We are rivers podcast: We can make a lot happen when we have a plan — @AmericanRivers #COWaterPlan

From American Rivers (Page Buono):

Join us for a two-part miniseries of our podcast series We Are Rivers. We’ll learn more about Stream Management Plans, an innovative planning tool prioritized in Colorado’s Water Plan, from people working with stakeholder groups and communities across Colorado to put them in place.

Orr Manufacturing Vertical Impact Sprinkler circa 1928 via the Irrigation Museum

Water has always been the architect of life in Colorado. Communities have worked within the availability, demands, and constraints of water to engineer lives and livelihoods. Water designs our lives as much by its availability as it does by scarcity—perhaps even more. In 2013, the State of Colorado recognized the impending impacts of rising populations, increasing demand across the state and the West, and a changing climate, then-Governor John Hickenlooper called for a plan to address these issues. He directed the Colorado Water Conservation Board—the government entity tasked with conserving, developing, protecting and managing the state’s water—to work with diverse stakeholders and develop Colorado’s first water plan. You can learn more about the Plan from Episode 6 in our podcast series.

Seven-point draft conceptual agreement framework for negotiations on a future transmountain diversion screen shot December 18, 2014 via Aspen Journalism

In some ways, Colorado’s Water Plan articulated and formalized ways to meet the needs of agriculture, land use, and storage that were already in place. But it also did something else: for the first time, the Colorado Water Plan called for the consideration and integration of environmental and recreational flow needs. This decision came from growing recognition of the critical role rivers play in local economies, and the immense ecosystem services that healthy, functioning rivers and streams provide for all values—human and environmental. With this in mind, the Water Plan outlined a goal of inspiring community-driven development of Stream Management Plans for 80 percent of locally prioritized rivers and streams.

In the first episode of this miniseries, we hear from Nicole Seltzer, Science and Policy Manager of River Network, who talks us through the fundamentals of the stream management planning process. Holly Loff, Executive Director of Eagle River Watershed Council, shares on-the-ground experiences of a community planning effort along the Eagle River, and Chelsea Congdon-Brundige, a watershed consultant in the Roaring Fork Valley, shares her highlights from a similar but unique effort for the Crystal River.

As you’ll hear in the podcast, a critical component of Stream Management Planning is the diversity of stakeholders and interests at the table; the important and foundational role of science; and the way each Plan is unique to the community that builds it. SMP’s (as they’re often referred to) are really more about process than a final product, and the greatest win is the long-lasting trust inspired through tough but important conversations across values. SMPs aren’t designed to prioritize any one interest, but instead to bring agriculture, the environment, municipal needs, and recreation alongside one another for the best possible solutions for all.

Screen shot from the Vimeo film, “Rio Grande Headwaters Restoration Project: Five Ditches,” https://vimeo.com/364411112

If you’re inspired by this first Episode, and we suspect you will be, make sure to tune in for part 2 (coming 6/1/20) . We’ll hear from some of the same voices and from new ones from the Rio Grande Basin – including Heather Dutton with the San Luis Valley Water Conservancy District and Emma Reesor with Rio Grande Headwaters Restoration Project – about the groundbreaking and inspiring ways communities are working together to plan for the future of the rivers and streams that bind them, and all of us, together. Join us – and listen in today!

Opinion: Here’s how we can save the #ColoradoRiver — Bruce Babbit #COriver #aridification

A hayfield near Grand Junction irrigated with water from the Colorado River. State officials are now exploring a demand management program that would pay willing irrigators to fallow hay fields and send the water otherwise use to Lake Powell. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

Here’s a guest column from Bruce Babbit that is running in The Vail Daily:

It is no exaggeration to say that a mega-drought not seen in 500 years has descended on the seven Colorado River Basin states: Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, Nevada, Arizona and California. That’s what the science shows, and that’s what the region faces.

Phoenix, Denver, Las Vegas and San Diego have already reduced per capita water use. Yet they continue to consume far more water than the river can supply. The river and its tributaries are still overdrawn by more than a million acre feet annually, an amount in consumption equaled by four cities the size of Los Angeles.

To close the deficit, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the states have been struggling to apportion the drastic cuts necessary.

So far, the parties have proceeded by adhering rigidly to historic doctrines: first users have absolute rights, though those rights were based on rosy projections of the river’s annual flow.

