Gunnison: #Colorado Water Workshop recap

Western State Colorado University Gunnison

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dave Buchanan):

Which brings us to today’s topic: How do we prepare tomorrow’s decision-makers today, when we can’t be sure what tomorrow is going to look like?

This is the trial facing the Colorado Water Workshop held annually at Western State Colorado University in Gunnison. This spring the workshop marked its 44th gathering by asking a select group of participants, most with long ties to the workshop, to look to the future and decide possible options for the workshop to follow.

Even though the WSCU gathering is older than most, if not all, of its competitors, there are plenty of the latter. At last estimate, 11 similar workshops are conducted around the state. And they all (but for one or two notable exceptions) are cookie-cutter reproductions of “water geeks talking to other water geeks,” as one CWW participant said this year.

And why attend the WSCU conference if it doesn’t provide something different?

Workshop director and WSCU environmental studies professor Jeff Sellen admitted this year that although the Colorado Water Workshop is a “different kind of workshop, we recognize the need for change.”

He called it a “retooling” of the workshop aimed at increasing involvement of WSCU students and connecting them to established water leaders and those water managers (a very broad category) early in their careers.

It’s an opportunity, Sellen said, to design a “future for western water that acknowledges new challenges.”

Which eventually boiled down to the existentialist question of why and for what does the conference exist? OK, that’s two existentialist questions.

This year’s pared-down conference included in its invitation-only audience not only the well-experienced (including conference founder and longtime Gunnison water attorney Dick Bratton) as well as a half-dozen or more present-day WSCU students in Sellen’s environmental studies program…

The 30 or so participants seemed to agree that inviting “water geeks” (and you know who you are) to talk arcane language and hydrologic philosophy to similarly inclined devotees has its place and certainly provides opportunities for education, although perhaps only to like-minded adherents.

But does it reflect the best option for Western State and its role in the future of water education and management?

Education seems to be the key and that, said John Hausdoerffer, director of the school’s Center for Environment and Sustainability, remains the provenance and function of Western State Colorado University.

“What is it we add to the conversation?” Hausdoerffer asked during a thoughtfully taxing presentation.

Focusing on the generations of students that will be needed to make effective decisions, Hausdoerffer urged the conference to explore at least 10 years ahead, developing the tools and skill sets needed to deal with climate change and similarly perplexing hurdles.

These include communicating with the public, dealing with rapid environmental and climatic changes, and most of all, continuing to learn and adapt.

“Who have we been educating and who do we want to educate?” posed George Sibley, author and former Colorado Water Workshop director and a well-respected voice in Colorado’s water matters. Education, he said, necessarily involves breaking away from the old regimes and means involving new voices.

Some of those voices were heard from the handful of past and current WSCU students at the workshop, predominantly female and well-spoken on what they need to be successful in what is a mostly male-dominated field.

“Speak to all levels” of water knowledge and “push for education disciple,” urged Sara Porterfield, former WSCU student and newly minted Ph.D (history). “The purpose of a discipline is to challenge assumptions.”

And don’t be afraid to “cross-pollinate” among academic disciplines with collaboration and the sharing of educational resources, said Hannah Holm, coordinator for the Ruth Powell Hutchins Water Center at the Colorado Mesa University.

“We don’t want (to seek answers in) traditional continuity,” added George Sibley. “What we’ve been doing won’t work for the future.”

In closing, Jeff Sellen said educational institutions sometimes must “swim upstream against cultural currents” in developing answers to present and expected conditions.

“I’m excited for the future of the Western Water Conference,” he said. “We just don’t yet know what it is.”

Eagle River Regional Water Efficiency Plan available for review

From the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District:

The draft Eagle River Regional Water Efficiency Plan is available for review by the public, which can submit comments through July 30.

The plan is a joint effort by the Eagle River Water & Sanitation District and the Upper Eagle Regional Water Authority that outlines actions the organizations will take to meet increasing regional water demands with available supply into the future in an environmentally and fiscally responsible manner.

Community members can review the draft plan at the district office in Vail during business hours and anytime online.

Both the district and the authority are required to have a water efficiency plan on file with the Colorado Water Conservation Board, which is part of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources. The CWCB awarded grant funds to the district and authority to assist with plan development and there must be a period for the public to comment on the proposed plan. This public comment period follows an extensive stakeholder outreach process where the plan was presented to nearly 20 community groups, several of which can be viewed on the High Five Access Media website (watch a video). Feedback at those presentations has informed the current draft.

All comments received will be considered for integration into the final plan and will be noted in a plan appendix. The district and authority boards of directors will review the final plan in August and approve its submittal to the CWCB, which makes the final determination that the plan meets state guidelines and accepts it.

