Sterling councillors hear about water supply and water law

Photograph of Main Street in Sterling Colorado facing north taken in the 1920s.

From The Sterling Journal Advocate (Sara Waite):

The Sterling City Council — and those attending their regular Tuesday night meeting — got a lesson on Colorado water law and Sterling’s water supply this week.

Alan Curtis, a water attorney with White & Jankowski LLP, which has represented the city for 39 years, explained the basic tenets of Colorado’s water laws before getting into Sterling’s water rights and the pro-active approach the city has directed them to take in water cases. Curtis noted that over the past four decades, Sterling has taken part in over 180 water court cases and has gone to trial in only three, all of which ended with favorable outcomes for the city. Right now the city is involved in six pending cases…

Water engineers Jon George and Kristina Wynne of Bishop-Brogden Associates Inc. also spoke, giving an overview of the city’s existing water supply and augmentation plan. Wynne explained that in 2014, they developed a long-range plan to project the city’s future water needs. However, the last several years the city has not used as much water as projected, and she suggested that it would be appropriate to revise the long-range plan to make it more accurate going forward.

The three experts had some suggestions for projects the council should consider in the near future, including construction of a storage reservoir for augmentation.

They also noted that the city’s wastewater recharge pond represents an unknown. It has been an integral part of the city’s augmentation to offset its water use in the past, but for the past year the city has not been able to discharge wastewater to the pond because of violations of public health standards. If the city is unable to resume pumping to the recharge pond, it may need to develop other augmentation resources.

South Platte and Metro basin roundtables release new basin data tools — @AspenJournalism

An interactive graphic from one of the new storyboards shows the instream flow rights of rivers and streams throughout the South Platte Basin.

From Aspen Journalism (Lindsay Fendt):

For anyone in Colorado wondering how water reaches their pipes, there is plenty of public information out there. But a cursory internet search will quickly turn up incomprehensible acronyms — SWSI, TBD, BIP and CWP, just to name a few — along with hydrology charts, infrastructure designs and a complicated set of laws that traces back all the way to the 19th Century.

In an effort to simplify the deluge of data out there, the water community in the South Platte Basin teamed up with a local non-profit to develop a new set of tools to explore data about water management in the basin.

“I thought that rather than referring to big documents and PDF reports that people could look at these live interactive resources and have more engaging discussions on the issues,” said Steve Malers, chief technology officer at the Open Water Foundation and the project’s creator.

With a year and $100,000 in combined funding from the Colorado Water Conservation Board, the South Platte and Metro basin roundtables, Malers was able to sift through reams of water data to create three interactive storyboards.

“There are lots and lots of things out there already, but they aren’t all easy to understand,” said Lacey Williams, public education and outreach coordinator for both the South Platte and Metro roundtables. “We liked the idea of putting together maps and data into a story.”

The storyboards are designed to explain the more dense aspects of water management to the public (and to shed light on some of those acronyms).

Malers also incorporated information specifically for people who work in water.

By crunching numbers and reformatting data to fit into one readable page, Malers hopes that roundtable members and others working in water can use the storyboards to make more informed decisions.

“If they find those things useful, perhaps that can change the paradigm a bit and we can have more data-driven discussions,” he said.

For now, these storyboards are tucked away on the South Platte Basin Roundtable’s website, but Malers and Williams are working to spread the link across the web.

According to Williams, the education committees are already considering expanding the storyboards to other parts of the state.

South Platte River Basin via Wikipedia

South Platte Forum highlights #SPforum

“Women in Water” panel South Platte Forum October, 2018, moderator Jayla Poppleton

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

Over 175 attendees, 25 speakers, and 30 sponsors and exhibitors came together at the 29th annual conference at Embassy Suites in Loveland, Colorado this week.

We heard from two expert keynote speakers, Patty Limerick and Luke Runyon, and dove into topics from Women in Water to an Update on the 2013 Flood Recovery over the two day conference.

Eric Wilkinson, who recently retired from a 30-year career with Northern Water, was honored with the 2018 Friend of the South Platte Award. Thank you for all of your work in the South Platte Basin, Eric!

Gitanjali Rao at the 2018 South Platte Forum.

Eighth-grader Gitanjali Rao (you may have seen her on Good Morning America or The Tonight Show), dazzled us with her youth, poise and intellect as she told us about the device that she created to test lead levels in water. We can’t wait to see what’s next for her!

