FromThe Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):
The head of the Colorado River District is defending an ongoing water study from Front Range concerns about its intent and possible regional bias.
Eric Kuhn, the district’s general manager, says while Front Range water interests view the project as a water supply study, that’s not the case.
“It was a how-should-we-be-prepared-for-another-drought study,” he said Monday in providing an update to the Colorado Basin Roundtable water group.
The first phase of a study undertaken by the four Western Slope river basin roundtables, with the leadership of the river district and Southwestern Water Conservation District, found that another severe drought such as the one in the early 2000s could cause enough of a drop in Lake Powell to jeopardize Glen Canyon Dam’s ability to generate electricity. It also could create a risk of Colorado and other Upper Colorado River Basin states being unable to meet their downstream water delivery obligations under a 1922 interstate compact and under guidelines established in 2007. That could result in a cutback in Upper Basin water uses.
The Western Slope is now planning a second phase of the study that would cost about $90,000. The goal is to further quantify the drought risks to water users in the state by looking at use-reduction scenarios for making up for a deficit of water in Powell.
Four Western Slope roundtables are asking the Colorado Water Conservation Board for $10,000 apiece, or $40,000 total, for the study’s second phase, with the river district and Southwest district splitting the difference. But Jim Lochhead, chief executive officer and manager of Denver Water and president of the Front Range Water Council utilities group, has written a letter arguing that such a study would be best conducted at a statewide or Upper Colorado River Basin level, “with all interested water users represented, rather than by particular sub regions or individual roundtables.”
Some of the proposed involuntary water-use curtailment alternatives in the study’s second phase “potentially favor limited special interests,” Lochhead wrote, stressing the need instead for a state-led discussion that considers all interests.
He also voiced the council’s concern that assumptions used in phase one “may be creating biased impressions regarding the amount of the remaining developable water” in the Colorado River Basin, and that phase one may be viewed by some outside the state “as representative of the State of Colorado’s position on remaining developable water.”
How much of that water remains to be developed is a sensitive issue for the Western Slope, where most of Colorado’s water originates, and for the Front Range, which diverts a substantial amount of Colorado River water and wants to divert more.
Kuhn says the study is simply intended to contribute toward developing a collaborative program for avoiding Colorado River compact problems for existing uses and some reasonable amount of new uses on the Western Slope. Collaboration aimed at heading off such curtailments on use due to interstate obligations was identified in the new state water plan as one of seven principles for guiding any discussions of new transmountain diversions out of the river basin.
The CWCB’s director, James Eklund, has agreed to head up meetings aimed at resolving Front Range concerns about the study and its funding. Kuhn said he sees the result being that the state has a bigger say in the study’s scope of work, not that it takes over the study altogether.
The old ecological and political order is crumbling. When calculations are complete, 2016 will be the hottest year on record, surpassing a mark set one year ago. The oceans are rising at an increasing rate. In the American West, it is too warm and dry this month for snow, delaying the accumulation of a natural water reserve that cities, farms, and fisheries rely on during the summer. Politics are no less turbulent. After the U.S. election, domestic regulations affecting energy development, infrastructure spending, and water supplies are in flux. Allies in the struggle to slow global carbon pollution ponder America’s commitment to the Paris Agreement, which went into effect earlier this month.
To navigate the peril, managers need to understand the concept of “deep uncertainty,” argues Robert Lempert, the president of the Society for Decision Making Under Deep Uncertainty, whose mission is to help leaders make better decisions for water, energy, and food systems in a time of rapid environmental and social change.
Uncertainty implies that managers know the potential outcomes of their actions and the probability that they occur. Think of flipping a coin. The result of any particular toss is unknown — but the potential outcomes and the probabilities are not. Fifty percent chance of heads, fifty percent chance of tails.
Formed last December after three years of workshops, the society holds its first official conference on November 16 and 17 in Washington, D.C.
Deep uncertainty acknowledges a dynamic system where inputs — such as rainfall or economic growth or regulations — are changing or unknown. Water utility plans, for instance. These documents often look decades ahead. Actions today — building a desalination plant or increasing the size of a reservoir — will resonate for a generation or more. The deep uncertainty method is about planning for multiple possible futures and finding comfort in complex decisions that may need to be revised.