For example, in Arizona, the six million residents of Phoenix and Tucson will lose 50% of their share before California gives up a single drop.

Nevada, which has a 2% share, the smallest of any state, is called on to take more cuts ahead of California, which has the largest share, 29%.

Within California, water to 20 million residents in cities will be completely shut off before farming districts adjacent to and within the Imperial Valley take any cuts.

And in the upper basin, the states of Utah, Colorado, Wyoming and New Mexico are faced with draconian reductions in their entitlements because they must deliver water to the lower basin states.

Brad Udall, a water scientist at Colorado State University, warns that something must give — that we cannot continue with a system that increasingly “violates the public’s sense of rightness.”

There is a better, more equitable pathway for reducing the deficit without forcing arbitrary cuts. It involves 3 million acres of irrigated agriculture, mostly alfalfa and forage crops, which consume more than 80% of total water use in the basin.

By retiring less than 10% of this irrigated acreage from production, we could eliminate the existing million acre-foot overdraft on the Colorado River, while still maintaining the dominant role of agriculture. Pilot programs in both the upper and lower basins have demonstrated how agricultural retirement programs can work at the local level. What’s lacking is the vision and financing to bring these efforts to a basin scale.

Fortunately, there’s a precedent administered by the Department of Agriculture; it’s the Conservation Reserve Program, established in 1985 by the Congress. It authorizes the Farm Service Agency in the Department of Agriculture to contract with landowners to retire marginal and environmentally sensitive agricultural lands in exchange for rent.

Farmers who join the Conservation Reserve remain free to return the lands to production at the end of the renewable contract period, typically 10 to 30 years.

The national Conservation Reserve currently holds nearly 22 million acres under contracts with more than 300,000 farms. This legislation has strong support from the farming community and in Congress, which appropriates nearly $2 billion each year for the program.

With this precedent, it’s time to create an Irrigation Reserve Program. To work, it must be voluntary, and farmers who participate must be adequately paid for the use of their irrigation rights.

A new Irrigation Reserve on a basin scale will also require significant public funding. But the mechanism for financing an Irrigation Reserve is already available in existing federal law.

In 1973, faced with deteriorating water quality in the River, the Colorado River Basin states came together and persuaded Congress to enact a law known as the Colorado River Basin Salinity Control Act.

To fund salinity control projects throughout the Basin, Congress allocated revenues from the sale of hydropower from Hoover Dam, Glen Canyon Dam and other federal dams throughout the Basin.

Three hydropower accounts — the Lower Colorado River Basin Development Fund, the Upper Colorado River Basin Fund and the Hoover Powerplant Act — continue to capture and allocate revenues to basin projects. Congress should now add financing of an Irrigation Reserve to the list of eligible expenditures.

With these two precedents, the Conservation Reserve Program and the Salinity Control Act, we have the road map to establish a basin-wide irrigation reserve. I urge the seven basin states to make common cause and join together to obtain congressional legislation.

Bruce Babbitt is a contributor to Writers on the Range.org, a nonprofit dedicated to spurring lively discussion about Western issues. He served as Secretary of the Interior from 1993-2001.

Virtual Mesa State of the River, May 20, 2020 #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Click here for all the inside skinny.

Water future: Community input sought — The Pagosa Sun #COWaterPlan

Here’s a guest column from Al Pfister that’s running in The Pagosa Sun:

We are living in an age where we are facing drier and warmer times ahead. While we have had a few wet years over the past two decades, looking over that entire time span, we have been in a drought. We are currently in a severe drought with gradually worsening conditions in southern Colorado over the past few months. This scenario is believed to be a foreshadowing of our future.

The Colorado Water Plan, completed in December 2015, recognized these conditions and outlined numerous strategies to guide all water users in collaboratively addressing our challenging water future.

One of those strategies was the development of stream management plans (SMPs). SMPs are intended to compile a community’s understanding of a watershed’s collective environmental, recreational, agricultural and municipal water needs, identifying information gaps, and promoting projects and processes that meet those needs and gaps.

In 2018, community representatives formed a group, now called the Upper San Juan Watershed Enhancement Partnership (WEP), to better understand current and future local water use and needs through the Colorado Water Plan’s SMP process. Funding for this local effort is provided by the state through Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB), Southwest Basin Roundtable, San Juan Water Conservancy District, Archuleta County, Town of Pagosa Springs, Banded Peak Ranch and numerous other partners.