Click here to view the #SPforum hash tag from the forum. (Read from the bottom, it’s in reverse chronological order.)

@WaterEdCo: Four #Colorado counties seek additional cash for land, water projects

The confluence of Weir Gulch and the South Platte River. The partners on the river are widening the floodplain and placing fish structures. Photo from one of @WaterEdCO’s great summer rides in the Denver urban area

From Water Education Colorado (Jerd Smith):

Four Colorado counties next week will ask voters to approve new or to extend existing taxes to preserve land, and to protect and improve waterways.

Denver, Park and Chaffee county initiatives involve sales taxes, while Eagle County voters will be asked to extend an existing property tax.

If all measures are approved, it would mean more than $50 million annually in new funds for these land and water efforts.

“It just demonstrates the importance that rivers and open space and parks have in Colorado,” said Fay Augustyn, American Rivers’ conservation director for the Colorado River Basin. “Counties continue to recognize the importance of protecting this.”

Denver’s Ballot Question 2A asks voters to raise the city and county sales tax .25 percent, or 25 cents on a $100 purchase, with funds dedicated to acquiring and improving park lands and restoration of waterways. If approved it would raise an estimated $45 million annually.

Eagle’s County’s Ballot Question 1A asks voters to extend a 1.5 mill property tax to protect working farms, wildlife habitat, wetlands, floodplains and public access points to rivers and streams. The existing tax generates $4 million to $4.5 million annually, according to Matt Scherr, a backer of the campaign.

Chaffee County Ballot Question 1A is seeking a new sales tax of .25 percent or 2.5 cents on a $10 purchase. If approved the new tax would generate $1.2 million annually, a portion of which would help to protect watersheds in the region.

And in Park County Ballot Question 1A seeks to extend an existing 1 percent sales tax through 2028 and 1B seeks authorization to use those tax dollars to preserve, acquire, lease, improve and maintain water rights, along with water systems and infrastructure, among other items. The existing tax raises $850,000 annually.

“They all take a slightly different angle,” said Gini Pingenot, legislative director at Colorado Counties Inc. Given that nearly one-third of Colorado’s 64 counties are seeking some kind of tax hike, she said it was surprising to see land and water issues landing a spot on the ballot.

“Knowing the amount of stress [counties] are under, I found it intriguing that they would be seeking voter approval for natural resource protection. It probably plays into their recognition that it is part of the lifeblood of their community. Clearly their residents are valuing it,” she said.

Anti-tax forces, however, believe the call for new taxes may be premature. Opponents, of the Denver measure, point out that the city is facing its longest ballot in history with four requests for new taxes, including 2A.

Mike Krause, public affairs director for the Independence Institute in Denver, said the local tax measures are in keeping with Colorado’s TABOR Amendment, which requires local approval of any new taxes. “That’s working the way it should,” he said. But he cautioned that Denver’s 2A, would add unneeded revenues to Denver’s healthy tax coffers.

“The Denver city budget is already growing faster than inflation and population growth. We see 2A as a way to avoid having to use existing revenue to expand the parks, even though they could do it if they really want to,” Krause said.

Denver City Council President Jolon Clark said he hopes voters give the city the go ahead, in part because Denver is one of the only counties in the state that doesn’t have its own open space tax. And, he said, preserving water is key to protecting other green spaces in the city.

“Forty years ago, the South Platte was largely dead ecologically, but today we have trout that are thriving. If you look at the reach between Overland and Grant Frontier [parks, south of downtown Denver], we were able to re-channelize that whole stretch of the river to create high flow and low flow channels because the water had become so slow moving and wide that it would heat up and kill everything in that stretch. Those are the kinds of projects that 2A will help fund,“ Clark said.

The tax questions come as Colorado water officials are researching how best to raise money to help implement the state’s water plan, an effort with a price tag of roughly $20 billion. The money would help create water conservation programs, environmental programs and some water storage projects to stave off future shortages.

Whether these initiatives will serve as an indicator of voters’ willingness to fund bigger projects isn’t clear. Pingenot said counties, traditionally, are much better at convincing residents to tax themselves to reach community goals. Statewide taxing questions are a tougher sell.

“We will know more after November,” Pingenot said. “But I think it is probably instructive for the legislature to observe the sentiment and the desire by communities to protect their resources.”

