Governor Polis Appoints CWCB Director Rebecca Mitchell (@cwcbbecky) to Upper #ColoradoRiver Commission, she replaces James Eklund (@EklundCO) #COriver #aridification @CWCB_DNR

Here’s the release from the Colorado Department of Natural Resources (Chris Arendt):

Governor Jared Polis appointed Rebecca Mitchell as the Colorado Commissioner to the Upper Colorado River Commission today. The Upper Colorado River Commission is an interstate water agency consisting of the Upper Colorado River Basin States of Wyoming, Colorado, Utah and New Mexico.

“The Colorado River is the lifeblood of the American West and is critically important for Colorado’s economy, agriculture, outdoor recreation and our way of life,” said Governor Polis. “Rebecca Mitchell will bring experience, leadership and a thorough knowledge of Colorado River issues and will enhance the shared mission of the Upper basin states of comity and collaboration as the Colorado River Commissioner.”

The Upper Colorado River Commission’s function is to ensure compact compliance with the 1922 Colorado River Compact. The Commission was established so states work together and in partnership to meet their obligations to the lower basin states while safeguarding the Upper basin states’ Colorado River water rights and allocations. The Commission is comprised of one representative appointed by the Governor of each Upper basin state and one member appointed by the President to represent the United States.

“The Colorado River faces unique future challenges with increased population, persistent drought, and impacts of climate change,” said Dan Gibbs, Executive Director, Colorado Department of Natural Resources. “We appreciate the service of outgoing Commissioner James Eklund, and Becky is ready to take the reins. She has been an incredible leader at the Colorado Water Conservation Board and her experience is needed now more than ever as the Upper basin states’ enact their provisions of the Colorado River drought contingency plans signed earlier this year.”

“It’s an honor to serve as the Colorado Commissioner for the Upper Colorado River Commission,” said Rebecca Mitchell, Director, Colorado Water Conservation Board. “There is no more important river than the Colorado both here and across the American West. In Colorado we have built a strong culture of collaboration, innovation, and smart policy to drive future water planning and I plan on bringing the same cooperative spirit and leadership to the Upper Colorado River Commission.”

“I am so proud to have represented Colorado in achieving interstate and international solutions for the Colorado River,” said outgoing Commissioner James Eklund. “The innovative tools we created and put in place are ready for implementation to the benefit of the entire basin. Colorado is now well-positioned to continue its legacy of leadership under the Polis Administration collaboratively and inclusively.”

Rebecca Mitchell (Becky) serves as the Director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB). She is an accomplished water leader with over 17 years experience in the Colorado water sector and highly knowledgeable in the water laws of the State. Mitchell played a significant part 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. Becky has worked in the public and private sector as a consulting engineer; she received both her B.S. and M.S. from the Colorado School of Mines.

Governor Polis also appointed John McClow, General Counsel for the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District and David Robbins, Hill & Robbins, P.C. to serve as alternate commissioners.

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

Gov. Jared Polis on Wednesday named Rebecca Mitchell as Colorado’s representative to the Upper Colorado River Commission, replacing Mesa County native James Eklund.

Mitchell also is director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

The Upper Colorado River Commission works to ensure compact compliance with the 1922 Colorado River Compact, the Colorado Department of Natural Resources said in a new release. Wyoming, Colorado, Utah and New Mexico are represented on the commission, with the goal of partnering to meet obligations to Lower Basin states while safeguarding Colorado River water rights and allocations in Upper Basin states.

Eklund, who has deep family roots in the Plateau Valley, is a former CWCB director who in that position led the effort to create Colorado’s first water plan.

He stepped down as director in 2017 to take a job as an attorney at a law firm, but remained as Colorado’s representative on the Upper Colorado River Commission, serving without compensation.

Both Eklund and Mitchell played roles in Colorado reaching agreements with other basin states for drought contingency planning…

Mitchell got her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the Colorado School of Mines, has worked as a consulting engineer, and has more than 17 years of experience in Colorado’s water sector. She also played a significant part in the development of Colorado’s water plan.

Aspen scores $186,356 from @CWCB_DNR for alternative water rights transfer methods

A view of the Wheeler Ditch headgate, looking upriver on the Roaring Fork River. Smith / Aspen Journalism

From The Aspen Daily News (Alycin Bektesh):

On Monday, the city announced that it is the recipient of $186,356, which will go toward establishing “alternative transfer methods” with area farmers. ATMs allow water-right holders to share a portion of their claims without giving them up entirely. The state has a goal to assist in 50,000 acre feet of water transfers through the use of ATMs by 2030.

