@EklundCO, Colorado’s top water official, leaves CWCB for law firm in Denver — @AspenJournalism @COWaterPlan

The building in Denver, not far from the state Capitol, that houses the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

Here’s an update to yesterday’s post about James Eklund’s leaving the Colorado Water Conservation Board from Brent Gardner-Smith (Aspen Journalism):

James Eklund, the governor’s point person on the 2015 Colorado Water Plan, is leaving his post as director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board on March 31 to go work as an attorney helping to develop private-sector water projects.

Eklund, 41, has been at the top of the state’s water-supply planning agency since July 2013. He gave notice to the CWCB’s board of directors on March 13 and starts his new job at the Denver office of a large law firm, Squire Patton Boggs, on April 3.

“The private sector needs to make sure it is pulling its weight” when it comes to water infrastructure “and I’m going to see if I can help do that,” Eklund said.

Eklund was appointed director of the Water Conservation Board by Gov. John Hickenlooper after the governor signed an executive order in May 2013 calling for a new state water plan by December 2015.

At the time, Eklund was serving as senior deputy legal counsel in the governor’s office. By July 2013 he had replaced Jennifer Gimbel at the top of the CWCB, becoming the 10th director in the agency’s now 80-year history.

James Eklund, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, on the road promoting Colorado’s Water Plan.

The plan

What followed was an intense two-and-a-year effort by Eklund and CWCB staff members to produce “Colorado’s Water Plan,” including a long series of meetings and presentations around the state.

When Eklund got up in front of an audience to tell them about the water plan, he often appeared to be a Denver attorney in a three-piece suit. But he almost always began his presentations by invoking his great-grandparents, Ole and Mary, immigrants from Norway who homesteaded his family’s ranch in Plateau Valley near Collbran.

James Eklund, in the state Capitol building in Denver, while serving as an attorney in the governor’s office.
James Eklund, with his father Larry Eklund, on the family homestead in western Colorado. Photo via Aspen Journalism.

Old talking points

By sharing his roots, Eklund was reaching out to Coloradoans on both sides of the Continental Divide, knowing that the Western Slope water interests often start conversations about more transmountain diversions with “Not one more drop,” while Front Range interests usually revert to “See you in water court.”

“The toughest thing has been really trying to change that,” said Eklund. “And it’s like turning a cruise ship. It takes awhile, but it’s rewarding when it happens, and as it is happening. I certainly wanted it to turn faster than it has turned, or is turning.

“People go back on their old talking points on this stuff,” Eklund added. “And in some instances, they go back to their grandparent’s and great-grandparent’s talking points. Getting a different level of conversation going, was, and probably will continue to be, the most difficult part of the whole thing.”

From left, Russ George, a CWCB board member, Andrew Gorgey, then Garfield County manager, Peter Fleming, general counsel for the Colorado River District, and James Eklund, director of the CWCB, talking about the potential for new transmountain diversions outside of the Garfield County building in Glenwood Springs in 2015.

Big river

Eklund was also appointed by Hickenlooper to serve on the Upper Colorado River Commission, which works to administer aspects of the 1922 Colorado River Compact in conjunction with a lower basin commission.

He has not resigned from that seat, and said for now he is still serving at the pleasure of the governor on the commission.

He said the issues that divide the upper and lower Colorado River basins – think Colorado versus California – “is kind of like Colorado’s transmountain diversion conundrum on steroids.”

And he said the solutions to both conundrums lie in people, not in water.

“The art of this whole business is to get the two sides to see water as a linkage between them, as a common element that they all need, ” Eklund said. “Then they can get sit around a table and discuss things, instead of pulling pistols on each other and litigating.”

The confluence of the Colorado and Green rivers, fall 2016. If water makes it here, it’s bound for the lower Colorado River basin, so just how much water gets to this point matters to people in seven states. Photo credit Brent Gardner-Smith, Aspen Journalism.

