channel on the Colorado River in Grand County. It has federal, state and county funding and cash from conservation organizations and landowners, all working under the umbrella of the Northern Water Conservancy District, which oversees Windy Gap for its owner, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

    Proposed bypass channel for the Colorado River with Windy Gap Reservoir being taken offline, part of the agreements around Northern Water’s Windy Gap Firming project.

    The dam was constructed in the 1980s just below the confluence of the Fraser with the Colorado River west of Granby. Aquatic life has since diminished. The new channel is to reconnect the Colorado downstream from the dam with its upstream habitat.

    According to the application, the project will expand the river’s gold medal trout fishery and make this segment more resilient in the face of increased water diversions, wildfires and climate change.

    Center pivot sprinklers in the Arikaree River basin to irrigate corn. Each sprinkler is supplied by deep wells drilled into the High Plains (Ogallala) aquifer.

    The Colorado Department of Agriculture got nearly $300,000 for a soil health project that will focus on the Republican River watershed for three years. Program directors expect 10 farmers to participate, incorporating water-saving actions into their land-use planning in a way that will conserve 47,000 acre-feet annually. In this way, according to the grant application, the project will also help sustain the Ogallala Aquifer.

    Barr Lake State Park photo via Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

    Two other projects getting funding are on the Front Range. At Barr Lake, located along Interstate 76 northeast of Denver, the Farmers Reservoir and Irrigation Co. plans to enlarge the storage capacity. A new study of regional extreme precipitation by the Colorado Dam Safety found that raising the spillway culvert would safely accommodate 1,500 acre-feet of additional storage. This, however, will inundate structures in the surrounding state park. The $279,000 granted the company will provide partial funding to mitigate the higher water levels on the park facilities.

    Cutthroat trout historic range via Western Trout

    Trout Unlimited was awarded $300,000 for efforts to restore populations of the greenback cutthroat trout, Colorado’s state fish, at the headwaters of the Cache la Poudre River. The species is native to the Eastern Slope, but the Poudre is augmented by diversions from the headwaters of the Colorado River in Rocky Mountain National Park. Most prominent of those diversions is the Grand River Ditch. The $300,000 granted to Trout Unlimited will go to creating a fish barrier in the Grand Ditch where it flows across the Continental Divide and into a tributary of the Poudre River.

    David Nickum, executive director of Colorado Trout Unlimited, said that the project will take about 10 years. The greenback is currently federally listed as threatened by the Environmental Protection Agency, but Trout Unlimited hopes that a recovery stronghold on the Poudre can result in delisting. The full project will provide connected habitat for the trout species to more than 38 miles of stream and more than 110 acres of lakes and reservoirs.

    Long-time Colorado journalist Allen Best publishes Big Pivots, an e-magazine that covers energy and other transitions in Colorado. He can be reached at allen@bigpivots.com and allen.best@comcast.net.