Colorado Water Stories – Learning from our past, reimagining our future
Friday, April 19th
7:30 am to 5:30 pm
Mount Vernon Canyon Club
24933 Club House Circle
Golden, CO 80401
Come join us for an informative day of Colorado water stories and discussions. Speakers will include:
Amy Beatie (Deputy Attorney General for Natural Resources and the Environment)
Becky Mitchell (Director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board)
Interactive presentation on conflict resolution by Todd Bryan
Stories from retired State and Division Engineers, moderated by KUNC reporter Luke Runyon
This year’s conference will cover a range of topics from both a technical and policy perspective, including a deep-drill into ASR, geophysical applications, and how Coloradans are reimagining the river. The day will end with happy hour and a silent auction to benefit the AWRA Colorado and CGWA scholarship programs.
From the Water Education Foundation (Gary Pitzer):
Western Water Q&A: Jayne Harkins’ duties include collaboration with Mexico on Colorado River supply, water quality issues
For the bulk of her career, Jayne Harkins has devoted her energy to issues associated with the management of the Colorado River, both with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and with the Colorado River Commission of Nevada.
Now her career is taking a different direction. Harkins, 58, was appointed by President Trump last August to take the helm of the United States section of the U.S.-Mexico agency that oversees myriad water matters between the two countries as they seek to sustainably manage the supply and water quality of the Colorado River, including its once-thriving Delta in Mexico, and other rivers the two countries share. She is the first woman to be named the U.S. Commissioner of the International Boundary and Water Commission for either the United States or Mexico in the commission’s 129-year history.
The IBWC, whose jurisdiction covers the 1,954 miles of border from San Diego to the Gulf of Mexico, is responsible for applying the boundary and
he United States and Mexico, and settling differences that may arise in their application.
The IBWC is recognizable to many people as the implementing body for the additions to the 1944 U.S.-Mexican Water Treaty on the Colorado, Rio Grande and Tijuana rivers known as Minutes. In 2017, the latest addendum, Minute 323, built on previous agreements that specified reductions in water deliveries to Mexico off the Colorado River during a shortage and allowed Mexico to store water in Lake Mead, the nation’s largest reservoir which sits near Las Vegas.
There are other issues, as well. Transborder pollution – from the New River spilling into the Salton Sea and from the Tijuana River fouling San Diego County beaches – is on her radar. Last year, the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board sued the U.S. section of the IBWC, claiming it is violating the Clean Water Act by not monitoring or stopping the untreated waste flowing to the Pacific Ocean from the Tijuana River that has caused beach closures in San Diego County.
Harkins, who lives in El Paso, Texas, spoke recently to Western Water about her new mission, transborder pollution and addressing Colorado River shortages with Mexico. The transcript has been lightly edited for space.
You are the first woman to be selected as IBWC commissioner. Do you see that as a significant accomplishment?
Yeah, I do. It is [significant] but I wish it weren’t. It should have happened a long time ago from my perspective. For me, you just plow on and get work done.
What is the significance of the IBWC and how its mission affects the various stakeholders?
We started as the International Boundary Commission and, of course, that is more straightforward. They work to demarcate the boundary, [and] maintain our boundary monuments.
In 1944, of course, we got the treaty with Mexico that went beyond boundary stuff. That is what distributed waters between the United States and Mexico on the Colorado River. A part of that treaty authorized the joint construction and operation of international storage dams on the Rio Grande, and there is some discussion on a preferential solution to the issue of border sanitation problems.
I think a lot of what IBWC can do in both the U.S. and Mexico is bring all the stakeholders together into binational meetings to talk about the data we have, what are we lacking and then try to resolve issues.
What are your priorities as commissioner?
My priority is border sanitation. We have a number of areas with border sanitation issues and that’s one to try and figure out and see what we can do. Also, we have our treaty water deliveries and water quantity and quality responsibilities, depending on what the minutes require. We have those pieces that we need to make sure get done. We have got infrastructure issues on some of our dams and we just need to be operating and maintaining older infrastructure and make sure we are repairing and replacing as needed.