Running hot

Eklund’s resignation after nearly four years at CWCB was a bit of a surprise to some professionals in the Colorado water sector, as the delivery of the water plan is often cited as a successful exercise that galvanized both the state’s water wonks and water users. The result was a glossy and readable policy document, but not an exact prescription for which projects to build or rivers to restore.

“In my tenure, he’s probably made more presentations about what the CWCB does than about the rest of [the agency’s directors] put together,” said Eric Kuhn, who has worked at the Colorado River District for 36 years. “That’s what I think the state is going to miss with James leaving — his energy and his reaching out. The water business is a pretty insular community, and James was unwilling to accept that, and was more willing to get out and talk to everybody about what it is we do.”

Eklund was also known within the CWCB for the mock headlines he presented during his director’s reports at CWCB meetings, doing so to make a point. Sometimes the headlines, attributed to various local newspapers, got a chuckle, sometimes a groan.

On Wednesday, at his final CWCB board meeting, the last of Eklund’s headlines read: “CWCB Spokesman tweets: ‘Smart ass director, his “fake news” headlines, & reign of terror finally over.’”

The reference to a “reign of terror” may have been Eklund’s way of acknowledging he pushed the CWCB staff hard during the development of the water plan.

“It was very intense,” Eklund said of the two-and-a-half-year water plan process, which had firm deadlines for both the draft and final versions. “Everybody had to be all in. The engine was running at a very high level. We kept dumping in new oil, but it runs hot when you have to do something that aggressive.”

Not long after the water plan was duly delivered to the governor at the end of 2015, at least six mid-level and senior employees left the CWCB.

Asked at the time about the turnover at the agency, Eklund said that in many cases it was his staff’s good work on the highly visible water plan that led to them getting better job offers and opportunities.

“Because it has been so successful,” Eklund said of the water plan, “it has raised the brand of each of the individuals who’ve worked on it.”

That may be true of Eklund as well.

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism collaborates with the Post Independent, Aspen Times, Vail Daily and Summit Daily News on coverage of rivers and water in the upper Colorado River basin and the state. The Post, the Times and the Vail Daily published a version of this story on Thursday, March 23, 2017.

Colorado’s top water official leaves for Denver law firm — @AspenJournalism

James Eklund, the director of the CWCB, hails from a Western Slope ranching family. He often works to add a touch of levity to otherwise serious-minded state-level water meetings. James left the Colorado Water Conservation board in Spring of 2017.
James Eklund, the director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, hails from a Western Slope ranching family. He often works to add a touch of levity to otherwise serious-minded, state-level water meetings. Eklund announced his resignation as director of the CWCB in March of 2017.

From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith) via The Glenwood Springs Post-Independent:

James Eklund, the governor’s point person on the 2015 Colorado Water Plan, is leaving his post as director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board on March 31 to go work as an attorney helping to develop private-sector water projects.

Eklund, 41, has been at the top of the state’s water-supply planning agency since July 2013. He gave notice to the CWCB’s board of directors on March 13 and starts his new job at the Denver office of a large law firm, Squire Patton Boggs, on April 3.

“The private sector needs to make sure it is pulling its weight” when it comes to water infrastructure “and I’m going to see if I can help do that,” Eklund said.

Eklund was appointed director of the Water Conservation Board by Gov. John Hickenlooper after the governor signed an executive order in May 2013 calling for a new state water plan by December 2015.

At the time, Eklund was serving as senior deputy legal counsel in the governor’s office. By July 2013 he had replaced Jennifer Gimbel at the top of the CWCB, becoming the 10th director in the agency’s now 80-year history.

What followed was an intense two-and-a-half-year effort by Eklund and CWCB staff members to produce “Colorado’s Water Plan.” The resulting glossy, thick and surprisingly readable policy document came after a seemingly endless series of meetings and presentations by Eklund and CWCB staffers around the state.

And when Eklund got up in front of an audience to tell them about the water plan, he often appeared to be a Denver attorney in a three-piece suit. But he almost always began by invoking his great-grandparents, Ole and Mary, immigrants from Norway who homesteaded his family’s ranch in Plateau Valley near Collbran.

