2017 #COleg: Governor signs two water bills, including @CWCB_DNR construction fund

Colorado Capitol building

From The La Junta Tribune-Democrat (Bette McFarren) via the The Ag Journal:

The Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy was honored to host Gov. John Hickenlooper’s signing of HB17-1248 on Wednesday after the regular meeting of the board of directors. The bill concerns the funding of Colorado water conservation board projects, and in connect with this undertaking, making appropriations. Hickenlooper said there is $25 million of support attached to the bill, making projects of LAVWCD and other water projects possible. He also alluded to HB17-1233, signed in Denver the same day, which allows farmers and ranchers practicing conservancy not to lose their water rights.

Hickenlooper was very complimentary to LAVWCD Manager Jay Winner, whose novel ideas have helped to keep the water on the land in southern Colorado. He said he wished he had a dozen Jay Winners to preserve the water for he state. Winners and John Stulp will be very happy, he said, putting their ideas into practice, made easier with these acts. One look at how Crowley County is struggling, he said, is sufficient to know southeastern Colorado cannot survive with dryland farming.

Also present at the signing was State Senator Larry Crowder, whom Hickenlooper commended for always voting for what he considers right, despite party lines. Hickenlooper also expressed his admiration for Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne, who has done a lot for the organization of the administration, drawing on her experience in the private domain in a much higher-paying position.

He is proud of the Colorado Water Plan and looks forward to its implementation. Thirty thousand individuals contributed to the formation of the plan. Although it does not yet have full funding, water rights of individuals are protected and the plan will keep the water on the land.

Senator Crowder said he represents 15 counties with average income at or below poverty level and he intends to do everything he can to promote economic opportunities for the area. He will work with people of differing viewpoints to make this possible. Hospitals are stable financially in the Denver area, he said, but not in rural Colorado, and everything possible must be done to maintain them.

@COWaterPlan Implementation Update

Photo by Havey Productions via TheDenverChannel.com

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

Where now with Alternative Transfer Methods in CO?

This special report, released by the Colorado Water Institute, summarizes the discussions, conclusions, and recommendations from three meetings held in the fall of 2016 to address Colorado’s Water Plan’s measurable objective to provide at least 50,000 acre-feet of agricultural water to municipal water providers through voluntary, compensated Alternative Transfer Methods (ATMs) by 2030. These meetings convened water stakeholders from across the state, representing the interests of diverse sectors of the water community – agricultural, urban, and environmental. The report is intended to provide a foundation on which further progress toward meeting Colorado’s Water Plan’s ATM goal can be built. The report was co-authored by Anne Castle, MaryLou Smith, John Stulp, Brad Udall, and Reagan Waskom and is available on Colorado’s Water Plan website under Implementation.

#Colorado Springs: Arkansas River Basin Water Forum, April 26-27

Here’s the release from the Arkansas River Basin Water Forum (Jean Van-Peldt):

Denver Water lawyer to share message of cooperation

Water agreements are always tricky, a matter of give and take.

Most importantly, they require cooperation.

That’s the message Patricia Wells, general counsel for Denver Water, will bring to the Arkansas River Basin Water Forum when she kicks off the second day of the forum on April 27 at Hotel Elegante, 2886 S. Circle Drive, Colorado Springs. The two-day forum will feature panels and tours to discuss water issues of concern to the Arkansas River basin, and El Paso County in particular.

“We’ll be talking about examples of how, when you’re dealing with the supply gap, you need to deal with others,” said Wells, who is also a member of the Colorado Water Conservation Board. “Multiple parties can accomplish more.”

Wells has represented Denver Water since 1991, coming on board just after the EPA veto of Two Forks. It changed how the state’s largest water provider dealt with the growth of its system, as well as the way it treated its neighbors. Wells came superbly prepared for the job, with her background as Denver City Attorney and as a staff attorney for the Environmental Defense Fund.

“The Two Forks veto came as a result of the environmental laws in the 1970s and ‘80s and was a paradigm shift,” Wells said. “Most large water organizations have gone through a metamorphosis in the last 30 years.”

In the case of Denver Water, that has meant two of the most far-reaching agreements in the history of Colorado Water, both occurring during Wells’ tenure at the legal helm. They were very different types of negotiations.

The first was the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement, which brought together 40 parties, primarily on the Western Slope, which had fought for decades over Denver’s appropriation of Colorado River water. Denver sought the support, or at least lack of opposition, from the communities in order to enlarge Gross Reservoir, a key supply for Denver Water located in Boulder County.

“We did all the right things,” Wells said. “But we’re still in the 13th year of permitting on Gross Reservoir. If we can’t get Gross Reservoir done then water projects can’t be done in Colorado.”