To submit comments, contact water demand management coordinator Maureen Mulcahy by email, phone (970-477-5402), or mail: 846 Forest Road, Vail, CO 81657. Written comments are preferred for better tracking and inclusion in the final plan.

Click here to view the draft plan. For more information call Mulcahy at 970-477-5402.

Say hello to the new @WaterEdCO website

Water Education Colorado website July 13, 2018.

From email from Water Education Colorado:

It’s official! We are excited to announce the launch of our new website! We are confident that this innovative and user-friendly site will make interacting with Water Education Colorado easier and more useful!

Click here to check it out

Meanwhile, here’s the link to their latest “Fresh Water News” newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:

Drought worsens in Colorado

Fourteen people gathered around a table in a Denver conference room deep within the confines of the Colorado Parks and Wildlife complex and showed one another chart, after chart, after chart.

Lines depicting vanishing snowpack fell farther and farther toward zero on their graphs and deep red stains on maps outlining the boundaries of this year’s dry season grew brighter and larger.

It was mid-June and those members of Colorado’s Water Availability Task Force (WATF) gathered in Denver could see what was becoming clearer each week. That 2018 was shaping up to mirror three other alarming drought years this century that nearly brought Colorado to its knees: 2002, 2012 and 2013. The task force, a group of water managers, scientists and hydrologists, is charged with monitoring water supplies for farms, cities and industry statewide.

Peter Goble, a staffer with Colorado State University’s Colorado Climate Center and a member of the WATF, had been anxiously watching precipitation levels for weeks. May, he reported, was the second driest May on record, based on measurements dating back to 1895. The absolute driest May occurred in 1934, the fourth year of the Dust Bowl.

“It’s pretty startling,” said Taryn Finnessey, senior climate change specialist with the Colorado Water Conservation Board and chair of the WATF.

Summer temps soar

Though reservoirs are fairly full this year, demand is rising quickly in dry spots such as the Arkansas and Southwest Basins. And even on the Front Range, where snowpack was close to normal, weeks of searing 90-plus degree days have sprinklers running at full force and reservoir levels dropping quickly.

In May, after a recommendation by Finnessey and the task force, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper activated the state’s drought response plan for 34 southern counties, making them eligible for millions of dollars in federal drought relief, among other forms of assistance.

Within weeks, wildfires began chasing one another across the state, spreading at rates never seen in the dry southwestern counties. The Spring Creek fire is on track to becoming one of the largest ever in the state, while the 416 fire outside Durango temporarily shut down some of the state’s most treasured tourist spots, including the scenic Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad.

But unlike the earlier drought years of this century, 2018 is no longer viewed as a standalone event. It’s been given a much chewier title. Scientists and water managers call it an entry into a multi-decadal drought period, and some worry it may signal a transformation of Colorado’s climate. Where this was once considered a semi-arid region, this 18-year dry spell may signal a dramatic change in the landscape—one in which Colorado becomes known largely as an arid, rather than semi-arid region.

Aridification is the term Brad Udall likes to use to describe what’s been going on since 2000, if not earlier. Udall is a scientist with Colorado State University’s Colorado Water Institute and a member of the multi-state Colorado River Research Group, based at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

Finding the right word

“Using old terminology, we could call it a drought,” Udall said. But he believes the term aridification is more accurate because of the ongoing reductions in snowpacks and subsequent river flows that have been seen this century.

Here’s what Udall and others find worrisome:

The Colorado River, whose headwaters lie in the Never Summer Mountains in Rocky Mountain National Park, has seen a 20 percent reduction in flows since 2000, the date many use to describe the beginning of this multi-decadal drought period, according to the Colorado River Research Group.

In the same period, only five years have delivered above average flows into Lake Powell, which along with Lake Mead, serves as one of the two largest reservoirs on the river.

Three of the four driest years on record in the Colorado River Basin have occurred during this 18-year period, with 2012 and 2013 being the driest consecutive years since 1906, according to the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and New Mexico are responsible for delivering roughly 8.23 million acre-feet (MAF) of water to the lower basin states each year by releasing it from Lake Powell. But since 2000, inflows into Lake Powell, where those deliveries are stored, have averaged just 5.74 MAF annually, meaning trying to keep up with the required deliveries is now a losing game.

Shrinking river flows

Adding to those concerns is this river-busting year of 2018, when just 2.64 MAF is expected to flow into Powell, 37 percent of average, according to data from the Colorado River Basin Forecast Center in Salt Lake City.