The program allows creative solutions to water sharing in a way that was not previously accessible, according to Margaret Medellin, city of Aspen’s utilities portfolio manager.

“Traditionally in Colorado water law, if you don’t use your water right you’ll eventually lose it,” Medellin said, “so before this ATM concept came about you would want to use your water rights as much as you can at all times.”

This tactic is counterintuitive to what the state needs from its water holders, though. Colorado’s population growth projections show that the demand for water will increasingly outmatch the supply. By 2050, the state’s population is estimated to reach 10 million — double 2008’s figure — creating a water shortage for about 2.5 million families.

In attempting to preserve its own water rights on Castle and Maroon Creeks, the city found itself headed to state water court with 10 separate opponents last year. It was during those pretrial negotiations that the city decided to partner with two plaintiffs to explore the ATM solution locally.

“This project is one of a few good things that came out of that effort,” Medellin said. “It really is just us as different advocates for different parts of the community coming together to try and get creative.”

Wilderness Workshop and Western Resource Advocates have assisted the city in seeking out partners who would be willing to forfeit claims on diversions at different times. Over the last year, the city has held stakeholder meetings and consulted with experts, but they realized they would need assistance in identifying good partnerships.

“The thing we realized is that there was no clear project up here,” Medellin said.

The state grant allows the city to hire outside consultants who can continue the work of finding water-rights holders who would be willing to temporarily divert their claims to the city in exchange for fees.

Todd Doherty is the president of Western Water Partnership, the consultant who helped the city with the grant application and will continue to work on securing ATM agreements. He has identified 2,800 irrigated acres that use water diverted at or above the city. His team will be reaching out to farmers to explain the program and gauge interest.

Say hello to FortheLoveofColorado.org #COWaterPlan

Click here to go to the website and learn about what you can do to help implement the Colorado Water Plan:

Everything you love about Colorado is connected back to water: kayaking, fishing, peaches, beer, the thriving economy. But the fact is, we’re using more water than the Colorado River supplies. Our population is booming. And snowpack, which feeds our rivers, has been below average all across Colorado most years since 2000. This year’s snowpack has been great, but it’s just a drop in the bucket compared to how much we’ll need. So in order to keep this amazing state a great place to live, work, and do business we need to support Colorado’s Water Plan.

From The Summit Daily (Deepan Dutta):

Colorado has launched a public messaging campaign aimed at increasing public awareness of water scarcity as well as to promote the state’s water plan.

The campaign, For the Love of Colorado, was created to educate the public about water conservation, leaning on sobering facts and figures about the Colorado River.

For one, Colorado’s population is expected to double by 2050. The campaign also notes that 80% of the state’s water comes from snowpack runoff, which could shrink by as much as 50% by the end of the century.

To avoid a slow-building water supply catastrophe, the state has drafted its own water plan — which integrates work done by Colorado’s nine Basin Roundtables, the Interbasin Compact Committee, the Colorado Water Conservation Board and other organizations — since 2005 to implement water management plans.

For the Love of Colorado is trying to push the water plan into the public consciousness, inviting residents to engage in the process and learn more about efforts to protect one of the most critical water supplies in the country.

2019 #COleg: HB19-1327 (Authorize And Tax Sports Betting Refer Under Taxpayers’ Bill Of Rights) is a “good bet” — @EnvDefenseFund

Burned forests shed soot and burned debris that darken the snow surface and accerlerate snowmelt for years following fire. Photo credit: Nathan Chellman/DRI

From the Environmental Defense Fund (Brian Jackson):

The Colorado Legislature approved a bill [May 3, 2019] for a measure to legalize sports betting and dedicate a 10% tax on net profits to protect and conserve our state’s water. The measure will go to voters for approval this fall.

The bill enjoyed widespread, bipartisan support, clearing the House in a 58-6 vote and the Senate in a 27-8 vote. Environmental Defense Fund was a key member of a large, diverse coalition of supporters of the bill, including the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association, Colorado Municipal League, Colorado River District, Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, Denver Water, Conservation Colorado and Western Resource Advocates.

Colorado is one of several states considering a sports betting tax since a Supreme Court decision last year gave states such authority.

“Colorado leaders are making a safe bet to ensure a more resilient future for our thriving communities, agriculture, businesses, recreation and wildlife. We are hopeful voters will recognize the urgent need to protect our most precious resource, water, and that this measure will be a slam dunk at the ballot box this fall.”

From the Environmental Defense Fund (Brian Jackson):

Here’s a pop quiz: What are two finite resources in the West?

If you answered money and water, you win. This is especially true when it comes to money for water in the state of Colorado, where hurdles for raising new funds are particularly high.

