The Water for Colorado Coalition today celebrated the passage of HB21-1260, which allocates $20 million to the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) and Basin Roundtables for implementation of Colorado’s Water Plan.
The bill, co-sponsored by House Speaker Alec Garnett, Rep. Marc Catlin, and Sens. Kerry Donovan and Cleave Simpson, passed both the state House and Senate with unanimous approval, illustrating continued, widespread support for water funding in Colorado. The bill will provide the CWCB $15 million for grant projects — like the ones featured here — that will benefit water users and rivers through conservation and education efforts across the state. It also allocates $5 million to be distributed directly to Colorado’s nine Basin Roundtables.
In response to the passage of HB21-1260, the Water for Colorado Coalition issued the following statement:
“We are thrilled by the unanimous approval of $20 million to support critical state water priorities, and applaud the Colorado General Assembly for their continued prioritization of water conservation needs. These funds will bolster ongoing water projects and programs and pave the way for new grants, allowing the state to increase resilience to climate change, safeguard flowing rivers, and support thriving communities. We look forward to working with the Colorado Water Conservation Board, Basin Roundtables, and local communities as these funds are distributed to ensure that our rivers and water continue to meet the needs of all who rely on them.”
Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:
Scoping Phase Finalized for Colorado Water Plan Update
The scoping phase for the Colorado Water Plan update process took place between March and early June 2021. During this phase, the Colorado Water Conservation Board collected feedback and input by hosting 13 workshops including 40 speakers and involving 600 participants. Topics ranged from environmental and recreation impacts, forest health, land use planning, climate change, agricultural viability, and more.
The updated Water Plan will also incorporate eight Basin Implementation Plans – smaller, tailored plans for water issues in each of Colorado’s river basins. These sections of the Plan are set to be finalized in January 2022.
Here’s an excerpt from the Spring 2021 issue of Headwaters Magazine (Caitlin Coleman):
INTO THE MODERN STORAGE ERA
Most Coloradans rely on some form of water storage in order to live. Water is collected when available and later released when and where it’s needed. Water storage is a necessity, providing year-round access to water that would otherwise come in a rush each spring as snow melts into runoff and flows hurriedly out of state.
“If we were to leave it up to the natural systems, we would be dry for a big part of the year,” says Lauren Ris, deputy director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board. (Ris also serves on the Water Education Colorado Board of Trustees.)
The Ancestral Puebloans, who once inhabited the Four Corners region, knew this and relied on water storage like Morefield Reservoir, which anthropologists indicate was used between 750-1100 A.D. and is still evidenced by mounds in Mesa Verde National Park.
Years later, upon settlement by non-native populations including land grant recipients, homesteaders and miners, reservoir construction proved vital to sustain a larger population. Dams were rapidly constructed in the late 1800s through 1910, primarily for agricultural water needs. In the early 1900s some 290 dams were built in Colorado, the most dams erected in a single decade.
The 1930s through 1970s brought a boom of reservoir construction to meet the demands of the state’s growing municipal water needs. Toward the end of this municipal era, the 1960s saw the greatest water storage volume constructed in any decade, with more than 1.8 million acre-feet, including two of the state’s largest water bodies: Blue Mesa Reservoir near Gunnison and Denver Water’s Dillon Reservoir.
The rapid construction of big storage projects in Colorado and the West slowed starting in the 1970s as environmental laws and community concern about environmental impacts grew stronger and project permits became more difficult to obtain. The 1980s Two Forks dam and reservoir project debate and subsequent veto, where local community groups raised enough opposition to stop a planned 615-foot dam southwest of Denver, was a turning point. Two Forks marked the very end of the era in which big reservoirs were the primary answer to Colorado’s water supply, and the start to substantial community involvement.
The past 10 years have brought the fewest new dams and least amount of new storage volume in 120 years. Yet the call for storage from stakeholders across the state continues. Through the 2015 statewide water planning process, basin roundtables — stakeholder groups who have been working together on a regional, river-basin-wide scale to develop water priorities, assessments and goals — developed Basin Implementation Plans. All of the eight plans identified the need for new, restored or better-maintained storage.
A Colorado Water Plan Scoping Workshop focusing on innovations in on-farm irrigation technology and water management.
About this event
This will be a two-hour, virtual (zoom) session facilitated by Colorado Water Conservation Board and the Irrigation Innovation Consortium (IIC). The focus of this session will be on bringing together knowledgeable stakeholders on innovations in on-farm irrigation technology and water management. The discussion will be centered around specific actions (e.g. programming, public policies, resources, research) to be included in the Colorado Water Plan Update.
From the San Juan Conservation District via The Pagosa Springs Sun (Cynthia Purcell):
The San Juan Conservation District has been focusing efforts on evaluating irrigation systems in the Upper San Juan River Basin and looking for opportunities to improve them.
We have completed our inventory from the upper reaches of the San Juan River Basin down to the Blanco Basin watershed. We are now looking to assess the needs within both the Upper and Lower Blanco Basin.
We have assembled a team of natural resource professionals to perform this agricultural in ventory. Sterling Moss, a retired Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) conservationist from southwest Colorado, will be leading the team.
With technical assistance from NRCS, the team will be reaching out to ditch representatives, water right holders and agricultural water users to discuss voluntary participation in this process. They will be out in the watershed throughout the summer evaluating the ditches and are happy to perform a free on-site visit to evaluate private on- farm systems when they are in the area. According to the landowner’s identified goals and objectives, agriculture water system improvements will be developed, with cost estimates provided for the improvements. The ultimate goal is to find funding to help improve these irrigation systems.
This is part of a larger project in cooperation with the Upper San Juan Watershed Enhancement Partnership to understand local water supply needs and identify potential project areas in the Upper San Juan River Basin. This process is part of the Colorado Water Plan and is funded in part by the Colorado Water Conservation Board as well as local organizations and partners.
The San Juan Conservation District is a special district of the state of Colorado and was established in 1947 to help farmers and ranchers with soil erosion as a result of the devastation of the Dust Bowl. Today, our mission is to promote the prudent use and adequate treatment of all land, water and related resources within its boundaries to sustain the use of these resources for future generations and to assist in restoration of these resources. We serve the residents of Archuleta County and parts of Hinsdale and Mineral counties up to the Continental Divide. We also work closely with our federal counterpart, the NRCS, and share an office with them.
Private landowner information will be kept confidential and not released to the public.
If you would like to have your irrigation water needs evaluated or have questions, please contact Cynthia Purcell, district manager, at (970) 731-3615 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sponsored by Senators Kerry Donovan and Cleave Simpson, this bill is focused on allocating $20 million from the general fund to the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) to be spent to implement the state water plan as follows:
$15 million, which is transferred to the water plan implementation cash fund for expenditures and grants administered by the CWCB to implement the state water plan; and
$5 million, which is transferred to the water supply reserve fund for CWCB to disperse to the basin roundtables.
Ensuring that Colorado can meet its future water needs is critical to maintaining our state as a competitive place to work, play, and live. Colorado has recently faced some of its worst drought years in the state’s history, and predictions are that the growing water demands will continue to strain our limited resources.
The Colorado Water Plan has been established as the state’s framework for solutions to preserve water values to support a productive economy, healthy agricultural sector, and robust recreation industry. But the bill’s sponsors say the state Water Plan is currently underfunded and needs investments to ensure the state’s long-term economy and protection of our natural resources.
Since 2017, River Network has worked to increase the number and quality of Stream Management Plans in Colorado. Stream Management Plans, or SMPs, were developed as a result of 2015’s Colorado’s Water Plan, which set goals and measurable objectives to map out the future of water management in the state. One of these objectives is that 80% of locally prioritized streams have an SMP by 2030. River Network is helping watershed coalitions meet this objective by developing guidance on best practices, facilitating a peer learning network, and providing direct support to local coalitions throughout Colorado.
SMPs are data-driven assessments of river health that help communities determine how to protect or enhance environmental and recreational assets in their watershed. SMPs are accomplished by stakeholders convening to evaluate the health of their local river through an assessment of biological, hydrological, geomorphological and other data. This site-specific information is used to assess the flows, water quality, habitat, and other physical conditions that are needed to support collaboratively identified environmental and/or recreational values. To date, there are 26 SMPs that have been completed or are underway. SMPs are as much about people and communities as they are about the functional health of the river. Community and stakeholder buy-in is seen as a critical aspect of a successful SMP.
As the second-largest economic sector and the largest consumer of water in Colorado, agriculture is a key stakeholder in SMPs. In the San Luis Valley, the Rio Grande Headwaters Restoration Project has done an incredible job at engaging local farmers and ranchers in their SMP and related projects, many of whom have been farming and ranching there for generations. In a recent trip River Network staff, Mikhaela Mullins, had the opportunity to hear directly from these ranchers to discuss the deep connection they have with the land and the Rio Grande River.
Local ranchers, Greg Higel, Rick Davie, Thad Elliott, and Kyler Brown, shared that stewardship for the land and water has always been important to them and their families. In recent years they had wanted to make improvements to their ditches, diversion structures, and headgates but lacked the resources to make these needed improvements. When they were approached by the Rio Grande Headwaters Restoration Project about partnering on infrastructure improvement projects, they were eager for the opportunity to work together. “The river needed help, and we needed to make sure we did that right,” says Greg Higel, Centennial Ditch Superintendent. Through these partnerships, a number of ditches and related infrastructure were updated. Over time, the ranchers have been able to reduce the amount of time needed to maintain these structures and have seen water quality improve, wildlife return to their land, an increase in riparian plant diversity, and an increase in water quantity resulting in a longer season of water access. The ranchers spoke about how working with Rio Grande Headwaters Restoration Project and other conservation organizations has been a win-win-win situation for all involved in these multi-beneficial projects.
In the future, River Network will continue to support watershed coalitions as they tackle important river planning and identify how it can provide benefits to farmers and ranchers. River Network looks forward to continuing to shift the conversation between conservation and agricultural stakeholders by expanding the role of agricultural organizations, such as conservation districts, to have more of a leadership role. Learn more about the work that River Network has done in Colorado in this video.
Here’s a guest column from Don Coram that’s running in The Montrose Daily Press:
While the cat is away, the mice will play. That is exactly what is going on in the Colorado General Assembly. With all the COVID-19 issues from the last session, the executive branch and regulatory agencies had full control of Government. It appears the regulatory agencies are still trying to flex their muscles.
It has been that agencies used fiscal notes to gain favor or opposition using this analysis of the cost of enacting a bill. Last week I had SB 21-034 in the Agricultural and Natural Resources Committee. This bill was to have the conversation of funding for Colorado’s water future. To bring a little history to the subject, Gov. Hickenlooper directed in the spring of 2013 for the Colorado Water Conservation Board to create a plan for Colorado’s water future. When asked where, does the legislature and general public fit? The director of the Department of Natural Resources told us we did not. Under the leadership of former Sen. Ellen Roberts, she and I drafted legislation to bring the conversation to the designated river basins. Ironically, our largest meeting was in Durango. From those meetings, the Colorado Water Plan was written.
With all the information, the Colorado Water Plan has never been really implemented, because of no stable funding source. So, to start the conversation I drafted and introduced SB-034; it also sat on the shelf for two years prior to introduction. The measure would send to the voters in November of 2022 the question of creating a new enterprise to fund Colorado’s water future. The enterprise would combine the CWCB and the Water and Power Authority to provide grants to water issues, such as treated domestic water, gray water, infrastructure and projects among others.
Now to the source of my frustration. The fiscal note states that CWCB who already has a grant program for funds that are expended from dollars generated by severance tax would require 7.6 new employees and over $1.25 million to implement the first year and more than $1 million annually to continue. The entire ag committee was frustrated by the department’s position on the projected costs. Estimated cost to the average household was $1.59 per month, and annual revenue was in excess of $38.2 million. The bill failed on party line vote, but the message was sent.
SB 21-105 is another example of fiscal note jeopardy. With the passage of Amendment 114, reintroduction of the gray wolf, it stated that a plan for reintroduction shall be completed by Dec. 31, 2023. In addressing the Colorado Wildlife Commission, Gov. Polis seemed to give a strong desire to have wolves on the ground in early 2022. Let me make it perfectly clear, I am not challenging the vote of the people. I just want to ensure CPW does it as prescribed in Amendment 114. Side by side comparisons were shown except for the addition on chickens and alternative livestock. The Blue Book projected first year costs at $344,000 and second year costs at $467,000 Those must be some expensive chickens, because the fiscal note asks for $841,414 in the first year and one FTE and $1,003,945 and three FTE in the second year; $300,000 a year for a meeting facilitator; $600,000.00 to host meetings for two years. That seems to be better and less time consuming than this legislator gig. Once again committee members rail on such asinine projections. Final vote, it failed on a party line vote. There is no funding for the wolf reintroduction. So, tell me whose ox gets gored? Education, transportation, health and environment, department of corrections, governor’s office, or what?
On Saturday, March 20, 2021 Colorado may have had an air quality alert from all the meat that was grilled or served in restaurants throughout Colorado. The Governor’s meatless proclamation certainly had a ripple effect in perhaps setting the record for the most meat consumed in one day in Colorado. I don’t think that was the plan, but my gratitude for all those who stood with Colorado ranchers and farmers.
Colorado’s fire-scarred mountainsides, small-town water districts, drought-stricken rivers and ranches, and the Colorado Water Plan will see a one-time cash infusion of $32 million to $75 million under a bipartisan stimulus program approved by Gov. Jared Polis and Colorado lawmakers last week.
The Colorado Recovery Plan, as it is known, sets out a $700 million spending plan that includes funds for transportation, education and small businesses, among others, and also includes:
+$10 million to $25 million for wildfire recovery and risk mitigation;
+$10 million to $20 million for projects identified under the Colorado Water Plan;
+$10 million to $25 million for mountain watershed restoration; and
+$2 million to $5 million for agricultural drought response.
In hard-hit cities such a Glenwood Springs, where last summer’s Grizzly Creek fire came close to destroying its mountain water system, the cash could help the city’s multi-million-dollar effort to rebuild its water treatment plant and other projects.
“The details aren’t clear yet,” said Glenwood Springs City Manager Debra Figueroa, “but we absolutely plan to look into it.”
For groups that have been working for years to establish a permanent source of funding for the Colorado Water Plan’s myriad projects and programs as well as stream and watershed restoration projects, the funding is expected to provide a much-needed boost.
“The good news is that this will reach projects all over the state,” said Bart Miller, healthy rivers program director at Western Resource Advocates and member of the Water for Colorado Coalition. “I think it’s going to be money well spent. It’s one-time, but it’s going to have a big impact for the water plan and drought [mitigation].”
The Colorado Water Conservation Board oversees the water plan.
“We don’t yet have any plans in place to determine how the funding would impact our programs,” said spokesperson Sara Leonard. “Watershed funding is of course needed for post-fire mitigation needs, and we also look forward to working with the legislature on how funding can be put to the best use.”
The recovery plan also allocates millions of dollars for rural communities and the ranches and cattle operations that have struggled during the pandemic and persistent drought conditions.
“Agriculture has been hard hit by the drought, and we do need more money for water projects,” said Gene Manuello, an Eastern Plains rancher near Sterling.
But Manuello said the sprawling spending plan raised questions in his mind about whether the state was spending money too freely.
“I’m a Republican and I am, in general, not in favor of these kinds of government stimulus programs,” he said.
The $700 million recovery program is being funded by a better-than-expected recovery in state tax revenue collections. Last year as the pandemic swept the country, shutting down businesses and government offices, Colorado slashed $3.3 billion from the state budget, anticipating that it would take several years before tax revenues recovered enough to restore state spending.
But the turnaround came faster than expected, allowing lawmakers and the governor to jump-start infrastructure work and job creation in order to help the state recover faster.
Western Resource Advocates’ Miller said the $32 million to $75 million will be useful for dozens of groups and communities.
“I’m very encouraged,” Miller said. “It’s a great opportunity.”
Jerd Smith is editor of Fresh Water News. She can be reached at 720-398-6474, via email at email@example.com.
From The Upper San Juan Watershed Enhancement Partnership (Mandy Eskelson and Al Pfister) via The Pagosa Springs Sun
A Pagosa Springs-based collaborative group, called the Upper San Juan Watershed Enhancement Partnership (WEP), has been working since 2018 to identify concerns and opportunities to address the needs of the diverse water users of the Upper San Juan River Basin.
The WEP strives to be a community-driven effort that supports values and needs unique to our basin while assisting the broader state and regional goals of the Colorado State Water Plan and Southwest Basin Implementation Plan. The state calls these local planning efforts of multiple water uses either Stream Management Plans (SMP) or Integrated Water Management Plans (IWMP).
The WEP’s three-phased IWMP process is designed to ensure there is ample time to gather public feed- back, conduct analysis and create a plan with local priorities, which is why we encourage all community members to attend our upcoming virtual public meeting. We are excited to share our updates from our work and hear your ideas on how this information can be used to support local water users.
In Phase I, the WEP organized a steering committee comprised of representatives of the agricultural, environmental, municipal and recreational water users of our community to begin outlining water-related needs and issues. Through multiple public meetings, the steering committee gathered input on the geographic scope/focus, concerns and potential project opportunities to help guide what information was known, what gaps existed, new data to collect, and what analysis and modeling the community wanted in Phase II.
In 2020, as part of Phase II, the WEP has partnered with experts Lotic Hydrological and San Juan Conservation District/NRCS to analyze components identified as priorities during public meetings, such as current and future river flows, riparian habitat, forest health/wildfire risk influences on water resources, and agricultural infrastructure conditions and needs. Based on public feedback and the capacity of models and our partners, the WEP’s work has mainly focused on the upper San Juan watershed, but we continue to include steering committee members and project components from the Rio Blanco and Navajo watersheds.
Results from Phase II’s data analysis, field assessments and model outputs now need to be reviewed and approved by you, the community. Our upcoming public meeting on Wednesday, March 31, held via Zoom
from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m., will present the preliminary results of these assessments and models, gather feedback to ensure it aligns with local experience and knowledge, or identify where additional data and analysis may be needed. WEP steering committee members Joe Crabb and Justin Ramsey will also present on local water systems and drought preparations.
To learn more about other Colorado watershed groups conducting a SMP/IWMP process, visit www. coloradosmp.org. If you have questions, please contact Al Pfister at firstname.lastname@example.org or Mandy Eskelson at email@example.com. We hope to “see” you on March 31.
From the Water Education Colorado Blog (Willow Cozzens, Samantha Grant, Amelia Nill, and Andrew Primo):
This is the second blog post in a series on diversity, equity and inclusion in Colorado agricultural water planning. Find the first post here.
As discussed in our previous post, Colorado has an exciting opportunity to create a truly sustainable future for residents by making its water plan update process more inclusive. There are at least three groups that have been historically excluded from Colorado statewide agricultural water planning: the Colorado Ute tribes, those who operate under acequia management systems, and urban agriculture producers. While these groups have been included at an interstate level and at the local level through the Basin Roundtables, intrastate coordination and statewide inclusion of these folks is in need of improvement.
The 2015 Colorado Water Plan (CWP) acknowledges federally recognized tribes within Colorado and their federally reserved water rights, these important topics are only covered at a high level without in-depth examination of more local nuances. Additionally, the term acequia is mentioned only once in the entire 2015 CWP, in a footnote of a farmer profile.
Colorado should thoughtfully integrate more explicit inclusion for these groups not only in the Colorado Water Plan 2022 update, but also within the Interbasin Compact Committee, the Colorado Water Congress, and the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB). The CWCB has made efforts to initiate more inclusion in the CWP update process through the newly announced Equity Committee. This Committee will constitute two representatives from each of the nine river basins, plus one representative from each of the two Colorado Ute tribes. The true purposes and outcomes from this committee, however, remain to be seen. To create a more thoughtful and equitable Colorado water planning process, the equity committee must focus on creating robust measures for water justice in each element of the Colorado Water Plan Update.