“2018 will not be remembered as a good water supply year for the Colorado River Basin,” Finnessey said.

Why should Coloradans care so much about the Colorado River? Because it keeps huge tourist, fishing and farm economies on the West Slope alive, it delivers roughly half the water used on Colorado’s Front Range, and it serves millions of people in Arizona, Nevada and California.

If the hydrology is changing permanently, it means most of the state’s water users will be forced to use less, and in some years, if Colorado can’t deliver enough to Arizona, Nevada and California, as the law requires, they might have to do with a lot less.

The grim scenario isn’t lost on Jesse Kruthaupt. He and his family operate a small 500-acre ranch outside Gunnison. For decades its luscious hay meadows have flourished along the banks of Tomichi Creek. Typically the creek will go dry late in the summer. “But right now,” he said, in late June “our diversion is totally dry.”

Kruthaupt will see his hay production drop this year but at least he will have a crop and enough to feed his cows and calves. “I know we will be short,” he said. “I just don’t know by how much.”

On the urban Front Range, 2018 has been a year to count blessings. In Highlands Ranch, Water Resources Administrator Swithin Dick watched his district’s reservoirs fill nicely, because in the South Platte Basin, which serves metro Denver and much of the urban north, snowpack came in at nearly normal levels.

“The South Platte Basin is the place to be this year,” Dick said. Still, the district has permanent conservation measures in place that prohibit its 96,000 residents from watering between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m., among other things.

“Our snowpack was diminished, but it’s not dire like it is for southern Colorado and southwestern Colorado,” he said.

Looking ahead, if 2019 delivers the same brand of dry as this year did, it will be much harder to tolerate because reservoirs from Durango to Denver will be depleted and will struggle to refill.

Front Range communities that lucked out this year, may not next year.

Thirsty urban customers

Denver Water, the largest municipal water utility in the state, has seen conditions deteriorate since April. It thought then that its reservoirs would fill completely, thanks to late spring snows.

But that didn’t occur, and Greg Fisher, Denver Waters manager of demand planning, said the super hot temps this summer have everyone at the agency keeping a close watch on the weather and how much water customers are using.

“We find ourselves in extremely hot, dry conditions and our use is up for sure,” Fisher said.

To date there hasn’t been a huge spike in demand and as a result the agency does not intend to impose water restrictions.

“We got very, very lucky this year,” Fisher said. “But the fact that our system didn’t fill is concerning. That often marks the start of a drought cycle for us.”

Despite the growing frequency of dry years, Udall sees some cause for optimism. “We’ve learned a lot in the last 15 years in terms of how to work with each other and how to come up with solutions that benefit everybody. Colorado has more going on in water in a good way than anywhere else in the West,” he said.

The state has, for instance, created nine regional roundtables representing its river basins and the metro area. These groups operate to address their own water issues, while working with other basins with whom they share supplies.

Those collaborative efforts are evident every month at the Water Availability Task Force meetings, where Eastern Plains ranchers weigh in with West Slope water managers and others representing Denver Water, Colorado Springs Utilities and Aurora Water, among others.

Still this year the work has been grueling. When one scientist asked if the group wanted to look at one more water supply index last month, John Stulp, Gov. Hickenlooper’s water policy adviser, smiled and said no, not really.

“I think we’re depressed enough,” he said. And he was only half joking.

Jerd Smith is editor of Fresh Water News. She can be reached at 720-398-6474, at jerd@watereducationcolorado, and @jerd_smith on Twitter.

Say hello to Farmers.gov Soil Health website

Photo credit: Bob Berwyn

Click here to access the page. Here’s an excerpt:

Healthy soil is the foundation of productive, sustainable agriculture.

Managing for soil health allows producers to work with the land – not against – to reduce erosion, improve nutrient cycling, save money on inputs, and ultimately improve the resiliency of their working land.

Whether you raise corn in Alabama, beef cattle in Wyoming, or something in between, we’re here to help you build the health of your soils and strengthen your operation. Learn here about the principles of soil health and usable best practices. Then visit your local USDA service center where we can help you develop a management plan that supports your goals.

Apply to be a Water Literate Leader of Northern Colorado, applications due July 20, 2018 — @ColoStateNews

Center pivot sprinklers in the Arikaree River basin to irrigate corn. Each sprinkler is supplied by deep wells drilled into the High Plains aquifer.

Here’s the release from Colorado State University (Jennifer Dimas):

Water is emerging as one of the most important and controversial subjects to be addressed in the 21st century. Water issues are particularly complex and understanding the nuances is critical for good decision-making. Many who have helped communities make sound water decisions are nearing retirement age. Northern Colorado needs a new crop of water literate leaders.