Envisioned as a three-phase process, the ultimate purpose of this effort to explore opportunities to conserve the Upper San Juan Basin streams and their uses with wide-ranging community support and decisions based on local input and current science and assessments. In order to ensure a broad representation of the community’s interests are brought forward and maintained through the process, a steering committee was formed. Representatives of agricultural, environmental, recreational, and municipal water users, private landowners, business owners, and local government comprise the steering committee.

While forming the steering committee and informing stakeholders about this endeavor, the local water users decided to call it the Upper San Juan Watershed Enhancement Partnership to recognize the voluntary and collaborative nature of this effort. Phase I, just completed, of this effort entailed formation of the steering committee and outreach to stakeholders, identification of our community’s collective values on issues, opportunities and the geographic scope of the WEP. Funding for Phase II has been obtained and is now awaiting formal approval from the CWCB in order to proceed with implementation.

Phase II will focus on assessing the environmental, recreational, and agricultural structural water needs and values of our community. We will be working with partners, San Juan Conservation District and Lotic Hydrological, to evaluate current and future water needs via community input and scientific analysis. Our goal is to complete an assessment that can prioritize projects and processes to meet those needs. This assessment will inform the development of an Integrated Water Management Plan that lists goals, potential projects and actions in Phase III, as determined by the local community.

In order to accurately assess and identify projects that align with local values and needs, the WEP is again asking for community input throughout Phase II. To help the WEP and our partners better understand environmental, recreational and agricultural structure needs this year, our partners will be working directly with ditch companies, land owners, governmental agencies, as well as providing updates to the general public throughout the process. We greatly appreciate your involvement and input, helping our communities in the San Juan River Basin better prepare and secure our water future.

More detailed information on the WEP can be obtained at our website: http://www.mountainstudies.org/sanjuan/smp, or by contacting Al Pfister at (970) 985-5764.

San Juan River Basin. Graphic credit Wikipedia.

#ColoradoRiver keeps flowing — so do concerns about its future — The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel #COriver #aridification #COWaterPlan

Palisade is just east of Grand Junction and lies in a fertile valley between the Colorado River and Mt. Garfield which is the formation in the picture. They’ve grown wonderful peaches here for many years and have recently added grape vineyards such as the one in the picture. By inkknife_2000 (7.5 million views +) – https://www.flickr.com/photos/23155134@N06/15301560980/, CC BY-SA 2.0,

Here’s a guest column from Hannah Holm that’s running in The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel:

It seems like the pandemic has soaked up most of the newsprint lately, but even now, when so much has come to a standstill, our rivers keep flowing. As Jim Pokrandt pointed out in a recent op-ed, our canals have started flowing, too, as Grand Valley farmers begin the annual ritual of putting water on the land to reap a harvest, and an income, later in the year.

Another annual ritual, monitoring the forecasts for how much spring snowmelt will flow down the rivers, has also begun. This year, we have an above-average snowpack in the mountains that feed the Colorado River, but below-average runoff into Lake Powell is expected. Parched soils from last year’s dry summer are expected to soak up much of the water before it can make it into the river.

If that forecast proves accurate, it will mark the 15th time in 20 years in which runoff into Lake Powell has been below average. This is one more piece of data to support the conclusion that the Colorado River is shrinking. Coming to terms with this fact is the central challenge facing all who depend on the Colorado River — about 40 million people throughout the Southwest.

A shrinking river is a particularly hard to adapt to when it is already being completely used up — the Colorado River rarely reaches the sea any more, and its major reservoirs are less than half full. So how, and what, are we doing? Here’s a rundown of a few things that are happening.

Downstream, California, Arizona and Nevada agreed to a detailed schedule of water delivery cuts triggered by different water levels in Lake Mead. This is the first year they are taking reduced deliveries.

Here in Colorado, along with Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico, water leaders are continuing to study “demand management:” paying water users to temporarily leave some of the water they are entitled to in the river. State-sponsored work groups on demand management are hashing out technical details on financing, legal issues, how to measure saved water, and the potential economic and environmental impacts of different approaches. You can learn more about these discussions here: https://cwcb.colorado.gov/demand-management.

In related efforts, scientists and ranchers are about to start working together in Grand County to figure out what happens to high-elevation hay fields if you take a pause on irrigating them. This will help ranchers determine whether they might want to participate in demand management or not. Other studies are also looking at the potential impacts on communities of reductions in irrigated agriculture.

