2018 #COleg: Is there a sentiment, outside of @GovofCO, to raise severance taxes to implement the #COWaterPlan?

James Eklund and Governor Hickenlooper roll out the Colorado Water Plan, Thursday, November 19, 2015 via The Colorado Independent

From Colorado Politics (Marianne Goodland) via The Durango Herald:

Hickenlooper was initially expected to talk about his water legacy during the Colorado Water Congress luncheon in southeastern Denver, but instead, he addressed how he regards water and how the state ought to pay for the water plan’s estimated $20 billion price tag.

Before the start of Hickenlooper’s remarks, the Water Congress took the pulse of those in attendance about what the next governor should do with the water plan. Seventy-three percent said “use it,” 8 percent said the next governor should ignore it and 19 percent said the state should embark on a different path with regard to its water future.

Pollster Floyd Ciruli said the results show the new governor has to make sure the water plan and its issues remain a top priority, along with rural broadband, transportation and public education funding.

Hickenlooper referred to his recent State of the State speech and his reference to “topophilia.” No, that’s not something bad – it’s a love of place, according to the governor. And Colorado must do all it can to preserve its clean air and water, two of the most important aspects of the state’s infrastructure, he said.

Funding for the water plan has not been identified, Hickenlooper said. The governor said he is looking for a bipartisan approach to funding the water plan, in part to avoid the sensitivity that people have to being asked to pay more taxes. That could include, he said, using severance taxes.

But it would take a structural change to how severance taxes are levied to raise the kind of revenue anticipated to cover the state’s share of the water plan costs: around $100 million per year for the next 30 years, beginning in 2020.

Hickenlooper explained the state has some of the lowest severance taxes in the nation. And that hasn’t gotten any better after a 2016 lawsuit from BP that challenged certain deductions on oil and gas equipment. BP won that lawsuit, which forced the state to tap tens of millions of dollars from severance taxes to cover not only BP’s deductions but that of other oil and gas companies. That lawsuit exposed structural problems in the way severance taxes are collected, Hickenlooper said.

A structural change to severance taxes is something the General Assembly will have to deal with, most likely through a ballot measure, the governor added.

The idea of using severance tax money for the water plan isn’t that far-fetched an idea. Those dollars have been going to water projects for years, mostly to water providers for infrastructure and through grants and loans, although in small amounts. And severance taxes have been tapped directly to fund the initial implementation of the water plan, in areas such as alternative transfers of water in agriculture, conservation and water efficiency. But the state has, in times of trouble, also raided the severance tax fund to cover shortfalls in the budget, to the tune of $322 million in the past two recessions.

Hickenlooper said he believes the oil and gas industry will not stand in the way if the state seeks higher severance taxes, based on conversations he’s had with oil and gas CEOs. “They’re not complaining” about how much severance tax they pay in Colorado, especially after winning the BP court case.

In #Colorado implementing the #COWaterPlan will fall to the next governor

Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Floyd Ciruli):

Although Colorado has identified its water needs and has a state plan, 2018 will be a year of political transition. Will a new governor and legislature keep water at the top of the agenda or allow it to drop until the next water crisis? Many local agencies need financial help that can’t be met through local ratepayers alone. The state water plan identified $3 billion in unmet needs. And, as California has demonstrated, conservation must be a well-articulated state goal with significant resources dedicated to public education. California cut statewide use by 25 percent during the last drought through massive education coordinated with local agencies. But, leadership, both local and from the state, is needed.

Gov. John Hickenlooper accelerated the work of former governors Bill Owens and Bill Ritter to help address the state’s projected water shortage, but he only has one year left in office. Fortunately, besides Hickenlooper’s advancement of the scientific base behind the need for new projects, his use of a state planning process that involved all eight water basins in cooperation and decision-making and his issuing of a completed state water plan in December 2015, he has also seen real progress during his term on projects. He helped facilitate approval of Denver Water’s Gross Reservoir and Northern Water’s Windy Gap projects. Still, much remains to be done.

■ How will pressing water issues fare through the upcoming political transition?

■ Will the research, river basin collaboration and planning continue?

■ Will permitting of the water projects now underway continue to make progress?

■ Will the next wave of projects — many in rural and small towns — get permitted, funded and built?

■ Will the state initiate and fund a statewide conservation public education program?

■ Will the state continue its planning processes in order to lead a ballot issue funding effort? (The previous proposal, controversial in design and promotion, failed in 2003, but lessons were learned.)

The planning and development capabilities of Colorado’s water community have grown significantly, but the needs are growing faster still. Through the 2018 political transition, we must ensure that water remains a top priority and not become another state plan ignored in a government file.