“Even today, particularly consequential things can surprise you,” Lempert told Circle of Blue the day after Donald Trump was elected U.S. president.
Whatever the Future May Hold
Denver Water is one of the utilities that uses deep uncertainty tools in its planning. Laurna Kaatz, a climate scientist and Denver Water’s adaptation program manager, helped form the society and is one of its “practitioners” — those who make decisions at public agencies.
About one-third of society members are utility planners or managers, like Kaatz. The others are academics or they have a foot in both worlds. Their professional backgrounds are diverse: energy utilities, insurance groups, economists, computer modeling whizzes. The founding organizations include the World Bank, RAND Corporation, and TU Delft, a university in the Netherlands. Both Kaatz and Lempert, who is a scientist at the RAND Corporation, a research group that often advises the U.S. government, said the rainbow of expertise is fertile ground for new ideas. The group’s name springs from a talk by the Nobel Prize-winning economist Kenneth Arrow, Lempert said.
The society’s main objective is to develop tools for better decisions, especially for water. The old water planning model, Kaatz explained, was retrospective. It looked backward at demand and extended that line forward. Many utilities soon found that they had wildly overestimated. On a graph, these projections look like a porcupine: forecasted demand lines pointing sharply upward, like the quills, while actual demand is flat or slopes downward along the spine.
In the past utilities simply built bigger canals and larger reservoirs to buffer against drought. Now those options are rarely the first choice. They are costly and there is not enough water. “We need to be more clever,” Lempert says.
The deep uncertainty analysis unfurls in stages. First, a utility outlines a water supply plan. That plan is put to a stress test by running it through computer model simulations with various assumptions for rainfall, temperature, population growth, regulatory changes, and more. The simulations help identify the conditions under which the plan does not meet water supply targets. What if a there is a drought more severe than the worst on record? What if the economy tanks? How do urban development patterns influence demand? These simulations lead to scenarios, which describe potential future conditions. The UN climate panel does this for carbon emissions. Military leaders do this to test their response to conflict.
“We want to be prepared for the future as best as possible, whatever that future is,” Kaatz said. Scenario planning allows utilities to ask questions that, in the past, would have been viewed as unusual for a utility to consider. For Denver Water this is a series of social values questions. How will the relationship to water change? Will residents not want lawns? Will they demand more density and thus required less outdoor water?
Based on its deep uncertainty analysis, Denver Water is investigating storing water in aquifers for later recovery, Kaatz said. The utility had not considered this option before the analysis.
Lempert says that the deep uncertainty methods are not yet widespread among water utilities, but the ideas are gaining ground. He has worked with a diverse group: on Louisiana’s coastal restoration plan; on sea-level rise and saltwater intrusion with South Florida utilities; and on water supply plans for Southern California utilities.
Denver Water had its wakeup call in 2002 when a severe wildfire charred nearly 80,000 acres of forest above Cheesman reservoir, owned by the utility. The severity of the burn was the worst in seven centuries, according to a U.S. Forest Service assessment. When the rains returned, ash and debris were flushed into the city’s raw water supply. Denver Water spent $US 27 million to dredge two reservoirs and restore the watershed.
“We didn’t anticipate a drought and forest fire that bad,” Kaatz recalled. “It caused us to step back and say, ‘Let’s look into different approaches.’”
Given Denver’s experience, Kaatz wonders what leads utilities down a new path, whether calamity and crisis are necessary for managers to take action. A topic of conversation this week at the conference, no doubt.
Denver Water utility officials will ask city water commissioners on [November 16, 2016] to increase rates enough to raise an additional $7 million for a proposed 2017 annual budget of $431.6 million — up 12 percent from the current budget.
The $7 million from higher bills for Denver Water’s 1.4 million customers would fund projects such as modernizing water-cleaning plants, replacing aging pipes and making sure underground water storage tanks don’t leak.
“Denver Water needs to be able to continue to collect, treat and deliver safe, reliable water to our customers,” utility spokeswoman Stacy Chesney said. Higher rates “will allow us to continue improving our water system while ensuring essential water use remains affordable for our customers.”
The water commissioners are scheduled to vote on the rate hikes Dec. 14. The higher rates would kick in around April 2017.
Total water use by Denver Water customers, including factories and businesses, has decreased by 20 percent since 2001 despite a 15 percent increase in the number of customers, according to utility data.