The second was the WISE (Water Infrastructure and Supply Efficiency), which looked at how Denver, Aurora and water providers in the South Metro Water Supply Authority could pool resources.

They were far different negotiations, but the common thread was the need to work together for common interests and to overcome operational hurdles.

“The state Water Plan talks about CRCA and WISE as how projects should be developed,” Wells said. “But I don’t think there’s a single way to do things.”

The Upper Arkansas River Voluntary Flow Management Program, which will be discussed in one of the workshops at the forum, is an example of multiple parties working together in the Arkansas River basin. That program has been in effect since 1991.

“These agreements take a lot of time to put together and a long time to get organized,” Wells said. “It’s about how you work with other people and why you work with other people.”

Registrations and information about this year’s forum are available at http://www.ARBWF.org.

Arkansas River Basin — Graphic via the Colorado Geological Survey

Durango: “Solving the Water Funding Puzzle” conference recap

Animas River through Durango August 9, 2015, after the Gold King Mine spill. Photo credit Grace Hood

From The Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga):

The Southwestern Water Conservation District hosted a conference titled “Solving the Water Funding Puzzle” at the DoubleTree Hotel in Durango to confront the budget crisis.

Colorado’s overriding challenge lies in how water management is funded, said Bill Levine, budget director for the state Department of Natural Resources.

Much of the state’s revenue stream for water-supply management is tied to federal energy, including severance taxes from the oil and gas industry, which exposes Colorado to the ebb and flow of the volatile oil and gas industry.

“When energy values drop, so does the revenue stream, so it is by nature volatile,” Levine said. “Revenue that is not tied to the energy industry is needed.”

Because of a weak energy market and a costly court ruling, the state’s revenues from severance taxes dropped from $271 million in fiscal year 2015 to $67 million in fiscal year 2016.

And in 2016, the state lost a lawsuit brought by British Petroleum over severance taxes. The state is refunding energy companies – $113 million so far – after the Colorado Supreme Court ruled that the companies qualify for a deduction the Department of Revenue had been denying them.

State and local agencies have paid a price.

The drop in revenues from federal minerals caused program budgets for the Colorado Water Conservation Board to drop from $14 million in 2015 to $8 million in 2016.

The cuts wiped out funding for boat inspection programs needed to stop invasive quagga and zebra mussels, which has limited boating at McPhee Reservoir and Totten Lake in Montezuma County.

Grant programs of the Department of Local Affairs also were cut, because they too depend on severance tax revenues.

Severance tax revenues have funded the Southwest Basin Roundtable grant program that supports water projects in southwest Colorado. Funding will suffer, and there will be less grant money, said roundtable chair Mike Preston.

In La Plata County, the basin fund helped to finance an inlet from Lake Nighthorse as part of a plan to provide municipal water for Fort Lewis Mesa, which includes the communities of Breen and Kline.

It’s been tapped to support a project improving water supply at Lake Durango, which serves Durango West communities. And the grants have supported an Animas River community forum, which is establishing emergency response protocols to protect water users in the event of a toxic spill such as the 2015 Gold King Mine disaster.

Finding funding solutions
Several potential sources of revenue for water-related infrastructure and programs were presented at the packed conference.

Emily Brumit, of the Colorado Water Congress, gave an update on legislative proposals and a ballot initiative that would support water-related budgets, including the struggling boat-inspection programs.

For example, Senate Bill 259 proposes to replace lost severance tax revenues with $10 million from the general fund to support forest restoration, species conservation and boat inspection programs. House Bill 1321, introduced this week, would create a revenue stream through a sticker fee to fund boat inspection programs.

And Initiative 20 focuses on oil and gas severance taxes. Its primary goal is to increase the severance tax rate, eliminate the severance tax credit that is based on property taxes, eliminate the stripper well exemption and require that a portion of severance tax revenue be paid for specific purposes…

Legislators are considering asking voters to approve a container tax on beverages to raise $100 million to $200 million per year for water-related needs. A vote could end-run the Taxpayers Bill of Rights, exempting it from TABOR revenue caps.

Other ideas presented at the conference included a new water fee paid by residential consumers, new water tap fees and new tourism fees…

Government specialist Christine Arbogast said the idea of private-public partnerships is popular for new money. But she does not believe they are a viable local solution locally.

“The expected rate of return of 5-8 percent from private investors is too much for the tax base of smaller communities,” she said.

La Plata County Commissioner Brad Blake urged the crowd to take a long-term vision on solving the budget crisis, like previous generations did.

