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Our future requires that regional efforts provide some solutions to water supply shortfalls and projects. As Colorado’s urban areas grow, we must consider leveraging resources, infrastructure, water supply and facilities to secure general well-being and a healthy economy. This informative, day-long workshop provides a forum for planning and discussion around the best approaches for regional water solutions. It includes a close examination of the tradeoffs, hurdles, and opportunities for success.
GLENWOOD SPRINGS — A group of water leaders in Colorado, most new to their posts, appeared before the board of the Colorado River District on Tuesday in Glenwood Springs.
Becky Mitchell, executive director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, and Kevin Rein, state hydraulic engineer for Colorado, both of whom took their current positions in July, introduced themselves to the river district board, which includes representatives of 15 Western Slope counties.
Mitchell said it was important for the state to develop a long-term source of funding for new water projects in both the Denver metro area and the Western Slope, but she said the various river-basin plans in the state needed to be prioritized before a funding question is put to voters.
“We don’t want to take some ballot measure up that won’t pass,” said Mitchell, who was promoted to her new position at CWCB after working on the 2015 state water plan. “We want to make sure we get everything prepared so we have the most chance for success, because this is such an important issue.”
Rein, who serves as the state’s water-law enforcer, said he intends to continue the policies and practices of his predecessor, Dick Wolfe, and that he hopes to administer water rights and respond to water court applications with consistency and transparency.
“It all comes down to balance for me,” Rein said, in trying to administer water rights against competing demands.
Jayla Poppleton, who has been the executive director of the Colorado Foundation for Water Education since January, also went before the river district board Tuesday, describing her organization’s new brand positioning.
Created by the state Legislature in 2002 to inform citizens about water, the organization is changing its name to Water Education Colorado, and its new logo is based on the layout of the state’s eight river basins.
Andrew Mueller, who starts as new general manager of the river district on Dec. 1, was also at the meeting.
An attorney at a law firm in Glenwood Springs, Mueller once lived in Ouray and represented Ouray County on the Colorado River District’s board from 2006-2015. He was hired in September upon unanimous consent by the river district’s board.
At the district’s next quarterly board meeting in January, Mueller will officially replace Eric Kuhn, the district’s current general manager, who is retiring after 37 years.
Kuhn has a deep understanding of Colorado River issues, and he and John Carron, an engineer with Hydros Consulting Inc., presented to the board the latest findings of an ongoing “risk study” focusing on ways to keep enough water in Lake Powell in the face of another sharp drought.
Also presenting at Tuesday’s meeting was Mark Harris, the general manager of the Grand Valley Water Users Association, which diverts water out of the Colorado River in De Beque Canyon, at the red-roofed roller dam.
Harris was before the river district’s board seeking financial support for the second year of an experimental program that pays irrigators to fallow fields or crops, lower their consumptive use, and leave water in the river to help keep Lake Powell operational.
The association is one of the big three diverters in the Grand Valley, and provides water to 25,000 irrigated acres on the north side of the valley from Palisade to Mack via the 55-mile-long Government Highline Canal.
In 2017, the association compensated 10 large irrigators, whose names have not been disclosed, to fallow a total of 1,252 acres of irrigated land on parcels ranging from 60 acres to 240 acres.
The 2017 program, which concludes this month, will result in 3,200 acre-feet of water not being used for irrigation.
The association funded the program with $1,039,000. Of that, it put $145,000 in an infrastructure fund, used $169,000 for program management, and paid $725,000 to irrigators. (That works out to about $225 per acre-foot of “conserved consumptive use” to the irrgators.)
Major funding sources for the program included The Nature Conservancy, the state of Colorado, and Denver Water. The association intends to run the program again in 2018.
Harris said the association continues to learn about how such a fallowing program in the Grand Valley might work in the face of a drought or other challenge to complying with the Colorado River compact, which requires Colorado and other states in the upper Colorado River basin to provide a set amount of water to California, Arizona, and Nevada, even in dry years.