This week, Denver Water officials said they have re-calculated residential water use and determined that their customers use about 90 gallons a day per person. Denver residents used about 120 gallons per person in 2001. Denver has emerged as a leader among western cities pushing conservation to avoid running dry amid a regional boom in population growth and development.
“Water conservation has been a cost-effective way to extend our supplies,” Chesney said. “Customers are using less water, but our population is growing. Our rate structure is aimed at balancing conservation, affordability and revenue stability.”
How much Denver residents pay still will depend on the amount of water they use and whether they receive water directly from Denver Water pipelines or from contracted suburban water distributors.
Next year, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is expected to decide whether to issue a permit to triple the capacity of Gross Reservoir in the Rocky Mountain foothills, with additional shipments of about 18,000 acre feet of water a year from the Colorado River watershed. An acre foot is enough water to meet the annual needs of an average family of five.
That is one of the last regulatory barriers for utility Denver Water’s $380 million project, for which district officials say they hope to break ground in 2019 to help ensure local water supplies.
“We have an obligation to supply water,” said Jeff Martin, Denver Water’s manager of the project, as he stood recently atop a 340-foot concrete dam that is to be raised by 131 feet under the plan. “It’s not an option to not have water.”
The Corps of Engineers is expected to decide next year on a proposed new “Windy Gap” project in Colorado, which would divert up to another 30,000 acre feet a year to the Front Range, the heavily populated area where the Rocky Mountains rise up from the plains.
In addition, more than 200,000 acre feet would be diverted for proposed projects in Utah and Wyoming…
Water officials in California and other lower basin states say they aren’t overly concerned about more diversions upstream, because a 1922 compact requires the upper basin states to deliver them about 7.5 million acre feet a year, or one half the river flow set aside for human use north of the U.S.-Mexico border. Much of that water is stockpiled in Lake Powell on the Arizona-Utah border.
With the Colorado running much lower than when the compact was signed, water experts say there is less water to divert.
“So long as their development doesn’t impinge on their release to us, that is their business,” said Chuck Cullom, a program manager at the Central Arizona Project in Phoenix, which pulls from the river and stands to lose a fifth of its deliveries if a shortage is declared on the Colorado. “If it falls below that, then they would have to figure out how to manage their demand.”
Don Ostler, executive director of the Upper Colorado River Commission, which oversees use of the river in the upper basin states of Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and New Mexico, agreed that new diversions increase the risk of shortages.
“The more you develop, the more a severe drought can affect you,” said Mr. Ostler. “But we are able to live with a certain amount of shortage.”
In Denver, water officials don’t feel they have much choice but to seek more Colorado water.
In 2002, tons of sediment from a forest fire clogged one of Denver Water’s reservoirs during a drought. “We came close to running out of water in the northern end of our system,” said Jim Lochhead, chief executive officer of Denver Water, a utility that serves 1.4 million people.
That crisis helped prompt the district in 2003 to undertake the Gross Reservoir expansion, which would store more water from an existing tunnel that transfers Colorado River water from the west side of the Continental Divide.
Denver officials pledged to only take the water in wet years and release more into streams when it is dry—measures that drew praise from some conservationists…
Gov. John Hickenlooper in July gave the state’s approval, calling the dam’s expansion vital. “The state’s responsibility is to ensure we do the right thing for Colorado’s future,” the Democratic governor said at the time, “and this project is vital infrastructure for our economy and the environment.”
Chatfield was built for flood control by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, after the 1965 South Platte River flood. During drought, Chatfield water can be pumped to our Marston treatment plant to supplement drinking water supplies. Only water from Denver Water is currently stored behind the dam, even though the dam is federally owned. Colorado State Parks leases the land and oversees park operations.
Chatfield is used for water exchanges to trade downstream users with rights to the water, which allows Denver Water to keep water in the mountain locations of our reservoir system.
Chatfield provides recreational benefits beyond the obvious. In addition to preserving levels for recreation, we use the reservoir to capture water released from Strontia Springs Reservoir. These flows keep the river at optimum levels to support Waterton Canyon’s trout fishery.
Chatfield is about to take on even more responsibility. The Chatfield Storage Reallocation Project will increase water levels by about 12 feet. But this won’t be Denver’s water. Instead, it will help meet demands for growing Front Range communities and downstream farmers. Denver Water will still maintain its original storage pool in the reservoir. The Chatfield Reservoir Mitigation Company also is working with state agencies to develop a plan for a storage “pool” within the reservoir for the environment.
Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:
Summer’s heat is off, and so are sprinklers — if you want to prevent costly damage when the first freeze falls. Winterize your irrigation system, hoses and spigots now by clearing them of any water.
Since Colorado winters can also bring periods of tepid temperatures and dry skies, trees and shrubs may still need watering. If you must water, do so the efficient way: by hand, applying water only where it’s needed.
Here are other ways to get your yard ready to weather the winter:
Mow. Late-season mowing helps reduce the risk of mold and other diseases. Try to get in one last cut before the next snow flies.
Mulch. With one easy step, you can both “rake” and bag while benefiting your yard. Just keep the bag off your mower and mulch the leaves into the grass.
Make plans. Start prepping next year’s garden. Consider saving water the tasty, health-conscious way by growing vegetables instead of grass. If you need inspiration, check out this customer’s veggie box haven.
You’ll reap the benefits of your prep work when the next growing season springs. (In the meantime, know that we’re employing some forward thinking on customers’ behalf.)
GLENWOOD SPRINGS – The city of Glenwood Springs is making progress toward securing a recreational water right for three potential whitewater parks on the Colorado River, but it has yet to come to terms with Aurora, Colorado Springs and the Colorado Water Conservation Board.
In kayaking terms, it could be said the city has greased close to a dozen Class II and III rapids so far since it started its run through water court in 2013. And it’s recently made it cleanly through a Class IV hole called “Denver Water.” But it is now facing two gnarly Class V rapids called “Homestake” and “CWCB.”
Aurora and Colorado Springs are co-owners of the Homestake Project, which includes a reservoir on Homestake Creek in the upper Eagle River basin that holds 43,300 acre-feet of water.
The water is stored and then shipped through the Homestake Tunnel to Turquoise Reservoir and on to the two Front Range cities, which also hold conditional water rights in the Homestake Project that could allow for development of more water.
The two cities, acting jointly as Homestake Partners, have told the water court and the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) that Glenwood Springs is claiming more water than it needs for a valid recreational experience.
And they say Glenwood Springs’ proposed water right for the parks would prevent the additional development of more water-supply projects in the upper Colorado River basin within Colorado.
“Glenwood’s proposed RICD [recreational in-channel diversion] would unilaterally foreclose development in the Colorado River basin above Glenwood, affecting users both in the basin and on the Front Range,” Aurora and Colorado Springs told the water court in June 2015. “This will result in further ‘buy and dry’ of agricultural water rights, and could in addition motivate West Slope users to make trans-basin diversions from other river basins, such as the Yampa and Gunnison.”
Glenwood Springs has filed for a single water right tied to “three proposed boating parks” to be known as the No Name, Horseshoe Bend and Two Rivers whitewater parks. Each park would include two wave-producing structures.
The whitewater parks would be able to call for between 1,250 cubic feet per second of water from April 1 to Sept. 30, for 2,500 cfs between June 8 and July 23, and for 4,000 cfs for five days between June 30 and July 6.
The ability for Glenwood to call for 1,250 cfs doesn’t seem to be much of an issue in the case, as that’s the same amount of water that the Shoshone hydropower plant upstream of the proposed whitewater parks has been calling downriver since 1902.
But flows of 2,500 and 4,000 cfs are apparently a different matter.
“We see nothing substantiating that there is any demand for water-based recreational experiences beyond those that are already available in view of the current stream regimen,” wrote attorneys for Homestake in 2014.
Yet the city has so far managed to file signed stipulations in water court with Denver Water, Ute Water Conservancy District, Orchard Mesa Irrigation District, Grand Valley Water Users Association, Ute Water Conservancy District, Glenwood Hot Springs Lodge and Pool, Bureau of Land Management and Colorado Dept. of Transportation.
The most recent of those agreements approved in Div. 5 water court in Glenwood Springs was with CDOT on July 25 and with Denver Water on May 31.
The agreement with Denver Water includes a provision where Glenwood Springs will not oppose a future, and as yet undefined, project to develop an additional 20,000 acre-feet of diversions from the West Slope, as contemplated in the 2013 Colorado River Cooperative Agreement, or CRCA, which Glenwood Springs signed.