The Colorado Water Institute, in cooperation with Community Foundation of Northern Colorado, has launched a non-partisan Water Literate Leaders of Northern Colorado program. Modeled after highly successful programs such as Leadership Northern Colorado, this program is for those who hold or aspire to political office, or other roles, including boards and commissions, which can impact regional water policy.

The Water Literate Leaders of Nothern Colorado will be a colloquium of emerging leaders from Northern Colorado’s communities who actively learn about Northern Colorado water from all angles including agriculture, urban, environmental, recreation, and business via presentations, dialogue and field trips. Members will have interaction and dialogue with regional water leaders to get an inside view of issues affecting Northern Colorado’s water future and will participate in visioning activities.

Meetings, including lunch, will be held from 8 a.m. – 1 p.m. at the Community Foundation offices, 4745 Wheaton Drive in Fort Collins, on Sept. 13, Oct. 11, Nov. 8, Dec. 13 of 2018 and Jan. 10, Feb. 14, March 14, April 11, May 9 of 2019. The class fee of $150 has been kept low thanks to generous support from City of Greeley, City of Fort Collins, Town of Windsor and City of Loveland. A maximum of 20 participants will be chosen

Appy now for the 2018-2019 class

Criteria for acceptance include:

  • Has exemplified leadership in one of the Northern Colorado communities
  • Anticipates continued community leadership for the next several years
  • Concerned about the water future of Northern Colorado
  • Must make a strong commitment to attend all sessions
  • Applications due July 20
  • Applications due by July 20 and participants will be chosen Aug. 15.

    For more information and to apply visit the website or contact Mary Lou Smith at MaryLou.Smith@colostate.edu.

    The latest E-Newsletter is hot off the presses from the Hutchins Water Center

    Rodeo Rapid on the upper Colorado River. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

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

    Colorado Basin Roundtable Integrated Water Management Planning Framework Project

    The Colorado Basin Roundtable’s Integrated Water Management Planning Framework Project created guidance and on-line data tools to build a foundation for conducting comprehensive integrated water management plans in the mainstem Colorado River Basin in Colorado. The purpose of these plans is to identify ways to provide water for environmental needs in conjunction with the needs of agricultural, domestic and industrial water users. The Hutchins Water Center at Colorado Mesa University coordinated the project, and most of the technical work was conducted by Lotic Hydrological.

    The Final Report for this project is available for review here.

    The website that houses the on-line tools referred to in the report is here.

    The first half of June have been nothing but hot and dry for most communities in #Colorado — @AmericanRivers #Drought

    From American Rivers (Fay Augustyn):

    After a dry winter and following with a hot summer, Colorado is looking at different waster conservation ideas to help protect their rivers. Can our rivers count on you to help move Colorado’s water future forward?

    Rivers form the lifelines of Colorado’s economy, environment and lifestyle. They impact every aspect of our lives, providing most of our clean, safe and reliable drinking water, supporting thriving farms and ranches, and contributing to culture, heritage and recreation. During a dry summer like this, we can easily identify the impacts that healthy, flowing rivers have on our communities and quality of life.

    Those who enjoy spending time on or near rivers have likely noticed the lower – and earlier – flows we experienced this year. The Colorado River peaked about 4 weeks earlier than normal, and at the GoPro Games in June, flows through Gore Creek were less than half of the normal discharge. On the upper Yampa above Steamboat Springs, fishing has been restricted below Stagecoach Reservoir to help protect fish in this reach. And farmers and ranchers are radically changing their normal operations to ensure they protect their livelihood at this time of dwindling irrigation water in their ditches.

    As this summer presses on, we certainly will continue to be impacted by the dry year. But there is hope, and things each of us can do to help conserve our critical water resource, including reducing shower times, limiting outdoor watering, and educating yourself about the health of our rivers and streams – including ways you can support more conservation and flexibility across the state. It’s now more important than ever to increase your awareness about where your water comes from and how water moves throughout the state.

    “Do You Know Your Water, Colorado?” map. Credit: American Rivers

    Earlier this summer, we produced an illustrated guide, called “Do You Know Your Water, Colorado?” to explain the long, complicated journey a drop of water takes from its home in a river to your tap. As a Coloradan, it’s our responsibility to understand how water is moved from place to place across our great state and the role we all have in protecting our state’s flowing rivers and the clean, safe, reliable drinking water they provide.

    Always, but especially in a dry year like this, we must meet future water demands without sacrificing our rivers and everything they support. Our communities, economies, environment and drinking water supply depend on all of us working together.