It’s a rare opportunity when new money bubbles up for water projects in the Centennial State. But that is exactly what is happening as a result of a bill approved this week with strong bipartisan support in the Legislature.

The bill, HB 1327, proposes to raise new money to protect and conserve water in Colorado by legalizing sports betting and imposing a 10% tax on its revenue. But legislative approval isn’t the final play. State legislators are handing off the measure to voters for a final decision at the ballot box this fall.

Down payment on much larger need

The measure could raise roughly $10 million to $20 million a year – a down payment on the $100 million that Colorado’s Water Plan is estimated to need annually for the next 30 years to secure the state’s water into the future. Colorado’s population is projected to double by 2050. But at current usage rates, the state’s water supply will not keep up unless Colorado establishes a dedicated public funding source to protect it.

Since the water plan was developed in 2015, Environmental Defense Fund and partners have been looking for creative ways to fund and implement it. Nearly a year ago, a Supreme Court ruling authorized states to legalize sports betting. Since then, 40 states and the District of Columbia have proposed or enacted laws to legalize, study or regulate sports betting, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Deep bench

EDF has been a key player on a large, diverse team of supporters of the Colorado measure, including the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association, Colorado Municipal League, Colorado River District, Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, Denver Water, Conservation Colorado and Western Resource Advocates.

Revenue would go to a Water Plan Implementation Cash Fund governed by the Colorado Water Conservation Board to support a variety of water projects, including conservation, river health, storage, water education and outreach.

Funds from the measure would make an immediate impact across the state. For instance, in Durango, $500,000 would fund the first phase of restoration of the watershed damaged in the 416 fire, which burned 54,000 acres of mostly Forest Service lands last year. Steamboat Springs could begin a $4 million floodplain restoration. Both projects would protect vulnerable water supplies.

“If you don’t own a water right or rely on water for your paycheck, [water management] is usually an afterthought…Until it isn’t” — Nicole Seltzer

From the Steamboat Pilot & Today (Nicole Seltzer):

Boring. Arcane. Those are words I hear when I ask people their opinions on water management. If you don’t own a water right or rely on water for your paycheck, it’s usually an afterthought in the grand scheme of things.

Until it isn’t.

Until there isn’t enough water in the river to bring in tourism dollars. Until low river levels mean ranchers without senior water rights must stop irrigating hay fields. Until water levels in Nevada’s Lake Powell go low enough to require all Colorado water users to send more water downstream. These realities are at the forefront for only a small percentage of people, but the rest of us will notice the ripple effects eventually.

One of the reasons I moved to Routt County a few years ago was the slow pace of change. Having witnessed 15 years of Front Range growth, I was ready to celebrate the value of maintaining the status quo. The Yampa River is healthy and hard working, and most water users don’t face imminent threats. But we can’t let the lack of an emergency blind us to a slow accumulation of changes that require good planning.

That’s why I am involved in helping the Yampa-White-Green Basin Roundtable develop the first Integrated Water Management Plan for the Yampa River basin. The planning effort takes advantage of state grant dollars available for water planning. A coalition of Basin Roundtable members, local water agencies and NGO partners has raised over $500,000 to make progress on roundtable goals and build relationships with water users.

This plan will combine top-down and bottom-up tactics. The roundtable is currently hiring segment coordinators to meet with water users and other stakeholders to understand the opportunities they see and the challenges they face. They will also hire science and engineering experts to characterize existing conditions and identify future trends.

The outcome of the plan will be a prioritized list of actions that users can take to protect existing and future water uses and support healthy river ecosystems in the face of growing populations, changing land uses and climate uncertainty. The roundtable has its own grants to help fund implementation of those actions and will identify federal, state and local partners that can contribute as well.

The plan is just starting to take shape, and there will be ample opportunity for involvement. You can learn more at yampawhitegreen.com.

Nicole Seltzer is the science and policy manager for River Network, a national nonprofit that empowers and unites people and communities to protect and restore rivers. She lives in Oak Creek and now owns more irrigation boots than high heels.

St. Vrain Left Hand Conservancy District seeking balance in river basin — The Longmont Times-Call

CSU junior Brad Simms gets to work with his shovel in efforts to restore the area around Left Hand Canyon from the floods. Brad is a member of CSU’s Watershed club. (Jenna Van Lone | Collegian)

From The Longmont Times-Call (Sam Lounsberry):

The St. Vrain Left Hand Conservancy District, whose mission is to protect water rights and improve management practices in the river basin, is in the first phase of developing a stream management plan for the 300,000-acre watershed. Its goal is to align strategies for maintaining the reliable delivery of water to agricultural users while also satisfying ecological and recreational goals, some of which could require higher flows in the main stretches of streams that feed the St. Vrain, such as Left Hand Creek, as well as the St. Vrain itself, which is a key South Platte River tributary.