Two trips around the Sun for the #COWaterPlan

Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013

Here’s a guest column from Drew Beckwith that’s running in The Durango Herald. Click through and read the whole column. Here’s an excerpt:

On the second anniversary of the release of Colorado’s Water Plan, a few key facts are unchanged: A swelling population is stretching our water supplies, evidence is mounting that climate change is already reducing flows on the Colorado River and securing and sustaining Colorado’s supply of clean, safe drinking water continues to be top of mind…

This funding imbalance is one reason why progress on implementing Colorado’s Water Plan has been lopsided. First, the good news. Communities across Colorado, like those in the Roaring Fork and Gunnison valleys, have developed stream management plans identifying specific projects to improve the health of the river and nearby communities. In 2016, the Colorado Legislature appropriated $5 million for the development of watershed plans and another $1 million for implementing environmental and recreation projects, the latter receiving requests for funding far exceeding the allotment.

However, progress on urban water conservation, flexible water sharing, and river protection – projects that Coloradans said they value most – has been elusive and difficult to measure. Transparency is necessary so that Coloradans can see how well we are, or aren’t, doing on meeting urban conservation goals, environmental goals and other measurable objectives in the plan.

We must address the uneven focus on water storage projects, too. The state has routinely spent tens of millions of dollars on storage and infrastructure projects over many years, while spending just a few million dollars on conservation, environmental and recreational projects – and that only recently.

Two years in, it is clear what we need to do. We need Colorado to make smart investments in only the water projects that meet all of the criteria in Colorado’s Water Plan. We need state leaders to be more transparent about progress toward the plan’s goals. We need the Legislature to increase funding for urban water conservation, stream management plans that improve river health and innovative water agreements with agriculture.

And, because we don’t have enough money to implement the full suite of projects needed to maintain clean, safe drinking water and protect rivers and wildlife – even with a rebalancing of existing funds – we need to secure a new source of money to move Colorado’s Water Plan over the finish line.

Two trips around the Sun for the #COWaterPlan

Here’a report from Marianne Goodland) writing in Colorado Politics. Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

The 567-page plan sets nine goals, but its biggest focus is for a subset: Conservation and storage, with agricultural sharing and water recycling further down the list. The conservation goal asks for savings of 400,000 acre-feet of water, most of it to be born by municipal water providers and their customers. Storage needs hit the same number — 400,000 acre-feet — a gap that is most likely to be handled by water providers through new or expanded storage projects, such as those currently in the works in the Northern Front Range: the Windy Gap Firming Project, scheduled to break ground for a new reservoir near Loveland in 2019, and the Northern Integrated Supply Project, which is planning new reservoirs on the Poudre and South Platte rivers.

Now that the water plan has hit its two-year anniversary, what kind of progress has the water plan made? It depends on who you ask. Those who favor more storage, particularly in northern and northeastern Colorado, claim not enough money is being devoted to increasing storage capacity. Those who favor environmental goals say not enough money is being spent in that area, either.

According to a draft implementation update that is likely to become public in December, the water plan has made significant progress in the past year. That includes:

• Water plan grants to begin addressing the supply-demand gap: $2 million was set aside from a $10 million appropriation from the General Assembly in 2017 to pay for nine water plan grants, which the draft update said would reduce the municipal/industrial water supply gap by 48,000 acre-feet.

• Integrated water resource planning, part of the conservation goal: 22 water providers have submitted water efficiency plans to the CWCB, with 18 approved and 4 in review. These plans allow water providers to set local goals on indoor and outdoor conservation activities, including incentives, regulations, education and pricing mechanism. The CWCB has so far awarded more than $800,000 in grants for conservation planning and public education.

• $1 million (out of the $10 million for the water plan) to conservation and land use activities, drought planning, water meter replacements and projects to reduce water loss.

• The water plan sets an objective that by 2050, 75 percent of Coloradans will live in communities that have incorporated water-saving activities into land-use planning. The draft implementation report notes that the CWCB has teamed up with other organizations and state agencies to train more than 300 participants on how to integrate water and land-use planning.

• The water plan sets a goal of finding 50,000 acre-feet of water through agricultural sharing. In the past two years, the draft implementation report said, the CWCB and its partners have worked on education and assistance programs for farmers and ranchers that will promote water sharing, as well as $1 million for grant and loan programs that would improve aging agricultural infrastructure or other water efficiency projects.

• Under the goal of increasing water storage, the draft report notes a study underway to investigate storage possibilities along the South Platte, primarily near Sterling. The results of that study are expected relatively soon.

• Another $3 million funds water projects that will lead to the development of additional storage, according to the draft implementation report. That includes recharging water into aquifers and expanding existing reservoirs to provide more storage…

One of the organizations that has worked with the CWCB on water projects is Western Resource Advocates. Drew Beckwith, water policy manager, told Colorado Politics recently that the state has made good progress in the first two years, and that $10 million per year is “a sound start.”