The idea of asking local residents to pay up to protect regional watersheds isn’t new. In 2003, the state approved the Colorado Healthy Rivers Fund income-tax check-off. After falling into dormancy, it came back in 2016 and was broadened to accept non-income tax related donations. To date the fund has raised nearly $1.5 million, according to Casey Davenhill, executive director of the Colorado Watershed Assembly, which administers the fund.

But it is Pitkin County that has created the most far-reaching watershed tax. In 2008, voters approved the Pitkin County Healthy Rivers Fund, which has generated $8 million for water projects. To date, it has helped build a recreational in-channel diversion on the Roaring Fork River, among dozens of other projects.

Pitkin County Attorney John Ely said the initiative’s backers hoped other counties would follow suit.

“We always thought other counties would join in but it has been slow,” he said. “It’s nice to see other people joining us now.”

Jerd Smith is editor of Fresh Water News. She can be reached at 720-398-6474, via email at jerd@wateredco.org or @jerd_smith.

Click here to read the latest “Fresh Water News” from Water Education Colorado.

A WISE Approach to Water Reuse: Q&A with Lisa Darling — @WaterEdCo

WISE Project map via Denver Water

Click here to go to Water Education Colorado (Rachel Champion) and read the whole interview. Here’s an excerpt:

Lisa Darling, Water Education Colorado’s trusted board president, has years of experience working with water reuse—we sat down with her to learn more. Lisa works as executive director of the South Metro Water Supply Authority (SMWSA), an organization that formed in 2004 when rapidly-growing south metro communities reliant on declining non-renewable groundwater realized they had to shift their water portfolios if they were to be sustainable. Now SMWSA relies on the Water Infrastructure and Supply Efficiency Partnership (WISE) between Denver Water, Aurora Water, and 13 SMWSA members, reusing water from Aurora’s Prairie Waters Project—which Lisa worked on for Aurora before moving to SMWSA in 2017. An excerpt of the interview is available in the fall 2018 issue of Headwaters magazine, but you can follow along with the full interview here!

An Ambitious Reuse Plan for the South Platte Basin — Headwaters Magazine @WaterEdCO

A group called the South Platte Regional Opportunities Working Group, or SPROWG, is proposing to store 175,000 acre-feet of water in a series of reservoirs on the South Platte River, from north of Denver to the Morgan County line. The project also includes a long pipeline to pump water from the river back to the metro area to be cleaned and re-used. Graphic credit: CWCB via Aspen Journalism

From Headwaters Magazine (Nelson Harvey):

Conceptual project would capture and store flows before they cross into Nebraska.

Colorado is expected to add 3 million new residents by 2050, and many of them will likely settle along the northern Front Range. That growth will spur a massive mismatch between water supply and demand—a gap of roughly 500,000 acre-feet per year by midcentury, according to Colorado’s Water Plan. Since 2015, a group of Front Range water providers called the South Platte Regional Opportunity Working Group (SPROWG) has been looking for ways to bridge that future gap through collaborative multi-purpose water projects, without diverting more water from Colorado’s Western Slope or drying up eastern Colorado farmland in the process.

“[This is] about making our water systems as efficient as we possibly can, and then seeing how large the remaining supply gap is and what the next steps will be,” says Lisa Darling, executive director of the South Metro Water Supply Authority, a member of SPROWG, and president of Water Education Colorado’s board.

Along with South Metro, SPROWG includes representatives from Denver Water, Aurora Water, the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, the St. Vrain and Left Hand Water Conservancy District, the North Sterling Irrigation District and the Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District. The group is seeking to capitalize on a surplus of untapped reusable water in the lower South Platte River near the Nebraska border, which accumulates there through return flows from the Denver Metro area and farms upstream. According to the South Platte Storage Study, an effort funded by the Colorado legislature and completed in early 2018, Colorado sent an annual median volume of 293,000 acre-feet more water to Nebraska than the South Platte River Compact requires between 1996 and 2015. SPROWG aims to enable the reuse and exchange of more of that water before it leaves the state.

“The central problem is that [future] demand will largely materialize in growing communities located roughly along the north-south axis of Interstate 25, while data and modeling tell us that available water supplies in the basin generally occur much further downstream where the river traverses the plains,” says Doug Robotham, a consultant who helped initiate SPROWG and facilitates the group’s discussions.