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On Tuesday, October 24th, from 12:00 pm – 1:00 pm, the Colorado Water Congress and the Colorado Foundation for Water Education will host a webinar on the threat of aquatic nuisance species, specifically zebra and quagga mussels, to our waterways and delivery systems in Colorado.
Aquatic nuisance species continues to be a hot topic for the water community, but we need to reach beyond our own network when communicating about this looming threat to our pristine waterways. Join us to learn about the threat these invasive mussels pose, and how Colorado is working to educate the public and our policy makers so we can maintain healthy waterways and infrastructure.
The group included elected officials, community leaders, and interested citizens who toured different farms and a research center.
The goal was to come together and discuss current water resources for agriculture and what can be done to ensure there’s enough water for the future.
Michael Hirakata, co-owner of Hirakata Farms, said, “It all starts with water. Without water we can’t grow the food.”
That’s the message Hirakata wants everyone in Colorado to hear.
“This year there’s plenty of water. It’s trying to rain right now, but Mother Nature is not always the same and we’re going to need a lot of water to feed the population of Colorado.”
The population of the state only continues to grow.
Kate Greenberg of The National Young Farmers Coalition said, “As water gets tighter, as we have more pressure on our water, it’s really going to take a lot of collaboration and alliances.”
Hirakata and other farmers are already doing that and sharing their practices with tour groups like the one that met on Wednesday.
“We told them about sub-surface irrigation and the way we manage sub-surface irrigation,” said Hirakata.
“We call it drip-tape and we put it in the ground…and the water never sees the light of day so there’s less evaporation.”
It’s a water technique he’s been practicing for many years after being hit by droughts.
“We weren’t going to have much water, also the yields-we were seeing some of our neighbors try it and the yields were a little bit higher than what we were getting so we thought well, we need to adjust our farming practices also.”
Now, he wants other people to start doing the same and to continue to come up with new ways to conserve water.
Greenberg said, “We’re all connected whether we know it or not to farming through food that we eat and the water that we use, and I think folks here today recognize that they play a role in that landscape.”
Minute 323 provides a long-term plan for management of the Colorado River. Photo courtesy of Sascha Brück
Water has been a source of conflict for more than 200 years in the West. The Colorado River delta had not seen water for about 20 years until the Pulse Flow, a release of 105,392 acre-feet of water from the Morelos Dam, boosted the Colorado River, allowing it to flow to Mexico’s Gulf of California and reach the ocean in March 2014. The Pulse Flow was released under Minute 319 of the 1944 treaty with Mexico.
Minute 319 provides a water basin management approach focused on the sustainable use of the Colorado River, but it will expire on Dec. 31, 2017. Not to worry, Minute 323, set to be signed on September 26 in Santa Fe, New Mexico, is a continuation of this water basin management approach and provides a sustainable long term plan…
I rode along with the Barr Lake and Milton Reservoir Watershed Association and the Colorado Foundation for Water Education on their Urban Waters Tour of the South Platte River last Wednesday. These rides are educational and fun and well worth the time. It was great to meet some new folks from the water community. Thanks to Amy Conklin for organizing the ride.
We started at Johnson Habitat Park where the Greenway Foundation has located their SPREE outdoor school. We learned about efforts to increase the volume of water in the river through the Chatfield Reallocation Project which will provide environmental flows through the City of Denver. Joe Shoemaker, Jr. explained the genesis of the Greenway Foundation and how the area we were in was one of Denver’s dumps during his youth. The educational effort was in full swing with young students plying the waters for macro-invertebrates and other life.
A representative from Trout Unlimited conveyed his excitement about landing big carp from the river. He also told us that a fisherman recently pulled a 24 inch rainbow from the river just upstream from the park.