The problem and urgency, as Beckwith sees it, is how to meet clean, safe and reliable drinking water standards and protect rivers. “We have to pick up the pace” to protect clean drinking water and preserve Colorado’s agricultural heritage, he said.

Progressive 15 Ag-Water Conference recap #COWaterPlan

Yuma Colorado circa 1925

From The Sterling Journal-Advocate (Jeff Rice):

John Stulp, Gov. John Hickenlooper’s chief advisor on water issues, told the Progressive 15 Ag-Water Conference Wednesday that Denver already has made great strides in water conservation, but now storage is needed to meet ever-growing demand.

“Denver is using the same amount of water today as it did 30 years ago, but serving 350,000 more people,” Stulp said. “Denver Water has said we cannot water the next 5 million people like we did the first five million people in Colorado.”

Stulp alluded to the supply-demand gap of 560,000 acre feet by 2050, most of which will be in the South Platte River Basin. That number comes out of the 2015 Colorado Water Plan, commissioned by Hickenlooper two years earlier.

If nothing is done to close that gap, Stulp said, between 500,000 and 700,000 acres of irrigated ag land will be lost, in addition to the 1 million acres already lost over the past century.

“It’s not that we’re gonna run out of water, but we’re gonna get it somewhere else, from agriculture or the Western Slope, and we’re both feeling the pressure,” he said.

The major hurdle in providing storage is financing. Water storage projects, of whatever form they take, are expensive, and the costs are going up all the time, Stulp said. While the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District has struggled to build the Windy Gap Firming Project for water storage near Loveland, the cost of building the project rises by about $1 million a month.

“In terms of funding (water storage) we need to invest $20 billion in the next 20 to 30 years, and a lot of that is going to come from rate payers,” he said. “But even at that, there’s still a $3 billion gap, and there’s no obvious source for that funding.”

A traditional source of water funding, Colorado’s severance tax revenues, have declined sharply lately as the oil and gas industry has endured a prolonged slump in the U.S. Combined with a judgment against Colorado that forces the state to refund $125 million because tax deductions were not properly calculated, Stulp said, the severance tax fund could actually run a deficit in the near future.

There may be other sources of revenue, however. Stulp said one idea being batted around is a penny-per-bottle fee on bottled water.

“Apparently, we drink a lot of bottled water in Colorado,” he said, “so we may see that as a source of revenue down the road.”

Basin roundtable boundaries

Stulp said there is reason to be optimistic about the state’s water future. He said the nine river basin roundtables — one in each of the state’s eight river basins and one for metro Denver — are working together like never before to resolve the water shortage.

“We’ve got people working together who never saw each other except in court when they sued each other,” he said. “But now they’re collaborating, and that’s a very good thing.”

@AmericanRivers: The big picture of @ColoradoWaterPlan – two years in

Click here to listen to the podcast. From the American Rivers website:

Last week, the state celebrated the second anniversary of Colorado’s Water Plan. Over the last two years, the state has made solid progress funding grants to advance water projects and increase funding for stream management plans. However, the challenges identified in the plan are significant. A swelling population is stretching our water resources, and climate change is having an impact, by reducing flows on the Colorado River. We need to pick up the pace toward implementing all of the Plan’s water solutions if we are to reach our goal of securing clean reliable water for our communities, preserving our agricultural heritage, and protecting our rivers. Over the next few months, We Are Rivers will highlight the Colorado Water Plan through a series of episodes breaking down the opportunities, challenges, and successes to date from Colorado’s Water Plan. Join us for the first installment, as we look back at the last two years of the water plan and identify a sustainable path forward.

Growing up in New York, I envied the posters pinned up in my middle school hallways that honored Colorado landscapes like the Maroon Bells, Dinosaur National Monument, the Great Sand Dunes, and of course the Colorado River as it weaves through canyons and deserts. But moving to Colorado six years ago, tacking on to Colorado’s growing population, I haven’t exactly made life easier for the state’s water managers. Without the native badge, I empathize with the influx of people flooding into Colorado who have recreational fervor, career hopes, and of course adventure in mind, straining the West’s already overtapped water supply.

Colorado’s population is projected to double by 2050, with most of the growth occurring on the Front Range, where about 80% of the people live. With about 80% of the state’s water coming from west slope snowpack, the imbalance is striking. Additionally, like many other states across the Southwest, Colorado is experiencing higher temperatures, reduced precipitation, and earlier and faster runoff. With growing population and climate change impacts, how can Colorado work to close our gap in supply and demand? Through increased collaboration, dialogue, and efficiencies, the Colorado Water Plan sets out to address this grand dilemma.