This post will focus particularly on agricultural stakeholders who have been excluded from Colorado water planning. The following sections will provide background and discussion for the three groups identified. While these groups are related in that they were not adequately included in the 2015 CWP, each community is quite distinct. Both acequia water management systems and tribal water users have a rich history in Colorado that must not be ignored in planning discussions. Separately, urban agriculture, while not entirely novel, is a rapidly emerging practice in Colorado’s cities and may serve as an important tool not only to preserve agricultural viability but also to facilitate water stewardship and education. These three communities each have uniquely valuable and important perspectives on regional water issues in the state and should be given specific consideration in the planning process.
Acequias in Colorado
For communities in Colorado and northern New Mexico, an acequia is a physical system, an irrigation ditch, but it is also a deeply embedded philosophy of community and governance. The philosophy revolves around loyalty to the community and a common understanding that water is both a shared resource and a shared responsibility. This ideology has shaped relationships between humans and the environment for centuries in Colorado, creating a resilient natural and cultural system that supports families, communities, and the food system.
Acequia water management systems have been largely excluded in Colorado’s state water planning process, despite the fact that there are thousands of acres of acequias between Colorado’s Rio Grande and Arkansas River Basins. Among the Statewide Water Supply Initiatives, the 2015 Colorado Water Plan, the 2017 Technical Update, and the 2019 Ripple Effects Report, the word acequia is mentioned only once一in a footnote in the 2015 Plan. Acequias are briefly discussed in the 2015 Rio Grande Basin Implementation Plan, and they are not mentioned in the 2015 Arkansas Basin Implementation Plan.
Acequia stakeholders are often absent from statewide planning process meetings and forums. The newly established Colorado Water Equity Task Force does not include any representation for acequia stakeholders. Excluding acequias from the Colorado water planning process shuns an entire population of Coloradans一primarily farmers of color一from statewide water planning and funding. Farmers and others who operate under acequia management must be recognized and included in the statewide planning process for the 2022 CWP update.
Colorado water planners may look to acequia management in New Mexico to model pathways for inclusion. Despite the similarities in culture and natural resource demands in the San Luis Valley, Colorado’s and New Mexico’s governance approaches to acequias are starkly different. Acequia recognition has been written into New Mexico law since the mid-19th century. Furthermore, throughout New Mexico’s statewide water plan, almost every time that agriculture or irrigation is discussed, so are acequias. For example, as mentioned above, the culture of shared scarcity that underlies acequias is crucial to farmers in times of drought. New Mexico’s Water Plan explicitly acknowledges this strength, illustrating that this type of water sharing should be encouraged to support holistic agricultural viability. Colorado water planning could benefit from a similar outlook on the resilience of acequias.
Though the 2009 Colorado Acequia Recognition Statute codified that acequias hold unique powers and rights under Colorado water law, the statute only allows acequias with written bylaws to have the special powers and unique rights recognized under Colorado law. This can be a barrier for acequia communities, as some producers may not have the means to hire a lawyer to draft legally acceptable bylaws. New Mexico’s Water Plan also discusses how the state supports acequia bylaw creation. Such programs are absent in Colorado, where acequia users rely on non-governmental organizations and academic institutions, such as the Getches-Wilkinson Center Acequia Assistance Project and the Sangre de Cristo Acequia Association, rather than on funds directly from the state.
Colorado water planners should consult with stakeholders within Colorado’s acequia communities on how to best include planning and funding for acequias in statewide water management. Historically, the relationship between acequia managers in the San Luis Valley and in the Arkansas Basin with the Colorado Water Conservation Board has not been the strongest. CWCB should be inclined to add another seat to the equity committee specifically for acequia representation to try to remedy this historic exclusion.
Colorado Ute Tribes
The Ute peoples are the oldest continuous inhabitants of the land now called Colorado. They have been intimately tied to the waters of the region for many centuries, long before incursion by European colonizers and settlers. However, beginning in the mid-19th century, the United States federal and Colorado state governments began systematically dispossessing the Ute people of their land and separating them from their sources of water.
By the end of the 19th century, the only three bands of Ute peoples remaining in the state had been relegated to its southwest corner, in what are now the Southern Ute Indian and Ute Mountain Ute reservations. Although the Ute people had been gradually pressured to adopt a settled agricultural lifestyle, they were removed to some of the least suitable lands for agriculture in the state.
Despite these setbacks, both tribes have fostered successful agricultural communities on their reservations; the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe’s Farm and Ranch Enterprise, for instance, has been repeatedly recognized at both state and national levels for its products.
Much has been done in the last 30 years to address some of the historical inequities created by the separation of the Colorado Ute Tribes from their ancestral lands and traditional water sources. The 1988 Colorado Ute Indian Water Rights Settlement Act and subsequent 2000 Amendments clarified and quantified the Tribes’ reserved rights and authorized a reduced Animas-La Plata Project as well as deliveries from McPhee Reservoir to provide a reliable source of water to the tribes. Both tribes are active members of the Southwest Basin Roundtable and are represented on the Colorado Water Equity Task Force, and the importance of Tribal reserved rights is addressed in the 2015 Water Plan.
Both tribes, however, still face significant supply and infrastructure challenges, as detailed in the 2018 Colorado River Basin Ten Tribes Partnership Tribal Water Study. Some of these infrastructure projects, such as the Pine River Indian Irrigation Project, are nominally maintained by the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs, although that agency’s budget and staffing challenges make adequate upkeep difficult.
As holders of federal reserved water rights, the Southern Ute Indian and the Ute Mountain Ute tribes are invaluable partners to the State of Colorado and the Southwest Basin in addressing water management challenges, particularly issues of interstate compact compliance. Much of the groundwork for this partnership has been laid in the Ten Tribes Partnership Study, which provides detailed data on the challenges faced by the Colorado Ute Tribes, as well as opportunities that working closely with the tribes can provide state and regional water planners. The study provides an excellent starting point for addressing the challenges faced by the tribes and highlights their importance in addressing the water challenges faced by the State and the region.
Given the challenges and opportunities posed by the tribes’ unique water rights and the long history of oppression and exclusion of Indigenous peoples by both the federal and state governments, particular considerations of equity and justice must be extended to the Colorado Ute Tribes in regards to water issues. This is particularly important because tribes’ vital cultural, spiritual, and ceremonial uses are often not adequately addressed in Western legal and economic structures.
Careful, intentional, and respectful consultation with the tribes一as well as inclusion in statewide deliberative water planning processes一is essential to developing a robust understanding of their needs, as well as the cultural significance and intended uses of water.
Urban agriculture (UA) is most simply defined as “all forms of agricultural production occurring within or around cities.” In any given urban area, this may include quite a variety of operations and projects, including ground-based outdoor gardens and farms, indoor hydroponic or aquaponic growing, rooftop gardens and farms, landscaping and nurseries, urban livestock, and more. The sector is growing as cities become home to more UA-focused organizations, citizens get more creative with urban landscapes, and policies incentivize green infrastructure. Such programs or policies are often intended to promote public health, economic development, and enhance socio-ecological relationships.
Over time, UA has taken on a new form and meaning. With connections now to social justice and environmental sustainability, urban farming has taken root in countless large and small city centers across the nation, oftentimes appearing in the form of community gardens, rooftop gardens, and greenhouses. UA is not recognized in the Colorado Water Plan, or many other western state water plans, despite its growing popularity across the nation. UA offers a multitude of exciting opportunities to foster resilience within western water planning and our food systems.
Regardless of the form it takes, all UA operations require water. Water resources may be utilized on a wide spectrum of UA irrigation tactics一from traditional flood irrigation in peri-urban fields to precision application in a vertical farm. The increasing prevalence of UA operations in Colorado cities requires more attention from water planners, especially as food production technology advances and local food becomes more popular among citizens. The CWP update should not only provide support for both existing operations, but also recognize the potential water-efficient food production in the future of UA. This will be especially important as Colorado could see a shifting food system in the face of climate change and urbanization. The current trajectory of UA could provide a significant contribution to water resilience planning and food production for Colorado.
Though this growth may represent an exciting shift in the food system, it is crucial to recognize UA’s capacity for exacerbating environmental injustices. Often, initiatives led by non-residents may be detrimental to local communities. This is especially prevalent when mostly young, white non-residents have led initiatives in predominantly Black and/or Latinx neighborhoods, “unintentionally excluding people of color from participating in or reaping the benefits of such efforts.” Furthermore, residents of lower-income communities and/or people of color are more likely to experience difficulty accessing land, funding, and political support for UA projects than white and middle class individuals or organizations. Therefore, in order to avoid perpetuating injustice, UA implementation must be nuanced and place-based. A successful and anti-racist CWP update will recognize possible inequities and provide support for urban residents to facilitate UA projects within their own neighborhoods.
This overview intends to provide the background and ethics necessary to integrate the Colorado Ute Tribes, acequias, and urban agriculture considerations into the Colorado Water Plan update. In an effort to begin the process of elevating voices of underrepresented communities, this research team hosted a virtual listening session and working meeting for water planning professionals and UA stakeholders. This event was meant to serve as a platform for stakeholder and administrator collaboration with the goal of creating a more equitable and inclusive CWP update. Our next post will detail the process and results of this meeting.
The San Juan Water Conser- vancy District (SJWCD) approved its strategic plan for 2021 at a meeting on Feb. 15.
The strategic plan, which had been in development since 2018, is to be used to help the district identify water resource issues in the Upper San Juan River Basin within the district’s geographical scope, according to the plan.
Additionally, the plan outlines that its purpose is to help the district evaluate its options for addressing water resource issues and outlining which options could be acted upon.
Other objectives include the SJWCD Board of Directors developing long-term goals and direction for the district and relaying that information to the public, the plan notes.
Mission and value statements
Included within the plan is the SJWCD’s mission statement, which reads “To be an active leader in all issues affecting the water resources of the Upper San Juan River Basin.”
These statements note that the SJWCD board is “committed to ensuring that various current and future water supply needs are met through whatever conservation and water management strategies and methodologies are available.”
Another value statement reads, “The Board opposes any new transfers of water from the Upper San Juan River and its tributaries upstream of Navajo Reservoir to basins outside of the Upper San Juan River Basin.”
The opposition toward this comes from the SJWCD believing that transfers would interfere with existing beneficial uses of water, damage to economic stability and reduced environmental quality, the plan indicates.
Other value statements include that the SJWCD board is commit- ted to managing water rights it holds, supporting wise land-use policies and processes, and man- aging and funding effective monitoring, protection and restoration programs.
One value statement notes that the SJWCD board believes that the district must participate in statewide processes, like the Colorado Water Plan, to address various issues such as climate change, drought and water shortages.
Colorado lawmakers are considering three major water bills that would help finance wildfire mitigation and forest health projects, study underground water storage for future beneficial use, and create a state enterprise to fund drinking and wastewater projects through fees paid by water utility customers.
Wildfire mitigation and forest health
Last year was Colorado’s worst wildfire season ever. The three largest fires on record burned over 600,000 acres. Water providers fear that spring runoff will clog streams and reservoirs with ash and sediment, damaging clean water supplies.
House Bill 1008 is sponsored by Rep. Jeni Arndt, D-Fort Collins, and Rep. Marc Catlin, R-Montrose. (Editor’s note: Rep. Arndt is a board member of Water Education Colorado, which sponsors Fresh Water News). HB21-1008 (Forest Health Project Financing) aims to help fund local wildfire mitigation and forest health efforts to protect watersheds. It would allow counties, municipalities and special districts to band together and form special improvement districts empowered to levy property taxes to fund wildfire mitigation and forest health projects. It would also make those improvement districts eligible for $50 million from a Colorado Water Resources and Power Development Authority (CWRPDA) bond program, and expand the program’s life by 10 years to last through 2033.
Arndt said districts would be formed voluntarily and noted that any property tax assessments would require voter approval. “The Colorado way,” she said, “opt in.” Catlin, the bill’s co-sponsor, agreed. “This is an opportunity for communities to take some preemptive steps and, if needed, be able to bond through the state to get help and make the payments to take care of the problem.” Keith McLaughlin, CWRPDA executive director, emphasized that “every $1 in fire mitigation efforts saves between $3 and $6 in fire suppression costs.”
The House Agriculture, Livestock, & Water Committee passed the bill unanimously to the House Finance Committee Feb. 22. It will be heard there on March 4.
Underground water storage
Concern with declining water tables and the volume of water leaving the state in excess of compact requirements led Rep. Richard Holtorf, R-Akron, a rancher and dryland farmer, to introduce HB21-1043 Study Underground Water Storage Maximum Beneficial Use. The bill would require the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) to contract with a state university to study ways to maximize beneficial use of water by storing excess surface flows in aquifers for future use. The study would identify aquifers with storage capacity, funds to pay for storage, specific storage projects, and proposed legislation to implement its recommendations. It would be due to the interim Water Resources Review Committee by Aug. 1, 2022.
While acknowledging the value of underground water storage, some House Agriculture, Livestock, & Water Committee members questioned the need for the study since several similar studies had already been done and at least two large water providers—Denver and Greeley—are already storing water underground. There were also concerns about who would have rights to excess surface flows. Rep. Arndt, committee chair, asked, “Who would get those rights…you can’t just capture excess water?” Rep. Holtorf replied that whoever’s next in line when it reenters the river would gain use to the water; nothing changes the prior appropriation doctrine.
Rep. Holtorf concluded, “I’m not going to say it’s not complicated, but at the end of the day we’ve got to do something to get maximum beneficial use of water that we give away and try to keep it in our state for the beneficial use of everyone.” He had the backing of the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association, Colorado Farm Bureau, Colorado Water Congress and Colorado Groundwater Association. The committee passed the bill 9-1 to the House Finance Committee.
Financing water projects
The Colorado Water Plan, adopted in 2015, projects a need to spend an additional $100 million a year for 30 years in state money to fully fund water projects and activities to meet its objectives. Funding to date has come nowhere near that figure, but a bill introduced this session will try to put a dent in it.
SB21-034 (Water Resource Financing Enterprise), sponsored by Sen. Don Coram, R-Montrose, would create the Water Resources Financing Enterprise made up of both the CWRPDA and CWCB board of directors. The new enterprise would provide grants and loans for drinking water, wastewater treatment, and raw water delivery projects. The enterprise could issue revenue bonds to be repaid from fees assessed on drinking water customers of 25 cents per 1,000 gallons of water delivered each month in excess of the first 4,000 gallons. SB21-034 would generate roughly $37 million annually. If passed, it would go on the November 2022 ballot as a legislatively referred measure for approval by voters statewide.
The bill is similar to legislation Sen. Coram introduced last year. That bill was defeated in committee with assurances that it would be studied in greater detail by the interim Water Resources Review Committee. The pandemic, however, wiped out all interim studies. SB21-034 has been assigned to the Senate Agriculture & Natural Resources Committee and is scheduled to be heard on March 4.
Larry Morandi was formerly director of State Policy Research with the National Conference of State Legislatures in Denver, and is a frequent contributor to Fresh Water News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
From Water Education Colorado (Willow Cozzens, Samantha Grant, Amelia Nill, and Andrew Primo):
Effective agricultural water planning is critical for a sustainable and resilient future in Colorado. Not only does the agricultural sector account for 86.7% of the state’s consumed water, but agriculture is also the crucial economic and cultural foundation for many communities. The 2015 Colorado Water Plan (CWP), a statewide roadmap for water management, is currently undergoing a multi-year update that includes new information, critical action items, and revised water planning schemes for all sectors. This update will be published in 2022. In order to foster lasting resilience, the CWP update must be more inclusive of all Coloradoans and provide comprehensive planning for historically underserved communities across the state.
True sustainability can not be divorced from empowering all communities. Studies show that systems with many sources of knowledge are generally more resilient. Just as farmers often plant several different crops to prepare for potential vulnerabilities, water planning must strive to be as diverse as possible to create a water resilient future.
Who has been excluded from agricultural water planning?
Colorado has an exciting opportunity to be more inclusive in water planning and subsequently create a truly sustainable CWP. But first, underserved groups must be identified throughout all sectors. This will necessitate nuanced outreach and calls to action. Three groups who have been historically excluded from Colorado water planning in agriculture are:
People who operate under acequia management systems. For communities in Colorado and northern New Mexico, an acequia is a physical system, an irrigation ditch, but it is also a deeply embedded philosophy of community and governance. These producers are primarily Hispanic or Latinx and reside in the San Luis Valley within the Rio Grande River Basin or in the Arkansas River Basin. The term “acequia” is mentioned only once in the entire 2015 CWP — in a footnote of a farmer profile.
Tribal water users. Two federally recognized tribes have designated land reservations within the borders of Colorado: the Southern Ute Indian Tribe (SUIT) and the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe (UMUT). While it must be acknowledged that 48 contemporary tribal nations are historically tied to the lands that make up Colorado, the Ute tribes are holders of federal reserved water rights in the state. Both the SUIT and UMUT tribal reservations are located within the Southwest Basin (e.g. San Juan/Dolores), though the UMUT reservation also includes land in New Mexico and Utah. While the tribes have become more frequent partners in broader interstate negotiations, inclusion at the intrastate level is still limited to the Southwest Basin Roundtable. Given the Ute tribes’ status as the state’s original water users and the unique nature of their federally reserved rights, more efforts should be made to explicitly include tribal representatives in deliberative processes.
Urban agricultural producers. Urban agriculture in Colorado may include a variety of production methods and water uses, such as community gardens, hydroponic growing facilities, small-scale market farms, and more. It is important to note that there is not necessarily the same rich history or record of exclusion for urban agriculture as the above two groups. Rather, planning for water in urban agriculture could present an exciting opportunity to foster resilience in the food system and land use planning for the future of Colorado. Before defining demographics and practices within urban agriculture, a standard definition of urban agriculture in Colorado must be implemented.
Tribes are acknowledged in the Southwest Basin Implementation Plan, and acequias are acknowledged in the Rio Grande Basin Implementation Plan. Urban agriculture is not mentioned in the 2015 CWP or in any of the Basin Implementation Plans (BIPs). The BIPs could serve as an opportunity to elevate underserved voices, given their regional focus, and create a space for them at the state level. An equitable and just water planning process at all levels, from local to basin to state, is critical for Colorado’s present and future water needs.
Paving the way toward more inclusivity in Colorado water planning
The Department of Natural Resources has recently announced the formation of a water equity committee, which is set to include representatives from each river basin and each tribal nation. Within this engagement process, Colorado water planners must make the effort to explicitly solicit input and feedback from underserved individuals and groups in agriculture and all other water sectors. Outreach efforts must be nuanced for each community, each conversation, and each stage in inclusive planning. Overall, CWCB should focus on elevating voices of change makers within historically underserved communities and solicit consistent feedback for a more inclusive, equitable, and holistic Colorado Water Plan.
This strategy should aim to advance diverse representation in natural resource planning and provide opportunities for more equitable funding. Explicit inclusion via community outreach may also encourage diversity in water planning schemes, which can in turn create a more sustainable future. The equity committee and the CWCB should reach out to representatives of underserved communities and facilitate dynamic and interactive working sessions where stakeholders can discuss water challenges and opportunities with the CWCB.
In partnership with CWCB and the University of Colorado – Boulder, we conducted an initial working session with a goal of establishing a more inclusive dialogue for producers. This work session, which focused on water issues among urban agriculture producers, will be discussed in a later blog post.