Scientists are also working hard to refine their tools for understanding and forecasting water supplies. A new report from Western Water Assessment at CU-Boulder synthesizes information from nearly 800 studies and reports on Colorado River Basin science and hydrology. If you are interested, you can check it out at https://wwa.colorado.edu/.

So far, we’re mostly studying different options for cutting back our water use from the Colorado River, without many people actually having to do it yet. But if current trends continue, which long-term projections indicate that they will, that day will come.

Any change is hard, and abrupt change is especially hard. Abrupt change without data is terrifying, as we’ve recently learned. The good thing about the troubling situation on the Colorado River is that we don’t have to suffer the terror of change without data. The bad thing about the situation on the Colorado River is that we can’t study our way out of actually having to do something about it — sooner or later. [ed. emphasis mine]

Hannah Holm coordinates the Hutchins Water Center at Colorado Mesa University, which promotes research, education and dialogue to address the water issues facing the Upper Colorado River Basin. Support for Hutchins Water Center articles is provided by a grant from the Walton Family Foundation. You can learn more about the center at http://www.coloradomesa.edu/water-center.

Hayfield message to President Obama 2011 via Protect the Flows

Six Feet in Solidarity – Week 4: Water Reuse — @WaterEdCO

From Water Education Colorado (Caitlin Coleman):

The Promise of Reuse

For decades, Colorado has been recycling water for landscaping purposes. More recent has been indirect potable reuse, where treated wastewater flows through an environmental buffer, such as a river, before being extracted for further treatment to make it suitable for drinking and other domestic uses.

Now, Colorado and several other water-stressed states are moving toward direct potable reuse. “Widespread development of potable reuse will be an important facet of closing the future water supply-demand gap,” said the Colorado Water Plan, published in 2015 in Chapter 6.3.2, the Water Supply Management-Reuse chapter, which includes information on reuse beginning on page 6-75.

Potable reuse most certainly won’t be a cure-all for Colorado’s water shortages. It’s just one potential tool in a kit, applicable for specialized settings. But wide adoption of direct potable reuse relies, at least in part, on adoption of state standards governing treatment processes and monitoring protocols. Read about it in “Purified” from our Fall 2018 issue of Headwaters magazine, which focused on water reuse.

Is Colorado working on state regulations to govern direct potable reuse?

Yes. A new report, crafted by a National Water Research Institute-organized panel of reuse experts, details potential Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment regulations for direct potable reuse (DPR), which isn’t addressed in current regulations.

The report is part of WateReuse Colorado’s efforts to follow up on the water plan, which said Colorado needed a clear regulatory framework on reuse if reuse is to help address the future water supply-demand gap.

Getting this framework in place will give utilities the certainty they need to pursue DPR, which is critical for optimizing supplies they already have, says Laura Belanger from Western Resource Advocates.

Read what the report says and next steps in Colorado in the story “Getting Closer to Governing Direct Potable Reuse” from the new Spring 2020 issue of Headwaters magazine.

How does reuse optimize water supplies?

Check out the graphic below to conceptualize the multiplying effect of reuse:

Graphic credit: Water Education Colorado

Is water reuse on the rise?

In February, 2019, WEco offered a webinar exploring this question. Watch it to hear local experts discuss why more communities are turning toward water reuse and what regulations, policies, or other next steps need to fall into place for water recycling to grow. Watch it

Study: $3.2B-plus collaborative water system on #SouthPlatteRiver could work, may signal new era of cooperation — @WaterEdCO

Ducks patrol the South Platte River as construction workers shore up bank. Oct. 8, 2019. Credit: Jerd Smith

From Water Education Colorado (Jerd Smith):

As COVID-19 continues to roil Colorado and the world, experts are suggesting that the pandemic may teach all of us to work together better. If that’s the case, then a collaborative water system for the Front Range may be a harbinger of things to come, according to a new study.

Released March 10, just days after Colorado reported its first cases of COVID-19, the study indicates that if Front Range cities band together to build a large-scale water reuse and delivery system, water sufficient to serve 100,000 homes could be developed.

It would rely on moving water between cities and farms, building new pipelines, as well as storing water underground and in off-channel reservoirs, and could be done without tapping new sources on the West Slope.

Such a project, if built, would cost $3.2 billion to $4.4 billion, according to the study, a price that is in line with other water delivery systems now being developed.