“We have good water rights, but don’t have a way to move it around well,” he said. “The pioneers built dams, ditches and levees. Now we are tasked with looking ahead to provide water infrastructure in our area. We need more public involvement so we get all the help we need to overcome this monumental task.”

@EklundCO, Colorado’s top water official, leaves CWCB for law firm in Denver — @AspenJournalism @COWaterPlan

The building in Denver, not far from the state Capitol, that houses the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

Here’s an update to yesterday’s post about James Eklund’s leaving the Colorado Water Conservation Board from Brent Gardner-Smith (Aspen Journalism):

James Eklund, the governor’s point person on the 2015 Colorado Water Plan, is leaving his post as director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board on March 31 to go work as an attorney helping to develop private-sector water projects.

Eklund, 41, has been at the top of the state’s water-supply planning agency since July 2013. He gave notice to the CWCB’s board of directors on March 13 and starts his new job at the Denver office of a large law firm, Squire Patton Boggs, on April 3.

“The private sector needs to make sure it is pulling its weight” when it comes to water infrastructure “and I’m going to see if I can help do that,” Eklund said.

Eklund was appointed director of the Water Conservation Board by Gov. John Hickenlooper after the governor signed an executive order in May 2013 calling for a new state water plan by December 2015.

At the time, Eklund was serving as senior deputy legal counsel in the governor’s office. By July 2013 he had replaced Jennifer Gimbel at the top of the CWCB, becoming the 10th director in the agency’s now 80-year history.

James Eklund, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, on the road promoting Colorado’s Water Plan.

The plan

What followed was an intense two-and-a-year effort by Eklund and CWCB staff members to produce “Colorado’s Water Plan,” including a long series of meetings and presentations around the state.

When Eklund got up in front of an audience to tell them about the water plan, he often appeared to be a Denver attorney in a three-piece suit. But he almost always began his presentations by invoking his great-grandparents, Ole and Mary, immigrants from Norway who homesteaded his family’s ranch in Plateau Valley near Collbran.

James Eklund, in the state Capitol building in Denver, while serving as an attorney in the governor’s office.
James Eklund, with his father Larry Eklund, on the family homestead in western Colorado. Photo via Aspen Journalism.

Old talking points

By sharing his roots, Eklund was reaching out to Coloradoans on both sides of the Continental Divide, knowing that the Western Slope water interests often start conversations about more transmountain diversions with “Not one more drop,” while Front Range interests usually revert to “See you in water court.”

“The toughest thing has been really trying to change that,” said Eklund. “And it’s like turning a cruise ship. It takes awhile, but it’s rewarding when it happens, and as it is happening. I certainly wanted it to turn faster than it has turned, or is turning.

“People go back on their old talking points on this stuff,” Eklund added. “And in some instances, they go back to their grandparent’s and great-grandparent’s talking points. Getting a different level of conversation going, was, and probably will continue to be, the most difficult part of the whole thing.”

From left, Russ George, a CWCB board member, Andrew Gorgey, then Garfield County manager, Peter Fleming, general counsel for the Colorado River District, and James Eklund, director of the CWCB, talking about the potential for new transmountain diversions outside of the Garfield County building in Glenwood Springs in 2015.

Big river

Eklund was also appointed by Hickenlooper to serve on the Upper Colorado River Commission, which works to administer aspects of the 1922 Colorado River Compact in conjunction with a lower basin commission.

He has not resigned from that seat, and said for now he is still serving at the pleasure of the governor on the commission.

He said the issues that divide the upper and lower Colorado River basins – think Colorado versus California – “is kind of like Colorado’s transmountain diversion conundrum on steroids.”

And he said the solutions to both conundrums lie in people, not in water.

“The art of this whole business is to get the two sides to see water as a linkage between them, as a common element that they all need, ” Eklund said. “Then they can get sit around a table and discuss things, instead of pulling pistols on each other and litigating.”

The confluence of the Colorado and Green rivers, fall 2016. If water makes it here, it’s bound for the lower Colorado River basin, so just how much water gets to this point matters to people in seven states. Photo credit Brent Gardner-Smith, Aspen Journalism.

Running hot

Eklund’s resignation after nearly four years at CWCB was a bit of a surprise to some professionals in the Colorado water sector, as the delivery of the water plan is often cited as a successful exercise that galvanized both the state’s water wonks and water users. The result was a glossy and readable policy document, but not an exact prescription for which projects to build or rivers to restore.

“In my tenure, he’s probably made more presentations about what the CWCB does than about the rest of [the agency’s directors] put together,” said Eric Kuhn, who has worked at the Colorado River District for 36 years. “That’s what I think the state is going to miss with James leaving — his energy and his reaching out. The water business is a pretty insular community, and James was unwilling to accept that, and was more willing to get out and talk to everybody about what it is we do.”