Ideally, such facilitated dialogues will lead to additional working sessions, inclusion in water planning procedures at the state level, participation in Basin Roundtables, submission of public comments, and general advocacy pointed toward agricultural water planning. This approach may foster a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive 2022 Colorado Water Plan, and a better water planning process into the future.
Help define this moment for birds, rivers, and people.
What memories can you recall from five years ago? Well, you may remember that Colorado’s inaugural Water Plan had just been finalized in November of 2015. The Audubon network, our partners, and Coloradans were key in defining the plan. Five years of plan implementation have flown by. As the plan moves forward in its first update, what have we learned to set the course for necessary immediate and long-term steps to ensure water security for people and the environment? We need your statewide engagement, again.
The Water Plan in Short
Colorado’s Water Plan 2015 is a framework pointing the way toward safeguarding Colorado’s water values as population, water variability, and drought increase. Colorado’s water values are supporting healthy watersheds and the environment, robust recreation and tourism economies, vibrant and sustainable cities, and viable and productive agriculture.
The plan’s foundation stands on work by Colorado’s nine basin roundtables and their basin implementation plans, the Interbasin Compact Committee, the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB), partners, and stakeholders statewide. The collaboration that fueled the Colorado Water Plan sparked the state’s largest civic engagement and the CWCB received more than 30,000 public comments on priorities and direction for the plan. Audubon’s network provided nearly 20 percent of general comments received, and Audubon staff provided consented technical environmental resilience and stream ecology language. The top-two categories of all public comments received were support for healthy rivers and better use of water in cities and towns. The unprecedented public engagement truly produced Colorado’s Water Plan.
Without a strong plan and funding for implementation, Colorado’s birds, rivers, and people will face a problematic future with unacceptable consequences.
Why Update Now?
Colorado is changing and the Colorado Water Plan must be responsive. Our population is over 5.7 million today and could nearly double by 2060. With climate change increasing temperatures and making water supply less predictable, rivers are already stretched thin. Within the next few decades, even assuming aggressive water conservation and the completion of dozens of water projects currently being considered, the state could face a shortfall that exceeds 500,000 acre-feet annually.
The plan update will complete in 2022 and map Colorado water resource management for the next seven years. As a headwaters state, the value of Colorado’s rivers flows far beyond its boundaries. Healthy, flowing rivers support all water uses and users—both wildlife and people. Protecting rivers protects our economy, our birds, and our way of life, but their future is uncertain. Audubon was closely involved in the creation of the plan and currently is involved in its implementation. Now, five years later, we’re helping to update the plan.
(Abby Burk and other experts explain how Colorado can best update the Colorado Water Plan.)
How to Engage
Audubon is committed to protecting the health of Colorado’s rivers, ecosystems, and sustainable water supplies—values that benefit everyone. We are working across water interests to show that water connects rather than separates us. Together, we can protect Colorado’s incredible rivers and the birds that depend upon them. Public input on the Colorado Water Plan update will be critical. Here’s how you can participate:
Engage in Your Local Basin
Each of Colorado’s nine basin roundtables has been updating their local water supply and management plans called basin implementation plans (BIPs). Updated BIPs will soon be ready for public review. Click on your basin here to find your basin roundtable website, then click through to the BIP update status. Updated BIPs are getting ready to roll out soon. Also, due to COVID-19 concerns, basin roundtables have been meeting virtually. If you have not already, you can attend a virtual basin roundtable meeting to get to know your basin’s scope of work and your basin’s hardworking volunteers leading local water management efforts.
Click here for all the inside skinny and to register.
Join a roundtable discussion focusing on agricultural irrigation infrastructure issues and solutions to inform the 2022 Colorado Water Plan.
The Colorado Water Conservation Board, in partnership with the Colorado Agricultural Water Alliance and Ditch and Reservoir Company Alliance, invites you to participate in a virtual, Colorado Water Plan Update Scoping Workshop focusing on agricultural irrigation infrastructure issues and solutions. The format of the workshop will be an expert roundtable discussion that will inform the scoping process of the Colorado Water Plan Update (more information here: https://engagecwcb.org/colorado-water-plan-update).
The Colorado Water Plan provides a roadmap for addressing water resource challenges; informing strategies, policy development, and programming. The event will be open to the public.
A majority of Colorado voters believe the state should spend more money on protecting and conserving its water resources, but they’re not willing to support new state taxes to fund the work, according to a series of bipartisan polls conducted over the past 18 months.
“Roughly 55 percent of voters said the state should spend more money,” said Lori Weigel, a pollster and principal with the firm New Bridge Strategy.
Though the polling also showed some support for such potential tools as a new statewide tourism tax or a bottle tax, that support eroded quickly when likely voters were asked about a new statewide tax, with 39 percent of likely voters saying they were skeptical the state could be trusted to spend the money wisely, Weigel said.
Her comments came Tuesday at a meeting of the Inter Basin Compact Committee (IBCC), a statewide group charged with helping develop consensus-based solutions to the state’s water issues, including funding.
The bipartisan polling was conducted before and after the elections of 2019, when Colorado voters narrowly approved a sports gambling tax whose proceeds will help fund the Colorado Water Plan, and again before and after the elections of 2020. In those contests voters in the Glenwood Springs-based Colorado River District, and the Longmont-based St. Vrain and Left Hand Water Conservancy District overwhelmingly approved new taxes for local water projects.
Funded by For the Love of Colorado, a nonpartisan coalition that includes environmental groups, water utilities and industry groups, the polling was designed to help policy makers and lawmakers decide how best to raise an estimated $3 billion over the next 30 years to help cities and farmers cope with looming shortages, while ensuring streams have enough water for fish and kayakers.
That’s the amount of money estimated to be needed from new sources to fully fund the Colorado Water Plan. But to date, lawmakers and other sources have only been able to provide between $5 million to $30 million annually. And though the new sports betting tax is likely to bring in $6 million to $11 million dollars annually, it will still fall short of the needed revenues.
State officials hope to build on the recent modest, but still significant, 2020 election wins to create a more stable, permanent source of funding.
“For the first time in a long time we’ve had success,” IBCC Chair Russ George told the group on Tuesday.
But the wins and the recent polls show the state must build broad coalitions and work harder to dispel distrust among voters over how any new statewide tax revenues would be spent if they were approved, officials said.
Aaron Citron, a member of the IBCC and a policy analyst with The Nature Conservancy, said the funding shortfall is likely to become more dire without a permanent statewide funding source because traditional sources, such as oil and gas tax revenues, are plummeting as production declines.
“The situation is likely to get worse,” Citron said. “Yes we should emulate what was done so successfully in the Colorado River and St. Vrain districts and figure out how to build that [statewide] trust. It’s possible but it’s going to be tough.
“The assumption [when the Colorado Water Plan was being developed] was that we would be able to have severance tax revenues into the future. But we can expect them to continue to be unstable and continue to decline because of global market pressures, and state and federal greenhouse gas and renewable energy goals,” Citron said. He was referring to state commitments that call for oil and gas and fossil fuels to gradually be replaced with cleaner energy sources, a process that will phase out oil and gas production and the associated tax revenue it generates.
Andy Mueller, general manager of the Colorado River District, said voters in his district were willing to raise their property taxes last fall to help fund local water projects, but there was no local support for using those new taxes to make up for missing state funds.
“The state has an obligation to fund water projects,” Mueller said. “This is a much bigger issue at $100 million a year than the $4.2 million my district was able to raise. It doesn’t get us anywhere if it can’t be leveraged against additional state and federal funding.”
Jerd Smith is editor of Fresh Water News. She can be reached at 720-398-6474, via email at email@example.com or @jerd_smith.
In the five years since Colorado’s Water Plan took effect, the state has awarded nearly $500 million in loans and grants for water projects, cities have enacted strict drought plans, communities have written nearly two dozen locally based stream restoration plans, and crews have been hard at work improving irrigation systems and upgrading wastewater treatment plants.
But big challenges lie ahead — drought, population growth, accelerating climate change, budget cuts, wildfires and competing demands for water, among others.
And though the state has made progress on the plan’s ambitious goals and funding needs since November 2015, it hasn’t yet been able to secure the estimated $100 million needed each year through 2050 to fully fund the plan.
Colorado water leaders are optimistic about advances made under the plan thus far. But they acknowledge that this five-year milestone is just the beginning of a long-term effort with no easy path forward. The plan is also undergoing a comprehensive update that will help refine its direction moving forward by incorporating lessons learned and better data.
“Five years in water time is really a blink of an eye,” said Lauren Ris, deputy director for the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB), the statewide water policy agency tasked with administering the plan. “Even though we’re so proud of the progress we’ve made, we’ve got a lot of work in front of us. There’s a lot to celebrate but I also think we can’t rest too much on our laurels here.”
The water plan, explained
The plan provides a framework for ensuring there’s enough good-quality water for all of Colorado’s diverse users, as well as the state’s downstream neighbors. Gov. John Hickenlooper called for the plan’s creation in May 2013, which set in motion 30 months of meetings, public input, writing and reviewing to ultimately create the 567-page plan.
Colorado has long faced unique water challenges in part because its high-altitude rivers deliver water to 18 other states and Mexico, activity that is carefully governed by legal agreements that include compacts and treaties. Accelerating climate change and rapid population growth have only added more complexity. Colorado’s population is expected to grow as high as 8.1 million by 2050, up from 5.76 million in 2019, with much of that growth occurring on the East Slope. Meanwhile, 70 to 80 percent of the state’s water originates on the West Slope.
Many Colorado water leaders agree that the plan — and the multi-year processes for creating and updating it — has fostered an authentic spirit of collaboration. Even if they disagree, people have to work together to find common ground because the plan prioritizes projects that achieve multiple benefits, which in turn makes them more likely to receive state funding.
“Collaboration is now the starting point of conversations about water and maybe that wasn’t always true before,” said Russ Sands, water supply planning section chief for the CWCB. “Like any dinner party, you have some strong conversations and it’s hard. But then ultimately, we do come together around these multi-purpose, multi-benefit projects.”
Key to putting the plan to work are the public roundtables in each river basin, whose volunteer members are charged with identifying each region’s needs and the methods and funding to meet those needs.
The plan hasn’t completely eased tensions, but it has given water users a forum for voicing their opinions, popular or unpopular. And, perhaps above all else, it has succeeded in keeping water top of mind.
“The best thing the water plan has done is kept the water problem in everybody’s face,” said Max Schmidt, manager of the Orchard Mesa Irrigation District and Grand Valley Project Power Plant. “Traditionally, we have a dry year and everybody gets all worried. Then the next year’s a wet year and everybody forgets about it. People are now saying, ‘This is a long-term, serious problem.’”
Progress under the plan
Work on the plan is occurring mostly on specific projects in Colorado’s eight river basins, which are often funded by loans and grants administered by the CWCB. Five years in, the plan has provided $63.5 million in grants to 241 projects, and $420 million in loans to 82 projects.
According to the CWCB’s data, 76 percent of the plan’s actions have been initiated or completed, but how this translates to progress on the plan’s eight measurable objectives isn’t clear yet. Those objectives set measurable targets for things like water conservation, new water storage, and water-smart land use, as well as informing the public. When asked about progress toward the objectives, the CWCB said it is no longer calculating specific progress metrics using the objectives but is instead tracking new projects or programs that work toward the goals outlined in the plan.
Since taking office in 2019, Gov. Jared Polis has made water one of his “Wildly Important Goals,” issuing a call to the CWCB and roundtables to create a database of 500 local water projects that are ready or nearly ready to launch and are backed by strong data demonstrating costs and potential outcomes.
While the “water WIG,” as it is known, did not come with any funding attached, the exercise has forced local water leaders to refine, prioritize and provide cost estimates for their most promising ideas.
Though the focus on specific projects has been effective for achieving goals in each river basin, some water leaders feel the plan doesn’t go far enough to address statewide issues.
“We need to think more broadly about water,” said Kathleen Curry, chair of the Gunnison Basin Roundtable on the West Slope, rancher and lobbyist. “Having a project-specific focus is great if you’re the entity pushing the projects, but really, overall forest health, stream measurement, snowpack measurement, some of the overall statewide water supply challenges that are out there, those need to be part of the plan as well. [We need to] make sure the plan isn’t simply a laundry list.”
Funding wins and challenges
Since the Colorado Water Plan’s inception, state funding for implementation has ranged from a low of $5 million in 2016 to $30 million in 2019, far short of the estimated $100 million needed each year through 2050
In 2020, lawmakers appropriated $7.5 million for the water plan, however, that money is expected to be stretched over three years because of declining oil and gas severance tax revenue and the economic consequences of COVID-19 on the state budget. Many other water-related programs are also not expected to receive additional funding in the near future, according to CWCB spokesperson Sara Leonard.
The plan got a new funding source in 2019 when voters approved Proposition DD, which legalized sports betting and directed tax revenue to the water plan.
Sports betting got off to a slow start in the spring of 2020, thanks to the near-total shutdown of sporting events because of the coronavirus pandemic. But activity picked up speed during the second half of the year, generating $3.4 million in taxes between May and December, double the estimated $1.5 million to $1.7 million per year.
Though not an immediate source of cash, the sports betting initiative was a big win in a state where voters have historically balked at statewide funding for water.
“The water plan requires about $100 million a year in sustainable funding to meet many of the goals outlined for 2025, 2030, 2050,” said Alec Garnett, D-Denver, the lead sponsor of the sports betting bill. “We never thought Prop DD was going to achieve that annual goal, but at least it established a reliable critical revenue source.”
Garnett said he always envisioned general fund money, plus the sports betting tax revenue, to help get the water plan closer to $100 million a year, but this year’s state budget challenges showed just how fraught that path forward may be. Since its launch, lawmakers have contributed general funds to the plan just once.
“Our economy and state budget have been turned upside down by the pandemic and we have to move through this period before we can talk about sustainable funding,” Garnett said. “It’s just hard to navigate with the changing environment.”
There were other wins for water funding over the last five years, too. Several local water districts and initiatives found success at the polls, garnering millions of dollars in new taxpayer support for an array of local and regional goals aligned with the plan.
In November 2020, voters approved property tax increases to support water projects in the Glenwood Springs-based Colorado River Water Conservation District and the Longmont-based St. Vrain and Left Hand Water Conservancy District.
“We’re already seeing where [funding is] being piecemealed together so maybe it’s statewide or maybe it’s a local thing,” said Garrett Varra, who chairs the South Platte Basin Roundtable and sits on the board of the St. Vrain and Left Hand Water Conservancy District. “Voters are more apt to trust people they know and be able to sit down and talk with directly than maybe the state Legislature itself or the CWCB or whoever it is. One way or another, whether it’s done region by region or statewide, it will happen at some point.”
Colorado water leaders are in the middle of a comprehensive water plan update that will conclude in 2022. The update will incorporate five potential supply and demand scenarios for Colorado water in 2050, created by adjusting variables like water availability, climate change and population growth.
“It’s about choices that we make,” said the CWCB’s Ris. “We’re not locked into any future, that we have the ability to make choices in how we deal with everything coming down the pipe, including population growth, funding, climate change.”
Using the various planning scenarios and other data, the CWCB has also developed new tools to help estimate the environmental impacts and costs of water projects, as well as the costs and consequences of doing nothing. The board also created a new “Engage CWCB” website to encourage more community engagement with the plan.
This month, the Interbasin Compact Committee, a statewide board charged with helping shape policy and coordinating among the various river basins, will re-ignite talks about how best to fund the water plan and, ultimately, achieve its goals.
Set against the backdrop of record-setting wildfires, intensifying drought in the Colorado River Basin and other parts of the state, escalating climate change, and fears around potential water speculation, state water leaders say that funding can’t come soon enough.
“There’s a lot of talk about how do we get to that $100 million mark with the ever-increasing challenges that Colorado faces, with climate change happening faster than anyone really thought, even in 2015 when the water plan was created,” said Garnett.
Sarah Kuta is a freelance writer based in Longmont, Colorado. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Graphics created by Chas Chamberlin, principal with cdcgraphics. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Coloradans legally bet more than $1.1 billion on sports in 2020, exceeding expectations and funneling some cash to the Colorado Water Plan sooner than anticipated.
Colorado collected more than $3.4 million in sports betting taxes in 2020, with operators running from May through December. Voters agreed to legalize and tax sports betting in November 2019 with the passage of Proposition DD, which also directed much of the tax revenue to the Colorado Water Plan, a comprehensive vision for the state’s water future created in 2015.
Colorado’s fiscal year runs from July 1 to June 30, which makes the sports betting numbers even more promising, since December was only the halfway mark for the current fiscal year. From July to December 2020 — the first half of the current 2020-21 fiscal year — Colorado collected $3.1 million in sports betting tax revenue.
Even with six months remaining in the fiscal year — a span that includes big-time sporting events like the Super Bowl, March Madness, the Kentucky Derby and more — that $3.1 million is already double the gaming division’s initial projections of $1.5 million to $1.8 million for the full 2020-21 fiscal year. That means the Colorado Water Plan could see sports betting funds as soon as this fall, a year earlier than initially projected.
“We took a very conservative approach based on how fast the market would pick up, how fast people would embrace it, what effect we were going to have on moving people from the black market to the regular market, and we’ve just really blown all of those things out of the water — no pun intended for the water front,” said Dan Hartman, director of the Colorado Division of Gaming. “We really moved a lot of needles a lot further, a lot faster that we thought we were going to. We’re optimistic and really excited about where sports betting is and, ultimately, that there’s going to be better-than-projected amounts going to the water plan.”
Based on tax revenue collected in the first half of the current fiscal year, and factoring in the other ways sports betting tax revenue must be spent under the new law, the water plan so far stands to gain a little more than $1 million — and counting.
That’s still well short of the $100 million officials estimate they need each year in new funding to accomplish the water plan’s goals by 2050, but sports betting was never expected to fully fund the water plan — and every little bit counts, said Alec Garnett, D-Denver, the lead sponsor of the sports betting bill.
“We’ve always known that Coloradans love sports. We always knew that there was a black market and that people were already doing this,” Garnett said. “From a regulatory standpoint, I feel very strong and good about what these numbers mean for the market we created.”
If these early numbers are any indication, the sports betting program is likely to continue to grow in future years as the market matures and sports calendars get back to normal.
Though he has not created an official updated projection based on 2020’s wagers and tax revenue, Hartman said he believes annual sports betting tax revenue could double by next year.
“I’m comfortable in projecting that we’re probably on pace to do twice as much next year as we did this year,” Hartman said.
Sports betting got off to a slow start in Colorado, since it launched in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic when many sporting events were canceled. But as the sports betting program got underway and more live sporting events were held (often without fans in the seats), the tax revenue started growing.
Even so, before any of that money goes to the Colorado Water Plan, the gaming division must first pay back the $1.7 million lawmakers allocated from the state’s general fund to start the new sports betting program, which will likely happen at the beginning of March, Hartman said. The program’s ongoing operating costs are paid for with fees from licensed sports betting operators in the state, which now number 17.
The gaming division must also set aside 6 percent of tax revenue for a hold-harmless fund, provide $130,000 per year to the Colorado Department of Human Services’ Office of Behavioral Health, and give $30,000 per year to Rocky Mountain Crisis Partners to operate a gambling hotline.
Any remaining tax revenue can then go to the Water Plan Implementation Cash Fund, pending the approval of the Colorado Limited Gaming Control Commission, according to Suzi Karrer, a spokesperson for the Colorado Division of Revenue.
“The gaming commission will take that up in one of their meetings in the fall,” Hartman said. “Legislatively, it’s been turned over to the commission to follow the formula and give [the funds] to the beneficiaries.”