Further downstream at Weir Gulch the focus was on widening the channel to more a more natural flood plain to help manage stormwater and improve river and riparian health. The South Platte through here, back in the day, was a braided, meandering stream with a flood plain that was sometimes as wide as a mile.
A Denver Parks representative explained the big project at Confluence Park — the replacement of the original structures from the first project in the South Platte revitalization effort. Kudos to the contractor that stayed with the project as their profit dried up due to the discovery of coal tar on site. The Denver representative said that the company believed in the project and the benefits to the community.
The last stop was at the site of Globeville Landing Park. There was a lot of construction going on to build an outfall for stormwater management. Denver is building their Platte to Park Hill Project to mitigate flooding caused by construction and development over the years.
I highly recommend these tours. You’ll learn a lot, get a bike ride in, and meet some interesting folks. The South Platte River through Denver is a great ride. What a success story.
Flooded confluence of Cherry Creek and the South Platte River June 2015 photo via Andy Cross, Getty Images and The Denver Post
Oxford Reach Whitewater Park Looking Upstream Toward Oxford Avenue via Arapahoe County.
Storm drain and open channel improvements between the East Rail Line (38th & Blake Station) and the South Platte River (Globeville Landing Outfall), Stormwater detention/conveyance between the East Rail Line (38th & Blake Station) and Colorado Blvd, (Montclair Basin) Stormwater detention/ conveyance immediately east of Colorado Blvd. (Park Hill Basin).
Metropolitan Wastewater Reclamation District Hite plant outfall via South Platte Coalition for Urban River Evaluation
In early August 2012, this is what the South Platte River looked like north of downtown Denver, near the Cherokee power plant. Photo/Allen Best .
The South Platte River typically all but vanishes as it passes through Denver’s industrial neighborhood north of downtown, downstream of the Burlington Ditch diversion, near the Cherokee power plant. Photo/Allen Best
From email from the Colorado Foundation for Water Education:
The itinerary for this year’s annual river basin tour in Colorado’s Southwest is full of exciting site visits and informative speakers!
We’ll be covering a wide range of local municipal, recreational, industrial, agricultural and ecological projects and priorities. This is an opportunity you don’t want to miss.
But hurry, the tour is next week and there are just eight seats left, including one scholarship spot!
Get on the bus for this year’s Southwest Basin Tour, hosted in Colorado’s beautiful San Juan mountains June 13-14. Share a unique educational experience with other tour participants, including the Colorado legislative Interim Water Resources Review Committee, and get an in-depth look at how the Southwest Basin Implementation Plan is being put into action in the San Miguel and Dolores watersheds. Review the draft agenda here, find some highlights below, and register now to reserve your spot.
On Day 1, we’ll make exciting stops at sites along the lower San Miguel watershed and part of the Dolores, hearing from agency reps, nonprofits, and civic leaders about topics such as:
Blending a local ag and recreational economy, and balancing the needs of multiple users
Using instream flow appropriations as a tool to protect Wild and Scenic Outstandingly Remarkable Values plus alternative Wild and Scenic stakeholder processes
Native fish restoration and the Dolores River Dialogue
A local municipal raw water project
Other Southwest Basin Implementation plan priorities
Plus tour the Paradox Salinity Unit and Indian Ridge Farm
On Day 2, we’ll concentrate on the upper San Miguel and explore topics including:
Ski industry concerns in the face of climate change and unpredictable snowpack
Regional cloud-seeding efforts to stimulate precipitation
Creative and collaborative municipal water management in conjunction with local mining and power supply
The evolution of watershed planning and incorporation of stream management plans
Plus tour the Valley Floor Project restoration site and view a special showing of the film that debuted at the Telluride Mountain Film Festival
BONUS: Participants now have the option to add on an optional whitewater rafting trip at the end of the tour and will receive a 40% discount off of normal rates. Find out more here.
*Interested in a scholarship? Email Jennie@yourwatercolorado.org to let us know what you do and why you need a scholarship to attend.