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

Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Charles Ashby):

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

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

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

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

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

#ColoradoRiver District seminar recap @ColoradoWater #CRDseminar #COriver

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

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From KJCT8.com:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SMART PRIORITIZATION AND COLLABORATION CRITICAL

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Work with irrigators

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PARCHED: Anticipated tab for state water plan doubles in less than two years — @COindependent

Photo credit: Allen Best

From The Colorado Independent (Susan Greene):

New price tag reflects costs of water treatment projects, which governor says were “never intended” to be part of the water plan

Implementing Gov. John Hickenlooper’s ambitious water plan likely will cost at least twice what the administration projected.

When releasing the statewide strategy in 2015, James Eklund, then director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board [CWCB], estimated that amassing enough water to avoid a critical shortfall mid-century would cost $20 billion. He didn’t indicate what that amount would pay for, saying the figure was more of a “back-of-the-napkin analysis” than the sum of specific costs for specific projects in a set list of priorities.

Eklund resigned in March, taking his $20 billion napkin with him.

Now, less than a month into the job, his successor Becky Mitchell is setting more realistic cost projections for a plan that seeks to glean massive amounts of water not just to accommodate population growth, but also to keep farms and ranches in business and to protect Colorado’s rivers and the ecosystems that rely on them.

Mitchell is putting the anticipated price tag at $40 billion, and “maybe more.” Some $18 billion is likely to be paid by existing sources such as municipalities, water utilities, and ditch companies that deliver water to farms and ranches, she said. She described the remaining $22 billion as an “unmet funding need.”

“Cost projections have always been just estimates, and part of that is because not all the information is in,” Mitchell said. “What we’re already seeing as folks are solidifying our numbers is that it’s going to be more than earlier predictions.”

It’s not clear what Eklund’s $20 billion estimate included, but it seems to have reflected costs only for brick and mortar projects such as dams, reservoirs, ditches and other infrastructure needed to meet growing demands for municipal and industrial water use. It apparently didn’t include conservation programs, public education and keeping water in rivers for recreational and environmental purposes. It also didn’t factor in ambitious programs to encourage farmers and ranchers to collaborate with environmentalists on conservation, Mitchell said. “Those creative solutions will be high-dollar projects,” she added, and they “are coming in higher than predicted.”

Eklund now works at a prominent law and lobbying firm, but still represents Colorado in interstate water negotiations. Asked this week to explain the disparity between his $20 billion cost projection and Mitchell’s $40 billion, he said, “Boy, that’s a good one. I haven’t heard about the new figure.”

His estimate may have been “conservative” and “low,” he acknowledged.

“Maybe too low,” he said.

Gov. Hickenlooper told The Colorado Independent today that while he expects the estimated cost of the plan to change with inflation and as projects are added or deleted, the additional $20 billion comes largely from the cost of water treatment projects, which help turn wastewater into potable water. Such projects, he said, were not part of the original estimate “and were never intended to be part of the water plan.”

The governor’s water advisor, John Stulp, told The Independent in the spring that water treatment projects likely would add $8 billion to $12 billion to Eklund’s original, $20 billion estimate.

Hickenlooper ordered Colorado’s first statewide water plan in May 2013 as an attempt to thwart a shortfall that state water officials project for 2050. When he and Eklund heralded the release of the final version in November 2015, the governor made it clear that he didn’t want it to sit on a shelf gathering dust.

The plan aims to secure enough water to keep up with rampant growth, which is expected to boost the state population of 5.5 million people last year to as many as 10 million by 2050. It also needs to satisfy farming and ranching water rights, environmental necessities, increasing thirst brought about by climate change, and contractual water obligations to other states. Putting it into place will require enormous financial investments.

Eklund’s $20 billion price tag was daunting enough to politicos and policy advocates in a state that rejected a water bond issue in 2003. Referendum A sought voter approval for $2 billion in revenue bonds for water projects. Coloradans voted 2 to 1 against the measure, which failed in every county in the state.

Coming up with funding for $40 billion in water projects would require unprecedented unity among Colorado’s factioned rural and urban water users, leadership from the governor’s office and the legislature, and buy-in from Coloradans.

“It will be a much harder task to actually implement the water plan than it was to write it,” said Ted Kowalski [ed. emphasis mine], a water lawyer who now leads the Walton Family Foundation’s initiative on the Colorado River, which provides about half of Colorado’s water supply.

The doubling of the estimated cost of that implementation underscores the urgency of having conversations about sustainable funding now, Kowalski added, “so that we don’t have to be having these conversations during a crisis.” The philanthropy of Walmart heirs has taken an increasing role promoting balanced water policies, conservation, and watershed health in the seven states that rely on the river, as well as in other watersheds nationally and internationally.