The early sports betting numbers were also a small bright spot for the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB), the state agency tasked with administering the water plan, which expects to be rationing much of its current funding over the next two years.
CWCB hasn’t received any of the sports betting tax revenue yet and, since it’s difficult to predict how much Coloradans will wager in future years, the agency hasn’t yet made plans for spending it.
“Based on what has been collected so far, sports betting revenue does look promising as an additional — and more permanent — funding source for the water plan and important water projects, but again, it is still new, and we really don’t know yet what the revenue generation capacity will be,” said Sara Leonard, CWCB spokesperson.
As of right now, the CWCB is not planning to ask the Colorado Legislature to allocate funding to the Colorado Water Plan for the next two years and will instead rely on the 2020-21 allocation of $7.5 million, according to Leonard and state budget officials speaking at recent CWCB meetings.
The approval of the new sports betting tax, which created a dedicated funding source for the Colorado Water Plan, was an accomplishment in a state where voters have historically rejected statewide water funding efforts. But it’s still not enough to meet the ambitious goals outlined in the plan.
To that end, state and local water leaders plan to re-start conversations about water funding this month. Those talks will begin at the Feb. 23 meeting of the Interbasin Compact Committee (IBCC), according to the committee’s director Russell George. The IBCC, created in 2005, is a statewide public board that helps set policy and coordinate talks between river basins.
“We’re going to re-ignite that large discussion and see where we can go,” said George during his Jan. 25 update to the CWCB. “I don’t have to tell you the need for an input, an infusion of capital, in all of the things that we’re trying to do…It’ll just be the beginning of a conversation that I think’s going to go on until we’ve succeeded.”
Garnett said he wasn’t aware of any upcoming legislation related to new funding sources for the water plan, but said he was happy that funding for Colorado’s water future remains in the public eye.
“There’s just a lot of focus on this area because of the pressures that are being put on our most precious natural resource,” he said. “It’s always hard to find dedicated revenue streams in Colorado and it was certainly a hard process to get Proposition DD passed. I’m sure everyone has their eyes wide open about the challenges.”
Sarah Kuta is a freelance writer based in Longmont, Colorado. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sports betting got off to a hot start, meaning enough tax revenue has already been collected to start benefiting Colorado’s Water Plan projects…
Colorado had already collected more than $3.4 million in sports betting tax revenue through the end of December, more than enough to cover the roughly $2 million in startup costs that had to be paid off before wagering dollars could start being directed to the water plan projects, including increasing storage capacity.
Sports betting began in Colorado in May, after voters passed Proposition DD in November 2019. More than $1 billion has been wagered so far…
Proposition DD was pitched to voters as a way to direct money to the state’s water plan, which could have a price tag as large as $40 billion. But in December 2019, Polis’ Department of Revenue warned state lawmakers that it would possibly take until the 2021-22 fiscal year before enough tax revenue came in for the water plan to benefit.
The sports betting tax revenue is still far lower than the Colorado General Assembly’s fiscal analysts projected. But the upshot is that there’s already plenty of sports betting tax dollars — which are generated by a 10% tax on casinos’ net proceeds — to turn on the water-plan-funding spigot…
Gamblers have placed more than $1.1 billion in wagers since sports betting began in Colorado last year.
American football saw the most bets in December, with $88.1 million in wagers placed with retail and online operators, followed by basketball at $42.8 million. Coloradans continue to show interest in betting on table tennis, with $10.9 million in bets coming in for the sport last month.
Betting on professional football and basketball, and college basketball added up to more than half of the $284.6 million total in December. Last month’s total was up 23.1% from November but the amount sportsbooks kept after paying winners fell by 36.7% to $5.67 million, in large part because sportsbooks gave away nearly $11 million in free bets on promotions.
“Hitting the $1 billion mark is a milestone event for the department, leading us to believe that the trust and competition in the industry are leading bettors from the black market to the regulated market,” said Dan Hartman, director of the Colorado Division of Gaming, which regulates sports bettering and casinos. The $1.19 billion in bets last year generated $3.4 million in tax revenue for the state. Sportsbooks pay a 10% tax on profits, which funds Colorado water projects.
After pro football, and pro and college basketball, college football and table tennis were the two next-most-popular sports with bettors, attracting $14.1 million and nearly $11 million in wagers, respectively. Parlays and combination bets accounted for $46.4 million in wagers and other sports combined to total another $45.9 million. More than 98% of all bets were placed online or with mobile applications, and nearly 94% of all amounts wagered were paid to winning bettors.
Here’s a guest column that’s running in the Steamboat Pilot & Today (Gena Hinkemeyer):
Did you know that Colorado’s Water Plan calls for 80% of locally prioritized rivers to be covered by a stream management plan by 2030? Yes, that includes our Yampa River Basin.
The Yampa White Green Basin Roundtable is one of nine grassroots water policy roundtables throughout Colorado working to develop locally driven collaborative solutions to water supply challenges. The roundtable’s Integrated Water Management Plan will combine community input with science and engineering assessments to identify actions that protect existing and future water uses and support healthy river ecosystems in the face of growing populations, changing land uses and climate uncertainty.
So where do we begin with the IWMP process? Why not start with the biggest users of water here in the basin, our agricultural stakeholders. Stakeholders have been clear that agricultural infrastructure is in need of improvement, but there is limited documentation about specific needs. Stakeholder engagement is the most important factor to successful IWMPs. That’s where I come into play.
As a segment coordinator for the project, I am reaching out to our agricultural users to listen and learn from them about their use of water and riverside lands, plus their management concerns and opportunities they may see for improvements. I wasn’t really sure what my job would entail. I had visions of field work and lots of interaction with ranchers. Our work was delayed by COVID-19 restrictions, but we were able to roll with the punches and conduct our interviews over the phone.
Virus or not, ranchers still had to irrigate their fields, so we found a way to continue our work. As it turns out, I learned more about irrigation and the effects irrigation has on our community than I ever thought possible. From the headgates of the Yampa all the way down to the confluence of the Green River, our team chose 50 water diversion structures for assessment.
What does a diversion assessment entail, you might ask? A technical team, J-U-B Engineering out of Grand Junction, conducted site visits on the 50 river structures. The site visit included a field inspection of the river headgate, ditch conditions, inventory and assessment of control structures, measurement devices and level of functionality, overall structural integrity and diversion functionality, along with the ability of the structure to divert a wide range of flows.
The results of the diversion assessment will benefit irrigators by providing a technical evaluation of their structure, including suggestions of ways to improve or modify the structure, if needed. The roundtable will use the information along with a combination of other studies regarding river health and recreation to select future priorities and action planning.
As the work of the IWMP continues, the assessments will also support regional decision making regarding multi-benefit projects — those that overlap agriculture, environment and recreation. Working on the IWMP has opened my eyes to how important agriculture and water are to this community. It’s our livelihood and our heritage.
For more information on the IWMP project, visit yampawhitegreen.com/iwmp.
Gena Hinkemeyer is segment coordinator for the Yampa White Green Basin Roundtable Integrated Water Management Plan.
Contrary to the common phrase, fire and water actually do mix – and there’s often a direct connection between the two.
This year in particular, wildfires have gripped Colorado with historic magnitude. And while we often think of property damage and air quality as the most immediate consequences of severe wildfire, rivers and drinking water supplies are often wildfire casualties as well.
2020 was Colorado’s third-driest water year on record and one of our warmest, with the hottest August since record-keeping began in 1895. Models show that climate change and historic drought will continue to affect the Colorado River Basin and increase the severity and frequency of wildfires.
To combat this, we must strive to bolster the resiliency of both land and water, including our rivers and streams, to support our communities that rely upon them.
The good news is that Coloradans across the state recognize the need to invest in our rivers.
Voters this year approved two ballot measures that will generate additional funding to support the St. Vrain and Left Hand Water Conservancy District as well as the Colorado River Water Conservation District. The measures will generate a combined $8 million per year to support healthy rivers, local agriculture, watershed health and water quality across both districts.
That local funding will support the types of solutions and water-management projects outlined in Colorado’s Water Plan. The plan, finalized in 2015, provides a blueprint to address the gap between water supply and demand across the state.
And now we have a critical opportunity to build on that work – and voters’ recent mandates – by making updates to the Water Plan. These updates will provide a chance to identify and recommend a path towards a healthy, secure water future.
“From extreme drought to extreme fires, 2020 highlights the need for us to build our climate resilience and protect the watersheds that sustain our streams, farms and cities. Finding these opportunities and identifying the state of the science is at the heart of the Colorado Water Plan Update,” says Colorado Water Conservation Board Director Rebecca Mitchell.
Wildfire-related impacts on river health are significant, including post-fire floods, debris flows, erosion, and the threat of toxic debris flowing into our rivers and water supply. Laurie Rink of the Middle Colorado Watershed Council says that key stakeholders have expressed the need for coordinated planning and response to Colorado’s wildfires.
“Immediate focus will be on post-fire recovery and rehabilitation to reduce post-fire hazards, such as flooding and erosion. Longer-term efforts can turn towards planning for and implementing future fire risk mitigation throughout the watershed,” Rink says.
Healthy rivers flow from healthy watersheds. We must broaden the river health conversation beyond the river channel itself, to include the entire “riverscape,” comprised of the streams, floodplain, and vegetation surrounding them.
Riverscapes support bird and wildlife habitat, as well as ecological services that directly influence water quality and quantity. Nearly 80% of Colorado’s clean, reliable drinking water comes from these forested watersheds. But significant data gaps exist around watershed health, and without current science, the effort to create projects and management plans to protect Colorado’s rivers is daunting.
Ensuring that Colorado’s riverscapes and forests can recover from future wildfires at a landscape scale is crucial. Implementing proven wildfire mitigation strategies such as forest treatments and prescribed fires, as well as investing in the health of our rivers and streams, will promote increased resilience to climate change and mitigate the effects of wildfires on water supplies and communities.
Colorado’s Water Plan strives to develop stream management plans for at least 80% of rivers and streams across the state, as well as 80% of critical watersheds with watershed protection plans, all by 2030.
Current, accurate, scientific data is crucial for the development of these stream management and watershed plans. Fortunately, river health assessments can inform locally driven projects to protect or improve conditions and empower communities to develop tailored resilience strategies and track river health over time.
It’s essential that an updated Water Plan provide funding and guidance for addressing river health information gaps.
While rivers connect all Coloradans, so does drought and wildfire in 2020. When we invest in the health of our rivers, we are also investing in future resilience to climate change and associated disruptions to our rural heritage and Colorado lifestyle.
Abby Burk is the Western Rivers Regional Program Manager for Audubon Rockies.
One year ago, exactly zero parts of Colorado were officially designated as being abnormally dry or in drought. What a difference a year makes.
Now, even as the ski season starts up, every corner of our state is facing drought conditions. As the effects of unchecked climate change continue to worsen, these conditions, which previously would have been considered extreme, are sadly becoming the new normal, and the impacts are wide ranging.
As Coloradans know all too well, these hot, dry conditions played a significant role in fueling wildfires that tragically steal away lives, communities and our beloved natural landscapes. Images from recent months of families fleeing burning homes and beleaguered firefighters waging battle while air tankers swoop overheard are pictures that we won’t soon forget.
Some of these record-breaking wildfires — like Cameron Peak — are still burning, even as it snows. Last year, the Fern Creek Fire burned all winter, in a place where fire has not occurred in 500 years.
The impacts of these disasters stretch well beyond the fire lines, and have downstream effects on our precious rivers and waterways.
Colorado’s mountains supply water to seven downstream states and the wildfires can directly impact the quantity and quality of that water. This problem is likely to only worsen in the years and decades ahead, which is why we need to take action now to safeguard our water supplies and ensure that our state’s vital natural resources are protected.
This may seem like a daunting problem, but there is so much that our society can do. Fortunately, voters know that protecting our water is critical. Colorado voters are notoriously anti-tax, but on Nov. 3, voters in 23 Colorado counties approved two ballot measures to protect our water and rivers. That follows 2019, where statewide voters approved a measure to provide as much as $29 million annually to implement Colorado’s Water Plan. Similar local county measures were enacted in 2016 and 2018.
The results are clear: Coloradans are aware of the threats facing our water supplies and are willing to dedicate state resources toward preserving and protecting them.
The dollars from these measures are critical and will go a long way toward protecting our water for future Coloradans, but only if we leverage them in the right ways and build on a coalition. This is an all-hands-on-deck moment, and if we’re serious about tackling these issues we need to marshal all of the support we can find and elicit the help of as many stakeholders as possible.
The federal government can help by funding water conservation efforts by both cities and the agricultural sector, who have both been largely leading the charge. It also can help support natural water storage and build on “natural infrastructure,” i.e. natural or naturalized areas that are strategically managed to conserve the ecosystem’s protective functions while also providing economic and societal benefits.
What does that mean in layman’s terms? It means providing jobs to restore healthy forests. It means safeguarding the wetlands and streams that naturally clean our water, provide firebreaks, and support the wildlife and scenery for which our state is famous. We know these techniques can work, we just need the resources to properly implement them.
And the only way to protect enough forests, wetlands and streams at a big enough scale to make a difference is to layer public funds with other sources of funding in creative ways. The innovative Environmental Impact Fund under development in southwest Colorado is a perfect example of such creativity.
This fund is the result of years of partnerships and collaboration that have brought all stakeholders together with local leadership — homeowners, water providers, agriculture, hikers and agencies. They are working together to combine and leverage funding so that they can protect forests and water resources in a coordinated and cost-efficient way that provides jobs, reaches economies of scale, and protects the community and its water for people, agriculture and nature.
Finally, let’s not forget that all of this helps implement Colorado’s Water Plan, which is currently marking its fifth anniversary. The plan was developed with input from community leaders and residents throughout the state. The resulting plan outlines solutions to address the gap between our finite water supplies and demand, while setting a goal of achieving 400,000 acre-feet of municipal and industrial water conservation savings by 2050. It also outlines steps for maintaining our vital agricultural economy, which bolsters our communities while supplying food and fiber around the world.
Studies show that the entire American Southwest is on the precipice of a historic megadrought, which means that our climate and ecosystems are entering into uncharted territory. The future is already here: We must act now to help our communities and environment navigate future wildfires and intensifying drought.
Protecting Colorado’s rivers and streams today means acting to protect future generations of Coloradans. But we’re Coloradans. We have proven that water is an issue that unites us, and we are poised to lead the nation on creative and effective solutions to address this issue head-on.
Jill Ozarski is a program officer in the Environment Program focusing on the Colorado River initiative for the Walton Family Foundation.
At the Nov. 2 Board of County Commissioners meeting, commissioners decided to appoint Amber Weber to the Arkansas Basin Roundtable at the recommendation of County Administrator Amy White-Tanabe…
Weber is no stranger to the Arkansas Basin Roundtable. She has participated on the roundtable in other capacities before. Since 2018, she’s served at the roundtable as Public Education, Participation and Outreach Coordinator. She is also on the Basin Implementation Plan Committee, which Weber said facilitates the discussion of how the Arkansas Basin fits into the Colorado Water Plan.
“I facilitated educational opportunities, discussions, curated content, hosted workshops, et cetera, all surrounding one goal — water in the Arkansas Basin,” Weber told the La Junta Tribune-Democrat in an email.
As a PEPO Coordinator, Weber has engaged in agricultural, municipal, recreational and environmental sectors of water, she said.
“As I transition into a voting role, I am thrilled that I have the opportunity to represent Otero County and will be able to represent the best interests of the County and the citizens within it,” said Weber. “Through this voting seat for Otero County, I will be speaking with the commissioners regularly and ensuring each of them are kept in the loop on all items that come to the roundtable.
Likewise, Weber will communicate Otero County’s ideas and concerns to the roundtable.
Weber works as a consultant to Otero County Commissioners in other areas of county interest as well, such as the Ditch and Reservoir Company Alliance, a state-wide organization whose goal is to serve and protect water delivery providers, Weber said; she also serves as the soil health director for the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District “as the district works to navigate the nexus between water and soil quality.”
Here’s the release from Western Resource Advocates (Jennifer Talhelm):
Today, the Water for Colorado coalition celebrates the passage of two key local ballot measures that will increase investment in Colorado’s rivers and streams. Together these measures will generate nearly $8 million annually to support critical water-related needs.
Voters approved a property tax increase for the St. Vrain and Left Hand Water Conservancy District, which will provide $3.3 million a year to protect water quality, safeguard drinking water, maintain healthy forests, rivers and creeks, plan ahead for dry years and grow food locally. The funds will be allocated using the District’s recently developed 5-Point Water Action Plan that will protect rivers, forests, and local water quality.
On the West Slope, voters approved a mill levy increase for the Colorado River Water Conservation District, which will bring in nearly $5 million a year to support healthy rivers, local agriculture, watershed health, and water quality in the 15 counties that make up the district. According to its Fiscal Implementation Plan, the District will allocate these funds through partnerships with water users and communities for priority projects identified by local communities and Basin Roundtables.
Local funding from both measures will support the types of solutions and water management projects outlined in Colorado’s Water Plan. The Water Plan, finalized in 2015, provides a blueprint to address the gap between water supply and demand across the state.
“Whether they’re on the Front Range or the West Slope, Coloradans know that water is essential for life; they value protecting our rivers and streams, and that’s why an incredibly diverse group of Coloradans unified in support of the two funding measures,” said Bart Miller, Western Resource Advocates’ Healthy Rivers Program Director. “The passage of these two ballot measures will mean communities will have $8 million more a year working to ensure there is enough water for everyone – for drinking, farming and ranching, recreation, and wildlife. But while we’re justifiably celebrating today, the wildfires that have been burning across the state this fall are a destructive reminder that climate change and drought will keep stressing our water, and we all need to keep working for full funding for Colorado’s Water Plan.”
“Both measures provide an essential blueprint to these river districts to better manage water supplies and, in turn, support the communities and economies that rely on them,” said Matt Rice, Director of the Colorado Basin Program for American Rivers. “Voters have clearly rallied around water as a shared priority and recognized the urgent need to safeguard our drinking water, protect forests that are critical to water supplies, and maintain healthy rivers and creeks.”
“Our economy depends on a healthy, reliable Colorado River System, and Colorado voters realized that in the passage of two ballot issues on water yesterday. Billions of dollars are generated every year in Colorado by river-related recreation, and we know that healthy rivers mean a thriving economy across our communities. The St. Vrain and Left Hand Water Conservancy District can now implement their five-point plan to protect that area’s rivers and water sources, and the Colorado River District can continue its important, locally driven work throughout the 15 counties they serve,” said Molly Mugglestone, Director of Communications and Colorado Policy for Business for Water Stewardship.
“The passage of these measures comes as Colorado continues to grapple with extreme wildfires and ongoing drought conditions across the state. The water Coloradans use to drink, irrigate crops, recreate, and sustain our communities is water that we share with wildlife that depend on our rivers, streams, and lakes. In the face of a historic drought and the ongoing threat of climate change, these kinds of forward-looking investments in how we care for and sustain our water supplies are critical to ensuring the collective future of the people and wildlife of Colorado,” said Abby Burk, Western Rivers Regional Program Manager for Audubon Rockies .
“I want to applaud Coloradans who voted to keep our rivers healthy and flowing. The wise investment they approved will protect clean drinking water and iconic waterways now and for future generations,” said Kelly Nordini, Executive Director of Conservation Colorado.
Coloradans continue to prioritize water by voting to approve ballot measures that use tax revenues to invest in healthy rivers, clean drinking water, resilient agriculture, and a thriving recreation economy. This year’s double win marks another voter-approved effort to fund work that supports the Water Plan. In November 2019, voters passed Proposition DD to legalize sports betting and use the resulting taxes to help fund Colorado’s Water Plan.
