OPINION: Support for ‘Demand Management’ Water Policies — The Pagosa Daily Post #ColoradoRiver #COriver #DCP #aridification

Hoover Dam. Photo credit: Air Wolfhound Flickr Creative Commons

Here’s a guest column by Matt Rice, Bart Miller, and Aaron Citron that’s running in The Pagosa Daily Post:

After 19 years of drought across the Colorado River Basin, we know that our state’s water supplies are vulnerable, and we can’t rely on fluctuations in the weather — or a season of above-average snowpack – for the water security we need.

We are using more water than we have. As our population continues to grow, we need to implement structural, far-reaching conservation solutions to support healthy communities, businesses, and ecosystems. Although snow has been plentiful this winter, last year’s drought devastated local businesses, communities, and fish and wildlife across the state. We can’t afford to forget the images from just months ago: firefighters dropping gravel and mud on wildfires because there wasn’t enough water in the rivers, a first-ever “call” because of record-low water on the Yampa River, farmers standing in dry alfalfa fields, outfitters unable to operate because of low rivers, and fish so stressed from warm temperatures and low flows that anglers were urged to stay away.

Governor Polis has already shown leadership in his commitment to funding Colorado’s Water Plan, which lays out a blueprint for addressing the risks and uncertainties of a continued dry future. In his State of the State address, Gov. Polis committed to providing bipartisan, sustainable funding for the plan, and pledged that his administration would do its part to implement the Plan. He commended the work of his predecessor, Governor Hickenlooper, but acknowledged that there is much more work to do. He also requested $30 million this year to help pay for the water plan.

We recently learned that the budget proposed to the Colorado legislature would cut this $30 million in proposed funding down to $10 million. This reduction primarily cuts funding to lay the groundwork for the implementation of a multi-state Colorado River strategy that will be reviewed by Congress this week. The conservation strategies envisioned in that process can increase our water security and introduce more flexible water management strategies to the benefit of all Coloradans.

To implement this program, all Colorado River Basin states will need to reduce their use of water for the benefit of the whole system. In Colorado, this “demand management” would be a voluntary and market-based approach to conservation. It would be a flexible, dynamic way to provide greater water security, with benefits for the entire Colorado River Basin. The program would pay willing water users like farmer, ranchers, industries, cities and towns to temporarily reduce their water consumption, thereby keeping more water in our rivers and reservoirs. Those reductions can result from temporarily reducing the number of acres under irrigation or switching to crops that use less water, or similarly instituting drought restrictions in cities and towns.

This multi-state program, including demand management, is premised on stabilizing the levels in the Colorado River Basin’s largest reservoirs, providing greater certainty that we will have enough water in dry times. Conserved water would then be delivered to Colorado’s water “bank account” in Lake Powell, supporting the health of our rivers along the way. These increased water-flows support small businesses, rural communities, the outdoor recreation industry, and river habitats as well as birds and other wildlife.

On March 19, seven Colorado River Basin states finalized their drought contingency plans (DCPs), setting the stage for a more secure water future. A key part of the DCP for Colorado is the opportunity to store saved water in Lake Powell. It’s now up to Colorado to create a demand management program and starting putting water into it. Colorado has an opportunity to start building the framework we need to protect our water, but we can’t do it without the resources and support to construct proactive conservation measure like our demand management program.

We know how critical it is to protect our state’s rivers, provide clean, reliable drinking water supplies for our communities, and preserve our agricultural heritage. Colorado has made some progress toward implementing the Water Plan, but further action and investment is urgently needed.

Authors of this essay include Matt Rice, American Rivers; Bart Miller, Western Resource Advocates; and Aaron Citron, The Nature Conservancy.

2019 #COleg: Current version of SB19-207 (FY 2019-20 Long Bill) still includes funding for #COWaterPlan

Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013

From Water Education Colorado (Jerd Smith) via The Colorado Springs Gazette:

Colorado lawmakers, citing lower revenue forecasts and competing needs, have dramatically reduced proposed funding for the Colorado Water Plan and Colorado River drought work, providing roughly one-third of what Gov. Jared Polis had requested in his budget for this year.