“Whether you’re a domestic or agricultural water user, you have an opportunity to really be part of a strategic, balanced approach to meeting competing demands,” said Sean Cronin, the district’s executive director.

But Colorado water law is focused on the use of the state’s most valuable resource, and not on conservation, notes a September survey prepared by a firm hired by the conservancy district for the stream management plan.

“This causes water owners to shy away from change of use, dam modifications or other river improvements, fearing legal or financial challenges and a burden on their time — and farmers do not have time to give away,” the survey states, adding it also will be a challenge to have rights owners “‘open up’ about their decrees or the way they manage, use or store water, and there are sometimes long histories of relationships between agencies or people in how they work together with their water. Overcoming some of these social and political legacies, or positively using these relationships, will be a challenge to the process.”

Seeking balance at what cost?

Diverting water from stream beds through ditch delivery networks has long quenched otherwise dry agricultural lands on the Front Range, but the expansion of the practice over time has led to impacts some are now interested in mitigating.

Boosting the ability for fish and recreational users such as kayakers to pass diversions by altering or replacing infrastructural barriers has consistently been expressed as a priority.

So have improved ability to control timing and quantity of both ditch and stream bed flows, enhancing flood resiliency in the watershed and preventing impacts from municipal development.

“For the most part, this basin wants to work toward finding that balance,” Cronin said. “I won’t say we’re all in agreement of what the balance is, where that pivotal point is to make the balance, and I don’t think we’ll ever get there and that’s fine, as long as folks want to continue sitting at the table.”

While some Longmont-area ditch companies have already designed and implemented more passable diversions or are in talks with local officials about doing so in the near future, a move toward automating the opening and closing of ditch gates that are now moved manually to accommodate water share holders’ calls for supply also could emerge as a consideration for those relying on the watershed.

Being able to remotely open and close gates could help prevent flow heading into ditches when it isn’t needed, possibly allowing higher flows in main stream beds through areas where such water levels could benefit recreation and environmental health.

But doing so could come at a major cost. Terry Plummer, vice president of maintenance and operations for Left Hand Ditch Co., said the company, for reasons unrelated to stream management, next week will install an automated ditch gate that can be operated remotely in one location on its network at a cost of about $30,000.

If an effort to automate water delivery equipment were applied across the broader watershed, though, it would be needed in dozens of locations, and could require the construction of entirely new diversion structures in some areas, which can run cost hundreds of thousands for just one spot, Plummer said.

“We have no intentions of automating at this point in time,” Plummer said. “It’s just too expensive. The assessments (charged to share holders for ditch maintenance) are so high now because of the 2013 flood (damage) that we would have to raise assessments dramatically, and the farming can’t support that.”

He said grant funding would have to become available, with the right terms, to pursue widespread automation.

A method that helped maintain higher wintertime flows in the St. Vrain is likely no longer an option — for about 20 years until 2013, Longmont released water from its Ralph Price Reservoir storage at a rate of 3 cubic feet per second to maintain a winter flow of 5 cfs along the entirety of the river, according to city Water Resources Manager Ken Huson.

But state officials nixed that practice after changing how they account for water.

“It’s not something Longmont can just do on its own anymore like we used to,” Huson said.

Flow not only way to go

Other opportunities for bettering stream management in the St. Vrain watershed might not address flow, however, and still offer environmental and social benefits.

“What we’re going to come up with are management activities,” Cronin said. “Those could address flow, but it could be that an opportunity area doesn’t necessarily have a flow challenge, but a riparian floodplain connectivity challenge.”

Allowing streams to more easily access the floodplain by preventing their banks from becoming overly incised or congested can help avoid rushing waters during flood events via letting the excess flow spread out over flatland, instead of accumulating in steep, deep channels.

Removing the invasive crack willow tree, which has problematically proliferated across dozens of states, from local stream banks could help achieve that, and has already been worked on in some areas of the St. Vrain basin by the Left Hand Watershed Oversight Group.

“That’s really the issue with the current conditions and why there are disconnected floodplains, because we’ve had this encroachment of this invasive tree that has created a super stable bank, and has allowed incision to happen,” said Jessie Olson, the oversight group’s executive director. “We’ve got a number of places like that throughout the watershed that could use some additional connectivity basically by removing the invasive tree and laying back slopes.”