However, the Water for Colorado Coalition will continue its efforts to fully fund the Water Plan. This is essential, because even though these local ballot measures will generate significant funding for water in Colorado, a larger funding gap for implementing Colorado’s Water Plan remains. The Water Plan estimates that $100 million dollars per year is needed to protect scarce water resources and to prevent future water shortages in the state.
About the Water for Colorado Coalition
The Water for Colorado Coalition is dedicated to ensuring our rivers support everyone who depends on them, working toward resilience to climate change, planning for sustained and more severe droughts, and enabling every individual in Colorado to have a voice and the opportunity to take action to advocate for sustainable conservation-based solutions for our state’s water future.
The community of organizations that make up the Water for Colorado Coalition represent diverse perspectives and share a commitment to protecting Colorado’s water future to secure a reliable water supply for the state and for future generations.
The Colorado River Water Conservation District spans 15 Western Slope counties. River District directors are asking voters this fall to raise the mill levy.
St. Vrain and Lefthand Water Conservancy District map.
RealVail.com also checked in with Hickenlooper — a Democrat who’s leading incumbent Republican U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner in most polls in the Nov. 3 election – on the topic of transmountain diversions of water from the Western Slope drainages of the dwindling Colorado River Basin to the Front Range cities where most of the state’s people live.
The former Denver mayor, brew pub owner and oil and gas geologist said that, as much as possible, Western Slope water should stay on the Western Slope.
“When we created the Colorado Water Plan, one of the real focuses there was to make sure that we don’t divert water from one basin to another unless it’s absolutely necessary,” Hickenlooper said. “One of the things we set up in the water plan is the process by which we debate that and when people get crosswise over water, you don’t just go to a fight.”
The context of the question was a proposal by Homestake Partners, comprised of the Front Range cities of Aurora and Colorado Springs, to conduct test drilling in the Homestake Creek drainage near Red Cliff to determine the best site for a new dam for the proposed Whitney Reservoir, which would provide the cities up to 20,000 acre-feet in average annual yield.
Local towns, politicians and statewide conservation groups oppose even the test drilling, which was delayed in the U.S. Forest Service permitting process by the record wildfire season…
Climate Change Amplifies Colorado’s Water Diversion Debate
Nearly 5 million people live on the eastern side of the Rocky Mountains, along what’s known as Colorado’s “Front Range,” where communities established on semi-arid prairie land need more water to keep expanding.
Now a water battle is brewing over whether the booming population centers of Aurora and Colorado Springs, with nearly 900,000 residents combined, can claim water from a remote valley on the other side of the Rockies, collect it in a new reservoir and pump it across the Continental Divide.
For many residents of bucolic Eagle County on the “Western Slope,” where Homestake Creek meanders through mountain meadows, lush wetlands and ancient fens on its way to the endangered Colorado River, it’s time to end transmountain diversions once and for all as the climate warms and drought intensifies.
But officials in Aurora, a Denver suburb, and Colorado Springs, argue they can collect the water in a new reservoir and make use of it without drastically disturbing the surrounding wilderness. More to the point: they’ve owned the rights to 20,000 acre-feet of average annual yield since 1952 and say it’s time to start exploring if they can use it—for drinking water and on suburban lawns.
“Because water is the lifeblood and it’s so important, we have been doing a relatively good job of having collaborative conversations that are getting us to a point, but the issue is growth and climate change are both happening now so fast and historically these collaborative conversations take a really long time,” said Eagle County Commissioner Matt Scherr.
“Are we going to be able to address that at the scale and speed that the problem is moving?” Scherr added. “So, you hate to see this end up being essentially a war for water, but if we don’t figure out how to do it in a holistic way, that could be our future.”
FromThe Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):
The secondary economic impacts of paying western Colorado farmers to temporarily fallow fields in times of drought could be similar to the secondary benefits resulting from the spending of those payments, a new study has found.
But BBC Research and Consulting says the dollars from payment spending would flow to different businesses, potentially shifting from smaller, agriculturally focused communities to larger towns and cities.
In addition, the payments would only benefit the regional economy if they come from outside western Colorado, because payments originating on the Western Slope would only result in shifting money around within the region as opposed to creating a new economic benefit, the study says.
The research was commissioned by the Colorado River Water Bank Workgroup, which consists of the Colorado River District, the Southwestern Water Conservation District, The Nature Conservancy, the Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, the Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association, the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District and the Grand Valley Water Users Association.
It’s intended to help gauge the impact on local agricultural economies should Western Slope farmers participate in voluntary, temporary, compensated fallowing as part of a demand management program involving Upper Colorado River Basin states including Colorado.
Such a program is being considered as a means for the states to be able to store extra water in Lake Powell so they can continue meeting their water delivery obligations to downstream states in times of drought, and head off potential mandatory curtailment of water uses under an interstate compact…
The study looks at fallowing grass hay, alfalfa and corn. It estimates that regionally it would cost an average of $236 per acre-foot of water involved, or about $470 per fallowed acre, to get farmers to participate. It says producers also may require payments covering direct fallowing costs, such as weed and pest control, and payments also may have to be made to irrigation companies for lost revenues and added management costs.
The study evaluates a moderate, 12,700-acre hypothetical fallowing program involving 25,000 acre-feet of water a year for five years across western Colorado, and a more aggressive, 52,100-acre program that would involve 25,000 acre-feet a year for five years within each of four major Western Slope river basins.
The study finds that the moderate approach would result in a minimum of a $5.7 million annual reduction in crop production, and the aggressive approach, at least a $23.2 million reduction.
Those reductions would result in an estimated loss of at least 64 or 260 on-farm jobs, respectively, although most of those would involve the farmers themselves who are being compensated.
The study estimates that when comparing that compensation to their lost farm income, farmers collectively would come out at least $2.2 million ahead each year in the moderate scenario and $8.6 million ahead in the aggressive approach.
The bigger focus of the study is what secondary effects would result from the fallowing due to impacts on businesses such as farm and ranch suppliers, and businesses providing household goods and services to affected workers.
In the moderate scenario, the study estimates at least 55 secondary jobs would be lost to reduced crop production, while there would be an increase of at least 27 jobs resulting from spending of fallowing payments.
Under the aggressive scenario, at least 236 secondary jobs could be lost from reduced production, compared to at least 109 new jobs being supported related to payment spending.
But the study says there could be a net annual gain of $546,000 in secondary income from the fallowing under the moderate scenario, and $2.4 million under the aggressive one.
Doug Jeavons, managing director at BBC Research and Consulting, said that despite the net job loss, the new jobs that would be created could tend to be in banking and finance, and those could pay more than the lost farm-related jobs.
The fallowing would mean fewer sales of seed, fertilizer, hauling services and labor, but could boost spending in areas such as purchase of vehicles and farm machinery, with some of the fallowing payments also being used for household consumption and reducing debt…
The study also says annual net secondary income also could fall with fallowing, by as much as $393,000 under the moderate scenario and as much as about $1.46 million under the aggressive one.
This could happen if farmers spend less of their fallowing money locally. It also accounts for the possibility that reduced forage production from fallowing could affect the livestock industry, driving up hay prices and causing ranchers to reduce herd sizes.
It says that based on what has been historically seen when it comes to hay production declines in the region, the moderate fallowing approach could result in just over a 0.5% drop in livestock production and a $3 million drop in annual livestock sales, and the aggressive approach, a possible 2.2% production drop and $13.4 million annual revenue loss.
The Colorado River District said in its news release that its board hasn’t weighed whether a fallowing program is good for the Western Slope, but is gathering data through efforts such as the study to determine if it would have negative impacts, and if so, at what scale.
It also said if a demand management program is created in Colorado, Western Slope agriculture would only be part of the solution and Colorado River users in all parts of the state must contribute water to the program. This would include Front Range cities that divert that water across the Continental Divide…
Speaking on a river district webinar Thursday on the study, Sonja Chavez, general manager of the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District, said any Western Slope fallowing program won’t be one-size-fits-all, and would have to be structured to address local concerns such as soil impacts…
One concern in her district is that parts of it may have such shallow soils that they could take three to five years to recover from fallowing.
Another consideration is that some western Colorado basins export substantial amounts of hay to other states, and even other countries.
If fallowing primarily reduced exports, effects on local livestock production might be minimal.
But BBC Research and Consulting’s report notes that hay exporters may be resistant to jeopardize customer relationships by fallowing fields…
BBC Research and Consulting says measures such as split-season versus full-season fallowing could reduce economic impacts from fallowing, and ensuring that participation is spread widely across and within various river basins could spread out the impacts.
Chavez likes the general idea of widely distributing fallowing, but says that could increase costs for monitoring such a program, evaluating results and ensuring that conserved water makes it downstream to be stored rather than being used elsewhere.
From email from the Colorado River District (Alesha Frederick):
Study found demand management could result in fewer agricultural support jobs and reduce livestock production on the West Slope
The Colorado River Basin is in the 21st year of drought, and major reservoirs on the river are sitting at less than half full. There is growing concern that agricultural economies on the West Slope might be harmed if Colorado and other Upper Basin states (Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico) are unable to meet their obligations under the Colorado River Compact. With these concerns in mind, the state of Colorado is looking at ways to prevent such a crisis from occurring. One of the ideas Upper Basin states are discussing is paying water users to consume less water. The water saved would then be banked in Lake Powell. The states are calling it demand management.
The question is, if farmers and ranchers are paid to voluntarily fallow their fields, how would it change West Slope communities where agricultural businesses employ people, pay taxes and buy equipment? The recently released Upper Basin Demand Management Economic Study in Western Colorado sought to determine the secondary economic impacts that might occur if West Slope agricultural producers participate in a demand management program.
Consistent with its charge to represent and protect the Western Slope’s water interests, the Colorado River District has been actively engaged in statewide conversations about a potential Demand Management program. Through its participation in the Water Bank Workgroup, the District led the call for additional economic analysis that would help to inform the state’s decision whether or not to move forward with such a program.
“Our job is to protect West Slope water users. Studying the potential negative impacts of a new program such as demand management is vital to this work,” said Colorado River District General Manager Andy Mueller. “This secondary economic impact study ensures that agricultural producers on the West Slope have the information they need to make decisions about their farms and ranches. It’s part of the River District’s ongoing efforts to ensure water security for our farms, ranches, and rural communities.”
The Colorado River District’s Board of Directors has not weighed in on whether such a program is good for the West Slope. However, the Board is gathering data from efforts like this study to determine if such a program will have negative impacts, and if so, what the scale of those impacts is likely to be.
While the study examined the impacts of fallowing West Slope agriculture if a demand management program is created in Colorado, Western Colorado agriculture will only be one piece of the solution. If such a program is implemented, all types of Colorado River water users in all regions of the state must contribute water to the program. This study is not an endorsement of demand management but a study of its potential impacts.
The study examined two scenarios, a moderate and aggressive demand management program. The moderate demand management scenario considered a 25,000 acre-feet per year reduction in consumptive use by Western Colorado agricultural users for five years, while the aggressive scenario considered 25,000 acre-feet per year within each Western Slope river basin over a 5-year timeframe.
These are some of the key findings of the study:
* To pay producers at a level that they would incentivize participation in such a program, annual payments to irrigators are projected to range from an average of $194 per acre-foot under the moderate scenario to $263 per acre-foot under the aggressive scenario.
* For compensation payments and spending of those payments to benefit the regional economy, funding for those payments must come from outside of Western Colorado. If all that money was raised in Western Colorado, the payments would shift money around within the region, but it would not create a new economic benefit to offset the impacts.
* Growers producing forage crops including grass hay, alfalfa and corn are most likely to take part in such a program compared to fruit growers and small grain producers.
* Reduced production of forage crops, mostly hay, would require fewer purchases of items such as seed, fertilizer, labor, hauling and other services. This in turn could lead to a loss of an estimated 55 agricultural support jobs under a moderate scenario and 236 jobs under the aggressive scenario. Jobs supported by demand management payments could look very different from the jobs currently supported by hay production.
* Under an aggressive demand management scenario, a demand management program could increase local hay prices by about 6% and decrease the regional livestock inventory by about 2%. The potential price and livestock impact under the moderate demand management scenario would be much smaller.
The study was completed by BBC Research and Consulting and commissioned by the Colorado River Water Bank Workgroup made up of the Colorado River District, Southwestern Water Conservation District, The Nature Conservancy, Tri-State Generation and Transmission, the Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association, Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District and the Grand Valley Water Users Association.
Click here to register and for all the inside skinny:
Topic: Colorado River District’s Annual Seminar: Zooming in on West Slope Water
Monday, noon to 1:15 p.m.: “West Slope Water 101.” This session will cover how water rights are deployed in irrigation, drinking water and recreation. Transmountain diversions will be described as will be the importance of water rights associated with irrigation in the Grand Valley and the Shoshone Hydropower Plant.
Tuesday, noon to 1:15 p.m.: “Water Works: the Colorado River District in Action.” Learn how the Colorado River District overcomes challenges with its partners and constituents to protect the water security of western Colorado while promoting better water use and protection of the environment with projects across the district.
Wednesday, noon to 1:15 p.m.: “Heating Up the Talk About Why River Flows are Down.” Rising temperatures are robbing the Colorado River system of flows. Drought, aridification of the West and reduced river flows are driving down Lakes Powell and Mead while impacting local water use at the same time. A panel of speakers will review the current science, the on-the-ground impacts and how two major water providers are planning for a new normal
Thursday, noon to 1:15 p.m.: “Of Primary Importance: The Secondary Economic Impacts of Demand Management.” The River District and its partners in the Water Bank Workgroup commissioned a study of how demand management of water, meaning not using it and sending it to Lake Powell, would impact communities if water were to become a “cash crop.” Spending patterns could change. How would demand management impact our mainstreet economies? How would it change spending at rural businesses such as local diners and mechanics?
A statewide public effort to determine whether Coloradans should engage in perhaps the biggest water conservation program in state history enters its second year of study this summer, but the complex, collaborative effort on the Colorado River has a long way to go before the state and its water users can make a go/no-go decision, officials said.
On Aug. 26, the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) will hold a virtual public workshop to unveil some of the key findings from the first year’s work, as well as to gather more input on where to go from here. Another meeting is scheduled for Sept. 2 to brief the agency’s board members and discuss next steps. It will also be open to the public.
More than a year ago, Colorado launched the study involving dozens of volunteer ranchers, environmentalists, water district officials, and others to determine if water users should opt to help fill a newly authorized drought pool in Lake Powell. The concept has been dubbed demand management.
Ken Curtis, general manager of the Dolores Water Conservancy District in Cortez, said farmers in his district remain skeptical of the conservation effort primarily because there isn’t enough clarity about how it would work.
“Clearly, one of the themes of our conversations down here has been momentum. There has been a lot of talk but it’s not out there as a policy with well-defined terms that can be read,” he said. “That tells us that we’re nowhere near a demand management program.”
The 500,000 acre-foot pool, approved by Congress last year as part of the historic Colorado River Drought Contingency Plan, would help protect Coloradans if the Colorado River, at some point in the future, hits a crisis point, triggering mandatory cutbacks in the Upper Basin above Lake Powell.
But finding ways to set aside that much water, the equivalent of what roughly 1 million average Colorado households use in a year, is a complex proposition. Although the concept is still evolving, most agree the voluntary program, if created, would need to pay water users who agree to participate. And it would mean farmers fallowing fields in order to send their water downstream and cities convincing their customers to do with less water in order to do the same.
The Colorado River Basin includes seven U.S. states, Mexico, and more than two dozen sovereign tribal nations. Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and New Mexico comprise the Upper Basin, while Arizona, California and Nevada make up the Lower Basin before the river crosses the U.S.-Mexican border.
The drought pool would belong to Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and New Mexico. Each of those states is examining whether filling it is doable and desirable.
In Colorado, eight demand management work groups involving dozens of volunteers and experts on such issues as agriculture, economics, stream health, and water law met throughout the past year. Among the overarching conclusions to date, based on a report issued in July, is the need for equity between rural and urban communities, the need to analyze environmental impacts and benefits, and the need for a multi-pronged approach to funding such a program, which could include taxes, water-user fees, and cash from the federal government. The CWCB is funding and facilitating the process.
“This has never been done before,” said Russell George, a former Colorado Speaker of the House who helped create the state’s hallmark system of local water governance, where each of its eight river basins, as well as the Denver metro area, is represented by a public roundtable.
“What we’re doing is writing the textbook from whole cloth,” he said.
Bart Miller is healthy rivers program director at Western Resource Advocates, which has participated in the work groups. Miller said the first year of work was noteworthy because no one was able to identify “a fatal flaw. No one came up with a reason this can’t be done,” he said.
Despite the pandemic and deep state budget cuts, the CWCB has enough funding to move forward with another year of work, according to Amy Ostdiek, deputy chief of the Federal, Interstate and Water Information Section at the CWCB. The agency spent nearly $268,000 in the last fiscal year, which ended June 30, and has set aside another $396,000 for the current year.
George said the work done to date represents only the beginning of the collaborative search for a statewide drought protection plan on the Colorado River.
“When we started this, we didn’t want to foretell the answer to the question, ‘What does the end look like?’ I don’t think we’re ready to say yet. This is still the beginning,” George said.
Jerd Smith is editor of Fresh Water News. She can be reached at 720-398-6474, via email at email@example.com or @jerd_smith.
2020 has been a tumultuous year, and as we enter our fifth month of quarantine and social distancing, it can be encouraging to find things to celebrate. With the close of Colorado’s legislative session last month and Governor Polis finalizing his bill signings, one thing that we can laud is the work that was accomplished for our rivers. Even though the Colorado General Assembly struggled to fully address a more than $3 billion budget shortfall, they maintained and expanded programs and investments necessary to keep our rivers flowing, and this is something we can be proud of.
In March, Governor Polis signed two bills into law that expand and improve Colorado’s instream flow program. These bills, HB20-1157 and HB20-1037, provide new tools for water users and conservationists to work together to keep water in rivers for the benefit of fish and wildlife. HB20-1157 will be a particularly important tool for the Yampa River Fund which provides grants to improve the health of the Yampa River, including through leases of water from Stagecoach Reservoir to enhance late-season fish habitat, agriculture, and to benefit the local tourism and outdoor recreation economy.
Colorado also made a new commitment to improve water conservation in our cities and towns. The Colorado Water Plan, finalized in 2015, sets a goal of achieving 400,000 acre-feet of municipal and industrial water conservation savings by 2050. The way that we plan and build our cities and towns contributes to how we use water, how much we use, and how quickly demands grow for new supplies. The new law, HB20-1095, authorizes local governments to include water conservation elements into their master plans, thereby encouraging local governments to combine their land and water use planning to accelerate the state toward its 400,000 acre-foot conservation savings goal.
While budgets were slashed statewide, fortunately funding for the implementation of Colorado’s Water Plan was maintained. Over $7 million was included in the Colorado Water Conservation Board budget for Water Plan implementation grants or water projects across the state, and an additional $4 million was allocated to invest in stream and watershed management planning efforts to keep rivers healthy and flowing. We appreciate the state’s continued recognition of the importance of clean rivers and drinking water for all Coloradans and hope that this commitment continues.
Just over six months ago, voters demonstrated their own commitment to healthy rivers and water supplies by legalizing sports betting and directing tax revenues to fund the implementation of Colorado’s Water Plan. As sports begin to start back up, we urge the General Assembly to respect the will of the voters and ensure this tax revenue is directed, as intended, to Water Plan implementation.
While we celebrate these wins for Colorado’s waterways, we recognize there is still more work to be done.
