Registration is open for the 2019 Governor’s Ag Forum

Photo credit: Allen Best

Click here for all the inside skinny:

Registration Includes:

  • Pre-Forum Reception at Governor’s Mansion
  • Continental Breakfast
  • Breaks (light snacks and beverages)
  • Lunch
  • Access to presentations
  • Forum Directory
  • Discounted Hotel Room
  • Questions? Contact us: info@governorsagforum.com

    Meeker: Water Expo and White River Conservation District Annual Meeting, January 17, 2019

    The White River, in the vicinity of the proposed Wolf Creek Reservoir. Photo by Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism.

    Click here to go to the website to RSVP and read the agenda.

    From the White River Water Conservation District via The Craig Daily Press:

    The public is invited to attend the Water Expo and White River Conservation District Annual Meeting to hear and engage in discussions with speakers about the Colorado River Water Compact, Prior Appropriations Doctrine, Demand Management, Protecting your Water Rights, and Integrated Water Management Plans.

    The Expo is set for Thursday, Jan. 17, in Meeker and is hosted by the White River Conservation District, Colorado Ag Water Alliance, and Rio Blanco Water Conservancy District

    Speakers include Colorado River District General Manager Andy Mueller, Colorado Water Conservation Board’s Interstate, Federal, and Water Information Section Chief Brent Newman, Division 5 Water Referee Susan Ryan, and several water rights attorneys, who will discuss these topics with Rio Blanco citizens.

    See the full agenda at the White River and Douglas Creek Conservation Districts’ website, http://whiterivercd.com. Registration is at 9:30 a.m., and the expo is expected to wrap up by 4 p.m. Lunch will be provided by the Colorado Ag Water Alliance with an RSVP.

    To RSVP or for more information, contact the Conservation District Office at 970-878-9838 or whiterivercd@gmail.com.

    After a year of water challenges, will this be the year for a solution? — Hannah Holm #snowpack #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map January 12, 2019 via the NRCS.

    From the Hutchins Water Center (Hannah Holm) via The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel:

    Last year was a bad water year in Colorado and the Colorado River Basin. A record-low snowpack on the Grand Mesa and the rest of our high country was followed by low streamflows, stressed fish, and thin hay harvests. The Grand Valley was spared the worst, thanks to senior water rights and upstream reservoir storage, but the city of Grand Junction got nervous enough to impose outdoor watering restrictions for the first time. In the Colorado River Basin, the combined storage in all Colorado River Basin reservoirs dropped to 47 percent of capacity last year. Runoff into Lake Powell was only 43 percent of average.

    In 2018, we also heard scientists saying that we weren’t just experiencing a drought, but a long-term process of aridification. With drought, you can expect that better days lie ahead. With aridification, not so much.

    Water leaders in the states that share the Colorado River seemed to be coming to terms with its limits, as draft “drought contingency plan” (DCP) documents were circulated. The draft DCP sets out a plan for water delivery cuts in the lower basin states of Arizona, California and Nevada and the authorization for a special pool in Lake Powell to save voluntarily conserved water from the upper basin states of Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and New Mexico. This pool would help keep lake levels high enough to generate hydropower and ensure that the upper basin states stay in compliance with downstream delivery obligations.

    Approval of the plan got hung up in Arizona, however, which faces the twin challenges of having to take the only immediate, severe cuts under the plan and the need to get approval from its state legislature. This led the Commissioner of Reclamation to issue a stern warning that if all the Colorado River Basin states don’t approve the DCP by Jan. 31, she will initiate federal action to make the delivery cuts necessary to keep reservoir levels from crashing. So, 2018 wasn’t exactly a banner year for water decision-making, any more than it was for snow.

    How is 2019 looking? Hydrologically much better, although not quite better enough to rid the region of drought. Locally, we have a normal amount of snow on the Grand Mesa. The mainstem Colorado River Basin in Colorado, on which most Grand Valley agriculture depends, is even a hair above average for this time of year. The Gunnison Basin is at about 96 percent. The southwestern Colorado river basins have about three times the water in their snowpack that they did at this time last year, but it’s still only 78 percent of average. Long-range forecasts show continued drought, and spring runoff into Lake Powell is forecast to be just 66 percent of average. There’s a lot of dry soil out there to soak up snowmelt before it can reach rivers and streams.