This year, the Colorado Water Conservation Board, the agency charged with overseeing the state water plan and developing the Colorado River drought contingency plan, said it would have $30 million to work with as a result of the governor’s request.

Of that, $20 million would be used to pursue work on a historic, multiyear initiative to find ways to reoperate reservoirs and voluntarily cut back water use to relieve pressure on the drought-stricken Colorado River. The rest would go toward grants to fund entities across the state that are working to implement the Colorado Water Plan.

But lawmakers aren’t required to honor all budget requests from governors, and Joint Budget Committee members said they would provide just $10 million.

That appropriation leaves intact the $1.7 million the Colorado Water Conservation Board had budgeted this year to do public outreach and technical studies for the drought contingency plan.

The rest, $8.3 million, will be used to fund water plan grants over the next three years and comes in addition to the annual funding toward water plan implementation that the Colorado Water Conservation Board has been providing from its budget.

Even with the reduction, state officials said they are pleased that, for the first time since it was finalized in 2015, general fund money is being dedicated to the water plan.

Polis’ office said the new general fund allocation is an important step forward.

“There is always more work to do, but we are excited the JBC has provided unprecedented general funds to make progress toward the state’s water plan,” the office said in a statement.

Rebecca Mitchell, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, said the reduction in funds is manageable. “The $1.7 million we had expected for this year is still there. And we have $8.3 million for the water plan. With that, we feel like we can still move forward.”

Two weeks ago, the Colorado Water Conservation Board formally approved the drought contingency plan effort and expects to begin recruiting people to serve on several public drought work groups this week…

Colorado water leaders have been pleading with the state to move quickly on the drought contingency plan to ensure there is some protection should Colorado and its neighboring states in the Upper Colorado River Basin be unable to meet legal obligations to deliver water to Arizona, California and Nevada.

This year’s task is to determine if there is an equitable way to cut back on water use, where and how those cutbacks would occur, how to measure the reductions and how to protect the environment, local economies and the legal rights of water users while the drought plan is in effect. Up to 500,000 acre-feet of the water saved through such efforts, known as demand management, could be stored in Lake Powell via the new seven-state drought agreement.

Despite the need for action, Andy Mueller, general manager of the Glenwood Springs-based Colorado River Water Conservation District, said the enormity of crafting a statewide demand management plan requires that the state be prudent in data gathering and analysis.

“If you do the math on voluntary, compensated demand management, you know it will cost tens of millions of dollars a year to run. That is a frightening concept, but in a complex situation like this, where there are so many multifaceted components, you have to plan.”

Financing water projects in Colorado has rarely been easy, particularly in small, rural communities or when there is no clear connection to taxpayers. After finalizing the Colorado Water Plan in 2015, officials estimated the state would need roughly $100 million a year to fully fund it and help close the gap on water shortages the state is likely to face by 2030.

Four years later, though, little progress has been made on securing a permanent funding source, although several nonprofits, such as the Walton Family Foundation, together with the state’s Interbasin Compact Committee are exploring funding options, including a possible ballot initiative in coming years. The committee represents the state’s eight major river basins plus the Denver metro area and was involved in the Colorado Water Plan’s development.

From The Fort Morgan Times (Marianne Goodland):

The state Senate on Thursday adopted Colorado’s $30.5 billion budget, often termed the “long bill,” for 2019-20 and sent it on to the state House for the next step.

The budget includes a last-minute compromise between Senate Democrats and Republicans, who have been at war for the past two weeks in an effort to delay action on items like the “red flag” bill and other measures.

The compromise added $106 million to the state’s transportation funding, using existing general fund revenues. With that addition, the Colorado Department of Transportation might have $336 million in one-time money available for road and bridge projects. That amendment still must be adopted by the House in order to be included in the final budget.