In June, the Trump administration issued rules that significantly reduce protections for Colorado’s rivers and wetlands under the Clean Water Act, leaving many previously protected waterways in limbo. The new federal rule leaves one out of every five stream miles in Colorado, including half of the state’s wetlands, unprotected from construction activity discharges. Thanks to a lawsuit led by Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser, the rule has been temporarily blocked pending resolution, which maintains protections for our state’s waterways—for now.
Regardless of the outcome in court, it is time for Colorado to ensure that its rivers and wetlands will always be protected from destructive dumping and discharges. The Water community is coming together—virtually—this summer to try to find some common ground on this issue and we plan to bring a solution before the General Assembly for the 2021 legislative session.
While 2020 seems to be the year of one bad headline after the next, we are heartened by the work of our state legislature and government to make positive strides toward safeguarding our water future.
After a year of meetings, workshops and in-depth discussions, state officials feel a feasibility investigation into a program that would pay water users to reduce consumption and add to a savings account in Lake Powell should continue.
Although no formal decision has yet been made on whether to implement a voluntary, temporary and compensated water-use reduction plan known as demand management, Amy Ostdiek, Colorado Water Conservation Board deputy section chief for interstate, federal and water information, told the state agency’s board of directors on Wednesday she has not found a reason to keep from moving forward.
“I didn’t identify any points that would indicate to me that we should stop the feasibility investigation,” said Ostdiek, who has been leading and organizing the process for the state. “From my perspective, we have not identified a reason not to continue the analysis or any hard reason it wouldn’t work.”
At the heart of a potential program is a reduction in water use in an attempt to send up to 500,000 acre-feet downstream to Lake Powell to bolster levels in the giant reservoir and meet 1922 Colorado River Compact obligations.
Under such a program, agricultural water users could get paid to temporarily fallow fields and leave more water in the river, in order to fill a 500,000 acre-foot pool as an insurance policy in case of continued drought or further reduction in average flows.
Report from workgroups
In June 2019, the CWCB, a state agency responsible for developing and protecting Colorado’s water, named 74 water experts and managers to eight work groups tasked with tackling complicated issues and questions around the creation of a demand management program. The groups were divided by topics: law and policy; monitoring and verification; water-rights administration and accounting; environmental considerations; economic considerations and local government; funding; education and outreach; and agricultural impacts.
A ninth group, headed by former Colorado lawmaker and chair of the Interbasin Compact Committee Russell George, has been focusing on how to ensure a demand management program is equitable among water users and basins. The IBCC facilitates conversations among representatives of different river basins and addresses statewide water issues.
Each group met multiple times over the past year and their findings, as well as their lingering questions, were included in a 200-page demand management update report presented [July 15, 2020] to CWCB directors.
The sprawling report summarizes the work completed by the groups and their overlapping key values, concerns and uncertainties. The sustainability of agriculture and agricultural communities ranked highest in the values category, while program design and participation ranked highest in the uncertainties category.
Several board members offered their opinions on a potential demand management program. Steve Anderson, who represents the Gunnison-Uncompahgre River basin, questioned whether the state could create water savings by funding more projects outlined in the Basin Implementation Plans instead of crafting a demand management program. The BIPs identify how each basin’s water needs will be met through existing or new projects, policies and processes.
“Once we become more efficient I think we would generate more system water for the Colorado,” he said. “At the end of the day we are going to have a choice between buying an insurance plan or using those funds elsewhere for conservation and efficiency.”
It is unclear how much a demand management program would cost the state, but one of the work groups is dedicated to the funding question.
The main goal of a demand management program would be to defend against what’s known as a “compact call,” which could happen if the upper basin states — Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and New Mexico — were not able to deliver the 75 million acre-feet of water over 10 years to the lower basin states, as required by the Colorado River Compact. Colorado water managers desperately want to avoid this scenario, which looms larger each year with the increasing effects of drought and climate change on an over-allocated river, because it could trigger mandatory cutbacks for water users.
CWCB board member Greg Felt, who represents the Arkansas River basin, struck a dark tone, saying moving forward with a demand management program is necessary because one of the potential alternatives — involuntary cutbacks, also known as “curtailment” under a compact call — will be impossible to enforce.
“I frankly think that people are not going to accept curtailments on any rights the way they have historically,” Felt said. “From what I’ve watched this year in rural Colorado, people aren’t going to be buying curtailment. The water is going to come out of the stream. You can’t have enough water commissioners to stop that.”
Funding for next steps restored
With the first year of a feasibility investigation complete, the ultimate decision on whether to move forward with a demand management program lies with CWCB board members. The board plans to discuss the work presented by the work groups at a one-day workshop in September.
CWCB staff also are planning a virtual regional workshop for the public to learn more about the first year’s findings. Both meetings will be open to the public.
For several weeks there was uncertainty surrounding the future funding of the demand management feasibility investigation, when on May 1, Gov. Jared Polis suspended the program’s funding due to the COVID-19-caused state budget crisis. But the funding was restored in this year’s projects bill, according to CWCB Deputy Director Lauren Ris.
The agency now has until the end of June 2021 to spend the remaining $834,000 of the original $1.7 million allocation, should the board decide to continue delving into the issue for another year.
CWCB Director Rebecca Mitchell urged the board to be leaders for Colorado on the issue of demand management.
“We want to do whatever we can to avoid a curtailment situation,” Mitchell said. “Everyone is looking to see what we do and how we handle this, and we do have a very unique opportunity at a very critical time to lead strongly on this.”
Aspen Journalism is a local, nonprofit, investigative news organization covering water and rivers in collaboration with The Aspen Times and other Swift Communications newspapers. This story ran in the July 18 edition of The Aspen Times.
Click here to read the report. Here’s the Executive Summary:
The Upper Division States of the Colorado River Basin are currently investigating the feasibility of a potential Demand Management program. Demand Management is defined as temporary, voluntary, and compensated reductions in consumptive use. The Demand Management Storage Agreement, one element of the Drought Contingency Plan (DCP) finalized by the Colorado River Basin States in 2019, provides the authorization for the Upper Division States to store water created pursuant to a Demand Management program in Lake Powell. The water would only be used for Compact compliance purposes at the direction of the Upper Colorado River Commission. Whether a program is set up and how such a program would operate are still open questions. Each Upper Division State must make an initial determination that Demand Management is feasible before moving forward with creating a potential program.
The Colorado Water Conservation Board is Colorado’s agency charged with setting the State’s water policy, and is therefore the agency with authority to determine whether Demand Management is feasible for Colorado. Following adoption of the DCP in March 2019, the CWCB Board adopted the 2019 Work Plan to help guide the initial stage of this feasibility investigation, to take place in Fiscal Year 2019-2020. The Work Plan had three primary components: (1) establish workgroups comprised of subject-matter experts and key Colorado River stakeholders, which were directed to meet publicly at least four times in Fiscal Year 2019-20, and to identify key threshold issues for board consideration; (2) regional workshops designed to facilitate the public discussion around Demand Management and provide opportunities for CWCB staff updates on the feasibility investigation; and (3) continued education and outreach. In addition, the Board directed staff to facilitate a literature review, currently underway by consultants hired following a Request for Proposal process.
The purpose of this Report is to provide an update of work done pursuant to the 2019 Work Plan. This report will assist the CWCB Board in considering the key threshold issues associated with a potential Demand Management program. The purpose of the report is not to provide guidance on next steps of the feasibility investigation. However, it may help shape the discussions and decision-making about the next phases of Colorado’s feasibility investigation. While the complete report provides a full summary of workgroup discussions and other work, below is a summary of each workgroup’s main discussion points.
To encourage agricultural participation, a potential program must be viewed as equitable and proportional while remaining voluntary; furthermore, it must be adequately communicated that the potential program is necessary to achieve the objectives set out in the Upper Basin Drought Contingency Plan and will serve as an insurance policy against mandatory curtailment.
In designing a potential program, care must be given to program design to minimize and mitigate on-farm and off- farm agronomic impacts such as reductions in crop yield and soil erosion, including the provision of technical assistance and information; furthermore, the program should account for secondary economic impacts and evaluate potential benefits.
Non-injury to water right holders and non-participants is critical and can be achieved through the possible consideration of utilizing existing change of water use approval processes and providing additional mitigation expenses to agricultural water providers to account for potential operational impacts.
Structuring the potential program application, review, and the contracting process should consider alignment with the timing of when producers make critical operational decisions and allow for some operational flexibility; furthermore, payments should consider all potential impacts including both agronomic and operational changes.
In considering the design of a potential Demand Management program, current programs in place similar to a potential Demand Management program, such as the Federal Conservation Reserve Program and Colorado Fallow-Leasing Pilot Program should be further analyzed; furthermore, pilot and demonstration projects could be useful in better understanding potential impacts and effects of temporary irrigation reductions and should be explored with an effort to capture the potential diversity of projects.
Economic Impacts and Local Government
Any potential Demand Management program will be voluntary; those who do not wish to participate should not do so.
In designing any potential Demand Management program, the initial goal should be to “do no harm,” meaning to minimize and mitigate any adverse impacts to communities. A number of factors should be considered in analyzing this question, including but not limited to the type of water use, the duration of the Demand Management program, the length of individual project participation, and the geographic location and concentration of projects.
Any potential program should create benefits for individuals, the community, and the economy wherever possible. Potential benefits may include avoidance of Compact administration actions, increased revenue to local economies, environmental benefits, and opportunities to improve long-term management of water and land.
A number of process considerations should be taken into account when considering how to assure no harm is done to communities where possible, or mitigated if there is harm.
In operating a potential Demand Management program, the process should be transparent and collaborative.
Education and Outreach
Workgroup members identified many challenges in helping the State explore threshold questions related to communication, education, and outreach needs around a potential Demand Management program.
In lieu of assisting with a communication plan for the active “investigation” process or a future program, the workgroup focused their expertise around priority considerations should the CWCB elect to continue with feasibility, project pilots, or full program development.
While it is essential to develop a communications plan well before a Demand Management program is enacted, content substance is needed to proceed in which common terms are defined across workgroups and state partners, clear frames are developed to help unite messaging across stakeholder groups, and essential content from FY19- 20 workgroups are considered by CWCB and incorporated into an agreement on a Demand Management program’s general (initial/draft) shape.
At this stage, there is a branding problem, as different stakeholders have different ideas of what a program may look like, how it can be explained, and how often communication is carried to individuals’ direct communities.
This workgroup recommends immediate messaging discussions to identify shared priority framing. Several guiding examples are presented in the workgroup’s final deliverable.
Throughout the investigation, workgroup members identified the need to help stabilize communication chains, the need for extra transparency, and the need to maintain an open line for all users to communicate concerns and ideas to/from CWCB and to/from one another.
A Demand Management program could provide opportunities for projects with net environmental benefits that would not be available under potential Compact administration.
A Demand Management program should not harm the environment, should build in considerations to minimize adverse environmental effects, and should incentivize projects that provide net environmental benefits.
A Demand Management program should use the suggestions in the Environmental Considerations document to evaluate project environmental benefits and impacts without creating an unnecessarily burdensome process for applicants. The suggestions should also be used as part of the criteria to prioritize projects. Potential environmental benefits are location and project specific and would need to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.
A Demand Management program should identify project impacts and benefits to environmental resources including changes to flow regimes, instream flows, water quality standards, critical habitat, management/planning documents, and conservation needs and strategies if evaluation tools are readily available and applicable (for a more detailed list of potential resources impacted, see Environmental Considerations document).
Research and data gaps exist for evaluating environmental benefits and impacts, such as information on changes to hydrology, return flows, and wetlands. Streamlined approaches and methods are needed to make these assessments.
The funding workgroup initially identified a number of questions to help frame the conversation around funding a potential Demand Management program, including how much funding would such a program require.
To help quantify potential funding needs, workgroup members discussed factors that could affect a Demand Management program and built scenarios around them.
The factors included: volume of water needed, cost of potential program (i.e. $/acre-foot), percent of water savings expected from a Demand Management program (versus funded investments in infrastructure), acute or chronic need, year by which water is needed, and reservoir storage options.
Workgroup members came up with a preliminary list of funding ideas noting that not one concept, but rather a portfolio (potentially paired with a reverse auction model) would be beneficial: statewide tax (income, sales, property), regional tax, statewide fee, Bureau of Reclamation contribution, hydropower user fee, export user fee (i.e. Front Range water user rate increase).
Even with a diverse portfolio, COIVD-19 fundamentally changed the calculus and workgroup members expect we will likely see transformations in many water use sectors and the larger economies of the Western US if hydrology continues to deteriorate and Compact Administration becomes necessary.
Law and Policy
There are several open legal and policy questions relating to a potential Demand Management program, and the conclusions drawn could impact how a program operates and whether it works within existing law. These key legal and policy issues include, but are not limited to:
Would participation in a potential program be considered a beneficial use under Colorado law? What is the definition of Compact compliance?
How is program eligibility determined?
How is conserved consumptive use defined for purposes of participation in a potential program?
What is the appropriate definition of “temporary” in the context of a potential Demand Management program?
What is the appropriate procedure for project review and approval?
Monitoring and Verification
Quantification, measurement, monitoring, and verification must be honest, accurate, and defensible.
Participation and monitoring and verification must be protective of other water users.
Participation must result in added water to the system.
Participation and monitoring and verification must be as simple, easy, and flexible as possible while still meeting the first three principles.
Water Rights Administration and Accounting
Any potential program should take into consideration the appropriate process for changing the use of a water right from its current use to Demand Management.
The question of whether Demand Management is a beneficial use of water should be considered before a potential program is established.
Changes in administration and accounting for storage should be considered in establishing a potential program.
Appropriate scrutiny for any program should be balanced against the need for ease and flexibility.
From the Business for Water Stewardship (Claudia Hensley):
New study finds Colorado’s waterways support over 100,000 jobs and billions in tax revenue across the state
AnewstudyreleasedbyB usinessforWaterStewardshiptodayfoundthat water-related outdoor recreation in Colorado produces $18.8 billion in economic output, and contributes $10.3 billion to the state gross domestic product (GDP) overall. According to the study:
6.7 million people participate in water-related outdoor recreation in Colorado annually, whether in the form of hiking, jogging, camping, fishing or other water-related activities on or around Colorado’s waterways.
Water-related recreation supports over 131,000 jobs a round the state that provide $6.3 billion in household income and generate an estimated $2.7 billion in tax revenue.
“The access to unparalleled outdoor recreation is part of what makes living in Colorado so special. But it’s not only about quality of life — outdoor recreation is a cornerstone of the state economy, and Colorado’s waterways are an essential economic engine,” said Molly Mugglestone, Director of Communications and Colorado Policy, Business for Water Stewardship. “Investing in clean and plentiful waterways isn’t just good for the environment, it’s good for business. Continued stewardship of Colorado’s waterways is essential to the long-term health of Colorado’s economy, ecosystems, and communities.”
“The access to unparalleled outdoor recreation is part of what makes living in Colorado so special. But it’s not only about quality of life — outdoor recreation is a cornerstone of the state economy, and Colorado’s waterways are an essential economic engine,” said Molly Mugglestone, Director of Communications and Colorado Policy, Business for Water Stewardship. “Investing in clean and plentiful waterways isn’t just good for the environment, it’s good for business. Continued stewardship of Colorado’s waterways is essential to the long-term health of Colorado’s economy, ecosystems, and communities.”
The study, conducted by Southwick Associates, presents economic contributions based on estimated retail spending in Colorado attributable to time on or along the water spent engaging in one of nine target activities (trail sports, camping, picnicking or relaxing, water sports, wildlife-watching, fishing, snow sports, bicycling or skateboarding and hunting or shooting) across nine river basins (Arkansas, Colorado, Gunnison, Metro, North Platte, Rio Grande, San Juan / Dolores San Miguel, South Platte, Yampa / White Green). Of the nine basins surveyed, the Colorado River mainstem alone generates $3.8 billion in economic output annually and supports 26,768 jobs.
“We believe it’s critically important to promote the outdoor industry’s importance to Colorado’s economy and our way of life. These figures are staggering, but not surprising,” said David Dragoo, founder of Mayfly Outdoors. “At Mayfly, we see the impact that recreation and engagement has on our community in Montrose as well as across the state. We think it’s part of our job to help ensure our communities can access and enjoy our rivers and waterways. Protecting river resources is even more important than ever as we recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.”
In releasing this study BWS has partnered with the Outdoor Industry Association to promote the critical need to protect Colorado’s rivers and waterways. “Outdoor recreation is a huge economic driver in the state and Colorado is home to many outdoor businesses and to our industry’s largest gathering, Outdoor Retailer, said Lise Aaangeenbrug, executive director, Outdoor Industry Association. “While we can’t gather as an industry this summer in Denver, watching the growth of people going outdoors during the pandemic and the release of this important data gives the industry great hope for the future. Protecting our state’s public lands and waterways are more important than ever to provide places to go outside and support the health and wellbeing of our communities.”
“We know that our great outdoors, including Colorado’s beautiful rivers, are a huge part of what makes our state such a great place to call home, drawing millions of people from around the globe every year and bringing industry and business here. But we can’t stop at enjoying nature – we must also protect it for the future. This study shows how much our state’s economy depends on preserving our rivers. We must continue to protect our quality of life and keep our environment as a top priority,” said Kelly Brough, President and CEO, Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce.
FromThe Denver Post (Judith Kohler) via The Broomfield Enterprise:
The report released Monday by Business for Water Stewardship said 6.7 million people participate in water-related recreation annually, supporting more than 131,000 direct and indirect jobs. That translates to $6.3 billion in household income, $2.7 billion in tax revenue and roughly $10 billion to the state’s gross domestic product, according to the analysis by Southwick Associates.
“The general message is the importance of rivers, waterways, to our economy,” said Molly Mugglestone, director of Colorado policy for the business organization. “We need to preserve and protect these areas that people want to go to and spend time on.”
The report relies on spending data collected by Southwick Associates for the Outdoor Industry Association and a survey that looked at where people recreated. The report includes responses from 1,252 people and targets such activities as swimming, rafting, kayaking and other sports on the water as well as trail running along the water, fishing and wildlife watching.
The report analyzes statewide data and date for nine river basins in the state…
The Business for Water Stewardship’s promotion of keeping waterways healthy is a big benefit for the outdoor industry, [David] Dragoo said. “As an industry, we don’t really have any infrastructure, if you will. Our corporate infrastructure is our public lands and our waters.”
During this May 8, 2020 webinar we heard an update on progress and current thinking around demand management in Colorado. Speakers discuss what “equity” might mean and how a pilot project slated to begin this summer could help answer some technical questions around feasibility. Join us to hear from leaders around the state working to move this exploration forward.
Amy Ostdiek, Deputy Chief of the Federal, Interstate and Water Information Section, Colorado Water Conservation Board
Paul Bruchez, Reeder Creek Ranch and Outfitter
Kyle Whitaker, Water Rights Manager, Northern Water
Mark Harris, General Manager, Grand Valley Water Users Association
From the Rio Grande Headwaters Restoration Project via The Conejos Citizen:
In 2015, then-Governor John Hickenlooper signed a momentous document into being — the Colorado Water Plan. At the time, decades of analysis concluded that a gap was widening between the limited supply of water and an increasing demand from users.
This gap in water supply and demand would only grow worse and more insurmountable without decisive action. Simply conserving water wasn’t enough. The drought of 2002 drove home the fact that a decreasing and erratic snowpack would become the norm, wreaking havoc on communities and river systems across the state. Lawmakers, farmers, water managers, and others saw the writing on the wall and determined to be strategic and proactive.
The Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB), the government agency tasked with overseeing water supply and management and utilizing technical data and analysis to assist decision-making, were key partners in spearheading the unprecedented strategy. They couldn’t undertake the entire process on their own and looked to the Roundtables for on the ground planning.