In doing so, Eklund was reaching out to Coloradoans on both sides of the Continental Divide, knowing that the Western Slope water interests often start conversations about more transmountain diversions with “Not one more drop,” while Front Range interests usually revert to “See you in water court.”

“The toughest thing has been really trying to change that,” said Eklund. “And it’s like turning a cruise ship. It takes awhile, but it’s rewarding when it happens, and as it is happening. I certainly wanted it to turn faster than it has turned, or is turning.

“People go back on their old talking points on this stuff,” Eklund added. “And in some instances, they go back to their grandparent’s and great-grandparent’s talking points. Getting a different level of conversation going, was, and probably will continue to be, the most difficult part of the whole thing.”

Eklund was also appointed by Hickenlooper to serve on the Upper Colorado River Commission, which works to administer aspects of the 1922 Colorado River Compact in conjunction with a lower basin commission. He has not resigned from that seat, and said for now he is still serving at the pleasure of the governor on the commission.

He said the issues that divide the upper and lower Colorado River basins – think Colorado versus California – “is kind of like Colorado’s transmountain diversion conundrum on steroids.”

And he said the solutions to both conundrums lie in people, not in water.

“The art of this whole business is to get the two sides to see water as a linkage between them, as a common element that they all need,” Eklund said. “Then they can sit around a table and discuss things, instead of pulling pistols on each other and litigating.”

Eklund’s resignation after nearly four years at CWCB was a bit of a surprise to some professionals in the Colorado water sector, as the delivery of the water plan is often seen as a successful exercise that galvanized both the state’s water wonks and water users, if not an exact prescription for which projects to build or rivers to restore.

“In my tenure, he’s probably made more presentations about what the CWCB does than about the rest of [the agency’s directors] put together,” said Eric Kuhn, who has worked at the Colorado River District for 36 years. “That’s what I think the state is going to miss with James leaving — his energy and his reaching out. The water business is a pretty insular community, and James was unwilling to accept that, and was more willing to get out and talk to everybody about what it is we do.”

Eklund was also known within the CWCB for the mock headlines he presented during his director’s reports at CWCB meetings, doing so to make a point. Sometimes the headlines, attributed to various local newspapers, got a chuckle, sometimes a groan.

On Wednesday, at his final CWCB board meeting, the last of Eklund’s headlines read: “CWCB Spokesman tweets: ‘Smart ass director, his “fake news” headlines, & reign of terror finally over.'”

The reference to a “reign of terror” may have been Eklund’s way of acknowledging he pushed the CWCB staff hard during the development of the water plan.

“It was very intense,” Eklund said of the two-and-a-half-year water plan process, which had firm deadlines for both the draft and final versions. “Everybody had to be all in. The engine was running at a very high level. We kept dumping in new oil, but it runs hot when you have to do something that aggressive.”

Not long after the water plan was duly delivered to the governor at the end of 2015, at least six mid-level and senior employees left the CWCB.

Asked at the time about the turnover at the agency, Eklund said that in many cases it was his staff’s good work on the highly visible water plan that led to them getting better job offers and opportunities.

“Because it has been so successful,” Eklund said of the water plan, “it has raised the brand of each of the individuals who’ve worked on it.”

That may be true of Eklund as well.

Aspen Journalism collaborates with the Post Independent, Aspen Times, Vail Daily and Summit Daily News on coverage of rivers and water in the Colorado River drainage and the state. More water http://www.aspenjournalism.org.

James Eklund to leave @CWCB_DNR, good luck from @CoyoteGulch! @COWaterPlan

Collbran 1906. Photo credit Charlie Koch via the Town of Collbran.

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

James Eklund, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, is stepping down this month to begin work as an attorney with the international law firm Squire Patton Boggs, which has a Denver office.

Eklund has worked for the state for more than a decade. He initially did water work in the Attorney General’s Office before becoming senior deputy legal counsel to Gov. John Hickenlooper in 2011. He became director of the CWCB in 2013, putting him in charge of the state’s water policy and planning efforts. There, he led the agency’s creation of a state water plan aimed at identifying ways to address the gap between the state’s water supply and anticipated future demand.