    In terms of water decision-making, it’s way too early to make any judgments on how 2019 will stack up. We don’t yet know if stemming overuse in the lower basin will be done collaboratively or only through top-down federal action.

    Closer to home, our decent snowpack is giving us time to carefully and deliberately make the kinds of water decisions that can help our communities stay ahead of crisis. Promising work is underway on many fronts.

    The Colorado Water Conservation Board will be working to develop a voluntary, compensated “demand management” program to cut water use and protect water levels in Lake Powell.

    The board will be seeking input, and it will be up to us to provide it in order to make sure any such program doesn’t hurt more than it helps. Stakeholder groups are working to better understand their water supply vulnerabilities through integrated water planning projects, in hopes of identifying ways to improve resilience. Ditch companies and individual farmers continue to move forward with efficiency projects to make the best use of every drop, and many residential property owners are replacing lawns with native plants.

    Whether these efforts will add up to enough to keep us out of trouble with our downstream obligations and keep our communities vibrant remains to be seen. It will depend in part on our luck with the snow, and in part on how much energy and careful thought we put into the kinds of efforts described above.

    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 at http://www.coloradomesa.edu/water-center.

    From The Albuquerque Journal (Steve Knight):

    Holiday storms that dumped snow across the state have built the snowpack in the northern mountains of New Mexico to normal or near-normal levels. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation on Friday reported that snowpack in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, which feeds the Rio Grande, was 106 percent of its median level over a period of 30 years and snowpack in the Jemez River Basin was 97 percent of normal.

    However, according to Royce Fontenot, senior hydrologist with the Albuquerque office of the National Weather Service, more snow is needed in the Four Corners area and in the large headwater basins in southern Colorado…

    Snowpack in the Rio Chama Basin near the Colorado state line was 71 percent of normal, and the Animas River Basin was about 85 percent.

    The San Juan River Basin in Colorado and New Mexico has about 73 percent of its median snowpack. The Upper Rio Grande Basin was also at 73 percent of normal.

    Snowpack in New Mexico and southern Colorado feeds New Mexico’s reservoirs, rivers and streams during spring runoff and provides water for irrigation and recreation. It’s measured in snow-water equivalent, which reflects the amount of water contained in the snowpack at a location if the entire snowpack were to melt.

    #Utah: 2018 State of the Environment Report

    Excess nitrogen and phosphorus in waterbodies, known as nutrient pollution, is a growing problem in Utah and across the country. Nutrients are linked to cyanobacterial growth, including harmful algal blooms, and can lower dissolved-oxygen levels in waterbodies, adversely affecting aquatic life. This pollution comes from a variety of sources, including wastewater treatment plants, nonpoint source pollution from agricultural operations, and residential and municipal stormwater runoff. Nutrient pollution poses a significant threat to Utah’s economic growth and quality of life, leading to substantial costs to the state and taxpayers if left unaddressed.

    Click here to go to the State of Utah website.

    Here’s a report from Amy Joi O’Donoghue writing for The Deseret News. Here’s an excerpt:

    On Wednesday [January 2, 2019], the Utah Department of Environmental Quality released its annual State of the Environment Report, featuring a message from Executive Director Alan Matheson and a comprehensive examination of challenges faced and milestones achieved in 2018.

    The report examines agency actions through its five divisions, including water quality, air quality, and environmental response and remediation of contaminated land.

    New this year is an online link to some of the agency’s most popular blogs informing residents of snowblower exchanges to cut wintertime emissions, wood stove exchange grants and tips on recycling the right way…

    Matheson noted efforts by divisions to address ozone emissions in the oil- and gas-producing region of eastern Utah, boost wastewater improvements in cities like Logan and Salem, help areas with drinking water problems in the aftermath of wildfires and remediation of the Sharon Steel Superfund site.

    #ColoradoRiver #drought plan, more money for water projects top 2019 legislative agenda #COleg

    From Water Education Colorado (Larry Morandi):

    Colorado River drought planning as well as the funding dilemma behind the state’s ambitious water plan, are among the water issues likely to win stage time at the Colorado State Capitol this year.