Just as in the first BIP process, stakeholders from the Rio Grande Basin are encouraged to participate in subcommittees on each of the five target areas.
This update process will be facilitated by a local expert who has been trained in coordination with Local Experts from other basins by the state’s general contractor for the 2021 Water Plan. The Rio Grande local expert is the Rio Grande Headwaters Restoration Project (RGHRP) staff, with Daniel Boyes as lead expert. The RGHRP was involved in the first BIP and works to improve the health of streams and riparian areas across the San Luis Valley and recently completed Stream Management Plans for the Rio Grande, Conejos River and Saguache Creek.
Boyes and the other RGHRP staff have begun holding meetings to determine project possibilities and data gaps within the five key areas with community members providing valuable input. These meetings will determine what projects, goals, and objectives represent the Rio Grande Basin’s priorities for each of the key areas, providing once again valuable input to the overall state water plan.
With a below average snowpack for 2020 and no guarantee of continuing moisture or increased snow in 2021 or beyond, the Rio Grande Basin will face similar challenges as the rest of the state over the coming year: The creation of subdistricts to meet aquifer sustainability requirements, newly approved well rules and regulations for groundwater use, and the new SLV radar are unique local responses to these challenges. Participating in identifying and prioritizing new projects and goals is a simple way for the community to involve themselves with these crucial water decisions. With the help of the community, Rio Grande water leaders are working diligently to ensure our resources are able to meet needs and continue our San Luis Valley way of life.
The Roundtables, one for each major river basin plus an additional Roundtable serving the Denver metro population, were created in 2004 as a regional answer to address water needs as identified by a variety of stakeholders. All of these partners were needed to become the task force, which created the first-ever Colorado Water Plan.
These five hundred plus pages of graphs, data, photos, and text combined to tell the story of each of Colorado’s major river basins. But more than that, it creates a compass for Colorado’s basins to identify and implement projects in their region that addressed a multitude of issues such as stream flows, reservoir storage capacity, agricultural sustainability, environmental needs, water administration and even education and outreach on water topics. The Colorado Water Plan includes five major areas of water use: Municipal & Industrial, Agriculture, Environment & Recreation, Water Administration and Education & Outreach. Each of these areas affects all the river basins; however, water leaders recognize that the plan could not be a one size fits all effort. Geography, population, tourism, and other factors affect each region differently, so state officials decided to utilize the leadership of local roundtables. The resulting comprehensive state plan was made possible by thousands of hours of donated time from people in each basin who created an individual plan outlining the needs of their region and highlighting potential projects to address those needs. This basin implementation plan process, or BIP, allowed each basin to prioritize projects and informed the larger Water Plan’s goals and objectives. With many projects completed and numerous goals met over the past five years, new ones are needed to answer the increasingly pressing question of how to adequately meet diverse water needs with an ever-dwindling supply. To that end, the Colorado Water Plan is in its first iteration of updates, scheduled for completion in 2021.
For the past two years, CWCB staff has worked with stakeholders in all basins, as well as engineering firms, to complete data analysis through Technical Advisory Groups (TAGs) using updated data and the most up-to-date modeling tools available. These teams created five potential future scenarios facing Coloradans in the next 20-50 years. Each scenario incorporates existing data from the basins regarding current water use coupled with projected water use, population and economic growth, and, in some scenarios, potential impacts of climate change on water supply and use.
These technical updates necessitate an updated Basin Implementation Plan incorporating the modeling and identifying where other data gaps exist. In addition, projects which will address the gaps and meet Basin goals and objectives need to be prioritized for the next five years.
Click here for all the inside skinny and to register:
We want to hear about your hopes for the Water Plan update! Please join us for any or all of the Colorado Water Plan Listening Sessions, a series of conversations on the future of water in Colorado.
The Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) will host a series of online public listening sessions to share updates about the Colorado Water Plan (Water Plan), hear from water leaders across the state, and gather feedback about how the Water Plan should approach the critical issues around Agricultural, Municipal & Industrial, Environmental & Recreational, and Forest Health & Watershed Health.
The format will be a GoToMeeting webinar that will include:
A CWCB summary of the current Water Plan update process
A panel discussion with community and industry leaders
Open discussion with attendees
Session dates and times are listed below:
June 3, 10 AM-11:30 AM – Municipal & Industrial
June 4, 10 AM- 11:30 AM – Forest Health & Watershed Health
June 10, 10 AM-11:30 AM – Agriculture
June 11, 10 AM – 11:30 AM – Environment & Recreation
Join us for a two-part miniseries of our podcast series We Are Rivers. We’ll learn more about Stream Management Plans, an innovative planning tool prioritized in Colorado’s Water Plan, from people working with stakeholder groups and communities across Colorado to put them in place.
Water has always been the architect of life in Colorado. Communities have worked within the availability, demands, and constraints of water to engineer lives and livelihoods. Water designs our lives as much by its availability as it does by scarcity—perhaps even more. In 2013, the State of Colorado recognized the impending impacts of rising populations, increasing demand across the state and the West, and a changing climate, then-Governor John Hickenlooper called for a plan to address these issues. He directed the Colorado Water Conservation Board—the government entity tasked with conserving, developing, protecting and managing the state’s water—to work with diverse stakeholders and develop Colorado’s first water plan. You can learn more about the Plan from Episode 6 in our podcast series.
In some ways, Colorado’s Water Plan articulated and formalized ways to meet the needs of agriculture, land use, and storage that were already in place. But it also did something else: for the first time, the Colorado Water Plan called for the consideration and integration of environmental and recreational flow needs. This decision came from growing recognition of the critical role rivers play in local economies, and the immense ecosystem services that healthy, functioning rivers and streams provide for all values—human and environmental. With this in mind, the Water Plan outlined a goal of inspiring community-driven development of Stream Management Plans for 80 percent of locally prioritized rivers and streams.
In the first episode of this miniseries, we hear from Nicole Seltzer, Science and Policy Manager of River Network, who talks us through the fundamentals of the stream management planning process. Holly Loff, Executive Director of Eagle River Watershed Council, shares on-the-ground experiences of a community planning effort along the Eagle River, and Chelsea Congdon-Brundige, a watershed consultant in the Roaring Fork Valley, shares her highlights from a similar but unique effort for the Crystal River.
As you’ll hear in the podcast, a critical component of Stream Management Planning is the diversity of stakeholders and interests at the table; the important and foundational role of science; and the way each Plan is unique to the community that builds it. SMP’s (as they’re often referred to) are really more about process than a final product, and the greatest win is the long-lasting trust inspired through tough but important conversations across values. SMPs aren’t designed to prioritize any one interest, but instead to bring agriculture, the environment, municipal needs, and recreation alongside one another for the best possible solutions for all.
If you’re inspired by this first Episode, and we suspect you will be, make sure to tune in for part 2 (coming 6/1/20) . We’ll hear from some of the same voices and from new ones from the Rio Grande Basin – including Heather Dutton with the San Luis Valley Water Conservancy District and Emma Reesor with Rio Grande Headwaters Restoration Project – about the groundbreaking and inspiring ways communities are working together to plan for the future of the rivers and streams that bind them, and all of us, together. Join us – and listen in today!
Here’s a guest column from Bruce Babbit that is running in The Vail Daily:
It is no exaggeration to say that a mega-drought not seen in 500 years has descended on the seven Colorado River Basin states: Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, Nevada, Arizona and California. That’s what the science shows, and that’s what the region faces.
Phoenix, Denver, Las Vegas and San Diego have already reduced per capita water use. Yet they continue to consume far more water than the river can supply. The river and its tributaries are still overdrawn by more than a million acre feet annually, an amount in consumption equaled by four cities the size of Los Angeles.
To close the deficit, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the states have been struggling to apportion the drastic cuts necessary.
So far, the parties have proceeded by adhering rigidly to historic doctrines: first users have absolute rights, though those rights were based on rosy projections of the river’s annual flow.
For example, in Arizona, the six million residents of Phoenix and Tucson will lose 50% of their share before California gives up a single drop.
Nevada, which has a 2% share, the smallest of any state, is called on to take more cuts ahead of California, which has the largest share, 29%.
Within California, water to 20 million residents in cities will be completely shut off before farming districts adjacent to and within the Imperial Valley take any cuts.
And in the upper basin, the states of Utah, Colorado, Wyoming and New Mexico are faced with draconian reductions in their entitlements because they must deliver water to the lower basin states.
Brad Udall, a water scientist at Colorado State University, warns that something must give — that we cannot continue with a system that increasingly “violates the public’s sense of rightness.”
There is a better, more equitable pathway for reducing the deficit without forcing arbitrary cuts. It involves 3 million acres of irrigated agriculture, mostly alfalfa and forage crops, which consume more than 80% of total water use in the basin.
By retiring less than 10% of this irrigated acreage from production, we could eliminate the existing million acre-foot overdraft on the Colorado River, while still maintaining the dominant role of agriculture. Pilot programs in both the upper and lower basins have demonstrated how agricultural retirement programs can work at the local level. What’s lacking is the vision and financing to bring these efforts to a basin scale.
Fortunately, there’s a precedent administered by the Department of Agriculture; it’s the Conservation Reserve Program, established in 1985 by the Congress. It authorizes the Farm Service Agency in the Department of Agriculture to contract with landowners to retire marginal and environmentally sensitive agricultural lands in exchange for rent.
Farmers who join the Conservation Reserve remain free to return the lands to production at the end of the renewable contract period, typically 10 to 30 years.
The national Conservation Reserve currently holds nearly 22 million acres under contracts with more than 300,000 farms. This legislation has strong support from the farming community and in Congress, which appropriates nearly $2 billion each year for the program.
With this precedent, it’s time to create an Irrigation Reserve Program. To work, it must be voluntary, and farmers who participate must be adequately paid for the use of their irrigation rights.
A new Irrigation Reserve on a basin scale will also require significant public funding. But the mechanism for financing an Irrigation Reserve is already available in existing federal law.
In 1973, faced with deteriorating water quality in the River, the Colorado River Basin states came together and persuaded Congress to enact a law known as the Colorado River Basin Salinity Control Act.
To fund salinity control projects throughout the Basin, Congress allocated revenues from the sale of hydropower from Hoover Dam, Glen Canyon Dam and other federal dams throughout the Basin.
Three hydropower accounts — the Lower Colorado River Basin Development Fund, the Upper Colorado River Basin Fund and the Hoover Powerplant Act — continue to capture and allocate revenues to basin projects. Congress should now add financing of an Irrigation Reserve to the list of eligible expenditures.
With these two precedents, the Conservation Reserve Program and the Salinity Control Act, we have the road map to establish a basin-wide irrigation reserve. I urge the seven basin states to make common cause and join together to obtain congressional legislation.
Bruce Babbitt is a contributor to Writers on the Range.org, a nonprofit dedicated to spurring lively discussion about Western issues. He served as Secretary of the Interior from 1993-2001.
Here’s a guest column from Al Pfister that’s running in The Pagosa Sun:
We are living in an age where we are facing drier and warmer times ahead. While we have had a few wet years over the past two decades, looking over that entire time span, we have been in a drought. We are currently in a severe drought with gradually worsening conditions in southern Colorado over the past few months. This scenario is believed to be a foreshadowing of our future.
The Colorado Water Plan, completed in December 2015, recognized these conditions and outlined numerous strategies to guide all water users in collaboratively addressing our challenging water future.
One of those strategies was the development of stream management plans (SMPs). SMPs are intended to compile a community’s understanding of a watershed’s collective environmental, recreational, agricultural and municipal water needs, identifying information gaps, and promoting projects and processes that meet those needs and gaps.
In 2018, community representatives formed a group, now called the Upper San Juan Watershed Enhancement Partnership (WEP), to better understand current and future local water use and needs through the Colorado Water Plan’s SMP process. Funding for this local effort is provided by the state through Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB), Southwest Basin Roundtable, San Juan Water Conservancy District, Archuleta County, Town of Pagosa Springs, Banded Peak Ranch and numerous other partners.
Envisioned as a three-phase process, the ultimate purpose of this effort to explore opportunities to conserve the Upper San Juan Basin streams and their uses with wide-ranging community support and decisions based on local input and current science and assessments. In order to ensure a broad representation of the community’s interests are brought forward and maintained through the process, a steering committee was formed. Representatives of agricultural, environmental, recreational, and municipal water users, private landowners, business owners, and local government comprise the steering committee.
While forming the steering committee and informing stakeholders about this endeavor, the local water users decided to call it the Upper San Juan Watershed Enhancement Partnership to recognize the voluntary and collaborative nature of this effort. Phase I, just completed, of this effort entailed formation of the steering committee and outreach to stakeholders, identification of our community’s collective values on issues, opportunities and the geographic scope of the WEP. Funding for Phase II has been obtained and is now awaiting formal approval from the CWCB in order to proceed with implementation.
Phase II will focus on assessing the environmental, recreational, and agricultural structural water needs and values of our community. We will be working with partners, San Juan Conservation District and Lotic Hydrological, to evaluate current and future water needs via community input and scientific analysis. Our goal is to complete an assessment that can prioritize projects and processes to meet those needs. This assessment will inform the development of an Integrated Water Management Plan that lists goals, potential projects and actions in Phase III, as determined by the local community.
In order to accurately assess and identify projects that align with local values and needs, the WEP is again asking for community input throughout Phase II. To help the WEP and our partners better understand environmental, recreational and agricultural structure needs this year, our partners will be working directly with ditch companies, land owners, governmental agencies, as well as providing updates to the general public throughout the process. We greatly appreciate your involvement and input, helping our communities in the San Juan River Basin better prepare and secure our water future.
Here’s a guest column from Hannah Holm that’s running in The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel:
It seems like the pandemic has soaked up most of the newsprint lately, but even now, when so much has come to a standstill, our rivers keep flowing. As Jim Pokrandt pointed out in a recent op-ed, our canals have started flowing, too, as Grand Valley farmers begin the annual ritual of putting water on the land to reap a harvest, and an income, later in the year.
Another annual ritual, monitoring the forecasts for how much spring snowmelt will flow down the rivers, has also begun. This year, we have an above-average snowpack in the mountains that feed the Colorado River, but below-average runoff into Lake Powell is expected. Parched soils from last year’s dry summer are expected to soak up much of the water before it can make it into the river.
If that forecast proves accurate, it will mark the 15th time in 20 years in which runoff into Lake Powell has been below average. This is one more piece of data to support the conclusion that the Colorado River is shrinking. Coming to terms with this fact is the central challenge facing all who depend on the Colorado River — about 40 million people throughout the Southwest.
A shrinking river is a particularly hard to adapt to when it is already being completely used up — the Colorado River rarely reaches the sea any more, and its major reservoirs are less than half full. So how, and what, are we doing? Here’s a rundown of a few things that are happening.
Downstream, California, Arizona and Nevada agreed to a detailed schedule of water delivery cuts triggered by different water levels in Lake Mead. This is the first year they are taking reduced deliveries.
Here in Colorado, along with Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico, water leaders are continuing to study “demand management:” paying water users to temporarily leave some of the water they are entitled to in the river. State-sponsored work groups on demand management are hashing out technical details on financing, legal issues, how to measure saved water, and the potential economic and environmental impacts of different approaches. You can learn more about these discussions here: https://cwcb.colorado.gov/demand-management.
In related efforts, scientists and ranchers are about to start working together in Grand County to figure out what happens to high-elevation hay fields if you take a pause on irrigating them. This will help ranchers determine whether they might want to participate in demand management or not. Other studies are also looking at the potential impacts on communities of reductions in irrigated agriculture.
Scientists are also working hard to refine their tools for understanding and forecasting water supplies. A new report from Western Water Assessment at CU-Boulder synthesizes information from nearly 800 studies and reports on Colorado River Basin science and hydrology. If you are interested, you can check it out at https://wwa.colorado.edu/.
So far, we’re mostly studying different options for cutting back our water use from the Colorado River, without many people actually having to do it yet. But if current trends continue, which long-term projections indicate that they will, that day will come.
Any change is hard, and abrupt change is especially hard. Abrupt change without data is terrifying, as we’ve recently learned. The good thing about the troubling situation on the Colorado River is that we don’t have to suffer the terror of change without data. The bad thing about the situation on the Colorado River is that we can’t study our way out of actually having to do something about it — sooner or later. [ed. emphasis mine]
Hannah Holm coordinates the Hutchins Water Center at Colorado Mesa University, which promotes research, education and dialogue to address the water issues facing the Upper Colorado River Basin. Support for Hutchins Water Center articles is provided by a grant from the Walton Family Foundation. You can learn more about the center at http://www.coloradomesa.edu/water-center.
For decades, Colorado has been recycling water for landscaping purposes. More recent has been indirect potable reuse, where treated wastewater flows through an environmental buffer, such as a river, before being extracted for further treatment to make it suitable for drinking and other domestic uses.
Now, Colorado and several other water-stressed states are moving toward direct potable reuse. “Widespread development of potable reuse will be an important facet of closing the future water supply-demand gap,” said the Colorado Water Plan, published in 2015 in Chapter 6.3.2, the Water Supply Management-Reuse chapter, which includes information on reuse beginning on page 6-75.
Potable reuse most certainly won’t be a cure-all for Colorado’s water shortages. It’s just one potential tool in a kit, applicable for specialized settings. But wide adoption of direct potable reuse relies, at least in part, on adoption of state standards governing treatment processes and monitoring protocols. Read about it in “Purified” from our Fall 2018 issue of Headwaters magazine, which focused on water reuse.
Is Colorado working on state regulations to govern direct potable reuse?
Yes. A new report, crafted by a National Water Research Institute-organized panel of reuse experts, details potential Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment regulations for direct potable reuse (DPR), which isn’t addressed in current regulations.
The report is part of WateReuse Colorado’s efforts to follow up on the water plan, which said Colorado needed a clear regulatory framework on reuse if reuse is to help address the future water supply-demand gap.
Getting this framework in place will give utilities the certainty they need to pursue DPR, which is critical for optimizing supplies they already have, says Laura Belanger from Western Resource Advocates.
Read what the report says and next steps in Colorado in the story “Getting Closer to Governing Direct Potable Reuse” from the new Spring 2020 issue of Headwaters magazine.
How does reuse optimize water supplies?
Check out the graphic below to conceptualize the multiplying effect of reuse:
Is water reuse on the rise?
In February, 2019, WEco offered a webinar exploring this question. Watch it to hear local experts discuss why more communities are turning toward water reuse and what regulations, policies, or other next steps need to fall into place for water recycling to grow. Watch it here</a
As COVID-19 continues to roil Colorado and the world, experts are suggesting that the pandemic may teach all of us to work together better. If that’s the case, then a collaborative water system for the Front Range may be a harbinger of things to come, according to a new study.
Released March 10, just days after Colorado reported its first cases of COVID-19, the study indicates that if Front Range cities band together to build a large-scale water reuse and delivery system, water sufficient to serve 100,000 homes could be developed.
It would rely on moving water between cities and farms, building new pipelines, as well as storing water underground and in off-channel reservoirs, and could be done without tapping new sources on the West Slope.
Such a project, if built, would cost $3.2 billion to $4.4 billion, according to the study, a price that is in line with other water delivery systems now being developed.
That cost includes 50 years of operations and maintenance and assumes the water would likely need to be heavily treated.
The study comes as the Front Range faces the most acute water shortages in the state, with a gap between water supply and demand for municipal and industrial users of as much as 540,000 acre-feet projected by 2050, according to a recent analysis by the state. Farmers could face a gap nearly twice that large, particularly in dry years.