“Definitely that’s kind of the signature piece that I was able to work on,” Eklund said Monday. “The stars aligned. It was a perfect environment for that to really be successful.”

He said the effort to get the plan adopted was driven by Hickenlooper’s “willingness to spend political capital on water where it hadn’t been spent before,” the grassroots roundtable groups in each of the state’s major river basins that helped develop the plan, and the drought that has beset the region for some 15 years.

An important thing for Eklund was how the plan and a separate cooperative agreement reached between Denver Water and Western Slope entities addressed concerns over future development of Western Slope water by the Front Range.

“Just as a Western Slope person it really made me proud to see that kind of leadership from the Western Slope,” he said.

Eklund continues to have family ties in the Plateau Valley, where his great-great-grandparents homesteaded in 1888.

He said he didn’t know whether his new work would involve Front Range water projects.

“I hope to use my knowledge and skill set to move water infrastructure projects forward statewide. We are one connected state,” Eklund said, pointing to the improved relationships he believes have been achieved between the Front Range and Western Slope when it comes to water issues.

Eklund said he will remain the state’s representative for negotiations on interstate and international Colorado River issues as long as Hickenlooper wants him to remain in that capacity…

Jim Pokrandt, spokesman for the Colorado River District and chair of the roundtable for the Colorado River Basin, said Eklund was fair-minded and understood the viewpoints from both sides of the Continental Divide.

“I thought the water plan was a victory and a lot of credit goes to his staff as well as to him,” Pokrandt said.

Good luck James!

West Slope lawmakers to Front Range: No more West Slope water until you use up your own — @COindependent

Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer’s office

From The Colorado Independent (Marianne Goodland):

Seven Western Slope Republican lawmakers have sent Gov. John Hickenlooper a message: No more water for the Front Range until it better uses what it already has.

The message, delivered through a Feb. 4 letter obtained by The Colorado Independent, is directed mostly at just one area of the state: Denver and the northern Front Range.

For the past 100 years, as the Front Range population and the state’s Eastern Plains agricultural economy have grown, water from the Western Slope has been diverted to the Front Range through a series of tunnels built through the mountains, known as transmountain diversions. But Western Slope water watchers are getting increasingly nervous about the potential for more of those diversions, pointing to a growing need for water in their area for agriculture and recreation and to fulfill multi-state contracts that require Colorado to send Western Slope water to other states, such as California, Arizona and Nevada.

The Front Range must do a better job of storage and conservation before turning to more diversions, the lawmakers wrote. To that end, they implored the governor to make sure any water projects that receive state funds match criteria outlined in the Colorado water plan. The plan calls for the state to conserve at least 400,000 acre-feet of water and to build storage, without specific projects identified, for another 400,000 acre-feet of water. One acre-foot of water is 326,000 gallons, the amount of water used by two families of four per year.

“We would ask for the consistent – and transparent – use of those criteria” when looking at new water projects that would divert water from the Western Slope to the Eastern Slope, they wrote.

The letter is a follow-up to one sent in November 2015, just before the water plan was finalized. That four-page document said the water plan “cannot place Front Range development interests over the autonomy, heritage and economy of Western Slope communities. Nor can the Plan allow the protection of agriculture in one area of state [sic] to come at the expense of agriculture in other areas of the state.”

The water plan is intended to address a looming water shortage of one million acre-feet of water by 2050, when the state’s population is expected to nearly double from about 5 million to more than 10 million people.* The lawmakers worked with the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments’ water committee on both letters, said Torie Jarvis, the staff person to the committee. She said the letters are primarily directed at the South Platte Basin, which covers most of the northern Front Range, the northern half of the Eastern Plains and the Denver metro area.

Jarvis said the letter is not about current water projects underway in the region that also plan to use water from the Western Slope, most notably two reservoir projects under the control of the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District.

“We have good agreements in place” on those projects, Jarvis told The Colorado Independent.