What is the IBWC’s role in water quality issues?
We are coordinating with others because there are some things that we can’t do that others can, and so we are trying to bring a coordinated effort among the federal U.S. entities. With Mexico, it’s what are the appropriate entities, federal and state, that they have to have. Each one of these is a local issue and we’ve got to bring in the local stakeholders because they have an interest as well. Some solutions may include infrastructure on both sides of the border. A number of studies regarding infrastructure improvements have been completed or are underway. We are working with local, state and federal agencies, as well as Mexico, to address the Tijuana River sanitation issue in a cooperative manner.
This has been ongoing for a long time. As I looked at it, I’m like, “Are things better than they were?” If you look at the data, even New River stuff [the New River flows from Mexico into California’s Imperial Valley and toward the Salton Sea], it’s much better than it was 20 years ago. If you look at the numbers overall, it’s not good enough. It’s not like the discharges meet U.S. standards and that’s what people in the U.S. are looking for. We are trying to help be a convener of folks to make sure we know what the data looks like, to make sure we know fact from fiction and bring people together who can perhaps bring some money to this and work with Mexico to see who can do what parts.
The water quality issues on the Colorado River are outlined in Minute 242 as related to salinity requirements. Minute 323 established a Salinity Work Group to minimize the impact of Minute 323 activities on salinity and to undertake cooperative actions like modernizing salinity monitoring equipment.
How is the IBWC involved with drought planning efforts?
We are not specifically engaged in the Lower Basin Drought Contingency Plan, but we are very interested in it and monitoring it and checking in with folks about what’s going on. Mexico is very interested because they have agreed to sharing shortages when the Lower Basin is in shortage. If there is a Lower Basin Drought Contingency Plan, Mexico has their Binational Water Scarcity Plan and they would take some additional reductions. So from the standpoint as to how we implement Minute 323 and what we need to do with sharing information with Mexico, that’s our part of the involvement.
The Binational Water Scarcity Contingency Plan is essentially how the DCP would be applied to Mexico.
What’s the status of Minute 323 implementation?
There are a number of conservation projects in Mexico that are wrapping up. We are involved in the verification that they got constructed. We will work with Mexico on the quantity of water that’s being conserved. As construction gets done, those projects are funded by some of the U.S. stakeholders, and we move that money over to Mexico so they can pay the contractors.
A recent report provided findings of the 2014 pulse flow of more than 100,000 acre-feet of water into the riparian corridor of the Colorado River Delta implemented under Minute 319. How will that inform future efforts?
We learned many things about water delivery methods, infiltration, irrigation techniques and groundwater – information that will guide our Minute 323 environmental work. This report provides solid scientific information about our restoration efforts. The findings will help us apply environmental water more effectively in the future.
From the Eagle River Watershed Council (Lizzie Schoder) via The Vail Daily:
In low snow years like last year, the effects to our community can be felt immediately from the loss of revenue from ski tourism to low flows in our rivers in the following hot summer months leading to voluntary fishing closures and a lackluster whitewater season. Our angling, boating, recreation, wildlife and aquatic communities all feel the impact. While it seems Ullr has different plans this year, as we are in the midst of back-to-back storm cycles refreshing our snowpack and currently putting us at about 136 percent of normal, we aren’t nearly in the clear of the drought in the Colorado River Basin, or its long-term companion, aridification.
Research shows earlier runoff timing, higher ambient air temperatures, the dust-on-snow effect, and lower flows aren’t just periodic concerns, but more a representation of our new normal. The Eagle River and its tributaries support a wide array of uses inextricably tied to the wellbeing of our local economies and our high quality of life, not limited to: drinking water, agriculture, boating, angling, wildlife and biodiversity, aesthetics, lawns and gardens, snowmaking, and industry and power production. The effects of climate change, coupled with increasing demand from our ever-growing population, and the likelihood of future water storage projects, underline the need to plan for our community’s water future.