Lisa Darling, executive director of the South Metro Water Supply Authority, helped oversee the study. She said once Colorado recovers from COVID-19, she hopes communities will be able to use it as a roadmap toward future water supplies. (Editor’s note: Darling is president of Water Education Colorado, the non-partisan nonprofit that sponsors Fresh Water News.)
“It shows that it’s feasible, and it will allow people to see exactly what it might look like,” she said.
The South Platte Regional Opportunities Water Group (SPROWG), a group that includes dozens of Front Range water districts, sponsored the work. The study analyzed different alternatives for capturing water in the South Platte River as it approaches the Nebraska border, an area where flows are typically more abundant than they are closer to metro Denver, where the river is heavily used and its waters largely claimed by existing users.
Because the river’s supplies in average years are already spoken for, any new water would be developed by capturing some during flood years and, in other years, reusing water already diverted from other basins via new water treatment plants and pipelines, making that water supply go farther.
Funded by the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) and several cities, including Denver and Aurora, the study was geared to help taxpayers from metro Denver to Brighton to Greeley and beyond determine whether they want such a project, how it would be configured, and who would benefit and shoulder the cost.
“The price tag sounds like a lot, but it is comparable to other projects in the South Platte Basin,” said Mary Presecan, a consultant with Leonard Rice Engineers and one of the study’s authors.
Water sold through the Loveland-based Colorado-Big Thompson Project is selling for $78,000 to $92,000 an acre-foot, Presecan said, while the SPROWG study analysis shows water developed through this new partnership would cost from $44,000 to $58,000 an acre-foot. An acre-foot equals nearly 326,000 gallons, enough water to serve on average two urban homes for one year.
In addition to water for fast-growing small communities, the study examined providing water to farmers on the Eastern Plains. These farmers control some of the oldest, most senior water rights in the region, but the water is increasingly being sold to thirsty cities, threatening local economies and the livelihoods of farmers left behind, and ultimately reducing the state’s ability to grow food.
A collaborative reuse project could provide additional water to water-short farms, as much as 35,000 acre-feet a year, allowing them to maintain their agricultural production.
“If there is an opportunity to be part of a regional partnership and address the ag gaps, we are all for it,” said Joe Frank, general manager of the Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District, a sponsor of the study.
“SPROWG is a concept where we are starting at a high level and drilling down. Can we bring the whole [South Platte River] Basin together to figure out if this can work,” Frank said.
Early on, the study drew fire from West Slope interests and environmental groups, who feared it would inevitably lead to bigger efforts to tap the drought-stressed Colorado River and could harm the South Platte River.
But feedback from dozens of meetings with citizens, environmentalists, taxpayers and water officials during the past year led the study’s authors to conclude that the project can be structured in such a way to provide environmental benefits, as well as water for cities and farms.
“This is a collaborative way, and an innovative way to conjunctively manage and use a variety of water sources for multiple beneficiaries,” said Matt Lindburg, a consultant with Brown and Caldwell and one of the study’s authors.
State water officials, such as Gail Schwartz, who represents the Colorado River Basin on the Colorado Water Conservation Board, said she believed the regional, collaborative premise underlying the early work could be utilized elsewhere.
“It’s a great model for collaborative thinking,” she said, at the CWCB’s March board meeting in Lakewood. “I think it could work for other parts of the state too.”
Whether the pandemic will bench the work on this new South Platte water delivery planning isn’t clear yet.
But Frank is optimistic work will continue. “The pandemic could slow us down, but it definitely won’t stop us. Now the next step will be determining [which communities] are really serious about coming together and taking this to the next level,” he said.
Jerd Smith is editor of Fresh Water News. She can be reached at 720-398-6474, via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or @jerd_smith.
To ensure that they don’t develop beyond the limits of their water supply, Riley says [Woodland Park] has closely integrated its land-use decisions with local water conservation and efficiency goals that align with the Colorado Water Plan.
A new bill at the Colorado Capitol hopes to encourage more local governments to do the same. House Bill 1095 says that if a community identifies it will need more water to grow, it should also include conservation measures for its existing supply.
“In a state that hates mandates, this is a gentle nudge for communities to make sure they are planning for the future when it comes to water,” said state Rep. Jeni Arndt, a Fort Collins Democrat who is bringing the bill.
The Colorado Water Plan five years ago set the goal that by 2025, 75% of Coloradans will live in communities that have incorporated water-saving actions into land-use planning.
Currently, 24 communities have completed the Sonoran Institute’s Growing Water Smart Training, a leading program that helps communities integrate land use planning and water conservation efforts, said Sara Leonard, a spokeswoman for the Colorado Water Conservation Board.
Leonard estimates that 15 to 20 more communities have participated in similar workshops, but many more would need to take part in order to meet the state’s goal…
HB20-1095 would also make permanent a temporary, partially grant-funded position in the Department of Local Affairs that assists local governments in integrating water conservation in their land use planning — though there is currently no money allocated in the bill to support the position.
“Historically, water resource planning and land-use planning have been implemented on parallel tracks. By separating these planning areas into different silos, the impacts from each on the other are not fully addressed,” Leonard said.
“With a growing population in Colorado, it is imperative to synchronize land and water planning to help planners to better understand the impact of new growth and redevelopment on future water demand in our urban areas.”
Today, Woodland Park has added dozens of regulations and ordinances into its zoning and building codes that focus on water conservation. It also limits the number of houses that can be built each year by setting a cap for how many new taps can be installed.
What the bill would do –– and what it wouldn’t
One of a dozen water bills introduced this session, ranging from water well inspections to fee exemptions, House Bill 1095 requires that if a local government’s comprehensive plan includes a water supply element, it must also include conservation policies.
A comprehensive plan is an advisory document that outlines long-term goals for community development, and often includes guidelines for things like transportation, utilities, land use, environmental protection, recreation and housing.
But comprehensive plans are not regulatory documents.
These conservation policies may include “goals specified in the state water plan, and may also include policies to implement water conservation and other state water plan goals as a condition of development approval, including subdivisions, planned unit developments, special use permits, and zoning changes,” the bill says.
Though state statute requires every municipality or county in Colorado to have a comprehensive plan, it doesn’t require them to include water element. But if it does, water conservation measures must be added the first time the plan is amended after the bill takes effect, but no later than July 1, 2025.
Gretel Follingstad, a Colorado-based land use planner and consultant who specializes in water resource management, said the language in the bill makes the recommendations “optional” and minimizes the bill’s potential impact.
“If you really want a strong policy around water, and you really want the state water plan goals to come to fruition, you need a will, not a may,” she said. “Because otherwise communities won’t do it if they don’t have the funding for it or they don’t have the political will, or if they don’t feel like they have a problem.”
But just by adding water into the local comprehensive plans, it’s changing the conversation, she said.
“We can’t change the fact that Colorado uses water districts as water suppliers and that those water districts are separate entities from their community,” Follingstad said. “All we can do is to teach the community planners that water is not infinite.”
In July, the Colorado Water Conservation Board released a technical analysis and update to the state’s supply and demand projections. The update examined water supply under five scenarios, with the two biggest drivers for water supply gaps being population growth and a warming climate.
The scenarios project that municipal and industrial water users may see water supply gaps ranging from 250,000 to 750,000 acre-feet by 2050. Approximately one acre-foot can support the needs of two families of four to five people a year, according to the Colorado Water Center at Colorado State University.
“It’s unlikely that conservation efforts can completely close the gap,” Arndt said. “But it can certainly help.”
Colorado Counties Inc., which lobbies on behalf of the state’ county governments, testified at the bill’s Feb. 3 hearing before the the House Rural Affairs and Agriculture Committee that its members worry the measure could open the door to formal regulations…
Gervais also added that counties and local governments already have the authority to include water planning in their land-use planning process. A 1991 law requires water utilities with a demand of greater than 2,000 acre-feet annually to have a water conservation plan.
“I’m glad we have that, but that’s not a substitute for a five- or 10-year visionary master plan,” Arndt said.
For Follingstad, comprehensive plans are crucial tools for communities envisioning the future. And that they can provide a policy framework for zoning and development regulations…
Avoiding the worst case scenario
Even though the bill doesn’t give local governments more authority, advocates hope it helps bring water conservation into the land-use conversation at the beginning of the community planning process, not the end.
“So, basically, utilities have been expected to come up with a supply to meet the demands,” Follingstad said.
“But when you insert population growth that’s beyond the capacities of many watersheds and water systems, and you insert climate change, which is making water, especially in the West, especially in Colorado because of the Colorado River compact, much more scarce — that’s not a sustainable system.”
Follingstad helped create the Growing Water Smart handbook — a guidebook that helps local governments integrate water conservation measures into their land use planning.
Since 2017, Colorado’s Water Conservation Board has worked with the Sonoran Institute and Babbitt Center for Land and Water Policy to host Growing Water Smart workshops in communities across Colorado. The next workshop is May 6-8 in Breckenridge.
The training focuses on reducing the demand for water by utilizing three key strategies: decreasing water use by modifying consumption behaviors; using technology and optimizing building or site designs to use less water; and increasing water recycling.
She says Colorado lags behind other states in terms of integrating water conservation into land use plans. And that lack of governmental guidance has created a false sense of security for some communities.
“Everybody has to do something in order to create sustainability,” she said. “And this is a way of making sure that towns and communities across Colorado, No. 1, understand that there is a state water plan and that the goals in that plan are real and serious and have consequences. And two, that there is a way at the local level that they can make a difference.”
If signed into law, the bill would take effect on Aug. 5.
The primary tool currently in use to measure snowpack in the Western United States is SNOTEL. We all rely on the SNOTEL website to see what’s happening during winter in the Rockies. But, you may be surprised to learn that the SNOTEL (SNOw TELemetry) has been missing the mark in its automated reading of snow depth in the Western US. How do we know that? Because, there is a new tool – actually an old one, repurposed – that could enhance greatly the accuracy of the 732 SNOTEL stations currently being used for the critical purpose of measuring snowpack in the mountains to help water managers forecast the potential runoff.
The solo SNOTEL system was as good as it got for 50 years when it came to measuring snow in the mountains. The system of sensors that measure snow depth and the amount of water contained in the snow was put into use back in the 1970s. It has not been updated since then, although some stations were added in the 1980s. SNOTEL measures two primary parameters, snow depth and density. Density tells us how much water is in the snow. It does this by sensing the weight of the snow on something called a snow pillow. The pillow is about eight feet square and as the snow builds up, it gets weighed. That number and the depth at the station are reported to the system as what we call the snowpack.
SNOTEL actually functions pretty well up to a point. The biggest drawback with it is the minuscule sampling of a vast area of snow production. The 732 stations are spread out through the mountain snow regions of all the Western states, including Alaska. That area is 1.76 million square miles, of which about a third is mountainous and has snow pack. That means there is a SNOTEL station for every 800 square miles of mountain terrain. Some of the stations are not as accurate as they need to be because of location. Some terrain, where extraordinary snow accumulation occurs, such as the bottom of an avalanche chute, never get measured because they are below the altitude level where SNOTEL stations are located. The avalanche-prone San Juans may have much more snow than we ever knew.
Given the increasingly critical nature of determining even short term snow inventories, people like John Lhotak, an operations hydrologist with the Colorado River Basin Forecast Center, told a press meeting, “SNOTEL is the best network we have, but there are definitely shortcomings.”
Enter LIDAR. LIDAR is one of those pseudo-acronym things that the lab guys and bureaucrats love. This one stands for Light Detection and Ranging.
Quite simply, if you flew over the mountains without snow on them and determined the height (compared to sea level), and then flew over and scanned them when the snow is in place, you would simply deduct the original snow-less height from the snow packed image and “voila!!!” you get the snow depth of the whole mountain almost to within centimeters.
Sounds simple enough, but the data crunching is mind numbing. All the data points from the ground-only image must be overlaid with the image taken with snow on the ground. The measurement points are chosen and then comes all the subtraction and interpolation. The people like Jeffrey Deems at the National Snow and Ice Center and Sam Tyler at Utah State University (and their teams) have developed the computer tools to breakdown the gigabytes of data collected to simple usable terms.
The whole concept was first tested in California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains eight years ago. The dry model of the mountains was made by flying at 20,000 feet in a straight back-and-forth pattern. After some storms passed the location, the team went back and flew the same pattern at the same altitude. The resulting 3D images were a precise measurement of the snow on the ground. Tyler’s team also did a test of the system near Logan, Utah, at about 8,000 feet…
The Airborne Snow Observatory (ASO) folks tell us, “We see it as moving from a sparse-point base network (with SNOTEL) to a system that can map the entire snow pack in a river basin,” Jeffrey Deems said, “It is really an enabling technology.”
In 2013 the ASO tested the system on selected sections of the Front Range, Gunnison Basin, Rio Grande Basin, and Uncompahgre watershed. Deems said, regarding the SNOTEL numbers, “We were missing a lot of the picture. We need to fix that.”
What the tests revealed was that in the Rio Grande Basin, for example, the forecasts were way off, reporting as much as 50% less snow and water than what was actually on the ground. That makes accurate forecasts and water use management for that basin impossible…
But the bean counters aren’t so sure. First of all, flying several thousand miles back and forth over the Colorado peaks costs a lot of money. The tab for flying for the new imagery on a regular basis could cost $400,000 a year or more, according to Frank Kugel, director of the Southwest Water Conservation District. Is the return on investment really there?
Also, everyone in the water biz seems to agree that we will still need SNOTEL. It is currently the only tool for proofing the accuracy of the LIDAR images and vice versa. It is also the best tool for the density issue. For the time being, people like Deems think using SNOTEL in tandem with LIDAR is the right way to get the best measurements. Rather than replacing SNOTEL, Deems would opt for even more SNOTEL stations…
Deems said [February 6, 2020] that the cost of LIDAR seems justified when you consider the cost of a bad forecast. It is no secret that the low estimate on the Rio Grande in 2013 translated into millions of dollars of water misused after the forecast. Making the investment available for better measurements seems like a no brainer…
Meanwhile, the Colorado Water Conservation Board has already decided to invest $250K in 2021 for flights to measure the Gunnison Basin, of which the Uncompahgre River is a part.
Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:
Colorado Water Leaders Gather for Annual Water Congress Convention
On January 29 – 31, the Colorado Water Congress hosted its annual convention in Westminster, where hundreds of attendees discussed the biggest water issues facing Colorado this year. The Colorado Water Conservation Board moderated a variety of workshops and panels – covering the ongoing Demand Management Feasibility Investigation, Instream Flow Recommendations, Stream Management Plans, Water Conservation and Efficiency, Agriculture, Climate Change, and updates on the Colorado Water Plan.
Policy priorities for the 2020 Colorado legislative session.
Colorado lawmakers returned to the Capitol on January 8th to kick off the 2020 legislative session. Even before bills were introduced, it was clear that the General Assembly will wrangle with issues that will touch every corner of the state and impact the daily lives of Coloradans. Water is one of these key issues.
Despite the optimism from a snowy December, Colorado’s snowpack is now starting to fall closer to average. Although Colorado is perched at 108 percent average snowpack statewide, much of the West Slope remains in drought conditions. With enough snowpack, flurries will melt and become flows for healthy rivers that support all of us. But as water supplies are becoming more unpredictable, sharing a limited water supply—statewide—between urban, rural, agriculture, industry, environmental and recreational needs is the challenge at hand.
Audubon Rockies is working with lawmakers and partners to prioritize water security for people, birds, and the healthy rivers that we all depend upon. Colorado’s birds and people cannot thrive unless our rivers do too. Here are three water priority areas for Audubon Rockies in the 2020 Colorado legislative session.
Funding Colorado’s Water Plan
Water security for Coloradans, birds, and rivers begins with implementing the state Water Plan. In the light of climate change and booming population growth, Colorado’s Water Plan, finalized in 2015, aims to ensure a sufficient supply of water for the various users across the state including environmental, agricultural, municipal, industrial, and recreational needs. Implementing Colorado’s Water Plan is projected to cost $3 billion in total, or $100 million a year over the next 30 years.
In November 2019, voters approved Proposition DD to legalize sports betting and a 10% tax on these casino revenues which will result in an estimated $12 million to $29 million annually, the majority of which will go toward the Water Plan. Proposition DD is expected to generate more than $7 million in new tax revenue for the Colorado Water Plan in 2020, a significant bump up from past funding sources.
At this point, it is not clear how the state will spend these dollars given the various priorities and the considerable Water Plan funding gap. The language in DD was vague and will need refinement and transparency. Stakeholders and lawmakers will likely explore options with the legislature to guide how DD funds are spent on Water Plan implementation.
Audubon will advocate for spending that supports healthy rivers for the birds and people that depend on them, as we support a fully funded Water Plan.
Supporting the Colorado River
In 2019, the Drought Contingency Plan was adopted by the upper and lower Colorado River basin states. One of next steps for Colorado and the other upper basin states is to investigate the feasibility of a demand management program. The Water Resources Review Committee recommended SB20-024 to create a robust public engagement process similar to the development of the Water Plan before adopting any rules or recommendations regarding demand management. While public input is nearly always a positive, this process seems to get ahead of the process established by the Colorado Water Conservation Board’s (CWCB) demand management workgroup. Audubon is monitoring SB20-024.
With Colorado’s water supply becoming more unpredictable and valuable, particularly on the West Slope, concerns were raised by the Water Resources Review Committee to address anti-speculation. Specifically, concerns were raised that agricultural water rights are being sold to entities with no real interest in farming or ranching in Colorado that are holding those rights for future, more profitable transactions. SB20-048, Study Strengthening Water Anti-Speculation Law, would create a working group to explore ways to strengthen anti-speculation laws and report its findings and recommendations to the committee next year. Audubon is in favor of SB20-48 to keep Colorado’s water out of the hands of risky transactions. We need to support our agricultural heritage and the habitats our working landscapes provide.
For the second year, Colorado lawmakers will see the return of two similar bills attempting to expand the instream flow program. Since 1973, the instream flow program has given the CWCB the unique ability to hold instream flow rights—water rights with the sole purpose of preserving the natural environment by remaining in streams or lakes. First, HB20-1037, Augmentation of Instream Flows, is essentially a rerun from last year with key benefits for the Cache la Poudre River near Fort Collins. The bill permits the CWCB to use water for instream flow purposes, if the water has been decreed for augmentation without seeking a further change of use in water court. (Augmentation water restores water uses that are out of priority.) This would create a new pool of water, with lower administrative costs, which could be available for instream use.
The second bill, HB20-1157, Loaned Water For Instream Flows To Improve Environment, looks to expand the existing instream flow loan program. Under the current law the instream flow loan program allows water right holders to loan water for three years out of a 10-year period to the CWCB to preserve water for rivers where there is an existing instream flow water right. The current program participation is not renewable.
HB20-1157 looks to expand the instream flow loan program by increasing the years of participation from three to five years in a ten-year period, and allow for two additional ten-year renewal periods. It also supports greater notification to local water users, provides for an expedited process to address water-short river emergencies, and adds a longer term procedure for loaning water to instream flow decreed river segments for improvement of the environment. The instream flow loan program is completely voluntary and allows greater flexibility for the water right holder to use their property right in a beneficial way.
In 2019, a similar bill to HB20-1157 passed the House of Representatives only to die in Senate Committee. Perceptions around the potential impacts to soil health from fallowed fields and on historical irrigation return flows from leaving water in stream rather than applying it on the land may have caused the bill to fail. With robust engagement and input from Audubon, partners, stakeholders and the Colorado Water Congress over the past year, bill sponsors are more optimistic for successful instream flow loan expansion in 2020.
Audubon supports multiple tools in the toolbox to support healthy rivers, agriculture, and economies. HB20-1157 and HB20-1037 bring greater flexibility and beneficial options for rivers and water right holders.