The issue also is the water plan itself. “It imagines what a new diversion would look like,” Jarvis said, which means a focus on development and growth rather than on conservation.

The 2015 letter was signed by eight Republican lawmakers, six of whom are on the 2017 version (two of the 2015 signees are no longer in the legislature). The five Democratic lawmakers who also represent the Western Slope were not included. Also not included: Rep. Diane Mitsch-Bush of Steamboat Springs, a member of an interim water resources review committee that led a statewide review of the water plan. Mitsch-Bush said she had not been asked to sign it but would have, based on its description. Jarvis said the Republican lawmakers decided who should sign the letter, adding that she believes all of the Western Slope Democrats would have signed it.

James Eklund, executive director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, which authored the water plan, said this week that the letter “underscores the importance of Colorado’s Water Plan and demonstrates that implementation will be a collaborative effort.”

He also noted that an annual water projects bill that was introduced in the state House last week would focus on implementing key parts of the state water plan and would address water needs in every part of the state.

*Correction: to note that Colorado’s population in 2050 is expected to be more than 10 million people.

Steamboat Springs: Colorado Ag Water Alliance workshop, March 22, 2017

Yampa/White/Green/North Platte river basins via the Colorado Geological Survey

From the Colorado Ag Water Alliance (Marsha Daughenbaugh) via Steamboat Today:

If you have an agriculture water right, then the Colorado Ag Water Alliance workshop is for you. If you are concerned about the future of Colorado’s water, then the CAWA workshop will be of interest to you. If you want to learn more about water, you might attend the CAWA workshop.

The Colorado Ag Water Alliance is composed of representatives from all the major ranching and farming organizations in the state. The organization’s goal is to preserve Colorado’s irrigated agriculture through education and constructive dialogue. Its role is to provide the best information to Colorado’s agricultural water users and increase the understanding of water rights to help balance the gap between limited water supplies, population growth and the deficit in the Colorado River Basin.

CAWA engages with a variety of entities to address environmental and economic concerns. Currently, CAWA is hosting a series of meetings throughout Colorado to allow and encourage agricultural producers to take an active role in the implementation of the Colorado Water Plan.

A workshop for the Yampa-White-Green River Basins will be held from noon to 4 p.m. March 22 at the Steamboat Springs Community Center, 1605 Lincoln Ave. The workshop is free, and lunch, featuring locally produced food, will be served.

Discussion topics will include the Colorado Water Plan, status of the Colorado River Basin, alternative transfer methods, water leasing, water banking, “use it or lose it” policies, water efficiency and waste, challenges of ditch renovations, collaboration opportunities and research results.

Speakers from CAWA, Colorado Water Institute, Colorado Cattlemen’s Association, Colorado River Water Conservation District, Colorado Division of Water Resources, Colorado Water Trust, Trout Unlimited, The Nature Conservancy and the Maybell Ditch Company will give spirited, quick presentations explaining different parts of Colorado’s complex water issues. Attendees will be encouraged to ask questions and provide feedback throughout the afternoon.

Colorado’s population is predicted to double to 10 million people by 2050, bringing with it a water shortage of more than 500,000 acre-feet per year. Agricultural water rights are being scrutinized as a potential solution to the deficit.

Ideas take time and multiple discussions before anything becomes reality. This workshop is part of a much larger conversation, and it is critical that agricultural producers provide their invaluable knowledge and voices to the deliberations. If not you, then who will speak up? This is a close-to-home opportunity for Northwest Colorado agriculture to participate.

Those planning to attend are encouraged to RSVP to yampaag.eventbrite.com for a lunch count.

This workshop hosted by CAWA, Community Agriculture Alliance and the Yampa-White-Green Basins Roundtable. Other sponsors include CSU Routt County Extension, Colorado Cattlemen’s Association, CSU’s Colorado Water Institute, Colorado Water Conservation Board, Colorado Corn and Rocky Mountain Farmer’s Union.

Marsha Daughenbaugh is the executive director of the Community Agriculture Alliance and a member of the Routt County CattleWomen.