    When the session opens Friday, Democrats will control both chambers, having retained the majority in the House of Representatives and taken control of the Senate as a result of the November elections.

    The two committees where most water bills originate have new leadership as a result of the political shift. Sen. Kerry Donovan (D-Vail) is now chair of the Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, and Rep. Dylan Thomas (D-Avon) is now chair of the House Rural Affairs Committee.

    800-Pound Gorilla in the Room

    There is one major issue that will loom over this session even without legislation—the Colorado River drought. In November, the Colorado Water Conservation Board, the state’s lead water policy and planning agency, adopted a critical policy statement supporting a Colorado River Drought Contingency Plan (DCP). Once the plan is finalized, a process that could take months, it may require lawmakers to act.

    The policy comes in response to a 19-year drought in the Colorado River Basin that has seen storage in its two largest reservoirs—Lake Powell and Lake Mead—drop below 50 percent of capacity. Continued drought could lead to water cutbacks in the Upper and Lower Colorado River Basins in order to comply with the 1922 Colorado River Compact and related agreements. The Upper Basin comprises Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming, while the Lower Basin states include Arizona, California and Nevada.

    Included in the DCP is discussion of a far-reaching conservation effort in Colorado and the other Upper Basin states that would free more water for storage in a protected pool in Lake Powell to ensure Lower Basin states receive their legal allotment.

    Under the new policy adopted by all four Upper Basin states and the Upper Colorado River Commission, any demand management program would emphasize voluntary, temporary and compensated reductions in water use, and would not be implemented without an extensive public review process.

    If it comes to actual cutbacks, water users across the state would share the pain, including Front Range communities, under the new policy.

    Despite these assurances, there is a great deal of legislative concern, especially over the potential role of the federal government in deciding if and when to release water from Upper Basin reservoirs to replenish Lake Powell. Sen. Don Coram (R-Montrose) likened it to “depositing money into a bank account [Lake Powell] and authorizing someone else [the Bureau of Reclamation] to make withdrawals.”

    The crisis on the Colorado River is likely to serve as context for several water policy discussions this session, though Rep. Roberts said, “There won’t be any rush to legislation.”

    Donovan said lawmakers would be fully briefed on the drought plan, “and then we will be able to proceed to consider appropriate actions to put the state in the best position to comply with the Colorado River Compact.”

    Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013

    Colorado’s Water Plan

    Another high priority will be examining ways to fund Colorado’s Water Plan (CWP). The CWP was prepared by the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) at the direction of Governor John Hickenlooper and adopted in 2015. It contains eight measurable objectives—including new water storage, maintaining agricultural productivity, and improving watershed health. It also includes critical actions to achieve them.

    The plan cites a need to raise $100 million annually over 30 years—or $3 billion from 2020-2050—to sustainably fund its implementation. It suggests a loan repayment guarantee fund and “green” bonds for environment, recreation, conservation, agriculture and education activities. Not all funding would come from the state; storage projects often rely on ratepayers to cover the costs of water development and delivery.

    Legislators are expected to explore funding options for structural and nonstructural projects. The CWCB has included $20 million for CWP implementation in the 2019 “Projects Bill” that will be submitted to the legislature for approval. That is $9 million more than in 2018.

    North Fork Republican River via the National Science Foundation.

    Republican River Compact

    Another bill that has been forwarded to lawmakers from the 2018 interim Water Resources Review Committee would redraw the boundary of the Republican River Water Conservation District in eastern Colorado to include more wells that reduce the flow of the Republican in violation of a compact with Kansas and Nebraska. The bill would allow the district to assess the same fee on those well owners that it does on all irrigators in the district to pay for a pipeline that transports water to the river to ensure compact compliance. The district borrowed $62 million to buy water rights and build the pipeline, and has assessed farmers $14.50 per acre to repay the loan.

    Oil and gas development on the Roan via Airphotona

    Severance Taxes

    Lawmakers will also consider a bill that would change the timing of severance tax allocations for several CWCB water programs, to allow for better planning. The state collects severance taxes from oil and gas producers and other extractive industries, some of which is used to support water-related activities.