The Eagle River Watershed Council — with the help of its many community partners and stakeholders — has undertaken an exciting initiative to be on the forefront of water management planning and engage the community through the Eagle River Community Water Plan. While the council has undertaken successful planning and assessment initiatives in the past, including the Eagle River Watershed Plan and the Colorado River Inventory & Assessment, these completed plans have largely focused on water quality issues in our watershed. The Community Water Plan will place a greater focus on future water quantity issues and will address increasing demand shortage scenarios.
What is a community water plan?
Colorado’s Water Plan, adopted by the state in 2015, set a goal of communities implementing community water plans, also known as stream management plans, on 80 percent of Colorado’s locally prioritized streams by the year 2030. The plan seeks to identify the desired environmental and recreational flows in our watershed and will provide the opportunity to safeguard the environmental, recreational, agricultural, tourism, and municipal uses of the river. In other words, the plan will allow for the protection of river health as well as the other uses of water the community values.
Focusing on the entire length of the Eagle River, from its headwaters on Tennessee Pass to the confluence with the Colorado River in Dotsero, the plan will consider past, present, and future human and river health values to identify opportunities to correct historical degradation and mitigate against non-desirable future conditions due to stressors such as climate change and population growth.
The plan’s diverse stakeholder group includes: local governments, fishing and rafting guide companies, the Eagle County Conservation District, the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments, American Rivers, the National Forest Foundation, the US Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the Colorado Division of Water Resources, and the Eagle River MOU partners, including Climax Molybdenum Company, Vail Resorts, the Colorado River District, the Eagle River Water & Sanitation District, the Upper Eagle Regional Water Authority, and the partners in Homestake Reservoir (the cities of Colorado Springs and Aurora).
The plan will culminate in a set of recommendations for projects, policies or management actions that can be used to mitigate stressors and encourage land and water management actions that promote ecosystem health.
The stakeholder group is committed to striving for equitable outcomes through engaging and listening to a broad range of community members. Community meetings will be held throughout the planning process to provide an opportunity for the community to engage in the process. Although the first round of community meetings were held in late February with presentations about the plan and current river conditions, the opportunity to submit formal input through online surveys still exists.
To have a truly representative Community Water Plan, members of the community are encouraged to complete these surveys that inquire about how the community uses the river, and which degraded segments of and threats to the river are most concerning. A recording of the presentations, surveys (in English and Spanish) and more information are available online at http://www.erwc.org. The Watershed Council and its partners encourage the community to make their voice heard in this important planning process and to stay tuned for future community meetings planned for this summer.
Eagle River Watershed Council has a mission to advocate for the health and conservation of the Upper Colorado and Eagle River basins through research, education, and projects. To learn more, call (970) 827-5406 or visit http://www.erwc.org.
It’s important to pick metaphors carefully. Writers try to explain complex subjects in few words and in ways everyone can understand. Metaphors — words or phrases that imply that one thing can symbolically represent another — become one way to accomplish that task. This thought crossed my mind when I attended the 6th Annual Poudre River Forum on Feb. 1. (See http://prti.colostate.edu/forum_2019.shtml)
Trying to sort out what allows a river to serve human needs while still providing the ecological services that keeps the world over which it flows alive is about as complex a problem as one can imagine. So, I picked my article title carefully. Rivers do not deliver water like a concrete ditch. Instead, like the arteries and veins of a living organism, they convey not only water, but also oxygen, nutrients and host of microbial servants to needed destinations in the biosphere. As we use a river’s resources for human needs, we should take her pulse regularly to ensure the health of the greater body she nourishes.