That cost includes 50 years of operations and maintenance and assumes the water would likely need to be heavily treated.

The study comes as the Front Range faces the most acute water shortages in the state, with a gap between water supply and demand for municipal and industrial users of as much as 540,000 acre-feet projected by 2050, according to a recent analysis by the state. Farmers could face a gap nearly twice that large, particularly in dry years.

Lisa Darling, executive director of the South Metro Water Supply Authority, helped oversee the study. She said once Colorado recovers from COVID-19, she hopes communities will be able to use it as a roadmap toward future water supplies. (Editor’s note: Darling is president of Water Education Colorado, the non-partisan nonprofit that sponsors Fresh Water News.)

“It shows that it’s feasible, and it will allow people to see exactly what it might look like,” she said.

The South Platte Regional Opportunities Water Group (SPROWG), a group that includes dozens of Front Range water districts, sponsored the work. The study analyzed different alternatives for capturing water in the South Platte River as it approaches the Nebraska border, an area where flows are typically more abundant than they are closer to metro Denver, where the river is heavily used and its waters largely claimed by existing users.

Because the river’s supplies in average years are already spoken for, any new water would be developed by capturing some during flood years and, in other years, reusing water already diverted from other basins via new water treatment plants and pipelines, making that water supply go farther.

Funded by the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) and several cities, including Denver and Aurora, the study was geared to help taxpayers from metro Denver to Brighton to Greeley and beyond determine whether they want such a project, how it would be configured, and who would benefit and shoulder the cost.

A group called the South Platte Regional Opportunities Working Group, or SPROWG, is proposing to store 175,000 acre-feet of water in a series of reservoirs on the South Platte River, from north of Denver to the Morgan County line. The project also includes a long pipeline to pump water from the river back to the metro area to be cleaned and re-used. Graphic credit: CWCB via Aspen Journalism

“The price tag sounds like a lot, but it is comparable to other projects in the South Platte Basin,” said Mary Presecan, a consultant with Leonard Rice Engineers and one of the study’s authors.

Water sold through the Loveland-based Colorado-Big Thompson Project is selling for $78,000 to $92,000 an acre-foot, Presecan said, while the SPROWG study analysis shows water developed through this new partnership would cost from $44,000 to $58,000 an acre-foot. An acre-foot equals nearly 326,000 gallons, enough water to serve on average two urban homes for one year.

In addition to water for fast-growing small communities, the study examined providing water to farmers on the Eastern Plains. These farmers control some of the oldest, most senior water rights in the region, but the water is increasingly being sold to thirsty cities, threatening local economies and the livelihoods of farmers left behind, and ultimately reducing the state’s ability to grow food.

A collaborative reuse project could provide additional water to water-short farms, as much as 35,000 acre-feet a year, allowing them to maintain their agricultural production.

“If there is an opportunity to be part of a regional partnership and address the ag gaps, we are all for it,” said Joe Frank, general manager of the Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District, a sponsor of the study.

“SPROWG is a concept where we are starting at a high level and drilling down. Can we bring the whole [South Platte River] Basin together to figure out if this can work,” Frank said.

Early on, the study drew fire from West Slope interests and environmental groups, who feared it would inevitably lead to bigger efforts to tap the drought-stressed Colorado River and could harm the South Platte River.

But feedback from dozens of meetings with citizens, environmentalists, taxpayers and water officials during the past year led the study’s authors to conclude that the project can be structured in such a way to provide environmental benefits, as well as water for cities and farms.

“This is a collaborative way, and an innovative way to conjunctively manage and use a variety of water sources for multiple beneficiaries,” said Matt Lindburg, a consultant with Brown and Caldwell and one of the study’s authors.

State water officials, such as Gail Schwartz, who represents the Colorado River Basin on the Colorado Water Conservation Board, said she believed the regional, collaborative premise underlying the early work could be utilized elsewhere.

“It’s a great model for collaborative thinking,” she said, at the CWCB’s March board meeting in Lakewood. “I think it could work for other parts of the state too.”

Whether the pandemic will bench the work on this new South Platte water delivery planning isn’t clear yet.

But Frank is optimistic work will continue. “The pandemic could slow us down, but it definitely won’t stop us. Now the next step will be determining [which communities] are really serious about coming together and taking this to the next level,” he said.

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.