“We’ve just agreed that we’re not going to have our water right impede that project once it’s defined and agreed to by the signatories of the CRCA,” said Mark Hamilton of Holland and Hart, the attorney representing Glenwood Springs in the case (2013CW3109).
Glenwood Springs has also reached conceptual agreements with the Colorado River District, West Divide Water Conservancy District and the town of Gypsum, but has yet to file signed stipulation agreements with the court.
Also in the case, but in support of Glenwood Springs’ application, are American Whitewater, Western Resource Advocates, and Grand County.
“We’ve made a really diligent specific effort to address a whole variety of concerns from a whole bunch of different people,” Hamilton said. “We’re making every effort to get there, but until Homestake and CWCB come to rest, we can’t assure anybody we still don’t need to have some kind of hearing in front of Judge Boyd.”
Judge James Boyd oversees water court proceedings in Div. 5 water court. The city’s application is still before the water court referee, who works with opposing parties to see if settlements can be reached before referring the case to the judge.
The referee has given the parties at least until Oct. 27 to see if agreements can be reached, but extensions of time are not usually hard to obtain.
Hamilton is set to meet on Sept. 8 with representatives from Aurora and Colorado Springs in another effort to reach an agreement. It will be the fourth such meeting since February.
Joe Stibrich, the water resources policy manager for Aurora Water and a member of the board of the Homestake Steering Committee, said last week he couldn’t discuss the ongoing settlement negotiations, but did say Aurora and Homestake Partners were working in good faith.
He also said, however, that the concerns already articulated by the two cities to the court and CWCB are still outstanding.
Carving out the MOU
Aurora and Colorado Springs are both parties to the Eagle River Memorandum of Understanding, which is tied to the Homestake Reservoir and Tunnel.
The 1998 agreement allows for a new water supply project in the upper Eagle River basin that would provide 10,000 acre-feet of water for a variety of West Slope entities and 20,000 acre-feet for Aurora and Colorado Springs.
Such a project is now being actively studied, and may include a new dam on lower Homestake Creek that would flood complex wetlands.
Hamilton put a clause in the draft water rights decree that Glenwood Springs “shall not use the RICD water rights as a basis to oppose” projects described in the Eagle River MOU.
“That’s something that we offered up without even having a settlement agreement with them,” Hamilton said. “It was my initial shot at trying to draft a ruling that I though would address their concerns. And so I would envision that any additional settlement terms would be laid on top of what we’ve already put in there.”
There is likely more than the Eagle River MOU of interest to Aurora and Colorado Springs.
In 2012, the two cities told the BLM and USFS, in comment letters regarding potential Wild and Scenic designation on a section of the Colorado River, that “as much as 86,400 acre feet of water supplies may be developed by completion of the Homestake Project” and that “Aurora and Colorado Springs plan to develop the remaining portions of Homestake Project.”
Even if an agreement can be worked out with Aurora and Colorado Springs, Glenwood Springs will still need to come to terms with the Colorado Water Conservation Board, which recommended in June 2015 that the water court deny the city’s RICD filing.
The CWCB is charged by the state legislature with reviewing proposed RICDs and then making a recommendation to the water court.
When it came to Glenwood’s filing, the CWCB board of directors concluded in an 8-to-1 vote that it would “impair Colorado’s ability to fully develop its compact entitlements” and would not promote “the maximum beneficial use of water” in the state.
The state agency also directed its staff to oppose Glenwood’s filing in water court.
It’s not clear at this point how Judge Boyd might handle the recommendation-to-deny from the CWCB, or if Glenwood Springs might be able to get the CWCB to change its stance opposing the proposed water right.
“If we reach settlements with Homestake it’s possible that the CWCB would then reconsider and change its recommendations,” Hamilton said.
When it comes to reaching terms with Aurora and Colorado Springs, Hamilton said he remains “optimistic.”
“There is diligent ongoing discussion on all sides and good faith efforts being made,” he said. “And if it fails, it fails, and we’ll go to Judge Boyd and start setting deadlines and dealing with things more formally. But I think everybody is giving it a fair shot and seeing if we can get there shy of that.”
Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism and the Aspen Daily News are collaborating on coverage of rivers and water. The Daily News published this story on Monday, Sept. 5, 2016.