Eklund was also known within the CWCB for the mock headlines he presented during his director’s reports at CWCB meetings, doing so to make a point. Sometimes the headlines, attributed to various local newspapers, got a chuckle, sometimes a groan.

On Wednesday, at his final CWCB board meeting, the last of Eklund’s headlines read: “CWCB Spokesman tweets: ‘Smart ass director, his “fake news” headlines, & reign of terror finally over.’”

The reference to a “reign of terror” may have been Eklund’s way of acknowledging he pushed the CWCB staff hard during the development of the water plan.

“It was very intense,” Eklund said of the two-and-a-half-year water plan process, which had firm deadlines for both the draft and final versions. “Everybody had to be all in. The engine was running at a very high level. We kept dumping in new oil, but it runs hot when you have to do something that aggressive.”

Not long after the water plan was duly delivered to the governor at the end of 2015, at least six mid-level and senior employees left the CWCB.

Asked at the time about the turnover at the agency, Eklund said that in many cases it was his staff’s good work on the highly visible water plan that led to them getting better job offers and opportunities.

“Because it has been so successful,” Eklund said of the water plan, “it has raised the brand of each of the individuals who’ve worked on it.”

That may be true of Eklund as well.

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism collaborates with the Post Independent, Aspen Times, Vail Daily and Summit Daily News on coverage of rivers and water in the upper Colorado River basin and the state. The Post, the Times and the Vail Daily published a version of this story on Thursday, March 23, 2017.

Colorado’s top water official leaves for Denver law firm — @AspenJournalism

James Eklund, the director of the CWCB, hails from a Western Slope ranching family. He often works to add a touch of levity to otherwise serious-minded state-level water meetings. James left the Colorado Water Conservation board in Spring of 2017.
James Eklund, the director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, hails from a Western Slope ranching family. He often works to add a touch of levity to otherwise serious-minded, state-level water meetings. Eklund announced his resignation as director of the CWCB in March of 2017.

From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith) via The Glenwood Springs Post-Independent:

James Eklund, the governor’s point person on the 2015 Colorado Water Plan, is leaving his post as director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board on March 31 to go work as an attorney helping to develop private-sector water projects.

Eklund, 41, has been at the top of the state’s water-supply planning agency since July 2013. He gave notice to the CWCB’s board of directors on March 13 and starts his new job at the Denver office of a large law firm, Squire Patton Boggs, on April 3.

“The private sector needs to make sure it is pulling its weight” when it comes to water infrastructure “and I’m going to see if I can help do that,” Eklund said.

Eklund was appointed director of the Water Conservation Board by Gov. John Hickenlooper after the governor signed an executive order in May 2013 calling for a new state water plan by December 2015.

At the time, Eklund was serving as senior deputy legal counsel in the governor’s office. By July 2013 he had replaced Jennifer Gimbel at the top of the CWCB, becoming the 10th director in the agency’s now 80-year history.

What followed was an intense two-and-a-half-year effort by Eklund and CWCB staff members to produce “Colorado’s Water Plan.” The resulting glossy, thick and surprisingly readable policy document came after a seemingly endless series of meetings and presentations by Eklund and CWCB staffers around the state.

And when Eklund got up in front of an audience to tell them about the water plan, he often appeared to be a Denver attorney in a three-piece suit. But he almost always began by invoking his great-grandparents, Ole and Mary, immigrants from Norway who homesteaded his family’s ranch in Plateau Valley near Collbran.

In doing so, Eklund was reaching out to Coloradoans on both sides of the Continental Divide, knowing that the Western Slope water interests often start conversations about more transmountain diversions with “Not one more drop,” while Front Range interests usually revert to “See you in water court.”

“The toughest thing has been really trying to change that,” said Eklund. “And it’s like turning a cruise ship. It takes awhile, but it’s rewarding when it happens, and as it is happening. I certainly wanted it to turn faster than it has turned, or is turning.

“People go back on their old talking points on this stuff,” Eklund added. “And in some instances, they go back to their grandparent’s and great-grandparent’s talking points. Getting a different level of conversation going, was, and probably will continue to be, the most difficult part of the whole thing.”

Eklund was also appointed by Hickenlooper to serve on the Upper Colorado River Commission, which works to administer aspects of the 1922 Colorado River Compact in conjunction with a lower basin commission. He has not resigned from that seat, and said for now he is still serving at the pleasure of the governor on the commission.