Despite the compromise, lawmakers indicated they are nervous about the prospects of another recession and what it could do to the state budget. That included Joint Budget Committee Chair and Sen. Dominick Moreno of Commerce City, who noted a recent revenue forecast “erased” $250 million in expected revenues, due to a growing economic slowdown.

The budget did not increase the state’s rainy-day fund, which would help weather such a downturn. As passed by the Senate, the rainy-day fund is at 7.25 percent of general fund revenue, or about $843 million. However, economists have warned that Colorado needs a rainy-day fund at least double that amount to survive even a moderate recession. A slowdown like 2008’s Great Recession would require $2 billion, according to a George Mason University study from a couple of years ago.

While most of the budget package sailed through, one bill drew more opposition than one might expect. Senate Bill 212 puts $10 million in general fund revenue into continued implementation of the state water plan. But that’s $20 million less than was sought by the previous administration (Gov. Jared Polis didn’t say one way or the other how he felt about it) and for the first time tapped general fund dollars, rather than severance tax revenues.

#RioGrande “State of the Basin” recap #COWaterPlan

Map of the Rio Grande watershed. Graphic credit: WikiMedia

From the San Luis Valley Water Conservancy District via The Monte Vista Journal:

During the 2019 “State of the Basin Symposium” at Adams State University, the Rio Grande Basin was reminded that Colorado has a water plan as Heather Dutton, manager of the San Luis Valley Water Conservancy District and Rio Grande Basin representative on the Colorado Water Conservation Board, shared some insights on the Colorado Water Plan.

Officially completed on Nov. 19, 2015 by the Colorado Water Conservation Board, the statewide effort followed an Executive Order from Governor John Hickenlooper and represents a great deal of work and input from many experts across the state. Dutton opened her remarks by giving a brief history of the San Luis Valley Water Conservancy District. Next, she turned the focus of her presentation to some of the components of the plan and the work of the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

Dutton noted that the plan was designed to address the major water issues that Colorado faces. Some of the key areas that the plan focuses on include agriculture, conservation, land use, the supply-demand gap, storage, and watershed health environment, funding, and outreach and education. The plan has been called a roadmap for the future of Colorado’s water. There are numerous goals that the plan has outlined such as maximizing alternatives to permanent agriculture dry-up and the promotion of water efficiency ethic for all Coloradans. The overarching goal of the plan is to help Colorado meet its water needs relative to growing population levels and reach a degree of sustainability by 2030.
Dutton also mentioned the Colorado Water Plan Grant Program, which is the funding portion of the plan that is designed to provide needed financial assistance for vital water projects across the state. “The CWCB is putting its money where its mouth is,” said Dutton.

Dutton further noted that part of the process of creating the plan included gathering input from each of Colorado’s respective basin roundtables. Each basin was required to submit its own plan. This led to the Rio Grande Basin Implementation Plan. The result was the San Luis Valley water community having a voice in the entire process. Dutton acknowledged the work of many of the leaders that were present.

While the implementation process is ongoing, Dutton expressed optimism that Colorado Water Plan will continue help the Rio Grande Basin and the rest of the state see a brighter future when it comes to water.

#Colorado’s new Department of Natural Resources head talks oil and water — The Colorado Independent #ActOnClimate

Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013

From The Colorado Independent (John Herrick):

Hundreds of men and women who work in the state’s oil and gas fields flocked to the state Capitol this week to protest a bill that, if passed, will impose dramatic changes on the way oil and gas drilling is conducted in Colorado. Workers filled the halls of the Capitol ahead of what ended up being a 12-hour committee hearing on the proposed legislation. Many who lined up to testify said they feared the new regulations would end up costing them their jobs.