Steamboat Springs: Ag Producers’ Water Workshop, March 22 @COWaterPlan

A screenshot from the website for Colorado’s Water Plan.

From the Colorado Ag Water Alliance via The Ag Journal:

The next Colorado Ag Water Alliance (CAWA) Ag Producers’ Water Workshop will be held Wednesday, March 22, at the Steamboat Springs Community Center, 1605 Lincoln Ave., Steamboat Springs, Colorado, from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. The event is free, and the organizers hope to have a good turnout of producers in the region.

The Colorado Water Plan aims to address the water needs of cities, agriculture and the environment in light of projected shortages. Agriculture is a focus.

What are alternative transfer methods? What’s the motivation for farmers and ranchers to participate in leasing or to improve irrigation efficiency? What are the barriers?

Brief, highly-focused presentations and panel dialogue will cover the basics, followed by opportunity for ag producers to ask questions and engage in dialogue about what they see as opportunities and barriers—and how those barriers and opportunities might best be addressed.

Gunnison River: UGRWCD gets @CWCB_DNR grant for @COWaterPlan watershed planning

Gunnison River Basin via the Colorado Geological Survey
Gunnison River Basin via the Colorado Geological Survey

From The Crested Butte News (Crystal Kotowski):

In January the Colorado Water Conservation Board granted the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District (UGRWCD) and partners $175,000 to begin local watershed management planning efforts. The funding will support the gathering of baseline information, initial stakeholder outreach, and future needs assessments in three Upper Gunnison tributary basins from 2017 to 2020.

The goals of the Upper Gunnison Basin Watershed Management Plan are to protect existing water uses and water quality, and improve relationships between different water users. The plan also seeks to understand whether there are gaps between available water and future uses, and how to best manage that water moving forward. Water experts predict that the Colorado population will rise exponentially, putting more stress on the Front Range’s limited water supply and thus the Western Slope, and changing temperatures will reduce water availability.

The planning framework developed by the UGRWCD includes needs identified in the Colorado Water Plan, but also focuses on agricultural and municipal uses. Irrigated hay and pasture meadows have rights to approximately 95 percent of the basin’s water resources. “Our planning process distinguishes between ‘watershed management’ and ‘stream management,’” explained UGRWCD board member and outreach coordinator George Sibley.

“’Stream management’ in the Colorado Water Plan focuses almost entirely on environmental and recreational needs. Watershed management covers our interactions with all of the water resources in the entire watershed, including groundwater, and water removed from streams for human purposes,” said Sibley…

Gunnison River watersheds encompass over 8,000 square miles of western Colorado and are critical headwaters of the Colorado River. “The Upper Gunnison River Basin is a headwaters basin, which means it is not yet really a river, but many flows of water becoming a river. Most of those streams organize themselves into seven main watersheds, each unique in its natural and human cultural geography,” said Sibley…

Locally, the assessments will begin with the Ohio Creek, East River and Lake Fork watersheds, providing a framework for the other four watersheds over the next four years.

Each watershed study begins with a needs assessment inventory of known and anticipated needs stretching out to mid-century from industry, recreation, agriculture, and human settlements in general—while subsequently identifying areas with significant environmental concerns.

The studies will seek to understand ecosystem function needs, river flows, infrastructure in need of improvement, water quality impairment issues, and ensuing legal frameworks. This first phase will also address information gaps and develop pilot projects to demonstrate best management practices. Pilot studies and demonstration projects in each watershed will look at options to reconcile instream and diversion needs. Potential demonstration projects include ditch repair, stream channel reconfiguration, wetland enhancements, coordination irrigation or other conservation practices.

The UGRWCD will be the coordinating agency for the watershed management planning processes, working with other water-related agencies and organizations within the Upper Gunnison Basin, including but not limited to the Gunnison County Stockgrowers Association, the seven municipal/domestic water suppliers in the Upper Gunnison Basin, Trout Unlimited, High Country Conservation Advocates, the Coal Creek Watershed Coalition, the Lake Fork Conservancy, recreational organizations, and federal and state land management agencies.