    Currently the state’s severance tax revenue is transferred three times a year to the CWCB based on revenue forecasts; if the actual tax collections are below forecasts (which is often the case), funds are “clawed” back. This bill would base allocations on the amount collected in the previous fiscal year and consolidate three payments into one for the following year. Because tax collections in fiscal year 2018 exceeded forecasts, “it gives us a moment in time to do this,” Donovan said, avoiding any gap in funding.

    Photo credit: AgriExpo.com.

    Deficit Irrigation

    Still another issue likely to surface is how to encourage more deficit irrigation, a strategy that applies less water than optimally needed by a crop in order to free up water for other uses. One proposal that did not make it out of the summer interim water committee would have added deficit irrigation to land fallowing as a type of pilot project the CWCB could approve, with the conserved water being available for short-term lease. Although the bill received support from a majority of committee members, it did not garner the two-thirds necessary to advance as a committee-sponsored bill. It may be considered again this year. (A similar bill—HB 1151—passed the House in 2018 but was withdrawn by its senate sponsor for additional study.)

    The lower Crystal River was running at 8 cfs near the state fish hatchery on Aug. 1, 2018. Lows flows on the Crystal have spurred action from the state, including curtailment and a call for instream flows. Photo credit: Heather Sackett via Aspen Journalism

    Instream Flows

    There is also interest in legislation that could expand the state’s instream flow pilot program, where water right holders forego diversions, instead leaving their water in the stream on a short-term basis for fish and habitat protection without jeopardizing their water right. The program is voluntary, temporary, and can provide financial compensation. It may involve “split-season” use, where a farmer irrigates his or her crops early in the season and then leases the water to a nonprofit (in partnership with CWCB) to maintain instream flows later in the year. Although the committee did not report out a bill on this issue, there is reportedly interest in legislation that would encourage additional voluntary leasing while protecting agricultural water use.

    Bonita Mine acid mine drainage. Photo via the Animas River Stakeholders Group.

    Water Quality and Hard-rock Mining

    And last but not least, the General Assembly is expected to renew consideration of a measure it rejected in 2018. Lawmakers considered HB 1301, which would have required reclamation plans for new or amended hard-rock mining permits to demonstrate an “end date” for water quality treatment to ensure compliance with water quality standards. The bill also would have eliminated the option of “self-bonding”—an audited financial statement that the mine operator has sufficient assets to meet reclamation responsibilities—and required a bond or other financial assurance to guarantee adequate funds to protect water quality, including treatment and monitoring costs. It passed the House but was defeated in a Senate committee. Rep. Roberts, the primary sponsor last year, expects a bill on the same topic this session.

    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 larrymorandi@comcast.net

    Fresh Water News is an independent, non-partisan news initiative of Water Education Colorado. WEco is funded by multiple donors. Our editorial policy and donor list can be viewed here.

    Winter Water Quality Tips — @GreeleyGov

    Platte River photo credit US Bureau of Reclamation.

    From the City of Greeley:

    Winter in Colorado marks an exciting time of year. It means skiing, snowboarding, ice skating, snowshoeing, and ice fishing. But winter can also mean dangerous driving conditions.

    What we do to help mitigate dangerous road conditions can take a toll on our natural resources if we are not careful. What we put on our roads and driveways today may end up in our lakes, rivers, and streams tomorrow. Salt, sand, and deicers make their way into storm sewer systems and travel into local water bodies. Concentrated doses of chloride-based deicers are potentially lethal to aquatic plants and invertebrates. The introduction of sand to waterways can increase turbidity and degrade both the aesthetics and quality of the water.

    Consider these best practices during the winter to help reduce pollution in our local bodies of water.

  • Shovel your driveway early during a snowfall and maintain it throughout. This will reduce the need for salt, sand, and other deicing agents by preventing ice from build-up on your driveway.
  • Use deicers according to manufacturer’s recommendations and use salt and sand sparingly, and only as needed.
  • Sweep up excess sand, salt, and deicers.
  • Consider environmentally friendly alternatives like calcium magnesium acetate (CMA), or cracked corn for traction.
  • For more information on Stormwater, visit Greeleygov.com/Stormwater