Also waiting to testify was Dan Gibbs, the newly appointed executive director for the Department of Natural Resources. The 43-year-old from Breckenridge will play a key role in guiding oil and gas regulators — who work in his department — through any regulatory changes. The bill, which is expected to win approval of the Democrat-controlled legislature and Gov. Jared Polis, calls for landmark regulatory changes, including elimination of the mandate that state regulators foster oil and gas development.

Gibbs, a former county commissioner and state lawmaker, has made it clear that he supports the bill, especially a provision that would give local communities more say in permitting decisions. Current Colorado law says that responsibility for regulating fracking falls to the state. Still, several cities across the Front Range have sought in vain to control drilling within their borders, including outright bans. As a state representative, Gibbs helped strengthen regulations over oil and gas, sponsoring a bill to protect wildlife from drilling impacts. He brings his more regulation-focused perspective to the department on the heels of a record production year for the $31-billion industry.

During his testimony, Gibbs said he heard similar fears of job cuts when he was a lawmaker working on oil and gas bills.

“We didn’t see any evidence of any job loss as a result of these bills. In fact, there was an increase in activity from 2007 to what we see now,” said Gibbs, who was sitting next to Erin Martinez, a survivor of the Firestone explosion in April 2017. Her husband and brother were killed.

Gibbs grew up rafting, fly fishing, skiing and ultrarunning. He wears a sports watch and carries his wildland firefighting red card at all times. He worked for former U.S. Sen. Mark Udall in Washington, D.C., served as a state representative before being appointed to the Senate by a vacancy committee, and has been elected Summit County commissioner three times.

The Department of Natural Resources, made up of 1,465 employees, oversees drilling, mining, water management and state parks in Colorado. In addition to navigating changes to Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission [COGCC], the body that regulates and promotes oil and gas development, he will also be responsible for another urgent challenge: trying to figure out how to pay for the Colorado Water Plan. The plan, which will cost an estimated $100 million a year to implement, is part of a solution to avert projected water shortages due to population growth, climate change and obligations to other states and tribes that rely on the Colorado River.

We spoke to Gibbs before Tuesday’s marathon Senate Transportation and Energy committee hearing, and again afterward. Our conversation has been edited for clarity and brevity.

You spend a lot of time outdoors. Is there anything you’ve seen that for you really exemplifies climate change?

In 2009, I was fighting the Old Stage Fire in Boulder County during the second week of January on the first day of the legislative session…

That’s when former Gov. Bill Ritter was giving his State of the State address.

Yeah, he actually mentioned me. ‘As we speak, Dan Gibbs in on the fire line.’ Never did I think I would be fighting a fire in Colorado in January. But that just shows how clearly things are changing. You know, in Summit County, we have 156,000 acres of dead trees as a result of the mountain pine beetle. It was like a slow-moving tsunami, moving from Grand County into Summit County. … I mention this because the mountain pine beetle is a situation of climate change where the winters historically have not been cold enough.

What do you think the economic impacts of oil and gas drilling in Colorado are?

There can be a balance with doing things in a more environmentally friendly way while recognizing the economic impacts of having oil and gas industry do well in Colorado. I don’t think it’s either-or. I worked on a bill that added a higher level of wildlife protections for oil and gas. … I was in the committee room. It was packed full of sportsmen wearing camo and blaze orange. And I also had support from oil and gas industry. At that time they were willing to be supportive of this particular bill, believe it or not. As a local government person, formerly as a county commissioner, county commissioners are in charge of looking at health, safety and welfare of people that live in that community and visit. … If someone wants to build something they have to go through a planning process to get approval. If they want to mine something — you know we have a lot of historic mines in Summit County — they need to get a [permit]. We have a gravel pit. And people had concerns about the trucks going by their house. Well, we can make sure the rocks are covered. We can mitigate the times of operation. We can make things more doable for people that have to be directly impacted by that.

What about the economic impacts of drilling on industries like the outdoor recreation industry? I’m wondering if you think the economic impacts of drilling and coal mining go beyond just the jobs of the people that are working in the oil fields or the coal mines.