Basin roundtable boundaries

In setting water priorities, the water board takes its cue from collaborative working groups called “roundtables” in Colorado’s eight river basins, plus another group in the Denver metro area. Those groups are in the process of telling the water board what projects – with price tags – they need to meet the goals set forth in the water plan, such as keeping up with growth, conserving water, and ensuring environmental protections on rivers. Their proposals are “flooding in,” Mitchell said, and have been giving her agency a clearer sense of how much the water plan will cost to implement. The water board will let each working group set its own priorities before deciding which projects should receive state funding.

In the meantime, what, specifically, the $40 billion would pay for still remains unclear. Mitchell said her staff will “gain more clarity” after the nine roundtable groups have come up with lists of proposed projects expected in 2018.

“I’d be very interested in how they got from $20 to $40 billion so fast, and what new projects will be included,” said Gary Wockner, a Colorado-based ecologist and activist for healthy rivers.

Pat Mulroy, a water policy expert for the Brookings Institution and former head of the Southern Nevada Water Authority, said, “I would have had my head handed to me on a platter if I said we’re going to spend $40 billion in the next 30 years and people asked what are you going to spend it on and I said ‘I’ll let you know.’”

Also unclear is where $40 billion would come from.

The state collects severance tax revenues for its water supply reserve fund, which is up to $10 million. But that’s just a drop in the water plan’s symbolic bucket. Mitchell said Colorado’s Department of Transportation, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, and Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment may need to take responsibility for some costs associated with the water plan. And she hopes that the federal government, under the Trump administration’s public works agenda and looser regulatory policies, “might also play a role.”

While running the water board – the agency leading water policy in the state – Eklund focused on promoting public-private partnerships to fund projects. Those are the water equivalent of toll roads. Whether the partnerships ultimately come to fruition and how much they could fund remain to be seen.

In the last several months, the Walton Family Foundation and philanthropies tied to the Rockefeller, Gates (as in Gates Rubber, not Microsoft), and other ultra-wealthy families have been discussing how to be part of the funding solution. Walton recently announced that it’s investing $100 million on the Colorado River from Colorado to Mexico. Kowalski, the foundation’s water man in Colorado, said Walton and other benefactors may be able to fund small pilot projects in hopes that they spur public investment, but can’t be relied on to help bankroll the billions of dollars Colorado needs.

“We’re trying to increase awareness and help generate conversations along the river,” Kowalski said. Those efforts include a recent Walton-funded study trip about the Colorado River for 18 journalists, including this reporter.

Ultimately, implementing the water plan will require public funding. The Nature Conservancy has been studying options such as a bottle tax, a tourism tax, and a surcharge on water rates. A ballot measure or referendum could go to voters as early as 2018, but the 2020 election is more likely given Colorado’s new law making it tougher to put such measures before voters.

Carol Hedges, executive director of the Colorado Fiscal Institute, said the multi-billion-dollar price tag for water projects “is one more instance of how we’ve delayed making the public investments we need in a changing economy. And as a result of that delay, it’ll come at a substantial cost for all Coloradans.”

Mitchell is an engineer by training, accustomed to working with hard facts and figures, and to devising solutions. She knows that coming up with $40 billion to address Colorado’s water woes is a solution that, if achievable, will entail an epic level of political heartburn. Having to double the cost projection in her first month as CWCB director has given her a taste of the challenges before her.

“It’s not productive to get hung up on the cost. That’s divisive,” she said. “What’s more productive is framing this around how much progress we’ve made coming together around this plan. We have to look at the whole picture right now. We just have to.”

Those who watch water policy in Colorado say Hickenlooper won’t be moving the needle on water simply by having ordered the state’s first water plan.

Added Kowalski: “It would be great if (Gov. Hickenlooper) could secure his legacy as a water leader by having sustainable funding.”

Editor’s note: The Colorado Independent’s series PARCHED looks at how Colorado is preparing for a looming water shortage brought on by population growth and climate change.

The latest “The CWCB Confluence” newsletter is hot off the presses from @CWCB_DNR

Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:

The CWCB is pleased to announce that Becky Mitchell is our new Director! Prior to becoming Director, Becky served as the Section Chief for the Water Supply Planning section, which focuses on ensuring sufficient water supplies for Colorado’s citizens and the environment. She’s played a significant role in working with the state’s Basin Roundtables, the Interbasin Compact Committee, the public at large, and CWCB staff in producing Colorado’s Water Plan.

“I’m excited and fortunate to have an opportunity to serve a state agency filled with committed and thoughtful stewards of Colorado’s precious water resources. Coloradans and our water communities are working like never before to solve our state’s challenges collaboratively. The same kind of cooperation that led to Colorado’s Water Plan will fuel the long-running effort necessary to continue putting the plan into action. What a privilege to be part of this process.” — Becky Mitchell, Coyote Gulch.

The CWCB is thrilled to welcome Becky into this new role! Read more about her.

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