The conceptual project that SPROWG is now pursuing would remedy that mismatch through the creation of about 175,000 acre-feet of new water storage in three locations: 50,000 acre-feet near Henderson, 100,000 acre-feet downstream near Kersey, and 25,000 acre-feet further east near Snyder. The concept could also involve the construction of a pipeline from the Snyder-area reservoir back to the South Platte River north of Denver. This would enable the storage, reuse and exchange of several types of water, including native South Platte River flows in wet years, and legally reusable water supplies. Reusable supplies include transbasin diversion water, unconnected well water, and other sources imported into the South Platte system.

SPROWG’s analysis suggests the concept would generate 54,600 acre-feet of dependable “firm yield” every year. That’s only about one-tenth of the South Platte Basin’s looming water supply gap, but Joe Frank of the Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District says the concept would have added benefits for farmers and ranchers in eastern Colorado.

“It provides a viable alternative to buy and dry that has and continues to threaten lands within our boundaries,” says Frank. The economies of many eastern Colorado towns are dependent on irrigated agriculture and will suffer if acres are removed from production by cities acquiring agricultural water to support growth, Frank says.

Much research remains before SPROWG’s concept solidifies into an actual water project. SPROWG partners recently received $155,000 in funding from the Metro and South Platte Basin roundtables, and at press time they were waiting on approval for an additional $195,000 from the Colorado Water Conservation Board’s Water Supply Reserve Account. Over the next year, they’ll use those funds, together with $120,000 of their own money, to hone in on which municipal, agricultural and recreational water users could benefit from the SPROWG concept. They’ll also study how the concept would be funded and governed, and the exact size and location of the proposed storage facilities and water reuse pipeline.

Click here to read the whole issue of Headwaters and while you are there become a member and support water education in Colorado.

Grand Valley Water Users Association meeting recap #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Bicycling the Colorado National Monument, Grand Valley in the distance via Colorado.com

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

The head of the Upper Colorado River Commission on Tuesday told a Grand Junction audience that proposed new interstate agreements contain important provisions aimed at helping fend off the short-term threats that drought poses to the region.

Amy Haas, the commission’s executive director, says the centerpiece of the new deals from the perspective of Upper Colorado River Basin states is a provision providing for storage in Lake Powell and other Upper Basin reservoirs for water that might be conserved through any demand management program in the Upper Basin.

“There’s no point in implementing and administering a program in the Upper Basin without that storage capacity,” Haas said at the forum.

The event was hosted by the Grand Valley Water Users Association and hosted at Colorado Mesa University by CMU’s Hutchins Water Center. It focused on drought contingency planning, demand management and the potential implications for Western Slope agriculture.

Importantly, Haas said, the newly reached agreements spell out that water conserved through a demand management program could be used only for purposes of complying with a 1922 river compact between upper and lower basin states. It wouldn’t be subject to releases from Powell under the language of an interim agreement reached in 2007 that seeks to balance water levels between Powell and Lake Mead downstream.

Haas said it took heavy negotiations to obtain that assurance…

The recently released draft agreements, which officials say will require federal enabling legislation, include a drought contingency plan for Upper Basin states and another for Lower Basin states. A key aspect of the Upper Basin plan entails possible implementation of a demand management program if agreement can be reached between Upper Basin states.

The Colorado River District, a 15-county Western Slope entity, has been concerned that addressing the storage element now might pave the way for demand management before proper discussion has taken place on what parameters such a program should have. The district fears that demand management could end up primarily targeting West Slope agriculture. It wants any program to be limited to voluntary, temporary and compensated measures, with the impacts borne equally across varying regions of the state and water users.

The Colorado Water Conservation Board has directed its staff to develop a draft policy guiding development of any demand management program in the state.

“It will be voluntary, compensated and temporary,” CWCB board member Steve Anderson, also general manager of the Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association, said at Tuesday’s forum…

Haas said a key consideration will be how to pay for a compensated program. An Upper Basin pilot demand management program conserved some 22,000 acre-feet of water at a cost of about $4.5 million through 2017, according to a report released earlier this year…

Haas called that “an expensive endeavor.” She said a demand management program would need to conserve 200,000 to 500,000 acre feet of water to make a difference, and questions surround how to fund that.