I don’t think we need to pit one industry against another. I wouldn’t even call it the recreation industry because, where I live, it’s the environment that’s the economic driver. So the more we can protect the environment, the more it is beneficial to our economy. And I think that’s reflective of many parts of Colorado.

How do you reconcile those two competing imperatives: to protect the environment, while at the same time protecting an industry that offers good-paying jobs and provides money for your department.

We need to look at ways we can protect people, protect the environment, and people’s way of life. I think oil and gas can do things in a way that is not harmful to people’s health. I think there is a way to do it. I don’t think you need to set up oil and gas wells right next to where people live. I think there are ways to do better environmental monitoring of wells when they are close to where people live or when they are close to critical water storage areas. I think we can do things in a more environmentally friendly way where oil and gas can continue to do business in Colorado while minimizing harming the environment.

The state legislature wants to do way with COGCC’s role of fostering oil and gas development and make it solely a regulatory agency. What’s your reaction to the bill in the legislature?

I think there should be serious reforms within the structure with how we do things in Colorado. I support this bill, Senate Bill 181. I like having local government have a seat at the table if they want to. … Local governments are in the business of regulating land use issues. I’m shocked that local communities have never had the authority to shape land use decisions as it relates to oil and gas. Depending on many truckloads go through an area, things can be mitigated based on how close [that activity] is to homes, how close it is to critical wildlife areas like sage grouse.

You’re going to be over at the state Capitol today. You may end up talking to a number of people who work in the industry who will say ‘I’m going to lose my job’ because of this bill. What are you going to tell them?

I will say that’s not true. There is no evidence to reflect that this bill is trying to shut down industry in any way. What it’s trying to do is balance oil and gas activity with looking at what’s best for people and their communities. It’s not creating necessarily a veto power. It is adding a layer of oversight that doesn’t exist now. New oversight. So I would say that’s just not an accurate statement. But I’m sure we’ll hear that a lot. The industry is important in Colorado. And the bill, as it goes through the process, will have five, six hearings and discussions in the House and Senate and opportunities to amend. It’s not the ending point, but the starting point. The bill will likely change.

I wanted to transition to water. Water projects are funded through severance taxes. And severance taxes are dependent on the production of oil and gas. Would you describe that as a competing mission — on one hand you have these environmental programs that are reliant on an industry that has an environmental impact?

It’s funny you say that. Well, not funny. As a county commissioner, we funded all of our recycling programs through tipping fees at our landfills. The more trash we got, the more programs we could fund for diversion. And so, it’s similar, the more oil and gas activity you have in the state, the more we can fund environmental programs. … I think we need a new strategy in terms of how we fund environmental programs. And not just be dependent on severance funds. Looking at other programs I have: the Parks and Wildlife budget is about 85 percent contingent on hunting and fishing licenses. I’m going to be working on a more sustainable funding source moving forward that is not just contingent on hunting and fishing licenses.

Should people who recreate, like backpackers, pay more to Colorado Parks and Wildlife?

What we have right now for Parks and Wildlife is not sustainable. We need to look at every option on the table. … We really need to be creative to figure out who might be willing to help fund the trail system throughout Colorado and what opportunities exist with new foundations that could help with funding.

What are you doing to come up with a new funding mechanism or revenue stream for the Colorado Water Plan?

I just met with a group of stakeholders. The governor has more or less a line item request of $30 million this year. And that will go along with the [state budget]. And then, on top of that, we have the Colorado Water Conservation Board’s water projects bill, and that’s going to have $20 million associated with that. So we’re going to have $50 million going toward implementation strategies. We need about $100 million [per year] moving forward. I think this is a great place to start. You need a lot of local partners. It’s not just the state flipping the switch. … We have all these folks that are working hard to figure out a plan moving forward. There is talk of a possible ballot question in the future. All options are on the table.