After attending the forum last year, I wrote a four-month series in the “North Forty News” that ran from March to June 2018. Please refer to that for background information on some of the basic issues of Poudre River ecology and management. This year I would like to focus on some of the people who make the forum work, and the process of talking TO each other rather than AT each other. That process was largely established under the leadership of MaryLou Smith, policy and collaboration specialist with the Colorado Water Center at Colorado State University. Since she will retire after this year, someone else must replace her leadership — and her optimism.
John Stokes, head of the Natural Areas Department of the city of Fort Collins, made a special point of highlighting Smith’s optimism. It’s easy to get pessimistic about complex problems with no simple solutions, but Smith manages to stay upbeat. She says she has “devoted her career to encouraging an open dialogue between people.” That was exemplified in 2011 when the concept for the Forum first developed.
In 2011, Ray Caraway, chief executive officer of Community Foundations of Northern Colorado, invited Smith to host a community forum discussing issues relating to NISP — the Northern Integrated Supply Project (https://www.northernwater.org/sf/nisp/home) — a collection of communities along the Front Range intending to build Glade Reservoir northwest of Fort Collins. Opposed by Friends of the Poudre and other conservation groups, Smith felt that a conference built solely around NISP would tend to create more polarization. She proposed the Poudre River Forum instead, with the intent of bringing together a wide swath of people from agriculture, urban planning, recreation, conservation and business — all with a stake in maintaining “a healthy working river.”
This year, approximately 360 people met to have that discussion — roughly, a 17 percent increase over last year. Smith said she was gratified that discussions at the various tables seemed earnest and forthright. They listened to water commissioners, city managers, water lawyers, engineers, ecologists, farmers, conservationists, land developers, and others. The keynote speaker, Professor Edward B. Barbier, from the Department of Economics at Colorado State University, tackled the growing problem of water scarcity. (Yale University Press will release his new book about this problem, “Water Paradox,” in February.)
Another Colorado State researcher, Brad Udall (not in attendance at this conference), highlighted this problem in a 2017 study published in “Water Resources Research.” Colorado River flows in the 21st century are 19 percent lower than those in the 20th. Predicted flows could drop by up to 55 percent by 2100 as a consequence of global warming. (See “Re-engineering the Colorado River” in the February issue of Scientific American.) We can expect similar reduced flows in the Poudre River.
Ecologist Dr. LeRoy Poff from Colorado State said, “We need to face up to the ecological damage our pioneering spirit has caused to the Poudre River.” To do that requires gathering the data necessary to understand just what makes a river healthy. In an online report (https://natsci.source.colostate.edu/sustainable-dams-possible-csu-expert-weighs/) he said, “As a researcher, I am concerned about biodiversity conservation, and about sustaining rivers at a level of functional integrity that enables them to provide both biodiversity support as well as ecosystem goods and services.”
Here’s the release from the Colorado River District (Andy Mueller):
Please join us for a free, educational webinar hosted by the Colorado River District and the Center for Snow and Avalanche Studies on Tuesday, April 2nd, from 12:00 to 1:00pm.
“Know Your Snow” will provide important updates on current snowpack conditions, ongoing drought in the Colorado River Basin, threats posed to our water supply by dust on snow, and an overview of changing runoff trends important to water users on Colorado’s Western Slope.
The institute, an affiliate of Colorado State University, should study various use cases of blockchain tech, including water rights database management, the establishment of water “banks” or markets, and general administration, according to the bill.
The study would be carried out only after the institute has received enough money, and would be allowed to solicit and accept donations from private or public institutions for the purpose. The findings should later be reported to the general assembly, the lawmakers said.
The Colorado Water Institute has the mission to “connect all of Colorado’s higher education expertise to the research and education needs of Colorado water managers and users.”
Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:
WATER COURSE MATERIALS POSTED
Presentation slides and some streaming links for the Hutchins Water Center’s recent 3-evening Water Course are now posted here. Topics included CO Water Law, Impacts of Drought & Aridification, and Drought Contingency Planning, and we had a stellar slate of speakers.