The Colorado Water Plan sets a goal of conserving 400,000 acre-feet of municipal and industrial water by 2050. By 2025, if the Water Plan objectives are met, 75% of Coloradans will live in communities that have water-saving actions incorporated into land-use planning. Furthermore, by 2030, the plan sets out to A) re-use and share at least 50,000 acre-feet of water amongst agricultural producers, B) cover 80% of locally prioritized rivers with Stream Management Plans, and C) ensure 80% of critical watersheds with Watershed Protection Plans. In order for a project to utilize the Water Plan’s budget to meet these goals, the proposed conservation project must be appropriate in that it addresses real needs and is cost-effective, sustainable, and supported by local stakeholders.

The state has taken a great step forward by allocating $10 million per year for Water Plan Implementation grants. While this is a first step, we must further fund the plan’s broader strategies as well. Public investment in water projects must be smart, which starts with meeting all of the “criteria” in the Colorado Water Plan. Before any new, significant projects are proposed, the state should apply all of the Water Plan’s criteria in order to demonstrate that the state is committed to investing in (or endorsing) only projects that use public resources wisely, protect rivers and wildlife, and reflect community values. The last two years have seen state funding disproportionately spent on costly structural projects while sustainable, cost-effective methods, such as water reuse and flexible water-sharing agreements have been undervalued and underfunded. Creative conservation projects are essential in upholding the Water Plan to sustain the natural beauty of Colorado’s rivers and streams and ensure a safe and reliable drinking water supply.

However, it is important to note that there is nothing legally binding in the Water Plan that requires Colorado to abide by its outlined goals. Therefore, the success of the plan solely relies on the motivation of everyday people to work together as a community to hold politicians and basin roundtables accountable with respect to the plan. I encourage you to learn more about where your water comes from and what you can do as an individual to reduce your water consumption. We all need to work collaboratively to reduce our demand for water.

As we celebrate the second anniversary of Colorado’s Water Plan, we have an opportunity, and a responsibility to rally behind the premise of the Plan, keeping Colorado beautiful and sustainable for all. Join us over the next few months as we dive into the mechanics of Colorado’s Water Plan, and why it is so important to see it succeed.

Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013

Sterling: Northeast Livestock Symposium recap

North Sterling Reservoir

From The Sterling Journal-Advocate (Jeff Rice):

Increased water conservation along Colorado’s Front Range doesn’t translate into increased water supplies in the farmlands along the South Platte River.

That was part of the message Jim Yahn had for the Northeast Livestock Symposium in Sterling Tuesday. Yahn, who is manager of the North Sterling and Prewitt reservoirs and who represents the South Platte Basin on the Colorado Water Conservation Board, briefed the three dozen people attending the symposium on the Colorado Water Plan of 2015 and how that plan is being put into effect.

Yahn repeated the assertion that, by 2030, the need for water in Colorado will exceed supplies by 560,000 acre feet, or 182 billion gallons per year, and most of that is here in the South Platte River Basin.

The Colorado Water Plan is the road map to closing that gap…

Yahn said the plan is important because developers along the Front Range, where the building and population booms continue unabated, have no plan to provide water for the growth other than to heavily promote water conservation. The Colorado Water Plan calls for conservation measures to save 400,000 acre feet of water per year by 2030. While conservation is important, Yahn said, it’s not nearly enough to close the gap between supplies and demand.

“When cities start conserving (water) less water comes downstream, and we rely on those return flows to irrigate,” he said. “So the 400,000 acre feet of conservation does not apply directly to the gap. It’s not a one-to-one return, one for one, so if municipality has xeriscaping, we don’t see that runoff down here for agricultural use.”

That’s why increasing storage is vital to closing the water gap by 2030, Yahn said. He told the symposium that $21 million in water supply reserve funds already has been approved to find new storage and more than $65.6 million in loans has approved since the governor’s receipt of the Colorado water plan two years ago.

Yahn also pointed to what are called “alternative methods of transfer” to temporarily move water from agricultural uses to non-ag uses when the water isn’t needed for irrigation. He said there are seven known ATMs in Colorado; two in the Arkansas River Basin, four in the South Platte basin and one in the Colorado River basin.

Two of the four in the South Platte basin are with the North Sterling Irrigation Co., which Yahn manages; one is for 3,000 acre feet with Xcel Energy for its Pawnee Generation Plant at brush, and one for 6,000 acre feet with BNN Energy for hydraulic fracturing of oil and gas wells in Weld County.

Yahn pointed out that ATMs aren’t a panacea to closing the water gap, but are better than permanent sale of irrigated crop land to obtain water rights.