When do you expect the Surface Water Supply Index (SWSI) report [which projects Colorado’s water shortages] to be ready?

Sometime over the summer.

It was supposed to come out years ago. What explains the delay?

I don’t know. But I will tell you that I think moving forward it’s important that we do regular updates to SWSI. Climate change, population growth, and a variety of different factors impact water availability. I think we need to get on a set schedule that gives us updates — I’m not saying every year — but fairly frequently. That will help us set policies going forward.

Water shortages are projected in future years and there is no clear way to pay for the water plan. You still have oil and gas and local communities duking it out in the suburbs. There are a lot of pressing issues without easy answers. This job will pay about $160,000, but aside from that, what made you want to take on this challenge?

I think daily about my young kids and the fact that I could be in this position right now and I can shape how we manage natural resources right now, but have an eye on what Colorado will look like in the next generation, in future generations. That really appeals to me. Working for a governor like Jared Polis, I support his vision of protecting the environment, understanding that protecting the environment is the best way that we can protect our economy in Colorado.

What keeps you up at night?

I think about the employees that work here for DNR. We have amazing staff here and ensuring that they are OK in the jobs that they have. But any day I could hear about an oil and gas explosion similar to Firestone. That definitely keeps me up. I worry about hearing about the mountain lion attack in Fort Collins and then looking at strategies that we have to deal with lions. This jobs is so diverse. Folks can call me at two in the morning with catastrophic situations like Firestone.

Someone might call you up and bring you out to the fireline, too, right?

Yeah, exactly. I get nervous about oil and gas. But once it hits summertime, I feel like we are one lighting strike, one unattended campfire, from having a mega-fire in Colorado that would have devastating consequences.

#Drought, what drought? The #ColoradoRiver Basin dance — @WillSarni #cwcac2019 #COriver #aridification

A raft coming out of Cataract Canyon into upper Lake Powell encounters the bathtub ring left by the receding reservoir. As Lake Powell, and Lake Mead, continue to see less and less water, it’s prompting water managers, including those at the Colorado River District, to coordinate on ways to send more water downstream. Photo credit: Aspen Journalism/Brent Gardner-Smith

From GreenBiz (Will Sarni):

At the invitation of Doug Kemper, executive director of the Colorado Water Congress, I presented the keynote address at its annual meeting Jan. 31. My presentation was on water as a business risk and opportunity, and the role of innovation — technology and partnerships, among other things — in solving water challenges.

One of the water challenges discussed at the gathering is close to the organization’s Denver home: the Colorado River Basin. The timing of the Colorado Water Congress (CWC) meeting and my participation in the annual meeting was timely, as the Colorado River Basin states had until the end of the day to agree to finalize the Drought Contingency Plan (DCP).

The CWC is an important organization that brings together stakeholders that are engaged in managing water in Colorado. This includes state government, water utilities, NGOs and other interested parties such as the private sector. Two of the more prominent discussions at the CWC meeting were the DCP negotiations and how to fund the implementation of Colorado’s Water Plan. Central to solving both challenges is engaging the private sector. However, there was little discussion, if any, about the private sector’s critical interest in finalizing the DCP and ensuring the implementation of Colorado’s Water Plan is funded.

This essay centers on thoughts about how progress has unfolded to date and the role of the business sector in the Colorado River Basin DCP. (I will focus on funding the implementation of Colorado’s Water Plan in another article.)

The economic value of the Colorado River Basin is significant. It represents about $1.4 trillion in annual economic activity, the equivalent of about 1/12th of the total U.S. GDP, or roughly 16 million jobs. It is estimated that if 10 percent of the river’s water were unavailable, there would be a loss of $143 billion in economic activity and 1.6 million jobs in just one year.