He said the issues that divide the upper and lower Colorado River basins – think Colorado versus California – “is kind of like Colorado’s transmountain diversion conundrum on steroids.”

And he said the solutions to both conundrums lie in people, not in water.

“The art of this whole business is to get the two sides to see water as a linkage between them, as a common element that they all need,” Eklund said. “Then they can sit around a table and discuss things, instead of pulling pistols on each other and litigating.”

Eklund’s resignation after nearly four years at CWCB was a bit of a surprise to some professionals in the Colorado water sector, as the delivery of the water plan is often seen as a successful exercise that galvanized both the state’s water wonks and water users, if not an exact prescription for which projects to build or rivers to restore.

“In my tenure, he’s probably made more presentations about what the CWCB does than about the rest of [the agency’s directors] put together,” said Eric Kuhn, who has worked at the Colorado River District for 36 years. “That’s what I think the state is going to miss with James leaving — his energy and his reaching out. The water business is a pretty insular community, and James was unwilling to accept that, and was more willing to get out and talk to everybody about what it is we do.”

Eklund was also known within the CWCB for the mock headlines he presented during his director’s reports at CWCB meetings, doing so to make a point. Sometimes the headlines, attributed to various local newspapers, got a chuckle, sometimes a groan.

On Wednesday, at his final CWCB board meeting, the last of Eklund’s headlines read: “CWCB Spokesman tweets: ‘Smart ass director, his “fake news” headlines, & reign of terror finally over.'”

The reference to a “reign of terror” may have been Eklund’s way of acknowledging he pushed the CWCB staff hard during the development of the water plan.

“It was very intense,” Eklund said of the two-and-a-half-year water plan process, which had firm deadlines for both the draft and final versions. “Everybody had to be all in. The engine was running at a very high level. We kept dumping in new oil, but it runs hot when you have to do something that aggressive.”

Not long after the water plan was duly delivered to the governor at the end of 2015, at least six mid-level and senior employees left the CWCB.

Asked at the time about the turnover at the agency, Eklund said that in many cases it was his staff’s good work on the highly visible water plan that led to them getting better job offers and opportunities.

“Because it has been so successful,” Eklund said of the water plan, “it has raised the brand of each of the individuals who’ve worked on it.”

That may be true of Eklund as well.

Aspen Journalism collaborates with the Post Independent, Aspen Times, Vail Daily and Summit Daily News on coverage of rivers and water in the Colorado River drainage and the state. More water http://www.aspenjournalism.org.

James Eklund to leave @CWCB_DNR, good luck from @CoyoteGulch! @COWaterPlan

Collbran 1906. Photo credit Charlie Koch via the Town of Collbran.

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

James Eklund, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, is stepping down this month to begin work as an attorney with the international law firm Squire Patton Boggs, which has a Denver office.

Eklund has worked for the state for more than a decade. He initially did water work in the Attorney General’s Office before becoming senior deputy legal counsel to Gov. John Hickenlooper in 2011. He became director of the CWCB in 2013, putting him in charge of the state’s water policy and planning efforts. There, he led the agency’s creation of a state water plan aimed at identifying ways to address the gap between the state’s water supply and anticipated future demand.

“Definitely that’s kind of the signature piece that I was able to work on,” Eklund said Monday. “The stars aligned. It was a perfect environment for that to really be successful.”

He said the effort to get the plan adopted was driven by Hickenlooper’s “willingness to spend political capital on water where it hadn’t been spent before,” the grassroots roundtable groups in each of the state’s major river basins that helped develop the plan, and the drought that has beset the region for some 15 years.

An important thing for Eklund was how the plan and a separate cooperative agreement reached between Denver Water and Western Slope entities addressed concerns over future development of Western Slope water by the Front Range.

“Just as a Western Slope person it really made me proud to see that kind of leadership from the Western Slope,” he said.

Eklund continues to have family ties in the Plateau Valley, where his great-great-grandparents homesteaded in 1888.

He said he didn’t know whether his new work would involve Front Range water projects.

“I hope to use my knowledge and skill set to move water infrastructure projects forward statewide. We are one connected state,” Eklund said, pointing to the improved relationships he believes have been achieved between the Front Range and Western Slope when it comes to water issues.

Eklund said he will remain the state’s representative for negotiations on interstate and international Colorado River issues as long as Hickenlooper wants him to remain in that capacity…

Jim Pokrandt, spokesman for the Colorado River District and chair of the roundtable for the Colorado River Basin, said Eklund was fair-minded and understood the viewpoints from both sides of the Continental Divide.

“I thought the water plan was a victory and a lot of credit goes to his staff as well as to him,” Pokrandt said.

Good luck James!