The Colorado River Basin has two main reservoirs, Lake Mead on the Arizona-Nevada border and Lake Powell upstream. The combined storage of these reservoirs is at the lowest level since the early 1960s. As a result, if the water level in Lake Mead falls to an elevation of 1,075 feet, water deliveries to Arizona and Nevada would be curtailed. This is a real possibility next year.
The goal of the DCP is to spread the curtailments more widely and eventually include California. Essentially, the plan advocates for keeping more water in Lake Mead to keep it from falling drastically and avoiding severe curtailments of water delivery to the Lower Basin states.

The state of play as of Jan. 31 among the seven Colorado Basin States was less than ideal, in my opinion. (Wyoming, Colorado, Utah and New Mexico have been designated as Upper Basin states, while Arizona, California and Nevada are Lower Basin states.)

Accordingly, on Feb. 1, the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation (the bureau has broad authority to manage water supplies in the Colorado River’s Lower Basin) stated that since two states — California and Arizona — missed the deadline to reach consensus, the federal government could intervene and decide the rules.

The agency’s commissioner, Brenda Burman, said she prefers that the seven states that rely on the river reach a consensus for how to protect the basin. But she said, “We are close, and I applaud those who have worked to get us close but only done will protect this basin,” she told reporters. “Time to get the job done.” So, as of this writing, the future is still uncertain.

Arizona lawmakers did pass legislation supporting the drought plan, and Gov. Doug Ducey signed it. Arizona was the only state that required lawmakers to review the plan. Now, water users must sign 15 agreements that address water storage, conservation and other details.

James Eklund, Colorado’s representative on interstate river negotiations, said he wasn’t surprised or discouraged by Burman’s position. “You’ve got to stick with deadlines or sometimes people won’t take you seriously. She wasn’t draconian about it,” Eklund said.

While there has been much discussion of the positions of the various state and federal agencies on the DCP, the substantial interest and influence of the private sector only seems to be marshaled in times of crisis.

The Arizona business community, for example, seemed to weigh in on the DCP discussion only at the proverbial 11th hour. But the legislation it supported passed overwhelmingly.

Regardless, it is long overdue for the private sector’s strong voice on how to implement long-term solutions to manage the Colorado River Basin to be heard. A positive development: State Colorado River principals, such as Colorado’s Eklund, are asking the business community to weigh in, by engaging business groups such as the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce.

We are not experiencing a “drought” — in my view, this situation is a result of overallocation of the Colorado River Basin water coupled with the impacts of climate change.

It’s time for businesses to speak up and for them to ally with organizations such as the CWC, The Nature Conservancy, Business for Water Stewardship and other organizations to ensure there is sustainable water for economic development, business growth, ecosystem health and social well-being.

Putting the #COWaterPlan to work on the Western Slope — Sara Dunn #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

From “Conservation Conversations” (Sara Dunn) via The Glenwood Springs Post Independent:

The Colorado Water Plan marked its three-year anniversary in November of 2018. Developed in response to an executive order from Gov. Hickenlooper, Colorado’s Water Plan answers the questions of how to implement water supply planning solutions that meet Colorado’s future water needs while supporting healthy watersheds and the environment, robust recreation and tourism economies, vibrant and sustainable cities, and viable and productive agriculture.

Basin implementation plans were developed by each Basin Roundtable to implement the Colorado Water Plan objectives through identification of local water needs, priorities and projects.

To further define localized water needs and project challenges and solutions, stream management and integrated water management plans are being developed for prioritized rivers and streams. Stream management plans use hydrological, biological, chemical, geomorphological and other data to assess flows, water quality, aquatic and riparian health and other physical conditions of the stream. Integrated water management plans also consider the consumptive use requirements in the planning process.

The Colorado River was identified as one of the State’s highest priority rivers. Encompassing approximately 9,830 square miles, it is one of the State’s largest watersheds. The Colorado River supplies municipal, recreational, environmental and agricultural uses on both the West Slope and East Slope of Colorado.

Approximately 80 percent is utilized on the Western Slope while the remaining 20 percent is utilized on the Eastern Slope. Each year between 450,000 to 600,000 acre feet of water is diverted from the Colorado River system to the Eastern Slope. The Colorado River will play a central role in supporting Colorado’s growing population which is expected to be between 8.6 million and 10 million people by 2050.

The Colorado Basin Implementation Plan estimates that currently 584,000 acre feet of Colorado River Basin water is used to irrigate 268,000 acres and there is an existing annual average shortfall of 100,000 acre feet, sometimes referred to as the agricultural water gap.

Cattle and hay represent the highest percentage of agricultural production in the Colorado River Basin. Other crops include fruits, vegetables, wine grapes, grains and other specialty crops. Industrial hemp production is expected to have exponential growth and could represent a much higher percentage of agricultural production in the coming years.

The communities in the middle section of the Colorado River Basin from Glenwood Springs to DeBeque rely on tourism and the energy industry, in addition to agriculture, to sustain their economies. The Bookcliff, South Side and Mount Sopris Conservation Districts, in collaboration with the Middle Colorado Watershed Council are developing an integrated water management plan for the middle section of the Colorado River.

The goals of the plan include protecting and restoring streams, rivers and riparian health; sustaining and promoting agriculture; securing safe drinking water for our growing population; encouraging conservation across all uses; working with local land use planning authorities to develop water-conscious land use strategies; and ensuring reliable and predictable administration pursuant to Colorado’s water laws and interstate compacts. The initial evaluation and planning process undertaken by the districts and the Middle Colorado Watershed Council will continue through 2020.

The conservation districts are focusing on the consumptive use components of the integrated water management plan which include agricultural uses, municipal and drinking water uses, and industrial use. The districts are gathering information on current consumptive use practices and demands and identifying where shortages exist on a localized level to recommend possible solutions to address these gaps and to identify projects that can benefit multiple water demands.

The conservation districts’ objectives in the planning process are to reduce agricultural water shortages, minimize potential for non-voluntary transfer of agriculture water rights to municipal use, develop incentives to support agricultural production and increase education among the agricultural community and general public about Colorado River Basin water issues.

Offering opportunities to safeguard the ability of agriculture to continue producing food and fiber in a healthy and sustainable landscape has been the mission of the Conservation Districts since they were established in 1937 by Congressional Act. This grassroots leadership evolved out of the Dust Bowl Era and the recognition that individuals working on a local level can provide more effective assistance in conserving our natural resources.

The Bookcliff, South Side and Mount Sopris Conservation Districts coordinate technical, financial and educational resources to mitigate drought issues on private lands, improve riparian areas and wildlife habitat, and address water quality and quantity challenges. Please visit our website to learn how you can participate in the integrated water management planning process: http://www.bookcliffcd.org.

[Governor] Polis on Water — Floyd Ciruli

Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013

From Ciruli and Associates (Floyd Ciruli):

Newly inaugurated Governor Jared Polis had a low-key and positive start on water. His natural resource transition included Hickenlooper’s in-house water expert, John Stulp. Water policy in his State of the State address was only one paragraph, but it succinctly supported the State Water Plan and advocated getting it funded. He linked Colorado’s water to its agricultural needs, which is one of the key principles of the plan. That is, preserving agriculture in Colorado requires intelligent and prudent water management.

State of the State on Water

“The lifeblood of our agriculture industry is water – which is why we must commit to a bipartisan and sustainable funding source for the Colorado Water Plan. Governor Hickenlooper, along with the leadership of John Stulp, did extraordinary work bringing together a coalition of Coloradans from all corners of our state to create the Water Plan. Now we’re going to do our part by implementing it.” State of the State address, Jan. 10, 2019

Dealing with the water gap that is well identified in the State Plan is essential to protect irrigated agriculture and support the state’s quality of life and economy. The largest number of residential, business and agricultural water users are in the Arkansas and Platte basins. Their needs must be balanced with other users and uses, including recreation, wildlife and aesthetics.